AS WE MENTIONED, THE SITUATIONIST INTERNATIONAL was founded in Italy in 1957, a year after representatives from three small but very ambitious European groups met to see what they had in common and what they could possibly do together. The three groups were the Lettrist International (founded in 1952 and based in France), the International Movement for an Imaginist Bauhaus (founded in 1953 and based in Italy), and COBRA (founded in 1948 and based in Copenhagen, Brussels and Amsterdam [thus the name of the group]). The fact that each of these groups were international in character immediately tells us a good deal about the Situationist International, which established sections in other parts of Europe (Germany and Scandinavia) within the first year of its existence.
FROM THE START, THE SI -- a kind of international federation of internationalists -- was intended to be completely free of ties to nations, national identity and nationalism, and therefore the most accurate representation or expression of what was really going on in the world. (Not coincidentally, what was "really going on in the world" was and still is the internationalization of certain conditions and phenomena, usually associated with advanced capitalism, that had previously been restricted to certain countries.) The fact that the three original micro-groups -- as well as the macro-group that they combined to form -- were intentionally kept small (never including more than a dozen members at any one time) tells us that the SI was designed to be as pure, militant and extreme an organization as it was international.
OTHER THAN THEIR DETERMINED INTERNATIONALISM, the LI, the IMIB and COBRA shared a deep devotion and commitment to two things: modern art and radical politics, both of which are fundamentally utopian in nature. The problem for these groups was that, in the decade or so after the end of World War II, precious few (if any) of the existing or traditional forms of modern art and radical politics were not irretrievably lost to corruption, exhaustion or collaboration with Big Business, Nazism or Stalinism. Wherever one looked -- in both pro-capitalist political parties and "socialist" alternatives to them, in both the workplace and in leisure time -- elites, larger-than-life leaders and huge, impersonal bureaucracies were increasingly dominating, controlling and ruining the lives of individuals. Utopia literally was nowhere.
THE SOLUTION TO THIS DAUNTING PROBLEM was obviously to reject mere tinkerings with existing forms, and to re-invent both modern art and radical politics from scratch. But how? By finding a way of combining them into a unified project in which art and politics could be begun again -- but begun again in such a way that they would enrich and strengthen each other, rather than misunderstand, attempt to control or dogmatically deny the relevance of each other, which had happened all too often in the past.
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