BOOK REVIEW: THE COMING INSURRECTION, by the Invisible Committee
News Weekly, December 11, 2010
A new revolutionary spectre looms
THE COMING INSURRECTION by the Invisible Committee (Los Angeles: Semiotext(e)) Paperback: 136 pages ISBN: 9781584350804 Rec. price: AUD$19.95
Reviewed by Mervyn F. Bendle
"A spectre is haunting Europe - the spectre of Communism." So began The Communist Manifesto, published anonymously by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels in 1848 under the sponsorship of the clandestine Communist League, just as the great mid-century revolutionary wave burst across Europe. Now a new revolutionary tract aspires to the same level of influence at a time of increasing economic, political and social upheaval.
The Coming Insurrection is attributed to "The Invisible Committee" and was first published in French (with the title L'Insurrection Qui Vient) in 2007, quickly becoming influential throughout Europe and in America, especially in the anarchist and anti-globalisation movements.
It was released in an English translation in 2009 with a new preface explaining how it became a principal piece of evidence in a counter-terrorism case in France brought against an extremist cell called the "Tarnac Nine", in connection with a program of attacks on the French rail system and other acts of terrorism.
Central to this group is Julien Coupat, a failed doctoral candidate, who co-founded the radical philosophy journal Tiqqun and set up a commune at Tarnac in 2005. Coupet is generally suspected to be the principal author of The Coming Insurrection.
Like The Communist Manifesto, the new tract is explicitly apocalyptic in its analysis of Western civilisation, which it despises as "clinically dead [and only] kept alive by all sorts of life-support machines that spread a peculiar plague into the planet's atmosphere" (p.92).
Consequently, "what we're facing is not the crisis of a society but the extinction of a civilisation ... its clinical death", and what is required is "to decide for the death of civilisation, then to work out how it will happen: only decision will rid us of the corpse" (p.94). And the decision is to join the coming insurrection and participate in direct action against the system.
The American conservative commentator and Fox News presenter, Glenn Beck, denounced The Coming Insurrection as "quite possibly the most evil thing I've ever read", with its aspirations to launch a violent global revolution. "I am not calling to ban this book," Beck explained, "but you should read it to know what is coming and be ready when it does." (Fox News, July 1, 2009).
In the British leftist New Statesman, Daniel Miller judged it fascistic but also "without a doubt the most thought-provoking radical text to be published in the past ten years. It deserves to be read and discussed" (New Statesman, October 15, 2009).
The Coming Insurrection claims hyperbolically to speak for an alienated generation that "has known nothing but economic, financial, social and ecological crisis" (pp.13-4). "Everyone agrees", it begins, "[that] it's about to explode" (p.9).
It then itemises the various components of what it sees as a quickly evolving revolutionary situation: the global financial crisis and associated crimes and scandals; environmental destruction and climate change; political incompetence and corruption; booming unemployment; urban degradation and riots; the failure of the educational system; irreversible demographic shifts; ethnic conflict and anti-migration sentiment; the war on terror; the alienation of youth; inter-generational conflict; the collapse of the welfare state; anti-globalisation violence; and chaos in Argentina, Mexico, Greece and elsewhere - now including Ireland, England, and potentially Portugal and Spain, as the European Union sinks into crisis.
These factors are seen as components of a systemic crisis that will overwhelm liberal democracies and open the path for revolutionary action against what The Coming Insurrection depicts as a global system of domination exercised by a vast transnational "Empire", a planetary apparatus of exploitation led by the United States.
Opposing this will be the "Insurrection", as the alienated masses exploit "the truly revolutionary potentiality of the present", and implement "a new idea of communism", conceived as "the matrix of a meticulous, audacious assault on domination" (pp.15-6), led by alienated youth, marginalised groups like European Muslims, and the radicalised underclass of society. In the face of this revolt, "the future has no future" (p.23).
The front line in the coming insurrection will be the modern metropolis, "one of the most vulnerable human arrangements that has ever existed", and a system particularly susceptible to a "brutal shutting down of borders ... a sudden interruption of supply lines [and] organised blockades of the axes of communication", so that "the whole faÃ§ade crumbles [as it] can no longer mask the scenes of carnage haunting it from morning to night" (p.60).
The tract stresses the central role that terrorist attacks on communications and other forms of infrastructure can play in urban guerrilla warfare, reminding readers that the "Tarnac Nine" were arrested on suspicion that they were implementing such a strategy, beginning with attacks on the French railway system.
In doing so they would have been closely following the strategy of previous generations of European ultra-left terrorists. These include the German Red Army Faction, which carried out a program of assassinations and bombings in the 1970s; the Italian Proletarian Action Group, whose founder, Giangiacomo Feltrinelli, was killed while trying to blow up high-voltage power lines near Milan in 1972; and the Italian Red Brigades, which launched a campaign of assassination, violence and destruction against Italy in the 1970s.
The political and theoretical influence of such groups on The Coming Insurrection is obvious from its violent and hysterical language, radical arguments and concepts, anti-Western extremism, and its advocacy of direct action. It is also revealed in Tiqqun, which has just published Introduction to Civil War to supplement The Coming Insurrection.
According to this new tract, society has already virtually disintegrated and is only held together by the increasingly intrusive and oppressive activity of the state which acts as the local administrative arm of "Empire". Out of this chaos will emerge a state of civil war, which radicals should embrace as an opportunity to establish a new form of communist society.
These books depict the global "Empire" in terms of a pyramid of power. At the top, wielding "monarchical" domination over the world, is America, NATO, the G8, IMF, WTO and similar agents of global capitalism, which are to be targets of direct action, sabotage, terrorism, etc. Beneath them is the economic oligarchy of multinational corporations and subservient nation-states.
Incredibly, it is claimed that "true" democracy exists only in the political realm dominated by unrepresentative bodies like the United Nations and various international NGOs, such as Greenpeace, with parliamentary democracy rejected as a sham that merely perpetuates capitalism. This set of ideas is quite influential amongst Australian academics.
Negri's role has been crucial in the development of this extremist tradition. He was the leading ideologue of the Red Brigades when the group carried out its most notorious terrorist action - the kidnapping of former Prime Minister, Aldo Moro, and the murder of his five bodyguards. Moro was held for weeks while the Red Brigades telephoned his family to taunt them, before finally murdering him and dumping his body.
Terrorism associated with the Red Brigades has occurred in waves since the 1970s and The Coming Insurrection and Introduction to Civil War signal the emergence of a new generation of extremists guided by the ideology of the ultra-left.
The Coming Insurrection is highly rhetorical, reducing the complexities of the world to simple slogans and depicting every area of modern life as a site of desolation, oppression, and exploitation.
Consequently, the West can be seen as a "diseased and dehumanising civilisation that cannot be reformed but must ... be torn apart and replaced", as the New York Times summarised the book's perspective, after an anarchist group staged a demonstration to promote the official English translation. (New York Times, June 15, 2009).
Nowhere is this rhetorical hyperbole more obvious than in the tract's indictment of the modern self, which it depicts as operating "in a permanent state of deterioration, in a chronic state of near-collapse" (p.31).
The author laments desperately that "everything that attaches me to the world, all the links that constitute me, all the forces that compose me don't form an identity", but merely an existence within a system that wants only to control, regulate and placate a population that has become "the paradise of anti-depressants, the Mecca of neurosis ... sickness, fatigue [and] depression", as "the hypothesis of the self is beginning to crack" (p.32). Mental life in such a world is characterised by "individualisation of all conditions - life, work and misery. Diffuse schizophrenia. Rampant depression. Atomisation into fine paranoiac particles. Hysterisation of contact" (p.29).
Such references to mental disease, dissociation, disintegration, deterioration and depression recur throughout the book, and it is impossible to ignore the impression that it is the product of a troubled mind. For all its revolutionary fervour it may best be read as a gigantic exercise in projection, in a manner reminiscent of the Unabomber Manifesto, with the fragmentation of its prose reflecting an inner disintegration.
Certainly, it presents a pathological vision that both permeates the tract and fatally undermines its barely coherent program for revolutionary change. For anyone to follow the invisible committee into this insurrectionary fantasy-world would be to step literally into insanity. Tragically, as the history of terrorism shows, for many this is no barrier.
Mervyn F. Bendle, PhD, teaches the history of terrorism at James Cook University, Queensland, and has published dozens of articles on terrorism and related matters.