This is Not a Program
Translated by Joshua David Jordan
This is Not a Program is the latest English translation of work included a decade ago in the journal Tiqqun, conceived of and published by a shadowy collective of young French anarchists back in 1999 and 2001. Or that’s only part of the story, since the group has purposefully shrouded its activities in mystery and secrecy, pseudonyms and ever-changing email addresses. In the age of post-nationalist global empire, of constantly surveilled and interpellated identities and subject positions, it may be better to be invisible than to be irrelevant, a strategy completely counterintuitive to a culture of appearances and spectacle.
Though a darling of theory-heads in the United States, and fiercely debated in anarchist online message boards, Tiqqun/Tiqqun first came to more widespread attention in 2008 when one of its founding members, Julien Coupat, was arrested and charged with attempted sabotage of the French high-speed railway system, the TGV. In the post-9/11 climate — the same one that soon led to the disbanding of Tiqqun and the internal fracturing of Tiqqun over ideology and tactics — Coupat was branded a terrorist. In the United States, a later manifestation of the group called The Invisible Committee was made infamous when Glenn Beck brandished its 2009 Semiotext(e) book, The Coming Insurrection, on his FOX television show. (Sales of the book skyrocketed.) This confusion regarding attribution and group affiliation is an intentional political strategy. As Tiqqun avows: “There is no ‘revolutionary identity.’ Under Empire, it is instead non-identity, the fact of constantly betraying the predicates that THEY hang on us, that is revolutionary” (“THEY” being an amorphous sociological category usually indicating society at large as infused with crippling authority). This is Not a Program consists of two texts: “This is Not a Program,” first published in the second issue of Tiqqun, and “A critical metaphysics could emerge as a science of apparatuses… ” ostensibly a sort of charter for an NGO called the Society for the Advancement of Criminal Science. The discourse derives especially from Michel Foucault and Deleuze & Guattari, smartly mixed with Georges Bataille’s theories of immediacy, Giorgio Agamben’s biopolitics for an era of black sites and waterboarding, Alain Badiou’s notion of the event, and Althusserian terminologies. In this sense Tiqqun is just the most recent wave of fashionable French theory to wash up on U.S. shores, though perhaps soon to be displaced by Mehdi Belhaj Kacem, François Laruelle, Quentin Meillassoux, etcetera — who can say?
But from another angle, the work published in Tiqqun and since by its loosely affiliated groupuscules is among the most incisive political theory written today. The Coming Insurrection may partially have been an attempt to creatively theorize the banlieue riots of 2005, but elements of that book can also be found in This is Not a Program: an embrace of criminality (“A critical metaphysics… ” contains a Yippie-esque paean to shoplifting); an anti-identitarian politics (the rioting French youths may have represented a demographic — as pundits hammered home: poor and darker-skinned — but they had no substantial party affiliations, no spokesperson, no conventional political organization); and a provocative lack of demands (except as directed against the police — bête noire of both the banlieue rioters and Tiqqun). Simultaneously, This is Not a Program attempts to articulate the demise of traditional working-class politics and its “putrid legacy” on the grounds that even in its most progressive forms it embraces an ideology of production that demands order, regimentation, control, management, mediation (to say nothing about the perpetuation of capitalism itself). After all, the ultimate goal of Marx’s Marxism was increased leisure time, not making labor more efficient or enjoyable.
“With the exception of a tiny minority of half-wits, no one believes in work anymore,” Tiqqun drolly writes. Hear, hear. Instead, “This is Not a Program” and “A critical metaphysics …” embrace free play, blind experimentation, and becoming instead of being. Tiqqun hates nothing more than standardization, homogenization, conformity, normativity, and cubicle-ism, to the point that it argues — somewhat mistakenly — that control has replaced profit as Empire’s guiding principle. The Imaginary Party’s participants — as opposed to civil society’s “citizens” (a term of derision in Tiqqun’s lexicon) — are what in Greece and Rome were called plebs and more recently, the lumpenproletariat: unassimilated immigrants, dropouts, the unemployed, punks, squatters, mad utopianists, etc. As a result, Tiqqun’s politics, though rooted in a vitalist positivity, is one of disengagement, deterritorialization, rifts, secession, Bartleby the Scrivener’s “I would prefer not to.”
The Imaginary Party’s immediate historical antecedents are the loosely affiliated Autonomia groups of Italy in the 1970s, and so at the heart of “This is Not a Program” is an extended discussion of Italy’s “creeping May” — the struggle during the 1970s among different leftist groups in Italy to challenge both the government and the capitalist system. Tiqqun carefully analyzes the pamphlets and statements of various figures and organizations to show how the organized left — and especially the Italian Communist Party — betrayed itself in order to tame its more radical components. Tiqqun quotes Antonio Negri — who later returns for severe rebuke — as saying: “The bitter polemic that opened in ’68 between the revolutionary movement and the official workers’ movement turned into an irreversible rupture in ’77.” From Tiqqun’s point of view, the battle was over accommodation versus conflict, of assuming power versus eluding it, of productivity versus sabotage, of submission versus revolt, of political systems versus unmediated life-forms.
A shorthand description of fascism says that “X. made the trains run on time.” Tiqqun definitely doesn’t want the trains to run on time. Coupat and his compatriots were arrested (though never convicted) for not quite physically damaging the TGV system but for delaying it by placing heavy metal hooks on its electrical lines. Interestingly for Tiqqun’s theories of heterogeneity, cross-platform alliances, and the exacerbation of differences, among the most vigorous supporters of Coupat and his fellow rural commune-dwellers were his conservative neighbors and his upper-class Parisian parents — one of whom is a doctor, which gives Tiqqun’s ferocious critique of biopolitics a certain piquancy, or at least irony. Yet included in one of the four stratagems Tiqqun outlines for its war against society is the distribution of “medical power-knowledge.” For all its emphasis on conflict, This is Not a Program eschews negative space for one filled with magical and creative modes of existence. Healing — though I imagine Tiqqun would shun the word — is part of that process.