Presentation of ‘To Our Friends’ in Chiapas

The Invisible Committee

The following is a transcript from a presentation of A nuestros amigos [To Our Friends] that took place on October 22, 2015 at the CIDECI-UniTierra (San Cristóbal de las Casas, Chiapas). The event was organized by comrades from France, Catalonia and Mexico, who had helped with the Spanish translation and the publication of the book a year prior. The interest of the presentation lies in its succinct and situated remarks on how the strategies discussed by the Invisible Committee might resonate with the revolutionary processes underway in Mexico.

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I’ll try to summarize a few aspects of To Our Friends, in order to draw out some content for the discussion that will follow. It’s worth noting that ten comrades from Mexico and ten comrades from France are also present, so, when the discussion begins, we should not be surprised if someone from the public intervenes. After all, the goal here is to meet one another.

The book responded to a question: what are the lessons of the insurrections of recent years? Why have they not led to a revolution? What are the invisible obstacles – linked to the revolutionary tradition – into which these movements have crashed? If we refuse to content ourselves with ideological platitudes, then it must be admitted that such failures compel us to completely rethink our idea of revolution.

The book consists of seven central chapters, each of which focuses on the conceptual knots that constitute a trap and a confusion hindering the possibility of a revolutionary process in the present. These knots must be confronted, and clarified. These seven chapters deal with the ‘crisis’, democracy and government, the location of power today, cybernetics, war, society and, finally, the commune. To Our Friends shows the difficulties of the obstacles that have been encountered in the revolutionary processes of recent years and tries to sketch out passages to go beyond these obstacles.

In many cases, the themes in question resemble the roads on which the Zapatistas have been advancing for over twenty years. Therefore, it would be absurd for us to try to convince them of what should or could be done, precisely given that the Zapatistas have been doing it for a long time. Nor will me make an apologia for insurrection in front of people who have really made an insurrection with guns in their hands. Instead, what we will try to do is share, with the help of the language and perceptions that are elaborated in To Our Friends, the difficulties that we have encountered, with an emphasis on those that seem to us to echo the Mexican situation.

1. Let us begin with the question of the struggle against infrastructure. As the insurrections of recent years have shown, the sites of institutional power function as a kind of magnet for revolutionary movements. As soon as revolt sets in, the people in these movements spontaneously place themselves in front of parliaments, they set up a camp there, or try to attack or burn down the government headquarters, as was seen for example in Bosnia. However, it happens that most of the time, after having arrive there and forcing open the doors, they find that these sites of power are empty, as happened for example in Ukraine. What they discover, in other words, is that there is absolutely nothing of power within them.

The point is that the contemporary form of power is not the institution: power no longer resides in institutions, governance is no longer in the government. The effective site of power, tendentially, resides in the organization of the world itself – an organization that is logistic, material, technological. It is very difficult to rebel against a power that does not give orders, but instead constitutes the very order of things. It is worth noting that in Europe, at least in recent years, so-called “social struggles” have been seriously weakened. In the case of Germany, France or Italy, those struggles that concentrate and polarize the revolutionary initiative are the struggles against infrastructure. This also echoes the current initiative of the Zapatistas to link together twenty-nine struggles against megaprojects in Mexico.

There are two aspects to these struggles: on the one hand, an aspect that consists of removing oneself from material dependency upon this technological order, a struggle to gain autonomy; and, on the other, a struggle to prevent the construction of these infrastructures themselves. The problem we face is that these struggles often have only a defensive orientation: in general, they do not succeed in destabilizing the enemy and, in fact, they generally leave its domination intact. The idea that the exemplary nature of what is built in these struggles could spread to the rest of the world is rarely realized.

2. The second problem belongs under the heading of what we can call ‘the local’. For the oldest of us here tonight, our politicization occurred during the anti-globalization movement, at a time when there was much talk of the Zapatistas. In those years we lived in squats, and, every three or six months, we would have riots in some city in Europe. At a certain moment we began to realize that there was not much relationship between what we did in these counter-summits and the life we led in our homes. At the same time, by the end of the anti-globalization struggles there were more journalists on hand to record the demonstrators than the demonstrators themselves.

We felt a strong need to break away from the attraction of the global. Many of the people who participated at that time moved to different places, set up communes, which assumed more or less reality in some neighborhoods or towns than others. As for ourselves, in France, Italy and Spain we are very much organized on a local basis. And this brings up the question of the commune, the return of which is not something that concerns only a handful of people. The question of the commune is a historical fact, one that is resurfacing everywhere. It returned in Istanbul’s Taksim Square, when the revolt gave itself the name “Taksim Commune.” Likewise, it returned during the U.S. Occupy movement, when the occupied plaza in Oakland took the name “Oakland Commune.” It returned to Kurdistan, where the first gesture in the face of a military attack was to respond with the declaration of 140 communes.

There are strong local realities; yet the power of our enemy, capital, lies precisely in its global mobility. So the question we face today – I think it’s a question also announced in the Sixth Declaration of the Lacandon Jungle – is this: since we are facing a globally organized enemy, how do we build a global force out of forces that are situated, local? And here I am talking about a force that is not an organization, but rather a plurality of worlds that, in any case, would be capable of developing conjoint strategies. On the other hand, there is a perennial question as to how to prevent or counteract the spontaneous inclination of the communes to close in upon themselves?

3. The third question concerns war. A bad habit of thinking has made us conflate war with militarization. At the same time, the military has spent the past fifty years refining a non-military concept of war, a civil concept. One of the most visible examples of this, in the context of the Zapatista communities, is the program “Vivienda Digna,” white houses with a red stripe that exist to convey the message, “We are here.” At the moment when militaries are developing a non-military idea of war, a pacifism developed in movements that was defined by its rejection of war (understood as military war). At a time when war is everywhere, there were more pacifists than ever before. In fact, what took place is that counter-insurrectional theory – this is the form of war in question – became the very program of governance: media propaganda, the management of perceptions, a localized exercise of terror, chaos provoked to paralyze judgment and action —all of this has today become common practice. Whence the constant references to the Algerian War in contemporary marketing campaigns.

Given the war being waged upon us, the question is how we can avoid situating ourselves in a symmetrical relationship with the enemy? The counter-insurgency specialists seek to win the hearts and minds of the population – something that can have dramatic consequences, as in the case of David Petraeus who wanted to win one more heart. How can we avoid placing ourselves in the same position,  which is often the position of militants and activists? How can we be the population, a problem to which the Zapatistas offer an admirable example. That is, how can we make a strategic perception of the course of things, a reading of adverse operations, and an awareness of governmental counter-operations commonplace, and not a fact visible only to a vanguard? This brings us back to the question of how to articulate a strategic verticality alongside a horizontality of life? Clearly, the EZLN and the Zapatista communities are one form of this articulation.

4. The fourth issue concerns the idea of destitution. At least since the French Revolution, the question of revolution has been posed in terms of a dialectic between a constituted power and a constituent power: revolution is thought of as a moment when constituent power overflows constituted power. Obviously, in reality, there is no constituent power, no matter how much Toni Negri claims otherwise. Constituent power is a fiction retrojected by constituted powers beginning from the moment they have succeeded in stabilizing the situation. What has happened in Egypt in recent years is an exemplary case for understanding this. In no time at all, the people are again being massacred in the name of the People.

It cannot be denied that contemporary insurrections are essentially destituent. The “Go away” that was shouted at Ben Ali’s regime in Tunisia echoes the “¡Que se vayan todos; Y que no quede ni uno!“ of Argentina. The only demand, the sole content, the unique power of contemporary insurrectionary movements, lies in demanding that the corrupt, obscene, criminal power in front of us go away. As far as I can tell, a similar energy emanates from the families of the 43 Normalistas of Ayotzinapa. Contemporary insurrections are characterized by the fact of not having a program, of not having a leader, and of not having the will to take power – as for example occurred during the time of the Bolsheviks.

Obviously, there are many local examples of destitution in Mexico, far more than anywhere else. We may think of what is happening in Cherán, or in the isthmus of Tehuantepec (the municipalities of San Dionisio del Mar, and Álvaro Obregón). And, evidently, also in Zapatista territories.

As such, the logic of destitution does not consist in throwing oneself onto the apparatus of power in order to lay claim to it, but, more broadly, in the fact of constituting oneself separately, elaborating a form-of-life, and transmitting it. What replaces the logic of the seizure of power is the logic of the increase of power. The question that arises for us is how to ensure that destitution is not a moment of insurrection that is then immediately swept away by the constituent return of a new power. For example, think of what took place in Argentina after 2001; or what happened in the Spanish state after the movement of the squares and 15M, where there certain people ran elections under the auspices of being representatives of the movement; or, what happened in Greece with Syriza.

How can we ensure that destitution is an indefinite process, and that concrete decisions are never fixed in an institution? We will only be able to respond to these problems, as we shall see, by advancing forward – along a path that we will not attempt to map out right now.

It is necessary that an international debate on the question of revolution take place. That is why, just as we have come here tonight and wish to thank you for your invitation, we plan to organize a world revolutionary forum next spring in Europe, to which you are invited.

Translated from Spanish by Ill Will Editions.

A Finnish translation of this text can be found here