There have been a range of conversations in recent months regarding the situation in France — for example the consequences of jihadist attacks, in particular in repressive terms, as France certainly is one of the antiterrorist and security laboratories of Europe.
But discussions also and foremost turned to the climate of social upheaval, marked by opposition movements or revolts, of which some echoes crossed the national borders. This article, first published in Avalanche, looks into some of the issues.
It is also to answer to this interest and curiosity that we will try to give an overview, obviously limited and partial, of the situation in which we are living and fighting. by making the choice to focus on some particular episodes of conflict, we do not intend to make unconditional praises of it or present it as the nec plus ultra of conflictuality, but rather to give some examples of anarchist activity in a context that surely is full of contradictions, but still not totally pacified — in spite of the efforts of Power and the continuous advancing of the devastating capitalist bulldozer. These situations have been occasions amongst others to continue to spread anarchist contents and practices, based on the refusal of all authority, individual initiative, free association and direct action.
According to us, they also showed the need for our own interventions, also inside of the broader conflicts, as to deepen and extend the questioning of the existent and in the perspective of opening up real possibilities of profound disruption.
State of war and state of emergency
For several years the French State has literally declared the territory in its power as being “at war,” not only externally with a multiplication of military interventions in different countries, but also against the so-called “internal enemies.” From 2014 on, the former socialist government launched a reform of the antiterrorist legislation, going obviously in the direction of a hardening of the legislation, allowing for example to extend the conon their own) or adding the crime of apology. More broadly, a wave of laws on internal security (six new laws in three years, amongst which the law on the Intelligence Services) was going to extend the police and juridical arsenal even more, the presence of private militias in the public transport, the means of surveillance and all kinds of filing.
In January 2015, after the islamist attacks against the Charlie Hebdo newspaper and the supermarket Hypercasher in Paris, the State propaganda and the evermore oppressing surveillance by cops and soldiers, in particular in the Parisian region, gave the impression of a concrete layer poured out on bodies and minds. The huge demonstration organised by Power after these attacks to gather the citizenist herd under the holy Republican values, the national flag and the representatives of order, made the partisans of freedom sick and a lot to worry about. In that time, anarchist material was spread, calling to break the ranks in which the States, as well democratic as religious, and the soldiers, as well of God as of the Fatherland, want to enlist us, calling out against the military logical and the reign of fear, for the pursue of the fight for freedom.
In November 2015, after the jihadist attacks that caused massacres in several streets and in a concert venue in Paris, the State of Emergency was declared. This measure which in theory is “exceptional” (in reality, it was prolonged six times and will be prolonged until the recently elected government inscribes the principal measures of the state of emergency in common law), gave free rein to the dogs of the State to make house searches (24/24h and without warrants from a judge), systematic searches and controls … Police operations sky-rocketed, leading to many arrests (mostly for other motives that the strictly anti-terrorist ones), convictions and administrative house arrests (based on suspicion and without a judge deciding on it).
But all this didn‘t put an end to social conceptuality which takes on many different forms and intensities.
Police forces continued to be attacked in many different ways and for many reasons, in particular in the areas where they are omnipresent1; the diffuse hostilities against aspects of projects of domination were pursued in certain places. The so-called “war on terrorism” contributed to degrading survival conditions, already miserable from all points of view, even more for a large part of the population, and the being-fed-up continued to grow.
A significant example of the determination to not bow to the injunctions of the State and its relays (like the media, the syndicates, the politicians of all sorts…) was the demonstration which took place a few days after the attacks of November 13th, although it was prohibited and cancelled by the official organisers.
Hundreds of people broke through the cop lines and marched on one of the biggest Parisian arteries, expressing in the act as well the rejection of the State of Emergency as the borders and the awful conditions imposed on migrants. This demonstration, like other attempts to “overstepping” during the mobilisations that followed like the one against the COP21 Summit in Paris, showed once more that the best reaction to any form of repression isn‘t citizenist indignation, but continuing to fight without mediation.
So, when the State tried to apply its new administrative arsenal by handing out house arrests and interdictions to demonstrate to persons which are considered dangerous for public order, many comrades, rather that ringing the democratic and media alarm bell of “freedom of expression,” simply made the choice to defy these interdictions by using the margins at their disposal.
It is in this climate that in March 2016, the mobilisations against the so-called “Loi Travail” kicked off, a reform which is supposed to deeply modify the labour law in favour of the bosses with conditions of evermore flexible exploitation and sacking. As usual, the syndicates took the road of negotiations, some of them trying to play out a strong card by asking of the withdrawal of the law as to preserve their position of co-managers and an opposition façade in decline. Many political forces also jumped on the occasion to position themselves more towards the left on the pre-electoral chessboard.
But rather that entering into details about this eternal manoeuvres of recuperation, we are more keen on speaking about the rage triggered by this straw that broke the camel‘s back, and about the revolt that expressed itself during four months, largely outflanking the framework of the “Loi Travail.”
Yet we have to point out that in Paris — that‘s where we were — as in most of the cities, the clashes generally coincided with the syndical calendar of mobilisations2, a fact that didn‘t remain without consequences, in particular when the “action days” decided by the syndicates became less frequent (conform to their strategy of control and loss of impetus). When these days followed each other at a quite high rhythm, often different demonstrations took place at the same day in Paris. In the demonstrations called by the syndicates their security teams obviously were ordered to avoid all clashes and to work narrowly together with the cops.
An industrial quantity of cops were deployed to supervise the demonstrations or surround (“nasser” or “kessel)” the most combative parts of it. These enormous deploying of mass management, relatively new in Paris, aimed to neutralise all possibilities of mobile attacks, therefore, many energy has been put in launching offensive autonomous marches, assuring self-defence and fighting all the way of the demonstrations the lines of the super-equipped robocops. Those cops didn‘t hesitate to intensively use gas and weapons like flash balls and grenades, many demonstrators got injured because of this3.
In spite of the conditioned reflex often consisting of focusing on the uniform, forgetting that it is first and foremost an obstacle on the way towards destruction; and in spite of the political strategy of some people, trying to turn the hatred for cops (rightly shared by many) into the common denominator to gather the masses, many people didn‘t settle for the sometimes spectacular and ritualised frontal clashes with the cops.
Small groups used the margins and the liberated spaces to attack from out of the autonomous marches what is participating in the routine of domination and exploitation.
By effect of contagion, the groups multiplied; during the demonstrations, tens of banks, unemployment offices, interim agencies, real estate agencies, insurance companies, shops and city property where trashed; ever more imaginative slogans illustrated the need for and the joy of destroying what destroys us. Outside of these massive demonstrations based on the concentration of a mass (with the attempts to seize control and the populist logics that they might engender) and of police, wild demonstrations were boosted, often during the night4.
To our opinion, they have been much more interesting and rich in terms of possibilities as they allow much more to choose the trajectory (this or that area, these or those objectives) and the rhythm, to keep cops relatively out of the way giving air to individual initiatives and the appropriation and sharing of certain destructive practices. In the course of some of this wild strolls, shops have been plundered, police stations attacked and institutions ransacked5. On top of this comes the potential for disruption and disorganisation of order that such initiatives have and the chaos that their proliferation might provoke. In this sense, the forms revolt takes on are not only circumstantial, influenced by the material conditions against which it clashing, but are also linked to perspectives, in this case antiauthoritarian, with the choices that stem from them: for example the choice for a terrain that suits the propagation and the splitting up in more small, more mobile groups.
Another proposition was to call for the multiplication of sabotage against the fluxes of the economy as to disrupt the daily functioning of the exploitation machinery. But in spite of some blockade actions which showed that a bit of imagination, determination and rudimentary means can suffice to put sand in the clogs, the routine of domination has not been durably disrupted and in general, the quantitative illusion hasn‘t been surpassed.
The fact that that the majority of the activities were concentrated on an agenda and on terrains defined by others has been another important limit. With the State tightening even more the nose around the possibilities to demonstrate, with summertime and the unavoidable holidays coming and with finally the law passed, things cooled down fast. On the other hand, one cannot deny that the whole of this agitations of these four months around so many questions that are much more linked to the social war than to the “war on terrorism” has considerably modified the social climate. One of the commonly given examples to illustrate this changing of paradigm is the hatred for the cops which expresses itself in many ways, breaking the pseudo-consensus put on stage of the defensive role of the police forces after the attacks. Furthermore, the critique in words and in acts of the law, of labour and of the world that needs them, as well as the practical demonstration that oppression is not only embodied by the rulers (who are by the way not always so faraway as we might imagine), but also by a whole set of structures which can be attacked everywhere, certainly left its traces.
During the following months, evermore police killings6 recalled, if this was still necessary, that the cops are also ready to employ terror, in particular in the poor areas. In some cases the killings were answered with riots, but they stayed often circumscribed in time and space, even when they where accompanied with shots against the uniforms.
On the other hand, beginning of February 2017, the news about the rape of a youngster with a baton during a police control, in full daylight and in a street full of people, burst out of the city in the Parisian periphery where it took place, spreading like wildfire. This time, rage spread, not only to a big number of periphery cities where the cops where sometimes attacked methodically and with fire, as well as their cars and their stations, but also to the capital and to other cities. Schools were blocked by barricades, riotous demonstrations attacked institutions, burned vehicles (in particular of the media, identified correctly as enemies), plundered supermarkets,…7.
The revolt spread out during a month, claims of nocturnal attacks express solidarity, linking the revolt sometimes with other stories, like the one of a comrade in prison for breaking windows during the wild demonstration on the 14th of April 2016 or the recent incarceration (7th of February 2017) of another comrade, accused of having participated in the burning of a police car in May 20168.
More generally, confronted with a widespread democratic and leftist discourse that makes a strange difference between Justice and Police, and confronted with claims that asks the one to punish the “abuses” of the other, it became essential to develop a radical critique of the judiciary apparatus as such, as well as the concept of “justice” itself.
Through different channels — for example, many texts and more or less public activities — the necessity was pointed out to attack this pillar of authority as such (just like the prison with its various tentacles), always with the aim to definitively finish off the State. Vengeance and revolt have been reaffirmed against all dialogue with the institutions and against the illusion of ameliorating the existent.
All throughout this year, just as during other periods of presidential and legislative elections (in 2007 and 2012 for example), hostilities against parties, their representatives and their premises grew in intensity: candidates have been roughed up, meetings disturbed and tens of party permanences have been vandalised in different ways. The reasons for these attacks are certainly diverse, but it is significant that they touched the whole of the political spectrum, from the extreme right to the extreme left, with the Socialist Party (at that time still in power) taking on particularly many hits. Some offensive demonstrations in between the two electoral tours and after the results of the presidential elections, have affirmed as well a rejection of the electoral circus and blackmail (for example with the slogan “Ni Le Pen, ni Macron, ni Patrie ni Patron,” “Neither Le Pen nor Macron, neither Fatherland nor Boss)”, as the will to continue to fight, whatever might be the power in place.
The electoral propaganda was also answered by a large spreading of posters, pamphlets, articles in anarchist agitation papers which, going far beyond the classical calls for abstention — of which it was clear it would be massive, as it turned out to be — extended the string of attack and put forward the antiauthoritarian, insurrectional and revolutionary perspective as the only way to get rid of politics once and for all.
Obviously we have just glanced over the social upheaval in France. We could also have spoken about the clashes linked to the borders like in Calais, the revolts in different prisons and many more stuff. It is surely also not useless to recall once more that the social conflictuality doesn‘t limit itself to particular moments as the ones we discussed.
Struggles against nuisances and specific projects didn‘t stop (the ones in Notre-Dame-des-Landes and in Bure are maybe the most known, but they are not the only ones). And a big many of diffuse attacks, not necessarily accompanied with communiques, against different targets are making clear that many do not totally put up with the imposed normality.
The reading of journals or of certain websites of counter- information in France gives a slight idea about the ongoing social war. But the sharpening of our perception and of our analyses of the conflictuality goes far beyond the necessarily deformed vision that the media give from it. They might above all give some supplementary indications, and it is up to each one to decide what to do with it as to think his or her own intervention and develop his or her acting, without ever renouncing his or her ideas, and surely not to follow some protagonists transformed into “revolutionary subjects,” but eventually to bring forward specific contributions. Then opens up a whole panorama of possible questions and experimentations concerning the autonomous struggles to wage, the thousand different ways to favour the extension of revolt, the deepening of subversive contents and the attacking angles that seem important, the spreading of practical proposals, the obstacles that have to be cleared out of the way, the complicities to be discovered, the possible articulations and echoes, far away from a wait-and-see-attitude, from all populism, from all force that pushed towards centralisation and a spectacular relation, and with the conviction that only radical ruptures with the normal course of domination can open up real possibilities of total liberation.
So many passionate experimentations that do not acknowledge borders and of which we hope that they will continue to extend in the four corners of the planet.
1. Also the importance of sabotages, that in some places became systematic, of cameras installed by the authorities.
2. But this didn‘t prevent them of being in several occasions the targets of attacks. For example, on the 23th of June, a part of the façade of the headquarters of the CFDT in Paris was destroyed, and in the night of the 24th of June followed an attack against the headquarters of the CGT in Montreuil.
3. In October 2014, an offensive grenade fired by a gendarme had already killed a demonstrator, Rémi Fraisse, during the struggle against the building of a dam in Sivens. After this killing, this particular type of grenades have been prohibited, but the mutilations caused by “non lethal” weapons can be counted in the hundreds.
4. We are not interested here in giving details about the movement “Nuit Debout,” essentially citizenist and leftist, comparable to the “Indignados” in the sense that they helped a new class of politicians to surf on the wave of discontent.
5. Another point that both movements have in common was the occupation of squares. In Paris such an occupation took place during two months (more or less end of March until beginning of June). One can be sorry for the fact that this heterogeneous gathering became a point of fixation of energies to the detriment of autonomous spaces for deepening and coordination. In spite of this, the refusal of many people to get caught up in the impotence of mechanisms of delegation and representation in assemblies with parliamentary airs made this occupation also a starting place for wild demonstrations. This determination, as well as its localisation on a quite central square (place de la République), offering many different axes in all directions allowed in several occasions to break the encirclement of the police to spread hostilities.
6. “Evermore” police killings, because the list keeps on growing. To give some more examples: at the end of March 2017, a guy of 56 years old of Chinese origin, was killed in his own flat in Paris when cops came after a call for “excessive noise;” on the 20th of May, gendarmes fired their guns, killing a rebellious farmer in Saône-et-Loire. And that‘s without quoting the deaths during car chases, or the coma‘s and the heavy injuries during routine controls.
7. On the 12th of February, during a gathering in front of the Bobigny Tribunal, the burning of a truck of the television chain RTL was the starting sign for a particularly destructive riot which lasted for hours. By the way, attacks against “journacops” — also the “alternative” ones — multiplied during demonstrations, anarchists texts criticising the harmful role of picture taking as such (and the plague of cellular phones), as a means of snitching and for the spectator relation it induces were spread.
8. On the 18th of May 2016, the cops organised a gathering to protest “against the hatred for the police” on Place de la République in Paris. In response, a wild demonstration starts not far away from there. When the demonstrations crosses a patrol car, the car is neutralised and then burned, the two cops in the car already fled. After this, about ten people have been arrested on different moments. Some were put in prison, others got a judiciary control measure, all accused of having participated in the action, and in a first moment, of “attempted homicide.” This charge has been dropped now, but nine people will face trail from the 19th to the 22nd of September 2017 for “violence” and “destruction of a police car,” accusations for which they risk heavy sentences. One person is subject to an international search warrant, three are still in preventive jail (two are in prison since more than a year; the solidarity fund Kalimero which exists since 2007 sends money to them every month). Solidarity on anarchist and antiauthoritarian bases with the act of burning a police car has expressed itself during many public activities and nocturnal attacks against a variety of targets.
This first appeared in the July Issue of Avalanche