This world has to change

| Change the world, change your life

Short course on a history of social struggles to be discovered and lived on

"The only struggle worth enjoying is the struggle of individuals for the construction of their everyday life."
Raoul Vaneigem, Situationist International

If we make the right life in the wrong life a matter of struggles over ways of life, then that may be new in the current transformation debate: Such struggles themselves are anything but new. Thus the last great epoch of social struggles, that of May 68, can be understood as the epoch in which the various social struggles were first expressly led by struggles over ways of life. Reason enough to tell a few stories from their history: stories that lead in a first step to the time immediately before May 68, in a second to the cultural revolutionary avant-garde of the early 20th century and then back to the romantic era. The first step is what Luc Boltanski and Ève Chiapello have called the polar expansion of the critique of capitalism into a social and an artistic critique. The second is about the radicalization of the critique of capitalism into a total critique of reality as reality, and the third step is about the subjective factor of criticism in the romantic beginnings of Benjamin's "poetic life" in the "aesthetics of existence".

Social and artist criticism

May 68 was a global transformation process that emerged from the late 1950s and broke off in the late 1970s. The focus on May is a reminder of what happened in Paris and France, where the protest movement of the younger generations culminated in a general strike of ten million people. At that time there was fighting all over the world, in the 'free west' as well as in the 'socialist east', in the already independent as well as in the still colonized countries of Asia, Africa and Latin America. Workers fought, everyone without exception fought people of colorfought were women, gays and lesbians, those interned in prisons or homes, and all those who were dissatisfied with the authoritarian educational institutions. Fighted were very different subjects who agreed on one thing: wanting to live differently every day here and now, in radically changed relationships with oneself and the world, in new social relationships and ways of living together, working together and living together such as communes, residential communities and alternative production facilities, in new cultural expressions, with new customs and virtues.

The new orientation of all social struggles, determined from now on by the disputes over ways of life, is marked conceptually by the distinction that has since been drawn between the workers' movement as the old social movement and the new social movements. From this point of view, Michel Foucault suggested that what was peculiar to this time should be grasped in the concept of the Reformation: As in the 15th and 16th centuries, in the 60s, 70s and 80s of the 20th century it was more about a change in everyday ways of life and their subjectification in their own life as well as in life lived together as an upheaval in the state apparatus. The reformation of the ways of life and self-relationships nevertheless remains dependent on the political game of reform and revolution and, above all, on an everyday occurrence of revolt in which each and every one starts with himself without wanting to remain alone in it. Boltanski and Chiapello conclude here with their distinction between social and artistic criticism: one is based on the history of the labor movement, the other on the history of bohemia and the artistic avant-garde. If both are concerned with a critique of capitalism, in social criticism it takes place primarily as a critique of poverty, exploitation and injustice, in artist criticism primarily as a critique of oppression, the lack of authenticity or inauthenticity of life and the “disenchantment” of the world reified world of goods.

Looking from May 68 to the present, however, Boltanski and Chiapello refer to the fact that the mixture of social and artistic criticism achieved at the time fell victim to a passive revolution by the 1980s at the latest. With it, the achievements of the Reformation of everyday lifestyles were turned into what we are fighting today as the neoliberal and biopolitical modernization of capitalism, in which the real subsumption of labor under capital becomes the real subsumption of life and ultimately the whole world under capital was unbounded, down to the last minute of the day and the last corner of the world.

As in other great historical upheavals, the failure of the new beginnings results precisely from its success: from the movement in which the rebellious desires of minorities were taken up by a large and therefore relevant number of people. Weakened on the way to its social generalization, the new first became a matter of negotiation of a historical compromise and finally the consensus of a newly adjusted hegemony that would ensure the continued existence of the modernized old. In the interest of the struggles over ways of life that are beginning today, it is important to specifically remember what has not been paid for, what has not been redeemed and has therefore been forgotten in the meantime.

The most headstrong international in history

"The Dadaist loves life because he can throw it away every day; death is a Dadaist affair for him."
Richard Hülsenbeck

The history of artist criticism begins in the 18th century. Resisting on the one hand against the academization of cultural production and on the other hand in the self-defense of their 'deviant' ways of life, first painters, then poets, came together in circles who soon wanted to become the nucleus of a comprehensive Reformation not just of art but of society. The Situationist International (SI), founded in 1957, stands at the end of this story: It only wants to collect artists and poets who want to put an end to art, literature, architecture, theater and film, philosophy and science as well as the division of labor in general and all social separations - also with politics separated from social life. In its form, the SI imitated the Third and Fourth Communist Internationals, organized a total of 70 members into nine national sections and an external section, coordinated through world conferences, an international central council and an "office for a unitary urbanism" responsible for urban planning. The ones in the bars of the rive gauche The satire that had been engineered, however, turned out to be more serious than planned: 43 of the 70 members were expelled, 24 resigned, the dissolution in 1972 was decided by the last three members, seven members were women.

The SI initially gained influence artistically, journalistically and theoretically: through pictures and films and their scandalous exhibition or demonstration, through leaflets and pamphlets, through the twelve editions of its luxuriously designed central organ, through two books published shortly before May '68: Guy Debords Society of the Spectacle and Raoul Vaneigems Handbook of the art of living for the younger generations. She recently gained influence through her participation in the occupation of the Sorbonne, during which she founded her own apron organization, the "Committee to Maintain the Occupations."

Her style ultimately gained influence to this day: the style of uncompromising radicalism. This included the promising as well as deliberately vague concept of a "construction of situations" to be practiced first in the existentially small and finally in the global whole. It was assigned the tactics of wandering around and theft: the first not only to be understood literally as often wandering through the city for days and nights; The second is to be understood literally as a tricky acquisition of resources for a job-free life, to be practiced in the figurative sense in the subversive 'abolition' of the entire legacy of art, literature, philosophy and revolutionary politics in the 'construction of situations'.

The use of the SI can perhaps be best understood in terms of projects that it was unable to implement. The London World Conference in 1960 discussed two projects for which a wealthy Italian sympathizer had pledged sufficient funds. The first was the planned guerrilla-style occupation of the United Nations Education, Science and Culture (UNESCO) based in Paris. The second was the planned construction of a situationist experimental city on a Mediterranean island as a real existing liberated zone. Both projects, like artistic and literary production, were sacrificed to an increasingly uncompromising, but increasingly abstract radicalism, which ultimately aimed at abstaining from any activity because every concrete project, it was suspected, would have fallen victim to passive revolutionization.

The age of the avant-garde

“Now there is no longer a chain of facts: factories, houses, disease, whores, shouting and hunger. Now there is your vision. "
Kasimir Edschmid

The age of the cultural revolutionary avant-garde stretches between the early bohemians of the 18th and 19th centuries and their late ›international‹: groups of artists, writers and activists with several hundred supporters around the world. Applying Max Weber's distinction between the "religious virtuosos" and the "religious laypeople" to the avant-garde, which was gained through the historical Reformation, they appear as virtuosos of a movement that moved tens of thousands, if not over 100,000 laypeople: all those who, for example At this time they participated in the bourgeois ›life reform‹, but also took part in what Karl-Heinz Roth (1974) called the »other labor movement« on the fringes of the official party labor movement.

"A howling car is more beautiful than the Nike of Samothrace."
Filippo Marinetti

In retrospect, roughly four or five main currents can be identified: Expressionism, Futurism, split into its Italian and Soviet wings, Dadaism and Surrealism. Born in the First World War, they saw themselves subjectively as the front line of a total crisis of reality itself culminating in industry, science, the big city, the proletarian masses and in their own isolation. If they often referred enthusiastically to the October Revolution, they all failed on Fascism and in the hell of World War II.

Among the avant-garde, the surrealist undoubtedly made the most far-reaching reformatory claim. Inspired by the Dada movement that preceded them, they were concerned with a dialectical abolition of its pure negativity. Walter Benjamin (1929, 201) attributed to them having "exploded the realm of poetry from within" by attempting, as "a circle of closely knit people", to lead a "poetic life to the utmost limits of what is possible." float. The surrealist was not only concerned with a critique of bourgeois-capitalist modernization, but rather, ahead of it, with a critique of the entire Christian-occidental civilization and its rationality, but with it a critique of the whole of reality. They oppose it with a ›super-reality‹ that has yet to be created, precisely the ›surreality‹ of which André Breton in the First Surrealism Manifesto (1924) wrote: “Surrealism is based on the belief in the higher reality of certain forms of association that were previously neglected, in the omnipotence of dreams, in the purposeless play of thinking. It aims at the final destruction of all other psychological mechanisms and wants to take their place in order to solve the main problems of life. "Even better than its situationist heiress, surreality also includes the" abolition "of religion:" All great mystics of all religions would be ours if they had broken the necks of their religions, which we cannot endure. "

The path to surreality led beyond painting pictures and writing poems, beyond the subversion of the boundaries between waking and dreaming, between seriousness and play, between reason and unreason, into an everyday openness to the everyday hasard objectif, the 'objective chance' of miracle, event and grace. The goal of such ’" poetic life ", named with the help of psychoanalysis, consisted in - according to Breton -" the abolition of the ego in the id ", whose privileged place should be love," l’amour fou ", crazy, passionate love. Surrealists achieved this goal only to a limited extent, and that applies equally to art, everyday life, love, religion and politics. This failure, however, was not simply its failure: it depended on the failure of the October Revolution and the social democratic and communist labor movement as well as on the acknowledgment of this failure in the fascist devastation of the world.

“The avant-garde does not surrender. The classless society found its art in it. It is the consciousness of the class that will have been the last. "
Situationist International

In spite of this, unlike many other artists and intellectuals on the left, the Surreaists have given impressive testimony to walking upright and thinking freely. When they wanted to get serious about politics in the mid-1920s, prominent surrealist figures, including Breton, joined the Communist Party. The title of their newspaper was from La Révolution Surréaliste in Le Surrálisme au Service de la Révolution changed. Almost ten years later, in the middle of the Spanish Civil War and anti-fascist resistance, they broke with the Soviet Union and the Stalinized French Communist Party. Together with dissident communists and anarchists, they founded the alliance Contre-Attaque (Counterattack), which at the same time opposed the Nazis, Stalinism and capital and wanted to make surreality - the purposeless game of thinking, dreaming and desire in practiced poetry - an alternative with a mass impact. An important role was played by Colette Peignot, who wrote under the pseudonym Laure and lived with Georges Bataille, the most influential surrealist alongside (and against) Breton. As an ambassador of surreality, Laure traveled to Berlin, Moscow and Leningrad, advocating Contre-Attaque and died of tuberculosis in 1938 at the age of only 35. Her writings did not spread until the 1960s and, an objective coincidence, had a formative influence on the women's movement that grew stronger in May '68.

Other horrific workers

In a late text, Breton explicitly placed surrealism in the tradition of a broadly understood romanticism and the surrealist poet half-gods Charles Baudelaire and Arthur Rimbaud with the romantic writer and philosopher Novalis. If Novalis wrote “The world must be romanticized” and Rimbaud wrote “You absolutely have to be modern”, both sentences instruct the inner dialectic of the “poetic life” for which the 17-year-old Rimbaud (1871) soon became famous found words: “I am someone else. [...] The poet makes himself see through a long, immense and deliberate de-regulation of all senses. All forms of love, suffering, madness; he researches himself, he exhausts all poisons in himself in order to preserve only the quintessence. [...] He gets to the unknown, and when, completely amazed, he then loses insight into his visions - he has seen them. May he die while jumping through the unheard of and unnamable things: other horrific workers arrive, they begin at the horizons where the other has sunk. [...] So the poet is really the thief of the fire. He is responsible for mankind, even for animals; he will have to make his inventions tangible, tangible, audible. If what he brings from there has shape, he gives shape: if it is unshaped, he gives something unshaped. "

“My ties are easy chains, and my home becomes a dungeon. So away and away from the narrow, dull life. "
Karoline von Günderode

Like Laure and several other poets, Novalis, Baudelaire and Rimbaud fell victim to the unreserved exhaustion of their subjectivity: Novalis died of tuberculosis at the age of 29, Baudelaire at the age of 46 impoverished and emaciated from alcohol and drug consumption. Rimbaud wrote his poems and prose between his 15th and 20th centuries.He then broke off his writing and excessive artistic life in favor of another excess: for years he traveled all over the colonized Africa, became a trader, became wealthy, fell ill, returned to Europe and died in agony at 37 in Marseille after the Amputation of his right leg.

The story of Karoline von Günderode should be added to the story of Novalis, Baudelaire and Rimbaud: born in 1780, pupil of a Darmstadt women's monastery, where she studied philosophy, history and literature and was enthusiastic about the French Revolution. She reads Schelling, Fichte, Schlegel and Novalis, begins to write and to publish under the male pseudonym Tian: poems about freedom and imprisonment, about love and death. Despite prominent recognition, all that remains is the repeated attempt to escape the bourgeois role of women through love affairs. “She has the misfortune,” wrote Christa Wolf (1979, 13), “to be passionate and proud, that is, to be misunderstood. So she holds back, on reins that cut into the flesh. That's okay, you live. It becomes dangerous if she allows herself to be carried away to loosen the reins, to set off, and then, at a violent run, encounter that resistance that others call reality and of which they will blame her, not that She stabs herself to death at the age of 26 after the failure of one last attempt to break out.

“'Change the world,' said Marx; "Change life," said Rimbaud. These two slogans are one for us. "
André Breton

If one freely spans the period of Romanticism up to the time of Rimbaud, who stopped writing in 1874, then the Young Hegelian movement falls into its midst. The Young Hegelians were not artists, but philosophers, but also dropped out of the bourgeois careers envisaged for their educational history, joined the Boheme, frequented their circles and pubs. They too are mostly men - but not only. One of them is Marie Dähnhardt, who smokes cigars and pats in men's clothes in the Hippelschen Weinstube in Berlin, where she got married in 1843 to Max Stirner by a priest who was enticed under pretexts and greatly confused by the drunken society Property (1845) precedes the dedication "To my darling Marie Dähnhardt". Stirner is known today primarily for the immeasurably unjust, ultimately self-destructive polemics with which the fellow Young Hegelians Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels him in the Critique of the German Ideology (1846), in which he trades as "Sankt Max". The book, which was not published at all during her lifetime, marks the decisive break in Young Hegelianism. Contrary to what Marx and Engels believed at the time, this break can now be read less as a break between materialism and idealism than as a break between social and artistic criticism, but also as a break in the thinking of Marx and Engels themselves: a break that will not come until May 68 has bridged. This is where today's' post-Marxist 'forms of criticism are to be understood in various ways, in which Marx and Stirner, Marx and Rimbaud, Marx and Nietzsche are more or less casually related to one another, true to Breton's insight:' 'Change the world' , said Marx; "Change life," said Rimbaud. These two slogans are one for us. "

Revised and abridged version of the Luxembourg Lecture, held on June 27, 2014 at the start of the III. Transformation conference of the Rosa Luxemburg Foundation.


Benjamin, Walter, 1929: Der Sürrealismus, The Last Snapshot of European Intelligence, in: Angelus Novus, Frankfurt 1966, 201ff
Rimbaud, Arthur, 1871: Letter to Paul Demeny from May 15, 1871, in: The future of poetry: Rimbauds Seher-Briefe, Berlin 2010, 25ff
Roth, Karl-Heinz, 1974: The "other" labor movement and the development of capitalist repression from 1880 to the present, Munich
Wolf, Christa, 1979: No place. Nowhere, Berlin / Weimar