Build the hacienda, burn down the palaces
Translated from the French by edicioneschafa, revised by ill-will Original text found at Lundi Matin.
- What we’ve been living through is new. It is certainly not just another “social movement.” “Social movements” have a frame, so that everything escaping it is defined as a boiling-over or a break-away [débordement]. Yet what we’ve experienced since March 9th has been an uninterrupted series of such boiling-over breakaway moments, with the old forms of politics chasing after them from behind. The call to demonstrate on March 9th was a breakaway from the unions by the YouTubers. The demonstrations since then have seen constant breakaway marches led by the “youths”: the traditional image of union marches headed up by the various union bosses was systematically replaced by hooded youths defying the police. Nuit debout overflows every recognized political frame, while the “wild marches” that leave from its site at place de la République are themselves a breakaway from Nuit debout. We must continue to begin—or in other words, continue to break away, to remain on the move, to surprise.
- Attempts to assimilate the new into the already-known are part of the arsenal of neutralization. Just as the demonstrations against this new Labor law have little to do with the struggle against the CPE, Nuit debout bears very little relation to the Indignados of Puerta del Sol [Madrid, Spain]. Whereas [the occupation at] Puerta del Sol declared itself pacifist, [the occupation at] Place de la République had, last Friday, hours-long clashes with the police. “Everyone hates the police” has become a noted chant hit. Whereas [the occupation at] Puerta del Sol called itself “apolitical,” we have lost count of the calls by unions and the speeches by unionists at place de la République. However, Puerta del Sol was really occupied, which is not the case with place de la République. At Puerta del Sol food was made for thousands, people stayed day and night, the police were not making daily evictions, nor ordered to takedown this or that, or to stop folks from cooking. This last difference indicates a path to follow: if we want to make place de la République more than just an interminable general assembly where curious on-lookers are giving a first-hand look at its powerlessness and the inconsistency of its “decisions,” then we must really occupy it; this means building real spaces and defending them from the police.
- What place de la République really constitutes is a public counter-space. Since the public, political and media space that exists has become an integral lie, we have no choice but to desert it. Not by falling back into silence, but to positively desert it by constructing another. And speech is like freedom: when you first take hold of it you start to say or do some dumb shit, but that’s not what’s important. What matters is to not to dwell on that first fuck-up. We must instead say that we have a long way to go, that these past weeks comprise our first few breaths. It’s been years now that a coalition of forces have made the situation unbreathable, between the “threat of the National Front,” “war on terrorism,” “crises”of all kinds, the state of emergency laws, climate apocalypse and the permanent campaign for the next presidency. What characterizes the reigning public space is that it offers a space for nothing but contemplation: what we witness, what we hear, what we learn never becomes an act or bears any consequence because we face it all alone. As was made evident in exemplary fashion the night of the ‘nightcap at Vall’s place’, what is vibrant and powerful about a counter-space is the capacity for acts to follow speech. Consciousness and the capacity to act are not disjointed. This is the way that a counter-space can positively destitute the existing public space. Hence the great curiosity and jealousy of the media.
- The conflict around the El Khomri law is not just a conflict around the “work” law, it’s a conflict around the possibility or not of governing, which is to say, a political conflict in the true sense of the term. No one can stand to be governed any more by the puppets in the [National] assembly, which is why, in our point of view, the law cannot pass; yet the government itself cannot afford not to pass this law—this means, it has been factually destituted [destitué de fait], and can no longer govern. This refusal is even seen in a union like the CGT, whose rank-and-file can no longer can bear to be governed as it had previously been by its management. If one listens to the speeches people give at place de la République, most fall into either one of two camps regarding this question of destitution: some wish the moment of destitution to be followed by a constitutive moment where they a new constitution could be written and a new society founded, where as others think the destitution should be without a conclusion because it is first of all a process of construction, and that for fiction of a single society we must substitute the reality that there exists a plurality of worlds, each of which express and incarnate their own idea of life and of happiness. Those of us writing here share the latter position.
- Let’s be pragmatic: no one’s going to be able to write a constitution until this regime has been overthrown. And being that you do not overthrow a democratic regime democratically, i.e. that it will defend itself against any fundamental challenge until its very last riot cop, the only path leading to a new constitution is an insurrectional path. However to lead a successful insurrection, like that of Maidan for example, place de la République must be really occupied, barricaded, guarded, etc.; also, all political and existential sensibilities favorable to insurrection must be able to find each other; to this end, for the desperate search for a consensus never to be found in the middle of Paris, a consensus of a more or less frightened metropolitan petty bourgeoisie, we must substitute the material existence of a plurality of spaces, of “houses,” where each of the sensibilities of the insurrection could come aggregate themselves and enter into a fusion. Those who are passionate about writing a constitution are welcome to build their own house where they can write up as many drafts as they like. And as for those who want to put the constitution into place, well we’ll discuss this when Valls and Hollande will have already taken their jet to take refuge in the USA, Africa or in Algeria.
- A poster in the Parisian metro a few years ago declared, “Who organizes spaces, rules over them”; it was decorated with a majestic lion supposedly representing the sovereignty of the RATP Group [management of Parisian state-owned transport]. What is the power to be found in place de la République? It resides the management of the place itself, and the forces of order who impose respect thereby. Power is thus this grand empty esplanade; the flux of cars and their din; and the anti-police vans posted on all sides. How can an assembly seriously claim to be sovereign which then debases itself by respecting the real sovereignty that dictates its every move? Impossible to take it seriously. But we would not have gathered together, nor been as numerous and determined as we’ve been, if we weren’t very serious. By serious, here we mean that we have taken it upon ourselves to manage this place, to express our intention to hold out by constructing the means for doing so, to refuse to be added to the list of mediatic flashes in the pan that let themselves be swept away at the first attack. We we are going to be able to welcome comrades from all over, we have to escape the precarity that imposed on us by the current forces of management, and to arrange things as we see fit – we have to be constructive, in other words.
- We are in the middle of a ford, at the heart of peril: there are too many of us to simply return home and not enough of us to throw ourselves into an insurrectional assault. We must “shift into second gear” as some say. To hold out till the end of April is already not bad. We cannot count on the union bosses, because even if a few strikes that can be re-directed spring up here and there, by nature these strikes will be against their will. However we know the danger that awaits us if this situation closes up again, a danger we already struggle against even now: that of the electoral system, the democratic blackmail of having to choose between the plague and cholera, between Alain Juppé and Marine Le Pen. Those who are apt to join us are precisely those whom are disgusted by such a reality, those who cannot bear for politics to be reduced to the insignificant process of voting. Politics is in what we plan, in what we build, in what we attack and in what we destroy. Shifting into second gear means: build the hacienda, burn down the palaces.
The Construction Commission
Paris / April 2016