Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Apres Le Deluge, C'est Moi

“The Coming Insurrection” by the Invisible Committee, 2007 French edition, 2009 English Ed.

This slim philosophical book was written by friends of a group of anarchists in Tarnac, France, who were arrested in 2008 for supposedly planning a ‘terrorist’ attack on the French rail system’s electrical lines (!). This book issues out of the ‘ecole superieure’ and the hated French school system, not the lumpen proletariat, of which the authors are enamored. It is written in beautiful, elliptic prose, and initially traces the psychological and personal deterioration of French society and its citizens. It advocates communism, but seems to primarily advocate revolution in order to end personal and social alienation.

There is much to value here. What it does say about the hidden personal problems of French citizens is no doubt accurate, and similar to our society. Both populations live in advanced, deteriorating capitalist societies, with all of the psychological ramifications that that implies – compulsive overwork, weak social bonds, passivity, bad relationships, crumbling marriages, and alienated selves. Capitalism’s vaunted strength – its emphasis on “YOU” the individual, is a vast commercial lie. Behind that lie wait SWAT teams, prisons, surveillance, rent-a-guards, predator drones and all manner of compulsion.

The Invisible Committee’s sensitivity to the social breakdown in France comes after the 2005 riots by mostly Arab youth, when 2 youth were gunned down by the French flics. These riots lasted for months because of the close coordination of the youth of these neighborhoods, and the authors maintain that these are the only real communities in France. They also draw present inspiration from the 2007 Greek riots, lead by left-wing forces, that successfully stymied the Greek state. The present economic slide across Europe is adding fuel to this fire of spontaneous struggle.

They direct part of their attention to the notion of over-work in France, Japan and the U.S. Their analysis is a reflection of the collapse in secure labor, and the growth in the unemployed, the lumpen-proletariat, the partially-employed, the street merchant, the transitory worker, the temp, the homeless and hidden homeless. Except for the upper-middle class of high-level engineers, lawyers, programmers and managers who they quite rightly identify as people who ‘never stop working,’ advanced capitalism is creating, all over the world, a vast army of the unemployed and the marginally productive. The’ flexibility’ and ‘mobility’ favored by late capital for their workforce is only a reflection of this basic collapse in stability. In essence, it repeats the obvious assertion that we, as workers, are wage slaves. And who wants to be a slave of any kind?

The Committee disdains every organized force on the left in France. They wish to be ‘as impenetrable to state intervention as a gypsy camp.’ I quote: “Becoming autonomous could just as easily mean learning to fight in the street, to occupy empty houses, to cease working, to love each other madly, and to shoplift.” Shoplifting, of course, is just an understood cost of doing business.

The Committee is acutely aware of the vulnerability of the advanced urban metropolis. Their view of low-level war in the metropolises of the world is very similar to Mike Davis’s view in “Planet of Slums” (reviewed on the blog, below) – it is the new battleground, already recognized by the ruling elites’ military forces. They give credit to Blanqui for being the first to think of non-linear warfare, a philosophy that has been adopted by various western military forces. Given the interconnectedness of everything, they believe electrical grids can be brought down with careful explosions that will turn the lights off across Europe. They insist French society is quite similar to the USSR under Andropov … the French rulers no longer even pretend to rule in the name of the people anymore.

The Committee considers ‘environmentalism’ under capitalism to be an attempt by capital to save the same people who … destroyed the planet. Capital’s new version of environmentalism will create super-profits for some corporations, and allow the state to exert further control over the population. This is precisely the plan of Al Gore and Barack Obama, of course. The Committee favors a bloody planetary collapse as better than further capitalist crisis management. As a photographic negative of the capitalists (See Naomi Klein “Shock Doctrine”, reviewed below) they also believe that disaster can be beneficial, but in an opposite way - bringing people closer to reality, and rebellion.

They cite Hurricaine Katrina as an example, an event Klein also cited to draw a different lesson. The failure by the Bush administration over Katrina undermined his political support, and threw some of it to Obama. The Committee contend that the growth in community organizations in the wake of the hurricane proves that disasters are beneficial. However, pro-union laws were put in abeyance after Katrina. The same firms that made out like bandits in Iraq also made billions on Katrina. The City of New Orelans was depopulated of some black residents permanently. Many are still scattered across the U.S. or living in trailers. Whole neighborhoods are empty patchworks of homes. Many died or were injured. And to this day, the Corps of Engineers STILL doesn’t think a Category 5 hurricane dike is necessary. You will look long and hard to find ‘gains’ – only misery, and humans coping with misery. Sometimes disasters don’t create rebellion – they create destruction. Tell the survivors of the Tsunami in India about its benefits. Oppression oppresses. It does not automatically create rebellion. Or as someone once said, "Apres le Deluge, c'est moi."

The Committee notes that, in the homeland of the idea of the ‘nation,’ the concept of the French national state has ended, They conclude as to ‘civilization’ as a whole – ‘We have a corpse on our backs.”

Instead of seeing events as atrocities or indignities, they point out that events should be looked at as part of low-level warfare. They advocate avoiding far left, activist and community groups, and forming unbreakable communes and ‘base committees’ to prepare for an insurrection now. For money, the communes are to rely on hustling, some work, public funds, trafficking, theft, dumpster diving and fraud. This frees up people’s time for revolutionary activities – target practice, learning to set broken bones, pick locks, run pirate radio stations, learn urban agricultural practices, develop expertise in computers and other technical skills. They want to create different-sized free territories in the cities, geographic spaces opaque to the military, but known to the residents. They advocate personal travel around Europe and the world to make contacts. They also advocate sabotage at a minimum of risk and time, and for maximum damage. They believe in becoming anonymous, not public; developing the ability of self-defense; and destroying government computer databases.

The Committee eventually advocates linking up all the communes for an insurrection, perhaps at a moment of crisis. They oppose assemblies or mass voting at these critical times, believe in ‘blocking the economy’ through shutdowns; liberating territory without direct confrontations and deposing local officials. They think a military insurrection is only the very last step, basing themselves on the experience of the Paris Commune.

The philosophic conflict between Marxism and anarchism has been a long one, and I will not get into it here. Some of these things Marxists can agree with and are useful counter-weights to liberalism, of course. For instance, actual Marxist organizations have both a public and a non-public face. However, in much of this, it is Blanqui again – a select conspiracy of rage. I cannot assess the class character of the proponents, but again, the document has the air of the ‘ecole superieure.’ Events have shown that many kinds of public legal struggle, like mass marches, have become increasingly futile in advanced capitalist countries, which certainly accounts for this document. What is truly significant is that this book was even written. It is a thermometer held to the temper of the times.

And I bought it at Mayday Books!
Red Frog, September 8, 2009


AA said...

A beautiful review, Red Frog, and you really have surpassed yourself. You've whetted my interest in the book and I shall spare no effort to get hold of a copy.

Red Frog said...

Thanks. I wrote a friend of mine in France, who translates Humanite' into English, about these folks. I'll let you know what he says.

Red Frog said...

My friend reports that everyone knows "Cornac". The head of this group is a guy named Julien Coupat. He's in Wiki. Of course, daddy was a doctor and business executive. The whole group was framed because some iron hooks were found hanging over the high speed rail lines. All but one out of jail.