Sami Cleland | The Invisible Committee Preview

By Sami Cleland

I. Destitution as Anti-Uprising

The Invisible Committee’s Now (2017) provides an interesting follow-up to last year seminar series, which explored the various modalities of uprising. In Now, the Invisible Committee urges destitution the essential, necessary and apt form of praxis for our time. Rather than a critique of or attempt to reform the power structure, destitution represents an escape from the “dialectical relation of struggle with the ruling authority.[1]” This approach accepts as historical fact that attempts to take possession of the ruling authority, even when successful, have failed to limit the overwhelming power of the economy and its concomitant suffering, alienation and inequity. For the Invisible Committee, “destitution makes it possible to rethink what we mean by revolution.[2]” Destitution represents an anti-uprising. The goal is not to take possession of the ruling authority, but to “disengage from it[3]” altogether.

This represents a tectonic shift in focus. Instead of #resisting the destruction of institutions, the Invisible Committee argues the goal should be to create new ways of living altogether. For the Invisible Committee, there is not much in contemporary society worth fighting to preserve. Why not see the contemporary moment, with its pervasive fragmentation, as an opening that makes possible the creation of new structures? After all, mere revolution most often signifies repetition; “while the mode of government might alter, the social order itself is seldom displaced[4]

The Invisible Committee sees little use for the #resistance of our time, which buttresses contemporary structures against their fragmentation and combats political incorrectness with critique and rights-based discourse. “To limit oneself to denouncing discriminations, oppressions, and injustice, and expect to harvest the fruits of that is to get one’s epoch’s wrong.[5]” There is little use for resort to laws, rights, or institutional structures: “As long as revolution is formulated in the language of rights and the law, the ways of neutralizing it are well-known and marked out.[6]” And what, exactly, are we fighting to preserve?

This last question informs to Invisible Committee’s thinking to a great degree. The time of revolutionary uprising is over because “capital has taken hold of every detail and every dimension of existence… In doing so, it has reduced to very little the share of things in this world that one might want to reappropriate.[7]” By way of example, the Invisible Committee lists nuclear powerplants, Amazon warehouses, ad agencies, and business complexes. Who would wish to reappropriate such things? Much better to start anew, which is precisely what the destituent gesture represents.

II. Communism as Praxis

Now highlights the banality of life in our time, the distressing anthropomorphization of capital and the production of humanity as the subjects of capital. Man has become “an enterprise guided by a constant concern with self-valorization, by a vital narrative of self-promotion… man [has become] the optimizing creature.[8]” Part of this, of course, is the result of technology, social media and the sad frivolity in which we now refers to ourselves as brands. To live this way requires the “numbing of sensibilities… not just as the result of survival within capitalism, [but as] the precondition for survival.[9]” In a world subsumed by capital, “we don’t suffer from being individuals, we suffer from trying to be that.[10]” “If the whole social circus endures it’s because everyone is straining to keep their head above water when they should rather assent to going deeply enough into themselves to finally touch something solid.[11]

For the Invisible Committee, the solution to what can best be described as the contemporary alienation with the oneself is communism. There is a crucial distinction here, though, between the stale conception of communism the pervaded in the past and the communism the Invisible Committee now proposes. The question is “no longer ‘how to produce, but ‘how to live,’[12]” argues the Invisible Committee. There must be a total escape from the economy “in order to live, in order to be present in this world.[13]

This problem of being present, which sounds so exceedingly simple, is becoming progressively more difficult to accomplish in practice. The forces of capital and of technology ensure that “every moment of life and every real relation are haloed by a set of possible equivalents that gnaw at them.[14]” Here, the Invisible Committee makes an incisive point. Being present in the world can have a crucial set of cascading effects. When present, one can see, for instance, the lack of humanity in “stepping over the bodies of the homeless or migrants on one’s way to the office every morning[15]” Without being present, life may be lived without experiencing anything, without thinking or feeling, with “existence reduced to a slow process of degradation.[16]” Communism, for the Invisible Committee, refutes this mode of existence. “If communism has to do with the fact of organizing ourselves—collectively, materially, politically—this is insofar as it also means organizing ourselves singularly, existentially, and in terms of our sensibility.[17]” Communism is about living in accordance with our thinking and our feelings, it is being present and fully experience our subjective reality. Rather than requiring conformity, communism opens us up to the possibility as living as ourselves once again.

And communism is much more than an end goal. What matters is not the question of fighting for communism, but that communism “is lived in the fight itself.[18]” This is communism as revolutionary praxis, and mirrors the philosophies of many modern movements (think Occupy and #BlackLivesMatter) which avoid hierarchy and demonstrate in their very structure the radical possibilities that exist when people come together to create new forms of existing together.

III. Failure to See and Act  

            More than anything else, Now is an piercing cry for us to see what is right in front of us, but which we nonetheless choose to ignore. “The real lie is not the one we tell others but the one we tell ourselves… refusing to see certain things that one does see and refusing to see them just as one sees them.[19]” In doing so, the Invisible Committee argues, we betray ourselves by dismissing our perceptions in favor of explanations that “stand between oneself and the world.[20]

Instead of living this lie, we must live truth. “Truth is not something one professes but a way of being in the world. It is not held, therefore, nor accumulated. It manifests itself in a situation and from moment to moment.[21]” For the Invisible Committee, living presently and truthfully are revolutionary, are in many ways the Committee is absolutely correct. Living presently and truthfully means not allowing our self-interest to coopt us into a capitalist system that alienates us from ourselves. It means seeing the reality of exploitation, inequality, racism, and fragmentation, and, crucially, instead of trying to reform the institutions that perpetuate such abuses deciding that it’s time to start anew. This is the destitution that the Invisible Committee is calling for above all else — a destruction of the façade that prevents us from seeing truth and acting now. “The current disaster is like a monstrous accumulation of all the deferrals of the past, to which are added those of each day and each moment, in a continuous time slide. But life is always decided now, and now, and now.[22]



[1] The Invisible Committee. Now.

[2] Id.

[3] Id.

[4] Kosellleck, Reinhard. Historical Criteria of the Modern Concept of Revolution.

[5] The Invisible Committee. Now.

[6] Id.

[7] Id.

[8] Id.

[9] The Invisible Committee. Now.

[10] Id.

[11] Id.

[12] Id.

[13] Id.

[14] Id.

[15] The Invisible Committee. Now.

[16] Id.

[17] Id.

[18] Id.

[19] Id.

[20] Id.

[21] The Invisible Committee. Now

[22] Id.