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In praise of insurrection

From Autonomies

Je me révolte donc nous sommes.

Albert Camus, L’homme revolté

From the outside it may seem unimportant, but being there, and not giving up your own discourse, is vital. And I have been able to verify it personally. From the smallest to the largest, at any time you can delve into a conflict, radicalise a situation, show efficacy or experience. Your behavior speaks more about your political and social proposal than any discourse. When a group of protesters sit down and begin to sing the “som gent de pau” again, it is important that a discordant presence remind them that sitting invites the police to charge them and it leaves an area of the body as sensitive as the head exposed. When the chauvinistic and machista chants break through, it is necessary to break this dynamic and introduce anti-capitalist or libertarian slogans that serve as a counterweight. When a group of young people run shirtless and face-to-face fleeing from the sirens, it is difficult for them not to forget the anarchist militant who gave them an on-site tutorial on how to completely cover their face and head with the shirts that hung from their waists. When the spirits are inflamed after singing Els segadors, it is worth remembering to those around you that the lyrics of that hymn were composed by an old anarchist named Emili Guayavents (1899) and that is where the “com fem caure espigues d’or/quam convé seguem cadenes” comes from, … When a fascist ambushes to burst a demonstration, it can mean a change of perspective among those present that an anarchist is the first to detect the play and expel the “agent provocateur.” All this, although it hardly means anything more than a tiny drop in the current, is important to feed the channel and push it out of the calm waters.

I repeat: we are not facing a revolution, nor are we facing a perfect struggle. None is, none will be. The doomsayers who in each revolt or social mobilisation denounce that “it will not last”, that “it will fail” or that “it is not an integral revolution”, they are always and will always be right. They are now with regard to the riots in Catalonia, they were recently in relation to 15-M, they were a long time ago when they talked about May 68, but they also would have if they had been alive on July 19, 1936 and had been able to walk the streets of Barcelona. All revolutions and revolutions of revolutions that have occurred, throughout the history of humankind, have either failed or have been betrayed, and many of them have been partial enough for the term revolution to remain, perhaps, too gradiose. The doomsayers are not right because they are “clairvoyant geniuses”, they are right because their analytical horizon has, in reality, the same complexity as that of reminding us that we are all going to die. The question is whether, knowing the obvious, the high percentage of failure, demobilisation and repression that awaits us, it is worth moving, to intensify the situation, to gain influence, experience and number for the future, to take events to their limits, to struggle without idealizations or vague hopes or, on the contrary, to remain arms crossed, criticising from the distance, and waiting for death to arrive. As Simone Weil said: “I don’t like war, but in war I always thought that the most horrible thing was the situation of those who remained in the rear”.

When I returned from Barcelona, a comrade from the Tenants’ Union [Sindicato de Inquilinas de Gran Canaria] asked me: “In the end, those in the streets, who are they? Are they independentists or are they anti-system? And I had to answer what I saw: they are people, simply people, a people who are beginning to lose their fear. That is the truth.

Ruymán Rodríguez (Federación Anarquista de Gran Canaria): an excerpt from a longer reflection on the recent catalan protests, published with A las barricadas (02/11/2019).

We share below a short essay by Diego Conno, published with lobo suelto (27/10/2019), even though we might disagree with some of the text’s terminology (e.g., “popular”, “the people”, “moblisation”) – though even here, the words intimate new possible meanings – and we would dispute the need for “leadership” in riots and uprisings. And we do so, because it reflects a light on our times which may very well be our immediate future, that is, multiplying insurrections which are internally plural (they possess no centre, make no fixed demands, and are leaderless) and thus defying any single ideological and/or organisational form. And it is into this reality that any radical politics must plunge into.

But then perhaps this was always the case, and if we have lost sight of it, it is because we – I include anarchists here – have been blinded by the bolshevik myth. What unity (and what precisely this concept implies or should imply must be debated) insurrections come to possess is forged in the insurrection itself. A possible radical political movement cannot be judged from its inception (on the grounds of its purported goals); it must be made, and was made, in movement.

None of the riots, rebellions or insurrections of our time are nominally anarchist; they may in fact have very little to do with ideologically defined anarchism and/or anarchist movements (as was, is and will be in most cases). If this is then cited to justify passivity or indifference to the movement-event, anarchists condemn themselves to political irrelevance. This is not to argue that “we” must throw ourselves into every riot that comes along. Yet it is rarely possible to know beforehand how things will turn. And if what we face is violent death – and this is our fate within capitalism – then how can we not rebel?

There has never been a planned revolution; revolutions occur in the heat and passion of events. Thus what we can strive for is permanent revolution.

A eulogy of popular mobilisation

What is a popular mobilisation? A form of social protest, an act of civil disobedience, a force of resistance, a modality of revolt? Since the beginning of time human societies have mobilised against various forms of injustice, exploitation or oppression; as well as to defend forms of freedom that are threatened or endangered. When a society mobilizes against the politics of a government, the power it challenges suffers, part of its fabric tears, even if its eyes do not see it. The worst tragedy of a government is that of not seeing the image that it itself projects onto others; a rebound effect of a logic of simulation that fails to understand what is at stake when the happiness of the people is affected.

The mobilisations of peoples always express a set of diverse militancies in their expression of a popular desire: desire not to be dominated and to be free. The desire for equality of the many against the elitist contempt of the few; the desire for a pedagogy emancipated from the logic of of the commercialisation and privatisation of education; the desire for production and work in the face of the politics of unemployment, adjustment and job insecurity; the feminist desire in the face of machista and patriarchal violence; the desire for freedom from the repression of the market and security forces; the desire for memory, truth and justice against the negationism of the State. A confluence in a multiple desire for lives worth living, where all lives and bodies count, in the face of a geopolitics of bodily vulnerability that establishes which lives are worthwhile and which are not.

Every popular mobilisation constitutes a mode of public conversation. It is neither television talk nor parliamentary language. No. We say public conversation; a diversity of languages and traditions necessary for the constitution of a heterogeneous popular force. What is at stake here is a mode of democracy that although it cannot be separated from forms of representation, is irreducible to them; a democratic excess before the status quo of neoliberalism; social citizenship versus financial capitalism; plebeian power against corporations and the mainstream media; popular republicanism against an oligarchic conception of the republic. There is something that is not domesticable in the experience of democracy. Let us call it our wild democracy.

Every popular mobilisation gives shape to an assembly based politics and street festivity, but also to the elaboration of a disposition to struggle. In struggle, the city is pluralised, it becomes a territory of dispute, a battle scene, a battlefield. Is not politics the continuation of war by other means? Thus a heterogeneous time opens up, a time to plot a thought and a practice of resistance and preservation of what is common; a common that does not refer so much to singular struggles for a common cause, but rather to struggles in common for the emergence of a singularity.

Every popular mobilisation is a form of politicisation. Politicization occurs when those who have had “time” removed from them, take this time, the necessary the time to think as inhabitants of a shared space, to think and to act together. That is why politics is not just a matter of power or government, it is the creation and configuration of new worlds. Politicisation is also an ethical act, a way of being and of being in the world with others. To govern under the form of the economy as neoliberalism does – through profits and losses, costs and benefits, efficiency and competitiveness – has nothing to do with politics in the strict sense; only the decision to live together politicises the human being. Politicisation occurs when the places assigned to everyone in all areas of social experience and material life are questioned: in school, at work, at home, in the street. Friendship is another form of politicisation.

We do not know what a body is capable of. But we know the power of affection gained in the encounter of bodies, in their ways of dialogue and conflict, in each square, in each bar, in each thought, in each text, in each mobilisation. The contemporary politics of virtuality meets a limit before the active-affective encounter of bodies. Where two bodies touch a figure is drawn that forms a new corporality: a collective body, a common body, a utopian body. It is a precious figure that which is produced when bodies touch and intertwine, giving light to a power of infinite expression of an instituting character.

Politics can be plotted on a linear, homogeneous and empty time, or it can be an institution of a new time: a heterogeneous and discontinuous time in which another experience of collective life is plotted, a kind of experimental laboratory of egalitarian, emancipatory libertarian practices and thoughts.

There is no greater power than that of action in common produced by a mobilised society; an irreducible datum of social life that no “Power” should underestimate. Our destiny lies in the ability to articulate these struggles and amplify these actions. It lies in the affective composition of our desires and in the recovery of the power to affect and be affected by such encounters. But it also lies in the construction of leaderships that can be a channel rather than a dyke for these desires.