Fever

Insurgency and Revolution

By Mirasol. This article is related to an other, published on FEVER, here.

The tremendous social uprising in the USA, the way it is playing out in the rest of the world, encouraged us to publish this text in haste. The events, as often happens, are unfolding faster and stronger than we expected. So much the better!
In this text, we ask a simple question: how can we win? The first wave of uprising that spread around the world in 2018-2019 was the premise of a new revolutionary cycle. Today, this cycle has reopened, right in the belly of world capitalism: the USA.
If the revolution takes a direction dictated by the legalistic, democratic fringe of the movement, or even the so-called “radical” fringe, if what is at stake is a change in the constitution, reform of the state, or more democratic waffling, defeat is guaranteed.

The very practices of the movement confirm this. Here is the content of the hegemony of the proletarians over their movement: attack, take and share. Putting an end to pompous declarations and starting to change life, here and now.

Seizing property, housing, everything. Sharing food and organizing this redistribution on the basis of the population’s needs. Attacking the state.

In short, communist measures. Revolutionary proletarians will find the police confronting them. But they will also find community leaders. They’ll find organizers, those who call for negotiation. Those who still believe that they can be “taken into account”.

From Kim Kardashian to Jeff Bezos, the liberal bourgeoisie, frightened by the social conflagration and rage, promises black people they’ll be given consideration. They promise an end to racism and they lie. No representation, no affirmative action, no police reform is enough. Only force can defeat force. American insurgents know it: to end police racism, they must end the police. The magnificent movement that is taking off in the United States cannot be limited to the conviction of a few cops, to a few crumbs and promises of reform.

Promises of a slice of the American dream, of integration in the capitalist world, the carrot that makes us believe that we too can get rich, is rightly denounced as a racist nightmare.

Today, what we’re witnessing is the awakening of our class.

From the USA to Lebanon, Algeria, Chile, Brazil, Hong Kong, the world wave that is surging forward is synonymous with experimentation, battles and advances, both in practice and in the understanding of this practice. Thousands, millions of comrades are involved everywhere in the assault on the capitalist social order.
In this new cycle, we need to resituate the revolutionary question at the center of our discussions. We need theories, exchange, and debate that are free of all academicism, speculative communism, postural anarchism.
This text should therefore be read as an invitation. To collective effort, deeper, more contradictory, more controversial. We will suggest some indications of paths to follow and explore. Here is our central proposal. Let’s talk strategy. Let’s discuss insurrection. Let’s put this problem, vital for whoever wants the victory of revolutionaries, on the table : how can we bring down the State before it represses, crushes, tortures and kills us ?
This was the steel wall that the movements of the previous years came up against, fell into the trap of the RIC (citizens’ initiative referendum), the Constituent Assembly and other democratic magic charms. With the pathetic call to reform the state, which is merely the white flag of defeat, the moment when the movement admits its defeat as a movement, the initiative is left to the state.
We need to go further. We need to talk about what brings a revolution into the open, about what, historically, has always been its birth certificate, from July 1789 to February 1917, from February 1848 to the Paris Commune of 1871: the disempowerment of the State.
The term insurgency refers to a set of practices for a specific objective, the overthrow of the state. It also refers to the use of force to achieve that goal. Since this force is not that of the State but of the population or a part of the population, the State uses the term “collective violence”, particularly in laws aimed at repressing those practices and thus at defining the framework within which sentences can be pronounced. For States, e.g. the French State, insurgency is a crime. Insurgency as defined above has no political color.
Both the political and the practical definitions of insurgency refer back to the definition of the state, of which insurgency is the negative.
Since it is a question of overthrowing the state, it is precisely by defining what makes up the foundation of the state that potential target sites for its overthrow can be identified.
Materially speaking, the foundation of the State is formed of the armed groups who defend it, of their ability to anticipate threats and to communicate with each other and with the population. Since the State is a pyramid-like hierarchical structure, attacking the top and breaking the chain of command can effect a profound disruption of the entire structure.
Yet, and perhaps this is where we may make a political distinction: an insurgency that serves only to break the chain of command is simply a coup d’état, where the foundations of the state are not shaken. It is not the State that is overthrown, but a certain functioning of its institutions. It is in reality merely the violent overthrow of a government. For the state is also defined by the continuity of its power beyond the tenure of any specific group of leaders.
Overthrowing the state itself therefore requires that it be overthrown in a lasting way. Though the starting point may be similar, and may indeed involve breaking the chain of command, we might say that the goal would not be to break one link in that chain but to smash the whole thing.
Overthrowing the state itself therefore requires the material destruction of the sites of power and the control by the insurgent population1 of communication channels, transport routes, but also more widely of the energy supply.
Given these distinctions, one might think that the term insurrection is too ambiguous. Yet it evokes an essential notion: speed of execution. An insurrection that fails or only partially succeeds in overthrowing the state turns into a war, a coup d’état, an overthrow of government. And so we arrive at the last point in this attempt at definition: the total aspect of the insurrection is never quite achieved, because total insurrection is synonymous with going beyond itself and being subsumed into the communist revolution.
The idea of “going beyond” is important here because it signposts us to the resolution of the contradictions posed by the term “insurrection” as well as “revolution”. To speak of total insurrection, which goes further than a coup d’état or the replacement of order, which completely breaks the state apparatus, is to speak of social and political revolution. It means going beyond regime change to attack the totality of social relations.
If we refer more specifically to insurgency, it is because we consider the collapse of the state to be a crucial revolutionary necessity that deserves to be discussed in depth, a set of countermeasures indispensable to the development of the revolution. Let us be clear: this is not so much to prioritize the insurrection as to affirm that it cannot be circumvented. For the idea exists within the current discourse around the revolution that it would be possible for a mass revolutionary movement to grow without reference to confrontation with the state. We are opposed to this strategy of burying our heads in the sand, which is at best naive, at worst reformist.
For the revolution is above all an insurrectional event. Or to put it another way, insurrection is a set of initiatives through which revolution imposes itself and defends itself, the two being inseparable. The example of recent uprisings— this analysis is valid in all corners of the world— shows this: where the state stands, it will strike hard, and continue to strike until the opponent is crushed, not recoiling from any atrocity to ensure its own survival and that of the class it defends. Think of Libya, Syria, Iran, Iraq. Where the state is temporarily beheaded, as is the case with the fall of regimes, it gives in for a time, but only in exchange for the partial surrender of the insurgents, who then see parties that are supposed to represent them co-opted to lead the state. This usually takes the form of a provisional government. Think of Tunisia, Egypt. Where the state is facing a low-intensity insurgency, a pre-insurgency mass protest, it uses these two weapons together, democratic co-optation and repression, by trial and error: think of Chile, or Hong Kong.
In all the cases we have just mentioned, the issue at stake is that of decay, or getting stuck in a rut. It is clear that the State has on its side an operational continuity, a constancy in time and space that insurgents often lack. The insurgents stand every chance of losing if they do not triumph without delay.

Time and space of the insurrection.

How long does an insurrection last? That’s a big question. As we wrote earlier, an insurrection that lasts becomes a revolution. But that becoming itself is conditioned by a prior victory. What matters to us, therefore, is the window of opportunity, the moment when, in full flight, an insurrection can win or die.
This is the time during which the insurrectional movement is in progress and can take the state by surprise with its initiatives, or grow and expand. We will not rush to give precise figures, as such a measure also depends on the disorganization of the State. Indeed, what is decisive is when the initiative changes.
Can there be several insurgent episodes within a few months of each other? We don’t know. For now, it may be best to speak in terms of weeks, or even days.
In an attempt to paint a tentative picture of the insurgent moment: an indeterminate time is the front. It is composed of micro-crises, local or latent conflicts, which trace the weak signals of the rise of anger. When this anger explodes, it modifies temporality. It produces a social event, which generalizes very quickly, centralizes around it the attention, the social time.
Everybody’s talking about it. Practices work by example, and we will try to reproduce and surpass what we see happening elsewhere. The model is one of trial and error, and what works is reproduced. Hence the need for rapid information sharing. Everything then moves very quickly, until the confrontation reaches a certain point, when power itself is called into question. At that point, everything can turn upside down. For the moment we have only seen the collapse of the movements at this precise moment, and their political-military, even social, defeats. Military defeat through the victory of repression. Political defeat, which will see the movement rush into the sidetrack of constituent assemblies, borderline forms of integration into the State.
And finally social defeat, when the social initiative leaves the movement to be confiscated by trade union bureaucracies. The latter then call for a general strike, a strike controlled from one end to the other by them, or we are summoned, without leaving us any initiative autonomy? Thus, a takeover, a cooptation.
Next, on what space does an insurrection unfold? For the time being, the face-to-face with the State is within the framework of the national territory in which that State is deployed. There is no indication, however, that this remains so.
Think in particular of the evolution of the current crisis, one of the major characteristics of which is global simultaneity. Within the territory, there is also a need to reflect on the particular areas where the movement is unfolding, and how these areas are evolving as the movement takes the shape of the conflict with the State? For example, often one starts by deploying near one’s home, then focusing on blocking more strategic targets, before finally striking the head.

Fight for hegemony

But let’s go further. The movement, in gaining and in order to gain power, raises the question of an economic, social and local reorganization conducted in accordance with the needs of the struggle. It is not a question of a program or a project, but of measures to be taken by which the movement may reinforce itself. It is also a hegemonic dynamic, that of the proletarians, who, in order to remain in the struggle, are confronted with the need to act against the social constraints implied by the condition of the exploited.
What is formed in the struggle is a movement confronted by forces that want to maintain a social order which crushes this very movement. Only offensive action can liberate. But as in any movement, a struggle rages.
There are two opposing forces. On the one hand, that of the continually density of the movement. On the other, that which seeks the return to order. Win or negotiate. We propose to call this conflict, sometimes open, sometimes hidden, the struggle for hegemony.
We use this term keeping in mind the Italian revolutionary A. Gramsci, who used the concept of hegemony to circumvent the censorship of his prison, which forbade him to speak of the dictatorship of the proletariat, but also because this term allowed him to name the struggle within the capitalist social order itself to define the orientation of the movement that challenges this social order.
Gramsci himself had reused a concept first developed by Lenin in the book “Two Tactics of Social Democracy in the Democratic Revolution. In this book, Lenin criticized, among other things, the constitutional ideology of the right-wing currents of the workers’ movement of his time. He argues that the revolution to bring down the tsarist dictatorship cannot be left in the hands of the democratic bourgeoisie, which will hasten to make a compromise with the tsar because it fears the forces of a revolutionary proletariat more than monarchical power.
This analysis, as we can see, bears some similarity to the positions we are proposing here. The main difference is that for Lenin, the proletarian hegemony is in fact that of the Bolshevik party which is supposed to represent the proletariat.
That is where our agreement ends, because it is clear to us that the model of the separate party leading the movement is a dead end from a communist point of view. This position is inscribed in the perspective of the leadership of the movement not by the self-organized proletariat, but by a ruling elite, which fulfills the function left vacant by the bourgeoisie: intellectuals (whose origin is a matter of indifference, even if they are former workers), who then go on in the name of revolution and social progress to establish a state capitalism that has nothing to do with communism.
In the same way, it is not a question of taking up the Gramscian concept of cultural hegemony as it stands. We divert these terms of struggle for proletarian hegemony to name the struggle for the orientation of the movement in the direction of the production of communism. This production is thought as the activity of the revolutionary class, that is to say based on its own tools of organization, which will be called in different ways depending on the place, action committees, workers’ commission, assembly of struggle, roundabout meeting etc. Such a force organizes from the bottom up the implementation of communist measures as a means of struggle against the social order. That is to say, the destruction of private property and merchandise, the dismantling of companies, of the state, and the total reorganization of society in order to live as we decide to, and not as misery, merchandise and exploitation impose on us.
The term dictatorship of the proletariat is so confused with the dictatorship of states that it should be used with caution. Let us recall that at the center of the proposals of this series of texts is the will to end the state as the first act of the revolution. We are fiercely opposed to any period of state transition. Furthermore, the concept of proletarian hegemony seems adequate: rule by those who have nothing for those who have nothing and thus for everyone.
The dynamics which deepen the revolution, the victorious dynamics, are those which have nothing to gain for themselves, nothing to scratch for the corporation whom continue to exercise a hold over them2. The hegemony of these dynamics is the only one that allows, or that even aspires to a social offensive. This hegemony is based on a refusal, a repudiation of an unbearable condition of poverty and exploitation. This refusal becomes more radical as those who conduct it realize that it is common by so many of our fellow human beings. It represents an exhaustion with coercion, coercion to sell oneself; the compulsion to exist only as commodities, sold on the labor market in order to get a little money to buy other commodities, and so on until death.
This hegemony of refusal, then, is the hegemony of proletarians. Those who only have to lose their chains – their revolving credit, their rotten car, a house on the outskirts or a flat in the suburbs, temporary work, the building site, the job of delivery boy, cashier, care assistant. The revolution is carried out by those who have the greatest interest in seeing the current state of things defeated, those who do not seek to extend their condition, but, on the contrary to attack it, as one would attack an external constraint. We must stress that if this movement starts from the proletarians, it is a universal dynamic, which comes immediately to attack the social class divisions with communist measures, and not simply with words.
But a movement has other potentials beside growth. It can diminish. It can shrink to a political movement, a party, one which seeks to govern and to reform the state. It is in the combined names of the people and realism that this political shadow comes forward; it wears the national emblem, it speaks of sovereignty, and above all it thrives on fear.
This defeat of the real movement is the victory of the other available political hegemony, the other side of the movement: the democratic petit and medium bourgeoisie. The precise referents for these terms may be very different in different places around the globe (variants of political Islam as in Egypt or Tunisia, Peronism in Argentina, calls for a better representation of blacks and a more democratic state in the USA) as ideological nuances reflect local history but the content is the same – the self-limiting of a the movement to a reform of the state and its police, another constitution, the fight against corruption and for a redistribution of wealth.
Such a situation is the bitter victory of the status quo, which is just one more defeat, one more surrender. The victory of those who still have something to gain by negotiating, or at least who think they do. Those who have something good, that is to say a business, a small trade.
Those who, if the movement grows in intensity, will be ready to side with a provisional government promising to represent the movement and reform the state. And in the meantime, to get rid of the disorder.
We have seen this happen. We have seen other revolutions lost.
In order for the direction, or at least the impetus, of the struggle to belong to those who have nothing, these people must win. May life be transformed. Otherwise, these same people are condemned to return to work at short notice, a position from which they cannot afford to remain in the daily struggle.
This presupposes that, in the short term, our living conditions, our housing, our access to food, to everything that allows us to live, will be transformed by the struggle itself, in the service of rendering this struggle more profound. It is in this type of practice, above all in its extension to all spheres of society, that we can imagine what a movement of struggle is, in and for itself, and not for the State. This struggle forms and perpetuates itself around the need for to equip ourselves with everything we need to live, to struggle, and to continue to live and struggle, both as a means and as an end, to live as ammunition against the social order and as a community in struggle that expands instead of closing itself off3.
Take the housing, take the gas, take the clothes. Don’t pay rent, groceries, bills. Connect free gas, electricity, water. Organize the distribution, and start organizing the production, of what we need. Use it where we find it – on the building sites, in the factories. In short enact a general reorganization of society.
In the confrontation and the constitution of the movement, it is the future society that begins.

Notes

  1. We use the fuzzy term “insurgent population” on purpose. We believe that one of the thorniest problems of the insurgency issue is that of military specialization, of the reconstitution of the political-military apparatus. We will come back to this in this chapter. []
  2. Everywhere we are divided and, above all, wherever employees are in too strategic a position, we try to buy them off by offering them special solutions and plans. It is a logic as old as exploitation. But in fact, it works. Of course, there are comrades who refuse and choose to fight all the same, and above all, to try to continue the fight even when we try to buy their corporation. But there are also unions who sign agreements, backs who bend, and a gulf of contempt within the exploited class. []
  3. The community that takes care of its own on the basis of capitalism necessarily closes itself off. There is not enough for everyone. But much more than that, there is this challenge: the only community without limits is the one that does not find its reproduction in capitalist social relations, but on the contrary draws its strength from the offensive against capitalism. []

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