Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Everything Free (1999)

Book Review from the October 1999 issue of the Socialist Standard

Nous qui desirons sans fin. By Raoul Vaneigem.

Vaneigem is a Belgian writer who was active along with another, Guy Debord, in an organisation called the Situationist International in Paris during the 1960s. The international bit was the triumph of hope over fact—there must have been all of a dozen of them.

Nevertheless a book he wrote at the time The Revolution of Everyday Life achieved a sizeable distribution and was translated into several other languages. It was well-received in the US which, like France, was going through a political upheaval at the time, caused mainly in the US by the Vietnam War and in France by the Algerian War. Britain at the time was contenting itself with the Beatles, Carnaby Street fashions, and the Mini, both the car and the skirt.

There are several problems for an English reader with this new book. Abstractions in English are derived from Franco-Latin but in French the same words are not necessarily abstractions, so the book will seem to be more abstract than it actually is. Add to this the author's love of paradox, irony and wit and English readers could have a hard time. Nor are we helped by the way the book is put together. There is no sustained argument but, as the back cover puts it, only "brief analyses and theses which offer a critical examination of a market society in decline and of a living society called upon to replace it".

Vaneigem is no reformist or derivative from Leninism. He is firmly on the libertarian socialist side of the line. His earlier book had a curious choice of heroes: blood and guts characters like the 19th century thief and murderer Lacenaire, who went to the guillotine, and was introduced to us as a character in the great classic film Les Enfants du Paradis. Another was the poet Lautreamont, who also lived and died violently. But that book was thirty years ago.

Now, after many other books, he writes:
Market civilisation is founded on forbidding anything for free. From this comes the blocks placed on our wants, on their refinement, on their harmonisation, and the on the fulfilment of a human future. This has been the first era to achieve this. It will be the last when, stimulated by the gifts of our natural energies, we have decided to no longer pay for anything at all in whatever way.
Ken Smith