[THS] Adbusters: Sam Cooper: The Coming Insurrection
psalience at fastmail.fm
Thu Apr 8 13:31:19 CEST 2010
* Adbusters #89: The Ecopsychology Issue
The Coming Insurrection
The last-ditch efforts of the dispossessed.
* Sam Cooper
* 31 Mar 2010
Photo by John Kolesidis / Reuters
By night Berlin has become a battlefield. Each morning reveals new casualties:
burned out cars. There have been over 500 in the past three years. These nocturnal
arson attacks are part of a protracted campaign of resistance to the citys increasing
gentrification, retaliatory strikes against the loss of areas of the city that have long
fostered alternative culture and anticapitalist activity. As more and more residents are
priced out of their own neighborhoods, such acts of sabotage have become the last-
ditch efforts of the dispossessed.
These are certainly desperate measures, but we live in desperate times. We might
ask whether cars are legitimate targets. Is there not something uncomfortable in the
ethics of destroying the property of individuals, especially in such an environmentally
careless manner? Would such violence be more productively focused on state or
corporate targets? Perhaps, but this campaign has abandoned the unwinnable battle
for public approval. An anonymous website, Brennende-autos.de, mockingly offers
epitaphs for the sacrificed vehicles: 05.03.2010 Fließstraße Mercedes. And there
remains a powerful symbolic value to the burning car. We can sense that something
is being said beyond the immediate context, beyond the localized struggle. So, what
do these fires really illuminate?
We might first try to imagine the perpetrators, the arsonists, as they retreat into the
night. Individuals have been arrested but the campaign has continued unabated,
demonstrating that the arsonists are legion
they are many. Emerging from the
citys prominent autonomist movement, they form what we might call an invisible
community: a network of loosely affiliated individuals who have refused both
communication and accountability with the state. To comprehend their actions, we
might think back to the lesson of The Coming Insurrection: We are right to be angry,
we are even right to act upon that anger, but the important thing is to organize our
anger. As the Invisible Committee put it, People can burn cars because they are
pissed off, but to keep the riots going for a month, while keeping the police in check
to do that you have to know how to organize, you have to establish complicities,
you have to know the terrain perfectly and share a common language and a common
enemy. In the arson campaigns dogged persistence, in its wildcat spread and in its
unapologetic assault on liberal values, we can recognize a well-formulated and well-
organized transformation of spontaneous rejection into tactical resistance. We see, in
short, the work of a community.
Yet we must be clear that this is a community in and of revolt and that this revolt is
not limited to the situation in Berlin. These fires are fueled by broader social
conditions, the same conditions that have also recently catalyzed unrest in Paris and
Greece. The Situationists made the same observation in their analysis of the Watts
Riots of 1965, The Decline and Fall of the Spectacle-Commodity Economy. The
Situationists argued that those riots were not just race riots or class riots but that they
represented a revolt against the commodity itself. Comfort will never be comfortable
enough for those who seek what is not on the market. Then in Watts and now in
Berlin, looters and vandals engage in an unfettered festival of destruction. This
violent rejection of everything we are sold is a phenomenon that recurs whenever the
veil of consumer capitalism slips.
In the burning cars of Berlin we see the anguish and the anger of a community
whose only presence is fire. But just as there is no smoke without fire, there is no fire
without fuel. Instead of shielding our eyes from the glaring violence, we should
anticipate the moment when this destructive impulse becomes a constructive
principle and what has been invisible becomes manifest.
Meanwhile in Greece, violence on the streets only escalates. Protests that were once
directed against police brutality now direct themselves against the state itself. Instead
of retreating from the violence witnessed over the past year, increasing numbers of
workers are joining demonstrations that contest the actions of their government and
specifically the introduction of austerity measures intended to contain the national
debt. The protesters rightly oppose that those most vulnerable should have to suffer
further just to maintain the system that made them vulnerable in the first place.
Capitalism is broken: It needs to be replaced rather than simply patched up. Britain
and America have already bailed out their bankers, but the Greeks are refusing to
forgive and forget.
Sam Cooper is working toward a PhD at the University of Sussex. His research
focuses on the adoption of Situationist theory in Britain.
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