Things are rapidly hotting up in France. The Gilets Jaunes or Yellow Vests movement, which started as a protest of hard-up working people against spiralling petrol prices, has transformed itself into a full-on uprising against the neoliberal regime of President Emmanuel Macron.
Contrary to all that we’ve been hearing, the mystery is not that we are rising up but that we haven’t done so before. The abnormality isn’t in what we are doing now, but in what we have put up with so far. Who can deny that the system has failed on all accounts? Who still wants to be fleeced, robbed, reduced to precarity for nothing? Who is going to shed any tears over the fact that posh areas of Paris are being looted by the poor or that the bourgeoisie have seen their shiny new 4X4s go up in flames? As for Macron, he should stop complaining since it was him that suggested we come and see him. A State cannot claim to draw legitimacy from the corpse of a “glorious revolution” only to moan about vandalism when a revolution gets underway.
The situation is simple: the people want the system to fall. The system intends keeping going. This defines the situation as insurrectional, as the police themselves are now admitting. The people have numbers, courage, joy, intelligence and naivety. The state has the army, the police, the media, cunning and the fears of the bourgeoisie. Since November 17, the people have used two complementary levers: blocking the economy and the assault carried out every Saturday against the administrative centre of Paris. These levers are complementary because the economy is the reality of the system, while the government is the symbolic representation. To really bring the system down, both of these must be attacked. This applies to Paris as to the rest of the country: setting fire to a local préfecture and marching on the centre of power are one and the same gesture.
Every Saturday since November 17 in Paris, the people have been magnetized by the same objective: marching on the government’s inner sanctuaries. From Saturday to Saturday the difference consists firstly of the enormous increase in the police numbers deployed to prevent the march and secondly the accumulation of experience from the failure of the previous Saturday. If there were lots more people wearing swimming goggles and gas masks this Saturday, it was not because “groups of organised thugs” had “infiltrated the demo” but simply because the people had been extensively gassed the previous week and drew from that the conclusions that anyone with any sense would have drawn: come equipped next time around. In any case, this is not about a demonstration but an uprising.
If tens of thousands of people invaded the central Parisian area of Tuileries-Saint Lazare-Étoile-Trocadéro, it wasn’t because of a strategy of harassment decided by certain groups but because of people’s collective tactical intelligence in the face of the police deployment stopping them from reaching their goal. Blaming the “ultra-left” for this attempted uprising doesn’t fool anyone: if the ultra-left had been capable of driving construction machinery to charge the police lines or destroy motorway toll booths, we would have known about it; if it had been so numerous, so likeable, so courageous, we would have known about it. With its essentially identity-based concerns, this “ultra-left” is deeply embarrassed by the impurity of the gilets jaunes movement; the truth is that it doesn’t know which way to turn, that it has a bourgeois-like fear of compromising itself by mingling with this crowd that doesn’t in with any of its categories.
As for the “ultra-right” it has been sandwiched between its supposed means and ends: it promotes disorder while claiming to want order, it throws stones at the national police while declaring its love for the police and the nation, it wants to cut off the head of the republican monarch through love of a non-existent king. On all these matters, we are going to leave the Minister of the Interior to his ridiculous ravings. It isn’t the radicals who make the movement, it’s the movement that radicalises people. Who could believe that they are thinking about imposing a state of emergency against a handful of hooligans?
Those who do insurrections by half are only digging their own graves. At the point we are at, with today’s means of repression, either we topple the system or it will crush us. It would be a serious error of judgement to underestimate this government’s level of radicalisation. Anyone who sets themselves up, in the days ahead, as a mediator between the people and the government will be torn to pieces: nobody wants to be represented any more, we are all big enough to speak for ourselves, to notice who is trying to us calm us down, who is trying to recuperate us. And even if the government takes a step backwards, it will only be proving that we are right to have done what we have done, that our methods are the right ones.
Next week will therefore be decisive: either even more of us manage to stop the economic machine by blocking ports, refineries, stations, distribution centres etc, by really taking the government’s inner sanctuaries and its regional offices next Saturday, or we are lost. Next Saturday, the marches for the climate, which start from the principle that those who led us into this catastrophe aren’t going to get us out of it, have no reason not to join us in the streets. We are a hair’s breadth away from the breakdown of the machinery of government. Either we succeed in the coming months to bring about the necessary change of course, or the coming apocalypse will be twice as heavy, with a clamp-down on a scale scarcely hinted at so far on social media.
The question is therefore: what does it actually mean to bring down the system? It is clear that it doesn’t mean electing new representatives because the failure of the current régime is also the failure of the system of representation. Bringing down the system means taking over locally, community by community, the entire physical and symbolic organisation of life, for it is precisely the current organisation of life that is in question, that is itself the catastrophe.
We mustn’t be afraid of the unknown: millions of people have never been seen to let themselves die of starvation. Just as we are all capable of organising ourselves horizontally to block roads, so we are capable of organising ourselves for a more sensible way of living. Just as it is locally that the revolt is being organised; so it is locally that the solutions will be found. The “national” level is only the echo of local initiatives.
We are fed up with having to count every penny. The rule of the economy is the rule of misery because it is the rule of calculation. What is beautiful on the road blocks, in the streets, in everything we have been doing these past three weeks, and which means that in a way we have already won, is that we have stopped counting because we have started to count on each other. When the issue is one of communal salvation, the question of the legal ownership of life’s infrastucture becomes a detail. The difference between the people and those who govern them is that the people aren’t a bunch of wankers.
The photo above shows Hollington Valley ‘Local Wildlife Site’ near Hastings in East Sussex on March 26 2015. It was posted online by the eco-action group Combe Haven Defenders to show the grim devastation caused by roadbuilding – in this case the Bexhill-Hastings Link Road.
Meanwhile, we are told that “England’s largest road investment programme for a generation” will be “a long term and sustainable benefit to the environment”.
How appropriate that the new official body Highways England is being launched on April 1! You’d have to be a complete April Fool not to see right through the glossy verbiage in its “Delivery Plan” from which these weasel words are taken.
All the smooth talk about making roads safer and reducing congestion is a barely disguised cover for its real mission of expanding capitalist infrastructure and thus increasing private profit at the expense of the public and the environment.
Readers of The Acorn will not be surprised to learn that number one on the Highways England list of “strategic outcomes” is “supporting economic growth”.
Its brochure adds: “We will do this by modernising the network to relieve congestion and reduce delays, helping businesses to grow, encouraging investment, creating jobs and opening up new areas for development.”
The last phrase here is important. “Opening up new areas for development” is in fact the opposite of relieving congestion and involves increasing the whole spiral of congestion, pollution, environmental destruction and climate change by converting yet more beautiful green fields and woodlands into ugly concrete and tarmac.
This is what new roads are about, everywhere in the world. For instance, the recent Russian proposals for a 12,000-mile east-west motorway (which would theoretically link the UK to the USA by road) not only go hand in hand with plans for new oil and gas pipelines, but have also been given the give-away name of the “Trans-Eurasian Belt Development”.
Highways England is proud of “working closely with Local Enterprise Partnerships and other local partners and stakeholders” to “identify current and future constraints to economic growth”. Like the countryside, perhaps?
In Acorn 4 we examined the Local Enterprise Partnership for parts of southern England, the Coast to Capital Local Enterprise Partnership, and how its connections to the arms industry and global construction businesses fitted in nicely with its commitment to promoting their interests under the mantle of “economic growth”.
We also exposed how it has admitted that “sustainable transport” schemes do not necessarily have to involve either transport or sustainability and that it was considering one such project, in Worthing, that is blatantly nothing more than a make-over for a town centre shopping centre.
Not only does Highways England play the same deceitful game by claiming its programme will result in “An Improved Environment – where our activities ensure a long term and sustainable benefit to the environment” but, to add insult to injury, the list of its “sustainable” projects actually includes none other than the entirely phoney scheme in Worthing!
“Economic growth” has replaced “progress” as the term with which industrial capitalism likes to justify its life-destroying rampage.
What the two have in common is that they are both meant to be undeniable facts of life. Within the capitalist/neoliberal mindset, it is a “given” that we need economic growth, as if it were in some way essential to our survival, like sunlight, fresh air or clean water.
This assumption is sadly sometimes also accepted by “radicals”, who fail to challenge this overall capitalist framework and focus instead on making the existing industrial system “fairer” or more “democratic”.
An alternative to this mental trap is degrowth (known elsewhere as décroissance, decrescita, decreixement and decrecimiento). Degrowth is a movement of ideas that “can trace its roots back to the anti-industrialist trends of the 19th century, developed in Great Britain by John Ruskin, William Morris and the Arts and Crafts Movement (1819–1900), in the United States by Henry David Thoreau (1817–1862), and in Russia by Leo Tolstoy (1828–1911).” (Wikipedia)
Degrowth rejects all forms of productivism (the belief that economic productivity and growth is the purpose of human organisation). It rejects the capitalist idea of “sustainable development”, which it sees as an oxymoron, as any development based on growth in a finite and environmentally stressed world is inherently unsustainable.
It is “a downscaling of production and consumption that increases human well-being and enhances ecological conditions and equity on the planet. It calls for a future where societies live within their ecological means, with open, localised economies and resources more equally distributed through new forms of democratic institutions” and proposes “a shrinking of the economic system to leave more space for human cooperation and ecosystems”. (degrowth.org)
Of course, within the degrowth movement there are differences of strategy. Some, for example, might think that the capitalist system might somehow be persuaded to dissolve itself, or that it will allow its phoney “democratic” apparatus to divest it of its power. Others fear that a more confrontational attitude will be necessary to save the planet…
Sinister signs are emerging that the British state is preparing to use the full weight of its repressive power to try to crush the growing anti-fracking movement on behalf of the business interests which really control our “democratic” society.
The threat is a response to growing support for the anti-fracking struggle, and increasing scepticism about the fracking industry’s corporate spin and its PR strategy of insisting that new sites are purely conventional and that no fracking will in fact take place – see, for instance, this local website in West Sussex.
One indication of the state’s hardline approach comes from the Network for Police Monitoring, which has warned that “police see opposition to fracking as the most significant public order issue in the coming year and are actively preparing for it”.
Another indication comes from a letter issued by government ministers urging local authorities to take a strong line against “unauthorised traveller sites, protest camps and squatters” – including, of course, anti-fracking protest camps.
There is an aspect absurd to this statement in that the ministers claim camps might “harm the local environment” – unlike fracking or roadbuilding, presumably! But there is also a sinister side to their message to all council leaders, police and crime commissioners and police chief constables. Revealing the real attitude of those in power towards the rest of us, they instruct their underlings in the state system: “Public bodies should not gold plate human rights”.
Netpol explored police attitudes towards the anti-fracking movement following a Supreme Court ruling that the taking and retention of the personal data of 90-year-old Brighton anti-militarist campaigner John Catt was lawful.
It says this may have significant consequences for the surveillance of political activism, since the judgment grants extensive discretion to the police in the operation of police databases, and in the collection of intelligence related to ‘domestic extremism’ or other protest activity. “It is, in short, judicial approval for the mass surveillance of UK political activism”, they warn.
To illustrate the point, Netpol sets out a scenario where local people set up an anti-fracking campaign in a rural village close to a drilling of a proposed new exploratory shale gas well:
In order to assess the risk that any protest might include some degree of obstruction of the site entrance or the public highway, senior officers decide to gather information through overt surveillance on all members of the campaign to establish its size, who is most active and most influential and what other groups, particularly undefined environmental ‘extremists’, local people identified as organisers are in contact with.
This involves officers attending a village hall meeting and noting what has been said, filming everyone as they leave, intimidating home visits to identified ‘leaders’ and logging the movements of activists’ vehicles as they go to and from the village. None of the people under surveillance has a criminal record – few have ever been involved in a campaign before – but this self-evident invasion of their privacy is justified as necessary “for legitimate policing purposes”.
As the surveillance expands from weeks to months, it is not long before the details of almost everyone over 16 in this close-knit local community has been added to the National Special Branch Intelligence System.
Conclude Netpol: “Alarmingly, our work alongside activists in the growing opposition to extreme energy extraction suggests this scenario may soon become entirely realistic.”
Meanwhile, anti-frackers in Bristol have launched a Solidarity Appeal to help their ongoing battle. They say: “Environmental defenders have recently incurred exceptional outgoings of more than a thousand pounds in the continued battle to stop big business destroying our planet. They need your help urgently”. Contributions can be made here.
Following the reports in Acorn 5 of the dramatic anti-capitalist protests in Frankfurt, focused on the official opening of the European Central Bank’s new HQ, this useful firsthand account has been published on rabble.org.uk
From 5am on the morning of the 18th an estimated 6,000 people began marching on the ECB from different corners of Frankfurt. Activists had been organised into ‘fingers’, each with their own strategy to disrupt and blockade the ECB. 10,000 police, armed with pepper spray, tear gas and water cannons were concentrated around the bank.
As the fingers moved toward the ECB, banks, government buildings and shops were targeted. Paint bombs were thrown at the UBS building, windows were smashed at the local council building, Hilton Hotel and Sparkasse Bank. Slogans painted on the walls gave a clear message. ‘Smash Capitalism’ was written on buildings across Frankfurt. One person had written ‘The empire is dying’, and an advertising billboard for Intimissi underwear that objectified women was defaced with the words ‘Smash Patriarchy’. Police who came close while all this was going on were warned off by a hail of rocks.
As people got closer to the ECB, anything that could be moved was dragged into the road to blockade the area around the bank and prevent police movements. A building site was dismantled to create a strong barricade close to Ost Bahnhof metro station. Police who drove close to the crowd constructing the barricade soon thought better of it, and drove away at breakneck speed. A nearby road was blocked by an abandoned police car, which was set alight. The barricade was further strengthened by the torching of a luxury car.
Police responded by firing tear gas, charging at the crowd, punching and kicking demonstrators and kettling. Almost 400 people were held in a cordon and at least 17 people were arrested. One of the arrestees, Federico Annibale, a student from SOAS in London, has been in custody in Frankfurt since Wednesday. According to the NoTroika website he has not seen the evidence against him and has not yet been charged.
Despite police repression, people managed to set fire to dozens of police vehicles and set up burning barricades around the city centre.
By 11am riots had begun to abate, protesters danced on the streets at a sound truck at the end of a bridge close to the ECB, while police water cannons kept watch. The day ended with a colourful 25,000 strong anti-capitalist march through Frankfurt.
So, what is the significance of the Frankfurt riots? First of all, they are an effective example of propaganda by deed. The images broadcast around the world from the streets of Frankfurt may have brought a little hope to those suffering under the Europe’s austerity regime, to those ready to join the struggle for a different society. They send a message that people are, once again, ready to resist. They may also be the first step in a new wave of international resistance to capitalism.
On March 18th, thousands of German activists were joined by people from Italy, Greece, France, Ireland, the UK, the US, the Netherlands, Belgium, Turkey and Spain. Many of the international activists had come in large contingents, the size of which has not been seen since the heyday of international summit mobilisations. Those of us present on the day got a taste of what it is like to take part in a truly transnational demonstration, to make an impact despite the thousands of cops pitted against us, and gained inspiration and new allies.
Of course, the ECB protests had many of the problems that the international summit mobilisation movement also had. The Blockupy coalition was intentionally wide to maximise numbers, ranging from anti-authoritarians and anarchists to trade union organisations and the Die Linke party. The publicly announced planning meeting on the 17th, attended by over a thousand people, was reminiscent of attending the speeches at a traditional left wing rally. The Blockupy coalition felt the need to distance itself from the riots in the media. Ulrich Wilken, a coalition representative said “This is not what we in Blockupy had planned.” but that he “understood” people’s anger at the “policies of impoverishment”. A Blockupy statement later said that “individual actions” were “not responsible” – meaning that some demonstrators’ actions were irresponsible.
These so-called ‘representatives’ of the protests have their own interests at heart: the strengthening of political parties like Die Linke and other European left wing parties, in the wake of the success of Syriza in Greece. Those of us who want to see a non-hierarchical movement aimed at dismantling the capitalist system from below and creating alternatives which challenge all forms of oppression must be on our guard against our efforts being channelled into building popularity for these parties, which will not change the system and will only lead to further disappointments and failures for those who want to see real change.
Transnational resistance against capitalism needs to transcend the old cycle of counter-summits to create real solidarity between those resisting, to mobilise internationally to support local struggles, and to consider how a temporary show of resistance, as happened in Frankfurt, can make room for more permanent spaces from which to explore how to create new worlds free from capitalism and oppression.
If we are going to effectively resist capitalism, a system which defies national borders to dominate the world we live in today, we need strong local struggles, to challenge the system wherever we are and prevent further destruction of the earth and our communities by the endless drive for profit. But it is also necessary for us to see how these struggles are connected together, to get to know our allies living across borders and to recognise the power we have when we join each other. Let’s hope that the events in Frankfurt last week will spark a new wave of transnational resistance to capitalism which will strengthen our movements, reclaim space to create alternatives and inspire others to join the struggle.
The first Brighton screening of Huw Wahl’s film To Hell With Culture is being organised by Sussex Anarchists at the Cowley Club, 12 London Road, Brighton, at 7.30pm on Tuesday April 7. The film will be introduced on the evening by Dr Michael Paraskos, author of Herbert Read: Art and Idealism, among other works.
To Hell With Culture is an inspiring portrait of the life and work of Herbert Read (1893-1968), one of the most influential art and literary theorists of modernism active in the first half of the twentieth century. He was also an anarchist, being directly involved in the movement both before and after the Second World War and penning some important contributions to anarchist philosophy.
Despite his passion for modernist culture, Read remained deeply attached to a rural English way of life threatened by the machineries of capitalism, declaring: “Deep down my attitude is a protest against the fate that has made me a poet in an industrial age”.
The free screening follows on from the Sussex Anarchists group meeting at 6pm. All welcome.
Never Mind The Ballots…It’s The 7th Bristol Anarchist Bookfair! The event is being held from 11am to 6pm on Saturday April 25, 2015, at Trinity Centre Trinity Rd, Bristol BS2 0NW, with a Radical History Zone nearby at Hydra Bookshop. The bookfair comes just 13 days before the British general election and local elections and organisers promise: “There won’t be a single lying, corrupt, austerity-enforcing, media-spinning politician in sight”. More info at bristolanarchistbookfair.org
* * *
Two chapters of the new Invisible Committee book To Our Friends have now been posted online in English, ahead of its actual publication. The latest released text is called Let’s Disappear, and stresses that revolutionaries should not fall into the trap of seeing the ‘population’ as something other than themselves, as something that has to be influenced or harnessed in some way, as the state itself does. They remind us: “We are the ‘hearts and minds’ that must be conquered. We are the ‘crowds’ that are to be controlled”. The previously-released chapter is called Fuck Off Google.
* * *
A general strike is being staged in France on Thursday April 9 against the new Macron law, with workers and students mobilising to block buildings and infrastructure and take to the streets in large numbers. The law drawn up by economics minister Emmanuel Macron is all about encouraging our old friend “economic growth”. The 106 articles in the Macron Law provide further proof, as if any were needed, of the ruling French Socialist Party’s neoliberal agenda. Working hours are to be increased, with Sunday working normalised in the way it already is in the UK, and bosses’ powers strengthened. As ever, though, the French people are ready to put up a fight!
* * *
A draconian clamp-down on dissent and resistance is being launched by the Spanish state. On March 26 three controversial laws were approved in the Spanish Congress. The Penal Code, the new Anti-Terror Law and the Law on Citizen Safety, scheduled to come into effect on July 1, 2015, pose a severe threat to freedom of expression in the streets and on the internet. For instance, there will be fines of up to 30,000€ for “crimes” such as “photographing or recording police”, “peaceful disobedience to authority”, “occupying banks as means of protest”, or “not formalizing a protest”. Online activism is also targeted, with jail sentences of between three months and a year threatened for publishing “slogans or messages” or “inciting any offence of disorderly conduct” including “disturbing the public peace”. The state’s definition of “terrorism” is widened to include hacking with the goal of disturbing the public peace. More information at revolution-news.com. The new laws follow Operation Pandora in December, in which anarchists were attacked by the Spanish state under the guise of an “anti-terrorist” operation.
* * *
Following a fire which affected the premises of anarchist publisher AK Press in Oakland, USA, it is making an appeal for funds to put right the damage.The target is a hefty $150,000, but $40,000 had already been raised in the first four days.
* * *
Finally, a couple of online video recommendations from The Acorn. This documentary looks at direct action protests against the DSEI arms fair in London – both the event and the opposition will be happening again in September this year. And this film shows a feisty student protest against neoliberalism in Quebec.
* * *
Acorn quote: “Dracula, king of the vampires, is the perfect fin-de-siècle cultural horror: something living hundreds of years yet dead, something dead but undead, draining the vitality of the living, like European Civilization itself”. Richard Noll, The Jung Cult: The Origins of a Charismatic Movement