The following is an excerpt from Chapter 5 of The Invisible Committee‘s upcoming book,’To Our Friends’, scheduled for release later this month. To read the full chapter, click here
Since the catastrophic defeat of the 1970’s, the moral question of radicality has gradually replaced the strategic question of revolution. That is, revolution has suffered the same fate as everything else in those decades: it has been privatized. It has become an opportunity for personal validation, with radicality as the standard of evaluation. “Revolutionary” acts are no longer appraised in terms of the situation in which they are embedded, the possibilities they open up or close. What happens instead is that a form is extracted from each one of them. A particular sabotage, occurring at a particular moment, for a particular reason, becomes simply a sabotage. And the sabotage quietly takes its place among certified revolutionary practices on a scale where throwing a Molotov cocktail ranks higher than throwing rocks, but lower than kneecapping, which itself is not worth as much as a bomb. The problem is that no form of action is revolutionary in itself: sabotage has also been practiced by reformists and by Nazis. A movement’s degree of “violence” is not indicative of its revolutionary determination. The “radicality” of a demonstration isn’t measured by the number of shop windows broken. Or if it is, then the “radicality” criterion should be left to those in the habit of measuring political phenomena and ranking them on their skeletal moral scale. Anyone who begins to frequent radical milieus is immediately struck by the gap between their discourse and their practice, between their ambitions and their isolation. It seems as if they were dedicated to a kind of constant self-incapacitation. One soon understands that they’re not engaged in constructing a real revolutionary force, but in a quest for radicality that is sufficient in itself— and is played out equally well on the terrain of direct action, feminism or ecology. The petty terror that reigns there and makes everyone so stiff is not that of the Bolshevik Party. It’s more like that of fashion, that terror which no one exerts in person, but which affects everyone alike. In these milieus, one is afraid of not being radical anymore, just as elsewhere one fears not being fashionable, cool or hip. It doesn’t take much to spoil a reputation. One avoids going to the root of things in favor of a superficial consumption of theories, demos, and relations. The fierce competition between groups and inside them causes them to periodically implode. But there’s always fresh, young, and abused flesh to make up for the departure of the exhausted, the damaged, the disgusted, and the emptied-out. An a posteriori bewilderment overtakes the person who’s deserted these circles: how can anyone submit to such a mutilating pressure for such enigmatic stakes? It’s approximately the same kind of bewilderment that must take hold of any overworked ex-manager turned baker when he looks back on his previous life. The isolation of these milieus is structural: between them and the world they’ve interposed radicality as a standard. They don’t perceive phenomena anymore, just their measure. At a certain point in the autophagy, some will compete for most radical by critiquing the milieu itself, which won’t make the slightest dent in its structure. “It seems to us that what really reduces our freedom,” wrote Malatesta, “and makes intiative impossible, is disempowering isolation.” This being the case, that a fraction of the anarchists declare themselves “nihilists” is only logical: nihilism is the incapacity to believe in what one does believe in—in our context, revolution. Besides, there are no nihilists, there are only powerless individuals.
The radical defining himself as a producer of actions and discourses has ended up fabricating a purely quantitative idea of revolution—as a kind of crisis of overproduction of acts of individual revolt. “Let’s not lose sight of the fact,” wrote É- mile Henry back then already, “that revolution will not be the resultant of all these particular revolts.” History is there to contradict that thesis: whether it’s the French, Russian, or Tunisian revolution, in every instance revolution results from the shock encounter between a particular act—the storming of a prison, a military defeat, the suicide of a mobile fruit vendor—and the general situation, and not the arithmetical addition of separate acts of revolt. Meanwhile, that absurd definition of revolution is doing its foreseeable damage: one wears oneself out in an activism that leads nowhere, one devotes oneself to a dreadful cult of performance where it’s a matter of actualizing one’s radical identity at every moment, here and now— in a demo, in love, or in discourse. This lasts for a time—the time of a burnout, depression, or repression. And one hasn’t changed anything.
A gesture is revolutionary not by its own content but by the sequence of effects it engenders. The situation is what determines the meaning of the act, not the intention of its authors. Sun Tzu said that “victory must be demanded of the situation.” Every situation is composite, traversed by lines of force, tensions, explicit or latent conflicts. Engaging with the war that is present, acting strategically, requires that we start from an openness to the situation, that we understand its inner dynamic, the relations of force that configure it, the polarities that give it its dynamism. An action is revolutionary or not depending on the meaning it acquires from contact with the world. Throwing a rock is never just “rock-throwing.” It can freeze a situation or set off an intifada. The idea that a struggle can be “radicalized” by injecting a whole passel of allegedly radical practices and discourses into it is the politics of an extraterrestrial. A movement lives only through a series of shifts that it effects over time. So at every moment there is a certain distance between its present state and its potential. If it stops developing, if it leaves its potential unrealized, it dies. A decisive act is one that is a notch ahead of the movement’s state, and which, breaking with the status quo, gives it access to its own potential. This act can be that of occupying, smashing, attacking, or simply speaking truthfully. The state of the movement is what decides. A thing is revolutionary that actually causes revolutions. While this can only be determined after the event, a certain sensitivity to the situation plus a dose of historical knowledge helps one intuit the matter.
Let’s leave the radicality worry to the depressives, the Young-Girls, and the losers, then. The real question for revolutionaries is how to make the lively powers in which one participates increase, how to nurture the revolutionizing developments so as to arrive finally at a revolutionary situation. All those who draw satisfaction from dogmatically contrasting “radicals” with “citizens,” “active rebels” with the passive population, place obstacles in the path of such developments. On this point, they anticipate the work of the police. In the current period, tact should be considered the cardinal revolutionary virtue, and not abstract radicality—and by “tact” we mean the art of nurturing revolutionizing developments.