Wu Ming have posted their essay “SPECTRES OF MÜNTZER AT SUNRISE.” It’s in four parts:


Take a look.

Among other things, the piece describes the late 90s and early 00s milieu, leading up to the tute bianchi at the Genoa protests, as “mostly orphans of the orphans of the old Autonomia movement.” They also describe “a general metaphor (…) taking shape in that midst: ever more often, empire was described as a castle besieged by a manifold army of peasants.” They add, “Although it was inspiring and effective, the metaphor was a misrepresentation.”

This is part of their self criticism for their role in leading people into what they describe as a trap, an ambush at Genoa.

I think this is my only criticism of the piece – I have a hard time sorting out the differences between the piece’s criticism of the turn of the century movement’s (and their own) strategic failings and their failings with regard to mythmaking. I mean, from the criticisms they make of themselves w/r/t mythmaking, it seems to me that those criticisms would hold even if Genoa had been a success. That is, they describe their unease with becoming specialists of a sort within a movement division of labor, playing a greater role in myth vs the rest of the movement. They write “It should be up to a whole movement or community or social class to handle myths and keep them on the move. No particular group can appoint itself to that office. At the end of the day, we ended up being “officials” assigned to manipulate metaphors and evoke myths. Our role became a quasi-specialised one. An agit-prop cell. A combo of spin doctors. Sure, From the Multitudes of Europe… could make your nerves sing, it made you feel like going to Genoa right away, but that was not enough.” That seems to me a problem regardless of whether or not Genoa was a bloodbath and an ambush. And, even if the whole movement had made the myth/metaphor of the siege and there weren’t specialists of the sort that Wu Ming criticize themselves for having been, Wu Ming’s criticisms of that metaphor would still hold. It would have been a mistake perhaps better arrived at, but a mistake none the less.

They write “There was no real siege going on, as you can’t besiege a power that’s everywhere and whose main manifestation is a constant flow of electrons from stock exchange to stock exchange. That misrepresentation would prove fatal in Genoa. We were mistaking the power’s formal ceremonies for the power itself.
We were making the same mistake Müntzer and the German peasants had made.
We had chosen one battleground and a supposed field-day. We were all heading to Frankenhausen.”

The way I take the point is that really there were multiple compounding failings – put schematically, the strategy wasn’t adequate and the mythmaking and propagandizing helped marshall many more people to follow that mythmaking. What’s not clear to me is the link between these failings. Did the type (or maybe just the quantify of time spent on) mythmaking preclude necessary strategic thinking? The implication here is that yes, it did. I do think movements need myths of the sort that Wu Ming talk about (they imply that all movements have them in a way, stories as a necessary component to a tissue of relationships and of values and vision) — though Wu Ming and Luther Blissett’s myths differ in important ways, including their deliberateness, their power and their caliber. At the same time, movements make mistakes like this without the same sorts of myths. So again, I’m not clear on the connection between myth mistakes and strategy mistakes. I’m not arguing against the claim to a connection, just saying I don’t get quite how the connection works here, I’m sure this is tied to my not know much about Genoa and all that. One possibility might be that if there were more people more directly involved in making the metaphors/myths then perhaps there could have been more chances to catch the mistakes and detect possible signs of upcoming ambush. Perhaps the emphasis on mobilization helped prevent other things which appear retroactively like they might have been of more use?
Many more block quotes:

“something had gone wrong with the practice of “mythopoesis” or “myth-making from the bottom up”, which was – and still is – at the core of our philosophy.
By “myth” we never meant a false story, i.e. the most banal and superficial use of the term. We always used the word for a narrative with a great symbolic value, a narrative whose meaning is understood and shared in the community (e.g. a social movement) whose members tell it one another. We’ve always been interested in stories that create bonds between human beings. Communities keep sharing such stories and, as they share them, they (hopefully) keep them alive and inspiring, ongoing narration makes them evolve, because what happens in the present changes the way we recollect the past. As a result, those tales are modified according to the context and acquire new symbolic/metaphorical meanings. Myths provide us with examples to follow or reject, give us a sense of continuity or discontinuity with the past, and allow us to imagine a future.”

“Revolutionary and progressive movements have always found their own metaphors and narrated their myths. Most of the times these myths survived their being useful and became alienating. Rigor mortis set in, language became wooden, metaphors ended up enslaving the people instead of setting them free. The following generation often reacted by negating the past and developing iconoclastic attitudes. The vanguard of each generation of radicals described the myths they inherited as nothing more than false stories.”

“The trouble with myths is that they sclerotise easily if we take them for granted. The flow of tales must be kept fresh and lively, we have to tell stories by ever changing means, angles and points of view, give our tales constant exercise so they don’t harden and darken and clog our brains.”

“Less than two months after Genoa came 9/11. The situation in the country and the world got much tougher, and the metaphor of the “siege” turned upside down. In 2003 the Italian movement was already in a deep crisis. Not even mass mobilisation against the war on Irak could infuse new energy into its body. At last, it regressed to a marginal presence, a presence occupying the semantic space of traditional far-leftist discourse. The usual boring role played by boring rules. A bunch of “professional revolutionaries” took over what was left, made all kinds of mistakes and proved to be immensely inadequate. Fossilized sub-Leninist tactics and strategies re-surfaced. A lot of time and energy was dissipated in intra-group identity wars. Meetings became pathetic cock fights. The majority of sensitive, “unregimented” activists (especially women) got bored and quit.”


I have a few other thoughts on all this that are at best half-formed. They’re below mostly in note/bullet point form.

I’ve written a bit before about how much Hardt and Negri’s book Empire shaped my outlook for a while (and how this has negatively influenced the tone of my comments as I’ve moved away from their work – their stuff used to ‘make my nerves sing’ or at least hum a bit; as I’ve come to see some of the many problems with their work they’ve also lost that hum-inducing ability for me, and that continually feels disappointing). At one point I tried to speculate about what some of the appeal of that book was in the first place. Reading Wu Ming more recently, I’ve tried to use their categories of myth and technified myth to help understand that appeal. I’ve got various notes on all that and I hope some day to get back to all that and write something substantive. That’s not what I want to talk about now, though.

In my paragraph above I jumped from Wu Ming and Luther Blissett to Negri, sort of by virtue of their Italianness… this is partly about the milieu in which I first encountered all this. In that milieu, all this Italian stuff served a sort of mythical function (thought: role of myth and metaphor in the idea of the circulation of struggles? [an idea which is itself capable of fetishism]).

– early 00s US mythical uses of the Italian stuff in its various moments (late 60s/early 70s, late 90s w/ the tute bianchi); contours of those myths (flattening, bad strategies or preclusion of strategy)
– late 90s early 00s need for metaphor and myth to provide possibility (my hunger, get into some autobiography here re: TBTN, WTO and WB/IMF protests; also movement level – EZLN, argentina, platformism/the platform; WTO as myth later — see “Where there’s Smoke” for criticisms of RNC protests which had a myth of Seattle, and the article has a myth about italy)
– theoretical question, is Badiou’s subject in fidelity to event a version of all this, ie is fidelity and the event (and retroactive positing, the future anterior stuff — find my notes) a version of mythmaking and subject making? (among other things, anyway)
– lack of another metaphor
– tie between myths and movements — effects on and uses of myths for movements; myths are only semi-autonomous from movements, and effects go both ways; need to build movements (and organizations, Chuck: ‘movements are the fluff that collects around organizations’), myths a key piece of that but not a sufficient piece; how much of the failure of the present in the US is lack of myth and metaphor and how much lack of other stuff? Don’t know if that’s answerable, but clearly the current lousyness has multiple factors.

other stuff to come back to –
myths and imagined communities

those various notes I mentioned re HN:

the initial appeal of HN:

The stakes of Negri and Hardt’s rhetoric:

Taubes and religious component to all this:

the religious stuff as a depoliticalization, perhaps similar to what Wu Ming mean by technification:

My most recent criticisms: