For details of day-to-day moments & movements of contestation in France, see this
The following is a translation from the French of a leaflet that was co-written by me and distributed on the demo of 14th April 2018 in Montpellier (see report about this day following this leaflet).
Footnotes that were not in the original leaflet have been added by myself (not by the person I co-wrote the leaflet with) here in order to explain things that may not be clear to anyone outside France, or, for that matter, within France.
Yet another boring leaflet?
Leaflets are generally used to repeat the same banalities, to serve as publicity for trade union and political groups, and ignoring the essential: the horrible future that awaits us, if the tendency to avoid confronting the disquieting present persists.
The times are confusing. The constraints on movements exercised by the unions are nothing new. What is new, however, are the current constraints put on critique of the unions, accepted as such by the majority.i
The unions as the main obstacle to the development of self-organized struggles …
Recently, in the “movement” against the Labor Law , the role played, for the umpteenth time, by the unions, corresponded well to their social function. It is not surprising that bureaucratic apparatuses, having been integrated into the state apparatus for decades through representative and joint bodies, organize their strikes on the least-busy workdays, limit them to a duration of 24 hours, avoid promoting General Assemblies open to other sectors so as to break up corporatist separations, or negotiate in secret.
Behind their arguments for the defense of public services and thus of “the general interest”, so-called “social gains” (it is admittedly normal in some cases not to allow them to take away the little we have, but the “acquired gains” remain concessions made to the exploited when their mobilizations reached a certain scale, most often to calm them down, and if possible to make them participate even more in their own exploitation through co-management), the CGT and the other unions mainly intend to defend their negotiating bodies (Works Committees since 1945, Administrative Committees since 1958, union delegates, CHSCT, etc.), so that they can continue to support the reforms promoted by the State for the good health of Capital, as they’ve always done ever since these state reforms started. Even during the famous case of the ordinancesii (which did not did not bother the leftists in 1945 at the time of the agreements between De Gaulle and the Communist Pary ratifying health insurance and tripartite management), Macron did not fail to consult the unions.
Since 1995, “social movements”, emphasising a typically “citizenist”iii assertion of public services useful for everybody, are times when the state takes the pulse of these movements in order to negotiate with its partners, the unions.
After ‘68 and the Grenelle agreementsiv, it was at least clear to many that the CGT and the other unions were bureaucratic machines, which could do nothing other than put a stop to self-organization and revolution. This role has been steadily strengthened afterwards, with the CGT negotiating at a high level, as much in the nuclear field as in the measures constantly imposed by the state in order to overcome advances made in autonomous struggles.
SUD spreads its image of a union that is better able to integrate people who are more rebellious, less politicos. But its role as negotiators remains within the general logic. For example, concerning nuclear power, SUD talks about a gradual withdrawal from nuclear energy without saying anything about the uses of military nuclear energy; SUD also speaks of alternative energy, etc., but, like the CGT, presents candidates for the Board of Directors of the Atomic Energy Commissariat (CEA). Such a radical union!
The 2006 anti-CPE movementv was a start, a momentary victory. But it did not durably encourage people to go on to fight more. There is no victory in this society if self-organization does not come out of the struggle to reinforce them, if they do not intensify and deepen their critiques, if they do not extend beyond their place and their original context.
Thus the last few years have been particularly morose, and it is all the worse because of the giant steps advanced by dominant ideology: increasing precarity meets the increasing ideology of money, the strengthening of separations (with the triumph of pseudo–identities, reducing individuals and their complexity to categories that are valued by business and politics, based on sexuality, skin color, or their origins), “I-don’t-give-a-fuck”ism – active or passive nihilism consisting in not giving a fuck about anything since that’s the way things are and we can’t do anything about it.
For current militants (ie those who have a church to defend), the remedy for this situation is to be found in unity and the famous “convergence of struggles”vi. The convergence of struggles is a hollow expression, meaningless, since there is nothing to converge with apart from political and/or trade union groups seeking a momentary unity for objectives that look towards them.
For us, who are not part of this, and seek to get rid of our chains, the ideology of unity is mainly used to tolerate this world and to submit to it; it’s a concept that organized racketeers use so as to say “Shut up” to discordant and minority voices.
“Unity”, justified by the argument that one must not separate oneself, be a minority, serves above all to get as many people as possible caught up in the dominant logic, and, when it works, paralyzes initiatives, by directing people’s energies towards the classic methods of representation and negotiation, against all aspects of the autonomy of those who revolt. It prevents any discussion, any possibility for individuals to exchange opinions and to go beyond their limits, their illusions, by giving them the false feeling of being part of something, while they are just its playthings. And being described as “sectarian” is quickly used to avoid taking into account what is relevant in anything that dares not blindly accept everything that passes for an “Opposition”.
It is only with debate and criticism that those who revolt – proletarians – can glimpse new possibilities, conceive of the project to get rid of this society, and start working on it.
We are not weak because we are divided, but divided because we are weak.
It is necessary that these movements go beyond symbolism, towards a critique of politics and the roles it legitimises. We need moments when we go beyond social roles. Nobody can believe that private sector workers are really ready to mobilize themselves to defend “public services“, a category that encloses the exploited in their role as sacrosanct defenders of everybody’s interests, instead of defending their own interests, and seeking to link up with others.
Over the last weeks, at Notre–Dame–des–Landesvii, where a certain rejection of this social reality has occurred in recent years, with inevitable, sometimes really heavy, contradictions, the ideology of unity also served, once again, to break the initiatives that went outside and beyond the self-appointed representatives’ plan to negotiate with the state whilst affirming the contrary, shouting loudly about “insurrection”. It was the construction of alternativesviii that was being affirmed, and not opposition seeking to extend to the whole of the social terrain, when self-proclaimed representatives prepared the ground for the cops, starting their disgusting job of repression and evictions.
At the University of Montpellier: unity against the “fascism” of the Dean and his minionsix, served, once again, to ask the authorities for the restoration of true “justice”, a truly democratic operation. But to demand the State recognise its errors, to claim a just “justice”, is to recognize the prerogatives of the State, to legitimize its controlling and exploitative role, from which it is comprised. Meanwhile, at the university, courses continue, in a more or less self-organized manner, but without overcoming teacher/student roles, without criticizing the nature of academic subjects
and developing an interest in discussions involving critiques of authority relations.x
However actions also escape [dominant] “logic”, such as the sabotage of the University’s computer system on April 11xi.
We certainly live in a difficult atmosphere: ecological catastrophe, threats of war, intensified repression of everything that is human (even including the simplest of pleasures), increased confusion and isolation, of separated people’s ego battles, crazy addictions and depression. Resignation leads to acceptance of this society, lack of self-confidence and lack of confidence in others.
We must criticize, in words and deeds, what creates and what justifies this state of affairs, the compensations of culture and consumerism that this society holds out to us as anesthetics to divert us from the poverty of our daily lives.
We can’t wait to be saved by a movement which we only contribute towards as followers, as
spectators. History is not a force external to individuals, and there is a need to try to understand the strengths and weaknesses of the movements of the past, to try out new endeavours, without seeking perfection, but more as a way which allows us to conceive of something else.
“Retirement at 25”, “€10,000 minimum wage”
For a movement of riots, wildcat strikes, sabotage and occupations everywhere!
Footnotes (not in original leaflet)
i This is a reference in particular to the « anti-authoritarian » milieu. See, for example « the CGT – sheepdogs in wolves’ clothing » http://dialectical-delinquents.com/articles/class-struggle-histories-2/france-the-cgt-sheepdogs-in-wolves-clothing/ which I wrote in October, which begins : “Up until fairly recently, recognition of and critiquing the class-collaborationist function of unions – particularly the CGT – was taken as a given amongst radical currents in France. But here, as elsewhere, the counter-revolutionary crushing of memory has had a depressingly debilitating effect. In 2006, shortly after the movement against the CPE, anarchists and the CGT had a serious physical fight in Perpignan on the Mayday demo. Obviously everyone associated with the “anarchist” or “anti-authoritarian” milieu supported the anarchists in this fight. Nowadays, we’d probably find some so-called anarchists siding with the CGT, if today’s befuddled mentality is anything to go by….Almost all the various « anarchist » or « anti-authoritarian » organisations seem to have accepted the CGT’s (or Sud’s – see Appendix) version of the law, and copied and pasted it onto their various bits of propaganda. Some « anarchists » even temporarily accept being part of the CGT’s « service d’ordre » (demonstration stewards). In recent leaflets the CGA (a split from the Federation Anarchiste), even stands for the defence of the CGT’s bodies of negotiations with the State. It seems that many so-called libertarians, submissive to the repulsive politics of the CGT and the defence of their managerial position within French companies, believe the promotion of their organisation and its image is more important than contributing to the class struggle. They are incapable of distinguishing between enlarging the profile of their organisation through populist acquiescence towards the CGT racket on the one hand, and contributing towards a subversion of this law, of bourgeois laws in general and of the exhausting society of wage slavery they are aimed at reinforcing, on the other. Lacking all critical distance, publicising their organisation takes priority over any basic sense of class anger towards class collaborators such as the CGT. And outside these organisations, there’s an almost unprecedented confusion about the CGT and the new laws, both deliberately manipulated and unconscious, permeating the minds of rebels and would-be rebels.”
ii Ordinances : whereby the government, despite the spectacle of opposition to its “undemocratic” nature by both leftist parties and the unions, bypassed parliament and ratified the reforms without any debate or vote in the National Assembly.
iii Citizenist : this is an ideology, particularly indoctrinated into the young in schools since the beginning of this century, that we are all citizens with equal rights and an equal access to control over this society through democratic participation in all the various bodies, elections, etc. Though this exists in other countries in various forms, it is something that is particularly emphasised and inculcated by constant references in the media, in political discourse of left and right, in the miseducation institutions and throughout all the institutions of French society in an almost totalitarian manner insidiously colonising discussion at all levels.
iv See, for example, « Enragés and Situationists in the Occupations Movement » : – in particular Chapter 9 – “The State Reestablished”
v In the 2006 movement against the CPE (a law creating precarity amongst the young, which gave those employed for the first 2 years in a job far more restricted “rights” than their older fellow workers) General Assemblies were open to everyone and loads of independent actions, strikes, occupations, riots etc. took place. Because of the massive autonomous revolt against this law, the ruling class were forced to retract it. See this : “all quiet on the french front”.
vi An expression constantly asserted as a way of uniting different “struggles” almost invariably mediated by the professional organisers (i.e. those militants specialising in organising their organisation). At present there are “struggles” in hospitals, at Air France, in the supermarkets of Carrefour (sold out by the unions, so far without any genuine attempt to attack the sell-out), in the care homes, in the universities, on the railways, but almost invariably dominated by unions and official organisations. In practice, throughout history genuine “convergence” happens organically – through one struggle influencing others and having a knock-on effect, linking up where necessary through permanently revocable delegation, but often less formally simply by spontaneous conversations, connections and suggestions being made without any voted-for structure (though of course, such “spontaneity” – given the habits developed by dominant hierarchical social relations which are only just beginning to be subverted – can sometimes pose other problems). Only bureaucrats pretend that “convergence” can be created by sticking together “fragments” as if struggle was like some model airplane requiring the superglue of their expertise. The ultimate logic of this notion sees convergence as a matter of dictating “unity” through the seizure of state power – like the Bolsheviks in 1917. Occasionally, however, there are some actions – such as this on 24th April : France, Hauts-de-Seine: logistics depot of SNCF blockaded by 300 students, train drivers, hospital & striking post office workers which, unlike the almost invariably abstract “convergence of struggles” called for from on high, at least have the merit of something concrete, despite (apparently) the absence of any suspicion towards the union agenda.
viiii. “Alternatives” within the present society, adapting to and accepting it rather than seeing the ZADs as a temporary base of limited experimentation and expropriation of the expropriators whilst striving to contest the wider society as well.
ix This was when the occupation at the Law Faculty was attacked very violently by masked fascists led by the Dean. Apparently, the Dean asked the cops to go in, but they said they’d only go in with the agreement of the Prefecture, which refused to order them in. So the Dean sent in 20 masked and hooded fascist students, including professors (one being a professor of health law, no less), to beat the shit out of the occupying students, using truncheons, tasers, etc. The Dean then locked himself up with these hooded scum inside the faculty, protecting them from the police who had just arrived. 3 students were hospitalised, though no-one was kept in hospital for longer than 24 hours. Undoubtedly the best lesson in law studies that the students could ever have, including “health law”: “justice” is determined not by “rights” but by the balance of force(s), and the same goes for health (though very differently). The Dean was then forced to resign; apparently 4 professors were involved in the fascist violence. The university authorities temporarily closed down the Faculty of Law and the Faculty of Science. Though some of the fascists so shitted themselves that they decided it best to grass up their fellow fascists, others (the Ligue du Midi) participated in an anti-blockade demo at the Faculty of Science on April 24th, hoping to pick up some recruits. However, no-one seemed interested in “proletarian justice” – preferring less risky discussions with state prosecutors and lefty lawyers.
x Me and some friends went to one of these lessons, mainly because of threats by some phoney “anti-authoritarian” to physically attack it. It was conducted in a traditional form with the speaker behind a desk reading directly from her prepared speech on a stage to a large amphitheater. The content was utterly abstract – a critique of post-modernism from a universalist somewhat classical marxist perspective. The discussion that followed became a bit more interesting and heated until the final half-hour, when the original speaker had gone off, and we made the discussion far more concrete – chatting to various people about the current movement and specific events and contradictions.
xi On 11th April about 30 masked students sabotaged the administration’s internet site (including smashing up machines) during the blockade and part-time occupation of campus. The site stopped functioning for about 36 hours. This action was in response to the admin’s decision to organise exams via the internet, and was followed by about 200 personnel & professors, utterly identifying with their alienated labour, demonstrating against this sabotage, though amongst radical students it was popular, obviously. When the site came back up the admin said that no data was lost, but several students suspected that this was them trying to put up a good front, that it was not true. But maybe this was wishful thinking on the part of the students – I don’t know.
Report on the demo in Montpellier of 14th April, during which the leaflet was distributed until teargas made it seem a little ridiculous to continue doing so
Montpellier: cops teargas demo against a variety of government measures (attacks on pensions, intensified selection for universities, etc. ) within a few minutes of it starting; subsequently shop & bank windows smashed, burning bin barricades etc.
The usual route of demos here is from outside a park at the top of a hill downwards past some shops towards the station. This was the first time ever the route was blocked by a line of cops, who immediately started firing a considerable amount of teargas grenades after 1 stone was ineffectually thrown towards the lines of cops. A TV report threw in footage of a minor incident of a guy throwing a barrier towards the cops, which happened at a later time, as if it was part of the reason for the cops launching teargas immediately. However the cop spokesman was more honest than the media, saying simply, without claiming that the teargas launched was against any “violence”, that it was to prevent shop windows being smashed up. In fact, the reason for this unprecedented blocking of the normal route was the fact that the march was lead by the black block, a tactic that had been announced several days in advance at a fairly public planning meeting on part of the university campus, abandoning the basic minimal strategy of surprising your enemy.
Despite this, the cop strategy didn’t really work as the march turned round and went along a route that included even more shops and businesses, some of which had their windows smashed or tagged. However, the flag-waving leaders of the march, which by this time seemed to be a student organisation, turned off just 10 meters before the main square of the city (where just 4 vans of unarmoured non-riot cops were placed, though at the far end of the square – about 150 meters away – the heavily armoured CRS were ready) along a small road leading to the other end of the road that the cops had previously blocked off. On this Saturday, the main square is full of tourists and others eating and drinking in cafes and restaurants or waiting for their tram, and it would have been a lot harder, causing them a great deal of bad publicity, for the cops to have fired teargas grenades there than they later did when they seemed to have broken up the march and attacked part of it from both ends. More windows and businesses are tagged and smashed (mainly estate agents, banks, temp agencies, luxury shops, jewelers…), as the riot cops massively teargas one end of the demo and attack with troops the other end. Not all cops have gas-masks, and some are seen crying from their own gas. A woman in a wheelchair very slowly drove in front of a tram for 5 minutes to slow it down until the tram company sent a car along to ask her in repressed angry tones to please get off the track.
Apparently the regional deputy Muriel Ressiguier, from the Leftist Melenchon racket “La France Insoumise” (literally translated as “Unsubmissive France”), shouted out some demagogic crap inciting the youths to attack the cops (as if they hadn’t already wanted to do so) and that as soon as they got into power they’d do everything necessary to reverse the neoliberal policies. Later on, after at least 40 shops & businesses had had their windows “smashed” (well, cracked really because nowadays business windows are, as most people know, pretty much stone-resistant, never really leaving the goods on open display ready to be liberated) a spokesman for the business “community”, along with the city’s mayor from the Socialist Party, called on her to be prosecuted for such incitement. Shit-scared, she made a rapid U-turn and called on people to grass on the “casseurs” (window-breakers) and that they should be prosecuted to the full extent of the law: “Unsubmissive France” indeed.
A wildcat march – now numbering about 250, including a small group of youths who spontaneously joined because it seemed like more fun than strolling around gawping at pricey goods – meandered through the back streets setting up innumerable “barricades” of burning bins to stop traffic. Some local residents shouted out against them from their windows, telling them to leave “their” neighbourhood; others complained that they were endangering their street-level drug-dealing. Some car drivers were confronted when they tried to drive through them because their journey was delayed for 5 minutes. Eventually, after over 2 hours of going round the back streets on their way to the university campus, the BAC and the CRS suddenly caught them unawares (they’d requisitioned a few of the town’s tram company vans, from which they unexpectedly emerged) and, despite two sets of burning bin “barricades, which would have allowed far more people to escape through side streets, some 40 or more went into a supermarket to escape, but the back way was blocked and they were trapped and very badly beaten, a couple being hospitalised. 55 were kept in custody and the next day about 200 or so people amassed outside the town’s main police station, cheering as one by one most of them were released (in French this police station’s called the Hotel de Police, which sounds like a hotel – sadly the only mini-bars are on the cell windows).