The direction of radical movements – on Nuit Debout and the potential for radical change

By Olivier Ortelpa -, CC BY 2.0

By Olivier Ortelpa –, CC BY 2.0

Within radical politics, there are many opportunities for political action. There are, from all corners, suggestions on how to get involved, what to do, and where to go. These outlooks tend to be rooted in historical circumstances. It seems that today the converse is happening: we are forgetting that our actions today will make history, and thus we will influence the next generation of radicals. It is pleasant to see so many causes hosting rallies that open up the critical discourse about the society in which we live, each of these gathering hundreds at the least; but if there could be afforded one major criticism, it is that many of them do not host a programmatic framework, least of all do they look to creating permanent, radical spaces in the future – and this will be the death-knell of each and every new movement. I would argue that the fundamental aspect, then, of any such movement should be this: to infract upon normative political discourse by way of leaving permanent and revolutionary spaces open to radicals.

A good example of prospective movements today would be Nuit Debout, which is a development of the militant opposition to the Loi Travail, or the “Work Law”. This opposition initially saw workers in their hundreds of thousands organising demonstrations, occupations, and direct action against the state, capitalism, and all of its lucrative agents (the police included). But what is the state of the movement today? Its original framework has not changed: shop organisation, commissions, and decision making at the behest of general assemblies. These are all positive advancements, and it something that anybody who situates themselves at the libertarian radical left would welcome with open arms. However, it has also become infested by centrists who are formally interested in keeping the movement along their line, denouncing violent opposition to state brutality, capitalism, and co-opting instead for gradual change and merely a replacement of those holding the whip. Such scenes have been described by those who have attended Nuit Debout assemblies, harking back to the decline of the Occupy movement. The divergence from such a radical line leaves the indignant with a blunted spear – “though a spear nonetheless!” would argue liberals. If the movement is to survive, it cannot be predicated upon a lie: that new statesmen will be friendlier towards the working class, that the capitalists will be reformed and moulded into a different shape, and that indirect pacifism is the ultimate goal.

The point here is not to make deterministic predictions of the future for the French workers. I have no crystal ball. It would be intellectually dishonest at the least, however, to claim that radicalism could not possibly make its comeback to Nuit Debout. As mentioned before, its basic operative framework has not changed, and neither can it afford to change in the direction of decline. Organisation among the far left must, I would argue, culminate itself in a proposed programme for action – one that would produce the most effective results.

As for the potential of such a movement’s appearance in the UK, there are lessons to be learned. It would be senseless to try and make a grand declaration of a revolutionary programme before a radically organised working class has even presented itself. Agitation can trigger spontaneous organising, certainly; but what good would the promises of a programme be if it had not the momentum to continue forwards? Once the movements have appeared, radical agitation for all on the far-left should be a principle concern. It should also present the opportunity for the achievement of serious change that provides permanent results, as a crowd of the indignant does not organise itself only for the sake of sighing and returning back to the same condition. Instead of merely expressing discontent with a politician, express discontent everywhere it can be seen: all around, the result of collective effort can be seen in culminated material capital that is not within our control. This must change, and in the absence of radical prospects, it will continue unchanged. Passive by-standing will leave us powerless when we need the drive for change most.

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A UK-based anarchist without adjectives.