We believe, without any doubt, that it is when each anonymous being gains consciousness of her/his pure potential and capacity to act, it is then when the wheel of dissidence begins to turn.
It is then that it is unstoppable. It is the everyday rebellions that transform the surroundings, challenging the capitalist massacre.
And so it begins, from below and little by little, until it takes the streets. ALL OF THE STREETS.
Madrid graffiti May 2016
Nuit Debout, in the many occupied city squares of france, is created daily through a multiplicity of gestures and actions, forms and expressions. Among them is the proliferation of texts, produced both from within and outside the movement (a division that is not always easy to discern, for the movement has no clear frontiers). From the Paris based “official” Gazette Debout, the Nuit Debout Wiki, the publication of the lectures shared at Debout Education, Nuit Debout newspapers outside Paris, to bulletins, fanzines, commission and working group reports, and so much more.
If the movement has weakened over the course of the last weeks, in terms of the number of those participating in assemblies, it nevertheless does stubbornly continue and this against internal dissension from within and harassment and repression from without. Among what may be called the “internal” reasons for the waning of participation may lie in the movement’s very point of departure, captured in the slogan, “Convergence des luttes”. Nuit Debout appeared in the minds of some (even among some of its initiators), and has been so lived, as merely some kind of point of confluence for preexisting struggles. Instead then of “appropriating” those struggles to change them into larger and more radical political endeavours, Nuit Debout has been submerged and sapped by the sectoral battles raging all around it, most notably, the labour union protests against france’s new labour law. Unable to effect the metamorphosis necessary for insurrection, Nuit Debout today risks disappearing into irrelevance.
In the first month of Nuit Debout Paris, a pamphlet circulated in the Place de la République that was perhaps among the most lucid, prescient and radical texts to be elaborated regarding the movement. It was entitled, “Autonomy, or nothing” and was authored by a group calling itself the revolutionary erotic committee. Two other pamphlets would follow. (“Autonomy, or nothing” would was also posted online on the blog Palim Psao, a french language collection of texts by writers associated with the Krisis and Sortir de l’économie groups. The other two interventions can also be found on the same site, in french: “Vivre, ou rien“, “Vivre la commune“) We share the first text below, in translation.
Autonomy, or nothing
From this moment on, our revolt unfolds. Our desire to live, our passion to live, our erotic energy, that of Eros as a drive of life, repressed for years, contained in a powerless politics and a politics of powerlessness, can no longer be held back. They thought we were dead, they wanted us dead, yet here we are standing [debout]. They wanted to restrict our power of acting to the dreary election days of the Republic; see us now that we occupy each evening, as the place de la Commune, as the starting point towards multiple insurrections. It is thousands of lives that rise up, each night, until the end of the night, until the end of all nights.
We are in the midst of living something other than our miserable survival, of simply living. We are in the midst of constructing, of constructing ourselves, of self-organising ourselves, of rising up. Yet while a process of self-organisation of daily life in the squares seems capable of emerging, it is proposed to us again to channel and manipulate our revolt of life for the benefit of an “alternative” politics of powerlessness, to transform a torrent of life into an “alternative” administered channel, to transform a daily autonomy of the living into an electoral machine for the conquest of the administration of dead things, of the economy. Our power to live, to rebel and to self-organise ourselves daily, confiscated for the benefit of another electoral machine that, like Syriza, will be able to do nothing more than administer “differently” capitalist austerity after the confiscation of the powers to act of a movement of occupation of squares. And this, to the benefit of a supposedly social “6th Republic”, a Republic which has done nothing five times, except to erect itself on cadavers, with Constitutions of grand mystifying principles, organising a state-capitalist reality; an “alternative” politics offering the choice between a sub-life of 800 euros, another Syriza or a social-democratic USSR. We are not going to walk upon electoral nails as the fakir invites us to do.
Our powers to live and act want to create something other than an electoral machine, another Syriza, another Republic, another welfare subsidy, another USSR. Our daily self-organisation, its liberation of speech, its joys, its effervescence, all of this is not destined to be recuperated politically, having nothing else in view than an “other” political economy, another misery, another austerity, or – at best – another capitalism. Electoral machines always satiate themselves as our squares empty, in Spain as elsewhere. Our autonomy is at the beginning of something grand, that of a collective life liberated from miseries and economic servitudes, liberated from political submissions, liberated from an organisation of our lives by foreign powers – the economy and politics.
Our passion to live cannot fit in your ballot boxes! What do you want us to do with your politics, your necessity, your poor electoral and economic stories?
The poverty of politics
The hell of politics and the economy will no longer exist in the future; indeed, it has not always existed. Pre-capitalist societies had neither an “economy” nor “politics” in the current sense of the terms, because they were not systems, totalitarian systems, that of the State and its Reason and that of the Market and its laws, and therefore did not have “political” and “economic” sub-systems – though they obeyed those who dominated and religions. It is only when a unified Market (customs, commercial, productive unity), out of control (with its systematic crises, its imperialist impulses, its forced modernisations), totalitarian (with its global expansion and its penetration in the ensemble of our social relations, our activities, our subjectivities) emerges that the economy as a sub-system of capitalist structures of labour, commodities, money and value comes to be. In the same way, it is only when in parallel the State emerges (the end of aristocratic lordships, cities, provinces) unified (centralised power, from above), out of control (its famous “reason of State” and its bureaucracy), totalitarian (penetration in the ensemble of social relations and the definition of our identity), that politics makes its shattering entry into history. Politics as a capitalist sub-system is born initiating a 28 year European war causing millions of deaths, massacring thousands of radical sans-culottes – some of whom wanted to create a society of communes – and ordinary people, establishing a bourgeois, patriarchal, racist Law, launching a life destroying industrialisation.
The structured form of the political system, the successful and inescapable realisation of any political structure (even “democratic”) is the State, this centralised, hierarchical, bureaucratic, heteronomous, despotic, repressive (and fiscally extortionist) mega-machine. Because it must finance itself to persevere in its being a State, it wanted first (even though it was but a monarchy) to create the economy by means of extensive reforms (expropriations, land concentrations, complete liberalisation of commerce), so as to finance an extremely costly war machine and it succeeded in part to carry through the de-structuring necessary for the development of the economy. But it is only with the modern State of 1789-1814 and the vast upheavals that it brings, that the economy finally emerges and its corollary, politics, that is first economic politics and, reciprocally, political economy, sign of their indissoluble alliance.
There is no “politics”, no political system outside the everyday organisation of life in pre-capitalist societies. Greco-roman societies were political, in the ancient sense of a social structuring around a polis (city); but they were completely political without this implying a separate system as today. Other societies were foreign to the category of the “political” because they were not founded around a polis (city) and knew of no separation between the “political”, the “economy” and “religion”, categories that are specifically modern. Politics, in the modern sense, refers essentially to one of the two sub-systems of capitalism, where it is distinct but with a tendency to subordination to its twin, the economy. Capitalism is thus a dual totality, with economic structures (labour, value, commodities, money) on the one side and categories necessary for the functioning and dynamic reproduction of capitalism (law, justice, police, army, government) on the other side.
Politics is nothing but a government of the economy; it is also that of the homo oeconomicus, who it represses whenever they are not content with the nightmare realised by the economy and the State. When it no longer imposes exclusively by means of ideological mystifications, it eradicates. The history of politics, of the State, as that of capitalism, is written in letters of blood and fire, that of the Terror, of dictatorships of enforced modernisation and Napoleonic wars, of the “bloody weeks” of 1848 and of 1871, of politics of industrialisation that were as destructive as they were enslaving, of the elimination of the organised economy of peasants and artisans, of the quasi pro-slavery, racist, genocidal colonial-imperial expansion, of an inter-capitalist nationalist war that killed millions, of the transformation of workers into fordist-taylorist robots, of a pro-fascist, then collaborationist politics, of an anti-revolutionary reformist politics (disarming of the partisans) in 1944-45, of bloody colonial wars, of the piloting of an economic modernisation comprised of factory labour, industry and nuclear bombs, of unrestrained building, of Spectacle, of consumerism and the repression of May 68, and finally, a neoliberal, repressive, degrading (its vile “service” jobs, its technological unemployment and its ideological mystifications) politics of crisis.
Without an economy then there is no politics, because the latter is essentially a politics of the economy, while at the same time completely dependent on it financially, because politics is nothing but the guarantor of the economy, with its contracts and its properties, because it is nothing but the agent that secures the fluidity, the management and the protection of the economy, with its national infrastructures, its macroeconomic policies, its army. We want no more of this, of politics as the armed guard of the economy, as the other side of the same capitalist coin.
Crisis of politics, politics of crisis
Politics is in crisis, let us finish it off! The now forty year old structural crisis of capitalism has brought about a re-centring of the State around its functions as a government of crisis of the economy in crisis and of military-police repression, unveiling again its true face, that of its origins, which it had masked during the course of the so called “Trente Glorieuses” and to which the ambient alter-capitalism desperately clings to. It can proclaim in all tranquility that there is no more growth, and therefore no more social rights. The lie is not the superficial one that there is no more money, but the fundamental one that we must give ourselves up yet again to the economic god – and be offered as sacrifice.
In an economic situation of crisis, one sees the State shed itself progressively of its “social” functions to re-centre itself on the essential: revive the economy and manage the socially disastrous consequences through the activities of the police and the control of masses of people useless to the economy. Reform, reform, reform, it is everywhere the same, the eternal return of the same and of the worse. It is necessary to revive growth, this is the mantra of this world where one walks upside down while persuading ourselves that it is the only way to walk. But when the air becomes properly unbreathable, when it is understood that nothing will ever again be revived, then it is the security, military-police, repressive State, this State tightened around its “minimal” functions of maintaining capitalist order, that imposes itself, revealing what it has always been, a cold monster, a monstrous bureaucratic and military organisation, a Leviathan. The Welfare State, the State of Law unmasks itself as a State meeting out divine punishments to those without faith in the economy, in a State of exception.
We are today in a society of work without work, in a society of growth without growth, and the crisis that results is not a simple crisis of the economy, it is a total crisis. Before this situation, if to quite the economy is an evident necessity, that of withdrawing from politics is less so for many organisations or intellectuals of the “left” who cling desperately to a mythified vision of politics and of the State, understanding these as transhistorical facts, necessary to human societies and, the height of ethnocentrism, universal, even though they are specifically capitalist structures. To struggle against labour and its world cannot be a struggle to take the reigns of political power, it cannot be but an anti-political struggle.
Another politics for another economy; this is the eternal refrain, always falsified, of alter-capitalism. Alternative politics formerly promised to distribute a part of the growing cake of the economy to the proletarians; it now promises them a few more crumbs from a shrinking cake. “Alternative” politics can do nothing, nothing can be done, it is dependent on the economy, it is in the service of the economy. Elect an anti/alter-globalisation, maoist, citizenship-ist, friotist, anarchist, trotskyist, stalinist, mélenchonist government, whatever it is matters little, it will be able to do nothing. Without renouncing the economy, it is necessary to submit to its laws and its crisis. Without renouncing politics, it is necessary to form a government of crisis of the economy in crisis, that is a new Syriza. And the failure of these alter-governments, if they are not done for by an insurrection, they lead to a technocratic government or a military-nationalist dictatorship of the extreme right.
Syriza chose not to betray the economy, its political raison d’être, of governing the economy. Syriza, as with the ensemble of alter-capitalist and/or citizenship-ist political parties acceding to power, are the secret weapon of capitalism against the the insurrection of those who can no longer take it, and who no longer want to. Podemos, with its social-democratic program in response to the crisis – “work” until the age of 65, generalised state welfare, a minimum monthly wage of 950 euros – that it will not even succeed in making real, is in the process of becoming a new joker of capitalism.
The PCF [French Communist Party] chose not to betray the economy in 1968, thus choosing to betray the insurgent. The CGT [Confédération générale du travail/General Confederation of Labour, historically linked to the PCF] chose not to betray the economy in 1998, thus choosing to betray the rebellious. There will be other betrayals, this time. By the citizen-citizenship-ist, perhaps? The citizen is the slave of the State and the economy. Citizenship-ism is the ideological crystallisation of this voluntary servitude that is precisely what needs to be abolished.
Let us stop making salaried labour, labour as commodity, value, commodities, money, companies, the Market, the Party and the State the “unsurpassable horizons” (when they have existed for at most some few centuries), the paths of “emancipation” (when they have since then enchained us) and “revolutionary” institutions (when they violently break our rebellions). Do we really want, as some people propose, to return to work for a devalued 1500 euros monthly, in the same companies, to produce again the same commodities, the same money and in the end perpetuate this same unlivable world? Do we still want this existential misery, to be organised, dominated, administered by a State bureaucracy that, like any bureaucracy, will end corrupted, despotic, deadly? Why do we insist in wanting to change everything so that nothing changes?
We do not want a social-ist Republic, nor a universal salaried labour, nor a State capitalism, nor even a self-exploitation managed collectively; we want a self-organistion of our lives and for this, therefore, lives freed from the State and its bureaucracy in benefit of an autonomous organisation of our world. A life freed from money in benefit of a sharing of our works according to our desires and needs, freed from commodities in benefit of what we want to create, to make, to construct, and freed from work in benefit of a life blossoming in a diversity of endless makings.
Let us gather together our powers to act not in the service of liberal, state or “self-managed” companies and their morbid passions, but in the service of our very desire to live.
Destitution of politics
Let us self-organise ourselves outside of political combines and their erotic poverty, to construct together a growing collective power to act, capable of self-expanding numerically and in the will to live, of it itself attacking the powers of repression and political-economic domination and, once become strong, to eventually defeat these and finally realise this will to live. To realise it through the construction of a society of self-organised communes, as in revolutionary Aragon in 1936, without a separate politics, dominant and bureaucratic, without a despotic economy, unjust and deadly, where our powers to act and our passions to live will flourish both personally and collectively in a multiplicity of activities. We will be definitively debout [standing, awake], in such nights, and our enduring night, so brilliant and so alive, will finally put an end to the existential desert of capitalism and its leaden sun of the State that crushes us every day.
The commune is at the same time a negation of politics as a separate, hierarchical, bureaucratic, authoritarian system, and a realisation of politics, dissolved in a horizontal, autonomous, daily self-organisation. Let us self-organise ourselves, let us occupy everything, let us refuse to be subservient to the electoral machines of “alternative leftists” who would also merit rightists with there erotic misery, and let us continue here as elsewhere but now to expand the self-organisation of our power to act. Let us not redo “May 68”: let us do better, much better.
We do not want to abolish politics except to realise it. We want to abolish it as a sphere separated from everyday life, like a voting both confirming the capitalist order, and thus realise it in daily life in the form of the collective self-organisation of our lives. The Situationists did not want to abolish art, they wanted to abolish it as a sphere separated from daily life, like a museum confirming the capitalist order, and thereby realise it in daily life in the form of an aesthetic life, of a fulfilling praxis.
To struggle to orchestrate the music of a world by taking a place from which one will not be able to change neither the rhythm, nor the nature of the sounds, nor the instruments of the musicians, no longer interests us. What we desire is to change radically the score. To invent a music that is made of something other than the machine like, blind, dehumanising organisation of our existences.
What is at work in this continuous and progressive destitution of the State, of capitalism and all that constitutes the world with them, beyond a simple negation (and how can one not deeply deny a world that denies life?), is a positive no which, in rejecting a certain world, actualises at the same time a self-instituting positivity of new practices and modes of subjectification, from where the “no” derives all its strength. A no that affirms.
There is no paradox there. Our destituent power, so conceived, aims neither at the re-institutionalisation of a revised and corrected new version of State power, nor a simple disinvolvement: it opens up a universe of possibilities, a universe of practices and thoughts. Our destitution is potentiality, it is not power. Anti-political potentiality, in that it shatters the insuperable borders that separate life from work, life from leisure, life from decisions that concern it, without crystallising into frozen bodies that soon separate and make themselves autonomous. It allows to rise up in the heart of destituent insurrection a desire to imagine other forms of social cohesion that would be at the same time other forms of activity, other forms of circulation of goods, other forms of collective organisation, thus creating a new form of social synthesis where work, salary, money, labour time, consumption, production, elections, the vote, the party, will no longer go without saying.
We must persevere in a different reproduction of our lives until the economy, tired of our self-organisations and of our collective desertions, no longer finds a substrate upon which to flourish. Our no should be sustained by a dynamic of creation, by the affirmation of another doing. It must open itself onto a non-finite diversity of activities destined to respond in a non-capitalist manner to the diversity of our needs. We have to translate into acts a non-specialised, non-separate, non-reified, non-definitively instituted but always constituent and destituent, organisation of collective life and of activity.
Autonomy is the anti-government form that permits simultaneously the anti-vertical, revolutionary upsurge and the horizontal inscription of a common form of life that endures, for it combines a negative character (to withdraw itself from imposition) and a positive character (to affirm its own rules). We have to renounce to a conception of politics founded on the power of abstract and unifying entities (the State as the expression of the universal) to invent political forms starting from the capacity to make and to create of everyone, grounded in the concrete multiplicity of spaces and moments. And to give to politics its original qualities: a time, a place, beings, a life that is made and unmade.
Our destitution is thus a power to and not a power over. It makes rise up within our insurrectional moment that unmakes, that breaks the historical continuum of capitalist temporality, a constituent factor that is not itself an end. Because our politics resides in the overcoming of the distinction between ethics and politics: let us abandon the Machiavellian distinction between means and ends, the very distinction taken up by Lenin in his conception of politics and the revolution. The world we want to create shatters the instrumental separation between means and ends. There is no political end in this gesture, no aim of re-institutionalisation, of a new distribution of the organs for the exercise of power, even reformed, even democratised, even re-appropriated, even rendered egalitarian. What institutes the insurrectional gesture is the opening of a breach.
Let us not fear the categorical refusal of this world, nor the feverish affirmation of another life.
Let us also not be afraid to destroy, body and soul, this world that destroys us.
Nor to construct, heart and soul, that one which will make us flourish.
Comité érotique révolutionnaire