France’s Nuit Debout movement may be the first of the post-2011 “movements of occupation” that dissipates almost entirely due to its own democratic self-delusions.
This reflection though is not intended as an obituary statement.
Nor does it stand as an evaluation that extends beyond the Paris expression of the movement (too much has happened outside the capital, and continues, to be able to evaluate the movement as a whole). Nor does it pretend to ignore the police repression sent against Nuit Debout and this in the context of the country’s state of emergency. And nor is it blind to the intentions and machinations of so many, politicians (“leftist” and “rightist”), labour unionists, “professional” revolutionaries, journalists, academics, and so on, to undermine the movement.
And above all, it seeks in no way to dismiss resonances and incarnations of Nuit Debout beyond what it has so far been in Paris (e.g. Banlieues Debout).
Nuit Debout (again, Nuit Debout Paris) was however, and remains, burdened by a desire for legality, of a respect for the norms of protest, that immediately restrained, self-restrained, the occupation of the Place de la Republique (literally, the hours and the conditions of the occupation were almost entirely set by the city authorities). Trapped in its own obedience to the State-capital norms of public order, the movement found itself policing itself to the point of preventing and killing off spontaneity, disruptive transgression, rebellion.
And these norms reproduced themselves internally in the “democratic” practices of the GA, through which activities of groups within Nuit Debout had to pass for formal recognition as belonging to the movement and decisions by the GA had to be voted on and agreed to as definitive of Nuit Debout. The GA became a centralising force over time; instead of doing what it should, namely, serving as an open point of confluence for a permanent debate/definition of the movement, it sought to create the movement, and this through mimetic gestures of democratic procedure. Indeed, the procedure, the act of voting itself, seemed for some to be what Nuit Debout was all about. But as the general assemblies were held, no greater testimony could be given of their irrelevance than the acts of voting. A fiction of unity, of autonomy, was generated. And the greater the insistence on the need to follow procedure, the greater the farce of revolt and rebellion became. When the latter did erupt, the general assemblies floundered in moral soul searching about violence, destruction of private property and whether the police should be approached as human beings or enemies of the movement! And what was slowly forgotten, or not so slowly, is that rebellion is born in the refusal of legality, the legality which masks the violence of oppression and exploitation, which covers over the repetitive emptiness of our everyday lives, which in declaring us citizens obscures our superfluousness.
The promised convergence of struggles thus unsurprisingly never came about, for it would have required the metamorphoses of many distinct struggles into something larger than themselves, something that the GA was incapable of giving life to.
All about the Place de la Republique and in adjacent streets, cafes and bars fill each evening with obligatory pleasure seekers. Between the gatherings of the General Assembly and the surrounding activity are the automobile corridors that we continue to call streets, there was no contagion, no resonance; there was rather a reign of indifference. In Nuit Debout’s obsession with the procedural dimensions of the GA, in other words, with itself, it ignored the city, left it in its stratified peace. And the city, ignored by Nuit Debout, barely had to turn its back on the movement to understand that it was but a mild nuisance, soon to dissipate.
At the end of July, Nuit Debout Paris could do no better than declare a vacation, with the promise of returning in September! Even the revolution knows of the season and times of leisure.
In early June, the Revolutionary erotic committee circulated and posted the following essay, To Live the Commune, which along with an earlier text that we also published in translation, remain among the most important intellectual interventions in Nuit Debout.
To Live the Commune
The opposition to the “labour!” law and its world diversified itself with the effervescence of blockages and strikes, but the squares remain the nodal points of the movement, points of departure towards excesses, spaces of collective discussion from where an emancipatory critique develops. But it is clear that the current occupation of squares has in part become an alternative-politics, risking its own waning, before slowly but surely dying by giving birth to an alternative-government political party of capitalism. The tension between two horizons, that of insurgent communes and that of the mimetic reproduction of parliamentarism – though in a “self-managed” form – is palpable.
Nuit Debout threatens to become a self-management of the political, a phase antecedent (see Podemos) to a co-management of capitalism. And in fact it so prepares itself, or rather, one prepares it – starlets of the ambient alter-capitalism, shocked economists and other apologists of citizenship, or simply confusion – with an anthology of sub-reformist discourses, alternative-political proposals and programs of government … of capitalism. A “Constituent” commission is organised, to avoid all emancipatory destitution of the existent order and of its state-capitalist social constitution, for the sake of an nth capitalist republic branded “social”. A reproduction of the same parliamentary State system is advocated, but sprinkled with drawings by lot, an elegant way to abdicate from the self-organisation of our lives. Frivolous discussions are held about chaining ourselves for our whole lives to salaried labour, to labour as commodity, to capitalism, and to other measures for the management of economic misery, which is at the same time, existential misery.
Let us not be fools: Nuit Debout, as an alternative-politics, can only become a reproduction of politics as the flip side of the economy, the other side of capitalism. It can at best, through its simulacra of government measures reached by vote, waste its time instead of acting collectively and constructing an imaginary freed from capitalism and the State, or worse, it can prepare itself for a co-management of crisis of a capitalism in crisis.
Another side of the occupation of squares is nevertheless that of being a point of departure towards post-capitalist horizons. It is this momentum that must be pushed to the fore, so that it transforms itself into a place of collective imagination of another world that is truly other, so that it leads to other revolts, and so that it permits a re-appropriation of a multiplicity of places and a blocking of the economy. It is this square of the Commune overflowing itself that we are calling for, an occupation beyond itself, beyond its very space.
The Square of the Commune?
Parliamentary politics, swept away by the General Assembly (GA), returns through the GA. When the daily self-organisation of revolt transforms itself into an alternative-parliamentarism, into voting as an obligatory procedure, into a separate alternative-politics, then it is revolt that fails. Alternative-parliamentarianism reproduces the separate space of parliament, in which propositions of capitalist government are collectively voted upon. The duty to vote commands that all be voted upon following procedure without leaving spaces for spontaneous, autonomous initiatives; but above all, to vote for electoral propositions in the making. Alternative-politics is the eternal return of a separate politics, separated from our erotic desires of revolt, separated from other revolts, separated from our daily life irredeemably subject to capitalism.
The political, instead of being lived as a collective putting into movement of our powers to act, distances itself in a representation, in the assembly as a spectacle, as a self-referential simulacra, of collective life. It thus re-constitutes itself in the form of a separate sphere, as theatrical representation, to the detriment of a rebellious action and of the construction of imaginaries freed of capitalism. It accepts that next to a micro-space of collective decision making and self-organisation, that there exists a macro-space of collective powerlessness and heteronomous organisation, that in sum it is a matter of potentially conquering electorally.
No decisions, no revolt, no self-organisation outside the squares: it is to this that the alternative-politics and its separate “paradise” leads. Instead of destroying the political as a capitalist sub-system, one would content oneself with “playing at democracy” in a global theatre that remains unchanged.
Alternative-politics plays at a self-managed parliamentarism, tendentiously transforming our desires into an electoral program, our speaking out into votes. The very square of the Commune re-configures in function of the perspective of this alternative-politics: it becomes a space closed upon itself. In many cities, Nuit Debout is not the starting point for revolts, but the place of arrival, a stationary state, the cadavre of our insurrections. The critique of assembly-ism is not however an appeal to abandon the squares or to dissolve all assemblies. For the political to cease to be an alternative-politics separated from our lives, the assembly must cease playing at being the Assembly; it must rather connect subjectivities hitherto fragmented in sectoral reformist struggles, transform these into self-organised rebellions acting in concert against this world, in a general blocking of the economy.
The assembly reunites individuals separated in daily life, but it reunites them as separate. The GA, in detriment of a collective construction, serves in part as an outlet for the frustrated of speech who come to regurgitate their opinions and their personal indignations. The many pro-democratic commissions turn into dialogues of the deaf where each person comes to promote their ready-made personal ideology, or worse, participate in fusional communions of lobotomised victims of alter-capitalist or befuddling videos. In sum, an aggregate of individuals rather than a gathering of those belonging to a commune, spectators separated from their own spectacle.
Against this tendency, let us find ourselves, let us create amicable and political relations. In assembly, our relations remain non-direct, mediated, with the Assembly as obligatory intermediary. To find oneself is on the contrary to create immediate relations, relations of friendship, without any intermediate structure outside of us (work, politics, spectacle …), but “politics” because self-organised, rebellious, directed towards an emancipated society.
The assemblies and their squares cannot however be understood except as part of larger spaces, that of cities, of metropoles, concentrated materialisations of the exigencies of capital. The movement of the squares faces another obstacle in addition to unleashed forces of repression and alter-political tendencies: that of its very own urban inscription.
The city is organised as much as it organises. As are our lives, it is divided, fragmented into different specific areas that are equally different temporalities: to each separate moment, a specific place. The housing zone, commercial zone, industrial zone, office zone, the zone of leisure: each space fulfills an exclusive function which must respond to one of the times of the non-existence of the contemporary individual: to work, to house oneself, to feed oneself, to distract oneself. The specialisation of territories is nothing more than the spatial translation of the capitalist division of labour. To the complexity of specified social micro-tasks corresponds a material order, that of the city organised in functions, spaces, of which the unity of meaning is dismantled, as is human activity become labour by its specificity and its complexity. In the same way that the capitalist mode of production produces specific social relations, it produces its space and its time. It organises space for the closed circle of production-circulation-consumption. Land use planning is an ideology that has for unutterable vocation the capitalist education of space: “urban renewal”, “attractiveness” or “territorial specificity”, are so many expressions that feed the newspeak of urban planning; the unassailable rhetoric that is part of putting into place a generalised competition of spaces and places in the mad race for growth!
The different spaces that make up the urbanised milieu are evermore homogeneous, from the commercial street of the city centre to the residential neighbourhoods and the suburbs, by way of the office district – whose standardised architecture and global brand names have made of the landscape an interchangeable decoration -, held together by a continuous flux of goods, merchandise, individuals, services and information. The circulation is but the organisation of the isolation of each, the fluxes perpetuating the separation. The spatial organisation that standardises the urban mode of life affects as well “non-urban” zones: the city is no longer only this geographically identifiable space, this spatially circumscribed zone; the city is a concept, a way of seeing oneself, of moving oneself, of being moved and of being made fast. The city henceforth extends itself beyond the city, its consummated ideology subjugates places and bodies, orders all that still escapes its logic. The countryside is at the same time city, it is the nuclear power plant and motorway toll, airport and overhead power transmission lines, natural park and seaside tourist zone. The city is not only in the city; the urban is more in the countryside emptied of its inhabitants than in the museumified historical city centres.
The very idea of a separate nature is urban. With the emergence of industrial cities, a disconnected, dualistic conception of the world develops, where nature as a separate non-human world is opposed to the artificial human world of cities, even as nature is constituted by human activity as separate.
To make the commune in the city
In cities where the past is museumified and the present is rendered eternal, to find the least of blind spots at the heart of the apparatuses of control becomes itself a challenge, where each tends to be separated from themselves as much as from others, the expression of our desire to live cannot be but a daily struggle, a radical transgression of what is in effect a deadly state. Urban space is simultaneously a social production and a field of struggle. The capitalist mode of production produces a space that is proper to it; a revolutionary strategy will have to imagine another spatiality, that involves a collective re-appropriation of the city, that is, a liberation of our daily life.
To free ourselves from the daily hold of capitalism on our lives becomes vital. And that implies breaking with the city and its urban ideology, its urban planning and its totalitarian management of territory. To break with the deadly dynamic of continuous production-circulation of merchandise and of human beings as merchandise. To break with the fragmentation and atomisation of our existences, making their control and organisation always easier. We have to re-appropriate these spaces, dangerously sanitised, smooth and surveilled, to smash the course of normality, to shatter the evidence, to transgress and experiment. To experiment with new forms of life, as much poetic as political. To desire a city whose heart is a place of encounter, and not a parking lot, a city whose movements are comprised of wanderings [dérives] and speaking and not automobiles. In occupying squares, in organising banquets in the street, in re-appropriating urban structures, in making our neighbourhoods the seat and foyers of insurrections or of popular celebrations, in refusing to play the spectacle, the leaden repetition of the everyday is broken, a rupture with the world of the commodity and its circulation is broken.
If the fluxes must find no obstacles, let us be the interruption. Let us oppose to them dense, tight, territorially rooted social ties, as so many permanent blockades of daily fluxes.
To inscribe oneself collectively and offensively in a common space-time, in situating our ties beyond the space of the fluxes bestows upon the term to inhabit its political weight; to inhabit so as to cease to merely be somewhere. We will break in the same gesture the chains of circulation when we return to inhabit our neighbourhoods, our communes, as inhabitable territory and no longer as space through which to circulate. To cease to be content with sleeping, moving and consuming, to finally belong to a milieu of life, and to develop attachments, to create and leave traces, and denser relations. Urban squats, appropriations of public and private spaces, occupations of squares, factories or universities, these different appropriations of places give rise to a specific, situated, anchored milieu, lived and defended by those who live it and invent it. This making present gives place to a form of expression, of material density, that creates an interference, a rupture in the fluid space-time of capital. What opposes fully inhabiting to the diluted space of commodity organisation, is its dimension of depth; it is not a simple extension of whose different points are mere points because of their superior economic functions.
It is when one knows a place to perfection, whether it be a neighbourhood or a valley, that affinities develop, that a common life (and sometimes anger) with other inhabitants is shared, that is, it is when one truly takes hold of a place that a territory can become a place of struggle; essentially a struggle of low intensity, that is composed of solidarities and friendships, of protests and collusions, of rejections and affirmations, in a movement of perpetual reconfiguration and whose uprising is only a moment. Whether in a Parisian suburb or the Val de Suse, in a Buenos Aires shantytown or in a Breton grove, to struggle and to create should not and cannot combine except in a single movement of refusal-creation.
Let us refuse to allow ourselves to be organised, to be crushed by this destructive power that the city tends to be: destructive of places, destructive of spaces, destructive of lives. Let us make urban space as much the home of our rage and of our struggles as well as the blank page upon which to give free reign to our creative power. Let us sustain ourselves with a few solid friendships, let us gather everywhere, beyond our differences and reinvent life in our neighbourhoods, on our streets and in our stairwells. In the twilight of the old world, that of commodities and money, the State and separation, let us be each day more numerous in freeing ourselves from the narrowness of contemporary life to make of our active bodies, our clashing spirits and our expanding hopes the the soil of the multiple worlds that we want to bring into being.
The urban commune is the crystalisation of this collective spirit of desertion, of struggle and self-organisation, from one life to another. It is in the city, but against it; it is urban from the perspective of the destruction of capitalist urban space.
The commune is neither a “movement” destined for a quick death nor an institutionalised mortification, it is neither a peaceful embryo of another society nor a transitory phase. It is, as a self-organised gathering together in favour of an extensive we, the development of non-commodity, horizontal relations, of collective solidarity and a common imaginary against and beyond the economy and the State, a force for a general blockade of the economy. The commune is not a distant horizon preceded by a transition without end; it is now or never. It is not an end separated from the means to reach it. It is however not an exclusively local initiative. It must with a constellation of other communes abolish globally a totalitarian system in virtue of which no personal or collective emancipation is possible; an emancipation that can only come with a total blockade of the system’s fluxes and a generalised revolt, and above all, with a massive, autonomous, non-capitalist, communising re-appropriation of the means of production, resources, stocks, housing and cultivable spaces. The insurgent communes comprised of self-organised, non-capitalist, horizontal relations, will dismantle [destitueront] in the same gesture the economy and its political-statist armed guard, in a non-military confrontation (otherwise bloody repression is risked). The current forms of struggle, non-pacifist resistance to police violence, halting of fluxes, occupations, etc., will then become the necessary moments of a generalised emancipation of communes, destroying [destituant] this nightmare that is our world.
Place aux communes !
Revolutionary Erotic Committee
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