Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Reading The Coming Insurrection, II

This post is a very rough summary of the discussion held by the Reading At Occupy Amsterdam group this morning, nine people attending. This was the final session devoted to The Coming Insurrection. The summary of the first session can be found here. Feel free to add any additional comments below.


Reading At Occupy Amsterdam takes place in the army tent that was initiated by the artists of the group Het Sociaal Experiment. For these artists, The Coming Insurrection functioned as a starting point. The text is so radical in its address to the reader, that it hardly allows for a comfortable reflective position; it presents a very direct, very urgent call for action. Yet the violent vision that it presents is so extreme as to be hardly acceptable for most readers. The call, however remains; if the reader can not find willingness to follow the Invisible Committee in its radicality, he or she still finds him- or herself forced to formulate an activist answer of his/her own.

What TCI does an admirable job of mainly is to show the untenability of the capitalist social order in its present form. It does not do so by presenting a very profound economical analysis, but rather by painting an extreme picture of the symptoms of this order and their unlivability. Possibly, the best way to read TCI is for its satyrical potential.

Even though the text does contain some insightful ideas about tactics and a basic call for the establishing of communes, a profound description of the world as it should be (after the violence has run its course) is lacking. With its emphasis on themes like excess production or pillaging, it does seem to keep supposing some social order, that radicals might stand in some parasitical relation to. Even in its activism, which seems to focus very much on the war zones of the contemporary metropolis, such infrastructure is needed if only to articulate the insurrection itself. The question, "But what do we do once all the TGVs have been derailed?" remains unclear.

There is no vision on how to "clean up the mess". Interestingly, by contrast, Occupy is practically all about cleaning up the mess. In a very literal way. The politics of Occupy are most clearly felt by the organization of the General Assemblies themselves, rather than by a fixed agenda. And the General Assemblies are at their most clear and effective when they deal with practical issues of camping, of organizing facilities. In this way, the strongest political message of Occupy is its very existence (and hence, all the calls by the existing political and journalistic classes for a program or a set of demands – let alone for a leader – are next to completely moot). It is precisely the way Occupy manages to keep the squares it occupies clean and livable that constitutes its politics.

However, there remains a feeling that somehow, this politics does not get written. Most of the time, the writing of politics is understood as the writing of demands and programs, or of a clear vision of the world we are working towards. But possibly this is not the most useful kind of document that Occupy might be able to produce. What might well be more interesting would be a manual, or a description, of its modes of operation. Possibly, what might be needed more than a program would be a journal, an anthology of texts produced on the site, or a novel – Walden might be a better model than The Communist Manifesto (or, for that matter, The Coming Insurrection).

At this point, the discussion swerved off into a discussion of nature and self-sufficiency. Being positioned in the centres of cities, Occupy still heavily relies on what the Metropolis (to use the term from TCI) can provide it with. Here, there is some ground to gain for Occupy Amsterdam. For example, the camp does not, as of yet, clearly show a position viz. technology and energy. It would be great if there were a way that Occupy could somehow show the existence of energy sources that are more democratic than the ones that have fueled capitalism in its contemporary form until now (fossil fuels, etc.)

Additional themes discussed included the uncanny possibility that ideologies of nature & self-sufficiency get co-opted by fascist discourses; the equally uncanny affinity between the revolutionary, dissolve-all-borders aspect of The Coming Insurrection and the same aspect of radical capitalism; the distinction that can be made between "capitalism" and "corporatism". We may get back to some of these themes in future sessions.

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