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The return of the Invisible Committee


The Brooklyn Rail has a review of To Our Friends, the new book by the Invisible Committee, whose The Coming Insurrection shook up radical circles (and Glenn Beck) in 2009:

This vision of a resurgence of communes anchored by self-managed co-operative work sites is itself embedded within a larger strategic framework, which in turn mobilizes a conceptual and diagnostic syntax inherited from the classical workers’ movement, its battery of problems and solutions, its appeal above all to organization as a balm applied to the open wound of defeat. The authors of To Our Friends invoke, more than once, to Marx’s fleeting reference to a “historical party” that would “spring up naturally on the soil of capitalist society,” rather than be the closed, clandestine, insurrectionary organ formed primarily in view of the seizure of State power. The historical episodes invoked by The Invisible Committee offer some glimpse of what, in To Our Friends, is intended with the concept of organization—whose absence accounts for the defeat of insurrections—and the reactivation of the idea of the Party. Speaking throughout To Our Friends of the commune as having a necessarily territorial basis that alone permits the formation of “extremely dense ethical fabrics” whose matter is the “loyalties woven by informal ties,” the authors give examples ranging from Oaxaca to Bolivia to, surprisingly, the Northern Ireland of the late 1960s, in which the Provisional IRA “blended” seamlessly into those “enclaves that were in a constant state of insurrection.” More pertinent to our discussion, however, is the appeal to the Barcelona of the early 20th century (and not the Asturias of 1934), as if seeing in the proliferation of “co-operatives, for everything and in every sense” in contemporary Catalonia an echo of that impregnable worker bastion of pre-revolutionary Spain: “The ethical fabric of the Barcelona workers’ movement at the beginning of the 20th century can serve as a guide for the experiments that are underway.” This circling back to the early days of the workers’ movement entails, according to this logic, foreshortening that history itself, cancelling its development, and seeing the intervening years as a long parenthesis, a wandering, the history of an error. There is no reason not to reach still farther back, to the days before the first great revolts ripped across Europe in 1848. To the riot days of the 1830s and 1840s, even, that age of great disorder and thoroughgoing repression, of secret associations, of the wrecking of machines, and the proliferation of what Foucault calls “popular illegality." To Our Friends in this sense can be said to echo a still earlier, still little known, text that appeared years ago. In 2002, a small booklet with no named author and the terse title Call began to circulate in radical milieus in France. It was a call to start from scratch, an appeal to return to the origins of the historical workers’ movement: “We remember the beginnings of the labor movement. They are close to us.”