the gender politics of militancy

Nate started a great thread over the masculinist undercurrent of ‘militancy.’ (my response would be: we’ve never been militants)

I’ve decided to repost my followup comment:

I like Jasper’s suggestion – there are two texts that are a must along those lines.

First “living and struggling” from Tiqqun

Second is “this is not the black bloc” by Claire Fontaine.  Half of CF was deeply involved in Tiqqun, and was part of the 2001 split that was in part due to disagreement over militancy.

In a much more American context, there was an early piece written called “She Doesn’t Give a Fuck About Your Insurrection.”  The approach of the text is deeply problematic, in my view, because it was written as a provocation piece.  The result was equally polemical responses that didn’t get to the heart of some of the issues of the American readings of Tiqqun.  Look to Infoshop and Anarchistnews to see the extensive “comments”.

The group most responsible for the American punk reception of everything Tiqqun/TCI is “The Institute for Experimental Freedom” / “Politics is Not A Banana.”  Interestingly enough, they ride the 2000s enthusiasm for everything queer in anarcho-punk circles, and had a strong influence in the direction of great lakes-area Bash Back taking an “insurrectionist” turn.  In my opinion, I think they fundamentally don’t understand 80s feminism, esp French Feminists like Irigaray/Kristeva and American Socialist Feminism which are the intellectual predecessors to everything that was 90s Queer Theory.

Personally, I have a specific read on Tiqqun.  It was such a large group, compromised of many voices, that it never had a single perspective.  There are elements that thirsted for an almost religiously-pure politics of militancy and others who resisted it with nearly all the fiber of their being.  The 2001 split of Tiqqun sort of demonstrated the impossibility of keeping those voices along for too long.  One of the important discussions of the group going on in the group at the time, was what the form of Tiqqun 3 (if it was made) would be.  Most in the group acknowledged that the comrades they were trying to immediately reach out to didn’t have the same academic background they did, and to ask them to be up on theory before being able to hold these conversations was a bit selfish.  For example, what you see with the “invisible committee” is largely (but not completely) an advancement in the collective writing machine of the militant faction to a stage where they think they can adequately convey complex theoretical ideas clearly without limiting the audience to theory-heads.

There’s a fun debate over what happened about T3, most around film as a medium (a few of the Tiqqun folks were pretty enthralled by Debord and so they emulated his film style).  In a shameless plug of my recent blog, I’d direct you to look at the post I have on it:

On a personal note, because I’m pretty deep in the Deleuze stuff, I don’t think anyone’s really reading their Deleuze (or at least, not very closely).  So the word “war machine” has become pretty popular in some circles, but they don’t seem to understand it much, if at all.  Unfortunately D&G’s choice of war machine is confusing — Paul Patton in Deleuze and the Political, for instance, has suggested completely dropping the ‘war machine’ name for something more self-evident.  Tiqqun was aware of this — in “Introduction to Civil War” which was just released by semiotexte, their proposition on War Machine gets it clearly: the primary operation of war machines is the creation of organic connections (or in Kantian terms, a synthesis).  War is only a secondary operation of the war machine, a degradation/degeneration of its primary purpose.  In practical terms, all the recent attempts to synthesize the war machine with the insurrectionist talk on “attack” is foolish and theoretically incongruent — war machines (or at least nomadic ones) don’t attack, they defend.  And at most, they pre-emptively defend (which is advocated by TCI).  There’s more to be said about their model of “war” which is non-sovereign and therefore not war in my book, but this is not the place.

Some of the mis-understanding might be a poor conception of the rapport between capital and the state. Tiqqun has pretty much scrubbed almost all talk of capitalism from their writing, but they take the Deleuzian innovation that capitalism is a difference machine to its logical extension (much like Hardt and Negri) — totalities aren’t pre-existing, but must be constructed.  And for all practical purposes, that means that totalities function like open systems (they use the post-structuralist concept ‘dispositif’ extensively) and therefore don’t need “attack” to making openings.  Like even Althusser’s conception of ideology – it parades like a universal system, but it in fact partial, narrow, and contradictory.

In the end, I think there’s a sort of adoption of “siege mentality” or “bunker mentality” that is nefariously deployed.  I am personally suspicious of their proximity to Schmitt (something I know we both share), and at times Tiqqun as well as the Americans are willing to admit that “attack” plays a much more internal-compositional function than an outer function (which is why attack is rarely tied to ‘expropriation’ in any meaningful sense or really strategic-tactical in the guerilla sense).  The problem, of course, is that if your internal composition is largely based on the shared belief in a fear for existential existence, it not only has masculinist undercurrents but can easily go bad.

OK.  That’s enough for now.  All the best.I like Jasper’s suggestion – there are two texts that are a must along those lines.

Note — it might be fruitful to revisit Spivak’s feminist criticism of left-appropriations of schmitt [[ ]]

13 thoughts on “the gender politics of militancy

  1. Hey there –

    Thanks for the kind words. I was (and still am) wicked nervous and hesitant to post that, for reasons that I hope I’ve made claer by now, so the feedback is much appreciated.

    Anyway – I’m super, super tired and so am not really up for serious discussion. I’m traveling, and in need of much unwinding, but I’ll read this stuff as soon as I can and will respond when I’ve able to say more of substance. I’d appreciate any further suggestions for getting a handle on this tendency (its theoretical touchstones, its current poles, and its history). It’s important stuff and I’ve been remiss in not engaging with it.

    One final thing for now – what do you mean when you say you/we have never been militants? I don’t quite follow.

    Thanks again.

    take care,

  2. Nate –
    I think the “we’ve never been militants” thing is that I think talk of ‘militancy’ is awkward and not a suitable replacement for the going term, whether it be “activist”, “anarchist”, or whatever.

    At least for some of the people I know, they’ve expressed reading the texts from this tendency as a ‘breath of fresh air’ from the largely sub-culturally oriented aspects of anarcho-punk or anarcho-activism. In the now anointed “Insurrectionist Anarchist” sub-culture (which doesn’t really have the connection to Freddy Perlman, Killing King Abacus, etc, you’d expect), their material practice is sort of an ironic mockery of their former punk lifestyles: they dress like hipsters (but not the DIY hipsters, but the expensive clothes hipsters), they eat tons of meat, they love hip-hop and revel in the especially misogynist or exploitative songs. But they don’t detach from anarcho-punk events, protests, etc, they’re just inside agitators of a sort. I was told by one person that its helping them “learning how to not be an activist”, associating activism with pushy, conformist behavior that is moralistic, judgmental, ascetic, and even sometimes emphasizes chang through personal liberation.

    All of this to loop back around the militant thing — in the last could years I’ve been asked by a few people if I prefer to be called a militant, and I’ve even seen it thrown around in unexpected places (the sub-title to Constituent Imagination? Militant!). But I’ve never been a militant. I’ll never be a militant. Guattari has a fun schizo-analytic read of “the militant” in an issue of recherches I’ve been trying to get my hands on. At least Tiqqun calls for “partisan” war machines — partisan, as wiki explains it as a “member of a lightly-equipped irregular military force formed to oppose control of an area by a foreign power or by an army of occupation.” I understand its potentially positive roots in labor politics, but it smacks far too much of reactionary politics and an inability to engage in transversal struggles — but that’s also an extension of D&G’s bone to pick with Foucault, which is a debate for another day.

    To trace the American experience, I think, is much different than tracing the sources they cite. And on top of that, I think there have been multiple waves of insurrectionist thought in the US. For instance, Freddy Perlman was probably a first. Wolfi’s translation work was connected to Perlman, but from the little I know, might be considered a second. The 90s popularity of primitivist took those texts but also adopted new ones. And now this decade you have Tiqqun/IC, a return to some of the Italian Insurrectionist stuff, but in a different (but not really separate) tendency, there’s the Greeks.

    If you want to talk more about the American context, it might be wise to do over email. I’m afraid I’ve already said enough that could sound insulting to friends who might stumble across this. (and if that’s you, i’m sorry! i’ll buy you a beer and we can talk about it.)

  3. and now reading over it again — of course there was anarchist insurrection way before perlman. i’m just trying to think in relatively contemporary history of ideas terms.

    the image of “bomb-throwing anarchists” was of course very popular in late-19C, early 20C. ‘propganda of the deed’ etc etc

  4. AWC,

    “their material practice is sort of an ironic mockery of their former punk lifestyles: they dress like hipsters (but not the DIY hipsters, but the expensive clothes hipsters), they eat tons of meat, they love hip-hop and revel in the especially misogynist or exploitative songs.”

    Seriously? This doesn’t accord with my experience in the slightest — this seems, ultimately, a stereotype grounded, perhaps, in anecdote. I don’t deny, of course, that you know these people, but still I don’t know anyone who fits this description, really. Perhaps this is the problem with trying to describe a current opposed to a politics of lifestyle in terms of a lifestyle. . .?

  5. Jasper,

    No doubt my experience at this point is only anecdotal. I’m speaking of the self-identified “Insurrectionist Anarchists” I know and have met. As I’m sure you know, it’s a category that people have been self-identifying into lately (though it’s happened in waves, like I pointed out above).

    Case in point: If you look at the Asheville-11, I recognize some (ex?) punks. I wouldn’t be surprised if most, if not all of them, are.

    Or look at the online venues where these ideas are most circulated: IMC, Zinelibrary, Infoshop/@new, self-identified @ blogs.

    Now, the people who more generally cite and employ Tiqqun/IC, work with other insurrectionist literature, or even generally associate with this tendency are not those that I am referring to. Shit, probably half of the faculty in my department read “The Coming Insurrection” some time in the last year, and I wouldn’t call any of them ex-punks.

    I think it would be disingenuous to claim that these ideas have any deep resonance more than 1-degree of separation outside of punk, anarchist, activist, or academic communities. Sure we all want it to be wider, and it’s ostensibly “anti-lifestyle” but it’s not there yet.


  6. AC, thanks for this. The point about current IA not really being tied to Perlman, KKA, (and presumably, Bonano) is really, really interesting. I’ve gotten some criticism about that post privately, and some gentle criticism publicly from Jasper, all of which is warranted. I’d like to take back much of the positive claims I’ve made, but at the same time I’d like to leave open (because it’s still there!) my unease about gender issues here, and I’d like to keep that in mind while trying to get to know this milieu. It’s all pretty foreign to me (even more so now on hearing that what I’d thought were the earlier roots, which I have at least a little familiarity with, are not as relevant as I’d expected). As a bit more further self-criticism I expect that some of my unease w/ this stuff is just that it’s out of my range of experiences and relationships and I’m kinda curmudgeonly with new stuff. anyways, I’d love to hear more on all this from you, as this is clearly an important tendency in our times, so something worth getting to know.
    Jasper – likewise for you, further recommendations very welcome.
    take care,

  7. hey again –

    sorry to post twice but I had missed the part of your comment re: militancy. Thanks for clarifying, I get it now. i hear you on this, I’ve never particularly liked the term. In terms of that Constituent Imagination book I’m pretty sure they got the term from spanish language stuff, either Colectivo Situaciones or some of the people from Spain. I used to be really up on all that but am no longer, I can’t recall where I first ran across the term (militant research, i mean) in Spanish or when it started spring up in English, I have a hunch that it started to get more play after a few of us started translating some of that work. I think the term has a different connotation in spanish but yeah, I’ve never been keen on it in English. W/r/t Tiqqun, I’m not at all familair w/ any of that (printed some stuff out today to start getting familiar), I wonder does their use of ‘partisan’ relate to Carl Schmitt’s writing on partisans?

    I’m totally up for some emailing, you have my address now, please drop me a line when you get a minute.

    take care,

  8. I think the supposed internal bickering [no one outside can say with any precision] that was reported to have surfaced within the group implicated with the Tiqqun writings is of significantly less importance than trying to determine if the strategy of direct confrontation by the small groups of individuals, those who live for occasions in which to take to the streets, retains any validity today. One could examine the tactics and strategy of the resistance during the occupation of France during the 1940’s to recognize in the first instance the futility of open confrontation under brutal conditions, and secondly, to observe the tactical advantages that can be achieved by way of anonymity and the ability to outwardly project inoffensiveness, while underneath everything seethes with rage against the oppressor state and its institutions. On the other hand the state today is bankrupting itself with expensive security measures and devices ranging from cameras and operators deployed everywhere, to stealth exterminator drones and machines that detect anger residing in the lobes of the travelling public, to occasional multi-billion dollar wars conducted in tandem with the exigencies of economy. This bankruptcy must impose itself on beleaguered populations that are already fed up with paying tribute to politics. Certain intensities here and there can only maintain or supplement the general paranoia of governance, which in itself is enough to serve the purpose of maintaining or accelerating the increasingly expensive cycle of provocation and reaction. In this we might see two ‘communes’ of thought emerge where one had previously come together to try and extract some sense from the overall situation, which is to say experimentation with certain forms of direct intensity not necessarily revealed on the terrain chosen by the authority, and experimentation with the everyday mundane operation of being able to live and function as a whatever, where there exists the potential of enduring constant observation. It is here where despite the surroundings, little difference exists between a collective attempt at life in a rural backwater, one that has remarkably less of a function and purpose within the state than a segment of ones lower intestine, and an art gallery wall in New York, which inarguably describes the same thing quite often. Everyone at least appeared to be somewhat reserved about pure reaction for its own sake, which is not an insignificant consideration when people talk about schisms and purges. They talked enough in the past about situationalists at any rate.

  9. Nearly two years after this exchange, I think I’ve developed my writing, thinking, and politics substantially. While I did keep up with Tiqqun-related material, especially given the media spotlight, I never wrote much beyond a simple review piece.

    In the past year or two I have synthesized some of their findings into my own work, using it either as influence or contrast in laying out ideas, but I never formulated a specific critical response.

    It appears to be an appropriate time for me to return to some of these ideas and give them the sustained thought that they deserve. Some distinctions seems less important — like farm vs art — even if they were crucial for a specific group of people trying to live their theory. Others, which sat in the background of their work — The Social, Metropolis, the partisan — have become only more urgent over time.

    SJ: I feel that I may be even more pessimistic than you. I find Deleuze’s dystopian world of control societies — here I think specifically of the present-tense nightmares of Philip K Dick, William S Burroughs, and JG Ballard — where control rarely risks ‘bankrupting itself’ but exists as a rather complex diagram by which most life is managed. The danger, then, is that control has no limit, no threshold that can be crossed. Mocking its failures (“Iran has an Amerikan drone, ha ha ha!”) or its inefficiencies (“Sure they deported 300,000 people last year, but how many more are still here!”) is just part of the cynical ideology that makes it all work because, in spite of all our criticisms, we can’t imagine it any other way (Jameson, Zizek, etc).

    My focus has shifted to ‘living communism.’ But my conclusions don’t lie with either farm or art. Rather, I cast my gaze on the real spaces of escape produced within the Metropolis that can be brought together into a circuit of struggle. The underworld. That which is nestled within the cluttered, saturated built environment. The key? It’s a whole ecology of forces that plays by a different set of rules. And it’s the uncovering, development, and modulation those rules to which Tiqqun speaks so strongly to me. If Anti-Oedipus was a handbook for an anti-fascist life, Tiqqun is a guide to an a-moralist radical politics.

  10. With Tiqqun at least, it became more obvious from the clarifications contained within that the debate over what constitutes radical politics appears to be more of a waste of time than it ever did. Serious discussion can now be separated from those Olympic competitions and victory dances that follow when only nonsense had been achieved. There is no longer any debate surrounding someone whose head looks like it might have absorbed an explosion in a costume jewellery shop, and someone sporting a briefcase and a mobile office device who instructs others how to cheat on their taxes or scam a benefits program. But I look forward to your elaborations on this topic.

  11. SJ: I like your patient reminders to focus on what Tiqqun helps us overcome. Escaping the milieu, which you identify both in form and content, seems particularly important.

    I would like to hear more about the example you gave, French resistance in the 40s, and how those tactics speak to today’s conditions. I am slowly working through a contrast I think may be crucial today. Fascist and Soviet state power worked through suppressing dissent, giving resistance a subterranean existence which could only express itself publicly in indirect ways (double-coding, for instance). Liberalism, in contrast, seems to work through over-saturation; it blankets resistance and prevents dissent from aggregating (the French usual talk about it in terms of ‘massification’).

    If that is the case today, some of this is documented in Tiqqun 2’s ‘cybernetic hypothesis’, then how does it reconfigure the mode of politics: the terrain of struggle, its space of encounter, a strategy of revolution, and the political tactics?

  12. I regret the tardiness of the response. It certainly seems to be well understood that we didn’t need TCI or Tiqqun, or in that vein even a flare for displaying peculiar forms of art, to provide us with breaking news about the impotency of politics to serve anything other than the economy. I thought that the use of the term ‘evident,’ which was extensively used throughout the “Call” publication, coincided very well with the concept of finally bringing the discourse of critique and its various appeals into question, by subsequently electing to instead describe where necessary certain situations in order to formulate narratives which try to reveal the contemporary oppositional dialogue.

    Despite how the Western system is able to continue functioning through its divisive hierarchy of privileges and favoritism; its opulence on the one hand and abject poverty thrust down from the other, no critical mass has yet emerged to demonstrate the capacity to recognize a way out, unless wholesale annihilation of large segments of the population from civil war ultimately becomes a price people are willing to have others pay. We don’t have to worry about that for the moment because in the North American context people are quite able to continue bearing witness to the everyday corruption of the ruling elements, while remaining committed to the laws of state and it’s prescriptions for dealing with social unrest.

    I don’t know anymore if certain forms of resistance, the French varieties from the 1940’s for example, are still possible or desirable. I’m attempting to imagine precisely how tangible resistance can be accomplished in an era with biometric tracking and heat signature capabilities. I think at a first glance for practicality it should avoid the forests altogether, in order to be woven as seamlessly as possible into the fabric of society; unrecognizable to the blooms in the next cubicle that is, but something that is always able to maintain an awareness and a position within the terrain one is standing on, and that could also acquire a certain consistency in practically any situation – as I said before from the imperceptible end of the contrast between Mohawk hair styles and nose rings, and suit and tie with briefcase in hand strolling down the sidewalk. The odd thing is that everyone along the political spectrum seems to be aware of something while absorbing a multitude of ideas concerning who is responsible.

    I think philosophy for a start should come down out of the belfries to engage with people in a language they can relate to, because certainly the educational systems do not equip people for the most part to understand very much beyond what is useful to the power apparatuses. If it is said that critique, protest and physical confrontation are no longer effective in dealing with the situation, we can disagree and explain why if we’re being polite about it, consign ourselves to a general resignation, or examine a little further to see if there is something useful someplace else.

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