Purple Magazine
— The Future Issue #37 S/S 2022

for the world to come



the invisible committee is a radical group of anonymous french thinkers who write on anarchism, anti-capitalism, and protest movements

What within us is anxious to protect the inner chains that bind us,
What there is within us so sick that it clings to our conditions of existence, precarious though they are,
What’s so exhausted from troubles, jolts, needs, that on a given day tomorrow seems farther away than the moon,
What finds it pleasant to pass the time in hip cafes sipping lattes with jungle in the background while surfing on one’s MacBook — the Sunday of life alloyed with the end of history,
Is expecting solutions.
Cities in transition, social and solidarity economy, Sixth French Republic, alternative municipalism, universal basic income, the film Tomorrow, migration into space, a thousand new prisons, expulsion of all foreigners from the planet, man-machine fusion.

Whether they’re engineers, managers, activists, politicians, ecologists, actors, or simple hucksters, all those who claim to offer solutions to the present disaster are really doing just one thing: imposing their definition of the problem on us, hoping to make us forget that they themselves are plainly part of the problem. As a friend said, “The solution to the problem you see in life is a way of living that makes the problem disappear.”

We don’t have any program, any solutions to sell. To destitute, in Latin, also means to disappoint. All expectations will be disappointed. From our singular experience, our encounters, our successes, our failures, we draw a clearly partisan perception of the world, which conversation among friends refines. Anyone who finds a perception to be correct is adult enough to draw the consequences from it, or at least a kind of method.

However repressed it may be, the question of communism remains the heart of our epoch. If only because the rule of its contrary — economy — has never been so complete. The delegations from the Chinese state who go every year to place flowers on Marx’s tomb in London don’t fool anybody. One can avoid the communist question, of course. One can get used to stepping over the bodies of the homeless or migrants on one’s way to the office every morning. One can follow the melting of the polar ice in real time, or the rise of the oceans and the panicked pell-mell migrations of animals and humans alike. One can go on preparing one’s cancer with every forkful of mashed potatoes that one swallows. One can tell oneself that the recovery, or a dose of authority, or ecofeminism will eventually fix all this. Continuing in such a manner is possible, at the cost of suppressing our feeling that the society we live in is intrinsically criminal, and one that doesn’t miss a chance to remind us that we belong to its little association of miscreants. Every time we come in contact with it — by using any of its devices, consuming the least of its commodities, or doing whatever job we do for it — we make ourselves its accomplices, we contract a little of the vice on which it is based: that of exploiting, wrecking, undermining the very conditions of every earthly existence. There’s no longer any place for innocence in this world. We only have the choice between two crimes: taking part in it or deserting it in order to bring it down. If the stalking of criminals and the orgy of judgement and punishment are so popular nowadays, it’s because they provide a momentary ersatz innocence to the spectators. But since the relief doesn’t last, it’s necessary to blame, punish, and accuse over and over again — to maintain the illusion. Kafka explained the success of the detective story in this way: “Detective stories are always concerned with the solution of mysteries that are hidden behind extraordinary occurrences. But in real life it’s absolutely the opposite. The mystery isn’t hidden in the background. On the contrary! It stares one in the face. It’s what is obvious. So we do not see it. Everyday life is the greatest detective story ever written. Every second, without noticing we pass by thousands of corpses and crimes. That’s the routine of our lives. But if, in spite of habit, something does succeed in surprising us, we have a marvelous sedative in the detective story, which presents every mystery of life as a legally punishable exception. It is a pillar of society, a starched shirt covering the heartless immorality which nevertheless claims to be bourgeois civilization.” So it’s a matter of jumping outside the circle of killers.

Few questions have been as poorly formulated as the question of communism. And that’s not yesterday’s failure; it goes far back to ancient times. Open the Book of Psalms and you’ll see. The class struggle dates back at least to the prophets of Jewish Antiquity. What is utopian in communism is already found in the apocrypha of that age: “And equal land for all, divided not / By walls or fences, … and the course / Of life be common and wealth unapportioned. / For there no longer will be poor nor rich, / Tyrant nor slave, nor any great nor small, / Nor kings nor leaders; all alike in common.”

The communist question was badly formulated because, to start with, it was framed as a social question, that is, as a strictly human question. Despite that, it has never ceased to trouble the world. If it continues to haunt it, that’s because it doesn’t stem from an ideological fixation but from a basic, immemorial, lived experience: that of community — which nullifies all the axioms of economy and all the fine constructions of civilization. There is never community as an entity, but always as an experience of continuity between beings and with the world. In love, in friendship, we have the experience of that continuity. In my calm presence, here, now, in this familiar town, in front of this old sequoia sempervirens whose branches are stirred by the wind, I experience that continuity. In this riot where we all stick to the plan we’ve decided on, where the chants of the comrades give us courage, where a street medic delivers aid and comfort to an unknown person with a head injury, I experience this continuity. In this print shop dominated by an antique Heidelberg 4 Color which a friend ministers to while I prepare the pages, another friend glues, and a third one trims, to put together this little samizdat that we’ve all conceived, in this fervor and enthusiasm, I experience that continuity. There is no myself and the world, myself and the others, there is me and my kindred, directly in touch with this little piece of the world that I love, irreducibly. There is ample beauty in the fact of being here and nowhere else. It’s not the least sign of the times that a German forester, and not a hippy, scores a bestseller by revealing that trees “talk to each other,” “love one another,” “look after each other,” and are able to “remember” what they’ve gone through. He calls that The Hidden Life of Trees. Which is to say, there’s even an anthropologist who sincerely wonders how forests think. An anthropologist, not a botanist. By considering the human subject in isolation from its world, by detaching living beings from all that lives around them, modernity could not help but engender a communism destined to eradicate a socialism. And that socialism could only encounter peasants, nomads, and “savages” as an obstacle to be shoved aside, as an unpleasant residue at the bottom of the national scale of importance. It couldn’t even see the communism of which they were the bearers. If modern “communism” was able to imagine itself as a universal brotherhood, as a realized equality, this was only through a cavalier extrapolation from the lived experience of fraternity in combat, of friendship. For what is friendship if not equality between friends?

Without at least the occasional experience of community, we die inside, we dry out, become cynical, harsh, desert-like. Life becomes that ghost city peopled by smiling mannequins, which functions. Our need for community is so pressing that after having ravaged all the existing bonds, capitalism is running on nothing but the promise of “community.” What are the social networks, the dating apps, if not that promise perpetually disappointed? What are all the modes, all the technologies of communication, all the love songs, if not a way to maintain the dream of a continuity between beings where in the end every contact melts away? Opportunely, this frustrated promise intensifies the need, making it hysterical even, and accelerates the great cash machine of those who exploit it. Maintaining misery while dangling the possibility of escape is capitalism’s great stratagem. In 2015, a single website of pornographic videos called PornHub was visited for 4,392,486,580 hours, which amounts to two and a half times the hours spent on Earth by Homo sapiens. Even this epoch’s obsession with sexuality and its hyper-indulgence in pornography attests to the need for community, in the very extremeness of the latter’s deprivation. When Milton Friedman says that the market is the magic mechanism enabling “millions of individuals to come together on a daily basis without any need to love one another or even to speak to one another,” he’s describing the end result while carefully redacting the process that has brought so many people into the market, the thing that keeps them there, which is not just hunger, threat, or the lure of profit. He also spares himself from having to admit the devastations of all sorts which make it possible to establish something like “a market,” and to present it as natural. The same is true when a Marxist pontificates that “disease, death, love’s sorrow, and assholes will continue to take their toll after capitalism, but there will be no longer any massive paradoxical poverty, resulting from an abstract production of wealth. One will no longer see an autonomous fetishistic system or a dogmatic social form.” (Robert Kurz) In reality, the question of communism is also raised in each of our tiny and unique existences in response to what is making us sick. In response to what is slowly killing us, to our failures in love, to what makes us such strangers to each other that by way of an explanation for all the world’s ills, we’re satisfied with the foolish idea that “People are assholes.” Refusing to see this amounts to wearing one’s insensitivity like a tattoo. It’s well suited to the kind of pale, myopic virility that’s required for becoming an economist.

To this the Marxists, or many of them at least, add a certain cowardice in the face of life’s smallest problems, which was also the mark of the Bearded One. There are even those who organize symposia around the “idea of communism” which seem expressly designed to make sure that communism remains an idea, and doesn’t meddle too much in the business of living. Not to mention the conventicles where one presumes to decree what is and what isn’t communism.

With the breakdown of European social democracy faced with World War One, Lenin decides to restyle the facade of the crumbling old socialism by painting the pretty word “communism” on it. Rather comically, he borrows it from anarchists who have already made it their banner. This convenient confusion between socialism and communism contributed a good deal, in the last century, to making this word synonymous with catastrophe, massacre, dictatorship, and genocide. Since then, anarchists and Marxists have been playing ping pong around the couple individual/society, without being concerned that this false antinomy was shaped by economic thought. Rebelling against society on behalf of the individual or against individualism on behalf of socialism is to head down a dead end street. Society is always a society of individuals. Individual and society have not ceased being affirmed, each at the other’s expense, for three centuries, and this is the reliable oscillating mechanism which keeps the charming wheel called “economy” turning round, year after year. Against what economy wants us to imagine, what there is in life are not individuals endowed with all kinds of properties which they can make use of or part with. What there is in life are attachments, assemblages [agencements], situated beings that move within a whole ensemble of ties. By adopting the liberal fiction of the individual, modern “communism” was bound to conflate property and attachment, and carry the confusion to the very arena where it believed it was attacking private property. It was helped in that by a grammar in which property and attachment have become indistinguishable. What grammatical difference is there when I speak of “my brother” or “my part of town,” and when Warren Buffet says “my holding” or “my shares”? None. And yet one is speaking of an attachment in the first instance and of an ownership in the second, of something that constitutes me in the one case and of an object I own in the other. Only by means of this type of confusion did it become possible to imagine that a subject like “Humanity” could exist. Humanity — that is, all human beings, stripped of what weaves together their concrete situated existence, and gathered up phantasmally into one great something-or-other, nowhere to be found. By wiping out all the attachments that make up the specific texture of worlds, on the pretext of abolishing private ownership of the means of production, modern “communism” has effectively made a tabula rasa — of everything. That’s what happens to those who practice economy, even by criticizing it. As Jean-François Lyotard reportedly said: “Economy — a thing we needed to find a way out of, not criticize!” Communism is not a “superior economic organization of society” but the destitution of economy. […]

The genius of the economic operation is to conceal the plane on which it commits its misdeeds, the one on which it conducts its veritable war: the plane of bonds. In this way it confounds its potential adversaries, and is able to present itself as totally positive whereas it is quite evidently motivated by a fierce appetite for destruction. It has to be said that the bonds readily lend themselves to this. What is more immaterial, subtle, intangible than a bond? What’s less visible, less opposable but more sensitive than a bond that’s been destroyed? The contemporary numbing of sensibilities, their systematic fragmentation, is not just the result of survival within capitalism, it’s the precondition for survival. We don’t suffer from being individuals, we suffer from trying to be that. Since the individual entity exists, fictitiously, only from the outside, “being an individual” requires remaining outside oneself, strangers to ourselves, forgoing any contact with oneself as well as with the world and others. Obviously everyone is free to take everything from the outside. One only has to keep from feeling, hence from being present, hence from living. We prefer the opposite mode — the communist mode. It consists in apprehending things and beings from the inside, grasping them by the middle. What comes of grasping the individual by the middle or from the inside? Nowadays it yields a chaos. An unorganized chaos of forces, bits of experience, scraps of childhood, fragments of meaning, and more often than not, without any communication between them. Saying that this epoch has produced a human material in very poor condition is to say little. It is in great need of repair. We’re all aware of this. The fragmentation of the world finds a faithful reflection in the shattered mirror of subjectivities.

That what appears externally as a person is really only a complex of heterogeneous forces is not a new idea. The Tzeltal Maya of Chiapas have a theory of the person in which everyone’s sentiments, emotions, dreams, health, and temperament are governed by the adventures and misadventures of a whole host of spirits who reside and move about at the same time in our hearts and inside the mountains. We are not a fine collection of egoic completenesses, of perfectly unified Selves. We are composed of fragments, we teem with minor lives. The word “life” in Hebrew is a plural and so is the word “face.” Because in a life there are many lives and in a face there are many faces. The ties between beings are not formed from entity to entity. Every tie goes from fragment of being to fragment of being, from fragment of being to fragment of world, and from fragment of world to fragment of world. It is established below and beyond the individual scale. It brings into immediate play parts of beings that discover themselves to be on the same level, that are felt as continuous. This continuity between fragments is what is experienced as “community.” An assemblage is produced.

It’s what we experience in every real encounter. Every encounter carves out a specific domain within us where elements of the world, the other, and oneself are mingled indistinctly. Love does not bring individuals into relation, it cuts through them as if they were suddenly on a special plane where they were making their way together amid a certain foliation of the world. To love is never to be together but to become together. If loving did not undo the fictitious unity of being, the “other” would not be capable of making us suffer to such a degree. If, in love, a piece of the other did not end up being a part of us, we wouldn’t have to mourn it when separation time rolled around. If there were nothing but relations, nobody would understand one another. Everything would be awash with misunderstanding. So there is no subject or object of love, there is an experience of love.

The fragments that constitute us, the forces inhabiting us, the assemblages we enter into don’t have any reason to compose a harmonious whole, a fluid set, a movable articulation. The banal experience of life in our time is characterized rather by a succession of encounters that undo us little by little, dismember us, gradually deprive us of any sure bearings. 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. Or else we must consent to falling back into politics or into economy. If communism has a goal, it is the great health of forms of life. This great health is obtained through a patient re-articulation of the disjoined members of our being, in touch with life. One can live a whole life without experiencing anything, by being very careful not to think and feel. Existence is then reduced to a slow process of degradation. It wears down and ruins, instead of giving form. After the miracle of the encounter, relations can only go from wound to wound towards their consumption. Life, on the contrary, gradually gives form to whoever refuses to live beside themselves, to whoever allows themselves to experience. They become a form of life in the full sense of the term…

For us, therefore, communism is not a finality. There is no “transition” towards it. It is transition entirely: it is en chemin, in transit. The different ways of living will never cease to chafe and move against each other, to clash with and occasionally combat each other. Everything will always have to be rethought…

The mistake of the Leninists, Trotskyists, Negriists, and other sub-politicians, a telling one fortunately, is to believe that a period that sees all the hegemonies lying broken on the ground could still tolerate a political hegemony, even a partisan one of the sort that Pablo Iglesias or Chantal Mouffe fantasize. What they don’t see is that in a time of general horizontality, horizontality itself is the verticality. No one can expect to organize the autonomy of others any longer. The only verticality still possible is that of the situation, which commands all of its components because it exceeds them, because the sum of forces in presence is greater than each one of them. The only thing capable of transversally uniting all the elements deserting this society into a historical party is an intelligence of the situation. It is everything that makes the situation gradually understandable, everything that tracks the movements of the adversary, everything that identifies the usable paths and the obstacles — the systematic character of the obstacles. Based on that intelligence, an occasional vertical expedient needed to tilt certain situations in the desired direction can well be improvised.

A strategic verticality of this kind can only emerge from a constant, generous discussion, undertaken in good faith. In this epoch, the means of communication are the forms of organization. It’s our weakness, for the means aren’t in our hands, and those who control them are not our friends. So there’s no other choice but to deploy an art of conversation between worlds that is cruelly deficient, but from which, in contact with the situation, the right decision must emanate. Such a discussion can gain the center, from the periphery where it is currently contained, only through an offensive from the domain of sensibility, on the plane of perceptions, and not of discourse. We’re talking about addressing bodies and not just the head.

“Communism is the material process that aims to render sensible and intelligible the materiality of the things that are said to be spiritual. To the point that we’re able to read in the book of our own body all that humans did and were, under the sovereignty of time — and to decipher the traces of humanity’s passage upon an Earth that will preserve no trace.” (Franco Fortini)


an excerpt from now, translated by robert hurley, published by semiotext(e), south pasadena, 2017

all artwork copyright carsten höller / adagp, paris, 2022, courtesy of the artist


[Table of contents]

The Future Issue #37 S/S 2022

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