Build the Hacienda, Burn Down the Palaces
The following text was circulated prior to a national day of action on April 28th, during which comrades in Paris attempted to construct a large fortified structure in Place de la Republique, the site where the nightly occupation and assembly movement Nuit debout has been ongoing since March 31, 2016. The structure, as well as its destruction during the eviction of the square that evening, are visible in the first video below. We recommend checking out the other recent videos on this website for a vivid and inspiring glimpse into the recent insurgency across France.
Other langauges: Français
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 breakaway moments, with the old forms of politics trailing 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”, while the traditional image of union marches headed up by the various union bosses has been systematically replaced by groups of 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 [i.e. the large national unions – IWE], 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 hours-long clashes with the police last Friday. “Everyone hates the police” has become a chant hit. Whereas 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 really was 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 existing public, political and media space 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 and 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 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 evening of the ‘nightcap at Valls’ 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 existing public space. Hence the great curiosity and jealousy of the media.
The conflict around the El Khomri law is not just a conflict about “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, from our point of view, the law cannot pass; yet the government itself cannot afford not to pass this law—which means, it has been factually destituted [destitué de fait], it 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 want the moment of destitution to be followed by a constitutive moment where a new constitution could be written and a new society founded, whereas others think the destitution should be without a conclusion because it is first of all a process of construction, in which the fiction of a single society is replaced by the reality of an existing 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, instead of the desperate search for a consensus that will never 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 the various insurrectional sensibilities can gather and enter into 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 hopped in their jet and taken refuge in the USA, Africa or Algeria.
A poster in the Parisian metro a few years ago declared, “Those who organize space, rule over it”; it was decorated with a majestic lion supposedly representing the sovereignty of the RATP Group [management of Parisian state-owned transport]. What sort of power is to be found in Place de la République? It lies in the management of the square itself, and the forces of order who impose respect thereby. Power is 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? It’s 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, but 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 by the first attack. If we are going to be able to welcome comrades from all over, we must escape the precarity imposed on us by the current forces of management, and to arrange things as we see fit—in other words, we have to be constructive.
We are in the middle of a fjord, 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 likely to join us are precisely those disgusted by such a reality, those who cannot bear for politics to be reduced to the insignificant process of voting. Politics consists of what we plan, what we build, what we attack and what we destroy. Shifting into second gear means: build the hacienda, burn down the palaces.
…and earlier that same day:
-The Construction Committee, Paris, April 2016
First published on Lundi matin