notes on the riots for all those who want to change the world (2005)


This text was put up on the “endangered phoenix” site at the end of 2005, and refers to the 10 or so days of riots in the banlieux of France in November 2005. It should be pointed out that some of the things I considered very dubious about the riots, I considered dubious because I hadn’t found out the reasons for them were not necessarily so (e.g. some nursery schools were attacked because of the disgusting racist attitudes amongst some of the staff). Not the most interesting of texts, nor was there any genuine practical follow-through,  but…anyway here it is:

Virtually all the different attitudes towards the riots amongst ‘radicals’ – for, against, partly for, partly against, sometimes for very different reasons – stem from an indifference to influencing and being influenced by those who have initiated these ‘riots’ – which leaves influence to the dominant forces, a purely repressive influence. Few dare to risk the possibility of a mutually radicalising dialogue, a reciprocal practical development beyond this present climate of fear, anxiety and/or apathy. Almost all the radicals want to remain content to just interpret the world, and not change their relation to it.

If the riots here in France are to develop something more than the power of the State, it’s essential that they break out of the marginal ghetto and that they confront the sick and stupid acts of many of the rioters. They must distinguish between what is proudly courageous & radical in their actions and attack those actions that are merely the mirror image of this shit society, an expression of the normal, banal war of each against all. The fact that most radicals are not subject to the same degree of misery as those who live on the estates should not be an excuse for making people feel guilty for asserting a critique of some of the horrible acts of some of the rioters any more than the fact that some of these actions are deplorable should be used to arrogantly condemn the majority of excellent necessary actions.

There are those who support the riots but say “it’s their struggle”. But, on the contrary, if it’s their struggle it’s ours’ too – because it has an effect on our struggles (if only because the State is using the riots to intensify its repressive forces). We clearly have an interest in the riots going further, because we don’t want to remain in our ghettoes, self-defined or defined by this society. Nor is it a question of merely ‘supporting’ the rioters: we cannot leave criticism of the aspects of these riots which are psychotic to the dominant ‘normal’ psychosis of this society. We recognise the need to develop what is radical in these riots (the real community of struggle discovering its pleasure in the attacks on its real enemies – attacks on the cops and the Bacs, journalists, the occasional attacks on supermarkets, the conmen of the ‘zones franches’, the factories of ignorance that the colleges and lycees are, etc.). But also we also need to attack what is reactionary in these riots (attacks on buses, burning car parks under housing estates, attacks on individuals, on nursery schools, etc). We must recognise that the insane aspects of the riots are not the product of the failure of modern society, as the dominant discourse has it, but rather the excessive product of its success, above all, the success in destroying in the majority of individuals the ability to recognise their misery and the fight against it in others, the success of modern society in destroying all sense of direction other than that of the individual ego in a hierarchical power game against other individuals, the success of this society in destroying all sense of the possibility of any other way of behaving, of any other possible society, the success of this society in destroying all community and the historical memory of communities in struggle against this world.

At the beginning of October, in Marseille and Corsica, the strike of the ferrymen against redundancies and privatisation, and in particular, the mutiny and the solidarity strikes that this movement inspired, also incited a riot of youths on estates in Bastia. It was here that the possible unity of ‘normal’ workers on strike and the so-called ‘marginal’ unemployed youth (so-called ‘marginal’ because effectively the vast majority are pushed to the margins of this world, whether they have work or not) had a chance of developing, and which was a potential example most threatening to this senile world. Despite the anxieties and suspicions, if we are to have a meaningful future, a struggle to break down the false divisions that this society maintains so that the rulers can rule must develop.

All this is vital, urgent, if France, and the rest of the world, is not to fall into a defeat worse than anything that’s been known up till now. In the UK, the virtually absolute crushing of all revolutionary perspectives has had a disastrous result on the lives of the poor and on all those striving for a new life.The loss of consciousness and memory of the over 200 year old traditions of struggle, solidarity and mutual self-help have been a disaster for all who have suffered it. Everywhere, capitalist totalitarianism increasingly seems to prevent the possibility of opposing this totality and of creating very different social relations in the process. Wherever there was a community capable of resistance now it seems there’s an empty shell dominated by decay; anti-social behaviour fuelled by psychotic zombie crackheads and gangs of vicious nihilistic youth; instilling fear and paranoia into social life, driving the most vulnerable out of the public spaces where once they could maintain social networks and interaction. Admittedly, overall this is a onesidedly bleak picture, but even where things are not this bad, the nagging threat of such invasions and deterioration produces its own narrow suspicion and tension. Few believe in even the possibility of qualitative improvement through social change to any mild degree, never mind the task of creating a radically different society. The most that is aspired to is the prospect of slogging your guts out for a lifetime in the hope you’ll have paid off a mortgage leaving you with enough savings to see you through old age. Or the outside chance of the fantasy of a Lottery win coming true. Or just getting into a position of enough status to make you feel a little more secure, superior and/or smug than those beneath you (without ridding you of the deeper insecurity that feeds the need to feel ‘superior’). Or just devoting all one’s energies to crawling over the backs of everyone else in the pursuit of fame and wealth as a celebrity and/or businessperson. These are just some of the miseries, already here, but ready to be quantitavely and qualitavely extended should the French ruling class succeed in definitively Thatcherising the country, that awaits the vast majority of France.

Those who recognise these fundamental contradictions should be trying to communicate this recognition to those who are trying to fight their misery – to go to the estates, or the courthouses of those arrested, despite the fear of how we might be received, the suspicion, certainly not to preach a fixed banal truth like the patronising Leninists who ‘intervene’ in all struggles with the hope of picking up recruits, but to enter into a dialogue, to develop our own knowledge and to develop possible actions that could break down the separations of this world. We know we have no future in this commodified world, this Titanic drifting towards the iceberg of absolute catastrophe, which destroys far more in 10 hours of normality than it does in 10 days of riots. We may have created a new world in our hearts and heads but this needs to be transformed into actions if the ruins of this sick life are not to ruin us completely.


Written mid-November 2005, translated into French mid-December.