A Complete Idiot’s Guide to the Imaginary Party
tl;dr: you don’t need or want
the people who you know
aren’t “with you” to be
with you. really, you don’t
-Wendy Trevino, Revolutionary Letter, 2018
A Brief Introduction To The Text
A long time ago, on a vast plateau in central France, I was helping some friends build a wooden house. The spring of 2013 had just arrived, the air was getting warm, and the snow from a few weeks earlier had been replaced by rain. We were in the middle of digging holes for the foundation but thwarted by large chunks of pure granite. In between sessions with the jack-hammer, we’d swing our picks and chip away at the crumbling boulders buried beneath the wet earth. We talked about many things while we worked and eventually reached the subject of contemporary nihilism. All of us had been critiqued by nihilists for a variety of reasons with our efforts labeled as social, liberal, positivist, or reformist. In particular, my French friends had been accused of “entering retirement” with their cabins on the plateau. Just as this fact was relayed to me, the clouds broke open and allowed the sunlight to hit our faces. Before anyone could speak, two rainbows appeared no more than twenty feet away, towering over our holes in the ground. All we could do was laugh in joy, because these things don’t just happen. Shortly after this, we began to discuss the Imaginary Party and its implications for the future of struggle.
My friend claimed that of all the theoretical concepts expounded in the works of Tiqqun and the Invisible Committee, the idea of the Imaginary Party remained obscure for both its French and North American audience. Despite its centrality to their entire body of work, the Imaginary Party has never been examined beyond a few cursory paragraphs. While the The Call, Theory of Bloom, Theory of the Young-Girl, This is Not a Program, The Coming Insurrection, To Our Friends, Now, and Introduction to Civil War have been canonized by both the academic and radical press, the Theses on the Imaginary Party have been consistently ignored, especially in the United States, a place where the text has the most practical relevance.
When the great insurrectionary wave hit the US in 2008, multiple constellations of rebels had already read these French texts and were implementing some of their concepts into a lived praxis. Most of the theories and formulations in Tiqqun remained incomprehensible to their US readers, often dismissed as jargon-laden precursors to simpler texts like The Call and The Coming Insurrection. Oddly enough, despite constant criticism, it was the Theses on the Imaginary Party that had the most influence on anarchist praxis in the US between 2008 and 2010. Of all the ideas emerging from France, these were clearly the most practical.
Two projects emerged in those heady days that were influenced by the Theses of the Imaginary Party and helped shape insurgent thought in North America: the blog Social Rupture and the print-publication Fire to the Prisons. Both were started by extremely rebellious people who saw the true content of modern revolt contained not within the static mobilizations and spectacles of the the Left, but in the everyday ruptures of capitalist normality. According to their viewpoint, these common rebellions were constant, uncatalogued, and rendered invisible by the state to prevent their methods from contaminating the population. By exposing their daily occurrences, these editors hoped to reveal that the source of our strength existed not in the political heavens above, but in the insurgent underworld below. Social Rupture went silent around 2010, although by then riots had already spread across the United States in response to police shootings. When the last issue of Fire to the Prisons was released in 2015, the first coordinated prisoner strike had taken place and a national uprising against the police changed the course of history. At this point, you might be asking yourself, what do all these riots and uprisings have to do with the Imaginary Party? The simple answer? Everything!
The Classiness of the Imaginary Party
In the first pages of the Theses on the Imaginary Party, the authors explain that the Imaginary Party is the “negative party of negativity” and that “because the sorcery of the Spectacle…consists in rendering invisible all the expressions of negation…its most remarkable character is precisely that it is reputed to be non-existent, or—more exactly—to be imaginary.” This massive Party is “what the classical proletariat was before coming to know itself as the proletariat: a class of civil society that is not a class of civil society, but rather its very dissolution.” Along these same lines, they describe the Party as “the negative multitudes of those who have no class, and don’t want to have any; the solitary crowd of those who have re-appropriated their fundamental non-belonging to commodity society in the form of their voluntary non-participation in it.” With the classical proletariat now captured in the webs of neo-liberal mega-unions, neo-liberal academic discourse, and the neo-liberal economy, the vast majority of rebels have retreated into the folds of the Imaginary Party to silently gather strength.
At the current moment, the size of the Imaginary Party in the US is nearly 200 million people, constituting the vast majority. In the 2016 elections, only 129 million US citizens voted from a population of over 323 million, a fact that riled the collapsing Democratic Party with its paltry 65 million votes. While numerous commentators have bemoaned these non-voters and attempted to mobilize them into political campaigns, no one in the mainstream media has meditated on the sheer size of the Imaginary Party, nor have they attempted to identify it as such. As the authors of Tiqqun explain, “people speak incessantly about [the Party], and exclusively about it, since a little more each day it disrupts the proper operation of society. Still, people avoid saying its name—could it be said anyway?—with the same fear as if they were invoking the Devil.” Aside from the infamous Russian troll-farmers, the election of Donald Trump as president has been most consistently blamed on the Imaginary Party, although “it would certainly be quite harmful to public order if it were to be seen for what it really is: the supreme possibility.”
The danger that the Imaginary Party poses is constant and ever-growing, for it “reminds every State that it is not demented enough or vigorous enough to successfully pass itself off as total, that the political space is in reality no different from physical, social, cultural space, etc.” According to the logic of the authors, the true site of confrontation is not within the halls of power but in the material world inhabited by the Party, the non-metaphysical realm where true power lies. As they write, “masses of silent and solitary people have begun to appear, who have chosen to live in the interstices of the commodity world and refuse to participate in anything to do with it,” a material force that has come to inhabit “ever vaster, ever more numerous autonomous zones.” In practice, “this resembles a mass experience of illegality and clandestinity” where “people already live as if this world no longer existed.” Such zones are the hidden abode the Imaginary Party, the focal points of material strength that collect invisibly upon the map of the State. This conception of autonomous zones is central not only to the works of the The Invisible Committee, but to the contemporary practice of creating Zone to Defends (ZADs) and communes across France, a practice that has now spread to the United States.
The Shapeliness of the Imaginary Party
The Theses on the Imaginary Party was originally published in 1999 within the first volume of the Tiqqun journal. Unlike the later texts associated with the name Tiqqun, the initial journal carried the full names of several editors, some of whom were graduate students or involved with the academy. While their text is filled with esoteric philosophical references and speckled with quotations from Hegel, Virno, Bataille, Baudrillard, & Co., the basic concepts of the Imaginary Party are presented simply and can be interpreted without the need of a higher-education. Despite being written with academics in mind, the Theses on the Imaginary Party spread far away from the university before eventually coming to influence the course of North American politics. Indeed, the wide-appeal of Tiqqun and the Invisible Committee is unprecedented in modern academic literature, with no other graduate-student political journals being so broadly re-published as Tiqqun I and Tiqqun II, especially outside of the academy, let alone in anarchist circles.
The concept of the Imaginary Party was so central to these texts that the two Tiqqun journal subtitles are conscious organ of the Imaginary Party (I) and organ of liaison within the Imaginary Party (II). As I mentioned earlier, other texts from Tiqqun have been widely published by the US academic press, all of them originating from these organs of the Imaginary Party. Of all these texts translated into English, the only one that makes direct reference to the Party is the Theory of Bloom, a slim volume from 1999 that found its home with an (at the time) anarchist press rather than the hallowed MIT imprint. It’s here that the first and only coherent definition of the Invisible Committee is ever produced. As the authors describe it: “The Invisible Committee: an openly secret society, a public conspiracy, an instance of anonymous subjectivation, whose name is everywhere and headquarters nowhere, the experimental-revolutionary polarity of the Imaginary Party. The Invisible Committee: not a revolutionary organization, but a higher level of reality.” From these seemingly esoteric coordinates, an attentive reader might be able to construct the true shape of the Imaginary Party.
The authors don’t describe themselves as an organization, a cadre, or an army, but as a polarity of the Imaginary Party. While this might seem like an eccentric rhetorical flourish, the concept of the polarity is key to comprehending the shape of the Party, which can be described as a sphere with infinite points on its surface. As the authors explain towards the end of the Theses, “the front lines along which the friends and enemies of the dominant order are arranged have been very poorly sketched out as continual and linear. This representation must now be replaced by an image of innumerable, circular front lines, each of which has its space-time located within communities of human beings, practices, and languages that are in a state of absolute rebellion.”
For the past two hundred years, all politics has been split between the Left and the Right, political identities created in the French National Assembly of 1789. Split between two sides of an immense hall, the Right stood with the Kingdom while the Left stood with the People, twin abstractions that existed only within the walls of the Assembly. From this moment onward, classical politics has taken place within this spectrum of seats, although now “domination, which feels the life trickling out of it inexorably, has gone insane, and claims a tyranny it no longer has the means to maintain.”
(seating arrangement of French National Assembly, traditional Left/Right binary)
To escape the binary of Left and Right, the authors have offered the sphere of the Imaginary Party. The rhetoric of doing away with the traditional political spectrum has long been used by fascists to mobilize the politically disillusioned, although they always propose their authoritarian ethno-state as the final solution. Unlike these agents of domination, “the Imaginary Party expects nothing from the present society and its evolution” because it is already “its very dissolution and that which lies beyond…it guarantees that it itself will never become a Power.”
According to the authors, the Imaginary Party can create what are called “conscious fractions” that form into “polarities” centered around specific locations in “space-time.” Originating in the center of the sphere, multiple straight lines can be drawn to the surface that represent conscious polarities of the Imaginary Party which, “above all, refer only to the positive fact of this multitude of autonomous zones, free from commodity domination, which are experienced here and now.” While the majority of the Imaginary Party remains ignorant of its true power, a multitude of conscious polarities are scattered across the surface of this massive sphere, some of them closer together, many of them further apart.
(sphere of the Imaginary Party with polarities x,y,z and ψ)
According to this spherical schema of rebellion, “everything that contributes to the maintenance of the old representation [Left/Right] belongs in the enemy camp.” In other words, those who deny that the Imaginary Party exist are part of the enemy camp and exist apart from the sphere with no polarities on its surface. The old binary of Left and Right with its respective parties are abstractions that exist only in places like Wall Street, the White House, Google HQ, and the Pentagon. None of these entities can acknowledge their true opponent, all they can talk about is “the fight against terrorism, delinquency, extremism, and criminality, since it is constitutionally forbidden to explicitly mention the existence of the Imaginary Party.” At all times, the forces of order are surrounded by a Party that is “just as fundamentally anti-state as it is anti-popular. Nothing is more odious to it than the idea of a political unity, except perhaps the idea of obedience. In the present condition, [the Party] can be none other than the non-party of the multitudes, since as that piece of shit Hobbes so forcefully put it, ‘when the citizens rebel against the State, it is the Multitudes against the People.’”
Further on in the text, the authors explain that the conscious fractions of the Imaginary Party scattered across the sphere do not “need to converge on a united intent or will, because [they] already share the Common” and have the entire world within their grasp. In this spherical schema pock-marked with insurgent polarities, “each particular community, in its struggle against the empty universality of the commodity, recognizes its particular nature little by little, and elevates itself to a consciousness of that particularity.” In each separate polarity, these conscious fractions exercise a violence which, “unlimited as it may be, is only attached to the preservation of forms-of-life that centers of power are preparing to alter, or already threaten. That is where [the Imaginary Party’s] incomparable force and aura come from. That is also where its fullness and absolute legitimacy originate.”
Strangely enough, this spherical conception of the Imaginary Party has much in common with recent efforts in quantum computing. The new digital era we’re currently inhabiting is composed of 1s and 0s, a binary language that can only move at a certain speed. Much like the traditional Left/Right political spectrum, the world of binary technology has already passed its zenith and is beginning to implode. The final hope of Western technologists is to harness the power of quantum computing, a complicated process that’s easy to explain. Rather than encoding 1s and 0s on a 2-dimensional plane, the data of quantum computing is encoded through the polarity of a 3-dimensional sphere and processes faster than any known computer (in theory).
While a sphere has infinite sides, this method of computing divides the sphere into twin hemispheres representing 1 and 0. Depending on where the polarity lands, the answer is either 1 or 0. Just as the forces of domination subjugate the Imaginary Party while denying its immensity, these Western scientists have constrained quantum energy into a false binary in order to make it work and provide answers. No one really knows how or why a quantum particle encodes its polarity where it does, but during this mysterious operation, the quantum sphere contains multiple polarities on its surface, appearing to be everywhere at once in a state known as quantum superposition. Similarly, no one knows where or when the Imaginary Party will strike, given that it appears to be everywhere at once. Just like quantum energy, the forces of domination will never harness the Party’s absolute potential. It belongs to the Party alone, and domination will surely destroy itself in its quest to control the ineffable.
The Fierceness of the Imaginary Party
When the blog Social Rupture and the Fire to the Prisons newspaper were active in 2008, their editors were constantly providing information on bank robberies, anarchist actions, jail riots, prison breaks, arson, large scale theft, sabotage, hacking, and other every day activities. The editors of these organs never wanted for material in the United States, although almost none of it was overtly political in nature, making it absolutely political. Within the economic collapse of 2008, all of these crimes made perfect sense and were logical to engage in. More importantly, the simple cataloging of these acts revealed the majority of the United States to be composed of a staggeringly vast Imaginary Party, so powerful it defied the imagination. Every city hosted thousands of everyday rebels, each of them connected to a network of family, friends, lovers, and children, all living against the state and cultivating the skills to do so. As the economy worsened and poverty increased, hundreds of anarchists plunged into the depths of this Imaginary Party in the effort the create “conscious polarities” across the continent. After nearly a decade of struggle, here we are.
The years that separate 2008 from 2018 are filled with endless examples of what Tiqqun describes in the Theses of the Imaginary Party. If I’ve been successful so far, the main concepts should be clear enough for you to understand the violence of the Imaginary Party, which I’ll soon describe. Before proceeding any further, I should point out that there’s no danger of the Theses ever being used in court as a prescriptive training manual for either terrorism or sedition. No matter how hard any prosecutor might try, there’s simply no way to portray the Theses as a unifying document for insurgent warfare. Both the Theses and Tiqqun posses so many internal contradictions, paradoxes, philosophical asides, and opposing belief systems that many of its bold assertions are canceled out by others. With that in mind, this is how Tiqqun describes the violence of the Imaginary Party.
The insurgents of the Party carry within them “a hostility with no precise object, a fundamental hatred that erupts from the most unfathomable interior with no regard for any obstacle, from incorruptible depths where humans remain in true contact with themselves.” These insurgents are so powerful that they “can count on the fact that a handful of partisans is enough to immobilize the whole ‘party of order.’” For proof of this assertion, one need only remember the 2016 assassination of five police officers in Dallas, a situation that provoked the forces of order to send in a bomb robot and kill their opponent rather then let him to speak any further. Despite this tremendous power that it possesses at every moment, the Imaginary Party is not striving to “pulverize in a single blow some military headquarters or other where power is concentrated.” Instead, the Party is constantly “eating away at the very foundation of commodity society: credit/credibility. And there is no limit to this dissolving activity other than the collapse of that which it undermines.” This dissolving activity takes many forms.
From the perspective of our paranoid overlords, they can only perceive “an unnameable internal enemy, most often camouflaged in form, which is carrying out a continuous activity of sabotage.” The people who have the misfortune to be caught for their crimes are removed from the Imaginary Party by the State, “declared barbarous, and excluded from humanity.” Prisons in the United States are currently filled with over two million hostages and media commentators are constantly searching for a solution to the problem of mass-incarceration. No matter how well-meaning many prison abolitionists may be, “they will reluctantly admit that, yes, this is a social war they are dealing with here, without indicating what it is; that is, who the protagonists are.” To an unfortunate degree, many prison abolitionists speak the language of the State and obey its language/terms, placing them above the Imaginary Party and away from its conscious polarities.
Certain crimes seem to have no purpose when viewed from above, and “the only thing that distinguishes them from the conscious fractions of the Imaginary Party is the fact that they are not working for the end of this world but for the end of a world.” Some crimes are simple eruptions of violence and brutality with no clear meaning and the perpetrators are often used as examples of either the need for prisons or another example of why they should be abolished. These opposing viewpoints on incarceration are often expressed in courtrooms, legal offices, and the media in the hope of winning over someone in a government office who will then order the State to treat the prisoners one way or another. No matter who wins this argument before a judge, the Imaginary Party remains terrorized by the forces of order and the prisoners remain incarcerated. Little changes for them.
Each partisan of the Imaginary Party is striving towards consciousness at every moment, impeded only by the forces of domination. Despite their best efforts to locate the Party, there’s simply nothing to find other than a few potential hostages unconnected to all the others. The “operational structure of the Imaginary Party…is not comprised of any kind of vertical delegation system at all, but a mode of transmission which itself is part of the limitless horizontality of language: the Example.” As most of you already know, a witnessed example of a crime can be completely silent and yet connect people in an objective manner that’s impossible to trace, while learning an act of sabotage can be as simple as not closing one’s eyes. Because of these invisible technics that course through the underworld, the forces of order have made the Imaginary Party suffer a heavy punishment.
(quote from Invisible Committee in issue of Fire to the Prisons)
As the authors of Tiqqun put it, “the all-out war waged…against the Imaginary Party and on freedom has doubtless already devastated whole regions of the social space.” To confine the insurgent Party in the economy and keep their crimes from circulating, the forces of order have imposed “curfews, military escorts, methodical collection of personal information for databases, arms and communications control, takeover of whole sectors of the economy, etc.” As we saw during the Ferguson Uprising of 2014 and the battle for Standing Rock in 2016, the forces of order will not only impose these repressive conditions when challenged, they will deny the existence of the insurgent force aligned against them. The gunshots and molotovs directed at the police during the Ferguson Uprising were systematically ignored for fear they’d inspire others to consciousness and rebellion. In this world we live in, “there are really only two parties in this society: the party of those that claim there is only one party, and the party of those who know that there are really two. That’s all we need to know to see who’s with us.”
Since this text was written in 1999, we have surely entered into a historical period of “extreme violence and great disorder. A permanent and generalized state of exception is the only way commodity society can maintain itself when it has completely undermined its own conditions of possibility.” In the short nineteen years since the Theses was published, the forces of domination have certainly become much more intolerant of “the existence of that colossal abstaining segment which is the Imaginary Party. Everyone must ‘work,’ that is, put themselves at its disposition at all times and be mobilizeable.” It’s this daily repression that eventually causes “those who would be content with a floating existence to recognize themselves for what they are: rebels.” The authoritarian economy, the carceral apparatus, the militarized police, and a dozen other repressive factors have provoked a massive exodus where “unprecedented solidarities form” and “friends and comrades gather at new front lines that sketch themselves out.” Through this exodus, “a powerful sense of belonging to non-belonging develops among those who realize their essential marginality, a sort of community of Exile.” According to this logic, “running away, which was simply an action, becomes a strategy.”
While this may seems like a disturbing assertion, the authors insist that “the Imaginary Party encompasses everything that conspires to destroy the present order in thought, word, or deed. The disaster is its doing.” Throughout the text, mass-shooters and other anti-social murders are cited as proof of society’s breakdown, with each killer painted as an unconscious member of the Imaginary Party, a deathly polarity most often fascistic in nature. Tiqqun devotes an entire page to one of these individuals, a carpenter named Johann Georg Elser who attempted to kill Hitler on November 8, 1939. While this unsuccessful bombing might have been political, Elser was anything but. According to the authors, Elser’s “absence from the world was complete, his solitude absolute. His very banality was banal. Poverty of spirit, a lack of personality, and insignificance were his only attributes…he didn’t know what Communism meant or what National Socialism meant, even though he was a worker in Germany in the 1930s.” The authors state that Elser’s bombing “provides the model which in years to come will plunge commodity domination into an ever more perceptible panic.” Had this man become conscious before his bombing, Hitler might have died that November of 1939.
At this moment in time, “all crimes have become political crimes, and that’s precisely what domination must hide at all costs so as to conceal from everyone the fact that an era has come to an end, that political violence, once buried alive, now demands that accounts be settled.” In this modern form of guerrilla warfare, “the catastrophe is a brilliant, searing truth the people of the Imaginary Party work to bring about by all means. The axes of communication are special targets for them. They know how infrastructure ‘worth millions’ can be annihilated in a single audacious blow. They know the tactical weaknesses, the points of least resistance, and the moments when the enemy organization is vulnerable. They are thus able to chose more freely what their theater of operations will be, and act on the point where the tiniest pressures can cause the greatest damages.” As these conscious factions destitute order across the United States, their ranks do “not appear to be comprised of people, but of strange acts…these acts themselves are however not connected to one another, but are systematically locked away as exceptional enigmas.”
An Imaginary Conclusion
On the website for the Fire to the Prisons newspaper, the editors posted their last update on July 17, 2016. It reads in part, “Fire to the Prisons magazine is currently on hiatus…we ask you to refer to itsgoingdown.org for updates and articles on the current states of social and class war in North America and abroad.” Without making too much fuss about it, I think its clear that our beloved IGD has taken the place of this now-silent magazine, albeit in an exclusively digital format. While the days of placing cryptic quotes from Theses of the Imaginary Party below images of bank robberies might be a thing of the past, the spirit that animated those early blogs and magazines lives on stronger than ever. Unlike its predecessors, IGD has largely devoted itself to cataloging the episodes of conscious rebellion within the Imaginary Party, although some of its columns continue Social Rupture’s project of mapping everyday vandalism, sabotage, and crime.
In the spring of 2015, I happened to receive multiple bundles of the last Fire to the Prisons and handed them out across Oakland, California. I’ll never forget showing two career criminals the center fold-out of that issue with its massive list of prison revolts over the past two years. Both of these former prisoners, usually dismissive of anything overtly political, could do nothing but stare silently at the undeniable unity of all this rebellion. I can’t say if these two ever became “conscious” or not, but I’m inclined to believe its possible. The need to make money tends to neutralize the best of the Imaginary Party and keeps them from joining its conscious fractions, though many still do. Nothing’s gotten better since 2015, the size of the Imaginary Party keeps growing, and most of the Theses have long-proven their relevance to revolutionary praxis in North America. The vital take-away point is that these ideas were invisible for two decades because they were lived, not theorized. Now that some time’s passed, maybe things will be a bit clearer. I wouldn’t call what I’ve done here high-theory or anything, and I hope the Imaginary Party makes more sense than it did before.
Back when people were first discovering the Theses of the Imaginary Party in North America, other anarchists were ridiculing its academic language in the now infamous “Automatic Insurrectionary Manifesto Generator” of 2009, a secretly bitter attempt to deflate those earnest anarchists with little formal education who found some truth in these obscure pamphlets. The academic language of Tiqqun did no favors to this potent material, nor did its wholesale incorporation into the academic lexicon. The unwarranted and hegemonic American Exceptionalism that has reigned since WWII convinces every US citizen that no matter how abject their position, everything they do must be extremely unique and worth the attention of the entire world. This often makes American citizens shun anything their nation didn’t create, even if they suffer for it.
(Serkov and Putin)
Oddly enough, it was during the outbreak of the Ukranian Civil War in 2014 that this American Exceptionalism was broken by Vladimir Putin and his close adviser Vladislov Serkov. Using theoretical concepts nearly identical to those in the Theses to the Imaginary Party, Serkov engineered what he called “the first non-linear war. In the primitive wars of the nineteenth, twentieth, and other middle centuries, the fight was usually between two sides: two nations or two temporary alliances. But now, four coalitions collided, and it wasn’t two against two, or three against one. It was all against all. And what coalitions they were! Not like the earlier ones. It was a rare state that entered the coalition intact.” I don’t really know what to say about this development. Seeing one of Putin’s aides put these concepts into practice is truly frightening, although it certainly explains Russia’s recent gains. Few in the US are able to grasp this changed reality, and many still cling to their privileged exceptionalism where the 1990s never ended and Western capitalism reigns supreme.
When these incendiary French texts first crept into North America, the common reaction was to either ignore them entirely or appropriate their form while ejecting the content. Several projects emerged between 2008 and 2010 that aped the style of Tiqqun, although none had more influence than Social Rupture and Fire to the Prisons. Even the people who despised these controversial projects couldn’t fail to see their impact spreading across North America and were forced to adapt to the changing discourse. Now we’ve reached the point where even the most hardened reformist must spout the language of prison abolition. I’ll say again that it took a solid decade of struggle to reach this level of strength and the media organ of IGD continues to encourage conscious rebellion rooted in specific communities across North America. Everything has its lineage, some more well-known than others. While the Theses were drafted using academic language, its theories were tested and proven on the streets. Just as the famous sabotage manual of the IWW was originally penned in France in 1898, the roots of our current practices derive in part from the Theses on the Imaginary Party of 1999. I just thought I’d remind some of you where we came from and enlighten those who never knew. As my friends in France wrote in the year 2003, “That it might take a generation to build a victorious revolutionary movement in all its breadth does not cause us to waver. We envisage this with serenity. Just like we serenely envisage the criminal nature of our existence, and of our gestures.”
Long Live The Imaginary Party!