The day after the insurrection

On First Revolutionary Measures

RP 189 () / Article

It’s been seven years since the cratering of the global economy began in late 2007. While the concerted efforts of the dominant classes and their various client states have enabled, for the time being, the blowing of more bubbles on financial and other markets, a real recovery remains elusive: considerably more than half of Spanish and Greek youth remain unemployed, to cite just one symptom of the predicament into which contemporary capitalism has drifted. This same period has been marked, predictably, by wave after wave of social unrest and riots, whether they took the form of food riots across the world in 2007-08, the conflagrations of Athens and Thessaloniki in late 2008 and after, or indeed the properly ‘historical’ riots – to cite Alain Badiou’s useful formulation – of Tunis and Cairo in early 2011, in which for the first time since the late 1970s mass mobilizations deposed Western-backed, doddering autocrats with relatively surprising if deceptive swiftness.

The initial breakthroughs of the Arab Spring appeared to give rise as much to the worldwide movement of the ‘squares’, be they in Madrid, New York, Athens or Oakland, as they did to revolts across the Middle East, including those taking ferocious turns in Libya and Syria. In the meantime, Italy, France and the UK, largely untouched by the Occupy movement, experienced at times robust anti-austerity movements, with those in the UK punctuated by the massive anti-police rioting and looting of August 2011. After an uncertain lull, the pace of these revolts picked up again, seeming to ping back and forth between Brazil and Turkey, then to Bosnia and Herzegovina, and pausing for some time in the particular violent and in some ways unsettling Maidan square occupation in Kiev. The economic crisis beginning in late 2007 seemed to set large portions of the earth ablaze, some areas burning slower, some hotter, than others, but all of them sparks thrown off by a single event, and colluding obscurely together in the formation of a singular time: a time of riots, the likes of which echo the virulence of the machine-wrecking temps des émeutes of the 1830s and 1840s, the eve of the organized workers’ movement of Western Europe.

Most analysts of this accumulation of revolts have explained their concatenation and seeming consistency – shaping the present as a time of struggles – through reference to the economic crisis, if not as their cause, then as their objective correlate. The exact relation between these two phenomena remains, with the exception of the anti-austerity movements cited above, obscure. It is the great interest of a book like The Coming Insurrection, published in 2007 by a mysterious ‘Invisible Committee’ some six months before the unravelling later that year, to have anticipated certain aspects of the period I’ve just described. In a certain sense, the insurrection the book projects into the imminent future is keyed to a certain figure of crisis or collapse. But the crisis diagnosed there is less the punctual and objective buckling of the global economy than a set of interlocking devolutions, a longer-term structural decomposition of a world whose various components or devices (work, the economy, the city, the self) can no longer effectively mediate and manage the polarizations and antagonisms that structure what an earlier iteration of the ‘Invisible Committee’ (in Tiqqun’s 2001 Introduction to Civil War) dubbed, Negri-like, ‘Empire’, and which here was dubbed simply ‘civilization’.

The corpse autopsied in The Coming Insurrection was largely a French one, with the 2005 banlieue riots and the most radical tendencies within the 2006 anti-CPE movement placed centre stage. The book is all the same shaped by the violence of the anti-globalization mobilizations in Genoa in 2001, and by the more distant experiences of the piqueteros movement in Argentina in 2001 and even the ‘Black Spring’ autonomy riots of the Kabylie region of Algeria of the same year. The Coming Insurrection paid special heed to the emergence of a tactical innovation that seemed to link the piqueterosmovement and the advanced fractions of the anti-CPE movement: the tendency, at a distance from the workplace and without recourse to the classical strike, to block or blockade the flows of the economy and the circuitry of capitalist valorization. What defined this analysis as properly ‘insurrectionary’, …