The Unassignable Riot
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The novelty of coming politics is that it will no longer be a struggle for the conquest or control of the State, but a struggle between the State and non-State (humanity), an insurmountable disjunction between whatever singularity and the state organization.
Giorgio Agamben, The Coming Community, Minnesota, 1993, 86.
Everyone—including the enemy’s propagandists—generally agrees that the riotous new figure appearing at the head of the recent demonstrations [le cortège de tête] is one of the noteworthy inventions of the current uprising. The governmental attempt by the media to reduce this phenomenon to a soundbyte that is both disgustingly depoliticized (the enigmatic “black bloc” or, more commonly, the “smashers” [casseurs]) and quantifiable ( “dozens”, “several hundred”, “close to a thousand,” depending on the day) clearly aims to conceal a reality that is precisely the inverse: the head of the cortège is growing in numbers, at the same time that its composition is becoming increasingly unassignable.
One can, of course, find experienced political activists, members of this or that organization, some of whom have a long history of social movements and whose presence is expected, predictable, and normal. But the singularity of the head of the cortège lies in its generic character, which evades capture by any identity. In it, people are encountering others who they should never meet under the normal course of things, whose assigned positions appear radically incommensurate. What could be more worrisome for power than to observe (with an impotence proportionate to its brutality) the practical weaving-together of those very bodies it busies itself keeping apart? The CGT activist who clashes with the police instead of strolling along behind his union’s sound truck, the university professor who dons a hoodie and swimming goggles instead of signing a petition and once again separating speech from gesture, the student who leaves her classroom to go join the employees on strike, the retiree who braves the tear gas: so many uncontrollable lines of flight, so many miraculous journeys. If becoming-revolutionary means anything, it is precisely this assumption of the clinamen 1, this self-abandonment, this uncompromising engagement with the possible opened up by the situation.
“What Empire demands is not that each conforms to a common law, but that each conforms to his own particular identity. Imperial power depends on the adherence of bodies to their supposed qualities or predicates in order to leverage control over them.”
Tiqqun, Introduction to Civil War, Semiotexte, 2010, 23.
That everyone remains in their place—this is the injunction of the dominant order. However, the concept of form-of-life, which to our eyes seems helpful for grasping the collective élan at work in this ongoing experiment [experience] 2, designates precisely an attraction, an inclination, a taste that exceeds (through the intervention of an evental contingency) any identifying grasp, any substantial fixation. The form-of-life is a free use of predicates, one that suspends, deactivates, and destitutes them. Every objective determination is hereby rendered inoperative. Trade unionists, students, precarious workers, the unemployed, workers, intellectuals, activists, artists, youth from the banlieus: the head of the cortège embodies the neutral and anonymous coalescence, the becoming-anyone of this whole human multiplicity whose specific origins find themselves locally and punctually suspended. As Agamben put it, “a form-of-life is that which ceaselessly deposes the social conditions in which it finds itself living.” 3
To our eyes, a similar logic occurred in the refusal of work that took place on a mass scale during the labor struggles of the early 1970’s in Italy. What was at issue was not defending the identity of the workers, but negating it, materially destroying it. Whereas the union bureaucracies claimed to win better working conditions, thereby maintaining the worker in his alienated function as laborer, in his submission to the hierarchy of the boss, autonomous proletarians struggled against work itself through an entire series of offensive practices, from sabotage to absenteeism, all of which testified to a refusal on the part of the working class to reproduce itself as an available labor force, i.e., as capital. To refuse work, means to be extraneous to the relationship of production, to struggle against one’s own class identity, against all that is perceived as a negation and a dispossession of one’s existence. In short: “to struggle against production and against the command of the market [le commandement d’entreprise], to negate ourselves as working class and hurl ourselves into an attack on state power.” 4 From which we draw the following conclusion: if the enduring operation of power is to impose upon us a fixed set of predicates, from which are derived a series of specific behaviors, then the primordial gesture of liberation is a desubjectifying one that aims to subvert its own social identity.
“To assume a form-of-life means to be more faithful to our penchants than to our predicates.” 5 For weeks now, we’ve witnessed the unforeseeable encounter of bodies sharing a single form-of-life, a single penchant for direct emancipation, open antagonism, insurrectional audacity. That this has transpired through the reappropriation of mass violence (the symptom of an increasingly diffuse radicality), i.e. by the destitution of its centralized monopoly by the state, should no longer surprise us.
Obviously, the whole question now is whether this fabric of political friendships will be able to produce its own war machine, and overcome the momentary culmination inevitable at the present stage. If everyone simply returns to their old existence (prior to the event), if the bodies that today are affected by a common power resume their atomic separation, this movement will have been a mere convulsion without consequence. It is up to us to deepen these material and affective bonds, which right now are merely embryonic, and to give them a duration, an organizational consistency. To build and strengthen our Party: that is the task of the coming phase. By which we mean, to follow the line along which forms-of-life grow, to assume the becoming-common these networks of affinity, and to invent, far from all all vertical hierarchies, a new strategic operator.
We can, therefore we must.
—A musician from the head of the cortège.
Translated by Ill Will
1. The ancient philosopher Lucretius’ term, used describe the unpredictable swerve of atoms. See the opening theses of Tiqqun’s Introduction to Civil War. —Trans.↰
2. The French expérience can mean both experience and experiment. —Trans.↰
3. Giorgio Agamben, The Use of Bodies, Stanford, 2016, Part IV.↰
4. Marcello Tarì, Autonomie! Italie, les années 1970, La Fabrique, 2011, 20.↰
5. Tiqqun, Introduction to Civil War, 23.↰