Review of the book „Why we set your nights on fire. Communiques of greek nihilists (Conspiracy of the Cells of Fire)“
First published under: Revolt Against Plenty
„As one grows older, it generally becomes more difficult to express the opposition which one once felt as someone who desires to be radical. Practicism has worn off, theory becomes an excuse and the rest is brought about by life itself: job, family, social welfare, relative isolation or whatever life has in store when things become harder. The negative essence stays noble for a while, but it increasingly lacks any appearance. Finally, it withers away and the negativity of youth comes to an end. It has been naive from the outset. What remains are new quirks, neuroses or whatever one may call these ossifications of bourgeois adults. In any case, it becomes significantly more boring.“ (Arthur Schopenhauer)
The very idea of a conspiracy against capitalist democracy is being censored. Everybody clings to the life as it has been up to now. There is depression, but no rebellion, although life hasn’t been good so far, and the future promises nothing good. It goes without saying that this censorship in most cases doesn’t need the direct intervention of repression. It’s rather exercised by the superego which keeps a lock on the desires, constantly fearing to loose even the dreamless future which one envisions.
Yet the world around us seems to loose once again its innocence, which it could claim at least in the metropolis during peace times. Or maybe we just get more disturbing news via the internet. Anyhow, Paris and Athens were burning. Berlin drinks beer, as always. Or, even worse: They quit drinking. Then it starts to burn in Tunisia, Egypt, Lybia, Syria. Everybody is mystified. Arab spring. There are debates, everbody’s talking about Occupy. In London, there was looting, too. Everybody prefers to conceal this. Then, it’s Istanbul’s turn. It seems that every country needs a riot. And recently there’s a muddle in Ukraine and in Bosnia. In all these crises, there are sometimes factions which can and want to compete with the forces of the old world, and if they are supported by one of the big or regional powers, they can even win and cause new evil: Muslim Brothers, militias, Djihad, the Right-wing Sector. But there is no organised force among these factions to which one could rudimentally refer, for whose support one could agitate or which one could even join. This fact is even used by many people to rationalise their conservatism: They are in favour of capitalist business as usual because the alternatives could be even worse. In Germany, this elusion works quite well.
As one grows older, it generally becomes more difficult to express the opposition which one has once felt as someone who desires to be radical. Practicism has worn off, theory becomes an excuse and the rest is brought about by life itself: job, family, social welfare, relative isolation or whatever life has in store when things become harder. The negative essence stays noble for a while, but it increasingly lacks any presence. Finally, it withers away and the negativity of youth comes to an end. It has been naive from the outset. What remains are new quirks, neuroses or whatever one may call these ossifications of bourgeois adults. In any case, it becomes significantly more boring
At least there have been some unauthorised demos in Berlin recently. And in Hamburg, the authorities even declared a part of the city a Gefahrengebiet („Danger Zone“), because there have been too many Autonomes on a demo and additionally a nocturnal attack on the police. Immediately, everybody hurries to present the demo as peaceful and the attack as non-existent – there was no danger, then why a „Danger Zone“? Democratic logic. But there have already been attacks on police stations, not only in Greece, but also in Germany and a Black Bloc is never totally innocent, even when it resembles a tortoiseshell and is used for defensive purposes. If someone is sent to prison, he nevertheless feels his incarceration to be unjust and claims that all had been planned as a harmless adventure only and that he hadn’t been really serious about it.
The police sometimes see these things differently, more realistically. Cling together, swing together. Elsewhere, in Greece, there was a bank robbery, followed by arrests. Recently, a solidarity event and a talk on this affair were held in Berlin. A guy named Tasos Theofilou had been sent to prison for 25 years, but, according to the speaker, he wasn’t involved. Furthermore, he wasn’t a nihilist, but an anarcho-communist, hence a respectable person. Maybe, that’s true and, annoyingly, an over-enthusiastic citizen has been killed during the bank robbery – in such a case, one rather prefers to be innocent. But somehow, many people at this solidarity event would have preferred to express their solidarity with a guilty person. On the other hand, the general mood was rather numb and 25 years is a long time, no matter if you are guilty or not.
Long preface, short meaning: After all, the people of the Cells of Fire Conspiracy are guilty, and they admit it. No lawyer can cooperate with them and they call for no other solidarity than active participation in their skirmishes. Here, revolutionary voluntarism reins, i.e. precisely the thing which the rest of the opposition lacks. Here, the rupture with society has actually been executed and, albeit though the effect of their actions is rather weak, a lot of them will have to pay for their zeal with lifelong prison sentences, if nothing changes the course of things in this region of the world. „The last moments of our lives, take them as sacrifice.“ And their words gain from the fact that they are guilty. They mean it and consequently, their view on Greek reality is clear.
It has to be said that urban guerilla groups have been very common in Greece and there are several such gangs operating on this terrain today. However, the Cells of Fire Conspiracy has broken with the dogma that the actions of armed groups should „serve the people“, e.g. by waking them from their slumber, so that they become revolutionary at last. It is here where the originality of the conspiracy lies, and not in their specific actions. They are nihilists who have long since put the false pleasures of democracy behind them. For their individual negativity, they need neither a crisis of political economy nor the projection of their hopes on the helpless protests against this crisis. The whole mess interests them only from the perspective how one could create and deepen cracks in the structure of society which might lead to interesting polarisations. In their hearts seeking for revolution, they are sensitive to everything which is opposed to it, and this is maybe the deeper reason for their relative sobriety: They do not rationalise their attacks on symbols and character masks of domination by an imaginary will of the people, but take the responsibility for their words and actions completely on their own and that’s why they are able to recognize that a reasonable revolution is at the moment prevented by the whole body of society.
Thus they see not much sense in the moaning of the petty bourgeois who want their old lives back. Instead, they are aware of the fact that many of these people have, as a part of the „Greek dream“, profited from the cheap labour of immigrants. They mistrust the masses in general, with their flags during the football world cup, but also the masses of workers with their ritualised general strikes or diffuse local strikes. Nursery school teachers against parents, bus drivers against passengers, ferry workers against hotel workers. In addition to that, the whole leftist political circus, anarchists, communists, a motley left-wing party and so forth. The system had to modernise itself, was tending towards dictatorship. Repeated police raids. People without resident permits are put into camps. This is what the hospitality of the supreme god looks like: Zeus Xenios. Besides that: the Golden Dawn, the fascist pogroms, the widespread racism.
All this is mentioned in the texts of the Cells of Fire from a point of view of relative aloofness. The focus is always on the destruction of illusions – also the antifascist ones. „We, at this time, are away“, they write. And they continue: „Obviously not in the conservative culvert of fascists nor in the forefront of social demands and requests. Our minority action has declared our war some time ago without fighting for better wages or better pensions“. Despite all the collective needs they express, these cells have been thrown back on individualism. They rarely cite Marx, but more frequently Nietzsche and Schopenhauer instead, they hate wage labour and money, but they’re not interested in an analysis of capital. No theory at all, let alone sociology. Instead, their analyses are „chosen as means for the diffusion of a revolutionary perception“ and aim „at the practical establishment of collective resistances against every authority“. Acting on the assumption that they are in a marginal position, while making use of temporarily appearing instabilities, never currying favor with anyone and always skeptical – sometimes even about their own actionism. As one cell of this conspiracy at the very beginning wrote in an already melancholic and counterfactual way: „The banks could be burnt, cops could be beaten, bosses kidnapped… but how can we attack this consent?“ The consent they mean here is the consent of the oppressed, which they identify as an ally of domination which is even stronger than the heavily armed police.
In the big pile of leftist and radical fragments, the cells arose from anarchism, the last bastion of progressive ideologies. With this milieu they are connected through a love/hate relationship. In any case, some of the illusions of the cells were attached to this milieu. In fact, the anarchist spectrum in Greece is laughable and only the fact that it is even more laughable everywhere else made it possible that some mystifications about the Greek scene emerged among activists in Germany. Basically, the description of the Greek scene by one of the Cells of Fire sounds like a description of the situation in Germany: „In the centre of various teams the absence of undertaking responsibilities from the majority of the participants and the predominance of a culture of disorganisation leaves open ground for any kind of leaders who stand out through the general inactivity only by flattery, while on the exterior level, work is not produced and essential development does not exist. Besides, the famous amphitheatre where most anarchic assemblies take place looks more like a decadent parliament with boring speakers than the world we are dreaming of.“ Devitalised in such a way, the scene is naturally unable to establish any real contact with at least parts of the population – a population which is helplessly mired in its own contradictions, too. In order to hide their own disorganization, „a large part of societal anarchists in Greece […] fantasise about picturesque scenarios that speak of a social awakening and a magical time when the objective conditions will have come. But anyone who sleeps with hopes wakes up with nightmares.“ Jalla jalla! – and promptly, the Muslim Brothers and thereafter General Sissi have seized power in Egypt.
Once one admits the fact that the oppressed, too, accept the structure of power in all its facets, there is no more room for such wooly-mindedness. It was „absurd to believe that a change in the world, a world revolution is possible just like that“. It was ridiculous to applaud any riot of protesters „only because it consisted of a large number of persons (fetishism of quantity only)“ or to adapt to their impoverished language, „for example anarchists protesting against salary cuts or dismissals of workers“. „On the contrary,“ it was necessary to „create serious events that could block the normal flow of our life and could penetrate in the personal field of the citizens forcing them to listen“. The present economic crisis in Greece prepared a fertile ground for such experiments and in this regard, the social ruptures could be interesting. Apart from that, these nihilists „consider that the conditions of instability that we mentioned sometimes exist, and sometimes do not, sometimes are sharpened and sometimes are simply defused in many ways without their results becoming obvious“.
That much must be accorded to this grouping which is remarkable within the generalised hopelessness. After all, it represents no more than a brief period within the specific Greek misery which has presumably already come to an end „without their results becoming obvious“. Generally speaking, it seems that the time of anarchism’s brief bloom or radical activism in general is over – just as the organised protests against various summits of the political elites is also history. What we are witnessing now are rather confused protests of dissatisfied citizens or moaning workers without much visible anarchist influence, the last ideology of the old world. Thus, currently other forces are fighting it out among themselves …