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From The Land Of Proudhon – The Battles of the ZADists

Thom Holterman writes on the emerging zadist movement and the battles it is waging with the state and capitalism.


The French language has a new word: zadist. It comes from the abbreviation ZAD, Zone à Défendre, “Zone to defend”. Officially ZAD refers to a French legal instrument that is used to create big construction works, such as building an airport or a project for a high speed  train line. These kind of projects inevitably cause considerable damage to the environment and that’s exactly what a zadist would like to prevent by his or her opposition: defending the zone from destruction.

The movement is broader than environmental activism alone. This mainly concerns the projects for which huge costs are incurred for the benefit of relatively few people, and in particular, the transnational real estate and construction companies that are making huge profits. A well-known French exampleis the (new) airport to be built in the surroundings of Nantes (Notre-Dame-Des-Landes). The construction of an HSL connection and a super highway are also planned upon the construction of the airport. Such projects are against the zadists’ principles of an anti-hierarchical society  and have therefore become sites of struggle.

Barage Sivens

Recently another project came in the news, when the young zadist Rémi Fraisse (21 years) was fatally struck by an projectile fired by the French riot police. The place of action was the Tarn district where, in the woody area of Testet, an artificial lake will be created for the construction of a dam. The environmental damage and the cost of the work far exceed the benefits of its construction. Only a handful of industrial agricultural companies, who plan to use the lake to grow crops, will truly benefit from the lake.

Just as in the case of the construction of an airport at Nantes, the zadists of Testet are not alone. The dam makes very little sense to outside experts commenting on the situation. In their opinion the barrage of Sivens is out of all proportion, the financial funding not thoroughly thought through and has even been called under-funded (the actual costs are thus pushed into the future to those living in the area).

The former Minister for Ecology, Delphine Batho (European Greens), summed up the project as “an absurd project for a minority”. Her critical response to the dam forced her to leave socialist government. She was replaced by former French presidential candidate, Ségolène Royale. Royale ordered a report on the dam but she has pushed the final decision on the project onto the local council.

Anti Capitalism, anti-productivism, anti-fascism

Opposition to the dam is not a singular issue. The revolt also runs against the hegemonic authoritarian neo-liberal ideas that dominate society. The opposition is characterized as anti-capitalist, anti-fascist and anti-productivist. That is reflected in the reports in the French anarchist weekly Le Monde libertaire (LML), nº 1755, from 23 to 29 October 2014 onwards.

As is noticed by LMl, ecologists are starting to understand that the areas they defend are sacrificed to the productivist thinking of transnational corporations, which elicits an anti-capitalist struggle. The violent state protection that the transnational corporations enjoy is also coming to the fore in the minds of the zadists.

The prefect of the Tarn ordered riot police to engage in firm action against the protesters (Le Monde, November 14, 2014) and it is the nominally left socialist government which has stood by whilst police brutality has took place. They stood by yet again in the Tarn on October 26, 2014 with the death of Rémi Fraisse. It is not the first time that a socialist government has stood by as police kill French citizens. In 1985 the socialist French President Mitterrand gave permission to scuttle the Rainbow Warrior, Greenpeace’s action ship, where the Dutch photographer Fernando Pereira lost his life. The French police also have committed other murders that have gone unpunished.

State Murder

If one looks closely, violence turns out to be carried by a political, economic and social structure. One of the people who has done extensive research on this subject is the French activist and social scientist Mathieu Rigouste. He is interviewed in LML nº 1756 from 13-19 November 2014. I have translated some of the interview below:

“The murder of Rémi one must place in a long history. The police can be seen very clearly as the state apparatus for maintaining, the economic, political and social order (capitalist, racist and patriarchal), by using violence. […] This apparatus is designed to dominate, to banish and suppress the social strata that have the greatest interest in getting rid of the existing system, because they gain the least by it.”

“The police kills in France per year on average between 10 and 15 citizens from the popular neighbourhoods. The prison, the system of police harassment and the occupation by the police from the street, that all belongs to it as a real company for ‘social cleansing’. The goal is to crush all forms of popular autonomy ‘.

“Like all police crimes in the popular neighbourhoods, also the police murder of Rémi is no mistake. It is not a form of dysfunction. The opposite is true. It is a very conscious product of mechanically trained people, from the rational course, the legitimate tactics and strategy, to the actions of the executive officers, which the top layer of the state apparatus justifies: it is a state murder.

The question is also whether it is logical to understand that there were so many anti-riod squads. Rigouste thinks so: “It is seen as an opportunity to experiment in these situations, but also in order to create a media event: we are present, we stand our ground. That is, the repressive experiment is put in the window of ‘exceptionally good’ by showing ‘how do we do this in a French manner’. And this showcase focuses on the international market of security and order enforcement.” [The security industry]

“In Testes as well as in the popular quarters, the police are dedicated to suppress everything and everybody that provides resistance to the expansion of the imperialist system. She has to remove everything and everyone what obstructs the system, whether it will be inhabitants or the natural environment. Capitalism needs to do its job to restructure the area”.

Thom Holterman

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