Today’s territory is the product of many centuries of police operations. People have been pushed out of their fields, then their streets, then their neighborhoods, and finally and from the hallways of their buildings, in the demented hope of containing all life between the four sweating walls of privacy. The territorial question isn’t the same for us as it is for the state. For us it’s not about possessing the territory. Rather, it’s a matter of increasing the density of communes, of circulation, and of solidarities that the territory becomes unreadable, opaque to all authority. We don’t want to occupy the territory, we want to be the territory.i
The quote above comes from the pamphlet The Coming Insurrection, put out in 2007 by the provocatively titled Invisible Committee. Its language anticipates American’s Occupy movements by years, and then surpasses them in the blink of sentence – “we want to be the territory.” By doing so, the Invisible Committee harkens back to another time, when outright insurrection didn’t seem like a far-off possibility. The pamphlet takes the form of a political manifesto, surely an icon of revolutions past; yet it offers no program, attempts to not to bring together a party formation, a vanguard, or even a collective signifier for revolt. Instead, we find that The Coming Insurrection tries to act as a curious anti-manifesto, a non-platform for post-politics. “Organization,” we read, “are obstacles to organizing ourselves.”ii
The Invisible Committee’s work got dragged into the American media Spectacle, briefly. As the Egyptian revolts surged through the country’s street and Occupy Wall Street began to take off, Glenn Beck held the book in his hand as he attempted to draw out the conspiratorial relationship between “the Left and the Islamists.”
The Invisible Committee, in reality, was an ancillary project of Tiqqun, a radical collective that existed between the years of 1999 and 2001. Steeped in French intellectual thought and insurrectionary anarchism, Tiqqun espoused a politics of frustration; it allowed itself to unabashedly embrace the will to be against. In spite of so-called ‘common’ sense or even critical judgment, the collective narrates a world on the verge of the apocalypse, and bitterly embraces this fragmentation as the staging ground for revolution. To some, Tiqqun comes off as irresponsible. While this very well may be the point, perhaps one of the things we’ve forgotten is the desire for irresponsibility; perhaps we should allow ourselves to sink into their hyperbolic proclamations, and see what tools we can find embedded in their texts. If not anything else, perhaps we should nurture the fire of post-politics, carry it with us into the shifting future and see what applications we might find.
Tiqqun’s provocations can remind one a little of Baudrillard’s antics: just as the theorist of simulation railed against the thinkers of the so-called libidinal turn – Deleuze, Guattari, Foucault, Lyotard – Tiqqun lashes out at Antonio Negri and his comrades in the Multitudes journal. Baudrillard had posed his notion of ‘fatal strategies’ against both the outdated methods of class warfare and the postmodern politics of desire; likewise, Tiqqun deploys imagery of insurrection, often invoking the urban guerrilla programs of the Red Army Faction and the Red Brigades, as a counterweight to the post-Autonomist tactics of mythopoisis and the carnivalesque. But Baudrillard’s assault on the ‘libidinal economists’ took him to a level – a strategic one, if not a theoretical one – that strongely resembled their own. Tiqqun too begins to bear more than a passing resemblance to the Negrism it claims to repudiate: its obvious post-Marxist basis, its roots in the ferment of that long Italian summer, its appropriations from the philosophies of Deleuze and Guattari, and mostly importantly, its variations on the Imperial hypothesis, the centerpiece of Hardt and Negri’s work.
For Tiqqun, the revolutionary figure is not the party or even necessarily the proletariat. Instead, they speak of a somewhat metaphorical formation that they dub the “Imaginary Party,” which they juxtapose against Hardt and Negri’s multitude. The multitude, in Hardt and Negri’s conceptualizations, is a figure that is both “within and against Empire” – Empire itself forms “an empty machine, a spectacular machine, a parasitical machine” that leaches from the power, creativity, and production of the multitude.iii The multitude, then, can be viewed as a whole; yet, following Deleuze and Guattari, it is recast as a multiplicity – a whole that is also a many.
Tiqqun’s Imaginary Party, they assure us (somewhat unconvincingly) is not a multiplicity. They portray it as pure negation, and it doesn’t necessarily articulate itself from leftist viewpoints. If there is confusion on whether or not the multitude is a class concept, the Imaginary Party is emphatically not, even if its (non)membership does include class-driven elements: “To continue the struggle today, we will have to scrap the notion of class… The front line no longer cuts through the middle of society; it now runs through the middle of each of us…”iv
But the Imaginary Party and the Negrian revolutionary figure collide when we consider was we earlier dubbed Empire’s ‘enigmatic passages.’ For Tiqqun, the excess of Empire is that which is incapable of assimilating, things like “delirium, madness,” and other “heterogenous elements.”v For Hardt and Negri, this takes on the form of the postmodern mutant, those capable of allowing and encouraging their bodies to transform into something else, letting their identities shift, and their genders and sexualities reject binary classifications. Hardt and Negri speak approvingly of the posthuman, but what they are doing is calling back to Deleuze and Guattari’s politics of becoming, and this matched perfectly by Tiqqun’s own callback to Foucault’s work on insanity and the asylum – two discourses that merge far more than divide.
By aligning each figure with a certain ambiance of difference, both Tiqqun and Hardt and Negri create Empire’s primary antagonist as a construct of excess, or more specifically, an excess with the ability for movement. For Hardt and Negri,
The kinds of movement of individuals, groups, and populations that we find in Empire… cannot be completely subjugated to the laws of capitalist accumulation – at every moment they overflow and the bounds of measure. The movements of the multitude designate new spaces, and its journeys establish new residences.vi
The duo depict Empire as first and foremost the structural aspects of current world order, but at the same time they establish it as a principle depending not only on the physical evolution of national, racial, and capitalist trajectories, but also on the synthesis of more incorporeal, philosophical and juridical constructs connected to a material base through the familiar passageways of labor and imperialism. Though they would never say it, their vision of what Empire sometimes verges on what Timothy Morton has called the “hyperobject” – an almost transcendent construct that will “outlast us all,” that will “burn a hole in your mind” and cover our skin, something inescapable (and is it any wonder that Morton evokes modern capitalism at the opening of his discourse on the hyperobject?).vii Hardt and Negri thus present Empire as something that has closed off any outside, a (post)structure that informs and overcodes all the fluctuations of the earth. At the same time, they speak of exodus, which at first appearance is a direct contradiction to their understanding of Empire. With the theoretical notion of the Imaginary Party, this contradiction is easily brushed aside:
Empire excludes nothing substantially; it only precludes that anything present itself as other, that anything escape the general equivalence. The Imaginary Party is therefore nothing, specifically; it is everything that undermines, defies, ruins equivalence.viii
What Hardt and Negri consider to be Empire’s collapse of the outside is rendered by Tiqqun as the principle of non-exclusion; the collapse of the outside, then, is treated as something that is largely cosmetic. The neoliberal condition encapsulates the globe, truly (aside from small hold-outs such as North Korea, but these are reduced in the media to figures that serve to affirm the Imperial order), but to say that there is no exception, no excess that escapes the neoliberal condition, would be a faulty assertion. If Empire is a machine, it is a machine with slippages, cracks that leak. Even if the advent of Empire means that the outside vanishes, the banishment of the excess of its production, the proverbial ‘sweeping under the rug’ of its leakages, means that Empire creates conditions for an outside.
Hardt and Negri and Tiqqun each uncover what they consider to be historical precedents to their revolutionary figures. In Empire the passage into the Society of Control is rendered inseparable from the revolution against Fordism, the anti-disciplinary revolt of the 1960s. The contemporary postmodern mutant was foreshadowed by the students experimenting with LSD, the young people who fled from labor, the carefree, etc.ix Tiqqun, on the other hand, extend the Imaginary Party farther back in history, moving the emphasis from the transition period of the late 60s and 70s to the period between the two world wars. Here they locate what would appear to be the failure of the working class to mobilize; instead, the world saw the rise of Nazism and fascism, the League of Nations and the ascension of the Soviet Union on a global sale. At the same time, however, a post-political excess was generated that largely avoided the stodgy classist politics of the accepted and ‘orthodox’ Marxism traditions, an excess that counted among its membership “surrealism, Spanish anarchism, or the American hobos.”x The last figure mentioned here, those nomadic vagabonds so prominent in Western lore, marks another point of congruence with Hardt and Negri: alongside the bodies bound up in the politics of becoming, the two also cite the historical occasion of the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW), the famous ally, companion, and partner of the hobos, as a model for resistance to Empire: “The perpetual movement of the Wobblies was indeed an immanent pilgrimage, creating new society in the shell of the old, without establishing fixed and stable structures of rule.”xi
For the IWW, it was not the moderate unionism of the American Federation of Labor and the Congress of Industrial Organizations that would overturn the system, nor was it the Social Party USA’s piecemeal legislation through the state’s ballot boxes that would usher in revolutionary; it was instead nomadism, connectivity, and the active creation of parallel structures alongside the ruination spread by capitalism that established it as an anarchic alternative to the dogmatic Bolshevism of the Soviets and their counterparts in America.
When the AFL spoke cautiously of law and order, the IWW exuberantly discussed the laws of the jungle. Where the AFL pleaded for contracts and protocols, the IWW hymned clubs and brute force. Where the AFL sought industrial harmony, the IWW praised perpetual industrial war.xii
What this translates into is the disavowal of the primary mechanism of participation in capitalism, and an exodus from the confines of existence tethered to a state: the rejection of the notion of citizenship.
Logistics of Empire
The most troubling thing about the last twenty years is without a doubt that Empire has managed to carve out from the debris of civilization a brand new humanity organically won over to its cause: citizens.xiii
This citizen is the one who proclaims their role in society, takes their place amongst the ranks of abstracted existence and proudly joins in the fervor of the rat race. The citizen wears the badge of this collective fantasy, perhaps remaking their sense of identity as an entrepreneur of the self. It is the citizen who looks at the hobo, scowls and mutters “get a job”; who tries to educate the poor so they can be more like him; who imposes interpretation like a holy writ. Most importantly, the citizen is the embodiment of Empire’s subjective production, born from the mind-body’s relationship to the environment – the perfect postfascist figure.
Tiqqun locates the “factory” of this citizen in the networks of post-Fordist production, alluding to the fact that this citizen is distinctly different from the citizen of the Fordist class-compact. And how could it not? The idea of the citizen is intricately bound to the understanding of sovereignty, a topic whose passage from modernism to postmodernism has found itself mired in the quagmires of theoretical debate. On a more immediate level, the condition of the classic Fordist citizen produced that vexing question, “why do the masses desire their own repression?” The post-Fordist citizens, by contrast, desire their own expression, albeit an expression rooted in the semiotics of the marketplace. The question of the citizen is then, from this vantage point, the movement from the objective experience of the citizen to one that is subjective, especially in regards to the changing logics of production. Thus, unlike their discourse of the Imaginary Party, Tiqqun looks to the breakdown of Fordism as the primary context, and draws on Autonomia’s discourse on capitalism’s subsequent reconfiguration:
Toyotism, automation, job enrichment, increased flexibility and personalization of work, delocalization, decentralization, outsourcing, just-in-time methods, project-specific management, the closure of large manufacturing plants, flextime, the liquidation of heavy industrial systems, worker consolidation – these are but aspects of the reforms of the modes of production whose main purpose was to restore capitalist power over production.xiv
Hardt and Negri too situate immaterial labor as the basis of their analysis of Empire, and even come close to exalting it. For them, Empire is the moment that can be turned, flipped, pushed through or accelerated to the otherside. This plot, undoubtedly, is charted through the zones of immaterial or affective labor. One could read Empire and come away seeing immaterial labor as hardly labor at all, something that we can infuse with positivity….
But this sidesteps the glaring point that immaterial labor is an apparatus of capture, generating from innumerable vectors and factors. There was a very real exodus from disciplinary labor, the disciplinary society – the affective, bodily, and political resistance of the 60s counterculture. The very real desire to “drop out,” assert their individuality against society and even experiment with it was awarded with flexiblization in the labor force and the “cool consumer” in leisure time. This has only become possible, however, when one considers the march of technocracy, the harnessing of the machinic phylum and the General Intellect. The potentialities of cybernetics as a Nomad Science were rerouted into the Royal Sciences, machines for war first and for generalized systems of control afterwards. The story of these sciences is often inseparable from the 60s counterculture, flows that crash together, and can even be connected to the long-unfolding neoliberal revolution, which needed flexiblization as much as it needed cheap, easily exploitable labor. From top to bottom, Empire’s environment is an electro-technic mesh. The categories of Bomb, Money, and Ether are, in reality, purely cybernetic categories.
The citizen becomes the postfascist figure because it emerges from this confusing foam of history. It might not be homogenized, but it certainly conforms to a series of archetypes, each that requires a rigorous inventory and unpacking. Are we trending close to essentialism here? No, it must be reminded that contemporary society is subjected to the examination and analysis of patterns in behavior, routine, and consumption. Total Information Awareness is a reality in the market and gains traction perpetually; the result is the tendency towards the modelization of these behavior and its conditioned reinforcement across a slew of coordinates….
But from where does the citizen gain its understanding of self-hood?
Tiqqun suspends the elusive character of the citizen between two poles that they use to define Empire: the pole of Biopower, and the pole of Spectacle. Both are concepts adapted from other sources; Biopower, of course, is drawn from Foucault’s work and describes the technology of control, that manages populations to the point where its dictates are internalized. The techniques of Biopower are vast and wideranging, and here they are situated next to the Situationist concept of the Spectacle – “not a collection of images; rather, [the] social relationship between people that is mediated by images.”xv Just as the French had colonized the exterior of their national boundaries (Algeria, Vietnam), capitalism’s commodities has finally colonized the fabric of everyday life, to the point where “all that was once directly lived has become representation.”xvi
If the Spectacle offers something that resembles possibility, Biopower acts as the shutting off of virtuality, of designing boundary lines atop the Body without Organs. At the same time, its actions are deceptive: Biopower embraces, on a purely aesthetic level at the very least, the fluid dynamics of postmodernism, yet it gives us not nomadism, but the Flexible Personality. Not schizoanalytics, but instead the depthless consumer, endlessly exchanging desires with each market upgrade. It shits on hybridity, offering pastiche as invention, soft parody as entertainment. Despite all of this, Biopower will allow space for subjectivities that can trend close to the border: the punk, the rebel, as long as they have no cause – but most of all a commitment to ‘social responsibility’ that is equitable to the management of the system. Is it no wonder that the hip citizen is one of Empire’s strongest archetypes? But that is just the movement of the Spectacle rearing its head, the vocalizations of a subjectivity mimicking difference –
Isn’t this vision of Biopower a little outdated? These formations continue to persist, but for all the rhetoric of control’s subtleties, of libertine lifestyle and bacchanalia of excess, Empire’s mask has begun to slough off, exposing the reality of the gears underneath. The MoveOns, the AFL-CIOs, the Centers for Community Change, The Nations all clamor about the so-called reality of progressive political change – is Elizabeth Warren the “Occupy candidate”? Sign this petition for a well-regulated world! – while the territory beneath the map is the strong state, with its laws that continue to support the rich and the owners of property. The sluggish economy is just the refrain, a little window-dressing for police brutality, home invasion, sanctioned murder, drone strikes, escalating tensions, the heavy boot and the riot shield. And as physical violence dots the landscape before disappearing from the mind, lost in the slipstream of the Spectacle, we read that a multitude of writer have engaged in self-censorship out of fear of NSA surveillance, refused to allow themselves true self-expression. The Panopticon principle never dissipated with the transition from the Disciplinary Society to the Society of Control: it became immanent, then embodied in the functions of an alphabet agency.
Wouldn’t it be easier to say at this point that Biopower and Spectacle are not necessarily ‘twin pincers,’ but are largely inseparable? Just as the molar is composed of the molecular and the molecular reacts to formations in the molar, the roles of Biopower and Spectacle bleed into one another. The disciplinary confines are recreated for the immaterial laborer in the form of the office cubicle, but it is through cords and wires and screens and wireless exchange that the Spectacle trickles in here; the Spectacle becomes communication itself, a micro-exodus from Biopower and in doing so boosts the function of Biopower. Or what about the material laborer stuck in the immaterial world? His is a world that can see the Spectacle, but is cut off from absolute participation in it, so he self-regulates, he adapts himself, makes himself better, a citizen, not a bum!and ‘pulls himself up’ to join the immaterial world. Biopower and Spectacle even share a common genealogy: Debord himself situated the origins of the Spectacle in the advancement of psychoanalysis into the realm of advertising and marketing. The filiation is undeniable; the same ‘sciences’ that drove the creation of the asylum is the science that energizes consumption. Furthermore, it was Foucault who identified at the birth of the asylum that function identical to postmodern Biopower: “self restraint,” balanced by Pinel and Tuke between “Surveillance and Judgment.”xvii
Surveillance and judgment, the echo of it today turns into a deafening roar: the omnipresent eye of the government, watching, yet somehow contrasted to the ‘voluntary’ monitoring and collecting of our data in the marketplace. Judgment of others for one’s place in society, self-condemnation for one’s ‘shortcomings,’ inability to perfectly emulate the herd. Economists tell us that greed is good, that it is the driver of the market, but they are wrong. It is a feeling of guilt, a guilt of inadequacy, that makes the individual move, that creates the impetus for the citizen. Guilt transforms desire from an active force to a reactive one that emphasizes lack; it etches the question “why” across our souls. Guilt is the secret code of the Spectacle, which no longer aims to dazzle us but silently judges and condemns us for not putting those lack-driven desires into circulation. And once the circulation is in movement, it is surveillance – and the re-emerging promise of hard retribution – that ensures the regulation of these desires, makes known the limits and parameters of what defines the citizen.
The injunction, everywhere, to “be someone” maintains the pathological state that makes this society necessary.xviii
We can’t draw tidy divisions between Biopower and Spectacle, Surveillance and Judgment. But if we could, we would draw them like this: Biopower is respective to the sphere of production, while the Spectacle is respective to the sphere of consumption. The sphere of production is the condition of the human mind-body in labor; the sphere of consumption, on the other hand, is the condition of the human mind-body in leisure time. Such simple dialectics, of course, are thrown into disarray in the conditions of the postmodern immaterial laborer, whose work blends effortlessly into leisure. But even still, the cyclical pattern retains its basic form of capital movement: production always directly implies consumption, and consumption has always directly implied production. For the immaterial labor there is little difference: his immaterialism requires material labor somewhere in the chain, be it the sweatshop workers who put together his computer keyboard or the person who hauls the trash from the building. At every end, capital is extracted from each participant in the exchange, the worker and the consumer alike.
For all the complexity of the postmodern condition of existing in Empire, a great many aspects of its environment are reducible to a singular concept: the principle of labor itself, irregardless of its material or immaterial manifestations, as human nature.
Tiqqun sees this, looking at the “plebian elements of the working class” that had attempted to tap into the Autonomia for their own bureaucratic ends, and decries “their refusal to allow works to become something other than workers, their obliviousness to the fact that the autonomy asserting itself wasn’t workers autonomy but autonomy from work.”xix
Negri too saw this, at least the Negri of Autonomia, before the rise of immaterial labor proper:
We are here; we are indestructable; and we are in the majority. We have a method for the destruction of work. We are in search of a positive measure of non-work, a measure of our liberation from that disgusting slavery from which the bosses have always profited, and which the official socialist movement has always imposed on us like some sort of title of nobility. No, we really cannot call ourselves “socialists” for we can no longer accept your disgrace.xx
iThe Invisible Committee The Coming Insurrection Semiotext(e), 2011, pg. 108
iiIbid, pg. 15
iiiMichael Hardt, Antonio Negri Empire Harvard University Press, 2000, pgs. 61-62
ivTiqqun This Is Not a Program Semiotext(e), 2011, pg. 12
vIbid, pg. 42
viHardt, Negri Empire, pg. 397
viiTimothy Morton The Ecological Thought Harvard University Press, 2012
viiiTiqqun This Is Not a Program, pgs. 37-38
ixHardt, Negri Empire, pg. 274
xTiqqun This Is Not a Program, pgs. 39-40
xiHardt, Negri Empire, pg. 207
xiiMelvyn Dubofsky We Shall Be All: A History of the Industrial Workers of the World University of Illinois Press, 2000, pg. 90
xiiiTiqqun This Is Not a Program, pg. 102
xivIbid, pg. 103
xvGuy Debord The Society of the Spectacle Zone Books, 1994, thesis 4
xviIbid, thesis 1
xviiMichel Foucault Madness and Civilization: A History of Insanity in the Age of Reason Vintage, 1988, pgs. 250-251
xviiiInvisible Committee The Coming Insurrection pg. 30
xixTiqqun This Is Not a Program, pg. 45
xxAntonio Negri “Capitalist domination and working class sabotage” 1977 http://libcom.org/library/capitalist-domination-working-class-sabotage-negri