Raoul Vaneigem on the gilets jaunes

Everything is possible, even self-managing assemblies in the middle of street intersections, villages and neighborhoods.

Raoul Vaneigem

We share two reflections on the gilets jaunes by Raoul Vaneigem. The first is an interview with Vaneigem, translated into english and published by NOT BORED (the interview was conducted by Le Nouveau Magazine littéraire and published on Dec. 21st, 2018.) The second is a short essay, in translation, published with la voie du jaguar (08/12/2018).

Question:  In Contribution à l’émergence de territoires libérés de l’emprise étatique et marchande,(2)  you write that “preferring the evil of today to what will be worse tomorrow prevents us from rising up.” Nevertheless, the “Yellow Vests”(3) have risen up and precisely to preserve their places in this civilization of consumerism and cars, which you condemn.

Answer:  It should not escape you that the principal purpose of my book was to shake up the resignation, indifference and apathy that until today have allowed people to tolerate the facts that the desertification of the earth and life itself are coldly planned and imposed – with an increasing cynicism – at the expense of the world’s populations. That a great explosion of anger has suddenly and unexpectedly broken out, with apparently futile motives, gives me great satisfaction. You say that they have risen up to preserve their places? What places? They have no places in this beautiful wheeler-dealer [affairiste] world that exploits them like they are nothing but remote-controlled consumers, producers of goods that they themselves must pay for, and bureaucratically regulated suppliers of taxes and fees that bail out embezzling bankers. Quite certainly the cries of “Enough!”(4) and “We are sick of it!” can subside or turn around. Voluntary servitude has known many revolts that have gone nowhere. But even if the anger of the Yellow Vests stagnates or ebbs, a great truly popular(5) – not “populist” – wave has arose and proved that nothing can resist the impetus of life.

Q: Are the Yellow Vests a new name for the class that is subjected to “an exhausting chore whose monetary compensation is principally used to purchase merchandise”?

A: They aren’t a class, they are a heterogeneous movement, a nebula in which all kinds of politicized people and those who have dropped politics from their [everyday] preoccupations are all mixed together. The global character of their anger prevents traditional representatives of the people from recuperating and manipulating the herd. Because here, unlike in the past, there isn’t a herd that bleats in response to its butchers. Here there are individuals who are thinking about the more and more precarious conditions of their everyday lives. Here there is the intelligence of [human] beings and a refusal of the disgraceful fate that is made for them. Lucidity is groping, finding its way through uncertainties. The fact that power and its flunkies in the media take the insurgents for idiots demonstrates the weakness and vulnerability of capitalism, which endlessly repeats to us that it is inevitable and invincible.

Q: To the idea that, “made stupid by an abundance of crap, people who will be shipwrecked in the future play on deck while the boat sinks,” they retort that “you are preoccupied with the end of the world, while we are worried about the end of the month.” What do you say to them?

A: Outside of the wheeler-dealers who govern us, there is no one who, in addition to worrying about the end of the month, doesn’t also care about, not the end of the world, but the end of a world that no longer needs us; there is no one who doesn’t care about the fate reserved for us and our children by a world given over to the barbarism of “egotistical calculations.” And this isn’t metaphysical thinking; this is thinking that is formulated amidst taxes to be paid, work to be done, administrative restrictions, lies in the news media and the “stupidity due to an abundance of crap” that is deliberately maintained by the opinion-makers who turn people into idiots. A burst of intelligence has arrived today like a breathe of fresh air in the cesspools where we are held at every minute by the dictatorship of money.

Q. Are the Yellow Vests an example of the proletariat that has “regressed to its old status as plebs”? A victim of the financial capitalism that has lost “its human conscience and its class consciousness,” it no longer makes revolutions; it merely rebels.

A: Yes, they are an example of this regression. But, as I have written, the proletarian consciousness that wrested its social benefits from the State was only a historical form of human consciousness. This consciousness is being reborn before our very eyes, reviving solidarity, generosity, hospitality, beauty, poetry, and all the values that, today, have been suffocated by profit-making efficiency.

Q: When someone belongs to the displaced [excentrées] lower-middle classes – low-paying jobs, the necessity of using your car everywhere you go, houses to be paid off or rented out – can one still speak of reclaiming “the self-management of everyday life”?

A: Stop lowering these demands to the level of shopping baskets! You will see that these demands are global. They come from everywhere, from people who are retired, from high-school students, from farmers, from drivers whose cars take them more often to work than to a yacht on which they bask – all these women and men, these anonymous people who realize that they exist, who want to live and who are tired of being scorned by a Republic of Revenue [une République du chiffre d’affaires].

Q: You refer to a State “reduced to its simple repressive function.” Is it the one whose face we see in France today?

A: This isn’t a national problem; it’s an international one. I don’t know what the face of France is, or if France has a face, but the reality that reclaims [recouvre] this fictional representation is that of men and women who are exploited at will, millions of people who are totally indentured to a totalitarian democracy that treats them like commodities.

Q. The fight of the Yellow Vests and those of the forces that you salute in your book (ZADists,(6) feminists, ecological activists . . .), can they converge? Or are the essentially opposed to each other?

A: They are neither opposed nor convergent. We have entered into a critical period in which the smallest particular protest hinges upon [s’articule sur] an ensemble of global demands. The tomato plant is more important that the military and governmental boots that come to crush it – as at Notre-Dame-des-Landes.(7) The political leaders and those who press against the doors in the hope of replacing them think the opposite is true, just as they think that taxing the fuel of those for whom the usage of cars and gasoline have become indispensible dispenses with the possibility of doing something about the enormous profits of Total and the other oil companies. The zones to be defended (ZAD) don’t limit themselves to fighting against the pollution that the multinational companies implant with scorn for the inhabitants of the Earth; they are the place where experiments with new forms of society take their first steps. “Everything is possible!” is also the message of the Yellow Vests. Everything is possible, even self-managing assemblies in the middle of street intersections, villages and neighborhoods.


1. Interview conducted on 11 December 2018 by email for Le Nouveau Magazine littéraire and published 21 December 2018. Reprinted 25 December 2018 by La Voie du Jaguar: https://lavoiedujaguar.net/Tout-est-possible-meme-les-assemblees-d-autogestion-au-milieu-descarrefours. Translated from the French by NOT BORED! on 28 December 2018. All footnotes by the translator.

2. Here La Voie du Jaguar provides a link to a review of this as-of-yet untranslated book by Vaneigem: https://lavoiedujaguar.net/Contribution-a-l-emergence-de-territoires-liberes-de-lemprise-etatique-et.

3. Les gilets jaunes refers to the hundreds of thousands of people who, dressed in yellow safety vests, have recently taken to the streets all over France to protest a proposed measure to raise taxes on gasoline, among other things.

4 ¡ya basta ! (Spanish in original.)

5. The French word used here, populaire, can also mean working-class.

6. Partisans of a ZAD, zone à défendre, a “zone to be defended.”

7. Cf. François de Beaulieu, “Usage of the Commons at Notre-Dame-des-Landes, Yesterday and Today”: http://www.notbored.org/Beaulieu.pdf

The reasons for the anger

(la voie du jaguar, December 8, 2018)

One has the right to be astonished at the time that it took for so many men and women to emerge from their lethargy and resignation, whose existence is a daily struggle against the machine of profit, against a deliberate enterprise of desertification of life and the earth.

How could one tolerate in a silence as persistent as the arrogance of the financial powers, of the state of which they pull the strings and of these representatives of the people, who represent only their selfish interests, who make the law and morality.

The silence was actually well maintained. Attention was diverted by making a lot of noise around political quarrels, where the conflicts and couplings of the left and the right ended up only causing boredom and sinking into ridicule. A war of the poor against those poorer than them has even been incited, sometimes slyly, sometimes openly; migrants driven by war, misery, dictatorial regimes. Until the moment when it was realized that during this perfectly concerted inattention, the machine grinding the living was turning without interruption.

But it was finally necessary to make known the progress of desertification, of the pollution of the land, the oceans, the air, the progress of capitalist rapacity and impoverishment, which now threatens the simple survival of species – including our own.

The silence maintained by the lie of our informants is a silence full of noise and fury.

That corrects a great many things. We finally understand that the real thugs are the States and the financial interests that sponsor them, not the vandals of the luxury shop windows that taunt the victims of consumerism and growing pauperisation with the same cynicism as political women and men, of whatever party or faction.

Those who took the Bastille on the 14th of July, 1789, had little knowledge, except by vague glimmers, of the philosophy of the Enlightenment, which they will later discover they had unwittingly put into practice the liberty which the Diderot, Rousseau, d’Holbach, Voltaire, wished to comprehend.

This freedom was to bring down tyranny. The visceral refusal of despotism resisted the guillotine of the Jacobins, the Thermidorians, Bonaparte, the monarchist restoration, it resisted the executioners of the Paris Commune, it passed over to Auschwitz and the Gulag.

Certainly to seize the Elysee would be to do too much honor to the ubuesque paladin that the Order of the multinationals has charged with base police duties. We can not just destroy symbols. To burn a bank is not to blow up the banking system and the dictatorship of money. To put to the fire préfectures of police and centers of administrative paperwork, is not to finish with the State (any more than to dismiss its notables and dependents).

We must never break men and women (even with some cops, there remains a certain human conscience to save). That the yellow vests have instead chosen to break machines that make us pay everything and putting out service the excavators that dig through our landscapes the trenches of the profit, it is an encouraging sign of the human progress of the revolts.

Another reassuring sign: while the crowds, gregarious gatherings, are easily manipulated – as the clientelisms that rage from the extreme left to the extreme right do not ignore them – we note here, at least for the moment, the absence of leadsers and appointed representatives, which very much embarrasses power; from what side do you capture this nebula in motion? One observes here and there that individuals, usually drowned in the mass, talk to each other, show creative humor, initiative and ingenuity, human generosity (even if slippages are always possible).

From the yellow vests movement emanates a joyful anger. State and capitalist authorities would like to call it blind. It is only in search of clairvoyance. It is the blindness of the rulers is always in search of glasses.

A lady in yellow says, “I would like him to explain to me, Macron, who lives in a palace, how I can live with 1500 euros per month.” And how can people withstand the budget cuts that affect health, non-industrial agriculture, education, the suppression of train lines, the destruction of landscapes for the benefit of real estate and commercial complexes?

And the petrochemical and industrial pollution that threatens the survival of the planet and its people? To which Paladin the 1st responds with an ecological measure. He taxes the fuel that users must buy. This exempts him from the profits of Total and its consorts. He had already shown his environmental concern by sending 2500 gendarmes to destroy, in Notre-Dame-des-Landes, the collective vegetable gardens, the sheepfolds, self-constructions and the experience of a new society.

And what about taxes that far from benefiting those who pay them serve to bail out corrupt bank? Hospitals lacking medical staff? Farmers re-naturing the soil, deprived of subsidies that go to the agro-chemical food industry and the pollution of land and water? High school and college students parked in concentration camps where the market comes to choose its slaves?

“Proletarians of all countries,” said Louis Scutenaire, “I have no advice to give you. “

Clearly, as the vogue of democratic totalitarianism verifies, all modes of government, from the past to the present, have only worsened our inhumanity. The cult of profit undermines solidarity, generosity, hospitality. The black hole of profitable efficiency gradually absorbs the joy of living and its galaxies. No doubt it is time to rebuild the world and our daily existence. No doubt it is time to “do our own business”, against the business that is being waged against us and that is undoing us.

Judging by the freedoms of trade, which exploit and kill the living, freedom is always frail. A simple nothing is enough to reverse it and change it to its opposite. A simple nothing restores it.

Let us take care of our own life, it engages that of the world.

December 2018

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1 Response to Raoul Vaneigem on the gilets jaunes

  1. NOT BORED! says:

    Thank you very much for sharing my translations of these two recent texts by Raoul Vaneigem!!!

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