We are approaching a critical moment. We are approaching a historic moment. We are approaching a tipping point of history. We are nearing the end. For several months, we have been fighting on the ground, together, to block the suicidal attempts of those from above. Our lives, those of our children, and our grandchildren, hang by a thread.
We no longer have the opportunity to define, in our own way, our forms of life. Whether it be how to work, how to educate our children, how to eat, how to produce, how to dress, how to feast, how to look at each other, how to fight, how to share, how to kiss, meet, how to love each other? All life is sucked up and devoured by the machinery from above that does not care about our complaints, our legality, and our good feelings. Those from above are already machines, and a machine, my friends, does not feel, does not think, it calculates.
This year, our destiny is still in our hands. Let us seize our chance, raise the issues that torment us, and produce radical and real answers outside of any institutional artifice. Our world is dying, our world is collapsing, human life is dying out. We rekindled a spark of hope! So, let’s ignite our villages, ignite our cities, ignite France, ignite Europe, ignite the world! May our sparks of yellow revolt turn into a creative fire! That the destruction of everyday life is transformed into the vitality of tomorrow!
Yellow Letter nº 15
Saturday, January 5, and the yellow vests perform Act VIII of their theatre of rebellion. The authorities are reduced to accountancy: how much will president’s promises of December cost the national budget, how many are still protesting, how many police need to be mobilised, how many in the country support the rebellion according to the polls, and so on. And when the numbers fail to show the hoped for and said predicted reality, nothing remains but the violence of the State.
The numbers of protesters stubbornly increased because the protest no longer has anything to do with numbers. But as the government cannot think except in terms of accountancy, of costs and benefits, they fail to grasp the indignation and hatred that moves the insurrectionists: the hatred of unjustified wealth, of the arrogance of power, of being simply set aside as superfluous.
The authorities are left babbling about the Republic, democracy, failing or refusing to understand that these words are today meaningless, when they are not offensive. The president on the night of the closing of Act VIII: “Once again, an extreme violence has attacked the Republic – its guardians, its representatives, its symbols. Those who commit these acts forget the heart of our civic pact.” (Le Monde 08/01/2019) It is difficult to fathom the depths of this cynicism and/or ignorance.
New security laws are promised (the prime-minister proposes a registry of “violent” protesters and their exclusion from demonstrations, as is done with football hooligans for matches), damages caused by the protesters are to be paid by them, and over 80,000 CRS are to be moblised for an eventual Act IX. (Le Monde 08/01/2019)
Can an insurrection though prolong itself indefinitely? Everyday political “wisdom” would deny the possibility. The only outcomes that can be envisaged are two: exhaustion and/or repression, or revolution (with variations on and between these two themes). And even the apologists of revolution (and of “revolutionary organisations”) are quick to distinguish between insurrections and the “great” revolutions. But no revolution has ever occurred without an “original” insurrection; more, the so-called revolutions have been a sequence of insurrections which ended only with the institutionalisation or constitution of some kind of political authority.
Hannah Arendt, writing of “revolution”, stated that they “are the only political events which confront us directly and inevitably with the problem of beginning.” (Hannah Arendt, On Revolution) Contemporary capitalist social relations however erase the temporal and spatial conditions for the possibility of revolution, in Arendt’s sense. Spectacle commodity capitalism distills time into a permanent repetition of equivalent nows, while places and locations are replaced with indifferent and substitutable non-places.
Situated, historical subjectivities are also thereby and at the same time lost, rendering all talk of class conflict and revolutionary subjects meaningless.
With history and place lost, with subjects made indifferent masses, modern revolutions are unimaginable (if they ever were lived as revolution’s theorists have stated). In a sea of repeating times, identical spaces and anonymous faces, insurrection is all that remains for dissidence and rebellion.
But then towards what end does the rebellion move? No end is pre-given (and this has always been the case, until the “movements” were domesticated by a political ruling class), none is discernible in any organisation or ideology, because their is none that can claim mastery of the events and the insurrection is itself a field of political conflict. The rebellion testifies to but one thing, an initial passion: hatred for those who possess, or try to possess, exclusively, power and wealth. And in the same burning that animates the movement of hatred, other passions are rediscovered, are born; above all, those of love and friendship born in adversity, in struggle. And it is from these last, from their strength or weakness, and from the experiences and ideas that forge them, that the fate of insurrection will be decided.
Anxious questions are then repeated: but what do they want? haven’t they been given enough? The danger of leadership then rears its ugly head. There must be leaders, demands, goals. For without them, with whom or how is established power to negotiate? How are “democratic” forms to be preserved? The anxiety though reveals incomprehension and fear. Insurrection, as insurrection, defies thought, pre-established concepts, organisations and institutions. To proffer demands, to settle for negotiations, is already to assume that what exists is what must define the limits of what is questioned and/or reformed. Insurrection however begins with a gesture of refusal of that which is; it seeks not to build, but to destroy, and wagers, not with words or thoughts, but in the flesh, that whatever is created will be born of the loves generated in struggle.
Whatever direction insurrection takes cannot be foretold. This will be decided in movement. And because all that exists today does so as movement, then let us embrace what our own societies teach us: that everything hangs by a thread.
At the very heart of anarchism is the radical and uncompromising celebration of autonomy. And what is autonomy if not the permanent possibility of refusal and insurrection, of destruction and/or creation.
We share, in translation, a reflection by Arthémis Johnson on the gilets jaunes, published with lundi matin (07/01/2019) …
Fifteen theses on [débordement*] excess (written in one night)
[*To overflow, overrun, the limits or confines of something; a great abundance or profusion; a moment or movement of excess; to outmaneuver; to be overtaken by events, of one’s own making or not, to the point of being unable to act]
Thesis nº 1: excess exceeds
Flames in the streets. Tolls burned. A prefecture attacked. Demolished, burned, ditched police cars. Looted shops. Exploded windows. Police officers molested. A list of “reprehensible”, “unacceptable”, “intolerable”, “unspeakable” acts. Even bicycles burned in Paris. And christmas trees. Brest, Tours, Dijon, Nantes, Charleville-Mezieres, Calais, Saint-Etienne, Bordeaux, Puy-en-Velay, Toulouse, Tarbes, Albi, Narbonne, Carcassonne, Le Pouzin, Arles, Avignon, Marseille, Arles. A Porsche 911. 600 radars. 30% of parking metres in Carcassonne. The town hall of Servon-sur-Vilaine, Brittany, of 3555 inhabitants, is targeted.
Thesis nº 2: excess exceeds itself
An impassable police barricade. A crowd throws itself against it. Once. Two times. Thrice. All afternoon. All evening. Everything is compact. Shock against shock. The crowd is wild. And it still burns. We go down a gate of the Tuileries, Rivoli street. The mobile barricade is invented, which is useless and which consists of carrying street signs and equipment as shields to hold up against the water cannon. Wasted effort. It is not serious. We start again. Until when? Black flames. White smoke. A brass band sings Bella Ciao. Suddenly, firefighters. Sirens. The crowd gathers around the fire truck, forced to slow down. The truck stops. And then, the crowd departs. The fire truck, this ideal battering ram to drive through the police barricade, restarts, unscathed and accomplishes its mission: to water a tiny police car that burns. Everyone applauds. Everyone cheers. The crowd became magnanimous. And yet the smoke was pretty above the arcades. Then someone shouts: “To the Louvre!” Once again, a column leaves towards the Louvre and happily takes a picture of itself in front of the pyramid. The crowd became civil. A store, superbly ignored during the episode of the barricade, is finally shamelessly smashed. Constantly, they forget themselves, forget what was once rigorously organized behind Blanqui.
Thesis nº 3: excess does not represent itself
On one side, there are the experts. In transportation. In fuels. In social movements. In terrorism. In accounting. In climate. The crisis of a world without God. Partisan democracy. Dissent. 68. The jacquerie. The tax revolt. The insurrection. The French Revolution. Media specialists. The specialists in constitutional history. The historians of colors. The sociologist of the police. On the other side, there are craftsmen, artists, media personalities. The artists are singing. They have stopped in a car, parked next to another, in recollection of a paint bombing. Freedom guides the people dressed in fluorescent. A poet worries, distraught, about the red-brown axis that is emerging, the new anti-lyric arc in the sky. Kool Shen. Pierre Péret. Kaaris. Brigitte Bardot. And the Parthenon frieze shivers in the sun. In a shop window, a baker exposed lemon flavored éclairs. Sad chocolate smiles decorate them. In the same costume, unisex, a micro-porno turns on the edge of a road uncrowded. A woman, easily recognisable by her costume and her very laboured undressed look, makes engaged signs to cars passing. A motorist, alone in his car, stops at his level and then she hops there into the car.
Thesis nº 4: excess is unclassifiable
Opposite, the banality of words filmed with the means available, in interiors inhabited by people who are people from everywhere and people from nowhere, people of the cities and people of the countryside, people of the capital and people from the province, street people and rural people. They are likened to a social class, a sociological segment, a group of the “forgotten”, a “horde of thugs”, some “indefensible criminals”, people of “the ultra-left”, people of “ultra-right”, 5% of executives, and even “secondary school students of Mante la Jolie”. A cgtiste from Marseille who cries, “They have hit our little ones!” A kind of large cockade, improbable, made from a sleeveless garment, which never stops, which changes constantly, into a sign of recognition, a sign of distress, a tricolour flag, a red flag, breton, Palestinian, Swiss, Lorraine, Black. Magic transmutation operator. Someone says, “They are not the forgotten, they are everywhere, on TV, at the roundabouts”. On all sides, unfolds a color that appears as unclassifiable, and that one wants to reclassify everywhere, like everyone else.
Thesis nº 5: excess bursts the screen
The intermediate bodies have disappeared. Labour unions are, henceforth, the television. BFM TV plays the song all day long. The search for sensationalism guides the crowds to the mirror of their images returned by the screens. Response n° 1: we start reporting all over the place. Each antenna elects its exemplary position, its representative roundabout, sends a camera which films in real time all comments, speeches, images, regarding the excess, even among the agents of the excess who, suddenly, transform themselves into agents of regulation of the excess. Response n° 2: journalists are singled out, cameras are broken, television channels are threatened. The editorial staff of France 3 “denounces the verbal and/or physical attacks that our reporting teams and our journalists in Languedoc-Roussillon are regularly subject to in recent days.”
Thesis nº 6: excess cannot be known
For years, perfect demonstrations populated by perfect protesters lead to perfect defeats. For years, endless supplications fail to embody the mythical “convergence of struggles”. For years, a dump-truck of fetishistic beliefs call for a labour union renewal that recognizes (finally!) neighbourhood demands and also the demands of all those who live in the street, because for them there is the street and only the street.
Thesis nº 7: excess knows its obscure force
Fascism snarls! The grammar of contestation is impure! The friends of the enemies of the friends of the enemies are solemnly declared the enemies of the friends of the enemies of the friends of the enemies. We preach fraternity and cut heads. Around the Arc de Triomphe, the ugliest monument in Paris, the battle rages. We sing the Marseillaise and, at the same time, we piss on the tomb of the unknown soldier. CRS [Compagnies Républicaines de Sécurité: france’s riot police] in armoured vehicles retreat. Who makes them withdraw? A relief is broken? Fascistoide, anti-Semitic, anti-migrant, anti-homo, racist elements are unmasked. Hooded vandals, opposite, replicate. For the rebels, the force is too strong (IAM, 1997). High school students make barricades of garbage cans and set fire to the doors of their schools, protest against the registration fees for non-European foreigners. Unfortunately, or fortunately – everything is a question of point of view – they gather at Stalingrad, which was a winter morning formerly renamed VUKOVAR, in front of a Napoleonic hangar whose ruins, blackened after a fire, remained years at the edge of a canal. In passing, some “red scarves” and now “red pens” who are teachers. The police sociologist says that in addition to armored police, there are police on horseback, bicycle, motorcycles. At a glance, plainclothes police are obvious and more than is common, CRS brigades in which women’s bodies, smaller, slimmer, thinner, are more visible, in a second line, hands on the shoulder of those who precede them, but endowed with the same heavy equipment, helmeted. A police union threatens to strike. A tourist of the riot finds herself lost. She looks to the left: a pack of unbridled demonstrators throws everything they find in front of them. She looks to the right: a pack of CRS launches grenade after grenade. She catches a CRS that passes: “You do not want to open a passage, sir? The man answers: “But I’m not from here, ma’am.” Another man passes, calls the CRS who is not from here: “But why throw grenades at the bourgeois, sir?” The tourist also spots a dog, two very young teenagers in small, cute running shoes, who do not run, a couple of Germans, running. A man is doing motorcycle stunts. Everyone applauds and shouts. Scooters pass. Macron, resign. Macron, fuck your mother. Royal Street. Rue Tronchet. Matignon Avenue. Everything is full. Everything is empty.
Thesis nº 8: excess is a question
The urban riot is confusing. All class reflexes are unveiled to clear up this disorder. In the countryside, the trouble is even greater. People who voted FN are friendly, as friendly as you and me. Who will they vote for in the next election these friendly people, as friendly as you and me?
Thesis nº 9: excess is not a [détournement] diversion
A perfume of insurrection, a perfume of diversion, floats in the air of the excess. It is the joy experienced at the show of all these paving stones magically re-unpaved, after quite a few years of immobility. But the melody is also old, so old that today, even, it is commemorated.
Thesis nº 10: excess exceeds emotion
“My only concern is you.” [Macron’s words in the television address to the country on the 10th of December] And suddenly, remarkable, because completely out of alignment, arises the mimetic tribune of the excess. The mimetic tribune of the excess consists in adopting a vocabulary of resistance and internalizing it through “concern” and in the name of “union” and “friendship”. Desperately, pragmatically, it seeks to regulate, by means of emotion, to make tolerable, the repression of the excess. Empathy, the language of sensibility, the perverse defense of legitimate anger: so many twisted reflections of the excess that brings forth all of those who have chosen to experience emotions otherwise, all emotions.
Thesis nº 11: excess knows no virtue
It is said that thousands of people suddenly became aware of the ecological drama. It is said that, in all conscience, they overtook fossil capitalism. Rehabilitating the “local” by means of “encampment”. By blocking the circulation of the great flows of traffic, about the roundabouts. By adopting zadist strategies through roundabout occupations, again. By refusing, finally, the carbon tax intended to ensure the ecological transition. These thousands of people therefore would not really transgress? The demand for a livelihood has become so impure that it instantly re-codes itself as virtue.
Thesis nº 12: excess knows no limits
There is no need to be a great revolutionary to hear that the democratic question is in no way capable of channeling the excess of the democratic question: in spite of all the attempts to establish the opposite, attempts carried out on very different fronts. 1. The impure attempt: Sarkozy’s invention, which consists of stopping the demonstrators before they demonstrate. Used massively during Act IV, it signifies the awareness by power, in the face of the exceeding of the mummified art of democratic protest, which does not satisfy itself with the margins allocated to it by the power to protest, since a real protest, to be audible, must cross the lines of legality. 2. The pure attempt: the renewal of the representative question by means of the popular referendum. While the referendum may perhaps bring improvements to institutional democratic functioning, it also rests on an ideal that it shares with the impure attempt: the ideal of regulating excess.
Thesis nº 13: excess is without end
One morning, Cassandra woke up. She stretched out on her bed and predicted the end of the excess. The ecological transition is dead: the carbon tax is withdrawn. The insurrection is dead: purchasing power is watered. Liberal democracy is dead: capital will pay. Elective democracy is faltering: fascism will authorise itself. On the right, everything is lost. On the left, everything is lost. In the center, everything is lost. In the street, everything is lost. In the countryside, everything is lost. Christmas is coming. Santa Claus is lost. The New Year is approaching. New Year’s Eve is lost. Everyone is tired. The roundabouts are emptied. The decapitated president’s puppet is punished. Worse: books are already being written.
Thesis nº 14: excess is invincible
Up to 5,000 police detentions in one day. Up to 30 people have received surgery. A grandmother died at her window in Marseille. Photographs of painful wounds are circulating. 21st of November: two deaths, 552 wounded, 582 arrests, 450 detentions. 1st and 2nd of December: 263 wounded, 5 of them serious. A motorist hits a truck near Arles. It’s a new death. The police sociologist can not believe it. He, who was of the rather objective kind, gets upset. In Paris, 8000 tear gas canisters, 1,193 rubber bullets, 1040 stun grenades, 339 grenades GLI-F4: one day of ammunition. The GLI-F4 grenade contains 10 grams of 2-chlorobenzalmalononitrile (CS gas), 25 grams of TNT. Their ancestors, the OF F1 grenades, have not been launched since the death of Rémi Fraisse. November 17: 282,000 protesters. November 24: 166,000 protesters. December 1st: 136,000 demonstrators. December 15: 66,500 demonstrators. “The prefect of Morbihan yesterday called upon the Yellow Vests to evacuate Luscanen, the Trois-Rois and Atlantheix. And this Wednesday, December 19, 2018, the occupying camps are being destoyed under the protection of law enforcement officers and under the eyes, sometimes tearful, of the yellow vests.”
Thesis nº 15: excess exceeds history
A man participated in the creation of the Solidarity union in Poland. His name is Karol Modzelewski and he is a former dissident. He says: “The most courageous were forced to yield. All these people suddenly changed their view of themselves. They had folded before armed force. And that, that breaks a spine.”
The former dissident still says. “We can not forget that, for 16 months, after 40 years of life as a voluntary slave, we have experienced a freedom lived actively, combatively and collectively. The myth is what gave breath.”