The history of sabotage is the history of its hypothetical non-existence, of recurrent attempts to deny that it does or should happen. Barring scattered supporters, using elements of a machine, system, organism, code, network, or city against its designed function has for centuries been as maligned as actually practiced. It is called “undisciplined,” “unmediated,” “individualist,” “pointless,” “invisible,” and “sneaky,” a diversion of the correct uses of discontent. It is neither “sustainable” nor up for vote. In other words, sabotage has been accused of being what it actually is: a form of social war opposed not just to a global order of reproduction, circulation, and management but also to the most basic structures of representational politics that order strongly encourages us to adopt.
These lectures sketch a new history and theory of sabotage, one attentive to just how alien the act of turning means against their ends is to inherited ideas of political engagement. Sabotage remains an unwelcome tool and an unknowable enemy, because it implies and extends a different and ultimately inhuman kind of familiarity. It is one that learns how to listen to cues given by the circuits, patterns, and mechanisms themselves, how to access the embedded knowledge and hostility of all those materials waiting to help ruin the brutal perpetuity of work, gender, empire, and time.
Joining Elizabeth Gurley Flynn with Romano Alquati, this lecture tracks back through the history of sabotage, develops the concept of “invisible organization,” and considers ruined silk, factory management, death vs. sleep, subterranean trains, napping, meticulousness, and capitals fixed, circulating, and flammable.