The Invisible Committee. The Coming Insurrection [L’insurrection qui vient]. Los Angeles, California: Semiotext(e), 2009. 135 pages. USD $12.95 paperback. [Free, online versions of The Coming Insurrection are available in HTML and PDF formats here and in podcast format here.]
Just before dawn on 11 November 2008, French police raided a small farmhouse in the Corrèze village of Tarnac. The inhabitants, mostly graduate students ranging from ages 22 to 34 and numbering nearly twenty in total, were dragged from their beds and subject to arrest on charges that included “criminal association connected to a terrorist enterprise” and railway sabotage.1 Of those arrested, nine were singled out as terrorist suspects and subsequently branded the Tarnac 9. Following the allegations of the French Interior Minister, Michèle Alliot-Marie, the nine who composed this “ultra-left, anarcho-autonomist cell” were one and the same as the Invisible Committee.
This somewhat sensational anecdote comprises most of what is known about the alleged authors of the recently translated French text, The Coming Insurrection (TCI henceforth). Unlike its French edition, published by La Fabrique in 2007, the English translation opens with an additional preface entitled "Introduction: A Point of Clarification," which does well to orientate the non-Francophile reader to the rhetorical style and force of the eclectic, liberationist movement that culminated in Paris in May 1968. As a genealogical descendent of the luminaries that composed the ideological vanguard of the May 1968 movement—M. Foucault, G. Bataille, G. Debord, G. Deleuze, et al.—the brand of insurrectionary anarchism expounded in the text could, upon first glance, strike readers unfamiliar with "radical politics" as incendiary. Yet, what makes the text a noteworthy, if not superlative, read is the way in which its eloquence and lucidity transform its undoubtedly provocative message into something undeniable palatable, and, more substantially, attractive. Essential to its appeal is the way in which it avoids the anachronistic trappings that mar so many post-May 1968, Marxoid texts. Uninterested in reclaiming or reinvigorating the particular doctrines, slogans, and aims of a revolutionary moment in France that ended forty years ago, TCI is located, both ideologically and historically, in the present revolutionary moment, which is typified by the outrage expressed at the 2006 Oaxaca, Mexico protests and in the 2008 Greek uprisings. As its title implies, the text’s central concern is situating the reader in what it describes as the contemporary struggle between the ideological and militaristic power of the modern nation-state, and those who embody the refusal to accommodate the logic of empire and the pathological fictions that undergird it, namely, consumerism and nationalism.
Of the book’s thirteen chapters, the first seven resemble the geography of Dante’s Inferno in that they are labeled according to the "seven circles of alienation” that include self, social relations, work, the economy, urbanity, the environment, and end with civilization itself. Following the Preface, Introduction, and the seven analytical chapters are four concluding chapters that cobble together aphoristic reflections on how direct action protest as well as other “elements of refusal” can function as a mode of living and vice versa. The names of these four concluding chapters offer a telling glimpse into the material, for within chapters entitled "Find Each Other" and "Insurrection" are pithy subsections with headings that include Form communes.; Plunder, cultivate, fabricate.; Liberate territory from police occupation.; Avoid direct confrontation, if possible.; and, Depose authorities at a local level. No small wonder that it elicited both the ire of the paleo-theo-conservative news presenter Glen Beck—who, when reviewing the book, bombastically exclaimed, "This is quite possibly the most evil thing I’ve ever read"2—and acclaim from the left-leaning industry standard art magazine, Artforum, prior to its release.
A particularly strong aspect of the text is its pronounced anti-vanguardist orientation. Far from characterizing those who resist as a collective, albeit disparate, community of comrades-in-arms subject to a monolithic mode of repression, and, thusly, identical in political or personal ends, the text works from the proposition that sympathetic multiplicity is the best of all revolutionary tactics. The text argues that the communities of resistance necessary for the struggle already exist, and that more are being created everyday in conjunction with idiosyncratic means and ends. Using the proliferation and promotion of these communities as a point of departure, the revolutionary strategy outlined in TCI originates from two assumptions. First, "the local appropriation of power by the people, of the physical blocking of the economy and of the annihilation of police forces" (3) constitutes the only means through which global capitalism will be overcome. What this means is that, unlike the statist forces that seek to manipulate populations, the resistance to these forces must arise from particular concerns as they press upon local communities; the text puts it cogently in stating, "[r]evolutionary movements do not spread by contamination but by resonance” (12). Second, the assertion that the power that drives the subjugating mechanisms of empire and the social order it imposes are one and the same as “the mechanisms of power that preventively and surgically stifle any revolutionary potential” (13). Thus, in overcoming one you subvert the other, or so the text argues. When taken together, these assumptions lay the groundwork for the text’s more nuanced promotion of atomized insurrectionary communities.
While the Invisible Committee’s assessment of liberalism's descent into corporate greed, comprehensive alienation, and endless "third-world" military adventurism is unflinching, the tone of the text is neither nihilistic nor overtly pessimistic. In fact, a sustained, if not subtle, optimism colors the authors’ description of the coming insurrection. Essential to this optimism is the sense of readiness that the authors attribute to the communities of resistance that exist now and in the future. More specifically, the readiness attributed to these groups is contextualized by what the authors feel is a widespread understanding within these revolutionary communities that social renewal can only arise out of the ashes of failed political utopianism—propagate by representative or parliamentary democracy, Leninism, Stalinism, or any other political program. Insofar as this renewal, as well as the text which promotes it, are predicated on the failures of the progress-obsessed meta-narratives that came to typify modernism, they stand as somewhat clear expressions of a post-modernism that eschews universality for locality and specificity. In this sense, it does not seem incorrect to read the revolutionary model described in TCI as a form of “urban Zapatismo,” which, in its indigenous form in Chiapas, Mexico, has garnered the title “post-modern” by publications as different as The New York Times and New Left Review.3
In terms of style and content, The Coming Insurrection is outstanding, comparable in achievement to the seminal texts of the May 1968 movement, specifically Guy Debord’s Society of the Spectacle and Raoul Vaneigem’s The Revolution of Everyday Life. But this may be precisely the problem, for despite the lasting influence that Debord and Vaneigem have exerted on the small margin of the population interested in critical theory and anarchism, neither of their texts were able to facilitate the social revolutions that lay at the heart of their analysis. And, so, above and beyond any satisfaction the reader may feel upon finishing the book, the question nevertheless remains, “Are the authors of this text knocking on an open door?”
1 Isabelle Mandraud and Caroline Monnot, “Investigation: The Tarnac Nine,” Le Monde, 21 November 2008.