The resonances of the gilets jaunes movement(s), as captured by Jacques Fradin. It is a reading of the insurrection that does not hold back or step away from criticising the “Left”, and beyond.
The essay was already published in English by the enough is enough collective, and we share their translation here with minor changes.
The insurrection of the yellow vests and the revolution of the revolution
Jacques Fradin (lundi matin #192, 21/05/2019)
The uprising of the yellow vests can be interpreted as a resurgence of the oldest movements of revolt – an emotion or a peasant revolt, a symptomatic resurgence of the state of enlightened despotism (for the economy) regained, a characteristic resurgence against the old regime coming to an end as liberal technocracy (Physiocrats, Thermidorians or of Versailles) and brought back to life through a series of counter-revolutionary movements.
Or, rather, this uprising can also be interpreted as the first insurrection of a new revolutionary era, the era of the revolution of the revolution – symptomatic of a new political era that emerges by dissolving or destituting liberal hegemony.
The insurrection of the yellow vests testifies to the wavering of a political era – that of liberal hegemony – and the emergence of a new era – that of democracy, expected since the invention of politics. Thus, the insurrection of the yellow vests is the sign towards what OPENS and allows an EXIT from the liberal prison. It is therefore part of a real revolution in political thought, the revolution of revolution.
Indeed, by breaking the liberal hegemony and its founding myth of “society against the State”, the yellow vests’ uprising dissolves, by the same token, the “liberal anarchist” myth of the self-constituted society, placed at a distance from the State. It dissolves, “at the same time”, the great revolutionary myth (sung in the nineteenth century), the one that places revolution in the liberal atmosphere of “society against the state” or of the self-constituted society (the wonderful myth of self-organized productive cooperation).
Revolution of the revolution: it is the opening of a new revolutionary era at odds with the old revolutionary configuration (once again that of the 19th century, anarcho-liberal). That is, the old configuration (that of the “decline or withering away of the State”) which was under the influence of the liberal (economist) mythology of self-constituted society, the famous “civil society”, with all its imaginable variants, such as the community of associated producers, or the democratic cooperative, etc.
The GJ’s: A power of radical political innovation
What are the elements of the yellow vests’ (uprising) movement that allow the latter to be interpreted as the first insurrection of a new revolutionary era deployed around a new revolutionary scheme, that of democracy? It is the lack of unity and unification: plural singularity. It is the permanent movement: the local, without localism, being conceived only as a mobile rear base for combat. It is the pre-eminence of the fight; of the fight that is constantly to be resumed: a permanent struggle, with no foreseeable end, centred on permanent disengagement, radical DEGAGISM [get lost-ism, original french: dégagisme. This word as first used during the Tunesian uprising in 2011, as people wanted to get rid of ruler Ben Ali. Enough 14]. It is the absence of an established program and, thus, the primary requirement for dissolution (disbanding, resignation, dismissal).
The yellow vests movement, with its power of radical political innovation, a Work-space or Atelier of Potential Politics, CAN be the end of the “millennium tradition” of repression, breaking this curse of the return to order, INVENTING the new pillars of radical democracy, of “true democracy”. The yellow vests form a power of INNOVATION, “true innovation” that is political, democratic and which can never be technical, industrial or commercial.
Without the yellow vests movement, without the Atelier of Potential Politics, there can be no democracy, no “true democracy”. Because what is fallaciously called “democracy” (or, again, “the republic”), all the representative or parliamentary bodies controlled by an economic government, this so-called “democracy”, technocratically restricted by management, is nothing more than a false slogan making it possible to conceal the fixation power in permanent repression. “Democracy”, in the mouths of the management bodies, is nothing more than a typically Stalinist propaganda slogan (a disconcerting lie), a slogan that only the innovative power of the yellow vests can volatilize.
It is the permanent movement of insurgency “from below” that defines radical democracy. It is in this respect that the yellow vest movement must be seen as a power of radical political innovation: an Atelier of Potential Politics (Ouvroir de Politique Potentielle).
The singular plural, horizontal movement, in reality, of insurrection, constantly restarting, ends when it is defined (de-fined) by “aggregation”, gregariousness, confinement in the enclosure of the friendly (or police) herd. Then, the horizontal movement is combined, at best, with a vertical movement of capture; like electoral capture; the horizontal turns, at worst, into a disciplined organization or an order made to last (the organization made to last always taking its model from religious orders and their military structure).
Against this, the yellow vests’ power, the yellow vests’ “war machine”, is a power to break the curse of realisation or fixation (fossilisation) in a sustainable organisation (or institution); it is a power to promote and push forward the removal of any institution that believes itself to be unchangeable (this is what is hidden behind the aspiration of the RIC: the veto tribunal, which should be associated with the full recognition of abstention as a popular veto – quorum requirement and threat of the cancellation of parliamentary procedures). The yellow vests’ war machine can be the negative subject of the regular and repeated deactivation of sovereignty (and the will to will).
Hey! Yellow vests! Don’t try to become a constituent power! Or, worse, a force of proposal (which is well despised)! Maintain your vocation as destituent power or as “tribunate power”. But this work, “the workroom” (this opening to the outside of the instituted world), is a heavy task, the most difficult task of opening up to “democracy” through the constant struggle to start anew. The ordered, organised and battle ready vertical movement must contain its own mode of destitution; this is where the horizontal movement breaks the vertical movement from the inside.
And without this internal destitution ever coming to an end.
To break the dynamic of order
How did the Latin American “left-wing forces” (in Venezuela in particular) fail? Although driven by “bottom-up” revolts, spontaneous and horizontal, self-deployed, communist insurrections, etc.., the “left forces”, thus led to power, became immediately sclerosed, imposing a vertical order, state (or police) control, reproducing the old hierarchies, AND set about RESTRICTING the powers that carried them, then separated from them, turned against them, demanded ORDER, respect for order and did everything to disarm (culturally and organisationally) the powers that are the spring of the “left forces”. These instituted forces have in no way “trusted” the power from below that pushed them. These (“left-wing”) forces have remained trapped in the ancient world of repression (and love of order). Instead of INVENTING a new political form, let us call it, here, “tribune communism”, instead of INNOVATING radically under the communist impulse (of the Atelier) the “left” forces have locked themselves into the oldest “tradition” of repressive power. The GUSTAV NOSKE moment repeating itself over and over again, in a game of broken mirrors.
The yellow vests’ movement, with its power of radical political innovation, CAN and MUST be the end of the “millennium tradition” of despotism, by BREAKING the curse of frozen institutions, INVENTING the self-destructive institution, the pillar of radical democracy. By allowing the powers from below to regularly destitute institutions (always the RIC and abstention). Because what matters is that the dynamics of the revolt never cease. Beyond the abolition of private property and the expropriation of expropriators, it is necessary to achieve the abolition of private appropriation of institutions, private appropriation called “representation” (or management by a labour union), technocratic government (management by an oligarchy), private appropriation which is the effect of the constancy (and fossilisation) of institutions.
ABOLITION of the PRIVATE APPROPRIATION of INSTITUTIONS.
Abolition of delegations (of power) by means of the permanent questioning of uncontrolled commands (or the power to command distributed economically or hidden.)
Removal of all technocratic and managerial forms.
Rejection of the confusion between “politics” (in fact: police) and management.
DISSOLUTION of MANAGEMENT.
FIRE to COMPANIES (and entrepreneurs).
Rejection of policy management by (empowered) “representatives” transformed into trustees of co-owned of institutions.
Rejection of the horrible principle: who pays commands, a principle which allows “representatives” (with their blank checks, or with signature authorization, armoured with the “delegation of power”) to gag those who assume they have elected them.
AN END TO ALL DELEGATIONS.
One of the original topics of the yellow vests movement is “the demand” for the RIC [Référendum d’initiative citoyenne/Citizens’ initiative referendum]. Why does the RIC ruffle so much and ruffle authoritarian conservatives?
Because it is the symbol of a politics of NO. It implies a popular veto and the paralysis of any constructive effectiveness. It is a first stone on the grave of efficiency. The RIC should be seen as an introduction to self-immunity, de-propriation, and dis-identification.
The yellow vests against the “society against the state”
The yellow vests’ insurrection requires both a re-reading of Pierre Clastres (La Société contre l’État – The Society against the State) and a thorough critique of James Scott (Against the Grain, a recent book to be read in the light of an older work, Seeing like a State). A re-reading that questions the liberal anarchism that plagues the “art of resistance” by weighing it down with a strong libertarian dose of belief in harmonious self-organisation (which is an economistic thematic).
What does the yellow vests’ insurrection uncover (and which we introduced just before)?
That any realised or effective (“effective” since realised) society – regardless of whether or not it is called a community, a commonwealth – that any realised society is a symbolic social system. However, radical degagism declares: “system get lost!”.
To create society, community, system, we need symbolism, myth, religion, discourse, a legendary history, such as that of emancipation. Any affirmative-constitution requires a mythology and is based on the harshest necessity, the need to believe.
This necessity cannot be “deactivated”, but it can be displaced, constantly displaced. Displace the liberal mythology of self-constitution; displace the (old) anarchist liberal revolutionary mythology of self-organization. There will be mythology. Mythology is constitutive. But mythology can be constantly criticized. Man is a religious animal that needs to believe. He does not think by axioms and “rationally”, he thinks by beliefs and “affection”. Every society thus requires a symbolic center (and a leader!). But this center must be ceaselessly dethroned (“deactivated”) – always the permanent degagism.
This is the theme (corrected by the yellow vests’ movement) of Society against the State.
Any symbolic social organisation (society, community, sect, etc.) will generate a symbolic centre, with a mythology, priests and a high priest – this is inevitable – but any belief must be, without respite, criticised, deconstructed, destroyed, any centre, theocratic or state, necessarily religious, must be “destituted” and this permanently, since this centre, whose flag bears a phoenix, is constantly being born again.
This is what Clastres theorises, permanent degagism – as soon as it is taken out of the prison of self-organization and transported to the yellow battlefield.
The symbolic center will always reappear. The “active” vigilance (in Clastres’ way) must be permanent. Democracy is an endless struggle. There is no point in appealing to myth, to a new myth (such as that of anarchist emancipation) to fight the myth. Rather, mythology must be launched into an exhausting round of combat. Not a “new usage” or a “game”, but the wear and tear of all usage.
What is the theoretical core of Pierre Clastres’ “yellow” rereading? What is the heart of the yellow vests’ insurrection? There is no opposition between a “self-organised society” in social autonomy and a theocratic “hetero-organised society” or with a dominant state, with a symbolic centre. Quite simply because a so-called self-organised society is still a symbolic social system with a symbolic centre. Any “auto” or “hetero” organization is “hetero-auto”.
Definition of the social symbolic of the “society of the talkers”: society is a religious text.
The so-called self-organised “civil society”, economic or capitalist, forms an autonomous system; but it is the system that is autonomous, automatic, just as it is the market machine that is free – autonomy, freedom, emancipation, designates an automatic and mechanical functioning. From this self-organised civil society a symbolic social order will emerge, a religious system of beliefs, an emerging symbolic social order that can coagulate into a despotic state – and moreover, regardless of the State and its despotism, the symbolic machine is thereby launched.
It is therefore necessary to reread Pierre Clastres in the following way:
Not the society – self-organised anarchy – against the State of concentrated domination;
But the permanent movement of FIGHTING against society, so-called self-organized, free or emancipated, with diffuse domination, because this society, NECESSARILY, constitutes a symbolic, religious, theocratic, despotic social order, etc., an order that can be, but not always and not necessarily, crowned by a State – the state-less society revealing itself as suffocating as the worst theocratic tyranny.
There may be “societies without a State”, but there is never a “stateless society” without a mythological-religious order and a theocratic centre. And it is not the “modern” societies of the industrialist religion, with their “incorporated” centre (the legendary company), that can claim the exception!
When the “negative” movement of struggle wants to prolong itself in “affirmative construction”, when a proto-society based on a religious mirage, on a mythology, such as that of harmonious self-organisation or integral cooperatives, economic liberal mythology, a proto-society which also imagines or invents a destiny of emancipation, a manifest destiny, then the democratic movement (which exists only through struggle) is turned into affirmative religious power, from sect to State, with the struggle against despotism ending in the (“innovative”) reinforcement of despotism.
Despotism is combated
All political thought, Marxist, revolutionary, anarchist, etc., is locked in the liberal economic prison. It has never left the 18th century of “Scottish materialism”. Reading Quesnay against Hume again, that’s what can sober up from the libertarian mirage.
It is the self-organised social order, necessarily religious symbolic social order, which is the foundation of despotism; not a fantasised State, the State being only a possible “derivation” of the symbolic order, a “derivation” of theocracy, on the model of the Christianised Roman Empire. Any symbolic social order is despotic and generates despotism, theocratic or otherwise.
Evil is not the State, which is a subordinate evil, the Great Evil is the self-generated (and therefore economic) symbolic social order. Self-constitution being a very long-lasting historical process (of war), without a master subject, whose history can only be told after the events (there is no more techno-science of history than there is a techno-science of evolution), the process then projects the “leader”. The Great Evil is magic, mythology, religion, belief; but this Evil is inevitable. This Great Evil is an inescapable NECESSITY. Which refers to a fundamental structure of reality, an EXISTENTIAL STRUCTURE.
Every realised society is a tentacular symbolic social system that already appeared in the complexity of so-called “archaic” mythologies, “primitive” societies that are symbolically as “developed” as so-called “modern” societies. The believing man, that is, man as such, positive, affirmative, enthusiastic, enterprising entrepreneur, muscular militant, etc., is a despotic animal – whose first struggle is against himself, whose first struggle is de-appropriation (“neglect” and dis-identification).
Contrary to what reactionary social Darwinism or ethology may think, despotism is certainly a destiny, undoubtedly a fatality, but it is by no means (human) nature.
Despotism is to be fought against, even if it is inevitable; this is Clastres’s lesson. Which is generalised as follows: the ethics (of struggle) is transversal to ontology (of despotism). Despotism is fought against and requires fighting. Even if the struggle is endless, pointless, without a program; even if it is ineffective. It is this inefficiency (inoperability, in Agamben’s vocabulary) that renders the struggle so positive: because it outlines the opening to escape from the economic world of efficiency (the exit does not consist in producing, hoping for, a more efficient new world or a fairer alternative world – justice is in the difficult struggle against efficiency, particularly against the efficiency of the struggle). The insurrection of the yellow vests is the sign towards what OPENS and which allows ESCAPE from the liberal prison or the industrialist economic mythology. I don’t want anything, I’ll be everything.
To get out of the efficiency trap
The belief that revolutionary politics (democratic ethics) must be underpinned by evangelical messianism, that “action” must be supported by the perspective (ah! perspectives!) of a wonderful construction or constitution, with the image (Christological) of a wonderful, desirable, achievable (effective) goal, this is the worst disaster; it is precisely this, the imaginary of the achievable goal, which breaks the power of openness (an openness which sustained by nothing).
This “worst of disasters” immobilises us in the liberal liberatarian anarchist economic trap or holds us prisoner in the rotating cage of “development” towards “the good economy” or towards “the good emancipated society”. It is from this industrious industrialist trap of efficiency that we must escape; by constantly blocking its jaws, never once and for all. Since primitive accumulation is a colonisation that is constantly repeating itself, the anti-colonial (or anti-economic) struggle cannot be allowed to end. It is by making everything dynamic (in struggle) that the statism (of the state) is broken with. And of course, the order shouted by the Versailles technocrats will always be: back to your places, now it’s over (the end being a key metaphysical term of despotic dogmatics – with efficiency. Macron said: democracy is efficiency).
Let us go back a little bit, then, to the 19th century, to the time of the triumphant messianic revolution. And to Marx, the messianic, who had in no way thought or foreseen the fascist counterrevolution (which was born with Louis Napoleon Badinguet), a counterrevolution that operates by the “détournement” of parousia. In revolutionary liberal economic thought (the field of thought in which Marxism is embedded) the struggle is propelled by a movement (teleological) that leads to a state of final harmony (this applies to both liberal capitalist mythology and anarchist Marxist counter-mythology). It is always stated that the struggle must be supported by an evangelical hope or proclamation.
The critical negative aspect of the struggle is always combined with an affirmative positive aspect, with a wonderful futurology (this combination is called dialectic). The collective subject of the struggle is carried, raised, by this hope or by the evangelical announcement. And, of course (as explained in detail in “Italian thought”, Agamben or Esposito) this messianic schema, of theological (political-theological) origin, imprisons struggle and militancy and militants (evangelicals) in a theological space, only just reconfigured in political terms. However, the whole purpose of critical thinking since Heidegger, of “Italian thought” in particular, is to escape (to get out) of this theocratic scheme.
The escape that is being realised by the yellow vests’ movement.
Because the easiest way to “deactivate” the theological, entrepreneurial or positivist scheme is to CUT it in TWO. First of all, the struggle (operatic theme) without end, without purpose (no program, no objective, otherwise EVERYTHING) – the negativity of the negative. Then, but in a loose (or non-dialectical) way, the mythological affirmation, the Great Legendary, the “techno-political” project of a feasible construction (but this project comes AFTER to “enchant” the struggle that always comes BEFORE – the struggle is not a messianic operator).
The struggle cannot be determined, driven, by a final cause or a final paradise, otherwise the worst theology (the discourse of despotism) will be reactivated. Let us start from the encyclopedia of struggles, riots (or emotions), let us start from the war that is raging (and the new war that is coming); struggles constitute an ensemble without structure, a singular plural. And let us postulate, as a structuring, that these struggles are teleologically determined, driven by a final cause, by a vision of a future of emancipation (however freedom is defined), then these struggles, incorporated into a metaphysical, theological, messianic scheme, these struggles are then analysed economically. The primordial question being then that of the realisation, the becoming real or the effective… The messianic militant becomes an engineer; the spirit of the conquering company digesting her/him (this is why the former “repentant” militants or apostates become good entrepreneurs, sometimes the most terrible).
How then can we rethink messianism so that it is no longer an announcement or a gospel, and so that struggles, first packaged by the announcement, emerge from the Aristotelian or Thomistic theological scheme? So that the struggles are no longer thought of in a positivist way?
For a non-religious political practice
How to define an activism that escapes economic control: vision, project, strategy, programme and, even, definition of the final objective in the same way as economists: harmonious self-organisation of producers? How to celebrate the radical innovation of the yellow vests’ movement? How can we escape the efficiency and technocratic fascist definition (and Macron’s) of democracy as efficiency? How can we escape from saint-simonism, from the religion of engineers, which has contaminated anarchism (particularly Proudhon’s) as well as Marxism (cooperative workers reclaiming the movement of capitalist development for their benefit)?
Let us return, as always, to this despotic (physiocratic) liberal end of the 18th century. And let us look at William Godwin (Benjamin Franklin’s opposite) – 1793, Enquiry Concerning Political Justice. William Godwin can be considered as the immediate ancestor of Saint-Simon, a prophet of industrialism (whom Benjamin Franklin glorifies as well). William Godwin inaugurates the anarchist economic search for a self-organised producers’ society, a purely productive, industrial (cooperative) society, without state or government, both of which are declared “useless”, the society of industrial self-organisation or the government of the industrious by, themselves. And Proudhon (still him!) is the keystone of this self-organised liberal industrialism:
What we put in the place of government is industrial organization;
What we put in the place of laws are contracts;
What we put in the place of political powers are economic forces;
What we put in the place of standing armies are industrial companies, etc.
So: anarchism or liberalism?
And, in the case of Proudhon, anarchism or neoliberal fascism?
Will the yellow vests help us to break out of the efficiency paradigm? How to think of “ineffective” action? To escape from industry, the power to produce, the power to achieve, constructive power, to escape from the grip of the Engineering Corps… The “practical” or praxeological idea, in terms of social engineering practice, the dominant idea that militant action must be affirmative, productive, constituent, constructive, this idea immediately makes one fall into the positivism of an engineering school – a polytechnic. How to disable positivism? How to deconstruct politics of emancipation presented in terms of engineers of finalised actions? How to separate the activist from the engineer? And, finally, how to separate the militant from the military?
How can we ensure that the “way of life” of the permanently mobilised activist does not imitate that of the capitalist entrepreneur or creative engineer? How can we get around the theme of the effectiveness of the revolution, especially when this revolution is led by industrialists who respect the (reactionary) scheme of a society of winners, champions, a society of mobilized militants who are effective and efficient? How could we not become like Saint Bernard, who didn’t have a minute to lose? Shouldn’t we displace Agamben’s obsession to get out of the vicious circularities of sovereignty, shouldn’t we shift this obsession into permanent questioning, to get out of the domination of efficiency, realisation, and effectuation?
Non-religious political practice, non-teleological, without illusion, without hope, without a wonderful purpose, a practice freed from industrial religion, freed from the absolute immanence of practical progress towards a new type of practice that escapes economic control, this is what the yellow vests’ movement opens up, the Atelier or Laboratory of Potential Politics.
So, wouldn’t the “philosopher” of the Yellow Vests be the “philosopher” of the Zapatista movement: JOHN HOLLOWAY? I refer here to a premonitory article from lundi matin #108 of June 13, 2017, on John Holloway: https://lundi.am/Le-soulevement-contre-le-despotisme
Holloway and Zapatism; the “crack option” distinguished from Agamben’s “destitution”;
and above all, the politics of wrestling, the politics of struggle: what must be called “negative politics”, of which the yellow vests open the field.
An anti-economic economist, a mathematician at war against evaluation, Jacques Fradin has been conducting a meticulous work tracing the genealogy of capitalism for 40 years.
The lundi matin collective produced an excellent video series with Jacques Fradin entitled “What is the economy?”, where Fradin proposes to criticise economic thought and practice as a system of domination, and not not something to be reformed, but exited from. The full series, in french, can be found here.