The Ecopsychology Issue

The Coming Insurrection

The last-ditch efforts of the dispossessed.
Photo by John Kolesidis / Reuters
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 city’s 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 city’s 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 campaign’s 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.

72 comments on the article “The Coming Insurrection”

Displaying 11 - 20 of 72

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Anonymous

@Nicholas: thank you for saying so well what I've often thought. Everyone has a different explanation for their anger and the percieved causes of our current predicament. The anger itself may represent a problem or a solution depending on the vantage point. Now more than ever, truth seems so very relative.
And yes please support wikileaks & cryptome, the only truth I see in the world.

Anonymous

@Nicholas: thank you for saying so well what I've often thought. Everyone has a different explanation for their anger and the percieved causes of our current predicament. The anger itself may represent a problem or a solution depending on the vantage point. Now more than ever, truth seems so very relative.
And yes please support wikileaks & cryptome, the only truth I see in the world.

frerquentlywron...

Hi everywhere. There are cars burning not only in Berlin, also in Hamburg (A City with 6935 millionaires), in Munich and Frankfurt, and so on. In Hamburg the police has restricted the free entrance to certain streets and quarters in order to screen those who want to go there and why. Most cars burning are priced not below 50,000 Euros, which is about 3 times the average income per year, and about 4.5 times the social benefit for a 3 persons family per year. And the number of those who need the social benefit are growing as fast as the cars of those who find that the social benefit is too high, too expensive. So, it might be a temporary hype to burn the cars of those who own us and their cronies, but that 's what you get when you have killed the Good and the Bad: The Ugly rules!

frerquentlywron...

Hi everywhere. There are cars burning not only in Berlin, also in Hamburg (A City with 6935 millionaires), in Munich and Frankfurt, and so on. In Hamburg the police has restricted the free entrance to certain streets and quarters in order to screen those who want to go there and why. Most cars burning are priced not below 50,000 Euros, which is about 3 times the average income per year, and about 4.5 times the social benefit for a 3 persons family per year. And the number of those who need the social benefit are growing as fast as the cars of those who find that the social benefit is too high, too expensive. So, it might be a temporary hype to burn the cars of those who own us and their cronies, but that 's what you get when you have killed the Good and the Bad: The Ugly rules!

Voltaire

People think it is fashionable to bash capitalism, but did you build the computer your using right now? or the chair your sitting on? Who did? The state? Now suppose your chair is an antique, made by an artisan. Do you expect him to give it away for the Good of Humanity? I would like to see the supporters of anarchism ( the majority of whom are probably living comfortably in a state or private college, or somewhere in the suburbs) actually live by the principles they so fervently annunciate.

Do you really think growing your own crops, shoveling the shit of cattle, and such, is noble, or awesome in some way? ---Or is that what you just imagine. If you've ever shoveled horse shit, you will soon realize how un-awesome it is

Of course consumerism is full of waste, disorder and impersonal profit motives. Humans are full of waste, disorder and impersonal profit motives. I for one am content that there is an abundance of things in the world, and a small subset of them I actually want or need. The waste is an unfortunate permutation of human errors, but retreating into the woods will lose its luster once you actually do it-then you will miss the comfy suburb or dorm room.

Voltaire

People think it is fashionable to bash capitalism, but did you build the computer your using right now? or the chair your sitting on? Who did? The state? Now suppose your chair is an antique, made by an artisan. Do you expect him to give it away for the Good of Humanity? I would like to see the supporters of anarchism ( the majority of whom are probably living comfortably in a state or private college, or somewhere in the suburbs) actually live by the principles they so fervently annunciate.

Do you really think growing your own crops, shoveling the shit of cattle, and such, is noble, or awesome in some way? ---Or is that what you just imagine. If you've ever shoveled horse shit, you will soon realize how un-awesome it is

Of course consumerism is full of waste, disorder and impersonal profit motives. Humans are full of waste, disorder and impersonal profit motives. I for one am content that there is an abundance of things in the world, and a small subset of them I actually want or need. The waste is an unfortunate permutation of human errors, but retreating into the woods will lose its luster once you actually do it-then you will miss the comfy suburb or dorm room.

ken vallario

you are underestimating the complexity of criticism, by interpreting any critique of capitalism as a call to returning to self-sustaining primitivism, you expose yourself as somebody unwilling to look at the discrepancy between early notions of the free-market, and the current form of rampant corporatism...that in my opinion, actually limit choice by flooding the market with products that all have different packaging but contain the same core substances, all of which contribute to the degradation of human health.
an expectation of balanced regulation of markets, that allow for true value to rise as a result of individual empowered choice, is not anarchism...i would argue that we are living in anarchy, dominated by a hidden elite that are bound to a fetish of the bottom line, an obsession with wealth and growth that is not sustainable, nor preferable...

ken vallario

you are underestimating the complexity of criticism, by interpreting any critique of capitalism as a call to returning to self-sustaining primitivism, you expose yourself as somebody unwilling to look at the discrepancy between early notions of the free-market, and the current form of rampant corporatism...that in my opinion, actually limit choice by flooding the market with products that all have different packaging but contain the same core substances, all of which contribute to the degradation of human health.
an expectation of balanced regulation of markets, that allow for true value to rise as a result of individual empowered choice, is not anarchism...i would argue that we are living in anarchy, dominated by a hidden elite that are bound to a fetish of the bottom line, an obsession with wealth and growth that is not sustainable, nor preferable...

Voltaire

I agree with your points. I am far from an apologist of capitalism, specifically the structure that exists today-- the kind in America that cannibalizes its own industry and financializes everything-- a fatal recipe that will surely condemn us in the future. My criticism is directed at some of the naive alternatives, which I feel take too much of an idealistic spin-- since most of the young minds thinking about this stuff are libidinous college youth-- people who aren't in a position to think rationally about the hard, bitter ways of the world. My criticism is of the anti-realist approach some of this alternatives take, which suppose humans to have an indefinite nature, or which suppose a polarity that divides economics into a battle between good and evil.

A "good" capitalism or pseudo-capitalism might be the only thing consistent with human nature, after we have very seriously studied human nature without ideological trappings.

Voltaire

I agree with your points. I am far from an apologist of capitalism, specifically the structure that exists today-- the kind in America that cannibalizes its own industry and financializes everything-- a fatal recipe that will surely condemn us in the future. My criticism is directed at some of the naive alternatives, which I feel take too much of an idealistic spin-- since most of the young minds thinking about this stuff are libidinous college youth-- people who aren't in a position to think rationally about the hard, bitter ways of the world. My criticism is of the anti-realist approach some of this alternatives take, which suppose humans to have an indefinite nature, or which suppose a polarity that divides economics into a battle between good and evil.

A "good" capitalism or pseudo-capitalism might be the only thing consistent with human nature, after we have very seriously studied human nature without ideological trappings.

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