Looking back-forward at the gilets jaunes: A taking stock

We share an unfinished debate on the yellow vests’ movement, on what is or was radical within it, and where it failed, if indeed it did so. Our caution here is dictated by the different positions in the exchange below.

We begin with a critical appraisal of the movement from the Temps Critiques collective, followed by a more apologetic note, and in turn a response from the collective.

Without wishing, or being able to close the issue, it can be said that what separates the two sides of this debate is an interpretation or analysis of capitalism. For the Temps Critiques collective, to the extent that the movement fails to contest the conditions of contemporary commodity production, while failing to see the dismantling of the State, the privatisation of daily life in all of its many domains, it is a failed movement. What our apologist, Dietrich Hoss, defends is that the movement has shattered processes of capitalist subjectivisation, which opens up possibilities and potentialities unforseen before its eruption.

It is our conviction that the two views in fact complement each other, but the theoretical work for this union still awaits.

What can remain from the yellow vests’ movement

(Temps Critiques/Lundimatin #196)

We said in March that the movement had reached a crest. What about today that the number of demonstrators, and those present at the General Assemblies, declines, that the roundabouts are not recovered? How can one continue to say: “We will not give up anything”, without being in denial of the weakening of the movement? It is for all of these reasons that it seems appropriate to us to evoke a simple question: what can remain of a movement like this? This is a question that requires leaving aside the short term on what can still be done here and now, without projecting oneself into an illusory “it will resume in September, with the preparation of Macron’s new measures that will only worsen the situation” .

We have “Straightened our backs … [1]

The exercise is not a simple one, because we lived a long and intense struggle (6 months of mobilisation and struggles). We do not reduce this movement to its practical forms: roundabout occupations, actions at tolls or commercial areas, determined demonstrations, popular assemblies, etc. No, behind that, what seems essential is to have “straightened our backs”. We have indeed refused to negotiate for our freedom to demonstrate and circulate, we have taken them, because the legitimacy of our revolt can not be contained by a legality that reduces to nothing our capacities to express ourselves and act.

Through our actions, we have encountered all kinds of life paths and we have widened a horizon beyond all political differences, of generation, of sex, of habitation; differences that suddenly appeared only as divisions. Only social urgency, the realization that it is no longer possible and the determination to act, to make it stop, have brought us together. That’s why the yellow vests carry their heads high, despite all the contempt they have suffered from the media, politicians, from all of those who have an interest in the continuation of the status quo of the society of capital. And again, despite this, the disdain shown to them by many more, Macronians without knowing it, of the Left, who for the most part, are chained to and buried in their small identities, their small differences, their small ideological niches.

… and revealed the imperious nature that is hidden behind the management of the reproduction of social relations”

The movement against the labor law had unveiled the new tendencies of repressive policies against social movements, but they had expressed themselves only in marginal ways, as in the treatment of the “heads of demonstration marches [cortèges de tête]” or in the “excesses” of [the police interventions] Nantes and Sivens. But with the multiple attempts to dislodge/destroy the cabins and the entire area of Notre-Dame-des-Landes by the police, then with the more extensive and comprehensive crackdown on the yellow vests, since November 2018, we find ourselves before a systematic, if not systemic, logic. The voluntary attacks on the bodies of the protesters are no longer mere excesses; the criminalisation/penalisation of the least act of resistance becomes the norm, prevention measures no longer correspond to a targeting of elements deemed dangerous, but are intended to prevent demonstrations.

Nevertheless, from this last struggle, we begin anew armed with a rare solidarity, reinforced by all the moments lived together in adversity.

The state has shown its face of violence, that of everyday life, which before we only conceived of in solitude, each in her/his own corner, and that which raged in the street, many did not know, except indirectly.

This brutal repression against anonymous people, people with nothing, does not have the same meaning as the repression against the students of May 68, certainly violent also, but which led to the mass uprising of almost a whole generation supported by the benevolence, sometimes active, of the greater part of the population, at least until the end of May. Here, today, it is not a question of repressing, but of terrorising the demonstrators and by capillarity the sympathisers who could eventually join them. This has been partly successful, the yellow vests’ movement is gradually reducing to its hard core and very few people have joined after its December high.

When politics descends onto the street in the face of a power that does not do politics, it is no longer formal democracy that presents itself before us, the one that is enshrined in the rule of law, but an imperious state ready to silence anyone who takes seriously unvarnished freedom, concrete freedom in its various forms of expression.

The demand for concrete freedom is the only positivity which a movement wholly directed towards negation (of representation, of negotiation) expresses, with so many “claims” (almost fifty) that they cancel each other out and which prove to be nonnegotiable, even if by chance they had found a faction of power willing to start negotiating them. Faced with a government that did not want to let go of anything, it is the latter which finally took the initiative. First of all, by targeting some basic points of social and fiscal justice (reduction of the CSG [Contribution Sociale Généralisée: a general progressive tax that serves to finance france’s social security and unemployment insurance, in addition to that which is taxed on employees salaries] and the indexation of modest pensions, exceptional bonuses). Seemingly few things, but more than the unions had obtained in the last ten years. Next, in skirting the demand for citizen participation (via the RICRéférendum d’initiative citoyenne) by proposing a “Great Debate” against which the “True Debate” of the yellow vests, finally modeled on the original, could only appear as a pale copy.

A fundamental negativity of a movement on which there is nothing to “capitalise” …

Yet from the very heart of the movement, we already hear this horrible expression from those who, in one way or another, do not want to lose … to start from scratch and therefore for whom, “you have to capitalise on the movement “. A very natural reaction when one has the impression of having only been fighting for six months, but a reaction that we can only reject from the political point of view. It takes many forms. There are those who give it a communalist form with the Assemblies of assemblies which seek to survive without any notion of a relation of power, of the situation of the movement;[2] or a municipalist and civic form with the local RIC and future participation in municipal councils.[3] There are those who want to form themselves as a “people” through calls for direct and citizen democracy with the RIC present in all matters and their will to become constituents, whereas the movement included, from the beginning, a strong destituent desire (the permanent “dégagisme”) and expressed a negative politics. For others, finally, the movement will have been only a point of departure (insufficient) to try to stop the decline of the labour unions, by playing the base against the leadership through the call for a “convergence of struggles”, which has more often than not, remained a one way proposition [to sustain the unions]. This is because the time of the struggle, which is of the order of event, is not the same as course of daily struggles.

For all these trends to capitalise on the “gains”, the [european] election result had the double paradoxical effect of on the one hand a cold shower (Macron did not come in at less than 10%, something that many had hoped more or less secretly), and on the other hand, the confirmation that it was necessary to save what could be saved.

At the beginning of the movement, at the end of November 2018, Temps Critiques asked itself if a co-extension of the struggles was possible.[4] Our eyes have had time to focus on this subject and, for example, it is without any illusions regarding the fantasies of convergence, the lip-service support of certain unions as well as the modest attempts in this direction by the ecological Left. All these attempts were marked by failure and rendered the very idea obsolete. That today some see support for future struggles marks a return to settled forms unable to think the possible and even probable death of the movement. In reality the mass vanguard dimension of the yellow vests frightened, and frightened above all those in power, including those who aspire to take over … So we see how this fact could change without the loss of the singularity, the new potentiality that came with the yellow vests.

Just as some, at the time, saw in May-68 only a general rehearsal before the revolution, others today already announce the resumption of struggles at the beginning of the Fall season, given the Macronian measures underway or planned; the same causes are supposed to have the same effects. In both cases, there is a misunderstanding of what a historical movement is and therefore of a movement that is an event and then adopts its own temporality far from that which exists, for example, in the everyday conflicts in companies, in the attempts by groups of employees to gain some autonomy with respect to the logic labour union activity, etc. In this the yellow vests’ uprising is not a social movement in the sense that we have heard speak of since the 1980s; the years after which it becomes difficult to speak in terms of class struggle. In effect, the yellow vests’ uprising is not the result of an opposition between the interests of social agents or categories and the state, mediated by social partners; a conflict in which the unions were both the advocates for these interests and the co-managers of the political compromise between classes within the welfare state. With the yellow vests’ movement, we are dealing with a direct confrontation between a fraction of the population and the State, because the first no longer tolerates further mediation and because the second has done everything to weaken them. Hence the violence of the confrontation and a sudden movement that will very quickly reach a very high speed.

But as is said in the current language, the train that passes will not pass again and thus, after six months, it is clear that not many people have gotten on, even if some have fumbled with the step. The decisive moment was December. The moment when the movement knew its greatest strength (between the 1st and the 8th of December) and also its biggest street repression, completed with the destruction of cabins and tents at roundabouts, in the beginning of January, along with the crushing of the secondary school movement, whose pallid sequel was the Youth for climate movement; a sign of the recovery in hand by the coalition of powers, that even it if they did not promote the latter, at least supported it.[5]

… and for which to endure for the sake of enduring can only mean the loss of meaning

Of course, since then, the movement has continued, but as if outside of the event it produced; outside of its revolutionary and insurrectional dimension. It is now only a question then of lasting to last and thus of organising “events” (in the weak or spectacular meaning of the term) or to attach oneself to other’s events, as can be seen in this month of June, with calls from yellow vests’ groups to join the “Pride March”, as a new act of the yellow vests.

Either this, or let itself be cut off the forces that made the event, in the strong and historical sense of the term, because every Saturday was like the announcement of a possible changeover into something else.

A sign of this tendency to persist – and thus to take other forms – is reflected in the fact that positions are now asserted which surreptitiously pass from the “We Are All Yellow Vests” of 2018 to the “All Together” of 1995. For these, it would be a way of responding to the isolation of the movement and the obvious failure of “convergence”. A double-handed failure, that of struggles too embryonic to not be included in a yellow vests’ movement (see the example of the “stylos rouges/red pens” of education); that of activists and strikers who have no desire to be assimilated to the yellow vests (the example of Blouses blanches/White coats). It must be clearly seen that whatever their level of radicality, these struggles remain those of professional categories, defined by their threatened statuses or deteriorating working conditions, whereas what is specific to the yellow vests was to have left all of this at the door of the movement by referring to the general conditions of life, conditions which violently reveal one’s state as dominated and not any particular conditions of exploitation in a workplace. This different position in relation to power and domination has led to an intrinsic difficulty in bringing struggles closer together. An almost objective difficulty to which is added a subjective difficulty, that of the often unfavorable evaluation of the nature of the yellow vests’ movement by other social forces. A movement that would not be politically correct, a movement that would be uncontrollable because it refuses any direction or leadership, a movement that ultimately scares everyone (the powers in place as well as protected segments of wage labor), although many would like to instrumentalise it for their benefit.

Some “lessons” to retain?

Without saying that the movement is over, it seems urgent to us to put forward what it reveals, from the point of view of the movement, although this is sometimes in its defending body:

  • The “people” do not exist. The yellow vests could only run up against a wall from the moment it became clear that their will to set themselves up as a people, ran up against the harsh reality that they were only its partial representation. The people in action, in a way, because in action it soon became apparent that they were, at best, only their de facto vanguard. A whole reflection would have to be made on this point and on the impasses that a criticism limited to the 1% of the richest, the elites, and attacks against the patrimonial oligarchy of the Pinault-Arnault and other banks, represent, while at the same time, globalisation and financialisation attack oligarchical positions in order to make them more fluid and flexible, in order to find new equilibria between old and new modes of domination.
  • Avant-garde in fact, we say, and not by right, because it is this legitimacy that will be denied them by all the powers in place, political, media and trade union, up to and including among the extreme Left and libertarian circles.
  • A movement that has experienced confrontation with the State as the basis for mass action, and not just as small groups of activists. But a movement that still seeks its relationship to what is the State in general, as indicated by the proposals for upcoming demonstrations against any measures for the increase prices for major energy and transport services and for the defense of the public sector. This proposal does not take into account the failure of the the unions to maintain the “system” of 1945 (the CNR – Conseil national de la Résistance program), but seeks to replace them in the same kind of great counterproductive masses, without advancing what could have been demands-actions of the movement, such as the constitution of local committees against the payment of the increase in the price of electricity, that could join those already in place against Linky electricity meters, etc.
  • In short, while it advocates popular or citizens re-appropriation and is truly a grassroots movement and of the grassroots, the difficulty it has in actually taking root in daily struggles, at this level, and joining with what already exists (associative struggles, struggles against police violence in the suburbs and elsewhere) push it to launch global calls that not only are unlikely to be heard, but do not correspond to its original and unique characteristics . But of course, in the face of such criticism, which occasionally arises in general assemblies, the eternal social-statist reason arises and most often imposes its reality principle by this simple sentence: “Are you then against public services? “. One finds oneself then in a dead end.
  • What made the originality and strength of the movement in its ascending phase, namely its break with many theoretical a priori and ritualised practices to the point of being strained, turns into weakness in the downward phase, when all that transpires is its instability, its lack of organisation and its difficulty to take the initiative, to surprise again. To the point that to continue, it is ready to abandon its historical singularity so as to mould itself into forms of mediation that are themselves in crisis. When official “social movements” are no longer able to do 1995, some yellow vests think that they can succeed at it and in addition see this as a panacea, when this whole system was still based on the centrality of work in the process of the valorisation of the capital, on the one hand, and when the definition of social relations, on the other hand, was still based on this same centrality (employees/non-employees, contributions/benefits).
  • The result of the European elections must question the movement, to the extent that the surprise came from the interest shown in the elections (moreover European) from protagonists of the yellow vests’ movement denying precisely the legitimacy of representatives, including theirs! We then arrived at the absurd positions of some calling to vote for anyone except Macron and “yellow” lists [yellow vest candidates]! All this confusion comes, in addition to the electoral illusion, from the fact that the movement thinks itself as the “people” and therefore inevitably the majority. Yet the historical examples are instructive: if elections can lead to an insurrectional surge (Spain 1936 and to a lesser degree France with the victory of the Popular Front, Chile 1973), a strong and even insurrectional movement followed by an election brings only sores and bumps (June 68, spring 2019).
  • A movement which, since the beginning, played non-institutional cards in the elaboration of its relation of power and which sometimes seeks to concretise them in medium-term views, such as those of the “wild RIC”. A prospect which suddenly collapsed under the blows of a Macron not sanctioned by the ballot box. We understand that some yellow vests want to make voting mandatory, when 50% of registered voters abstain; not to mention the non-registered. But what will it take to get people to vote “well”? This is a question that has often led politicians and even activists to want to “exchange the people” … when it does not match their expectations. But it came from groups or parties that had or wanted power. The yellow vests are not in this category: they are before themselves and can not despair of the people while now brushing with despair.
  • This difficulty, peculiar to our period after the class struggle, is that everywhere today we are witness to a resurrection of the notion of the people. In the history of modernity, the people want to be a whole, which is the negation of class contradictions, as they are only a sum of particular interests. This is the basis of the opposition between the bourgeois and the “bras-nus” during the French Revolution, to use the Daniel Guerin’s terminology … and at the same time, their unity in the idea of “the fatherland in danger” of 1792, which must weld the people become the social body of the Nation. In this vision, it is the people who suffer all the wrongs. It is the general interest made a people against the enemies from the outside (emigrant aristocrats, imperial and royal powers from abroad). Fascism will take up this image of the people-totality against “internal” enemies, but foreign to the nation and to the race (Jews, Freemasons, gypsies, homosexuals). It is the basis of Carl Schmitt’s theories about the state of exception that delimits the “boundaries” between friends and foes. But to return to the revolutionary theses born of the French Revolution, Marx breaks with this idea of a people-totality in a critical thesis on Hegel (in A Contribution to the Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right), where he reverses the Hegelian dialectic to make of a class, the proletariat, the class-totality, because it would not suffer any particular harm to the extent that it suffers them all. It is then this potential totality that transforms this immediately particular class into the revolutionary class par excellence, or more exactly, the class of the revolution.
  • Without knowing it expressly, it is this thesis that the yellow vests assert by proclaiming the state of social urgency on the part of a new popular totality suffering a general wrong beyond the particular wrongs suffered by each of its fractions or segments. A new “all” therefore, without historical determination or any messianic essence, but based on the idea more or less commonly shared that everything is going from bad to worse, that the situation is becoming unbearable and that the dominant ones, whoever they are (political representatives, capitalists and the rich), do not care.
  • It is precisely because this wrong is felt as general that it does not need to rely on facts and statistics and that what is “felt” is what counts in the revolt and the spirit of resistance. The urgency exceeds its social character to become vital in an utopia of equality … this in the country, however, that is the least unequal among the rich countries and where the welfare state still produces its relative effects, by contrast to the situation in the neighbouring countries. However, redistribution no longer follows the same process and does not have the same effects when it is no longer centered on work and social partners, but on a vague universalism assumed by the State through taxes (cf. the CMU) and taxes imposed upon everyone, regardless of their position in relation to production relations and work.
  • The yellow vests’ movement was not necessarily made up of employees and, in any case, “guaranteed” or “stable” employees have little to do with the figures that show that wages have increased on average, when spending constraints have suffered an even bigger increase still, something that they feel directly when it comes to filling the fridge or freezer. The movement is therefore by nature voluntarist and subjectivist, since it is a question of “forcing” the numbers, to go from resentment to revolt. This necessary coup de force constrains it and contains it in a minority position, even though it fantasises its majority dimension (“We Are All Yellow Vests”), which can only come back on it as a boomerang in the moments of the movement’s deceleration.
  • It is also this feeling that collapses before the result of the elections. Either the people do not vote (50% abstention + about 10% non-registered + all the “foreigners” who do not have the right to vote) and it is then the failure of the “citizen’s vote”; either s/he votes badly when s/he does vote … and no RIC can do much about that. The illusion of the RIC is to rely on the fact that the “people” would not be divided by capitalist social relations, which nevertheless traverse the whole of the division of labor and the hierarchies which it produces; all of the divisions of status that allow, for example, yellow vests to participate in joint demonstrations with the White Coats in the defense of public health care services, as if “White Coats” defined that fraction of the people that would constitute the “hospital people”. Therefore, involuntarily or not, an outrageous hospital hierarchy is masked, a hierarchy that is also responsible for the dysfunction of the public hospital and furthermore denounced in the cries for help by emergency ward doctors.

So many “results” or non-quantitative gains, but qualitative gains that make the yellow vests’ uprising a historic moment of inversion of the too ordinary course of exploitation and domination. A moment that refutes all political accountants in the service of the capitalism of the summit, without yet opening for us a way out.

Temps Critiques, June 10-13, 2019


[1] – Cf. “Si t’as envie de vivre, tu décourbes ton dos” in L’évènement Gilets jaunes, …/temps critiques, éd. À plus d’un titre, 2019.

[2] – A strong trend in big cities, even though it originated in Commercy. A third is planned at Montceau-les-Mines at the end of June.

[3] – A strong tendency on the roundabouts and within the “periphery” groups. Under what label they will present themselves, this remains a mystery since the yellow vests’ lists are globally disavowed.

[4] – Revue Temps critiques nº 19 : “Les luttes : de la coexistence à la coextension ?”: http://tempscritiques.free.fr/spip.php?article377

[5] – High school students wounded by the rubber bullets, those humiliated Mantes-la-Jolie, were suddenly praised as conscious and responsible young people, showing the example to their elders! While the many severely wounded yellow vests in the demonstrations of the first weeks have received only “they were looking for it” or “it will teach them” from the intellectuals and the dominant castes.


What can remain from the yellow vests’ movement?

To re-read Il n’y a pas de révolution malheureuse by Marcello Tarì, starting from the yellow vests’ movement.

(Lundimatin #199)

Lundimatin published in its edition of June 17th a text from Temps Critiques, under the title: “What can be left of the yellow vests’ movement”. A sort of balance sheet with a funeral tone that claims realism by stating that we must be able to think “the possible and even probable death of the movement.” Because, as the final apodictic clap, it was a “moment that refutes all political accountants in the service of capitalism of the summit, without yet opening for us a way out.”

I very much appreciated the analyses and the positions taken by my comrades of Temps Critiques, supporting against winds and tides the epic of the yellow vests, but this last startled me. Such an obituary seems to me completely inappropriate to the current situation, to this unprecedented movement of society – which continues to persist after months! At the base of the maturation and longevity of this animating action is the development of a “rare solidarity, reinforced by all the moments lived together in adversity”, to which the text Temps Critiques alludes to, with reason, in the beginning of its reflection, but without returning to this essential, decisive dimension, afterwards. Yet even bourgeois commentators have realised that it is a “new sociality”, created on the roundabouts and in regular demonstrations, that has sustained tens of thousands of men and women and still prevents the return to “normality”. So what is the nature of these new bonds of solidarity? What does it involve? What is its potential for future deployments of action? To see more clearly and to identify more precise lines of thought, I began to read a book that was waiting at the top of my pile of publications to read in recent months: Il n’y a pas de révolution malheureuse – Le communisme de la destitution/There is no unhappy revolution – The communism of destitution by Marcello Tarì. I came to know Tarì through his texts recently published in French,[1] and with which I felt great affinity. I was stupefied by how his new book (published in its original Italian version already in 2017) could help to make legible the current historical moment of social confrontation in France and open perspectives for its future. It is indeed a real “survival manual” for the insurgent links that have been woven in the struggles of recent months. In my text, I will limit myself primarily to indicating, through quotations, the importance of this book to help in the understanding the current event and its potential prospects.

“Destituent insurrection”, a new horizon of struggles at the international level

Tarì identifies as a “destituent insurrection” the new dimension of the struggles at the international level, appearing for the first time in Argentina in 2001, in the form of the revolt of the piqueteros, and so named at the time by the Argentine militants of “Colectivo Situaciones“. The notion of “destituent insurrection” puts into theoretical form the slogan of this movement: “Que se vayan todos, que no quede ninguno/That they all go, that none remain“, repeated many times throughout the world. It is much more precise than the pejorative reductive label of “dégagisme/get lost” that one tries to stick to the anti-institutional tendencies of these popular revolts. Tarì explains:

One remembers well the destituent slogan of those days, then taken up again by all the great movements of the last years, a slogan which cried out: “That they all go, that none remain”. If the global success of this slogan confirms the paradigmatic nature of the Argentinian event, we must nevertheless say that the second part of this phrase has often been repressed, even though it is the one that contains the fundamental strategic indication. That none remain, affirms in effect that in the strategic vision of the insurgency, there are no foreseen exceptions to destitution – which in fact represents its specific state of exception – and that thereafter there will be no new representative to take the place of the one who has been dismissed. If taken seriously, this slogan is both disarmingly simple and charmingly arrogant. That all must go, means that all the rulers, all the bosses, all the liars, all the politicians, all the cowards, all the leaders, all of the corrupt and those who corrupt, must clear off. They must fuck off – and not be shot or guillotined; just clear off, now. This is destituent violence. (P.232)

For Tarì:

From the Argentinian “That they all go, that none remain!” to the “Degage!” of Tunis, from the riots of Tottenham to those of Rome, from the achievements of the communes of Oakland and Taksim to the square occupations of New York, Athens, Istanbul and the Spanish 15M, to finally re-emerge with “The world or nothing” of the long and furious French revolt of 2016, all of these events found their expression in a desire for destitution – be it the destitution of the power of the commodity or of politics, institutions or large infrastructures or, more essentially still, of the pathetic form of life that is given to us to live. (P.19)

To the rites and rituals of the established world, to its games of “negotiation”, of “demands” between “representatives”, is opposed a new form of expression of collective aspirations:

… it is only in those moments – in those bitterly scented streets, in that sky that carries with it the black smoke that rises above the roofs of crystal palaces, blurring both identity and politicising the life of everyone, in these territories that succeed with the state, in these anonymous gestures of sharing through which the power of communism is expressed – that it is possible to glimpse this demos which is screamingly absent from the desert scene of real democracies. And another obvious fact then imposes itself: when the “people” are in the streets or squares, the government does not govern. The revolutionary problem, henceforth, consists in asking how to make sure that this power never closes again, that is to say, that it is never captured in the form of Government. (P.33)

It is precisely such a breach that the yellow vests have opened and that until now, they prevented from closing. They persist in the refusal to return to the established frameworks. This is what they showed during the European elections. They may not have given Macron that “jerk” in dimensions that some would have hoped, according to Temps Critiques. But they “shook-up” the whole electoral farce: by a perseverance in the usual and long running massive abstention, by keeping at a distance a tempting Rassemblement National [formerly, the National Front], by showing their contempt for the formations of a rotting Left and ignoring the self-proclaimed [electoral] “yellow lists”.

“To inhabit the world”, the new challenge of the struggle

“The metropolis is the technological organisation of widespread hostility”. (p.105) Metropolisation is the destruction of all the links between human beings and of forms of inhabiting the world pre- or non-capitalised, that were still able to escape desertification. “The city, and all that went with it, belongs henceforth to the historical memory of civilisation, what it has become is no longer properly ‘urban ‘ – neither from the perspective of urbanism, nor from that of urbanity – but megalopolitan, metropolitan or conurbational”. (p.109, the quote is from J.-L. Nancy) Tarì understands the new urban confrontations as kinds of strikes against this metropolisation:

The new forms of striking, which are all variants of a gigantic global strike against the metropole, show in an arresting way that their ends are not contained in a claim of a specifically economic or legal type. no more than having behind them the classic demands or a future finality – which became even more explicit during the revolt against the French labor law. These new forms are expressed rather, on the one hand, by the blockage of the normal functioning of society, and on the other, by the immediate material transformation of life and the way we think of it: the more the form of the strike is intense, the more ungovernable the form of life expressed in it becomes. (P.104)

The aim of the struggle against the metropolis, to make the world habitable again, is the constitution of “destituent territories”:

A destituant territory will henceforth be, before all else, that territory which is capable of slowing down the anarchic flows of the capitalist metropolis, of stopping the proliferation of commodification, of blocking in a dialectical image the incessant progress of the relations of production, the affective and ethical relations that allow the civilisation of capital to function, and in so doing, to deduce from the multiplicity of positions, the figures of the friend and the enemy. In a way to have radiate, in this motionless movement, the revolutionary chance. (P.131s)


… while the governmental apparatus acts on the population, trying to reduce each person to naked individuality, by stirring up fear and denunciation, the insurrection acts on the bonds, by undoing and recomposing them in other forms, by creating common and collective arrangements that resonate and reinforce the hold on time and space, that is to say on the world “. (P.252)

The name of this insurrection that came to France is the yellow vests.

How to inscribe the dynamic of destituent insurrection in time?

One line of thought is as follows: Tarì points out that we must distinguish two directions of struggle, on the one hand, its horizontality, the extension of the combat on multiple territories, always more extensive, and its verticality, its deepening:

Autonomy, therefore, in a political sense, in no way indicates a tactic for engaging in clashes, nor a tactic for the seizure of power from below, but designates the space and time for a resumption of use, of this capacity to live freely, according to the rule contained in the form of life in which we have decided to persevere. One should therefore strive to reach not a point of view symmetrically with the heights of government – we would not have the material means to do so anyway – but rather a point of view provided with a verticality that knows how to penetrate the depths of the Earth, of time and of the self, for the strategy to gain proportionally in intensity – and thus to turn the attack towards the outside … The territories, to become destituent, need to be deeply inhabited and intensely populated by ungovernable affects … Let us remember that we have become the territory of the mole, and only the elaboration of a revolutionary spirituality can reach these depths. (P.123)

Thus, a certain flow or ebb of struggles outward may be an opportunity to develop efforts to deepen control over the conquered territories and accelerate the “subjective maturation necessary for the revolution” mentioned by Tarì. In the ongoing struggle, a framework for such deepening is already emerging in the form of the constitution/occupation of “People’s Houses” or yellow vests clubs in different cities. These serve not only as a basis for preparing actions, but also for collective reflection on the orientations of the struggle. According to Tarì, it is not only a matter of consolidating the hold over territories defined geographically. It is also necessary to reconquer especially the emotional and spiritual regions molded by the enemy:

Ultimately, governmentality is directly based on forms of life that it itself destroys, modifies or models, it is a power that takes itself, in this sense, as the guardian of their ties. Territories are therefore secondary variables in relation to the material and affective bonds from which, whether we produce new ones or destroy old ones, a population (in the sense of a mass of atomized individuals, DH ) is formed, becoming such only once a people or a form of life have been detached, expropriated and isolated from their proper places – where by ‘places’ one should not understand exclusively geographical areas, but also spiritual, linguistic, imaginal regions. (P.118)

The imagination has a central place in this context:

We must … think the imagination as a preliminary form of destitution; as what, by the dissolution of the dominant forms, permits the generation of new forms of living, and thus of politics. It is indeed in these imaginative fissures, in the temporal breach that is determined in the course of the insurrection, that we must look for the sensible transformations of revolutionary subjectivity … (p.217)

Such a collective imagination is intimately tied to collective forms of living daily life:

Common meals, in the repetition, in common, of the gesture which makes it possible to regenerate the body of each one, show that one of the aspects of redemption resides in this communism of the regeneration of bodies and spirits – a renewal which is not properly speaking a beginning, but a fulfillment where another dimension of time and life becomes accessible. The meaning of the word compagnon/compagne [companion] (that is, theco-pain[friend], the one with whom we eat bread, DH) has always been derived from the repetition of the Saturday of redemption: to share bread may be the first destituent gesture … (p.201)

It is such an effort to “penetrate the depths of the Earth, of time and the self” that has been undertaken in an exemplary way in Notre-Dame-des-Lande. The defenders of a still-living area of land, threatened with extinction, have won their wager through a tenacious and long-lasting struggle. They clung to the earth by recomposing their links through debates, meals and parties. And it is the intensity of the bonds and the lucid determination acquired in this process that have guaranteed until today the durability of a new form of inhabiting the world after the victory of last year. There has been talk of an appearance of a multitude of ZADs in the form of busy roundabouts. The fighting dynamics of NDDL’s ZAD will also find expansion through its profound transformation. As Tarì says, citing the Brazilian anthropologist Eduardo Viveiros de Castro: “… we must think, more than of a revolution in the traditional sense of the term, a ‘state of permanent insurrection as a form of resistance’ adequate to our time.”(P.219)

All of these quotations can only give a quick idea of the paths traced in Tarì’s essay. Of course, they need to be grasped in their full scope, in the context of his rich and relevant writing. May the reading of the book – and perhaps an exchange of his theses between friends – in this time of a relative slowdown of actions constitute an antidote against a discouraging talking stock of the movement, which risks missing out on its most precious acquisition.

Dietrich Hoss, 25-6-2019


[1] Autonomie ! Italie, les années 1970, La fabrique, 2011.


In the still fresh traces of the yellow vests

(Temps Critiques Blog)

From the reading of the article by Dietrich Hoss “What can remain of the yellow vests’ movement?” published on the site of Lundimatin, it seems useful to us to make a few remarks.

Against the background of our presentation, on of what to safeguard from the yellow vests, several things lived from inside led us to some conclusions and contrary to what is said in our article, we did not try to darken the picture. Yes there are traces that will remain of this movement, and to illustrate our general position about it, we can recall Horkheimer’s phrase to describe Adorno and his approach to criticism as that of a “theoretical pessimist and a practical optimist”. This is what we applied in this text which tried to make an initial assessment. But there are times when even this practical optimism is no longer appropriate. And in our opinion we are there. Temps Critiques has often been criticized (especially on insurrectionist side) for having a fair criticism, but from an “overview”, but on this point, the least that can be said is that we are not in this position, because to the best of our knowledge, we are the only “outside” group to have operated in an open manner within the yellow vests’ movement.

It is possible to evoke a “new sociality” which, of course, has appeared to us to be important, what we have called the tendency to a yellow vest community, but this is not everything, especially once the movement has fallen. It is not a question of closing potentialities, but it is possible to hang on to what is really happening, as the Journal de bord/Daily Journal permits.[1] However, this is not what D. Hoss delivers, for he offers an interpretation which seems very out of step, insofar as it consists in adopting a vague or irresolute position that leads to wanting more and more, while the movement is now in a phase where it has exhausted its dynamic. Moreover, the contribution he seeks from Marcello’s analyses seems problematic to us. Indeed, Tarì misunderstands the current modalities of the dynamics of capital and its march towards capitalised society. His notion of “destituent insurrection” or even “destituent communism” does not take into account the tendency of the institutions of the nation-state to dissolve. With the networking of the State, with the contractualisation and the particularisation of social relations, the old institutional mediations are absorbed in a digitised management of individuals (cf. public services at a distance). Without taking it into account, Tarì combines the destituent tendencies of the movements of the squares and the territorialism of the ZADs. From this combination, he reactivates the all-purpose notions of “destituent insurrection” and “constituent republic”, already proposed, unsuccessfully, in the 2000s by some post-workerists/operaists and the magazine Multitudes. With what we have called the “revolution of capital”, the capitalism of the summit or heights does not fear “destituent” actions. since it also intensively practices them. (Cf. for example, Macron and his book “La révolution” and also “the reforms” at the theoretical level, and the tendency to privatise the police and justice at the practical level). The perspectives traced by Tarì are much more metaphysical than political and remain very far from those explored by the yellow vests’ movement. Let’s come back to this.

Indeed, at the end of more than stormy general assemblies, it is necessary to lay down the limits on what we lived. Today, some people insult each other and get away with it for nothing or almost sometimes, until some people temporarily or definitively leave the GAs. As for us, we did not leave the GAs, despite the desire of some of our friends in struggle who urged us to do so, but we were subject to pressures denouncing our untimely interventions that would have had the effect of destabilizing people on the tribune and we were ordered to justify ourselves! For example, without going into details, as the Daily Journal explains, we are attacked by former Nuit Debout activists and LFI-La France insoumise members, for having torn through the straitjacket of “their” AG, in which they recognised themselves and which they wanted impose on a whole movement in Lyon. The communicators were very much present with all of their language and extreme codification. We were able to experience it in our participation at the beginning of the “organisation commission”, with individuals trying, in good faith, to recycle their training in the human sciences (it would be more accurate to say, in “human resources”) to manage the movement as they would manage a start up. The fact of not letting them do so is taken as the highest betrayal, whereas it is a criticism in action of a faction of the movement (the one attached to Assembly of Assemblies) that thinks everything in terms of affirmation and institutionalization (see the sudden rallying to the RIP-Réseaux d’initiative publique [a proposal to publicly fund high speed internet connections to areas of modest population density]), while another thinks to radicalise a practice of direct action that, if it remained adequate during the ascending phase of the movement, drifts today to activist immediacy …

That said, in our writings we have never focused on the dissensions and clashes between groups that have crossed the whole movement. But today, when we have demonstrations of barely a hundred people, half of whom do not go to the GAs or GAs of eighty half of the participants of which no longer go to demonstrations, these confrontations have become a problem. Nothing further will provide unity and everything that could not be overcome before now comes back as a boomerang. Differences of social origin, not to say class, make people explode and we are far from the muffled attacks of academics … These are physical attacks that are added, with high stress levels or “feelings of insecure”, to what the police did to us. So how then do we deal with situations where, as in the last departmental AG, we go from supporting a dismissed cop from the Vigie police union, to “screw your mother Castaner” [minister of the interior]? We must realize how big is the gap for yellow vests, for whom the problem is always to want to hold together.

As for the destituent dimension via M.Tarì, since it is necessary to come back to it, in the Regional Assembly of Rhône-Alpes-Auvergne, with representatives from regional groups, the Assembly began by talking about … the municipal elections. Indeed, we are dealing with two types of municipalism within the movement: that of the assembly of assemblies on the bases of Bookchin-type libertarian municipalism, what can be described as a programmatic municipalism, out of touch with the ground; and that of the groups of village roundabouts who see this as a political and civic prolongation of the movement over time. … [and this can go Left or Right].

It is not Hoss’s appropriation Tarì’s insurrectionism that is criticisable, but his giving credit to the idea of “the destituent insurrection”, an assumption unrelated to the real yellow vests’movement and without any reference to the transformations of State and capital.

To talk about the present conditions, many of the protagonists of the Daily Journal, including ourselves, go through times wishing … that it stops. The very harshness of the exchanges after seven months disgusts many people and creates real defections.

Certainly one can gloss over our way of “closing” the movement, but on the contrary, it is to give it its letters of nobility by recognizing its strengths without ignoring its weaknesses. It is on the contrary good to be well situated at the level of History, to differentiate the phase where the event gains roots and sometimes gives rise to the most beautiful combats and other times, when the flowers fade. One must simply recognise that when they do not transform themselves into something more powerful, then movements are made to die.

Lastly, as time has not stopped, these critical remarks regarding our text are a bit dated, and our new text on the history of the right of petition indicates a future, e becoming, for what is left of the movement, in a sense no less than ‘insurrectionist. …

Temps Critiques, July 17, 2019


[1] Available at: http://blog.tempscritiques.net/archives/2231

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