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 21 - 30 of 72

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ken vallario

yes, i agree...i am as critical of the products of the american academic system as i am of the corporate one, as they are blending into one and the same monster. it took me years to liberate my own thinking from my university propaganda, so i am sympathetic to your thoughts. i suppose i find some of the youthful 'rage against the machine' comforting, if only because it is activity in an age of obese mindlessness, but i agree with the need to always remain fixed on a kind of practical wisdom. and yes, most likely a well-regulated form of capitalism is probably the best bet. it's funny, regulation is the larger problem, self regulation, social regulation, economic regulation...how do we regulate without ideology? how do we regulate without an all-powerful God waiting to pounce on us? haven't solved that problem myself...

ken vallario

yes, i agree...i am as critical of the products of the american academic system as i am of the corporate one, as they are blending into one and the same monster. it took me years to liberate my own thinking from my university propaganda, so i am sympathetic to your thoughts. i suppose i find some of the youthful 'rage against the machine' comforting, if only because it is activity in an age of obese mindlessness, but i agree with the need to always remain fixed on a kind of practical wisdom. and yes, most likely a well-regulated form of capitalism is probably the best bet. it's funny, regulation is the larger problem, self regulation, social regulation, economic regulation...how do we regulate without ideology? how do we regulate without an all-powerful God waiting to pounce on us? haven't solved that problem myself...

Thatguyyouwalkb...

Having read each post in this thread in succession, I was comforted my the amount of independent critical thought brought to the table, but the final chords of this opera are sour. A regulated kind of capitalism? Is this a joke? I must have missed the punchline somewhere along my casual viewing of a thread full of people who can see clearly what capitalism, even in its most benign incarnations, has done to the world we live in.

Seriously folks,

This is madness.

Arguing over a human nature that may or not exist and will, in all probability, never be proven by anyone; debating the validity of a science that is born of the very human nature that many of us feverishly deny and many of us live in abject fear of, confusing the nature (anarchy) of that which we can never deny while vilifying anarchists...

Come on people

We have so much more to offer the world than this.

Thatguyyouwalkb...

Having read each post in this thread in succession, I was comforted my the amount of independent critical thought brought to the table, but the final chords of this opera are sour. A regulated kind of capitalism? Is this a joke? I must have missed the punchline somewhere along my casual viewing of a thread full of people who can see clearly what capitalism, even in its most benign incarnations, has done to the world we live in.

Seriously folks,

This is madness.

Arguing over a human nature that may or not exist and will, in all probability, never be proven by anyone; debating the validity of a science that is born of the very human nature that many of us feverishly deny and many of us live in abject fear of, confusing the nature (anarchy) of that which we can never deny while vilifying anarchists...

Come on people

We have so much more to offer the world than this.

friends of Aris...

we've already studied human nature, it doesn't exist. Its only actions & reactions my friend, that may be hard to swallow but please do get with the program.

As for capitalism creating stuff nope thats true either, invention has been going on long before capitalism and will continue after capitalism.

friends of Aris...

we've already studied human nature, it doesn't exist. Its only actions & reactions my friend, that may be hard to swallow but please do get with the program.

As for capitalism creating stuff nope thats true either, invention has been going on long before capitalism and will continue after capitalism.

ken vallario

what study are you referring to, that proved the non-existence of human nature? even the simplest mathematical proofs have skeptics, so such a claim as yours is certainly controversial and therefore not a viable 'program.' even a variable set of actions and reactions can take place within a fixed phenomenon. gravity is a good example of a form of nature that manifests itself in a diverse set of examples. human nature may be complex, but disregarding a pattern because it is difficult to grapple with does not make for an argument, it is an easy way out.
i agree with your claim about the distinction between invention and capitalism, but it is undeniable that industrialization has upped the rate of invention to unprecedented levels, so a correlation is not ill-conceived. your argument would be better served by pointing out the price that we pay for that level of invention, the cost of consciousness.

ken vallario

what study are you referring to, that proved the non-existence of human nature? even the simplest mathematical proofs have skeptics, so such a claim as yours is certainly controversial and therefore not a viable 'program.' even a variable set of actions and reactions can take place within a fixed phenomenon. gravity is a good example of a form of nature that manifests itself in a diverse set of examples. human nature may be complex, but disregarding a pattern because it is difficult to grapple with does not make for an argument, it is an easy way out.
i agree with your claim about the distinction between invention and capitalism, but it is undeniable that industrialization has upped the rate of invention to unprecedented levels, so a correlation is not ill-conceived. your argument would be better served by pointing out the price that we pay for that level of invention, the cost of consciousness.

friends of Aris...

Well years of anthropologic studies indicate that our so called "nature" is only reactionary behavior. We are animals we have instincts but our environment ultimately shapes our behavior we can be feral, or domestic. We have an aptitude to learn what we can and thus shape ourselves. Hmm lets see for example rich people exhibit certain behavior that poor people don't and vise versa, the difference in behavior being the propensity towards crime according available data. Both people share common instinctive behavior they eat, need sex for propagation, seek survival at all cost but if they possessed the same nature then their behavior should pretty much mirror each other. My point is who were are is a reaction to the environment the one we live in and the one we create. Sorry if I came on confrontational but the notion of human behavior is mostly rooted in parts religion and bad science, an example would be when people describe war as just part of human nature as if we're just part good & evil (more religious concepts). I'd cite pre neolithic societies and their collective living as an example of true human nature.
Like I said we're animals we have a primitive brain but it only kicks in when our higher brain can't solve problems typically thats when our emotions kick in to solve things.

friends of Aris...

Well years of anthropologic studies indicate that our so called "nature" is only reactionary behavior. We are animals we have instincts but our environment ultimately shapes our behavior we can be feral, or domestic. We have an aptitude to learn what we can and thus shape ourselves. Hmm lets see for example rich people exhibit certain behavior that poor people don't and vise versa, the difference in behavior being the propensity towards crime according available data. Both people share common instinctive behavior they eat, need sex for propagation, seek survival at all cost but if they possessed the same nature then their behavior should pretty much mirror each other. My point is who were are is a reaction to the environment the one we live in and the one we create. Sorry if I came on confrontational but the notion of human behavior is mostly rooted in parts religion and bad science, an example would be when people describe war as just part of human nature as if we're just part good & evil (more religious concepts). I'd cite pre neolithic societies and their collective living as an example of true human nature.
Like I said we're animals we have a primitive brain but it only kicks in when our higher brain can't solve problems typically thats when our emotions kick in to solve things.

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