The Trap of Sainte-Soline
On March 25th, 2023, 30,000 people descended on Sainte-Soline, France to participate in a mass sabotage action against an industrial site designed to pump ground water into reservoirs (“mega basins”) exclusively for use by a small percentage of large agricultural producers. It was the opening event of the 5th season of actions organized under the banner of Les Soulèvements de Terre, or “Earth Uprisings.”
The following text, authored by participants of the gathering at Sainte-Soline, offers an analysis of the debauched violence meted out by police on opponents that day. As its authors argue, this violence should be interpreted not simply as an “excess” on the part of the police but as a deliberate strategy by ruling powers to crush the determined ecological movement and reclaim control of the situation around eco-resistance actions. At issue is a counter-insurrectionary strategy operating on three levels simultaneously: psychologically, militarily, and in the media.
Other languages: Français
What happened at Sainte-Soline — and here we’re not speaking here of the 30,000 people present, the incredible determination of the protesters, or the fact that the march managed to breach the gates of the reservoir — rather, we speak of the 200 injured, 40 severely so, and of the two comrades currently in comas… What happened at Sainte-Soline must be considered a wretched trap set out for us by ruling powers.
On March 25th, their aim was to inflict serious harm while at the same time reducing the actions of their opponents (those opposed to the reservoir, but also by extension to the government) to a vague desire for violence and terrorism. It’s not merely a matter of them getting revenge for the humiliation suffered by the Deux-Sevres prefecture six months ago when a quick, clever, and diverse march succeeded in stomping all over the soil of this crater that they call a reservoir. It’s not simply about intimidating the ecological movement. Unfortunately, the protestors paid the price for an operation that had much larger ambitions, a counter-insurrectional operation with mediatic, psychological, and military components.
In what might be considered a coincidence of timing (yet which is much more the function of an unstable political situation), the gathering of Les Soulèvements de la Terre happened to occur at the height of the movement against pension reform. After nearly a week of nighttime protests following his use of Article 49.3 of the French constitution [to push the reform through without a vote], Macron spoke out. It was Wednesday, after insider intelligence warned of a pre-insurrectionary context. The primary objective of his intervention (scheduled for 1:00pm so to address a public identified as reactionary) was to sow fear, to break popular support for the social movement, and to assign responsibility for it to a convenient fiction: the work of “agitators” [les factieux], a nebulous and elusive term. In fact, there is only one real option, namely, a return to "republican order"; it’s "me or chaos."
The mutilated bodies of the protesters at Sainte-Soline are a direct consequence of the President’s speech. Because his performative power during this crisis has been reduced to next to nothing, an entire assemblage — starting with 3200 national police concentrated around a crater — was necessary to rule in his favor.
The presidential maneuver was made public: first, to wager on the unions making one last stand on Thursday, and then subsequently to present the movement as a minority faction manipulated by agitators. Whereas the press thus far had avoided establishing a coherent profile of the participants in the nighttime protests, they will henceforth be referred to as “ultra-left thugs.”1 In this context, the weekend at Sainte-Soline sought to prove this assertion.
The first step in this operation was fairly similar to what we saw on December 8th, 2018, in the days leading up to Act IV of the Gilets Jaunes. First, remarks by anonymous police officers were circulated across the media: they’ve never seen such violence! “It’s never happened before!” “It’s worse than the Gilet Jaunes!” “Some of them are there to kill.”2 The question of whether some of the protesters were possible “cop killers” was calmly debated on television platforms. On BFMTV it was admitted that no firearm was ever found during a protest, and even that the “literature” of the “Black Bloc” does not call for murder as a practice. So what? The term murderer is “discussed” anyway, and thus placed on the table. As a climax, we even heard it uttered by the Minister of the Interior himself.
In this way, an enemy was created: a bloodthirsty beast excluded from the human community. It’s now about announcing its future appearances: December 8th, 2018 at the Arc de Triomphe, last weekend at Sainte-Soline. Even the Minister of Agriculture joined in, designating opponents of reservoirs as barbarians who “don’t think of human life as a precious thing.” Earlier, a commander of the CRS [riot police] already predicted that “we are on the brink of an insurrection. I’m afraid one of my guys will kill a protester.”
The setup is clear, and the media maneuvers become ridiculously crude. Thus Minister of the Interior Darmanin poses frightened next to camping fuel and bocce balls, the local police chief announces having seized weapons in the form of small machetes (who’s heard of French protesters brandishing axes or knives? Nobody of course). We could content ourselves to denounce “a circus” if it didn’t lead to such horrors. The communications operation didn’t work; many journalists remained unconvinced, nor were opponents of the reservoirs (even institutional ones); but that wasn’t the real goal. The true objective was to lay the groundwork upon which the next day’s police operations will play out, which we now know will have a somber efficacy. “We will see extremely difficult images,” the Minister of the Interior calmly announced, visibly updated on the situation.
It was in order to advance these odious political maneuvers — which made possible today's announcement that following "the irruption of violence, Emmanuel Macron seeks to embody the side of order" — that we suffered an incessant hail of police shrapnel grenades. The absurdity of the situation into which the three marches stepped as they approached the Sainte-Soline reservoir has already been described elsewhere. Some of these analyses have emphasized how Darmanin's provocations served to initiate a virile gathering, a romp in the fields by hooligans, and it was this organized gathering that was revealed as we approached the reservoir. The media was quick to echo the line laid out by the police and the extreme right-wing police unions: the violence came from both sides, that the combat was symmetrical, even “balanced.” 3200 cops, one water cannon, two helicopters, armored vehicles that fired grenades, drones, ATVs, covered trucks, all in order to protect and defend an empty crater, indestructible by definition. But where the asymmetry was the most shocking and definitive was not in the disparity in force but in the goals pursued. The objective of the protesters at Sainte-Soline was to skirt the police apparatus and reach the crater, and to plant their flags as a way of thumbing their nose at power and at these absurd reservoirs. The goal of the police was to deploy the full range of their force and brutality against unprotected (or poorly protected) protesters so as to traumatize, maim, and discourage them. One side chased after a symbol while dressed up as geese; the other was kitted-out with weapons of war. One side regarded the crater as a metaphor for the future that power has relegated us to; the latter sought to defend an order, a chasm, a void.
We could, of course, say to ourselves, “the police’s pride comes at a high cost”; but in this case, it’s about much more than that. It’s about affirming that there is no instability in France today. As for those who fomented disorder in Sainte-Soline, they will be treated as inhuman minorities, and we are ready to kill if need be. Because it should be said now3, when 4000 grenades are shot from Cougar grenade launchers4 indiscriminately, yet in a manner ensuring they would detonate at head-level, clearly they do not “think of human life as precious.”5
In defense of a hole in the ground, they are ready to do anything.
To defend a crater that clearly represented everything other than what it was.
The hole as a symbol of power.
The abuses by the Brav-M [riot police on motorcycles] in Paris were able to be viewed as acts of rogue officers, that of a fascist brigade that could be disbanded at leisure to solve the problem. At Sainte-Soline there were not just the abuses of a few. It was not one officer using his weapon against regulation. Instead there was a methodical, meticulous, and systematic apparatus that aimed to altogether crush, wound, and terrorize the protesters, whoever they were.
A plan that sought not to uphold order itself (as we said, there was nothing in this giant hole to “protect”) but to uphold a certain universal idea of order. An order that reserves a grenade for each protester, while threatening: “protest, it will cost you.” When we march in the city against pension reforms and a despicable government, or in the fields against a deadly method of production, the police and their associates have no ultimate purpose other than to submit our bodies to the discipline of government. By batons, teargas, insults, threats, intimidation, incarceration, grenades, bullets, harassment, terror, mutilation, or defamation. To the point of death, if necessary. This is the criminal message sent from Sainte-Soline by Darmanin, Macron, the local authorities, the police, and ruling powers. They prove that there is in fact a link between the protests against the reservoirs and the movement against pension reforms: their worry.
First and foremost, the goal is to kill two birds with one stone: to stop the ecological movements and the social movement at the same time. To traumatize the protesters in the fields, while frightening those in the cities, so that the mobilization of one ceases to feed into the other.6 Power has transformed the reservoir into an allegory of itself: its forces cornered in a fortress, defending a void. It’s at this moment that we must continue to expose it.
In Sainte-Soline we saw, cornered as it is, that there is no limit to the disgraceful acts la Macronie is prepared to commit. More so even than on December 8th, 2018, when deaths had been announced in advance, power appeared feverish, its movements unassured — it stuttered. Certainly, we can hardly rejoice over these tremors, which caused so many injuries.
But it must be affirmed that there is another path to avoid being controlled by fear and stupefaction and to continue the struggle. The government has opportunely connected the movement against the pension reforms with the anti-reservoir movement. Let it be so. Saturday wasn’t only a story about the police; there was also an incredible determination.
A determination that could move again and return to the street.
Fear must stay on their side.
Let’s gather Tuesday, the day after, and the day after that…
First published in lundimatin #376, March 28, 2023
Translated by Ill Will
1. A phrase used by Christophe C. in the Figaro, the unofficial spokesman of the interior ministers.↰
2. However, anyone can see that the spontaneous nighttime protests over the past week have largely consisted of avoiding the blind violence of the BRAV or the BAC [special riot police —trans.], following the slogan borrowed from the movement in Hong Kong: “Be water.”↰
3. Just as it must be said that the gendarmes announced injuries, most of them related to hearing and respiratory issues.↰
4. A weapon with a range of 40 meters.↰
5. The Human Rights League has also “noted an immoderate and indiscriminate use of force […] with a clear objective: to prevent access to the basin, whatever the human cost.”↰
6. Which are obviously largely the same.↰