The commune is the basic unit of partisan reality. An insurrectional surge may be nothing more than a multiplication of communes, their coming into contact and forming of ties. As events unfold, communes will either merge into larger entities or fragment. The difference between a band of brothers and sisters bound “for life” and the gathering of many groups, committees and gangs for organizing the supply and self-defense of a neighborhood or even a region in revolt, is only a difference of scale, they are all communes.
A commune tends by its nature towards self-sufficiency and considers money, internally, as something foolish and ultimately out of place. The power of money is to connect those who are unconnected, to link strangers as strangers and thus, by making everything equivalent, to put everything into circulation.
The cost of money’s capacity to connect everything is the superficiality of the connection, where deception is the rule. Distrust is the basis of the credit relation. The reign of money is, therefore, always the reign of control. The practical abolition of money will happen only with the extension of communes. Communes must be extended while making sure they do not exceed a certain size, beyond which they lose touch with themselves and give rise, almost without fail, to a dominant caste. It would be preferable for the commune to split up and to spread in that way, avoiding such an unfortunate outcome.
The uprising of Algerian youth that erupted across all of Kabylia in the spring of 2001 managed to take over almost the entire territory, attacking police stations, courthouses and every representation of the state, generalizing the revolt to the point of compelling the unilateral retreat of the forces of order and physically preventing the elections. The movement’s strength was in the diffuse complementarity of its components-only partially represented by the interminable and hopelessly male-dominated village assemblies and other popular committees. The “communes” of this still-simmering insurrection had many faces: the young hotheads in helmets lobbing gas canisters at the riot police from the rooftop of a building in Tizi Ouzou; the wry smile of an old resistance fighter draped in his burnous; the spirit of the women in the mountain villages, stubbornly carrying on with the traditional farming, without which the blockades of the region’s economy would never have been as constant and systematic as they were.
Make the most of every crisis
“So it must be said, too, that we won’t be able to treat the entire French population. Choices will have to be made.” This is how a virology expert sums up, in a September 7, 2005 article in Le Monde, what would happen in the event of a bird flu pandemic. “Terrorist threats,” “natural disasters,” “virus warnings,” “social movements” and “urban violence” are, for society’s managers, so many moments of instability where they reinforce their power, by the selection of those who please them and the elimination of those who make things difficult. Clearly these are, in turn, opportunities for other forces to consolidate or strengthen one another as they take the other side.
The interruption of the flow of commodities, the suspension of normality (it’s sufficient to see how social life returns in a building suddenly deprived of electricity to imagine what life could become in a city deprived of everything) and police control liberate potentialities for self-organization unthinkable in other circumstances. People are not blind to this. The revolutionary workers’ movement understood it well, and took advantage of the crises of the bourgeois economy to gather strength. Today, Islamic parties are strongest when they’ve been able to intelligently compensate for the weakness of the state – as when they provided aid after the earthquake in Boumerdes, Algeria, or in the daily assistance offered the population of southern Lebanon after it was ravaged by the Israeli army.
As we mentioned above, the devastation of New Orleans by hurricane Katrina gave a certain fringe of the North American anarchist movement the opportunity to achieve an unfamiliar cohesion by rallying all those who refused to be forcefully evacuated. Street kitchens require building up provisions beforehand; emergency medical aid requires the acquisition of necessary knowledge and materials, as does the setting up of pirate radios. The political richness of such experiences is assured by the joy they contain, the way they transcend individual stoicism, and their manifestation of a tangible reality that escapes the daily ambience of order and work.
In a country like France, where radioactive clouds stop at the border and where we aren’t afraid to build a cancer research center on the former site of a nitrogen fertilizer factory that has been condemned by the EU’s industrial safety agency, we should count less on “natural” crises than on social ones. It is usually up to the social movements to interrupt the normal course of the disaster. Of course, in recent years the various strikes were primarily opportunities for the government and corporate management to test their ability to maintain a larger and larger “minimum service,” to the point of reducing the work stoppage to a purely symbolic dimension, causing little more damage than a snowstorm or a suicide on the railroad tracks. By going against established activist practices through the systematic occupation of institutions and obstinate blockading, the high-school students’ struggle of 2005 and the struggle against the CPE-law reminded us of the ability of large movements to cause trouble and carry out diffuse offensives. In all the affinity groups they spawned and left in their wake, we glimpsed the conditions that allow social movements to become a locus for the emergence of new communes.
Sabotage every representative authority. Spread the palaver. Abolish general assemblies.
The first obstacle every social movement faces, long before the police proper, are the unions and the entire micro-bureaucracy whose job it is to control the struggle. Communes, collectives and gangs are naturally distrustful of these structures. That’s why the parabureaucrats have for the past twenty years been inventing coordination committees and spokes councils that seem more innocent because they lack an established label, but are in fact the ideal terrain for their maneuvers. When a stray collective makes an attempt at autonomy, they won’t be satisfied until they’ve drained the attempt of all content by preventing any real question from being addressed. They get fierce and worked up not out of passion for debate but out of a passion for shutting it down. And when their dogged defense of apathy finally does the collective in, they explain its failure by citing a lack of political consciousness. It must be noted that in France the militant youth are well versed in the art of political manipulation, thanks largely to the frenzied activity of various trotskyist factions. They could not be expected to learn the lesson of the conflagration of November 2005: that coordinations are unnecessary where coordination exists, organizations aren’t needed when people organize themselves.
Another reflex is to call a general assembly at the slightest sign of movement, and vote. This is a mistake. The business of voting and deciding a winner, is enough to turn the assembly into a nightmare, into a theater where all the various little pretenders to power confront each other. Here we suffer from the bad example of bourgeois parliaments. An assembly is not a place for decisions but for palaver, for free speech exercised without a goal.
The need to assemble is as constant among humans as the necessity of making decisions is rare. Assembling corresponds to the joy of feeling a common power. Decisions are vital only in emergency situations, where the exercise of democracy is already compromised. The rest of the time, “the democratic character of decision making” is only a problem for the fanatics of process. It’s not a matter of critiquing assemblies or abandoning them, but of liberating the speech, gestures, and interplay of beings that take place within them. We just have to see that each person comes to an assembly not only with a point of view or a motion, but with desires, attachments, capacities, forces, sadnesses and a certain disposition toward others, an openness. If we manage to set aside the fantasy of the General Assembly and replace it with an assembly of presences, if we manage to foil the constantly renewed temptation of hegemony, if we stop making the decision our final aim, then there is a chance for a kind of massification, one of those moments of collective crystallization where a decision suddenly takes hold of beings, completely or only in part.
The same goes for deciding on actions. By starting from the principle that “the action in question should govern the assembly’s agenda” we make both vigorous debate and effective action impossible. A large assembly made up of people who don’t know each other is obliged to call on action specialists, that is, to abandon action for the sake of its control. On the one hand, people with mandates are by definition hindered in their actions, on the other hand, nothing hinders them from deceiving everyone.
There’s no ideal form of action. What’s essential is that action assume a certain form, that it give rise to a form instead of having one imposed on it. This presupposes a shared political and geographical position – like the sections of the Paris Commune during the French Revolution – as well as the circulation of a shared knowledge. As for deciding on actions, the principle could be as follows: each person should do their own reconnaissance, the information would then be put together, and the decision will occur to us rather than being made by us. The circulation of knowledge cancels hierarchy; it equalizes by raising up. Proliferating horizontal communication is also the best form of coordination among different communes, the best way to put an end to hegemony.
Block the economy, but measure our blocking power by our level of self-organization
At the end of June 2006 in the State of Oaxaca, the occupations of city halls multiply, and insurgents occupy public buildings. In certain communes, mayors are kicked out, official vehicles are requisitioned. A month later, access is cut off to certain hotels and tourist compounds. Mexico’s Minister of Tourism speaks of a disaster “comparable to hurricane Wilma.” A few years earlier, blockades had become the main form of action of the revolt in Argentina, with different local groups helping each other by blocking this or that major road, and continually threatening, through their joint action, to paralyze the entire country if their demands were not met. For years such threats have been a powerful lever for railway workers, truck drivers, and electrical and gas supply workers. The movement against the CPE in France did not hesitate to block train stations, ring roads, factories, highways, supermarkets and even airports. In Rennes, only three hundred people were needed to shut down the main access road to the town for hours and cause a 40-kilometer long traffic jam.
Jam everything-this will be the first reflex of all those who rebel against the present order. In a delocalized economy where companies function according to “just-in-time” production, where value derives from connectedness to the network, where the highways are links in the chain of dematerialized production which moves from subcontractor to subcontractor and from there to another factory for assembly, to block circulation is to block production as well.
But a blockade is only as effective as the insurgents’ capacity to supply themselves and to communicate, as effective as the self-organization of the different communes. How will we feed ourselves once everything is paralyzed? Looting stores, as in Argentina, has its limits; as large as the temples of consumption are, they are not bottomless pantries. Acquiring the skills to provide, over time, for one’s own basic subsistence implies appropriating the necessary means of its production. And in this regard, it seems pointless to wait any longer. Letting two percent of the population produce the food of all the others – the situation today – is both a historical and a strategic anomaly.
Liberate territory from police occupation. If possible, avoid direct confrontation.
“This business shows that we are not dealing with young people making social demands, but with individuals who are declaring war on the Republic,” noted a lucid cop about recent clashes. The push to liberate territory from police occupation is already underway, and can count on the endless reserves of resentment that the forces of order have marshaled against it. Even the “social movements” are gradually being seduced by the riots, just like the festive crowds in Rennes who fought the cops every Thursday night in 2005, or those in Barcelona who destroyed a shopping district during a botellion. The movement against the CPE witnessed the recurrent return of the Molotov cocktail. But on this front certain banlieues remain unsurpassed. Specifically, when it comes to the technique they’ve been perfecting for some time now: the surprise attack. Like the one on October 13, 2006 in Epinay. A private-security team headed out after getting a report of something stolen from a car. When they arrived, one of the security guards “found himself blocked by two vehicles parked diagonally across the street and by more than thirty people carrying metal bars and pistols who threw stones at the vehicle and used tear gas against the police officers.” On a smaller scale, think of all the local police stations attacked in the night: broken windows, burnt-out cop cars.
One of the results of these recent movements is the understanding that henceforth a real demonstration has to be “wild,” not declared in advance to the police. Having the choice of terrain, we can, like the Black Bloc of Genoa in 2001, bypass the red zones and avoid direct confrontation. By choosing our own trajectory, we can lead the cops, including unionist and pacifist ones, rather than being herded by them. In Genoa we saw a thousand determined people push back entire buses full of carabinieri, then set their vehicles on fire. The important thing is not to be better armed but to take the initiative. Courage is nothing, confidence in your own courage is everything. Having the initiative helps.
Everything points, nonetheless, toward a conception of direct confrontations as that which pins down opposing forces, buying us time and allowing us to attack elsewhere – even nearby. The fact that we cannot prevent a confrontation from occurring doesn’t prevent us from making it into a simple diversion. Even more than to actions, we must commit ourselves to their coordination. Harassing the police means that by forcing them to be everywhere they can no longer be effective anywhere.
Every act of harassment revives this truth, spoken in 1842: “The life of the police agent is painful; his position in society is as humiliating and despised as crime itself… Shame and infamy encircle him from all sides, society expels him, isolates him as a pariah, society spits out its disdain for the police agent along with his pay, without remorse, without regrets, without pity… The police badge that he carries in his pocket documents his shame.” On November 21, 2006, firemen demonstrating in Paris attacked the riot police with hammers and injured fifteen of them. This by way of a reminder that wanting to “protect and serve” can never be an excuse for joining the police.
Take up arms. Do everything possible to make their use unnecessary. Against the army, the only victory is political.
There is no such thing as a peaceful insurrection. Weapons are necessary: it’s a question of doing everything possible to make using them unnecessary. An insurrection is more about taking up arms and maintaining an “armed presence” than it is about armed struggle. We need to distinguish clearly between being armed and the use of arms. Weapons are a constant in revolutionary situations, but their use is infrequent and rarely decisive at key turning points: August 10th 1792, March 18th 1871, October 1917. When power is in the gutter, it’s enough to walk over it.
Because of the distance that separates us from them, weapons have taken on a kind of double character of fascination and disgust that can be overcome only by handling them. An authentic pacifism cannot mean refusing weapons, but only refusing to use them. Pacifism without being able to fire a shot is nothing but the theoretical formulation of impotence. Such a priori pacifism is a kind of preventive disarmament, a pure police operation. In reality, the question of pacifism is serious only for those who have the ability to open fire. In this case, pacifism becomes a sign of power, since it’s only in an extreme position of strength that we are freed from the need to fire.
From a strategic point of view, indirect, asymmetrical action seems the most effective kind, the one best suited to our time: you don’t attack an occupying army frontally. That said, the prospect of Iraq-style urban guerilla warfare, dragging on with no possibility of taking the offensive, is more to be feared than to be desired. The militarization of civil war is the defeat of insurrection. The Reds had their victory in 1921, but the Russian Revolution was already lost.
We must consider two kinds of state reaction. One openly hostile, one more sly and democratic. The first calls for our out and out destruction, the second, a subtle but implacable hostility, seeks only to recruit us. We can be defeated both by dictatorship and by being reduced to opposing only dictatorship. Defeat consists as much in losing the war as in losing the choice of which war to wage. Both are possible, as was proven by Spain in 1936: the revolutionaries there were defeated twice-over, by fascism and by the republic.
When things get serious, the army occupies the terrain. Whether or not it engages in combat is less certain. That would require that the state be committed to a bloodbath, which for now is no more than a threat, a bit like the threat of using nuclear weapons for the last fifty years. Though it has been wounded for a long while, the beast of the state is still dangerous. A massive crowd would be needed to challenge the army, invading its ranks and fraternizing with the soldiers. We need a March 18th 1871. When the army is in the street, we have an insurrectionary situation. Once the army engages, the outcome is precipitated. Everyone finds herself forced to take sides, to choose between anarchy and the fear of anarchy. An insurrection triumphs as a political force. It is not impossible to defeat an army politically.
Depose authorities at a local level
The goal of any insurrection is to become irreversible. It becomes irreversible when you’ve defeated both authority and the need for authority, property and the taste for appropriation, hegemony and the desire for hegemony. That is why the insurrectionary process carries within itself the form of its victory, or that of its defeat. Destruction has never been enough to make things irreversible. What matters is how it’s done. There are ways of destroying that unfailingly provoke the return of what has been crushed. Whoever wastes their energy on the corpse of an order can be sure that this will arouse the desire for vengeance. Thus, wherever the economy is blocked and the police are neutralized, it is important to invest as little pathos as possible in overthrowing the authorities. They must be deposed with the most scrupulous indifference and derision.
In times like these, the end of centralized revolutions reflects the decentralization of power. Winter Palaces still exist but they have been relegated to assaults by tourists rather than revolutionary hordes. Today it is possible to take over Paris, Rome, or Buenos Aires without it being a decisive victory. Taking over Rungis would certainly be more effective than taking over the Elysée Palace. Power is no longer concentrated in one point in the world; it is the world itself, its flows and its avenues, its people and its norms, its codes and its technologies. Power is the organization of the metropolis itself. It is the impeccable totality of the world of the commodity at each of its points. Anyone who defeats it locally sends a planetary shock wave through its networks. The riots that began in Clichy-sous-Bois filled more than one American household with joy, while the insurgents of Oaxaca found accomplices right in the heart of Paris. For France, the loss of centralized power signifies the end of Paris as the center of revolutionary activity. Every new movement since the strikes of 1995 has confirmed this. It’s no longer in Paris that the most daring and consistent actions are carried out. To put it bluntly, Paris now stands out only as a target for raids, as a pure terrain to be pillaged and ravaged. Brief and brutal incursions from the outside strike at the metropolitan flows at their point of maximum density. Rage streaks across this desert of fake abundance, then vanishes. A day will come when this capital and its horrible concretion of power will lie in majestic ruins, but it will be at the end of a process that will be far more advanced everywhere else.
All power to the communes!
In the subway, there’s no longer any trace of the screen of embarrassment that normally impedes the gestures of the passengers. Strangers make conversation without making passes. A band of comrades conferring on a street corner. Much larger assemblies on the boulevards, absorbed in discussions. Surprise attacks mounted in city after city, day after day. A new military barracks has been sacked and burned to the ground. The evicted residents of a building have stopped negotiating with the mayor’s office; they settle in. A company manager is inspired to blow away a handful of his colleagues in the middle of a meeting. There’s been a leak of files containing the personal addresses of all the cops, together with those of prison officials, causing an unprecedented wave of sudden relocations. We carry our surplus goods into the old village bar and grocery store, and take what we lack. Some of us stay long enough to discuss the general situation and figure out the hardware we need for the machine shop. The radio keeps the insurgents informed of the retreat of the government forces. A rocket has just breached a wall of the Clairvaux prison. Impossible to say if it has been months or years since the “events” began. And the prime minister seems very alone in his appeals for calm.