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Since the End of the Movement of the Squares:
The Return of The Invisible Committee

Since the end of the movement of the squares, we have seen networks of mutual support cropping up in many cities to stop evictions, of strike committees and neighborhood assemblies, but also cooperatives, for everything and in every sense.

To Our Friends

“The insurrections have come, finally.”

To Our Friends, The Invisible Committee’s most recent book, appears a little over seven years after 2007’s The Coming Insurrection. Its opening sentence—“The insurrections have come, finally”—savors a note of vindication. Sympathetic readers will indulge them this small triumph, and give them their due. There is little doubt that since the publication of The Coming Insurrection we have witnessed, on a global scale, a welter of riots and revolts the likes and intensity of which have not been seen for 40 years. “Ten years ago,” the authors go on, “predicting an uprising would have exposed you to [...] snickers.” Today, they contend, everyone has on their lips the watchwords of the moment: que se vayan todos! (“out with them all”), or even that old anarchist refrain, all cops are bastards. Rarely do short essays risking themselves in the waters of historical speculation hit their mark. The Invisible Committee was clearly on to something.

"Burned police station" by Mohamed El Dahshan (, used under (CC BY-NC 2.0)

All the same, a worry, a quibble, settles in quickly. Did the insurrections really come, after all? We can be sure the authors of To Our Friends are not speaking of the North American Occupy movement which, with the exception of some aspects of Occupy Oakland, was a largely toothless affair, swept away brusquely after a few weeks or months at most. They must have in mind instead some of the more spirited outposts of Occupy’s European counterpart, the so-called “movement of the squares,” such as the 15-M movement in Spain and the Syntagma Square occupation in Athens, both frequent points of reference in To Our Friends. But there was little insurrectionary about these movements, despite the numbers and energies pouring into them: they remained focused largely on developing novel forms of mass democracy in their general assemblies, and denouncing the austerity programs implemented by their respective “caretaker” national governments at the behest of the true power players in Europe, the so-called “troika” of the IMF, the European Central Bank, and the European Commission. The weeks-long riot in Greece in December 2008 is marshaled as an example, but that moment of disorder, marked as it was by attacks on banks and symbols of the state, and the temporary routing of police in the streets, was in a way an exception to the period in question, unleashed as it was before the austerity programs could firmly take the country hostage and the wheels of crisis grind the social fabric down to powder.

The story told in To Our Friends therefore largely depends on what transpired in Egypt, which broke the seal on the epoch and remains its signature event. If Tahrir Square is still the pulsing center of our historical moment, the disheartening if predictable fallout of the mass movement—elections, Muslim Brotherhood, army coup—offers writ-large lessons on just how weak, despite its mobilization of millions, the movement was. Despite numerous attacks on police stations and a series of important factory strikes, everything unfolded under the knowing, patient eye of the army, and most of the key structures of the Egyptian state stayed intact throughout, generally in the hands of autocrats in waiting. Few of the telltale traits of insurrection came to the fore. No significant movement to occupy factories, no crippling of the economic infrastructure, and no veritable splits within the armed forces. The other key uprisings of the Arab Spring, in Syria and Libya, leapt quickly—due in large part to the standing regimes’ move to militarize these conflicts—from popular mass movements to full-blown civil wars, complete with territorial fracturing, competing offshoots of Al-Qaeda assuming command over key zones, and the entire region transformed into a geopolitical powder keg, vaguely reminiscent of the Balkans a century ago. The scene is, altogether, grim.1

It is this gray grimness that quickly overtakes the triumphant tone on which the book opens. The time of this book’s writing comes after the euphoria of the upsurges, after what it calls the “intoxication of the movements.” It comes in a lull of reflection, and in a pause of defeat. The authors of To Our Friends remain convinced of the coherence and consistency of the historical moment, decoding within their dispersion a cohesive age of riots: “a single historical sequence unfolding in a strict unity of place and time, from Greece to Chile.” But it is the failure of this pattern of riot to take the form of revolution, they argue, that is just as much a trait of our time. Where one key aspect of The Coming Insurrection was its relative marginalization of the thematics of “revolution”—what that book called “centralized revolutions”2—in favor of a vision of an almost inexorable proliferation of insurrectionary communes, To Our Friends places a great deal of emphasis on this classical distinction between insurrectionary conflagration and revolutionary staying power:

The insurrections have come, but not the revolution. Rarely has one seen, as we have these past few years, in such a densely-packed timespan, so many seats of power taken by storm, from Greece to Iceland. […] But however great the disorders in this world may be, the revolution always seems to choke off at the riot stage. At best, a regime change satisfies for an instant the need to change the world, only to renew the same dissatisfaction.

For a group that stakes so much on forcing a break with both “the Left” and with “leftism”—even attributing the defeat of the “insurrections” in part to the residual presence of this latter disorder—The Invisible Committee’s assessment of the limitations of this global wave of revolts, as well its proposed response to these impasses, has a pronounced classical cast. The distinction between insurrection and revolution is only one trace of this seeming return to orthodoxy. The reasons To Our Friends musters in order to explain the defeats visited everywhere on these riots and revolts reinforces this perception; for what they contend has been lacking within the intoxicating energies of mass movements is a certain practice of strategy, that is, a concerted effort to develop a “strategic intelligence of the present.”

Where a host of partisans of the Paris Commune, from William Morris to the Situationist International, paradoxically refused always to read that fugitive episode’s bloody conclusion in terms of defeat,3 the dominant tradition of the Left, particularly in its Leninist formatting, has always lamented the errors of the Commune and its incapacity to endure beyond some 70 days. What it lacked, the consecrated analysis asserts, was a strategic conception of state power and its weak spots, and the organizational vigor and aggressiveness to attack those points with the necessary intensity: whence the fable of Lenin dancing in the snow as the Bolshevik revolution beat the Commune’s mark for duration. It is this same pattern, in a certain sense, that To Our Friends reproduces. Its analysis begins with the fact of defeat, and with the conceptual cleavage between insurrection and revolution. From there, the authors sketch out remedies that hinge first of all on the development of a strategic analysis of the nature of contemporary power—at times identified with contemporary capitalism, at times with an almost self-referential figure of Power—in view of attacking it or, alternately, slipping free of its meshes, seceding from its cartography. The emphasis on strategy here is in turn inseparable from a push to organize: “we must now,” their analysis concludes, “organize ourselves, worldwide.” Such an organizational initiative is baptized with a name dear to the classical workers’ movement, and to the succession of communist internationals: the Party. The first person plural of the book’s title—the we of “our friends”—is invariably identified throughout the book as a party: in the code used by Marx and Engels throughout their correspondence, our party. The passage from insurrection to revolution means taking on the task of building this party. Fortunately, this problem is its own solution: “our party is everywhere.” Defeat, insurrection, revolution, strategy, organization, party: such is the altogether familiar program, the tried if not always true syntax of revolutionary theory in its classical configuration.

A cursory survey of the chapters of To Our Friends registers a set of analytic nodes that include the notion of crisis, the role of democracy within mass movements, a Foucault-inspired refashioning of contemporary power as “governance,” and the examination of the various forms or platforms this reputedly novel form of power operates with or on: logistics, infrastructure, cybernetics, and counter-insurgency, to name just a few of its resources. Some of the final chapters of the book gravitate around the strategic and organizational questions from which the book begins. To Our Friends starts out from the contention that contemporary capitalism operates through a decomposition or ravaging of society, understood as a totality once held together by a battery of mediating measures (the wage, money, and so on). It is under these conditions that the authors anticipate a widespread resurgence of the commune as both a form of struggle (with the withering of forms such as trade unions, but also the classical Soviet or workers’ council) and as a means for reproducing the patterns of everyday life. But the turn to the commune, familiar to readers of The Coming Insurrection, is here supplemented with a final chapter that places its bets on developing, on a global scale, a weave of ties among otherwise isolated, and thereby vulnerable, communes. The authors foresee the formation of a “historical party”: “So the first question we are faced with is the following: How does a set of situated powers constitute a global force? How does a set of communes constitute a historical party?”

“Power is Logistic. Block Everything!,” the third chapter of To Our Friends, sizes up a key aspect of recent mutations in the nature of “power,” and is undoubtedly the book’s theoretical core. In Anglophone debates, it is likely Fredric Jameson’s provocative thought experiment deciphering Wal-Mart’s ruthlessly efficient supply-chains as a paradoxically “Utopian phenomenon”4—that is, a kind of inverted blueprint for a hyper-efficient socialist planning to come—that has put the thematics of logistics on the map. To Jameson’s political left, the place of logistical networks in “revolutionary” theory has recently emerged, focusing in large part on what role they play in contemporary capitalist accumulation, and whether such infrastructures could be adapted to a post-capitalist world.5 The authors of To Our Friends make no explicit reference to these debates. The deep history of the term, with its roots in the science of supplying massive armies on the move, is only mentioned in passing, a surprising ellipsis considering the role military strategy (particularly “counterinsurgency” doctrine) plays elsewhere in the book. Where other commentators busy themselves charting capitalist valorization circuits as they thread their way across oceans and between continents—energy from the Mideast, raw materials from Sub-Saharan Africa, manufacturing and assembly in the Far East, design, administration, and consumption in North America and Europe—the authors of To Our Friends presuppose this work as done elsewhere.

Where the classical tactics of the workers’ movement centered on sabotage and the general strike, The Invisible Committee—as the second half of this chapter’s title indicates—wagers that the form of struggle most adequate to the age of logistics is the blockade.6 The reasons proposed for the precedence of this tactic are not entirely satisfying. The authors of To Our Friends see the blockade as a tactic opening up this disruptive leverage to all social layers provided they are committed ideologically to the task, that is, to “anyone who takes a stand against the existing organization of the world.” To argue that “the subject of the strike was the working class, [while] the subject of the blockade is whoever” is at the very least to leave unexamined the role logistical infrastructures have played, over the last four decades, in the erosion of working-class power in the U.S. and Europe. The authors neglect, in turn, to consider the way these same networks have contributed to the emergence of new working-class formations on the Asian side of the Pacific Rim (not to mention potential new ties between workers at either end of these supply chains). One wonders in turn why the key role these new supply-chain logics play in contemporary capitalism would not concentrate the capacity for disruption of their flows in the hands of a small, select group of workers in ports on either side of the Pacific. If the subject of the blockade is, indeed, no longer the worker but just anyone—but these “whoevers” are likely to be workers as well, even if they find themselves unemployed—To Our Friends does not consider whether the pride of place assumed by the blockade, today, in the militant toolbox is due in large part because it remains a “last resort,” all that’s left when the classical strike at the point of production, now strategically situated oceans away, is no longer an available weapon.7

Elsewhere in To Our Friends, The Invisible Committee single out the recent “ZAD” movement in France, with its signature occupation of an area near Nantes slated for a regional airport, or the longstanding “No TAV” blockade movement against construction of a high-speed rail line in the Susa Valley in northern Italy, as exemplary contemporary struggles.8 It is therefore significant that in this central chapter on logistical power, the authors single out the blockading of fuel refineries during the 2010 mass movement against pension reform in France. This initiative, which the authors concede was dominated by the Communist Party-affiliated CGT labor union, seems if anything a throwback to an almost archaic scene of struggle, given The Invisible Committee’s contention that the “subject” of the strike was the working class, that of the blockade “anyone at all.” Though one of the innovative aspects of these refinery blockades was the role those who did not work at these sites played in their shutdown—with the attendant fuel shortages across the country—the authors of To Our Friends use this episode as an occasion to place particular emphasis, paradoxically, on the contemporary worker and its definition. “What defines the worker,” they write, “in a positive sense is his embodied technical mastery of a particular world of production.

“TAV = Mafia” by Marco (, used under (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

This conceptualization of the worker is bound to seem outdated to many readers, reminiscent perhaps of the situation of the late 19th century or of the first decades of the 20th century, where worker militancy, and the rise of the workers’ council as a form of struggle, was concentrated in industries where workers retained a high degree of knowledge of, and control over, the labor process.9 In the context of contemporary Europe and North America, the relation between the average wage-earner and the “world of production” is tenuous and remote. This is what it means for less than five percent of employment in the US to be in the manufacturing sector, and for the vast majority of work available to be in services (whether they be in fast food or finance, securities or security). Everything in To Our Friends’s chapter on logistics hinges on the idea that a consequent revolutionary strategy depends on a militant accumulation of knowledge, and specifically a mapping of contemporary capital flows. “We need to go look in every sector, in all the territories we inhabit,” they write, “for those who possess strategic technical knowledge. Only on this basis will movements truly dare to ‘block everything.’” The authors go as far as to propose the practice of “investigations”—a term used by French Maoists and Italian “workerists” in the 1960s—to characterize this procurement of technical mastery, though it is clear that a related Maoist practice, that of “settling down” to work and organize the class struggle from within, is not on the agenda: “we” will remain outside the site of production itself. For all its emphasis on the mutation of the subject of struggle from the worker to “whoever,” To Our Friends even speaks of a special “worker power” in this instance” “But even there, the workers’ power remains: someone who knows how to make a system operate also knows how to sabotage it in an effective way” (my emphasis).

The Invisible Committee’s turn toward a form of worker power—those workers said to have a technical “mastery” of contemporary capitalist production—is unexpected, given the reception of their previous work as a contemporary, theoretically sophisticated variant of insurrectionary anarchism. Their strategic “perception” compels them, it appears, to zero in on the most advanced—and therefore most strategically sensitive—sectors of the contemporary capitalist economy (in this case, fuel refineries and other “process” industries). It is in these sectors in particular that, according to The Invisible Committee, we witness an “inversion” of “the relationship between labor and production”: a relationship in which the role of human labor in the production process becomes increasingly negligible, and increasingly dominated by that process itself. These pages in To Our Friends are a characteristically cryptic evocation—despite the authors’ consistent anti-Marxist asides—of some well-known paragraphs from the so-called “Fragment on Machines” from Marx’s Grundrisse. In these passages, so important in the Italian strain of Marxism called operaismo that is now identified with, among others, Antonio Negri and Paolo Virno, Marx envisions a future expansion of the productive forces such that “labor no longer appears so much to be included within the production process; rather, the human being comes to relate more as watchman and regulator to the production process itself.[...] He steps to the side of the production process instead of being its chief actor.”10 Marx’s descriptions in these pages of the emergence of a “general intellect” that would be incorporated in the capitalist production process and replace human labor time as the direct source of material wealth are certainly prescient, and pertinent to the example of the energy sector. But Marx is quite clear that it is not the worker—now a mere “watchman”—who is the “embodiment” of technical mastery: it is the system of machinery, as fixed capital, which is the material, objective incorporation of scientific knowledge.11 Those tasked with overseeing these processes, with being alert to “an indicator light that switches on when it shouldn’t, an abnormal gurgling in a pipe” and so on, as To Our Friends puts its, can only tendentiously be said to possess a real “technical mastery” of these systems: their functioning is too complex and too automated, and a given worker’s relation to them too mediated and too fragmentary, to qualify as mastery. Such non-mastery is one of the chief effects, if not the entire point, of these processes’ intricacy.

This centrality of the figure of the worker as an embodiment of knowledge—a who capable of mastering the technological complexity of contemporary capitalism—necessarily recurs in one of the later chapters of To Our Friends, concerned with the contemporary comeback of the “commune” in contemporary revolutionary politics. The focus is necessarily on Spain and Greece, the two countries in Europe where the squares movement was particularly vibrant, and the countries most dramatically impacted by the economic crisis of the past seven years: employment for youth under 25 has flirted with 60 percent in both countries for years. Both countries are witnessing a resurgence of the parliamentary left, with Syriza in Greece and Podemos in Spain—otherwise very different formations—both channeling the energies, or running on the fumes, of once vigorous if limited social movements. It is not to this “political” translation that The Invisible Committee directs its gaze, understandably, but it is to a reputed proliferation of mutual aid societies, solidarity networks, “strike committees,” and self-run co-operatives that they turn, seeing these to be the true upshot of the short-lived raptures and enthusiasms of mass movements: “from the intoxication of the movement” to a “profusion of means.

With this transition from the mass movement to the mushrooming of strike committees and self-managed co-operatives, we seem to be a far cry from the “block everything!” tactic of the 2010 mass movement. That we return from an army of “whoever” blockading capitalist infrastructure back to worker power and the strike is inevitable, given the conclusions arrived at in To Our Friends’s key chapter on logistics and infrastructure. There, the failure of blockading of fuel refineries was chalked up to “our” lack of even a minimal knowledge of this sector of production, one possessed not by us, but by a “few engineers” with ties to the CGT trade union (with close ties to the still extant French Communist Party):

If the CGT had control of the whole struggle, it was due to our inadequacy in the technical sphere. All the union needed to do was turn the blockade of the refineries, where it was hegemonic, into the spearhead of the movement. That way it was free at any moment to signal the end of the game by reopening the refinery valves, thereby releasing all the pressure on the country. What the movement lacked at that point was precisely a minimal knowledge of the material functioning of that world, a knowledge scattered among some workers, concentrated in the egghead brains of a few engineers.

What follows this assessment is, we will recall, the assertion that there’s “no sense in its knowing how to block the opponent’s infrastructure if it can’t make such facilities operate for its benefit” (my emphasis). The authors of To Our Friends do not take into consideration the material pressures that shape the environment under which the blockading of the refineries and the springing up of self-managed co-operatives in Greece and Spain occurred, namely an atmosphere of urgency and crisis, at times even desperation. The pressure exerted by the ongoing crisis in Europe and elsewhere is hard to bring to bear in their analysis, however, since The Invisible Committee spends so much time early on in the book contending that the signifier “crisis” is mobilized primarily for political ends, as rhetorical cover for a new round of “restructuration” (“Far from fearing crises, capital now tries its hand at producing them experimentally”). Though it is clear that such occasions are exploited by those with the means to do so, the one-sidedness of this account leaves out the massive capital flight, the soaring unemployment, the erosion of the State’s role in social reproduction, and the resurgence, in Greece but also notably in France, of strains of fascism. Crucially, the cropping up of co-operative forms in those parts of Europe hardest hit by the economic crisis should remind us that, in our historical moment, such initiatives are often one of many last resorts. If capitalist crises entail, in their matrical form, a rupture of the relation between capital and labor, each standing over against the other, idle, then worker-owned and -operated “enterprises” become the only option remaining for workers faced with the loss of employment as capital flees to less turbulent sectors of the economy.

In the context of unrelenting crisis, the self-managed workplace can easily become the only form of social reproduction available to reserve armies of workers shut out of dramatically shrinking labor markets. Today, such ventures are often strategies of survival in a ravaged landscape. We must separate the vision of communism from the pressures of simple survival. Invoking the example of the self-managed Vio.Me factory in Thessaloniki, The Invisible Committee remains, all the same, attuned to the dangers posed by this “proliferation of means,” noting that similar experiments in Argentina ultimately dovetailed with Cristina Kirchner’s “Argentina Works” program.12 They at least register the problems that retaining the form of the enterprise or unit of production will inevitably occasion: even the self-managed workplace is subject to the pressures of inter-capitalist competition, the imperative to economize resources and time, and must seek the most productivity possible per unit of time. To Our Friends singles out the Vio.Me factory as a potential outlier to the fate of most co-operatives, however, because it remains situated within a larger “movement,” and it is this embeddedness of the factory occupation that separates it from other recent or historical examples. “What is different,” they argue, “is that is that the resumption of factory production was conceived from the beginning as a political offensive supported by all the remaining elements of the Greek ‘movement,’ and not merely as an attempt at alternative economy,” and it is this enveloping milieu that annuls the separation between work and life, or between “factory production” and struggle, or even insurrection. It is this presence of production—“using the same machines” once used for commodity production, they emphasize—within the movement, however, that gives the movement a “commune-like character.”

Assembly at occupied factory Vio.Me. in Thessaloniki, Greece, May 11, 2014” by Dawid Krawczyk (, used under (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

In 1962, writing in the wake of a recent massive general strike in Belgium, the Situationist International published a short, programmatic text which called for a reassessment of the history of the classical workers’ movement, to be undertaken “without illusion.” Particularly with regard to its successes and defeats, and with a view to what can be salvaged from this experience and what must be abandoned, or actively forgotten: “The apparent successes of this movement are actually its fundamental failures (reformism or the establishment of a state bureaucracy), while its failures (the Paris Commune or the 1934 Asturian revolt) are its most promising successes so far, for us and for the future.”13 The Invisible Committee has taken up this challenge. The experiences of the past seven years have, perhaps, made this backward glance urgent. One impulse displayed by To Our Friends is to highlight a break with an older dynamic of struggle, one rooted in class, located at the point of production, and carried out through the key tactic of the strike: “If the subject of the strike was the working class, the subject of the blockade is whoever. It’s anyone at all.” Despite this declaration regarding the shift in precedence from strike to blockade and from the working class to just anyone, the strike nevertheless makes a comeback in the course of the book’s unfolding argument, its “subject” now not simply the worker but an entire community, its theater of operations not only the factory, but what the authors call the territory. What the commune requires, in addition to a certain “resumption of factory production,” carried out no doubt by workers with a “technical mastery” of a particular sector of production, is what the authors describe as a territorial base, some spatial component that, through struggle and the consolidation of informal loyalties and ties, becomes an “extremely dense ethical fabric.” The history of the strike as a form, the authors argue, must be reconceived from the point of view of its impact on a given territory, its place in the production of a dense ethical tissue. “So many factory battles that appeared to involve entire regions and not just workers,” and the strikes themselves were primarily targeting “life more than simply the wage relation.” For The Invisible Committee, a productive rereading of the history of the worker’s movement would emphasize not the struggle over wages or the length of the working day, but would move us outside the factory and the point of production itself, and into the texture of community surrounding the factory, and the forms of solidarity, mutual aid, and self-defense that made possible such actions in the first place. Before the appearance of worker organizations specifically formatted for providing just such support—the modern trade union—the strike was undertaken by the community as a whole, its strength drawn from a weave of unbreakable loyalties, often defined by their rootedness in a specific neighborhood. These were the beginnings of the workers’ movement.

There is, therefore, a deep current within this short book that reactivates the classical tropes of the workers’ movement: the worker as embodiment of technical knowledge, the strike as a territorial action producing a community shaped by forms of mutual aid and solidarity, and the prospect of not merely sabotaging (or blockading) capitalist production processes, but taking them over, transforming the factories into co-operatives, and putting them in the service of “the commune.” The technical mastery the authors emphasize prepares our party to put such a world to work: for us. “There is no sense,” they write, in “knowing how to block the opponent’s infrastructure if [a revolutionary force] can’t make such facilities operate for its benefit if there’s a need.” The revolutionary assumption of labor processes heavily mediated by machinery and all that goes along with it—not least a refined division of labor and reticular fragmentation of that labor process, all geared toward the self-valorization of capital—is easier to imagine in a world before what Marx called the real, and not only formal, “subsumption” of labor processes by capital. The transition from formal to real subsumption, which in the most developed capitalist countries occurred as early as a century ago, entails an inversion of the relation between capital and labor processes, such that the former does not merely take over and harness existing processes already developed by individual or small producers, but rebuilds them from scratch, molding them in its own image, and subordinating these processes entirely to the pursuit of surplus value.

This vision of a resurgence of communes anchored by self-managed co-operative work sites is itself embedded within a larger strategic framework, which in turn mobilizes a conceptual and diagnostic syntax inherited from the classical workers’ movement, its battery of problems and solutions, its appeal above all to organization as a balm applied to the open wound of defeat. The authors of To Our Friends invoke, more than once, Marx’s fleeting reference to a “historical party” that would “spring up naturally on the soil of capitalist society,” rather than be the closed, clandestine, insurrectionary organ formed primarily in view of the seizure of State power. The historical episodes invoked by The Invisible Committee offer some glimpse of what, in To Our Friends, is intended with the concept of organization—whose absence accounts for the defeat of insurrections—and the reactivation of the idea of the Party. Speaking throughout To Our Friends of the commune as having a necessarily territorial basis that alone permits the formation of “extremely dense ethical fabrics” whose matter is the “loyalties woven by informal ties,” the authors give examples ranging from Oaxaca to Bolivia to, surprisingly, the Northern Ireland of the late 1960s, in which the Provisional IRA “blended” seamlessly into those “enclaves that were in a constant state of insurrection.” More pertinent to our discussion, however, is the appeal to the Barcelona of the early 20th century (and not the Asturias of 1934), as if seeing in the proliferation of “co-operatives, for everything and in every sense” in contemporary Catalonia an echo of that impregnable worker bastion of pre-revolutionary Spain: “The ethical fabric of the Barcelona workers’ movement at the beginning of the 20th century can serve as a guide for the experiments that are underway.” This circling back to the early days of the workers’ movement entails, according to this logic, foreshortening that history itself, cancelling its development, and seeing the intervening years as a long parenthesis, a wandering, the history of an error. There is no reason not to reach still farther back, to the days before the first great revolts ripped across Europe in 1848. To the riot days of the 1830s and 1840s, even, that age of great disorder and thoroughgoing repression, of secret associations, of the wrecking of machines, and the proliferation of what Foucault calls “popular illegality.”14 To Our Friends in this sense can be said to echo a still earlier, still little known, text that appeared years ago. In 2002, a small booklet with no named author and the terse title Call began to circulate in radical milieus in France. It was a call to start from scratch, an appeal to return to the origins of the historical workers’ movement: “We remember the beginnings of the labor movement. They are close to us.”15


  1. All the same, in the concluding chapter of To Our Friends, whose title is tellingly “Today Libya, Tomorrow Wall Street,” the authors ask: “Who could have determined from here the exact nature of the Libyan insurrection?” (230).
  2. The Invisible Committee, The Coming Insurrection (Los Angeles: Semiotext[e], 2009), p. 131.
  3. See Kristin Ross, Communal Luxury (Verso: London, 2015), p. 96. Situationist International, “The Bad Days will End
  4. Fredric Jameson, Valences of the Dialectic, p. 49.
  5. See Alberto Toscano, “Logistic and Opposition” and “Lineaments of the Logistical State,” and Jasper Bernes’ “Logistics, Counterlogistics and The Communist Prospect.” Bernes in particular links the development of logistical supply chains to the contemporary relevance of the “blockade” as tactic; Toscano speaks of an ambient spontaneous ideology of “interruption” characteristic of many strands of the ultraleft, of which the prioritization of the blockade would be a symptom.
  6. In his Carbon Democracy: Political Power in the Age of Oil, Timothy Mitchell suggests we can in fact examine an earlier age of capitalist infrastructure in terms of the logistical nature of power. It was the configuration of the energy chains associated with coal that opened them to worker “sabotage,” and established the material condition for the accumulation, over decades, of a worker class power that has long since ebbed away, or been actively dismantled. “The word ‘sabotage,’” Mitchell writes, “originally referred to the actions of energy workers—coal workers, rail workers, dock workers—who discovered the effectiveness of coordinated strikes along the energy chain, or what became known as the general strike.” Timothy Mitchell, “Interrupting the Future: A Conversation with Timothy Mitchell.”
  7. On this point, see the important communiqué written before the December 12, 2011 port shutdown in Oakland, California, “Blockading the Port is Only the First of Many Last Resorts.”
  8.   The acronym “ZAD” abbreviates the expression “Zone à Défendre”: Zone to be Defended. The acronym is a transformation of that used for the expression “zone d’aménagement différé,” used by governmental authorities in France to mean roughly “future development area.”
  9. cf. Sergio Bologna, “Class composition and the theory of the party at the origins of the workers’ council movement.”
  10. Marx, Grundrisse, p. 706.
  11. It is for this very reason that post-operaismo attempts to reinterpret these passages, emphasizing forms of intellectuality that condition contemporary production but which are irreducible to scientific knowledge and resist being embodied in systems of machinery.
  12. Occupy, Resist, Produce!” is the slogan proposed by those involved in the occupation to describe their objectives.
  13. Situationist International, “The Bad Days will End.”
  14.  “From the most violent,” Foucault writes, “such as machine breaking, or the most lasting such as the formation of association, to the most everyday, such as absenteeism, abandoning work, vagabondage, pilfering raw materials, deception as the quantity and quality of the work completed. A whole series of illegalities was inscribed in struggles in which those struggling knew that they were confronting both the law and the class that had imposed it,” Discipline and Punish, p. 274.
  15. This small booklet can be found at, a website that collects all of the writings associated with The Invisible Committee.


Jason E. Smith

Jason E. Smith writes about contemporary art, philosophy, and politics. His book, Smart Machines and Service Work: Automation in an Age of Stagnation (London: Reaktion, 2020) is part of the Field Notes series.


The Brooklyn Rail

JUNE 2015

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