Ten Years Later
IEF | On a Day of Remembrance for Fallen Heros
9/11, ten years later. Ten years of terror and counterterror—ten years of innocent blood—and the nightmare finally appears to be over. Osama is dead, the war is won, and most importantly, a new wave of resistance is sweeping the globe, a resistance that has nothing in common with the terrorists or their enemies. If the most nightmarish aspect of the last decade was its unreality—a dream-world corpse-machine—today's struggles are striking because they are real. This is the moment we have waited for: a moment without distractions, a moment ripe for revolution. And yet, perhaps there is a lesson still to be learned before we close the chapter.
At one level, at least, the terrorists did win. Nobody today thinks of exporting democracy. Not only democracy, but the whole idea of a smooth space of cultural exchange has been thrown into confusion. Without this idea, which was always utopian, it is difficult to believe in the neutrality of the market; at an intuitive level, the "economy" loses its self-evidence. Not that this implies any sort of anticapitalist groundswell. It simply generalizes the knowledge that capitalism is sustained only by continual war. One must be willing to die for the economy. And if not, one must find something else worth dying for. There are a thousand mechanisms for suppressing this knowledge—the attempted reconstruction of the soldier as a computational nexus, the surgical precision with which Osama was eliminated—but they cannot erase it. We saw it on TV.
The dirty wars of the eighties, like the terrorist attacks of the same era, were maintained at a subliminal level, as real events that could be represented or misrepresented, discussed or brushed under the rug by politicians and commentators. One saw the smiling face of Arafat or the Gipper, but not their hands. In our era—which revolves around 9/11 but began some years before—the opposite has been true. The events are their own representation. This was as true for the Seattle black bloc as it was for the embedded journalists in Afghanistan. The magic of 9/11, the sorcery that gave a symbolic act material consequences, was that it took this truth to its conclusions. By becoming a perfect image, it broke the stream of images, and thus broke the stream of events—of nonevents—as no mere event could do. The reluctant nihilist's apology for Al Qaeda, "At least they did something," reveals an unconscious understanding of this fact.
If propaganda is a visible lie pointing towards an invisible truth (if only the truth of consolidated power), pornography is a visible truth pointing towards nothing. The great propaganda event of our century was not propaganda at all. It was a pornographic nightmare that swallowed the world.
Towards the end of the decade, we active nihilists began to catch on. Against a depleted anarchism preaching "back to the community, back to the real," we radicalized the most unreal aspects of the summit protest. It began as secession from activism: do not seek affinity on the basis of political abstractions and their associated imperatives, but on the basis of shared conditions and the desires that inhabit them. Plan B was above all an organizational proposal, a proposal to establish affinity through the immediate gesture of attack. 100-200 = 1000. The exact texture and meaning of the gesture was ambiguous at first; eventually, through experimentation, it revealed itself as the pornographic. Invisibility did not mean merely evading detection, refusing communication; it meant a communication of meaninglessness. Although we did not find strangers spontaneously joining us in the street, we observed a certain resonance among worlds that seemed to make us stronger. This was the second secession: the social terrain of insurrectionary generalization became the image-world, in which spatial and temporal fragmentation mean nothing. "Shared conditions" ceased to mean physical or even social proximity; it meant the universal emptiness that our gesture revealed as act.
The difference between the terroristic strategy and our own had less to do with our squeamishness than with our rejection of professionalization. A central criterion for action: is it reproducible, does it promote or inhibit spontaneous antagonism? We articulated this tactical distinction as a matter of strategic principle, a gulf between ourselves and the theocrats. In retrospect, this was an exaggeration.
September 11 was a Hollywood production, with an executive producer and a massive corporate staff; with the advent of YouTube, Hollywood is passé. Ours is the age of participatory spectacle. Therefore, the tactical departure (or resuscitation) that we attempted was, rather than an internal development of the anarchist milieu, a selective reactivation of possibilities in adaptation to the times. A new iteration of capitalist sociability made a certain theoretical hypothesis realistic, and so we took the torch held out to us. Held out to us by terrorism. We were not the only vector of this historical transmission, but we were one of them. The result, which we witness in London as much as Athens, is a diffuse pornographic intelligence: Osama Spontex.
Our own experiments eventually ran aground on the difficulties of sustaining a project that expresses itself only as emptiness. The secret thread of revolutionary commitment running from event to event did not matter at the level of our social reproduction or our material support base, for the simple reason that it was secret. We dispersed in various directions. Some formed communes, some got serious about Marx, some returned to building the anarchist movement. In every case, we took a step back from the extreme hypothesis. Without abandoning the insurrectionary strategy of rupture, we reinscribed rupture within a logic of continuity.
One might read this experience as a transitional phase in a continuing revolutionary progression. A nihilist moment was needed to clear out the vestiges of liberal, pacifist, and socialist compromise, so that a fighting movement could be reborn, a movement ready for the coming struggles. From a tactical perspective, the militant potential of the antiglobalization movement needed to be isolated and developed so that it could enter into new configurations: anti-austerity and anti-police struggles as the two fronts of tomorrow's class war. Maybe.
On the other hand, this return to bread and butter seems to resonate with a broader trend: the pacification of the image-world. When Greece burned in 2008, it was the European media, not the rioters, who talked of the "700 euro generation." The Greeks called themselves an image, an image from the future—and the generalization and success of the revolt (among Greek cities and towns, and also globally), was achieved at the level of images. In this respect, the more recent Egyptian insurrection was conservative, not only for its rapid recuperation by democratic demands and regime change, but also for its representation as secret, subliminal: everyone knows that what mattered is what happened in the street, away from the cameras; everyone knows about the media blackouts, the inaccessibility of truth. This gives credibility to an equally subliminal strategy for revolution, which limits attack to the real, to the explicable, to the truth suppressed by lies, to the antipornographic—a strategy that meshes seamlessly with the endgame of the counterterrorist decade. Namely, the return to normalcy of a system that digests and commodifies even the abnormal.
The terrorisms will continue, with or without us, ever more diffuse. Certainly, the strategy of subliminal struggle will bear fruit, as surely as the activist strategies of the past. It will find its limit, though, in constructing a social body that can only normalize or exclude the spontaneous nihilism of our time. We do not want to repeat the spinelessness of our earlier excursion, nor do we want to democratize terrorism. But we are not content with this limit.
1 The continuing hostilities in Afghanistan have become yet another multilateral police action, more like Belgrade than Fallujah.
2 Mao Spontex denotes the attempt in post-68 France to elaborate the theory of revolutionary guerrilla warfare without reference to a centralized party-apparatus. Its intellectual expression is exemplified by writers like Deleuze, Foucault, and Guattari. Practically, it is supposed to have influenced (and learned from) the Italian Autonomia. The ideas seem to have affinity with the Invisible Committee's idea of the Party, which (incidentally) also references anomic violence in the terrorist manner.
3 "We didn't do it for the lulz." Anti-austerity is a political abstraction inviting a new activist imperative. It differs from the old anarchist abstraction only in presenting itself as concrete, economic, specific to the times. Anti-austerity action without an anti-austerity ideology might be another matter. Whether or not that's a good idea is another question.