The Return of The Invisible Committee
—To Our Friends
“The insurrections have come, finally.”
To Our Friends, The Invisible Committee’s most recent book, appears a little over seven years after 2007’s The Coming Insurrection. Its opening sentence—“The insurrections have come, finally”—savors a note of vindication. Sympathetic readers will indulge them this small triumph, and give them their due. There is little doubt that since the publication of The Coming Insurrection we have witnessed, on a global scale, a welter of riots and revolts the likes and intensity of which have not been seen for 40 years. “Ten years ago,” the authors go on, “predicting an uprising would have exposed you to […] snickers.” Today, they contend, everyone has on their lips the watchwords of the moment: que se vayan todos! (“out with them all”), or even that old anarchist refrain, all cops are bastards. Rarely do short essays risking themselves in the waters of historical speculation hit their mark. The Invisible Committee was clearly on to something.
All the same, a worry, a quibble, settles in quickly. Did the insurrections really come, after all? We can be sure the authors of To Our Friends are not speaking of the North American Occupy movement which, with the exception of some aspects of Occupy Oakland, was a largely toothless affair, swept away brusquely after a few weeks or months at most. They must have in mind instead some of the more spirited outposts of Occupy’s European counterpart, the so-called “movement of the squares,” such as the M15 movement in Spain and the Syntagma Square occupation in Athens, both frequent points of reference in To Our Friends. But there was little insurrectionary about these movements, despite the numbers and energies pouring into them: they remained focused largely on developing novel forms of mass democracy in their general assemblies, and denouncing the austerity programs implemented by their respective “caretaker” national governments at the behest of the true power players in Europe, the so-called “troika” of the IMF, the European Central Bank, and the European Commission. The weeks-long riot in Greece in December 2008 is marshaled as an example, but that moment of disorder, marked as it was by attacks on banks and symbols of the state, and the temporary routing of police in the streets, was in a way an exception to the period in question, unleashed as it was before the austerity programs could firmly take the country hostage and the wheels of crisis grind the social fabric down to powder.
The story told in To Our Friends therefore largely depends on what transpired in Egypt, which broke the seal on the epoch and remains its signature event. If Tahrir Square is still the pulsing center of our historical moment, the disheartening if predictable fallout of the mass movement—elections, Muslim Brotherhood, army coup—offers writ-large lessons on just how weak, despite its mobilization of millions, the movement was. Despite numerous attacks on police stations and a series of important factory strikes, everything unfolded under the knowing, patient eye of the army, and most of the key structures of the Egyptian state stayed intact throughout, generally in the hands of autocrats in waiting. Few of the telltale traits of insurrection came to the fore. No significant movement to occupy factories, no crippling of the economic infrastructure, and no veritable splits within the armed forces. The other key uprisings of the Arab Spring, in Syria and Libya, leapt quickly—due in large part to the standing regimes’ move to militarize these conflicts—from popular mass movements to full-blown civil wars, complete with territorial fracturing, competing offshoots of Al-Qaeda assuming command over key zones, and the entire region transformed into a geopolitical powder keg, vaguely reminiscent of the Balkans a century ago. The scene is, altogether, grim.1