The Black Bloc Which Was Not: Comments in the lead up to the Hamburg G20

the bride wore black 2Is she be a member of the black bloc?

In the 1 July copy of the German newspaper Taz one finds the statements of two leftist organizations – Campact and Interventionistische Linke  – each of which expresses their desire to be distanced from anything seen as ‘criminal’, and especially anything that can be associated with the black block. In the words of one Interventionistische Linke representative: ‘We want a colorful event. [But] Black is too colourful.’ A scene such as this seems to be something of a tradition within the German (reformist) left and rehearses a similar situation when, during the 1988 convention of the World Bank and IMF in Berlin, the Greens sought out discussions with world leaders while the Autonomen rejected any type of cooperation/reformism. Unlike today, one opens the September 1988 issue of Der Spiegel with a different tone being expressed regarding the arrival of world financial leaders to the capital: “While the Greens met to discuss alternatives to the existing world financial system…the Autonomen declined to cooperate with reformists vis-à-vis the IMF. Der Spiegel quoted one radical as saying: “A death machine can only be combated.” Just as it was the case for this ‘radical’ in 1988 so too is it the case for those of us in Hamburg. In light of all the media attention leading up to the G20 summit, all one can really gather from these reports is the anticipation of any agreement between the Merkel-Macron alliance and Trump, and the arrival of the ‘black block’ and their riots. However it must be said: against the temptation of treating riots as something that detracts from the legitimate form of peaceful protest, or as something doomed from the start due to a perceived limitation inherent to the riot-form, Hamburg should receive the G20 and its affiliates in nothing but riotous fashion. As Joshua Clover has helpfully shown in his study on the historical relation between the riot and the strike, riots are a mode of struggle that simultaneously address themselves to police, the state, and capital. That is to say, riots are not simply ephemeral and spontaneous expressions of discontent but are ‘a mode of survival that seeks to resolve the crisis of the reproduction of labor within the spheres of circulation and consumption.’ To détourn Stuart Hall’s formulation: riots are a mode through which class struggle is lived.

Regarding the police, however, riots respond to the reality of the function of policing understood as ensuring the security of an economic system that was born from, and needs to maintain, the subjugation of people of color, the poor, queers, women, migrants, and refugees. That is, the job of the police isn’t to ‘protect and serve’, or to help any citizen whatsoever when they are in danger, but rather, to secure, defend, and maintain lucrative economic conditions at the national level for value production, as well as enforcing the illegality of subsistence outside the legally acceptable market of waged-labour. Again, it is this defense of capital and criminalization of those who resist becoming part of surplus populations that is being encountered once more in Hamburg. And as if to corroborate this claim of the police’s inherent role in the protection of capital, Timo Zell, a spokesman for the Hamburg police helpfully puts to rest any remaining doubts: this year’s G20 will be “the biggest operation in the history of Hamburg’s police.” It is because riots are a form of struggle that is equally anti-state, anti-police, and anti-capitalist, that the particular combination of police and capital at this week’s G20 summit should be nothing short of a riotous affair.

So if riots should break out, don’t be fooled into thinking that these are the problematic ‘far left elements’ of this week of protests; that there has ever been such a thing as a ‘good’, as opposed to a ‘bad’, demonstrator. It is the State that divides the masses between the good-citizen and bad-criminal, especially since it is with these so-called ‘bad’ and ‘criminal’ elements that anti-police and anti-state struggles are most effective. And, in fact, there has never been such a thing as a good protester as opposed to a bad one, just as there has never been such a thing as a good cop as opposed to a bad cop: in the confrontation with 20 world leaders there are only those who are for and against the G20’s raison d’état (securing the existence and relative stability of global capital); there are only those who aim to preserve this world and those who want nothing short of bringing about its swift end. Even though it was the Invisible Committee who recognized the emerging consensus among various leftist currents regarding slogans such as ACAB or tactics such as riots, it is them who have also made recent attempts to reiterate the need for bringing about an end to this world with other slogans such as tout le monde déteste la police. While this slogan in English would read ‘everyone hates the police’, we find that a more literal translation is appropriate: the whole world hates the police.

The whole world hates the police because the police are the ones who, anywhere and everywhere, ensure the ‘stability of the global economy’, who call for ‘peaceful and reasonable protest’, and who even claim that hosting the G20 in a big city shows the world Germany’s celebration of liberal rights despite the fact that the police have built detention centres and prisons specifically for those arrested during the protests and at the camps. If police officers can prepare spaces of confinement for those who exercise their state sanctioned ‘rights’ (the right to voice dissent through public assembly being the most relevant liberty in question vis-à-vis Hamburg) it is only because the kind of society afforded by Capital and its nation-states is one where the State claims to act as the guarantor of a set of universal rights while simultaneously arresting its citizens when the exercise of these rights conflict with the interests of the State. Thus, what should be obvious by now is the fact that everyone on the streets of Hamburg are all potential criminals from the point of view of the police, the state, and of capital. It is for this reason that we should not be duped by a discourse on the ‘good’ as opposed to ‘bad’ elements of the demonstration, since everyone is potentially already one of the ‘bad ones.’ And what of the reports predicting the biggest black bloc in history? Surely those individuals who are only recognizable by their all black, masked up, attire would qualify as the rogue elements of civilized protest? For us, however, it would be better to ask the following: is there really such a thing as this so-called ‘black bloc’ that we hear of so often and have allegedly witnessed on our computer screens? We ask this for the simple reason that, to this day, we are not certain if we have ever seen a black bloc.

‘THE BLACK BLOC WILL NEVER HAVE BEEN IN HAMBURG’

black bloc vending machines (Marais)Perhaps this could be the black block?

Already in 2007, the ready-made artist Claire Fontaine identified why we feel the need to inquire into the existence or non-existence of this thing called black bloc. As Fontaine writes, ‘the black bloc is you, when you stop believing in it.’ And what led Fontaine to draw such a conclusion about this thing we hear so often about are the very reasons that allow us to say, in good faith, that we haven’t seen a black bloc. For us as well as Fontaine, the black bloc is defined as ‘that which exists only insofar as everyone stops believing in its existence’ because, today, it seems one can encounter the black bloc everywhere one goes. This includes everything from the evening news (“4 February 1007, on the 8 o’clock news I see what appears to be a male figure…throwing stones in a night lit by flames. He is wearing a very elegant Dolce & Gabbana bomber-jacket with a big silver D&G on the back and an immaculate white ski-mask”) to mundane yet unexpected places such as one boutique brand name (as pictured above) in the Palais de Tokyo (“While my eyes follow the footsteps of customers going to the Black Bloc boutique at the entrance to the Palais de Tokyo…Agamben’s words about the souls in Limbo automatically pops into my head: ‘like letters without addressees…they remained without destiny”). In other words, the black bloc exists insofar as we understand that it is a word without image, a word that can be tied to any number of images and regardless of whether the images we associate with this term contradict the very things it comes to signify. Thus, if it is to be anything, the black bloc is that term that exists without an image:

…giving a place like that a name that evokes transgression or even the destruction of merchandise, while here we are selling our merchandise at high prices and we’re loving it. Or maybe the black bloc sounded a bit like the opposite of the white cube, or the idea of a block bloc is suggestive, martial, what do I know?…It’s not just appearances one shouldn’t trust, one shouldn’t trust words either. Or more specifically, the link we imagine exists between words and images…For example, we believe we’ve found the illustration of this concept in photographs of marching people dressed in black, black bloc is a word with an image. The term black bloc alludes to a manifestation of desire for collective opacity, a will not to appear and to materialise affects that are increasingly hard to take. The black bloc is not a visual object, it’s an object of desire. (‘Black bloc’, 18)

Thus it is not a question of what black bloc really means and rather a question of subjective utterance: who is it that speaks about a so-called black bloc, and by doing so conjures up a correlating image to give meaning to their discourse? And for Fontaine, it is the State, more often than not, that has a vested interest in constructing the political significance of this term by relating word to image:

Instead let’s ask what ‘this is the black bloc’ means? Who says that? Wouldn’t that be a definition like an imaged filmed from a window, like the one from the 8 o’clock news…a definition shot from above, taken from the viewpoint of a watchtower, from some panopticon? What we are describing is always a block of ant-men, cockroach-men, a black block, which is black like the earth because it is seen from afar. But the carabinieri, they are also a black bloc. Baudelaire said that his contemporaries dressed in dark clothes that no painter enjoyed depicting, were an army of undertakers, that they were all celebrating some funeral. Enamoured undertakers, revolutionary undertakers. (‘Black bloc’, 20)

Just as we shouldn’t be fooled by the State’s discourse on ‘riots’ and its participants from the ‘hardcore fringe of the left’, we shouldn’t be duped into the State’s paranoia surrounding the arrival of the black bloc as well; especially since it is the State that has constructed what this term has come to be known as in the popular imagination. That is, the ‘black bloc’ that we have come to know through news reports and media outlets are the images of window smashers characterized as rogue individuals acting opportunistically in the midst of the majority of good, peaceful, law abiding citizens. And, according to the State, it is these individuals that come to stand in for what it once meant to dress in all black. If this is so, then what it means to dress in all black, to wear masks, to de-arrest friends and fight to ensure their safety, what it means to engage in our mutual defense and a collective attack against the various ways this world does violence to us, means that these modes of composition are not the black bloc. It means that this thing we do with each other in the night where all demonstrators look alike isn’t and never was the black blocToday, then, it would be better to say that the one’s who arrive in Hamburg dressed in all black and take to the streets to protect their friends and comrades, that they too are not the black bloc. And if these actions and images are not the black bloc, then, we would do well to recognize the fact that, perhaps, the black bloc will never have been in Hamburg at all. So, when you read some article about the black bloc at this weeks G20 summit, or when you overhear strangers talking about masked up hooligans destroying the city, or when you see images taken by helicopter of far away bodies shown to be causing chaos in the streets, remember that you are hearing about something other than what dressing in all black actually meant; and particularly what it meant not for the ‘black bloc’ but for what, at one time, went by another name:

On the other hand, schwarze Block means something, it roots us in a history of resistance bound with the two 20th century Germany’s […] I could tell you that schwarze Block was a tactical form, that it was a means of preventing the police from identifying and isolation who committed what gesture during a riot. I could tell you that dressing in black meant: we are all comrades, we are all in solidarity, we are all alike, and this equality liberates us from the responsibility of accepting a fault we do not deserve; the fault of being poor in a capitalist country, the fault of being anti-fascist in the fatherland of Nazism, the fault of being libertarian in a repressive country. That it meant: nobody deserves to be punished for these reasons, and since you are attacking us we are forced to protect ourselves from violence when we march in the streets. Because war, capitalism, labour regulations, prisons, psychiatric hospitals, those things are not violent, however you see those of us who want to freely live our homosexuality, the refusal to found a family, collective life and abolition of property as the violent ones. So, if you want to arrest me instead of my comrade just because we are wearing the same clothing, go ahead, I accept that, I don’t deserve to be punished because he doesn’t deserve it either… I could go on like this, and even provide you with more specifics, by supplementing it with the history of demonstrations, of victories, with dates to back it all up and everything, like the time a band was playing around the rioters in the deserted streets, or the time when the police took off running… I could go on for pages and pages, but that’s not the issue here. All this isn’t the black bloc. (‘Black Bloc’, 19-20)

hafenstrasse 1987 hamburg
the black bloc is you, when you stop believing in it.

The Real War (Lundi Matin editorial)**

just do it riot

What we have undertaken must not be confused with anything else and cannot be limited to the expression of certain ideas or even less to what is rightly considered art. It is necessary to produce and to eat: many things are necessary that are still nothing, and so it is with political agitation. Who imagines, before fighting to the end, leaving one’s place to men one cannot look at without feeling the urge to destroy them? But if nothing could be found beyond political activity, human avidity would only encounter the void. WE ARE FIERCELY RELIGIOUS and, inasmuch as our existence is the condemnation of everything that is recognized today, an inner exigency demands that we be equally imperious. What we are undertaking is a war.  Georges Bataille, Acéphale #1

Communicators and governing authorities, who can no longer sell the ‘security’ which they are manifestly incapable of delivering to any of their subjects, have pounced on the latest Parisian massacres in order to recast their rhetoric. “We are at war,” they tirelessly repeat, with the slight giddiness that always accompanies the manipulation of a new toy.

So they have a rhetorical device they can try out, for sure, but not really use, as Arnauld and Nicole would have said. Because if ‘we’ are at war, then what could be more normal than enemy commandos coming and attacking the country’s cities? What could be more normal than civilians being struck down? What could be more normal than asymmetrical bloodbaths? Isn’t that what ‘war’ is since 1939 and perhaps since 1914? If so, then how can one reproach the enemy for barbarism when he’s only practicing the contemporary art of war – which prescribes, for example, slaughtering a presumed enemy military commander along with his family from a drone, when the occasion presents itself? But more importantly, if in Algeria there had only been ‘events’ such as the bombs at the Milk Bar and La Corniche Casino, which were answered with ‘police operations’ that also involved massacres, bombs, forced relocations, camps, and torture – if these were just ‘events’ and not a war, what does it mean that ‘war’ is spoken of now? It’s a good bet that when poor François Hollande, with his popularity down in the basement, decided to intervene in Mali, then in Iraq, one of his military advisers whispered in his ear, worried: “But Mr. President, you do realize that such an engagement greatly increases the risks of attacks on our soil?” and that our general advisor, in his role as commander-in-chief, gravely and laconically replied: “Oui.” Because the fact is, for a long time antiterrorism has shown its miraculous effects for leaders suffering total discredit and that these days it is preferable to be judged on the basis of one’s enemies rather than on the basis of one’s results.

We’re not sure why, but the massacres claimed by the I.S. seem to have the virtue of triggering bouts of extreme confusion in response, and, for many, unusual crises of hypocrisy. As if the effective reign of hypocrisy in nearly every domain of Western societies could only be countered by an added dose of the same drug – which in the long run will surely lead to a fatal overdose. Thus, it can’t be attributed to a lack of information that a cartoonist in vogue reacted to the attacks with a speech balloon saying: “The people who died this evening were out to enjoy life, to drink and to sing. They didn’t know that someone had declared war on them.” In the age of social networking, one has to be strangely intoxicated to pretend not to know that the French armed forces are projected over a good half-dozen theaters of foreign operations, and that certain interventions, particularly in Mali, in Syria, in Iraq, and also in Afghanistan, have rather incensed certain bombarded minds. We won’t talk here about the militarization of law enforcement, the death of protesters hit by offensive grenades and others blinded in one eye by police flashballs – what would be left of the cartoonist’s comfort if he became aware that every government basically conducts a continuous war for control of its population? And what would be left of his avowed casualness if it occurred to him that his ‘champagne,’ his ‘joy,’ and his ‘kisses’ are somewhat situated sociologically, culturally, ethically – in a word: that his ‘freedom’ is that of the winners? And it needs to be said, all this business about ‘freedom’ that’s been tweeted back and forth and hashed over in articles and speeches for the past three days doesn’t ring at all true. As a matter of fact, it sounds like a crude instance of mutual flattery. Because, to start with, we’re not the first here to defend the ancient thesis that freedom begins with the fact of not fearing death, and in that regard it appears that last Friday’s attackers may have been a bit freer than ‘we’ are. Moreover, because the freedom that one has on the sexual, professional, cultural, or simply social market is so tightly structured by the ferocious competition that prevails there that this freedom could just as well be called ‘terrible servitude’ instead. Lastly, because the freedom of “I do what I like with my hair/ with my ass/with my dick/with my tongue, etc.” looks quite pathetic, really, in the sober light of the morning after. The bourgeois adage which, from the Middle Ages to Michelet, endlessly proclaimed that “city air is liberating” (Stadluft macht frei ) lapsed into uselessness like just about everything else the bourgeoisie invented: work won’t set you free any more either, and hasn’t for a very long time. So on the contrary, the air of the metropolis makes you lonely, connected, depressed, miserable, self-centered, sociable, competitive, hard, opportunistic, fuckable or fucked…whatever, but not free.

**

The doxa of the moment has it that what came under attack was ‘our way of life,’ as represented on Friday nights by football, trendy bars, and rock concerts – a way of life that’s uninhibited, liberal, libertine, atheist, transgressive, urban, festive, and so forth. This is what France, civilization, democracy, and ‘values’ would be: the possibility of living, without believing in anything, a life after the ‘death of God,’ a life which is precisely what His zealots would like to destroy. The only problem is that all the characterizations given of that ‘way of life’ by so many of its enthusiastic or melancholy believers pretty much coincide with what Western thinkers, recognized in other circumstances as being extraordinarily lucid, have consistently denounced. Read some of the opinion pieces and editorials of the past few days and then have a look at part five of the prologue to Thus Spoke Zarathustra concerning the last men. Consider Bataille’s “Sacred Conspiracy.” Skim through Michelstaedter’s Persuasion and Rhetoric. Read Kojève’s notes on the end of History in his Introduction to the Reading of Hegel:

In point of fact, the end of human Time or History – that is, the definitive annihilation of Man properly so-called or of the free and historical Individual – means quite simply the cessation of Action in the full sense of the term. Practically, this means: the disappearance of wars and bloody revolutions. And also the disappearance of Philosophy; for since Man himself no longer changes essentially, there is no longer any reason to change the (true) principles which are at the basis of his understanding of the World and of himself. But all the rest can be preserved indefinitely; art, love, play, etc.; in short, everything that makes Man happy (…) If Man becomes an animal again, his arts, his loves, and his play must also become purely “natural” again. Hence it would have to be admitted that after the end of History, men would construct their edifices and works of art as birds build their nests and spiders spin their webs, would perform musical concerts after the fashion of frogs and cicadas, would play like young animals, and would indulge in love like adult beasts. But one cannot then say that all this “makes Man happy.” One would have to say that post-historical animals of the species Homo sapiens  (which will live amidst abundance and complete security) will be content as a result of their artistic, erotic, and playful behavior, inasmuch as, by definition, they will be contented with it.

If one wished to be more cruel, and draw from an even more indisputable heritage, one would have to say rather that Friday’s attacks – against a stadium, bistros, a concert venue – were a bloody and pitiless offensive against entertainment, in which case it would be Pascal, no doubt, who would be found in the camp of the ‘terrorists.’

The stupidest thing to do when something or someone is attacked is to defend them because they are attacked. It’s a well-known Christian vice. It makes little sense to defend ‘France’ – which is what, exactly, ‘France’? – Paris, the hipsters, football, or rock because they were assaulted. Libération’s front page about the attacks doesn’t erase what was announced initially, which had to do, curiously, with the social and human ulcer that hipsters constitute in the heart of the metropolises, and more particularly in Paris. The kind of emotional coup d’État that attempted, last January, to make Charlie Hebdo into ‘France’ won’t succeed this time in imposing identification with a certain form of metropolitan life. The cognitive-communicational petty bourgeoisie, the party highs, the hit-on and hook-up routine, the hip salary bros, the hedonism of the cool thirty-something, will never manage to pass for ‘our way of life,’ ‘our values,’ or even for ‘culture.’ It’s a certain form of life, like there are so many of in these times, in this country, and which don’t always only inspire good feelings. The instrumentalization of the attacks by certain propagandists in order to ensure the moral hegemony of that particular form of life can only contribute to making it loathsome.

**

The situation is the following.  We are faced with two fundamentalisms:  the economic fundamentalism of the governments, be they right-wing, left-wing, extreme right-wing, extreme left-wing – all across the political spectrum there are only believers in economy, calculation, work, measurement, accounting, and social engineering – and the ideological fundamentalism of the partisans of the Caliphate. Neither group is open to discussing the least of its articles of faith, even though their religions are both defunct, surviving only by dint of voluntarism, absurd massacres, endless crises, and therapeutic doggedness. There is an obvious fanaticism in the fact of responding to the crisis of neoliberalism by unleashing it on the world. While few are ready to die for the economy, no one, in the West, has ever had any scruples about killing, or letting die, in its name. Each day of life in France offers sufficient confirmation of that. Moreover, the stupefaction effect produced by Friday’s attacks is due precisely to their spectacularly anti-economic character: is there a more enigmatic, inexplicable act for the rational calculator trying to maximize his usefulness and his satisfaction, than this gang of guys wasting human lives right and left and finally killing themselves – pure human, cultural, social capital, patiently accumulated through daily efforts, having reached the age of its maximum productivity, and sacrificed for nothing, the economist would say, appalled. What have they gained by that? Haven’t they lost everything, for no good reason? Those who speak of the ‘mystery of terrorism’ in this instance neglect to point out that the mystery exists as such only from the point of view of economy. They don’t see that this is done on purpose: the pleasure of the suicidal attacker firing into the crowd lies precisely in bringing the arrogant Western economic creature down to the level of a rat stepping over its moaning fellow creatures to survive, in shattering the superiority of his false transcendence facing the miserable immanence of the struggle for life. If there’s an attack against a certain happiness in what has transpired, it resides both in the massacre and in the reflex, after the carnage, to defend that happiness – for a happiness that needs defending never takes long to become a lie.

May last Friday’s attacks, and those that are bound to follow given the spiral which the governing authorities have deliberately set in motion, make us truer and less distracted, deeper and less hypocritical, more serious and more communist. For us, this is the real war, the one that, in the West, merits the risking of one’s life: the war to have done with economy. But it’s a war, let it be said, that’s not pursued via spectacular massacres, however anti-economic they may be. The warfare in our case is essentially indirect. It is through lived communism that the terrain of economy will be diminished, which doesn’t rule out bold actions when they’re appropriate to the situation. More clearly than ever, the construction of a sensitive communism is the only thing capable of punching through the historical nightmare from which we’re trying to wake up.

 

 

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** This piece was published in issue 2 of Hostis: A Journal of Incivility and was originally an editorial featured in Lundi Matin. Translation courtesy of Robert Hurley.

Previously unpublished writing from Tarnac – ‘Against the State of Emergency’

protest 4 - Beestermoellers

This text–originally published in Hostis 2: Beyond Recognition–was translated from the French by Robert Hurley and merits a statement regarding the context from which it emerged. The original article (‘contre létat d’urgence, l’urgence de prendre la rue’) was written upon request by the French newspaper Le Monde. The newspaper had asked for a commentary from some of the Tarnac defendants ( “des mis en examen” ) regarding the 13 November 2015 attacks on Paris and the events that followed. However, despite the papers initial request the piece was accepted but never published. In the end, Le Monde provided no rationale for this and so we leave it up to our readers to determine why.

Gone are the days when they could cynically joke, in the Anti-Terrorist Sub-Directorate: “There are more people making a living from terrorism than there are dying from it.” Gone, too, the days when anti-terrorism à la française, or rather, à la Bruguière,* dripped with self-satisfaction in the pages of the magazines. Didn’t its prize formula, “criminal association in connection with a terrorist undertaking,” enable it to preventively neutralize whomever one wished and keep them in the cooler long enough to “tenderize the meat,” even though there was no incriminating evidence? And what wisdom on the part of the anti-terrorist judges and police! : their sense of the Republic was such that they never dreamed of exploiting that gap in the penal code which the formula effectively constitutes. They could have locked away just about anyone they wanted to on frivolous grounds, and they didn’t. As a reward for this surprising restraint, it was agreed that one shouldn’t focus too much on the falsifications, the doctorings and other little lies they were in the habit of inserting into the procedures and press conferences. Where anti-terrorism is concerned, it’s the intention that counts, and here the intention could only be laudable. The formula in question was an ‘weapon.’ And like every arm, it was appreciated for its ‘effectiveness.’ The police criterion of effectiveness was not very juridical, certainly, but it imposed itself like a Glock in the middle of the face: as they tirelessly repeated, there hadn’t been an attack on French soil since 1995. The blackmail was couched in these terms: “Don’t tie our hands or there will be deaths.” From laws to decrees to the paroxysm of the latest ‘law on intelligence,’ it’s an understatement to say that over the past twenty-five years the successive heads of government bravely submitted to this blackmail. In this way, little by little, the anti-terrorist services were placed above the law. Their field of action no longer knows any limit. The bulk of what they do is classified and the last channels of recourse against them have been dismantled. It must be admitted that governing figures with little purchase on developments in the world have found what they needed here: weren’t the army and the police the last levers available to them, the last forces that were supposed to obey them? And what’s more, the interest of the secret services in terms of communication – the real function of the governing authorities now – is that since the information they hold is officially secret, one can lie about it without risking to be contradicted. That the DGSI* has taken for its headquarters, at Levallois-Perret, the former offices of Euro RSCG,* is a coincidence worth thinking about. Thus, a Cazeneuve* can congratulate himself in a press statement for “the effectiveness of the services of the Ministry of the Interior in the fight against terrorism” as he did last November 10, and only events can reduce such a miserable little exercise in self-promotion to the nonsense that it is. They didn’t fail to do so.

The November 13 attacks confirm the total rout of French-style anti-terrorism, a kind of smug, cowardly, and sheeplike bureaucratic monster. The new rhetoric of ‘war’ that has supplanted the promise of ‘security’ doesn’t come out of nowhere: it was concocted over the past few months in anticipation of the inevitable assault and in order to mask the failure of a whole apparatus, the disaster of a whole policy. Beneath its manly posturing, it has trouble hiding the obvious impotence and the profound disorientation of the governing authorities. As a general rule, every foreign war that a government declares should be understood first as an act of domestic war, aimed first of all at its own population – that is, at dominating, controlling, and mobilizing the latter, and aimed against the rival power only secondarily. This is something that the geopoliticians will never understand, and which always renders their considerations on ‘the Americans,’ ‘the Russians,’ ‘the Iranians,’ etc. so pointless. It’s also what explains that the latest French air strikes, which were so urgently publicized, didn’t do any decisive damage: they are their own purpose in themselves.

It needs to be said that apart from these cinematic strikes, the recent ‘declaration of war’ essentially consists in the establishment of the state of emergency – that is, in a revocation of the last protections the population has against the abuses of the government, the exactions of the police, and the arbitrariness of the administrations. It reminds us of the extent to which contemporary war is clearly counter-insurrectionary, or as General Vincent Desportes puts it so well, it “is not conducted between societies but within societies.” “The target of the action is no longer the adversary, but the population.” Its “objective is human society, its governance, its social contract, its institutions.” “Military actions are really a ‘manner of speaking’: every major operation is now a communicative operation first of all, one whose actions, even minor ones, speak louder than words. […] Conducting war is primarily managing perceptions, those of the set of actors, near or distant, direct or indirect.” We are experiencing what is described very accurately by the Invisible Committee in To Our Friends: “from being a military doctrine, counter-insurgency has become a principle of government.” Thus for a whole day the government tested the ‘opinion’ reaction to its announcement of a possible quashing of the planned demonstrations against COP 21.* Given the general confusion and the organizers’ irresolution, the prohibition of demonstrations was decreed the next day. Already, RAID* units have been sent to dislodge squatters in Lille, absurd curfews are being tested, and this is obviously only a beginning. Evidently, with this state of emergency, we are dealing with a policing measure against all political liberties. So one understands the population’s current reluctance to pick up on the executive’s martial refrains: the population knows very well that basically it is the target of the announced offensive.

For our part, and this won’t surprise anyone, it seems to us that the real danger doesn’t come from the Middle-East but from the successive governments that have plunged us into these dark waters and are attempting at present to close their trap on us once more. By getting us to go along with their war, they’re already speculating on the benefits they’ll draw from the next time we’ll be taken as targets. The attacks and the present state of emergency realize the dream of every government: that everyone will stay home – absolute privatization. It’s obviously the opposite that should be done: take the squares, meet in the streets, occupy the universities, directly debate the situation, find the right words for grasping our common condition, restore public space to its political calling, begin to organize and cease to leave our fate in the hands of the bloody imbeciles who claim to govern us. In this way we have some chance of becoming a crowd that holds together, and no longer that collection of anomic solitudes that’s unable to defend itself when it’s attacked – by its government or by jihadists.

 

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Note: The asterisked items above are easily searchable, but briefly:
Jean-Louis Bruguière is a former investigating magistrate in charge of counter-terrorism.
DGSI is the Direction Générale de la Sécurité Intérieure, a French intelligence agency.
Euro RSCG is a global public relations corporation.
Bernard Cazeneuve is the current Minister of the Interior.
COP 21 was the recent Paris conference on global warming/ climate change.
RAID is France’s primary counter-terrorism police.

Surrealism & Marxism: Notes on Breton, Césaire, and Miéville for Future Considerations

14237493_10207211959367278_5274789933012419958_nMarcel Sauvage, “Le Fin de Paris” (1932)

The original post has been edited and re-published by some friends at Blind Field – A Journal of Cultural Inquiry. You can read the updated version here

We Head for The Horizon and Return With Bloodshot Eyes (Brief Comments on the Plane of Immanence)

the great mosque of samarra

The question of the status of the plane of immanence has often been interpreted in a positive light. Namely, it is evident to the reader that ‘reaching the plane of immanence’ is portrayed as a virtue of the philosopher insofar as philosophy, understood as the creation of concepts, necessarily relies upon the plane on which philosophy’s concepts are brought into relation. As if to corroborate this interpretation, Deleuze and Guattari themselves write

“…Spinoza is the Christ of philosophers, and the greatest philosophers are hardly more than apostles who distance themselves from or draw near to this mystery. Spinoza, the infinite becoming-philosopher: he showed, drew up, and thought the “best” plane of immanence–that is, the purest, the one that does not hand itself over to the transcendent or restore any transcendent, the one that inspires the fewest illusions, bad feelings, and erroneous perceptions” (What is Philosophy? 60).

Thus the virtue of a thought adequate to its plane of immanence appears as self-evident, as something axiomatic; the inherent virtue of the plane of immanence seems to function as an analytic truth that is simply reiterated across the work of Deleuze, and his joint works with Guattari.

However, and against this view of the plane of immanence as both epistemic and ethico-political virtue, it is important to remind ourselves that while constructing the plane of immanence is a necessary condition for the creation of concepts (as philosophy’s presupposed non-conceptual, or pre-philosophical, correlate), this task carried out by thought cannot be the site of both epistemic virtue and ethico-political praxis. Why? For the very reason that, for Deleuze and Guattari, the importance of constructing a plane of immanence is not justified in terms of the ethical or political potential opened up by immanence as such. Rather, we must construct a plane of immanence since it is only in relation to the plane of immanence that concepts themselves take on significance and value for the thinker: “All concepts are connected to problems without which they would have no meaning and which can themselves only be isolated or understood as their solution emerges” (WP, 16).

The plane of immanence orients Thought in a way that allows the thinker to distinguish between true and false problems and thereby allows the thinker to formulate true as opposed to false problems. Unlike the portrait of Spinoza as the apex of the philosopher par excellence, Deleuze and Guattari’s contention is that while we all must strive toward the plane’s construction in our own thought, the plane of immanence itself appears as something wholly devoid of virtue and is not a model to guide collective praxis but a necessary condition for the creation of concepts. It is for this reason that Deleuze and Guattari do not hesitate to praise Spinoza’s fidelity to immanence while simultaneously laboring against the plane of immanence established by capitalism despite its necessary construction by someone such as Marx. Capital, as our specifically contemporary plane of immanence takes up certain tendencies from previous social forms in order to effect a world wide expansion. It is for this reason that we require a new construction of a place of immanence, since it is Capital that serves as the historical condition and futural horizon that determines the totality of planetary social life:

“A world market extends to the ends of the earth before passing into the galaxy: even the skies become horizontal. This is not a result of the Greek endeavor but a resumption, in another form and with other means, on a scale hitherto unknown, which nonetheless relaunches the combination for which the Greeks took the initiative–democratic imperialism, colonizing democracy. The European can, therefore, regard himself, as the Greek did, as not one psychosocial type among others but Man par excellence, and with much more expansive force and missionary zeal than the Greek” (WP, 97).

If the plane of immanence was simply the fusion of an epistemic requirement and political goal, there would be no way to understand their following assertion: “Concepts and plane are strictly correlative, but nevertheless the two should not be confused. The plane of immanence is neither a concept nor the concept of all concepts” (WP, 35-6). The plane is the nexus of problems that give significance and meaning to the concepts that come to populate it. In other words, and as Deleuze already noted as early as Difference and Repetition, the plane of immanence is the dialectic between Idea-Problems, on the one hand, and their possible solutions as incarnated by concepts, on the other. Once we understand that Deleuze and Guattari emphasize the need to discriminate the plane of immanence from its concepts, that we can no longer satisfy ourselves with the conflation between immanence and concept, problems and their solutions, the task of the philosopher and the task of politics:

“The famous phrase of the Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy, ‘mankind always sets itself only such tasks as it can solve’, does not mean that the problems are only apparent or that they are already solved, but, on the contrary, that the economic conditions of a problem determine or give rise to the manner in which it finds a solution within the framework of the real relations of the society. Not that the observer can draw the least optimism from this, for these ‘solutions’ may involve stupidity or cruelty, the horror of war or ‘the solution of the Jewish problem’. More precisely, the solution is always that which a society deserves or gives rise to as a consequence of the manner in which, given its real relations, it is able to pose the problems set within it and to it by the differential relations it incarnates” (DR, 186).

Thus, against the idea that a philosopher’s innocence or moral virtue is proportionate to the adequacy of their concepts and their construction of a plane of immanence, Deleuze and Guattari write,

“The plane of immanence is not a concept that is or can be thought but rather the image of thought, the image thought gives itself of what it means to think, to make use of thought, to find one’s bearings in thought…The image of thought implies a strict division between fact and right: what pertains to thought as such must be distinguished from contingent features of the brain or historical opinions….The image of thought retains only what thought can claim by right” (WP, 37).

The task, then, is to construct the image of thought adequate to our historical present since it is the plane itself that determines what Thought (and philosophy) can rightfully call it’s own, or properly understand its broader socio-political function in the present. However, if the plane of immanence is the Image of Thought, it is clear that a plane is only constructed in order to be overcome. It is for this reason that while Deleuze and Guattari emphasize the necessity of the plane of immanence, they ultimately assert that it is in light of the concepts philosophy can create (or the percepts and affects of art, or the functions of science) that we can overturn the image of thought itself. As Deleuze already understood, the “… ‘solvability’ [of a Problem] must depend upon an internal characteristic: it must be determined by the conditions of the problem, engendered in and by the problem along with the real solutions” (DR, 162).

Planes of immanence may be necessary, and we can acknowledge someone like Spinoza’s fidelity in his thoroughgoing construction as seen in his Ethics, while also acknowledging that it is only in the solutions within the plane that a philosophical/political praxis can emerge; whereby the emergence of a solution spells the overcoming of the plane/image of thought itself. In this way we should hear Marx in background of Deleuze; as Marx himself already understood “communism is not a state of affairs which is to be established, an ideal to which reality [will] have to adjust itself…but the real movement which abolishes the present state of things. The conditions of this movement result from the premises now in existence” (German Ideology). Our fidelity to the construction a plane of immanence (taken as epistemic virtue), only gains in political utility insofar as the plane is constructed to its logical conclusion and the concepts created by the thinker within this plane is a solution that abolishes the present state of things…whose conditions (i.e. nexus of problems, plane of immanence established by capital) are already now in existence.

For what else did Deleuze mean when he praised the free reign of simulacra as the crowned anarchy at the end of his overturning of Platonism? The idea that the solutions to a problem; the instantiations of an Idea; neither resemble nor share in the essence of the problem-Idea to which they are indexed? Any position to the contrary and which posits solutions as sharing in the essence and remaining fundamentally identical to an Idea-problem, implicitly or explicitly commits one to a fatalism in the face of capital’s plane of immanence: There is no longer any available alternative solution to the problem posed by capital’s plane of immanence (neoliberalism). There is no longer such a thing as society (Thatcher). We have reached the end of history (Fukuyama), and the cause célèbre is this best of all possible worlds with the correct and justifiable amount of global suffering (Habermas).

HOSTIS: A Short Introduction to the Politics of Cruelty

Circles & Grids - Eva Hesse

[This is a brief excerpt from the introduction to Hostis Issue 1. A PDF of the full issue can be found here.]

THE PROBLEM with the social is not that it fails at its intended goals. There is no use in disputing the advances in education, science, or medicine brought by scientific planning of the social – they work. We instead take issue with the means through which the social brings social peace. As French historian Michel Foucault points out, the social was invented simultaneously with the science of the police and publicity, or as they are known today, Biopower and The Spectacle. The former ensuring that everything is found and kept in its proper place, and the latter making certain that everything which is good appears and everything which appears is good. The historical effects is that within the span of a few decades, the governmentalized techniques of the social were integrated into contemporary life and began passively making other means of existence either unlivable or invisible.

Today, the social is nothing but a de-centered category that holds the population to blame for the faults of government. Prefiguration fails to question the social. This is because prefigurative politics is: the act of reinventing the social. Socialist radicals come in a number of flavors. There are dual-power anarchists, who believe in building parallel social institutions that somehow run ‘better’ (though they rarely do, or only for a select few). There are humanist anarchists, who believe that when most styles of governance are decentralized, they then bring out human nature’s inherent goodness. There are even pre-figurative socialists (“democratic socialists” or “reformists”) who believe that many equally-allocated public resources can be administered by the capitalist state. Ultimately, the social functions for prefigurative politics just as it did for utopian socialists and now the capitalist present – the social is the means to an ideal state of social peace.

Let us be clear, we are not calling for social war. Everywhere, the social is pacification. Even social war thinks of itself as (good) society against the (bad) state. This is just as true of an ‘anti-politics’ that pits the social against politics. Look to John Holloway or Raúl Zibechi, who focus on indigenous resistance to the imperialism of capital and the state. Both argue that the threat is always ‘the outside,’ which comes in the form of either an external actor or a logic that attempts to ‘abstract’ the power of the social. Holloway argues that when the state is an objective fetish that robs the social of its dynamic power (Change the World, 15-9, 59, 94), while Zibechi says that indigenous self-management provides “social machinery that prevents the concentration of power or, similarly, prevents the emergence of a separate power from that of the community gathered in assembly” (Dispersing Power, 16). Such a perspective is deeply conservative in nature, and they lack a revolutionary horizon – they reject whatever are dangers imposed from without only by intensifying the internal consistency of a (family-based) community from within, thickening into a social shell that prevents relations of externality. Without going into much detail, this is the largest drawback to already existing utopian socialist experiments – the same autonomy that allows a group to detach from imperialistic domination also becomes cloistered, stuck in place and lacking the renewal provided by increased circulation.

CIVIL WAR IS THE ALTERNATIVE TO THE SOCIAL. Against the social and socialism, we pit the common and communism. Our ‘alternative institutions’ are war machines and not organs of a new society. The goal cannot be to form a clique or to build the milieu. Insurrectionary communism intensifies truly common conditions for revolt – it extends what is already being expropriated, amplifies frustrations shared by everyone, and communicates in a form recognized by all. We fight for sleep, for every minute in bed is a moment wrested from capital. We deepen the hostility, for anger is what keeps people burning hot with fury during the cold protracted war waged by our faceless enemies. We spread images of insubordination, for such scenes remind everyone of the persistence of defiance in these cynical times. If we build infrastructure at all, it is conflict infrastructure. Most of the time, we take our cues from pirates, who would never strike out alone like Thoreau to invent something from scratch. They commandeer full-formed tools of society and refashion them into weapons. The other thing we have learned from pirates is that duration is a liability; abandon anything that becomes too costly to maintain – a project, a struggle, an identity – there are a million other places to intensify the conflict. But even in our life behind enemy lines, we agree with Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari, who insist that war is only a secondary byproduct of the war machine; producing new connections is its primary function (A Thousand Plateaus, 416-23). We like how Tiqqun elaborates on this difficulty. If one focuses too much of living, they descend into the insulated narcissism of the milieu. If one focuses too much on struggling, they harden into an army, which only leads down the path of annihilation. The politics of civil war, then, is how exactly one builds the coincidence between living and struggling. Though most know it by its reworking, Call: to live communism and spread anarchy.

 

‘5 Theses on the Politics of Cruelty’ – Hostis: A Journal of Incivility

cross-chair- josef svoboda

(A preview from the forthcoming Issue of Hostis: A Journal of Incivility)

I). The politics that seduces us is not ethical, it is cruel.

We contrast the politics of cruelty to the politics of ethics. Ethics goes all the way back to the Greeks, whose ethics was the study of ‘the good life.’ Our interests do not lie in being better than our enemies.There is only cheap satisfaction in telling yourself that you have more exciting sex, stronger friendships, or fiercer personal convictions. The point is not to be better, but to win. Perhaps this leaves a bad taste in some mouths. However, we ask: is ethics not just a last resort for the impotent? Are ethical people what is left after struggles collapse into impossibility, futility, or counterproductivity

If abandoning ethics leaves one disturbed, it is because ethics is a wholly personal affair. To be ethical today is not even reformist – it is politics rendered as fantasy, a live action role play of those who ‘mean well.’ The sphere of ethical life is a world of braggarts and bullies looking for others to affirm that they have made the right personal choices. Ethics valorizes the virtue of activist intentions while leaving the systemic destruction of globally-integrated capital intact. In other words, it is fueled by the elitism of ‘being better than everyone else.’ And the problem with elitism is that it plunges us back into the milieu.

Cruelty has no truck with the individualism of ethics. It does not guide political action with virtue or best intentions. We are not looking to win the respect of those we wish to defeat. Ethics is the trap laid for those who walk the earth searching for respite from the destruction and violence of capital and the state. There is no use in making peace with an enemy whose realized interests entail your subjugation. There was nothing ‘ethical’ about the colonial world. And as Fanon reminds us, it could only be destroyed by giving up on an ‘ethical’ method. It is in this sense that a politics of cruelty picks up the old adage that one must ‘destroy what destroys you’.

II). Few emotions burn like cruelty.

It is already old wisdom that emotions are at stake when we talk about becoming ‘politicized.’ Emotions are what render the speculative and abstract into a lived reality. Winning is not simply a question of having the right ideas or right principles, this is why we define politics as the transformation of ideas into a whole mode of existence where one’s principles are at the same time one’s impulsion toward the world. If the politics of cruelty follows from the belief that we must destroy what destroys us, the emotion of cruelty is revenge. Only this taste for revenge offers resistance to the voices of this world that tell us to put up with the daily violence done to us. To feel cruel is to know that we deserve better than this world; that our bodies are not for us to hate or to look upon with disgust; that our desires are not disastrous pathologies. To feel the burning passion of cruelty, then, is to reclaim refusal. We refuse to compromising ourselves and the million tiny compromises of patriarchy, capitalism, white-supremacy, heter/homo-normativity, and so on. As such, the subject of cruelty no longer convinces themselves to love the world or to find something in the world that redeems the whole. Simply put: the subject of cruelty learns to hate the world. The feeling of cruelty is the necessary correlate to the politics of cruelty; learning to hate the world is what correlates to the political task of destroying what destroys us all. And as we already noted, it is because these two principles have a long history behind them that a politics of cruelty does not posit itself as a novelty: The Women’s Liberation movements are correct in saying: We are not castrated, so you get fucked.

III). Those motivated by cruelty are neither fair nor impartial.

Fairness is the correlate to the ‘ethics-as-politics’ paradigm. Why? Because fairness suggests that we relate to everyone in the same way. There is nothing about this world that encourages universal fairness or acting according to mutual support of any and all interests. Rather, we live in a world where everyone is pitted against each other – we have a structurally determined interest to be mean and to succeed at the expense of others. Fairness, as it currently exists, is the fairness of neoliberal competition; a state sponsored ‘state of nature’. Impartiality is the counter-tendency to the subject of cruelty. Unlike the cruel subject who understands that there can be no agreement made between capital and its dispossessed, the impartial subject furthers the myth that agreements can and should be found between the two parties. Impartiality is the idea that power is symmetrical and that a social contract can give this symmetry its proper force through law.

We know that we are in the midst of a civil war. We act as partisans. And as in any war, we have friends and enemies. For our enemies, we have nothing but disdain, hatred, and cruelty. Our only engagement with them is when it strategically advances our side in the conflict. For our friends, we extend care, support, and solidarity.

Some say that capital and the state operate through cruelty; and contrary to their cruelty, our struggle is to take the higher ground. This is to misunderstand what few things are unique to our position. Our enemies must reproduce their bases of power, which is takes a costly investment in corrupt political systems, crumbling industrial infrastructure, and expensive wars of ideology. As anarchists, we do not need to reproduce much  – we do not need to justify our actions, we do not need to be consistent in our activities, and we need not defend any of the institutions of this world. To limit ourselves even more than our enemies by following the narrow path of ethics is to give up our only advantage.

IV). Their actions speak with an intensity that does not desire permission, let alone seek it.

There is a qualitative difference between the cruelty exercised by us and the cruelty of capital and its State(s). In the United States, there is the idea that the 18th amendment guarantees the protection of citizens from ‘cruel and unusual punishment.’ This was to juridically curtail the power of the State over and against its citizenry. But due to the explicitly bourgeois heritage from which it emerges, this guarantee against State-cruelty only goes as far as the eyes of the State can see; that is, only insofar as two isolated individuals are coming into conflict with one another, and where the State intervenes impartially as the mediating third term. It is in this way that the curtailing of State-cruelty remains within the logic of recognition: metrics of intelligibility only pertain to situations of isolated actions. State recognition ignores situations of collective antagonism. What is more, is what we gain via the channels of State recognition (e.g., desegregation in the 1950’s) was already being eroded through other State sanctioned economic mechanisms (e.g., redlining as early as the 1930’s). The conclusion should be obvious by now: State-recognition is nothing more than the continuation of war by other means.

Thus, if our politics of cruelty seeks to destroy what destroys us coupled to its subjective correlate of revenge – which means our learning to hate the world while staving off the internalization of those norms which teach us to hate ourselves – then it is clear that our political-cruelty cannot treat the state and capital as reliable sources for recognition since what we want and need cannot be tolerated by globally integrated capital and thus pre-emptively renders us all variations of pathological, trouble-making, hysterical, killjoys alike.

V). While social anarchism sings lullabies of altruism, there are those who play with the hot flames of cruelty.

Altruism comes in at least two variants. The first is already well known; the emphasis on collectivist ethics that diffuses any antagonism through its criteria of absolute horizontalism. The second, more insidious, is a zealous altruism; here the emphasis is placed on the absolute destruction of the individual put in the service of actualizing an Idea. These are not the actions of the dispossessed. Rather, it is the altruism of an anarchists crucifixion. If the latter at least agrees that struggle is an ineluctable fact of politics, the zealous altruists weakness still lies in his belief that to engage in civil war means to burn out in the process. For every form of communal horizontalism that defers the moment of attack there is a correlating tendency to collapse heroism and martyrdom. Additionally, it is true that we have said that our political-cruelty seeks to destroy what destroys us. However, this does not necessitate the assertion that real transformation means our own self-destruction. There is a world of difference between converting structural oppression into a fight for abolition and identifying existential abolition as the proper means toward the abolition of capital as such. In a word: “Even if we had the power to blow it [the State] up, could we succeed in doing so without destroying ourselves, since it is so much a part of the conditions of life, including our organism and our very reason? The prudence with which we must manipulate that line, the precautions we must take to soften it, to suspend it, to divert it, to undermine it, testify to a long labor which is not merely aimed against the State and the powers that be, but directly at ourselves.”

That said, the first iteration of altruism should not be given scant attention precisely because of its prevalence. In place of weaponizing our feelings of cruelty, social anarchism substitutes a straight forward Habermasianism sutured to the mantra of ‘returning to a class based analysis’. This helps some sleep at night. Contra these political sedatives, we again confront the history and cruelty of our politics. What is at stake is the feminist lesson we must never forget: that the personal is political; that few emotions burn and catalyze collective insubordination like those of pain, vengeance, and cruelty. The lesson is that the efficacy of political-cruelty lies not in the never ending reflections and discussions on what pains us; rather, that emotions such as cruelty are what constitute the armature of our collective antagonism.

Frankenstein Revenge Poster

A Brief Note For Enemies And Allies:

We could care less about those whose politics amounts to being a good ‘friend’ to those who struggle, or being a good ‘ally’ by reading up on the history of people of color, queers, and so on. A politics of cruelty is not a politics of friendship; since we do not see a softer world here because sociability has its cruelties, friendship has its rivalries, and opinion has its antagonisms and bloody reversals.

Friendship is already too Greek, too philosophical, and too European for our politics of cruelty. In its place, we should reinvigorate the politics of the Guayaki in Paraguay or the many tribes in that territory known as Zoma. That is, political cruelty does not seek to be included into the universality proposed by the history of Western capitalism and instead seeks to find the means of escaping from a universality that was never ours from the start. For those who would prefer reductive formulations, we could say that while the West continues its process of inclusion and expansion, our political-cruelty maintains its relation to the Outside. To our enemies who get off on finding contradictions that abound in this politics of cruelty we say to them ‘all the better!’ For them, whose desire is to be the intelligible subjects of globally integrated capital, these contradictions are mere impasses on their road to being exceptions to the rule. To our allies, who opt for a politics of cruelty, we say ‘savor these supposed contradictions!’ From the point of view of political-cruelty a contradiction simply means that we have a weapon with more than one side.