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The Infiltrator Photograph by Richmond Lam.

The Infiltrator

When he is doing the job correctly it is almost as if he is doing nothing.

Everyone loves me and I love no one. This is a feeling of power. It is what makes the job possible. The job is, in part, to make sure no one ever knows about the job. Like all things in life it might end at any time, but that is not for me to decide. The only evidence of the job is that money is inserted into my account, in wildly differing amounts and at absolutely inexplicable intervals. Otherwise the job is invisible. Every time money is deposited into my account it comes from a different place, a different front. Each of these places, the names of these places, means nothing to me. But I invent a story for each one, in case I am ever asked. Each of these stories must be simple and to the point. If they were complex I would never remember them.   

The financial aspects of the job are relatively straightforward when compared to the rest. When you have money you don’t need love. Money makes things happen. But the job requires love or it all goes to hell. Love is connected to power. Or at least that is what I must continue to believe. For much of the time I am alone, reading the exact same books I would read if the job did not exist but I were still placed where I am. There are things I need to know and to know them I must read the books that everyone here reads. I let my mind go blank to enjoy reading these books. The books do not need to be criticized (at least not by me). My fellow activists do not need to be criticized.

When I am doing the job correctly it feels like I don’t exist. Something exists but it is not exactly me. Many of the core ideas of the group are based around notions of collectivity and when I feel that I don’t exist I also feel that I fit more neatly within this framework. A part of a machine does not go around thinking, Look at me, I am this very specific and important part of the machine. It thinks about the machine, which must function and will function best if all the parts are thinking about the machine. Of course, I am a part of two machines with different goals and different modalities. The machines overlap but the overlap is invisible. And yet at times—in fact, most of the time—I imagine there is only one. One machine pulling in two separate directions, with me as its only common part.

The group meets once a month. This is the main gathering, where everyone shares new ideas, talks about what actions we should plan for the future, discusses what was done in the past and how it might have been done better. At these larger gatherings I am always careful to sit as far away as possible from the Irritant. She is the most cynical and also the most suspicious of me. In general, I avoid commenting when she speaks. But when it can’t be avoided I take her on earnestly, in as straightforward a manner as possible.

Recently at these meetings it has been suggested there might be an infiltrator among us. This has been the true test of my mettle. How to participate in the conversations about me as if I did not exist? How to participate without giving anything away? I have no tricks or strategy. It is simply a question of speaking genuinely while always leaving out the same key piece of information. I am always careful never to suggest there is no infiltrator, to always leave the possibility open. So far no one has openly suggested it might be me, at least not in my presence, but when they do I must be careful. At that moment it will either end or reach a breaking point past which exposing me will prove impossible.

Along with the main gathering there are also smaller gatherings of two or three members. These smaller meetings are where most of the concrete decisions are made and present a difficulty in terms of the job. They are where I can have the greatest influence on the day-to-day reality of the group and its actions. But they also contain an intimacy that greatly increases the chance I will be found out, a proximity within which I am far more likely to slip up. As well, I must not attend too many of these smaller meetings because that in itself would be suspicious. It is difficult to ascertain the exact number of smaller meetings I should attend. Attending too few might also raise suspicion, or at least call into question my level of commitment to the group.

Most of the meetings take place in the Girl’s apartment. Three weeks ago the Girl and I began sleeping together and now she is completely in love with me. This is another potentially dangerous situation I must monitor carefully. Of course, the Irritant hates the fact that I’m sleeping with the Girl, and I play on this dynamic, hinting at the possibility that what the Irritant has against me is only a kind of non-feminist jealously toward her much younger rival. Since we both know this is not the case I can only apply this strategy sparingly, just a taste of it in the air.

When I am doing the job correctly it is almost as if I am doing nothing. Just the occasional, well-placed suggestion that sends things off along a slightly different path. What amazes me most is how little is required of me as long as I maintain their trust. When I am trusted, when I am loved, my suggestions are simply taken into consideration. If I time these suggestions effectively it is remarkable how quickly they can become the plan for the entire group. But, again, it is a question of self-discipline. I must be careful, vigilant with myself, in order not to make suggestions too often. If it appears as though I am trying to control things then the game is lost.

At one of the smaller meetings we start talking about corporations. How when you protest against a government it has, at least in theory, a democratic responsibility to take your protest into consideration. But corporations have no such responsibility. They are accountable only to their shareholders. The other guy, the Odd One, comments that, under current conditions, governments in fact are more accountable to the corporations that pay for their campaigns than they are to the citizens who elect them. And there is a kind of consequent logic to this, since the party that spends the most is also the one most likely to win.

I haven’t said anything for a while and am asked what I think. I say there must be some way to get at the shareholders directly, since their opinions have the potential to impact the actions of the corporation. I don’t know why, in particular, I say this. It is one of the comments I make from time to time that, strictly speaking, could not be said to be part of the job, the logic being that if I only say things the job requires my position would appear too imbalanced. I mainly have to say other, more normal things that serve to position me as a committed member of the movement.

But I bring up the idea of directly targeting the shareholders and it really catches fire. There follows a continuous stream of suggestions as to what the best way to do so might be. A shareholder makes an investment, the Odd One explains. He or she wants a return on that investment. A profit. This desire for profit is completely disconnected from the daily operations and injustices of the corporation. What we need to do is find ways to connect, in the mind of the shareholder, the investment to the crimes of the corporation. The Girl suggests we set up a group for concerned shareholders and help them organize. Maybe, she says, there are lots of investors out there who would like to help but feel isolated, don’t realize there are others like them.

I decide to let the shareholder brainstorming run its course for a few days before trying to influence it one way or another. If I’m lucky I will find precisely the right spin to get everyone behind the idea of kidnapping a few shareholders. But to be effective my suggestions must come at the right time, and now is definitely not it. It is still only the beginning, when most suggestions will quickly be forgotten, replaced by new suggestions, each idea distorting and confusing the last.

That night, after the Girl and I have made love, we lie under the duvet, naked, curled up together, and I feel some tears well up in the corners of my eyes. She notices and wipes them away.

—You’re crying.



—I don’t know. The way the world is going, sometimes it makes me sad.

—Yes. That’s why we need to fight.

Only one of us knows I’m lying. Actually, I don’t know why I’m crying. Maybe these things have no reason. She has been so kind and tender with me. And I have been completely dishonest. But I’m happy I’m crying and that I can tell her it’s because of the current state of the world. It makes me appear sensitive, which within the political logic of the group is important, and it tightens the bond between us, which will serve me well in the future. Now she is crying as well, not too much, just a little bit, like me. I mirror her, wiping away her tears the same way she wiped away mine. She looks at me with genuine concern.

—Do you ever think that what we’re doing is pointless?

—Of course. It’s only natural to have doubts.

—Then what do you do? To keep going?

—I remind myself it’s always better to do something than nothing. If you do nothing then you ensure that nothing will change. If you do something at least you keep open the possibility that something might.

I had read this idea in a book a few weeks ago. I can’t remember which one, I’ll have to check my notes. When I first read it, it struck me as something that applied to the job as well, only reversed. If I do nothing something might change. And it’s only by doing something that things can stay the same. I like these kinds of paradoxes. They keep the job perverse. Without paradox, without perversity, it is impossible to do the job in a convincing way. She is almost asleep now, and the warmth of her body next to mine feels comforting. I wonder what she will think of me if the whole thing blows up. Of course she’d feel betrayed. But in precisely what way would she feel betrayed?

Once, when the group was out drinking together, we came around a corner and the Odd One had completely covered a police car in anti-capitalist posters. We all laughed. It was a genuinely joyous moment. Later, at the main gathering, everyone agreed that he had taken a huge, unnecessary risk. But, the Girl reminded us, we had laughed all night. She couldn’t remember the last time she had laughed so much or so hard. And it was a joy we had experienced together, bringing us closer. So wasn’t it worth it?

Everyone agreed she had a point but also agreed that the Odd One shouldn’t take this as encouragement to “do whatever he wanted whenever the fuck he felt like it.” The Odd One just laughed it off and didn’t say much in his own defence. It was a joke, was basically all he said. He wanted to live in a world where people could still make jokes and life was fun. Implied was a critique of the group—that we were too serious, too earnest, too much against the miserable things we were against and not enough for the beautiful things we were for. Looking around the room you could tell that this implied critique hit home, that people felt ashamed of their seriousness.

This morning, at the café, I see the Irritant and she invites me to join her. All of us go to the café. To read or talk. We’ve barely started and already the Irritant is telling me I can’t be trusted. That there’s something suspicious about me and the way I interact with the group. She suspects. But I know. And my certainty will always give me the upper hand. I tell her I don’t know what to say to reassure her. What does she want me to do?


—But I don’t want to leave.

—Sometimes we have to do things we don’t want.

—Look, I’m just like you. I believe in collective decision-making. Isn’t that one of the things we’re fighting for? So if you can convince the others that the best thing would be for me to go, I’ll respect the wishes of the group.  

She is taken aback by my proposal and there is a moment of silence between us, silence filtered through the din of the café. I can see she’s pissed off. She doesn’t want all the difficulty and hassle of a democratic process. She just wants me out. To do the rounds and convince everyone, one at a time, of my malicious nature might take her a few weeks. I see her formulating her thoughts, trying to dream up the single thing she could say that would be a knockout blow, force me to leave right here and now.  

—Who do you work for?

—How do you mean?

—I’m almost sure of it. You’re being paid to come here and fuck with us.

—I don’t think it serves anyone if we start becoming paranoid.

—There’s no “we” here. There’s “you” and there’s “us.”

—I don’t understand why you’d say that. It hurts my feelings. I want to do good work. That’s why I came here. I believe we can do good work together.

—Why is it so hard to argue with a liar?

—I’m not lying.

—We both know you are.

I wonder what I did, or what it is about me, or about her, that allowed her to catch hold of my tail so quickly. She’s more experienced. Maybe she’s encountered infiltrators before. I decide to try a direct approach.

—What makes you think that about me?

—It’s just…obvious. Anyone can see it.

—It’s only obvious to you. It’s certainly not obvious to the others.

—It will be soon.

I should be unnerved by the café encounter, which ends in a kind of stalemate, but strangely I’m not. I’m sure I can take the Irritant. She’s respected but she’s certainly not loved, often seen as too critical or negative. I’m careful never to be negative at the meetings, always making suggestions positively and with a balanced enthusiasm. And to support other people’s suggestions, especially at that moment when the tide is turning and it’s clear the suggestion is going to happen anyway.

If love is power, a kind of soft power, it is also true that real power, the kind that makes the job possible, can only operate in secret. When you show your hand you also weaken it. A secret, even when revealed, undermines all certainty, since there might well be more destabilizing secrets to come. I am confident. I will prevail, I know I will prevail, for if I lose their love, if the job crumbles, I have at the very least succeeded in weakening their resolve. I have created suspicions where before there was mainly trust. Then we all know what will occur. It will only take a moment before I completely disappear.