The Coming Insurrection: A Book Review


The Coming Insurrection, a new book on revolutionary theory, may be the best-marketed book in radical history, mostly thanks to the French government. First published in 2007, the book was dubbed "a manual for terrorism" by the French Interior Minister. As if that weren't enough, Julien Coupat, one of the Tarnac 9, was held in prison for several extra months on suspicion of having written it, generating even more publicity. On this side of the Atlantic, Glenn Beck, Fox News' paleo-reactionary genocide apologist, contributed a hilarious foaming-at-the-mouth "review" that became an instant YouTube classic. Even some anarchists have gotten in on the act. Anti-authoritarians in New York City staged an unauthorized reading at a Barnes and Noble, which was covered by The New York Times.

After so much hype, I was prepared to dislike the book itself, but The Coming Insurrection is definitely worth reading. The authors, who call themselves the Invisible Committee, were obviously inspired by Situationist writers, but mostly avoid the abuses of the English language too often associated with that style. This makes the occasional exceptions (such as, a state that "constitutes the subjectivities that people it") all the more jarring, but overall The Coming Insurrection is clearly and even elegantly written.

The first part of the book is devoted to analyzing today's society from various perspectives. The alienating effects of consumerism, the economic and cultural bankruptcy of our civilization, the emptiness of literature and philosophy, the subterfuges used by the State to hoodwink and pacify its subjects - all these and more are combined and dissected to show that the existing order offers no hope, and that our only option is to destroy it and start from scratch.

How to do this is discussed in the rest of the book. The authors make a number of recommendations, most of which are non-controversial. Things like forming communes, making personal connections with revolutionaries in other countries and establishing autonomous spaces are all fairly obvious tactics. The basic strategy is one of insurrection and sabotage, escalating until the ruling system is consumed. Propaganda and outreach are purposely neglected; indeed, the book makes a specific call to "flee visibility" and "turn anonymity into an offensive position." This seems dubious. Propaganda by the deed has a spotty history at best, and today's most effective resistance movements do plenty of overt outreach. The Zapatistas, for example, have embraced visibility as the heart of their strategy (although they remain anonymous). By using the Internet, as well as by holding countless community meetings and press conferences, they have exposed their struggle to a worldwide audience. Without the pressure on the Mexican government generated by international sympathizers, the Zapatistas would probably have been overwhelmed years ago.

Flawed strategy or not, it's nice to see a book favoring insurrection that focuses on the big picture and offers a coherent strategic vision. The debate of this subject has been mostly dominated by liberals and pacifists, who seem to think that if we just hold hands and sing "Kumbaya" loud enough, the ruling class will see the error of its ways and peacefully dissolve itself. Insurrectionists and revolutionaries, by contrast, tend not to write much until after they get out of prison, and then it's usually stories of their individual struggles. With any luck, The Coming Insurrection, assisted by its right-wing-generated media barrage, will establish a countervailing trend and ignite further debate and discussion about the best way to accomplish a revolution.

The Coming Insurrection can be downloaded for free. For the old-fashioned types, the printed version is available at bookstores and is small enough to slip easily into a pocket.

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