‘THE COMING INSURRECTION’ IDENTITY CONSTRUCTION
AND EXISTENTIAL ALTERNATIVE
This text is not a critical study of the theses exposed in the book The coming insurrection, nor is it an attempt at a ‘theoretical demontage’ of the same. The first idea that came to me was to do this, and no doubt I am not the only one. Many things in this book could in fact be questioned. But very quickly I had a feeling that such an approach would be useless. This feeling, this intuition rather, was that of the impossibility of dialogue with this book, or of a dialogue always broken off at a given point. I had the discouraging feeling that this text could not be criticised: it seemed that other things were at stake, that it was not something one can talk about, not a simple divergence of points of view, that what was central in the text was not what was being affirmed, but the affirmation itself.
Identity and its properties
It is not necessary to define identity in order to know it, any more than it is necessary to define a cat to know what a cat is.
An individual can have a tic, that’s an individual; a thousand individuals that have tics, that can be a custom or an epidemic; a thousand individuals that defend a tic, that’s an identity.
An identity, that is what founds a group by allowing each individual involved in it to actively define themselves through it. For the individual it is an approach of active subjection that allows them to claim this identity. In return, the identity confers on the individual the benefit of subjective reinforcement. The most simple benefit is to be able to say: ‘I am’, and above all ‘I am not’ this or that.
An identity distinguishes itself by contiguity, borders, confines. There is Us and the others, who define themselves in relation to Us.
Identity wants to be able to be found. Hence the gestures, customs, words and their direct utility: assure the visibility, the force of identity. From this point of view it is quite evident that the masks are not there to hide the face, but to show an identity.
An identity that resolves nothing but has an answer for everything. It reacts spontaneously to any problem, any contradiction, any danger, its only aims being its own safeguarding and reinforcing. How to distinguish oneself, decide, how rebuild around it the theatrical order of its world: it answers with the promptness of a vital reflex.
The theatrical order of its world: no identity rests on one simple vision of the world, but on the active stagecraft of the latter. The world is actively built, like a play, within which identity plays an eminent or tragic role. Identity detests the superfluous, the indeterminate, whatever prevents it from judging or taking a position. Identity likes order. ‘Put order in the commonplaces of the times’.
For the individual that it inhabits, identity always needs to be built. Something always escapes the perfect identification of the individual: there are always flaws, always reinforcements to create. Identity is always a quest for identity.
Identity conceals the enemy as soon as it reveals it. Because it makes it appear according to its scenographic needs, it succeeds in pointing it out, but not in knowing it. It immediately polishes the contradictory and superfluous rough patches of it. The enemy, like everything else, is but a pretext for its own confirmation. Identity, in this as elsewhere, selects.
Identity, finding in itself everything that it needs, does not feel its own limits: in this it is similar to the alcoholic or the junkie, minus the hangover and the cold turkey. An identity, it’s the permanent drunkenness of the Me.
The desire for the unity of the Me, the placating of ideas and life into conformity, the horror of doubt and the formless, the need for affirmation, coherence, cohesion, contraction: identity.
An identity cannot, without putting itself in danger, see itself as identity. That the philosophers of the XVIII century were able to show the gestures of religion as gestures, was the proof of an irremediable rift in the Christian identity.
An identity, a social object, has its use precisely in the economy of the social. In particular, marginal identities enact a role of vaccination for the global identity (society), that they help redefine and reinforce. Christianity did not survive for long at the end of the heresies that it itself produced. And vice versa.
Identity is a cognitive reality that is anchored inside individuals, put at the service of particular social needs.
In the beginning there was Me.
This brief and somewhat arid detour, necessarily incomplete, of the general idea of what I mean by the term identity allows one to grasp what manifests itself in the CI a little better.
In particular one understands why it is so attached to the problematics of the Me: because it has something to do with it. The CI is an offer of identity. It feels up to proposing a project of life to the Me’s that are adrift. What it offers is less a project of life than an existential alternative.
What was explicit in the Call, to know the will to constitute ideologically and existentially distinct and coherent groups, can be found in a diluted state in the CI, in a version for the ‘public’. The proposal meanwhile is still the same: to convince, call, rally. The first reinforcement that identity dreams of is numerical reinforcement. ‘There are not enough of us’ is the perpetual lament. One must ceaselessly convince, sweep away objections, corner the other groups into surrendering: convert.
In order to do that, to make this offer credible and necessary, the CI first of all traces the scene of a world in ruins. The seven circles of Hell are not enough to describe this material and spiritual ruin. Material first, and as everybody knows, the images of the catastrophe encumber screens and statistics. But ‘spiritual’ above all, because it is clearly the supposed state of decline of the subject that offers a propitious space to the proposed search for identity reconstruction. One only rebuilds on ruins. And so the first figure of hell, is the Me-alone, the isolated subject and its proud uniform, ‘I am what I am’. And behind him, the real, suffering, disadapted, depressed subject, who only takes repossession of his own reality in revolt, that is in the endorsement of the proposed identity. ‘Join us and you will be saved’.
Existential alternative, the CI needs to presuppose a ‘present with no outlet’, in order to block the passage to the Me that will be tempted to adapt to this unbearable world, to find a niche. They must, on the contrary, cross with disgust the circles of Hell, in order to find the Paradise of a project, an aim, a certainty, a choice of life: a life choice.
The crossing of the circles of Hell and the project that this leads to relieve of this dynamic this
story peculiar to identity, conceived as the active, central subject of the world: it alone gives it the sense that he alone is without.
I will not fail to point out in passing my relative agreement with the definition of the Me as
transition point of a singular and collective experience of the world, and the rapid critique of the wedging in of the search for identity that accompanies it. I simply regret that the consequences haven’t been drawn. Above all I regret that this definition does not elaborate on what socially determines the Me, but contents itself with making something neutral of it, pure subjectivity lost in a socially undifferentiated world. And oblivion of everything that makes the world is certainly « Me », less what traverses it than that against which, perpetually, it comes up against. Meanwhile, the singular experience of the subject as reality disappears very rapidly behind the valorization of the « bond ». One hasn’t therefore detached the Me for an instant, to put the wind up him, the fear of emptiness, and again propose the fraternal ligature. The link, the personal link we agree, and not the stupid « social bond » that politicians talk about, is that which is proposed yet again to the dizzy Me. And what bond better than a particular identity, restraint, warm and revolutionary moreover, extensible to all, to the Us?
Conversion tool, the CI rediscovers the good old methods of predication: scare first, give a glimpse of hell, then propose a last hope. Rhetorical method, also method of training and appropriation; blow up a baby to catch it again, threaten an enemy to then shake its hand. An identity is above all a process of subjection, and it knows and instinctively applies everything that makes it tick. « The good moment, that never comes. » And naturally, the Me has no choice: consent to continue living in the stressful incubator of the world such as it is, is to condemn oneself to perish with it. Because the cause is judged: the world Babylon is on the way to collapse. From there, the only alternative is to perish with, or live against. Finally, once again, « freedom or death».
Nowhere is it evoked, even as an hypothesis, that capitalism might last a bit longer, that its collapse might be slightly postponed, or perhaps so slow that it risks taking a few centuries. What will we do in that case? Must this possibility influence our action, or is it wiser to pay no attention to it? What temporality do we place our action in? Of course, these petty rational calculations stink of the liberalism so repugnant to our revolutionary identity that dreams of nothing but flying « the flag of the good old cause» again and storm it, until it should perish. Scenographically, for an identity, propositions of the kind « perhaps it’s not the right moment » are perfectly nil. An identity does not build itself on scenarios such as the wilderness. It prefers to hear the clarions of battle. You can’t build an identity on uncertainty. That is why it is quite pointless to argue about the practical difficulties or the inopportune character of such and such an enterprise where identity would be involved: you don’t discuss practical problems with an identity that needs to show itself. The possible and the impossible, that doesn’t exist for an identity, and that is its strength, because it’s strength that it seeks, reinforcement through that of the individuals that wear it. It does not adjust itself to the world according to objective realities. To say that the right time never comes is to say that one never really knows whether it is the right moment or not: one must make the move without being sure of succeeding. That’s so, but that doesn’t mean that you mustn’t take the moment into consideration, i.e. question the real, and not wait for it to correspond to our desires. Stop charging into the crowd when the time comes.
The « right moment » for the struggle does not directly depend on any of its actors, it is not submitted to the decision or the choice of some committee, invisible or otherwise. In reality, it is always the object of a conflict. That is true particularly at the present time, where struggles, depending less and less on the parties and unions, are trying more and more to give themselves other forms, undoubtedly no more « radical », but in any case less perceptible. One has seen the example with the struggle against the detention centres in 2006, where the movement that was supposed to have ended after the retreat of the detention centres carried on all the same, simply because not everybody agreed to stop there. Still they had to stop, even unwillingly, because movement is also built like a story, with a beginning, a middle and an end. It therefore has its moments, whether you like it or not. To go back to the example of 2006, its real good moment would have been to be able to continue the « movement », when it was « no longer the moment ». But « good moments » come and go; they don’t only depend on our choice. It’s not a question of giving in to the bad temporality of the social movements that only want to stay as they are, but to put this temporality into conflict.
« The feeling of the imminence of the collapse»
The imminent death of capitalism, soon it will be two centuries that they have been predicting it to us. All those that have desired the end of capitalism have also tried to make an historic destiny of it. In the Marxist formulations, we had a right to « fatal contradictions », to « decadence ». Now they are « collapsing ».
Collapse has its characteristics: when a building collapses, it is the materials that it is made of, and which until now allowed it to stand upright, have become eroded and corrupted, so much so that they do not support it any more. It is a whole process, first slow and imperceptible, that reaches a critical phase, and finally a brusque acceleration, where the parts that are still solid give way under the weight of those that are totally degraded. One can diagnose it, but not foresee the precise moment.
It is a whole process, but a process of de-solidarisation. Each piece of the whole detaches itself from the rest, ceases being an organic unity. From the biological point of view, that would resemble the decomposition of a body.
What is denied of capitalism, and more widely to the whole social world, through the notion of collapse, is its capacity to make a coherent whole. To this supposed lack of cohesion, identity opposes its own ethical coherence, infinitely superior to this formless thing. To de-solidarisation it opposes solidarity, density, links, the impermeability of the group. To the links that undo themselves, identity opposes the strength of the links that it puts back. All identity, any supporters’ club or sect, has its secessionist moment, which is also that of its foundation.
It is clear that in this conception capitalism (or the empire, or whatever you like) is conceived as a thing, and as an exterior factor. That can also be a machine, whose wearing out of its pieces ends up destroying. The exterior thing is that which identity needs in order to constitute itself. Its concern to throw out everything that is not itself makes the idea that it could participate in what is repugnant to it. Capitalism, is the enemy. The enemy cannot be in Us, it is outside Us, it is an exterior factor, a thing.
Its destiny of collapse therefore describes capital as pure exteriority, in the face of which one is only constrained superficially, because it doesn’t know how to inhabit us or influence our choices other than in an occasional way. In the face of that, resourcefulness and scheming are quite sufficient responses.
Capitalism is denied not only as a social relationship, but as a constrained social relationship.
The fact that one can be obliged to work, and that this is the real problem, is totally concealed.
If capitalism collapses, it is also because it has become a fiction that nobody believes in any more. All the efforts that the empire makes to survive come down to that: maintaining the fiction of its own existence. This world isn’t real, it pretends to exist. It is nothingness, an abstraction, that is not so much to be slain but dissipated.
The « imminence » of the collapse gives the adventures of identity its tragic framework : it is the basic canvas, the decor of its recital. The « imminence » places this narrative in a temporality of permanent urgency. The times of the world do not pass without a determined direction any more, wherever there are contingent fluctuations : it has a sense, and a tragic sense .
If nothing precise is said about the collapse, it is that it is not really necessary for it to be envisaged: what matters, is the feelings one has about it. The conviction of living in this collapse reinforces the need that one has for identity, to go beyond the fear of the collapse, survive it, make it the opportunity for new reinforcement, indeed of a total realisation of the identity content. Micro social contract, identity guarantees protection and health to those that adhere to it. The fact that the collapse never comes is not a problem: one can always decrypt the signs of it, to infinity. The millenarians, who have predicted the date of the Millennium a hundred times and never seen it arrive, are not discouraged by so little. Faith, that’s to say collectively organised blinding, supports them.
The « decomposition of social relations » is a widely spread idea. Most of the time, it is leaning on the nostalgia of the « real » social relations of the past. Better times are implied, where everybody had their socially determined place attributed once and for all. This rather vague nostalgia superimposes itself today on the citizen nostalgia for the glorious thirties, for a time when the State watched paternally over us. The reality is that capitalism brings about perpetual social decomposition, and that is its way of surviving. In order to constitute itself it had to destroy a thousand-year-old peasant world so as to create a worker world that today that it undertakes to destroy (that is to say to recompose) in turn,
at least in the developed countries. To identify this dynamic of vital destruction with collapse is a trap, because that puts off the course of capital to a natural process of decomposition, without allowing one to perceive the issues that are engaged in this process. You can’t understand the meaning of a war simply from a description of the damage that it brings about. To say « Dresden was razed to the ground » says nothing about capitalism. It is necessary to show why the relations are falling apart.
But for an identity that continually wants to polarize the world according to the needs of the narrative that allows it to engage itself, to understand is to accept. The world does not « cease to be tolerable » even if it seems « without cause or reason ».
The identity that constitutes itself around refusal considers the fact of attempting to understand what one is refusing a dishonest compromise. The refusal is enough: what is the point of trying to understand? Trying to understand is the start of betrayal. It is enough to show one’s refusal, one’s revolt, and if one must understand things, it is only with the idea of fuelling this revolt. The rest is superfluous.
There are plenty of causes in the capitalist world, but it is what the CI implies, that these causes are crazy, that is, unjustifiable. That capitalism is not ethically justifiable takes nothing from its reality or its coherence, unfortunately. The ethical refusal is not enough. The causes of capitalism are certainly not ours. To grasp what its causes are is what allows one to affirm the irreconcilable character of this conflict, and to situate it with precision.
« What happens when beings find each other»
The tableau of desolation that the CI gives us of the world ends up in an idyll. Suddenly, « beings » find themselves.
Having carefully blocked the road to any form of regrouping that is not itself, identity gives us a glimpse of the recompense. Finally, we will be « beings ». Not social subjects, conflictingly anchored in a class, carriers of contradictions, but simply « beings ».
« Beings » finally devoid of all links, free and undifferentiated, stripped of all the dross that social existence has deposited there. CI say « beings » like humanism, alias Man.
« Beings » have the transparency of angels and beautiful abstractions. They can take any form, choose themselves freely. Finally cleansed of all particularism, they are ready to put on the new clothes one proposes to them. Conflict having been thrown out, inside a fusional ambiance reigns, it being established that what forms itself between « beings » cannot be a horrible « milieu », because milieux have been severely criticised. The link between « beings » is of quite another kind, pure and ineffable.
Identity cannot see itself as identity. One does not see however that due to that magic these
« beings » would escape all conflictuality in that way, other than by the suspension of their own critical judgement.
What delineates itself there, through the free constitution of « beings » in « common », is the perspective of a society that has been entirely pacified, transparent to itself, devoid of antagonism : the old millenarist dream of a natural communism, reposing on the idea of a communist nature of man. Whether it be in the form of an Eden-like Golden Age, or in the anthropological form of a « primitive communism » that takes its source from the dawn of the social, it is always communism, absolute equality between human beings, presupposed as being their true social nature.
Thus one has a tendency to enhance the status of the tribe, the band, or even the pack, supposed to be more natural, more really social than the « complex » societies of the capitalist world.
The « primitive » is supposed not to have problems of identity: he is strictly what he is, that is to say his correct place within the tribe. He is relieved of the weight of his singularity. He is pure, accomplished identity. He is the anthropological essence of man: communism.
From then on the revolution is no more than a problem of material organisation : it is enough to cut the grass under the feet of all the institutions of complex society for the social natural to return at a gallop: it’s communism immediately.
Communism, the social nature of man, has got lost on its way during history : it is enough to open the way for it to resurge immediately. The example of natural catastrophes such as hurricane Katrina demonstrates it : it is sufficient for a breach to open in capitalist organisation for the « base » to organise themselves alone, find its sharing instincts again, communise itself.
But the real is certainly more complex. If the human being is not the creature of Hobbes, that of the original war of each one against all that justifies all social contracts, if he is immediately social, this sociality does not only manifest itself in an innate tendency to share. The social tendency to domination, the social structurising around the appropriation of power and /or goods by some, and even that of the maniacal accumulation of goods, is far more ancient than capitalism (to which it undoubtedly opened the way), and surely more ancient than man himself. Man is a social animal like the others. The big apes also have chieftainships: the dominant male takes the best part of the food for himself and the females. That does not prevent solidarity between individuals in the group. Simply, for reasons like natural selection, the dominant immediately puts aside that which makes them even stronger, and weakens the weak even more. Why should man be any different?
Of course, man thinks of his own societies, and acts on them. His social plasticity is infinitely superior to that of his nonhuman fellow creatures. He has a relationship to his own sociality.
But this relationship is not a merely instrumental one: it often takes on the aspect of idolatry. Man is the creature that fetichises his own society. And it is the fetish that ends up taking control of its worshippers. An identity is nothing other than this kind of fetish.
Communism is not a particularly advantageous variant of the social contract. Undoing the links built around appropriation, domination, accumulation, territory, the defeat not only of a society, but of the very social being.. What creates communisation is a world beyond the socially consented sacrifice of each one to the advantage of a supposed whole: the social. This idea is as difficult to conceive today as a world without God was in the thirteenth century.
The idea of a world beyond the social spontaneously evokes only barbarity or bestiality: it scares, just as the idea of a world without God would have terrified a Christian of the middle ages.
Such an idea is clearly dangerous, and one well sees everything delirious that it can arouse. It is clear that this idea is good for creating irrational panic, not only with those who would be against it, but even with those that might accept it. One of the manifestations of this panic is the conception of a fusional state between individuals, or of a fusion of individuals with the social, that is to say a regressive conception of going beyond the social.
To deny the social in the perspective of the establishment of a pure fusional relationship between « beings », is to want to go beyond the social by ignoring it. The negation of social classes is not the negation of their existence, it is on the contrary starting from their conflictual existence that it needs to be thought.
Denying the existence of capitalism, classes, social relations, is what this identitary construction that is the CI necessarily ends up in. We have shown that the tendency to the denial of the real is at the heart of all identity, because an identity does not perceive the real, but only its own existence as identity. It therefore affirms itself in denying the existence of everything that is not itself.
But denying the existence of capitalism will not make it disappear. And this very negation finds its roots in the reality of the capitalist world, and in particular in its reality as a class society. The complaint of the middle classes (realist song).
In reality, identity that sees itself as universal and starting without identity, it is a certain social class: the western upper middle class. It is without identity, because it is the social class yardstick, abstract Man in general. It is what it calls « universalism ». It is clearly that which is described, without ever being named, by the CI. It is also, naturally, towards it (and against it) that the CI directs its discourse.
It is that which only perceives society as like a « vague aggregate » of institutions and individuals, a
« definitive abstraction ».
It is that which only sees in all the life of the « estates » policemen and young rioters.
It is clearly that for whom to work means to negotiate and sell at the best price what is no longer « work force » but cognitive and relational competence, and who suffers logically of that with which it works. It is it that which cultivates its precious and problematic Me by using personal development, yoga and psychanalysis.
It is it that which suffers « school castration » and dreams, during its childhood, of burning its school, because it is the necessary road for its integration, and does not do it, for the same reason.
It is it again who, surrounded by commodities that it wants to ignore have had to be produced, finds that industrial work is obsolete, the surplus workers and that the economy is now « virtual ».
It is it alone that which exists politically, is concerned ecologically and votes democratically.
It is also it that a part of the youth that goes and forms black blocs against all the G20 of the earth.
Finally, it is « the class that denies all the classes », not so that they disappear but so that they will exist for ever.
That said not to expel this class out from the field of the struggle, but to show that no identity can situate itself outside a socially determined world.
« The joy of feeling a common strength » led to forming oneself. If it is necessary to assemble. But too often, the dictum according to which « those who resemble each other assemble with each other » has a tendency to overturn. The question is not to not resemble anyone, but to be careful not to let an identity to seize hold of us.
Not, for example, to let an identity put words in our mouths, not to let oneself be seduced by the promise of obtaining greater coherency than that which we could produce by ourselves, at the cost of renouncing our capacity to judge. One must also distrust consistency. Nothing is more coherent or better organised than a crystal, final stage of mineralisation, and nothing is more dead.
Today, the identity promoted by CI manifests itself, among other things, by the scattering of its words into numerous mouths: one hears « friendship », « body», « flux », « organise oneself », one knows who is talking and one doesn’t hear any more. One doesn’t establish a common language with parrots.
But there are not only the CI : if I have spoken about them in particular, it is that they are sufficiently explicit and coherent, and also widely known enough to make them the starting point for a collective discussion. There are other identities, those, for example, for whom the words « class struggle » and « social war » are less questions that pose themselves as as many flags that one waves, to better distinguish oneself from the opposite identity. The struggle between identities is literally endless.
It is clear that no isolated group can today cut itself off from the world and realise communism in its own corner. That does not prevent us, and we are already doing it, from researching anti-hierarchical practices, of questioning our ways of belonging, etc. All in knowing that this also can end up congealed into identity.
One can participate in a group without for that identifying with it. The function of a group should be to give more autonomy to those who participate in it, to allow the development of their capacities. The emotional super-investment in a group too often ends up by only creating dependence, and by suscitating affectionate chieftainships.
A group is not an end in itself. Friendship is not necessary. One can regroup oneself provisionally for a precise task, and for this aim agree, and the group can only exist for the precise aim without for that extending into other domains. There are people that are friends, with whom one does nothing but share good times, and others with whom one meets to accomplish a task leading to a project, and who are not for that friends.
Communism is not community. There is no reason to make a group last beyond the aims for which we need it. A group constituted for particular ends can even permit itself to give itself « chiefs »,
to carry out precise tasks. To manoeuvre a three-masts, it is imperative that someone
direct the manoeuvre: it is a question of coordination. On the contrary, one can do without a
captain, and make decisions together the manage the ship’s path, choose the direction to take, etc.
We have a tendency to spontaneously over-evaluate our groups, and the more a group is marginal, the more this over-evaluation becomes intense. It is an essential mechanism of identitary reinforcement. To point it out and watch out for it, is the start of standing in the way of it.
Moreover, the identitary over-evaluation of marginal groups (that can simply mean « restraints ») leads them to marginalise themselves even more, leading them to become useful foils for the whole of society. A few punks consolidate many managers. And this is not a strategic error caused by identities, but is produced socially: one ends up becoming what they want us to be. All restricted groups therefore run the risk of changing into their own caricature, existing according to the way that is socially expected of them. To constitute ourselves right away knowing that we are but a part of a greater whole, within which we exist in the same way as those we consider our enemies, that we exist in an open world and not polarised according to the necessities of a narrative, is a base upon which we can attempt to constitute groups that do not close themselves up in identities. To exist in struggles that allow such a base would be a good start. Personally, I seemed to see an outline in the « AG in struggle » in rue Servan, in Paris, in 2006.
It is clear all the same that the identitary confinement is very often what we remain socially driven back to. One can only hope that in pinpointing this confinement, rendering it visible there where it operates, one can allow oneself to begin breaking it. To do without it completely is the object of a communist revolution.
For other points of view on this question, notably concerning « the Tarnac affair » and its follow-ups, one can read the text Contribution to discussions on the antiterrorist repression, available in the Internet. I subscribe largely to what is said there, and have therefore have dispensed with going back over these points that have already been gone into.