Coldness and Cruelty in the Time of Insurrection

Introduction | Ch. 1 | Ch. 2 | Ch. 3

Chapter One: Revolution, Insurrection, Jouissance

“Revolution and insurrection should not be looked upon as synonymous. The former consists in a radical change of conditions, of the prevailing condition or status, the state or society, and is therefore a political or social act; the latter indeed has a transformation of conditions as its inevitable result, but doesn’t start from it, but from the discontent of human beings with themselves; it is not an armed uprising, but a rising up of individuals, a getting up, without regard to the arrangements that spring from it. The revolution is aimed at new arrangements, while the insurrection leads us to no longer let ourselves be arranged, but rather to arrange ourselves, and set no radiant hopes on “institutions”.”

Max Stirner, The Unique and Its Property, tr. by Wolfi Landstreicher, sec. 2.2.2.

Some aim at new arrangements, some at no longer being arranged, some at merely having a good time. Revolutionary, insurrectionary, jouisseur. There are other species, of course: rioter, looter, shooter, preacher, actor, screecher, martyr, priest, opportunist, white anarchist, black nationalist—the endless proliferation of types, so many skins worn and discarded, but none of which concern us much here. When we are concerned with theorising the insurrection, we must be extremely careful, very precise, and we must also be willing to abandon such injunctions at any time.

What unites this triumvirate? Each type rushes towards the insurrection or is immanent to it, is interested in fostering it to a greater or lesser extent and, for all intents and purposes, exists only through it. It’s embarrassing to call yourself a revolutionary as if you’re working a full-time position, as if it’s something you can put on your CV. You may well revolutionise, the same way you may well make insurrection or thrill seek, but as with the political masochist, being is doing, and not-doing is non-being. A catalyst exists only through the event it catalyses. Still, I don’t think it can hurt to speak about our objects as if they were subjects, as long as we bear in mind Marx’s caveat: “Individuals are dealt with here only in so far as they are the personifications of economic categories, the bearers of particular class-relations and interests. My standpoint, from which the development of the economic formation of society is viewed as a process of natural history, can less than any other make the individual responsible for relations whose creature he remains, socially speaking, however much he may subjectively raise himself above them.”1 With that said, an inflammatory characterisation might help move things along.

Painting broad strokes, we might say the revolutionary is the one who wishes to see the insurrection subordinated to the Good Cause, to burn like wildfire through the rotten flesh of the old society before ceding space to the construction of the new. To the revolutionary, the insurrectionary who goes too far, who seeks to secure more dignity for themselves than required, whose praxis contradicts the theory—well, such an insurrectionary has transformed into a counter-revolutionary agent, and is simply not required. Kronstadt mutineers outlive their usefulness and get the bullet. For all their talk about “the masses”, “the people”, and so on, the revolutionary is deeply distrustful of the masses, the people, that swarm of bodies with all their irrationality, desire, incoherence, their stupid and poorly thought-out theories, their reactionary tendencies, their putrid dreams and their love songs. “People do not know how dangerous love songs can be… The movements which work revolutions in the world are born out of the dreams and visions in a peasant’s heart on the hillside. For them the earth is not an exploitable ground but the living mother.”2 The revolutionary is happy to encourage such dreams and visions for as long as necessary but, sooner or later, they do become a hindrance. ‘You tree huggers are too romantic. What is all this babble about the living mother? She has a limit, does she? But Engles already told us that nothing is impossible for science, and nobody could seriously deny that this is the case. Enough, then, of your reactionary, childish nonsense. Progress will not be arrested by a few malcontents who’d rather lay about in the mud with pigs than establish the societies of the future.’ We’re awfully close now, after all. The conditions are ripe. Can’t make an omelette, etc.

The insurrectionary is the one who wishes for nothing at all, except to assert their dignity—not the Eternal Dignity of the Human Being, but the dignity of the one who simply will not tolerate this any longer. ‘Yes, well, I don’t see what burning their own city down has to do with dignity.’ It’s fine if you don’t see it, civilised one, for it has nothing to do with you. It has nothing to do with Hegelian recognition, liberal representation, validation or respect—the insurrection is not even the voice of the unheard. Bleeding hearts see the insurrection and say: ‘They have no choice but to act so unreasonably! If you would just listen to them, this wouldn’t have to happen! This is their way of addressing us! This is their way of saying they want change!’ Pareidolia is the tendency to perceive patterns and meaningful information in undefined and meaningless stimuli.3 The classic example is something like seeing a face in a cloud or hearing a voice in the wind, but the notion that an insurrection “says” something is another common case. Civilised one, you may find this hard to accept, but nothing is being said and nobody is being addressed. You think this is a desperate measure the insurrectionary performs so that they might have you as an audience. You flatter yourself too much. “Let us take as our point of departure the fact that no subject has any reason to appear in the real unless there are speaking beings in it. A physics is conceivable that accounts for everything in the world, including its animate parts; a subject intervenes only inasmuch as there are, in this world, signifiers that mean nothing and must be deciphered.”4 The insurrectionary is the one who throws off the burden of signification and discourse, the one who lets a little real reality speak through them, which, and only you civilised ones could find this surprising, finds expression in the form of tearing the world apart. Given enough pressure, one sinks in depression or explodes in anger. The insurrectionary “chooses” (in reality, is compelled towards) the latter path. They have no need for you to interpret them, vouch for them, speak for them, for you are not their betters, well-educated and well-to-do as you are, and though you may protest that you do not, of course, think you are better than them—not by nature at least, but by nurture—they can see it in your demeanour, your disapproving looks, your talk of vanguards. “The strictest centralisation and discipline are required within the political party of the proletariat in order to counteract this, in order that the organisational role of the proletariat (and that is its principal role) may be exercised correctly, successfully and victoriously. The dictatorship of the proletariat means a persistent struggle—bloody and bloodless, violent and peaceful, military and economic, educational and administrative—against the forces and traditions of the old society. The force of habit in millions and tens of millions is a most formidable force. Without a party of iron that has been tempered in the struggle, a party enjoying the confidence of all honest people in the class in question, a party capable of watching and influencing the mood of the masses, such a struggle cannot be waged successfully. It is a thousand times easier to vanquish the centralised big bourgeoisie than to “vanquish” the millions upon millions of petty proprietors; however, through their ordinary, everyday, imperceptible, elusive and demoralising activities, they produce the very results which the bourgeoisie need and which tend to restore the bourgeoisie. Whoever brings about even the slightest weakening of the iron discipline of the party of the proletariat (especially during its dictatorship), is actually aiding the bourgeoisie against the proletariat.”5 But the insurrectionary need not read your literature to detect your contempt—they see it in the way you walk past the homeless beggar without a look, the solemn way you look on at the lumpenproletariat, the way you lean on bourgeois morality like a crutch to sooth your aching heart—‘I did everything right, and the system still failed me. That’s when I knew socialism was right. I’m angry too, but we have to organise…’

Who, then, is the jouisseur? The description given in Baedan puts it better than I ever could: “While the activists sacrifice themselves at the police lines, the youngsters and ne’er-do-wells smash the unguarded windows of police cruisers and help one another through the shattered plate glass doors of cafes in order help themselves to the sweets within. While the assemblies determine how to articulate reproductive futurism ‘from below,’ the jouisseurs fuck, vandalize, expropriate, and conspire. Flash mobs in Milwaukee and Philly, demonstrations turned to looting, churches set alight, irresponsible sexual adventures, shipments blockaded, explosions of the gender distinction, street parties turned street fights, jail escapes, boulder-traps set for police officers, infrastructural sabotage: countless moments where the ideologies and structures which ensure the self-reproduction of the social order are destroyed at the expense of an irrational enjoyment; an enjoyment fixed in the present without a care for the future.”6 The jouisseur is reviled even more than the insurrectionary. The insurrectionary can be commiserated with, that is, patronised and condescended to by those who know better than to conduct themselves in such a ridiculous way. The jouisseur doesn’t even have the right to indignation or outrage—they catch the bus or train down to the insurrection like they’re visiting a theme park or a beach, they steal and destroy for fun. They do it for fun! Can you believe that!? For fun!

SCHEMA 2: (1) Social Body (2) Political Masochist Bodies (3) Revolutionary Body (4) Revolutionary Body-Fragment (5) Discourse Barrier of Neutralisation (6) Barrier of Masochist Pressure (7) Insurrectionary-Jouisseur Bodies

The reader may notice, at this junction, that the insurrectionary and jouisseur are very much alike, whereas the revolutionary engages in a sort of Batesian mimicry, presenting itself as a danger to capital, order, and domination, but really existing only as a species of the political masochist genus. Masochista politicus seditiosus. Camatte: “The leftright dichotomy lives on… but these oppositions have all ceased to matter: in one way or another they each defend capital equally. The most active of all are the various communist parties because they defend capital by espousing exactly the same scientific forms and rational structures which capital uses to maintain itself.” Yes, aspiring revolutionary, I am afraid we do have a low estimation of each other. For your part, you condemn me as a petty-bourgeois charlatan, an ultraleftist utopian, or—even worse—a liberal, since I reject the historical necessity of the proletarian victory in the objective movement of the vanguard in its dictatorship et cetera ad infinitum, or whatever it is you believe in. I do not so much condemn you, not here, for theory is not a matter of condemnation, but I do hope to identify you properly, as you actually are, which is necessarily condemnation by the terms of your self-definition: you view yourself as the ones who will build a new world in the shell of the old. I say you are, rather, at best, political masochists of a strange type, for you seek, in the last analysis, to trap the anger of the insurrectionary in the never-ending discursive circuit, albeit a different circuit, perhaps, to the one we have now. In truth, you will never succeed in such an endeavour, and even if you did, you would substitute one particular mode of sterilising the surface of the planet for another. But that’s a matter for the following chapter.

The insurrectionary and jouisseur, then, aim no longer to be arranged. Not much seems to separate them besides a certain subjective motivation which may or may not cross over into actual behaviour, and it’s obvious enough upon reflection that an insurrectionary likely becomes a jouisseur and then an insurrectionary again many times over during their campaign of mayhem. For one, of course, enjoys the insurrection, and one, of course, asserts their dignity by the mere act of enjoying it. The revolutionary may enjoy the violence too, but then they cease to be a revolutionary, remaining a jouisseur or an insurrectionary until the red mist clears and they find themselves barking orders again. But all this talk of transformation and motivation is a little much, isn’t it?

Let us speak of functions, then.

Any active attempt to reform, maintain, revolutionise, improve or otherwise uphold society is masochism. Masochism is a fantasy in which not the child, but the father is beaten, in which the master undergoes the tortures.7 But it is exactly that—a fantasy. “A close examination of masochistic fantasies or rites reveals that while they bring into play the very strictest application of the law, the result in every case is the opposite of what might be expected (thus whipping, far from punishing or preventing an erection, provokes and ensures it). It is a demonstration of the law’s absurdity. The masochist regards the law as a punitive process and therefore begins by having the punishment inflicted upon himself; once he has undergone the punishment, he feels that he is allowed or indeed commanded to experience the pleasure that the law was supposed to forbid.”8 What does the political masochist do but say, yes, of course, you must enforce the moral law, uphold your human rights, profess your dignity and world-historic importance through the established channels, and we will, of course, tolerate this—no, not tolerate, accept this willingly and gladly (but solemnly), act accordingly, take the right measures, make the right inquiries, invest here, divest there, platform and deplatform, excommunicate and indemnify, articulate and diversify—what does the political masochist do if not say all this and, in the process, demonstrate the law’s absurdity, that is, the absurdity of the would-be insurrectionary who, instead, attempts to enforce the masochistic contract in the mistaken belief that the masochist is subordinate or submissive? The political masochist is allowed, when the would-be insurrectionary comes to the table to talk, to experience the forbidden pleasure of structural brutality and social rot, for they are doing what they can, making progress, engaging in productive dialogue. Meanwhile, the world burns, and a foul miasma surrounds and swallows the humanist dream of progress.

In short, political masochism is a way of wasting everyone’s time, delaying the inevitable collapse of pseudo-order into real disorder. Hence its ubiquity, for you would have to be completely insane to want to see this world blown to pieces.

Wouldn’t you?


What does the civilised one say now? ‘In summary, you have made a distinction between someone who acts violently but sensibly, someone who has an actual goal, a theory and a practice, who has done the intellectual work of theorising a solution to the problems which face us on all sides, and someone who acts violently and impotently, who has no aim and no goal, no theory and no tactics, who is truly no better than a caged animal lashing out—and you valorise the latter and denigrate the former because you are, essentially, a child throwing his toys out of the pram. How fascinating. What a novel contribution to thought. We will be sure to keep this text in mind while we are building the revolutionary party whose dictatorship will ensure the progress (yes, we are still quite happy to use that word) that this world needs. You still haven’t adequately explained why the total meltdown of the socius is preferable to the admittedly difficult work of perfecting it and, without that explanation, while we may accept your functional descriptions of the revolutionary, the insurrectionary, the jouisseur, and whatever else you choose to describe, we do not accept your value judgements or your apocalyptic brooding.’

Yes, it must be admitted that not enough time has been spent arguing for the insurrectionary. This isn’t easy since, as I’ve insisted at length, this involves putting into words that which resists articulation. The best I can do is put forward the theoretical “case” for the insurrectionary, against the theoretical case for revolution or reform. Why insurrection? Why this incoherent eruption? Next time I will try to give a satisfactory answer.


1. Karl Marx and Ben Fowkes, Capital: A Critique of Political Economy, Volume 1, ed. by Friedrich Engels and Ernest Mandel (Penguin UK, 1990), p. 92.

2. J Joyce, Ulysses, Everyman’s Library (Penguin Adult, 2000), pp. 238–39.

3. Kasturi Barik and others, ‘Investigating the Influence of Prior Expectation in Face Pareidolia Using Spatial Pattern’, 2019, pp. 437–51 .

4. J Lacan and others, Ecrits: The First Complete Edition in English (W.W. Norton & Company, 2006), p. 712.

5. V. I. Lenin, ‘Left-Wing’ Communism: An Infantile Disorder (Moscow: Progress Publishers, 1964), chap. 5.

6. Baedan, ‘Jouissance’, in Baedan, 2012 .

7. Gilles Deleuze and Leopold von Sacher-Masoch, Masochism (Zone Books, 1991), p. 99.

8. Deleuze and von Sacher-Masoch, p. 88.

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