Theory & Practice of Autonomy & Attack
May Day, 1987: thousands of black-clad Autonomen (“those who are autonomous”) riot in West Berlin.
After a decade spent honing their street-fighting tactics, they stage an offensive against state repression by blocking streets, occupying buildings, and fighting a low-intensity urban war against the police.
The Autonomen expand their liberated zone throughout much of the neighborhood of Kreuzberg that is their base. After a night of rebellious jubilation, they return to their squatted houses and social centers to nurse their wounds, curse the police, and celebrate a temporary victory.
Although the German media depict the Autonomen as little more than violent mobs whose only motivation is destruction, the radicals have simultaneously constructed an extensive network of squatted alternative infrastructure across West Berlin and throughout West Germany.
During the 1980s, the Autonomen turned hundreds of abandoned buildings into group housing, social centers, movement bars, and cultural centers—spaces that provided both alternative forms of living and bases of attack.
\At their best, the squats constituted urban liberated territory in which thousands of young people practiced a communism of everyday life. More recently, in France, the Invisible Committee has drawn on the German autonomous experiences to theorize the commune as a destituent space of everyday communism.
In this view, communes do not form a constituent power whose aim is to establish a new order with more representative state institutions. Rather, drawing on Giorgio Agamben, the Invisible Committee argues that communes destitute the state (i.e., render it inoperative and powerless) by challenging the need for state institutions.
Development of new communal forms of life outside the state and capitalism provides the basis for “suppressing them in a positive way.
To destitute is not primarily to attack the institution, but to attack the need we have of it.”(1) It is in this sense that communes provide the material foundation to “live communism” and attack the rule of capitalism and the state.
The Invisible Committee is a collective of post-autonomist communists (formerly operating under the moniker Tiqqun) who trace their intellectual lineage through Italian Autonomia and the German Autonomen, among others.
Though born in the Parisian squatting scene, they grew disillusioned with the radical subcultural milieu and moved to the tiny town of Tarnac, where they live communally and collectively run a farm, bar, and general store.
They were introduced to the American popular imagination primarily through the controversy surrounding their book The Coming Insurrection (2007, 2009), which Glenn Beck featured on his Fox News show, as well as engagement from friendlier groups like Endnotes and CrimethInc.
The Invisible Committee continued to develop their particular variety of post-autonomist communization theory in To Our Friends (2014), which reflects on the European movements of the squares and associated spectacular, short-lived insurrections (especially in Greece).
Their latest book, Now (2017), explores the possibilities and practices of communism within the fragmented world of capitalism. Although the collective is relatively widely read, their historical and theoretical background is less well known in the United States.
This article combines historical insights from the Autonomen with theoretical interventions from the Invisible Committee in order to make several related arguments.
First, the commune form creates alternative worlds in which liberalism is combatted and collective struggle against alienation takes place.
Second, communes operate according to a unique spatial logic that ruptures capitalist geography, promotes new spatial practices, and establishes non-alienated inhabitation of territory.
Third, the Autonomen and the Invisible Committee theorize and act upon a new conception of communism as a collective practice of living the “good life” in revolutionary struggle rather than as solely a (future) economic system.
Fourth, alternative infrastructure provides the means to practice this in daily life.
Finally, revolutionary practice entails networks of autonomous communes seceding from the capitalist system to form liberated territories that function as bases from which to attack capitalist state power.
1. The Commune Form
“The commune is the basic unit of partisan reality. . . . All power to the communes!”
– The Invisible Committee, The Coming Insurrection (117, 133)……………..