One but Many Movements: Two Translations from the ZAD on Isolation, Division, and Pacification

Two weeks ago, thousands of French police attacked the ZAD—the Zone a Défendre (Zone To Defend)—an occupied area in which the French government tried for decades to build a widely unpopular airport. Yet every conflict conceals other conflicts within it. Inside the movement, there have been bitter differences about how to deal with power dynamics, whether to negotiate with the authorities, and how to resist the divide-and-conquer tactics of the state.


In the US, we have watched the struggle around the ZAD without presuming to understand all the factors at play. Yet the debates taking place there have spilled over to our side of the Atlantic as well. In hopes of helping other rebels who may confront similar challenges to think through the nuances in advance, we’ve translated two texts from different sides of these debates, “ZAD: Second Round” and “When Lama Fâché, Llama Spit!” Both appear below with annotations.

Although we can only speak hypothetically from this distance, the fact that the disputants frame their arguments as matters of strategy and principle compels us to weigh in on these questions ourselves. We don’t pretend to offer a comprehensive analysis of the events; we can only evaluate the narratives put forward in the texts that are currently available.

While we want all the perspectives in these debates to be heard, we have reservations about both sides. It’s precisely because we identify with both parties in any conflict between anti-authoritarians that we always aim to be critical. Our chief goal must be to come out of each conflict stronger and more capable of evaluating our effectiveness rather than simply getting drawn into ideological gang warfare complete with jingoism, loyalty pledges, and smear campaigns.

“Stop! The shit will hit the fan!”

The shit hits the fan.

A Little Background

On January 17, in the same statement in which he announced the abandonment of the airport project, French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe
declared
that the French government was determined to regain control of the ZAD:

This is the second decision that I announce today: we will end the area of lawlessness that has flourished for almost 10 years in this area…

The three roads that cross the site of Notre-Dame-Des-Landes must now be returned to free circulation for all. Squats overflowing onto the road will be evicted, obstacles removed, traffic restored. Otherwise, the police will carry out the necessary operations…

The illegal occupants of these lands will have to leave by the spring or will be expelled.

The same day, an “official” press release signed by five of the many organizations involved in the struggle at the ZAD asserted that they would oppose all evictions, but also that they would grant at least one of the Prime Minister’s demands themselves:

Regarding the question of the reopening of the road D281, a road closed by the state in 2013, the movement will take the matter in its own hands.

A few days later, on January 22, against the wishes of an outraged minority, a group from the ZAD destroyed the barricades and habitations along road D281. This did not stop the state from raiding the ZAD on April 9 with the intention of evicting and destroying dozens of habitations.

Prime Minister Edouard Philippe and Minister of the Interior Gérard Collomb express their support to the Gendarmerie forces engaged in the eviction of the ZAD, April 13, 2018

Comments on “ZAD: Second Round”

In “ZAD: Second Round,” below, and another widely circulated text, “The ZAD Will Survive,” the authors justify negotiating with the state and destroying the inhabited fortifications along the road D281 on the grounds that it was necessary to maintain the unity of the movement. By this standard, however, the strategy failed on its own terms. We wouldn’t be debating this in the US if their wager had succeeded.

The blame for the dispute is laid at the doorstep of people who are described as “ultra-radicals,” whom the authors accuse of willfully snatching defeat from the jaws of victory in order to be beautiful losers—all this, for not wanting to open up the route that the police then used to carry out the eviction. If this debate were taking place here in the US, we would almost certainly hear these people called “outside agitators,” and the ones calling them that would be either Democrats or authoritarian leftists like the Workers World Party.

The authors’ charge is that those who wished to keep the road fortified had not made themselves comprehensible to the rest of the movement. But it seems to us that there was already a problem if the movement could divide along these lines. It’s all well and good for those who won the ensuing power struggle to congratulate themselves on not “withdrawing into their own private domains,” to speak about seeking “a path in common” while carping about those who have spread “a binary and depressive account of the situation.” Rather than blaming those who lost the power struggle, however, we should concern ourselves with the processes by which “radicals” end up “outside.”

There are always conflicts within social movements. We agree with the authors of “ZAD: Second Round” and “The ZAD Will Survive” that the more we can hold together in the face of state pressure, the stronger we will be. But if a rupture is inevitable and we are forced to choose, we should not justify siding with those who seek to coexist with the state over those who seek to confront it on the grounds that this decision is necessary in order to confront it. Those who make a habit of this may indeed be able to “build power,” but only on the terms set by the state.

The same goes for making decisions in order to be “intelligible” in the media. That should never outweigh the necessity of showing others who choose to confront the authorities that we can be reliable comrades.

Obviously, it is always better not to have to make this choice, to resist the pressure to divide a movement into tractable and intractable. But the authors of “The ZAD Will Survive” and “Second Round” themselves acknowledge that this division has taken place, in accusing those who have not taken their particular approach of marginalizing themselves. It seems to us that this marginalization cannot have been a unilateral process. The goal of not letting “radical” ideas or goals be marginalized cannot justify marginalizing those who espouse them.

There are larger questions at play here. Is unity necessarily the best way for a movement to build strength? Or is it better to foster an irreducible diversity of approaches, so that negotiation will be, if not impossible, at least—useless? By asserting the necessity of pursuing a “common” strategy and speaking of “the” movement as a unitary thing—a singular noun—the authors come down firmly on the side of the former approach. Yet the only way that those who wish to negotiate with the state can speak from a position of strength is if they are flanked by an “intractable” alternative that the authorities fear will gain momentum if negotiations fail.

In the US, this phenomenon is famously illustrated by the leverage that the negotiator Martin Luther King, Jr. gained from the “intractable” Malcolm X. The disciples of MLK ended up occupying public office, ultimately perpetuating the status quo, while many who followed the example of Malcolm X spent decades in prison. We should try to avoid being forced to choose between this binary, but that always begins by refusing to sell out the “intractables,” from whom all leverage originates.

This is not to say that, if everyone at the ZAD had agreed on it, it would necessarily have been a mistake to dismantle the barricades on the D281. There are limits to what any group of people can do—the number of risks they can run, the number of barricades they can defend at once. The problem, rather, is that some participants forced their strategy on others and then sought to justify this in the name of unity and efficacy.

Police arresting a ZADist during the evictions.

If negotiating with the state and evicting the D281 was intended to diminish the likelihood of an attack from the state, then, once again, it failed on its own terms. It’s axiomatic—and countless decades of struggle confirm this—that you can’t make the state stop demanding compromises by compromising with it.

We have heard various arguments in the name of pragmatism in favor of negotiation—to the effect that if it could secure the ZAD as a space to foster future rebellions, that would ultimately justify it. It seems to us that it was naïve to imagine that the state could be placated. Siding with those who wished to negotiate against the “intractables” does not strike us as a bold refusal to fall into a trap set by the state, but rather as a choice to step directly into it. To avoid falling into the trap set by the state, the proponents of the ZAD would have had to refuse any kind of division whatsoever. As usual, the internal fault lines that run through our movements are our greatest vulnerability.

There’s a bigger question here, once again, about what counts as success. What is the essence of the battle being fought here? According to one account, it is a contest for control of a piece of land, pitting two different social bodies against each other; in that case, it is strategic to use any means to expand the composition of one’s preferred side. According to another account, it is a battle between two different ethics—an ethic of governing, and an ethic of resisting governance, refusing to govern. If the latter is the battle that we are really invested in, then courses of action that are otherwise quixotic start to make sense.

To quote Durruti, “It’s not the barricade but the rifle you have to hold on to.” If you lose the barricade (e.g., the ZAD, a squat, a particular engagement with the state) but retain the rifle (the collective ability to fight, immunity to narratives that legitimize state violence, a commitment to solidarity over opportunism), you can still move from one engagement to the next, building capacity. If you lose the rifle, but retain the barricade, it may appear that you have won, but thirty years later you will look around and find that you are where the once-formidable Dutch squatting movement is today.

This illustrates how the charge of being “ideological” rather than practical or flexible can conceal genuinely different goals, different standards of what counts as effective. Various parties have hurled the charge of being “ideological” rather than strategic at anarchists since at least the 1870s. None of them have proven to be more strategic when it comes to the question of how to undermine the state without simply replacing it.

A few of the arguments implicit in “Second Round” would be less surprising coming from authoritarian socialist parties—above all, the stuff about the “ultra-radicals” giving the police an excuse to “justify” their presence. If we let the police determine for us what counts as “good optics,” what “the general public” will be able to understand and what they won’t, we’ll never be able to build the capacity to take on the state. In the final analysis, we can gauge our success by how difficult we have made it for the police to justify themselves at all.

From across the Atlantic, we presume honest intentions on the part of the authors of “The ZAD Will Survive” and “Second Round.” Under tremendous pressure from all sides, determined not to fracture, they made a wager that they could hold the movement together and dissuade the state from attacking if only they… carried out a little internal policing. When the smoke cleared, their wager had not succeeded, and they had acted against their own anti-authoritarian values. Most any organization could have made the same mistake; there are anarcho-syndicalist and platformist groups that might have made this mistake more readily. What we’d like to hear from the authors, ideally, is a critical evaluation of their wager and some reflection on whether it is actually consistent with their ethics and goals.

Solidarity is our greatest source of strength.

Comments on “When Lama Fâché, Llama Spit!”

Now we turn to the opposing perspective, the one expressed in “When Lama Fâché, Llama Spit!” as well as a variety of other Indymedia articles. For want of better terminology, we’ll call this the position of the “intractables.” If “ZAD: Second Round” and “The ZAD Will Survive” pass briskly over the controversy in a soothing voice, the Indymedia articles present strident cries of betrayal.

The authors of all of these texts—“Second Round,” “The ZAD Will Survive,” “Lama Fâché,” and the other Indymedia articles—agree that it is a problem that the less radical wing of the movement around the ZAD might be inclined to collaborate with the government towards the “normalization” of the area. The authors of “Second Round” have a solution for this, however problematic: by breaking solidarity with the “ultra-radicals,” they hope to maintain ties with those who might otherwise simply place their faith in the state. While the authors of “Lama Fâché” do not make this error, they don’t propose an alternative, either. Passing judgment on those guilty of betrayal is a poor compensation for giving them cause not to betray.

In this light, their critique of the logic of “composition” is useful as a diagnosis but offers no solutions. It is not enough to decry the logic of coalition building. Any effective resistance will need to involve many people of many perspectives. The question is how to legitimize autonomous action and open defiance, so the state and reformist elements cannot arrange for it to be isolated and defeated.

We would prefer to hear from the “intractables” an analysis of how it was that they permitted themselves be sidelined. What were the strategic points along the way at which they could have made their case more convincing? Surely they too could have built a consensus with a wider range of ZADists. If not a consensus strong enough not to fracture in the face of state pressure, then at least a consensus strong enough that—when the fracture came—the other insurrectionists would stand with them.

If their perspective is the one that we would prefer to see legitimized, it’s shameful for them to limit themselves to standing at the back of the room, shouting insults as the meeting goes on without them. It is not enough to be in the right. We have to find effective strategies that give force to our ethics. We depend on the “intractables” to find ways to surmount the impasses, to overcome binaries, to transform would-be betrayers into trustworthy comrades.

The narrative can’t simply be a story of betrayal. If the only thing we can learn from this conflict is that even those who also claim to be against the state will also betray us, that won’t help us to prepare for future struggles. It won’t help us to be more strategic. It won’t help us to put the pieces in place so we won’t have to worry that when we refuse to back down, our actions will “justify” the actions of the police in the eyes of the media and the general public—even after 40,000 people have come together to defy the police.

Fighting against the eviction with a catapult.


ZAD – ROUND TWO

Published on April 9 at Lundimatin. An alternate English translation is available here.

We have been preparing for this for five years, while at the same time having so far ensured it could never happen. But we are now at the beginning of a new, great police operation whose breadth and duration we still don’t know. The State was supposed to take its revenge, there was always supposed to be a second round. Everywhere in this country, the people who have come to the ZAD ask themselves how far Macron will go to put an end to one of the most beautiful collective political adventures of the past decade, to put an end to the possibility of a space where other forms of life are sought. While barricades are again formed on the roads of the ZAD’s wooded grove, everyone here embraces each other and asks themselves what will still exist tomorrow of all that has formed the vibrant heart of our existences day after day. What tonight’s embraces say, above all, is that five years after Operation Caesar,1 we must face this new invasion, hold on at all costs and again make sure the future stays open.

In the wake of the airport project’s abandonment, we have lived through a turbulent time of numerous tensions and temptations—temptations to withdraw into our own private domains, or to simply give up altogether. Yet for many of us, this time has also been marked by a continuous investigation into what could still sketch out a path in common. Over these last weeks, it has at times been quite upsetting to see how far a binary and depressive account of the situation has been able to spread. For our part, in this hour of truth, we prefer to return to what seems to still allow us the capacity to conceive of a path in common. Before the storm blows in again here, these lines we write provide a way to transmit why it remains vital for us to continue to defend the ZAD, both here on the terrain and wherever you are in the following days. In the following months as well, because Caesar 2 will not overcome what we continue to uphold here.

Celebrating the victory against the airport on February 10, 2018.

WHAT NEGOTIATION DOESN’T MEAN

After the abandonment of the airport project, the movement decided to enter into dialogue with the government in an attempt to negotiate its vision for the future of the ZAD. This sequence forced us to confront ourselves with new challenges. We felt guided by objectives that were at once clear and extremely complex:

  • neutralize in the best way possible the near absolute need for the State to take revenge on the ZAD by an operation of eviction, and by doing so allow the inhabitants of this territory to remain in all their diversity;

-maintain as much as possible the margins of autonomy that have given a proper meaning to this experience, while also finding the means for a stability desired by a number of people here;

  • maintain and amplify, finally, collective control over the lands of the ZAD and its connections with other ongoing forms of resistance.

In this period, for us, there was never a choice between negotiating OR fighting. We never bet that we would at once obtain, in the offices of the State’s institutions, what we wanted. Negotiation is only one of the levers of which the movement availed itself after the government’s abandonment of the airport project, supported by a relation of forces maintained through years of resistance. According to this perspective, the same forces that plan an offensive negotiation also organize in parallel an assembly before the prefecture when the State’s response is unsatisfying. The same forces that, over the course of the past weeks, have led a juridical and political combat against all the evictions and organized a protest in Nantes with refugees and those living with inadequate housing, are also those that plan to engage in physical resistance when they come to try to evict the places of the ZAD.

Throwing themselves in to the gamble of negotiation with the fear of losing the ZAD’s cutting edge in the process wasn’t something that was obvious for the occupiers. It wasn’t any more obvious for others who are part of the ZAD to pursue struggle and to include the fate of the post-abandonment period, together with the other urgent decisions that this period would require, in the hands of large and heterogeneous assemblies. These are the risks and mutual overcomings that, as always, have permitted us to continue to move forward together rather than to desert or wither in isolation. In this case, we firmly believe it was then necessary to make an attempt there at that moment so that, each time the negotiation revealed its limits, we could continue to go beyond it.

The capacity of the airport movement’s composition has been a lasting nightmare for the government, for whom it was extremely unpleasant to imagine the movement could last beyond the project’s abandonment. At the start of these negotiations, clearly one of the government’s primary objectives was to explode our decision to organize a common delegation. The government also had to curb its desire to address future stakes in a divided manner: from the refusal of evictions to the movement’s collective control of lands, from a firm opposition to the return of classical agricultural management to the wider question of amnesty. The prefecture tried to separate representatives from among us and convene them one by one to a steering committee strictly dedicated to agricultural management. One cannot forget the force of this bait and the energy the prefecture put into avoiding rejection. The framework we had slowly developed almost exploded—but the maneuver finally failed. The ACIPA2 declined the prefect’s invitation, while the peasant Confederation called an organized assembly before the steering committee, which decided to hear and respect the message of the movement. The common delegation survived. The prefecture had to immediately go back on its positions and accept to speak again with the steering committee. The maintenance of only agricultural activities turned into “agriculture that is wholistic in every sense.” It has almost already been won that several hundred hectares of lands saved and maintained collectively, beyond the historical lands, must be dedicated to projects connected to the movement. It is a considerable first step, but still doesn’t resolve the fate of the combat connected to the ZAD’s habitats and the need for collective control over the property after this transitional phase to ensure it is viable for whatever comes next.

Directions are meaningless when the ZAD is everywhere!

RESISTING DIVIDE-AND-RULE

In this first phase of negotiations, the prefecture announced its desire to sort out unacceptable criteria and called on those who wanted to have a chance to remain to apply for a personal agreement and to register as soon as possible with the MSA.3 Some were unable to scrutinize the horizon with anything other than preconceived schemas and the passion for defeat; immediately they portended betrayal by those who would surely benefit themselves at the expense of others. Indeed, it would have been easy to cut a deal and run at any time over the last few weeks with some simple short letters and paperwork. The prefecture was waiting for that. But the reality is that, despite the pressures, no one fell into this trap.

Nobody filed to go individually through the selective examination: we did not agree to let ourselves be separated out. On the contrary, there was a political and concrete refusal of these injunctions. What was maintained was the claim to the land and the search for a protective and collective framework for all, including a global agreement regarding the lands of the movement. It is this real solidarity that impedes the prefecture today on at least two levels: to continue the negotiation in the way that it initially sought and to legitimize its operation of selective eviction.

In this context, however, there is still much talk of “radicals” or “intractables” on the one hand and cowards eager to negotiate or peasants quick to normalize conditions on the other. It is remarkable to see how much this fiction pleases both the dominant media, the prefecture and the preachers of the good morals of a fantasized radicalism. But for most of those who have defended the ZAD, cultivated and lived in this grove in recent years, this division is only a fiction. Among those who hold to a common line in the movement through negotiation AND the fight, among those who want to stay here and really maintain the ZAD as a shared space, there are also people and crews from each category: peasants, younger and older squatters, the “historical ones,” adherents of the ACIPA, neighbors, naturalists, syndicalist comrades, nature enthusiasts, activists of the Coordination…4 In the optics that the ZAD continues to spread, the idea that everything should be legal or remain illegal forms two sides of the same (bad) coin. These positions come from ideological fetishes, one as sterile as the other when applied to pursuing struggles on the terrain. Those who really participated in the unfolding of the movement in recent years, who were not content to merely comment on the internet, are well aware that these oversimplified “legalistic” or “illegal,” “violent” or “non-violent” visions never corresponded to what made our force effective and allowed us to bend the will of the State. They are not more adapted today to meet the horizons and objectives of the “6 points.”

It was never a question for us of entering a process of normalization with a bowed head, but rather to determine what would allow us to hold onto all the places of life and activity through this reconfiguration of the situation. To do this, it is necessary to determine, step-by-step, what will be best at preserving margins of autonomy and support so that we do not end up submitting in isolation to all the constraints imposed by forms of market and industrial production. This entails very real practices in a concrete power struggle with a powerful enemy and not fancies of an ideal world. To know this, it is enough to trust the attachment we have to the meaning that has been found for years in the free re-invention of the relation to what we produce.

Police forces mustered for the evictions.

ENOUGH WITH THE ROAD MYTHOLOGY

From weeks of physical resistance to Operation Caesar in 2012, we know that the effectiveness of the ZAD’s defense has never rested solely on a road barricaded by an isolated group, much less on the nostalgic obsession for this device outside of times of attack. But, it has always been a possibility for us, when the time comes, to block the different strategic access points and to hold the ground in very different ways, with a varied set of supports both in and outside of the zone. Unfortunately, the tension of recent weeks surrounding the road has, among other risks, the potential to undermine this possibility of broad resistance.

We have tried for months to leave no political opening for the State to evict anyone. Having won this bet many times in recent years, in our opinion it was still absolutely tenable to remain after the abandonment of the D281 road barricades, despite the threats of the Prime Minister. The prefecture needed a suitable story to make these threats concrete. He needed people who could embody the caricature of the famous “ultra-radicals.” Some brilliantly took the role expected of them, especially on the issue of the road D281, reducing the stakes of the struggle to a story that became more and more incomprehensible for the vast majority of those with whom they had fought, for their neighbors and in general for most people near and far who heard about it. By blocking the work the first time, a few people—not to be confused with people living near the road—justified the police presence we had for weeks, allowing them to get boots back on the ground. The destruction of some asphalt at the end of the job, while the police could still withdraw, while the situation was clear and we could still hope to find a common strength, brought despair (for a time at least) to many of those who have continued to provide unwavering support for the threat of evictions. When the General Council5 refused to open the road under these conditions, the evictions in question found a major justification and became almost inevitable.

Different monochromes.

FACING WHATEVER COMES

The force of this struggle has been to constantly go against the current of certainties maintained by both the identitarian “radical” ghetto as well as the classic “citizen” militancy. In this respect, the movement has always collided with those that enclosed themselves within one of these polarizations and forced disruptions upon those that have wanted to accompany it. It has found its own path and laid a foundation for a unique front at once anchored, offensive, and popular. This simple fact has been for many of us an astounding political event and the motor of a historical defeat of the State. It is not surprising, however, that the advent of another phase brings new concerns and new hopes along with ideological scleroses. The sequence following victory is a moment of truth where the real consequences of the groups involved are unveiled. In this tense phase, there have typically been two responses that sabotage our common engagements and the movement: block the work on the road OR publicly dissociate from an assembly organized by the movement in the face of the steering committee in order to support the mixed delegation. The sad truth is that, on one side some have preferred to weaken the common structure by wasting away over obsessions that are indefensible to the rest of the movement, while on the other side some have been quick to forget about holding a common line in the face of governmental pressure. Some brilliantly applied themselves to justifying a partial eviction and putting those who would be targeted in the most isolated position possible. Others kept virtually silent as the eviction operation approached. We could hold onto and rehash such bitter observations endlessly. But another much brighter truth is that, all told, most people who over the years formed the basic community of this struggle also braved its dangers and trials together and remained faithful to the promises they made to one another. It is this truth that we must continue to cling to if we do not wish to perish in self-fulfilling prophecies of the inevitable downfall of spaces of autonomy and collective adventures.

Despite the disputes that have undoubtedly weakened the movement and its legibility in recent weeks, it goes without saying that the State’s plans to evict will be met with a fight. Whatever pitfalls we fell into at times, the actual foundation of the ZAD and the hopes it continues to raise did not fall apart over a few weeks of sadness. We can feel this in the forces that remobilized on the eve of the operation, in those who had their doubts but then heard the call and immediately got on the road, in the last minute assemblies, in the barricades of all kinds of things that stand up against the armed forces of the State and the story that the government is getting ready to tell…

We are going to have to go through a violent ordeal that could reshuffle all the cards. But we have no doubt that the ZAD will survive Caesar 2. What we continue to bring to the movement will be neither a docile display of alternativeness nor a radical ghetto. Rather, we will continue to make of struggle a breadbasket and of resistance a common good, a place where people who live and meet are as diverse as they are surprising, a territory that makes you want to organize seriously, to live fully, a permanent building site for wonderful constructions and waking dreams. We still need places where not relying on the economy and institutional management is visibly desirable and possible. And we need these places to last, even if they have their share of impurities and messiness. Because the spaces that excite us most compel us to assemble and put our ready-made politics into question. We believe that, essentially, it is through the ZAD that we will continue to galvanize tens of thousands of people across the country.

And now we must stand up!

Voices in common

Fighting against a doomed future.


When Lama Fâché, Llama Spit!

Published on April 10 on Indymedia Nantes, after initially appearing in print, as described below.

This text has been handed out a first time during the demonstration of March 31 against all evictions at Caen. We gave it out again this Monday night [April 9, 2018, the day the evictions at the ZAD of Notre-Dame-des-Landes started] while about 200 people walked the streets with a beautiful energy before reaching an empty train station with no departing trains.6 During this action, the cops were discreet.

By handing out this text, we wanted to show our solidarity with the people facing the current evictions [at the ZAD] of which Lama Fâché [“Angry Llama”] was the first cabin raided. At the same time, we wanted to express where this solidarity was coming from and convey that it was not duped by the games of power in the zone, and by the appetites of composition that are making their way at the ZAD as well as in many other cities…

Finally this text, written at the end of March, does not mention the aggression that took place at the ZAD these last days.

Living hearts in a dying world.

When Lama Fâché, Llama Spit!

“All parties, all trade unions, and their bureaucracies, are oppressing the proletariat, as much as the bourgeoisie. (…)”

Comité pour le maintien des occupations (“Committee for Maintaining the Occupations,” CMDO) [the original one, not the copy (sic)] La Commune n’est pas morte (“The Commune’s Not Dead”), June 1968.

On January 17, the Macron government decided to drop the airport project at Notre-Dame-des-Landes. Just this once, opponents succeeded in stopping a major project. Needless to say, Manu [Emmanuel Macron] is not captivated by the virtues of a grove free from those concrete masses. His friendships and interests are completely different. Except that, in this situation, there is a strategic occasion to seize: an opportunity to disarm a solidarity movement that inhabits more than just a grove, but also some lives and imaginaries. And to do this by normalizing a space where, for many of its protagonists, a deeply rooted struggle was questioning much more than just an airport.

Unfortunately, as is frequently the case in such circumstances, some fringes of the movement decided to respond positively to this normalization. In the hours following the announcement from the government, the Assembly of the movement decided in an authoritarian manner to defer to the recommendations of the prefecture by paving the way for a military occupation of the site, by agreeing to clear the [road] D281 of obstacles and barricades. And this by evicting, against some inhabitants, two cabins occupied occasionally or more permanently. Quickly, troops of gendarmes took possession of the place. Drones, video devices, and directional microphones invaded the landscape.

If this same Assembly, in a text of 6 points, affirmed wanting to maintain unity among the various components of the struggle, being opposed to all evictions, and taking charge of the future of the movement, its first actions have been on one hand to “liberate” a part of the ZAD and to offer it to its new partner, the State; and on the other hand to negotiate with the institutions in power. On March 19, the Assembly made a call for a gathering to support “a delegation including all of its components—inhabitants, farmers, elected representatives, naturalists, neighbors” that seemed to represent the whole movement. Here, the old adage that says that in politics it is necessary to judge actions rather than words applies again…

When the State ordered the launch of Operation Caesar against the ZAD in 2012, it did not expect to hit a snag. Within a few days, the eviction got bogged down in this wetland before some 50,000 people decided to reoccupy the land and build cabins. That day, when political activists, non-profit volunteers, and trade unionists were invited to put their respective flags away, marked the prelude to a massive and determined resistance, the famous “cyst” described by Manuel Valls [Minister of the Interior and then Prime Minister under Holland’s presidency].

In the past, this geographical area has known numerous struggles, such as the protests against the nuclear plants of Carnet and Pellerin, in which some connections appeared between farmers and the workers of 1968. These fragile but rich complicities continued to develop while rooting themselves in past struggles, as well as in a strong sense of resistance sharpened within occupations that had begun several years earlier.

However, over the years and due to the success of this struggle, the legitimate complicities formed in this resistance have finally given way to a strategic and instrumental way of understanding the struggle: composition.

Contrary to the image that certain people have never ceased to convey, there have always been conflicts at the ZAD and within the movement against the airport. From daily conflicts regarding the different ways of living the occupation that played out between livestock farmers and anti-speciesists, between anti-feminists and feminists, etc., to the ways of living the struggle between partisans of direct action and partisans of disobedience, between institutional activists and autonomists, between supporters of assemblies and supporters of affinity groups, between the pro-media and the anti-media, between “against the airport” and “against this world.”

Confronting realities.

What took place here was built on a juxtaposition of logics. From its origin, the slogan against the big useless infrastructural projects encompassed intentions and operational modes that were completely opposed. The far left saw economic mismanagement; EELV [Europe Ecologie Les Verts, the French Green Party] saw a project that was not compatible with their vision of green capitalism; farmers saw the theft of their lands; primitivists saw an attack on a sanctified nature; and for some radicals, they saw one of the many ways that capital and the State control the conditions of our lives. The first three are hoping for a development dictated by capital and the State that will be more likely to correspond to their desires; the last two want to put an end to the development of the land itself, for reasons that are sometimes not very compatible. Moreover, some activists are managers and administrators, while others promote horizontality and self-organization.

What held everyone together was that everyone had always needed each other to keep the struggle going. The ACIPA needed the help of the ZADists to occupy the lands that were about to be destroyed; the ZADists needed the help of the farmers and organizations to serve as a shield and to legitimate their struggle. The relationships between these groups were based on reciprocal dependency, which bound them in an instrumental way. Although, obviously, the struggle contained much more fun moments.

Behind the public image of unity, deep antagonisms waited to resurface at any opportunity—for example, when activists threw stones at cops. There will always be a Julien Durand from the ACIPA to denounce, in the lineage of Bové or Mélenchon [respectively, the political figures of EELV and La France Insoumise], the dangerous irresponsible persons inhabiting the grove dedicated to destruction, or a team of the Verts (members of the Green Party) to ape the opening of a house while wearing new boots bought the same morning at Montparnasse [the Parisian train station that link the French capital to the West region of France]. This occurred on many occasions—for example, during the demonstration in Nantes in February 2014 when we saw Julien Durand, spokesperson of the ACIPA, playing the contortionist by disassociating his organization from the property destruction that took place that day while avoiding openly condemning the “casseurs” [thugs]. In other words, marking his disapproval with some strategies and actions while seeking to maintain unity with a part of the inhabitants of the ZAD whose help he still needed at the time. In the following months, pacification involved refusing any new demonstration to take place at Nantes. Part of the “ZADists” did not fail to respect this injunction.

This composition is organized around components that pile up acronyms. L’ACIPA is one of the historical anti-airport groups. It is a coordination of opponents that gather smaller organizations. The COPAIN brings together the farmers who, for the most part, are linked to the Confédération Paysanne [Farmers Confederation]. Then, there is the movement Assembly, initiated by occupiers.

“For a long time, [the movement Assembly] was a place of debate and pooling of ideas and projects from the different groups that took part in the struggle, without the pretention of making decisions in a unitary way. For me, the ‘movement’ was linked to this creative space where different tendencies could obtain information and respond to each other, assert themselves and criticize each other, without denying their autonomy in taking initiatives. I think that this is what some people started to call ‘composition’—anyway, that is where I heard the word for the first time. In the heat of the moment, I didn’t really pay attention to it; people were talking of the ‘movement’ and its ‘components.’ Later, I concluded that the concept of composition seemed more like a way of pacifying the situation, to talk about it with more appealing words that didn’t reveal the conflicts and contradictions. In short, to send us to sleep, in order to undercut this boiling energy by constantly looking for a ‘middle path’ [a path of compromise and concessions], and that when we hear the word ‘movement’ we end up forgetting the diversity that can give us the element of surprise in our hurry to make a mass that moves ‘all together.’”

-Testimony, Le movement est mort vive… la réforme!, Une critique de la composition et de ses élites [“The Movement Is Dead, Long Live… Reform! A Critique of Composition and Its Elites”], February 2018, by an insignificant groupuscule.

The triton of the victory: February 10, 2018.

There is never a shortage of self-proclaimed revolutionary or reformist strategists to impose in the name of unity, pragmatism, urgency, a specific direction and the uniqueness of a movement. Some leaders emerged among the occupiers themselves, mobilizing their material force, their networks, their power… not only for the benefit of the community as a whole, but also to structure an ideological hegemony in the zone and within the struggle. Alongside the “institutional” activists, they condemned some actions, like the attack on a journalists’ car, or the action in which some manure was thrown during a conference for an electoral campaign of France Insoumise at the Vacherie, an occupied dwelling at the ZAD. Their vision of “composition” is to muzzle divergences and impose their discipline on the movement.

In charge, the Comité pour le maintien des occupations (CMDO) and some accomplices, pompously baptized as a reference to its Situationist ancestor of ’68. An ancestor that, back then, maintained a clear distance from all the trade unionists and leftist bureaucracies. In this committee, some old celebrities from the autonomous movement do not hesitate to play the role of spokespersons for the media, to arrange complicities with all kinds of bureaucracies, to accept the game of negotiating with the State. In other words, to become managers of the struggle.

These same celebrities, thanks to their class backgrounds, can monopolize resources and discourses, systematically discredit their opponents, insult them, threaten them. The last of the uncontrollable activists who had not left the movement Assemblies yet ended up leaving them, disgusted by this behavior.

Composition ends up showing its limits once the objective has been achieved or the struggle defeated. If a text in 6 points officially claims the management of the ZAD by an authority arising from the movement, the components of the movement are essentially seeking negotiation. However, for the moment, the State does not give up anything.

For several months, a specific assembly focused on thinking about the future of the ZAD after the airport. On this issue, certain groups like ACIPA or COPAIN took the lead. The proximity of many of their protagonists with some old Larzac activists enables them to present some old recipes. The proposal is a “normalized” zone, under a STCL lease with the State, co-managed by the farmer confederation and the State environmentalists. This is this option defended by José Bové, an old Larzac and EELV activist, friend of Hulot (the current Minister of Ecological and Solidarity Transition) and Julien Durant from ACIPA.

The normalization of the [road] D281 bears the influence of this strategy. For this occasion, accustomed to its hegemony, the CMDO did not even take care to abide by the rules, nor rely on an Assembly vote. In the days that followed, about 200 people dismantled the barricades—not without jostling some reluctant activists who refused the decision, getting ahead of the work of law enforcement on this occasion. Lama Fâché, a cabin installed on the road, was dismantled. Some activists rebuilt it a little further. Since then, the Assembly that represents only one side of the ZAD, admittedly the side involving the majority of occupants and those taking part in the struggle, attempts to negotiate.

Armored vehicles arriving to crush our dreams.

To maintain unity, the ideologues of the composition have broken off unity with those for whom this struggle meant something more than just obtaining a farm or field through negotiation with the State. This struggle has reminded us that the “Friends” are not necessary friends, that COPAIN [“friend” in French] are not necessarily friends.

All this reminds us that one format alone cannot ensure horizontality. Some activists who always hated assemblies have invested themselves in them. Not for the potential of freedom and self-organization that they could offer, but on the contrary, for the logic of government, control, and submission that they promised. If on our side we are still attached to assemblies, it is for completely different reasons: to coordinate, to be able to expose the power games of some groups, to avoid feeding the narcissistic postures of groups. In short, for their anti-authoritarian potential.

Composition is to self-organization what chains are to freedom. For our part, during assemblies, we have always defended the collectives and organizations of individuals that were against strategic composition between organizations or groups. We are of those who have always refused to cosign texts with organizations, and not only “political” ones.

The piling of acronyms is not an identity, nor an autonomous force, but on the contrary expresses submission to a general staff. It is as if there were some kind of concern at seeing the decomposition of the Left—the Left that has never been anything other than a facet of submission—and that we should help it to get back on its feet, or even become part of it. To compose is to play a role, to play a role in creating a broad front. It means carrying out your activities via an essentially strategic approach rather than an ethical one. Above all, all this only produces dispossession, and spaces where everyone is urged to follow the path already drawn for them, rather than seeking to build complicities and create something common without suppressing differences and different personal realities. To compose essentially means to renew the old political tradition in its most sordid aspects.

Today this ideological apparatus of the milieu seems to have caught on like a fever. Assemblies for asylum seekers can now welcome a senator of EELV previously allied with Valls to visit their squats; anti-repression collectives are thinking of informing the local CGT union of their actions, although this union condemned the actions of “casseurs” in 2016; the Maison de la grève (“House of the Strike”) welcomed Houria Bouteldja [an author criticized for open anti-Semitism and homophobia]; members of the Parisian cortège de tête protected the premises of Emmaus, an organization that is an accomplice of the machinery of eviction… It is necessary to say that for others, it has been some time now that as “elected representatives of ‘the territories they inhabit,’ it can be riots on Thursday, and Municipal Council on Monday.”

What the ideology of composition spreads is a discipline of the milieu that favors connections with the syndicalist, political, and associative Left [i.e., unions, politicians, and non-profits] over any effective radical alternative. The ritualized spectacle of controlled direct action serves to satisfy activist impulses and warlike affects while maintaining a false insurrectionary image. The spectacle of contestation rather than the contestation of the spectacle.

The Comité El Condor, in passing.

Caen, March 2018.

“Zone to Defend: No expulsions, no normalization! Struggles must continue!”

Dreams worth fighting for.

  1. Operation Caesar was a failed police operation on behalf of the French State to evict the ZAD in 2012. 

  2. ACIPA is an acronym for the Association citoyenne intercommunale des populations concernées par le projet d’aéroport, or Intercommunal Citizen Association of Populations Concerned by the Airport Project, a group created in the year 2000 with the goal of fighting the airport project at Notre-Dame-des-Landes. 

  3. The MSA, or Mutualité Sociale Agricole, is a social insurance agency that provides health care, pensions, and other social protections for agricultural workers. 

  4. The coordination des opposantes. The “Coordination of Opponents” of the Notre-Dame-des-Landes Airport Project was created by 14 organizations opposed to the airport project in September 2003 in order to prepare a joint letter to Prime Minister Raffarin and Minister of Transport de Robien during the project’s early research stage. Since then, these organizations meet monthly to discuss the issue and organize joint actions. Today, more than 60 organizations comprise the Coordination, including associations, unions, political movements, and collectives. 

  5. Conseil regional, the “General Council” or departmental assembly, departments being regional administrative entities in France. The specific general council referenced here is the one that oversees the Loire Atlantique department of France. 

  6. For several weeks now, railroad workers have carried out numerous strikes to defend their status and oppose the opening of the railway market to competitors. 

Steal Something from Work Day 2018: Three Stories of Employees Reclaiming What Is Theirs

April 15 is annual Steal Something from Work Day. Today, whether we like it or not, millions of employees around the world are stealing from their employers in a desperate bid to slow the process that is steadily expanding the gap between those who labor and those who profit. (Yes, even on a Sunday.) That makes it a good day to reflect on workplace theft. If you are confused about why people steal from their employers, review the Steal Something from Work Day FAQ or our colleagues’ text, How to Justify Workplace Theft. On the other hand, if you simply want to savor a few pulpy stories about workers who set out to get even, we’ve got just the thing for you.

Mind you, we don’t endorse any of the following behavior. We’re not trying to persuade you to drop a banner or engage in some kind of illegal activity! What we’d like to see happen is for those who violently impose the prevailing system of property and profit on the rest of us to think better of what they’re doing and help us create a world in which stealing from work will be impossible because there are no such things as property, work, or theft. Change their hearts and minds! Failing that, we hope you’ll enjoy the following (surely fictitious!) tales of risk and reclamation.

For more resources and other such stories, consult past Steal Something from Work Day commemorations:


Steal Something from Work Day in Sweden

Sno-Från-Jobbet-Dagen: The banner reads “Your job is eating you up—Steal a little back!” The line of the advertisement still visible below it urges “Don’t let pollen stop you this year.”

We received this anonymous video from somewhere in Sweden, where enterprising rebels celebrated Steal Something from Work Day 2018 a couple days early by promoting it to their fellow workers.

You can also read about Steal Something from Work Day in German and a variety of other languages.



Stealing from Work Is a Gamble, but It Can Be a Good Bet

In the repertoire of punk jobs there used to be a job known as poster tour. Many people who have spent a little time on college campuses can conjure a memory of this traveling spectacle. Picture it: a company orders absurd quantities of posters from overseas and sends forth its minions to market them to the gaping voids of personality that are the college students of America. The premise is that these first-year students, lost in the sea of their future, will desperately cling to any kind of material affirmation money can buy—to be specific, by adorning their dismally blank walls with beautiful portraits of the complex identities they’ve laboriously constructed throughout their lives.

By and large, the students’ poster selections involve a constellation of beer pong, action movies, bikini babes, the ever-present visage of Bob Marley, and some poem about Jesus.

The life skills needed for this job are similar to those required for other facets of the punk life style, especially for anyone who has been on any other kind of tour. You wake up and eat a sorry excuse for a hotel breakfast, then get in a van and navigate to an unfamiliar destination; the host of the sale might meet you to introduce you to your venue (the requirements for the role of host do not include being available, being present, having any idea what’s going on, or being sober); you set up your poster sale, painstakingly facilitate access to it, and watch the clock until the event is over. Then you break down the sale, head to the cheapest motel the company could possibly find for you, fill out a bunch of paperwork, and cry yourself to sleep. Repeat this the next day, and the next, and the next—for six weeks.

The job attracted outliers from several sections of society. The largest faction, due to the connections of our subculture and the viral nature of our relationship to employment, was the punks. Besides us, there was a smattering of hippies, weirdos, a few wild cards (including some non-subcultural, seemingly successful people), and a healthy portion of Europeans. People from the last category were in a unique circumstance. Through shady outreach efforts and middle-men, they were promised gainful employment in the USA—at a price, of course. The company made sure that the workers’ profits were drained from what they owned to the company for securing their employment, as many companies do.

To top it off, we were tasked with selling the drivel of American culture. In rural Kansas, I watched as a dumbfounded Czech person was asked about the TV show Friends. Then the confused college student asked his companion, “Why are there Russians on campus?”

It goes without saying: the system was rigged. The company set projections of how much they expected you should sell; you wouldn’t get paid above a meager daily base rate unless you sold more than their projections. It was an easy way to motivate workers while making sure they could never get ahead. The workers were instilled with the desire to work harder, in order to reach their projections and make more money via commission, while the company sets the numbers high enough that the workers never truly make a profit—yet blame themselves for this.

It was obvious from the get-go that playing by their rules wouldn’t get us anywhere. We needed to create a new landscape if we wanted to take advantage of this opportunity that was taking advantage of us.

The first step is always to get organized. At orientation, we exchanged contacts, made friendships, and vetted each other for trust. Mixing fun and subversion, someone uploaded a bingo board to a blog and shared the login passcode with others. (This whole story precedes smart phones.) The idea was that this would help us to keep in touch and report our winnings.

The squares on the board included a fun mix of communal misery (crying yourself to sleep, an
easy square to win), impossibilities (going a day without selling a Bob Marley poster, which was never achieved by any team), hi-jinx (selling cute monkey posters to really tough sports-bros), and bad behavior (go skinny dipping, drunk dial the boss, meet with other poster teams on tour). The blog served as a break room for us to grip about our working conditions, share tricks, and foster a work environment that would be increasingly hostile to our employers.

We showcased our commitment to slacking and time-theft front and center. This was such a pillar of
our work culture that there was no place for people who weren’t slacking and boasting about it. With the help of the blog, every day became a competition to see who could do the most outlandish offense to the job. At the same time, the blog also helped us to share information, which enabled us to work out how much profit we were making for the company: with over 50 teams at work, we were making the company about a million dollars a week.

We tried to organize a strike. Unfortunately, in the end, the strike did not really come together and the team who was leading it decided just to quit. Quitting seemed like the best option—until we learned what happened when you quit: the company had all kinds of sly rules to ensure that you lost your earnings if you quit prematurely. Worse still, you might end up owing the company money afterwards! The team that quit ended up having to hitchhike out of the company office, as a final insult to the work they had done already.

This incident transformed our small-time scheming into war. We had already been telling each other how to pull the small scams we all depended on to stay afloat while working. The company gave you a small stipend for food, so we used our food stamps and pocketed the money. The company paid for hotels, so we would camp or stay with friends and pocket the money. The company allowed for a percentage of shrinkage, so we made sure that percentage of posters “disappeared” and pocketed the money. Teams got creative: one bought a bunch of their own merchandise and sold it alongside the merchandise provided by the company. They weren’t found out until a college contacted the company to say that it was not OK for them to be selling “all this marijuana merchandise.”

The company noticed our sales weren’t meeting their projections, so they authorized us to have a 20% off sale. We charged full price and kept the extra 20%. When you’re in this mindset, the ball just keeps rolling.

In a Super 8 motel, I began to toy with a new idea. We dealt with lots of cash. How do you make more cash out of cash?

The answer hit me soon the next day as we drove by a riverboat casino: gambling.

Obviously, this was a bad idea. Countless movies, crime novels, and real life disasters start this way. Still, we passionately hated the company, we shared an affirming and subversive worker culture, and we had already gotten away with a lot. The fact that it was a bad idea was what made it so appealing: workers at terrible jobs are always looking for something self-destructive to do that might just take the whole enterprise down with them.

There was one problem—I knew nothing about gambling. I sat in the motel for hours scribbling out math and probability problems, the way so many people have done in motels near casinos. The prudent gambler would have consulted proper sources via the internet or the library, as many people have written extensively on gambling tactics. But I was motivated and in my zone, and after a few days of neglecting the duties of the job, I had worked out my plan.

I won’t get into the mechanics of the plan; I wouldn’t want to bore the reader or showcase its obvious flaws. Let’s just say I came up with a strategy that felt safe as long as I would be working with a large amount of cash.

To play it safe, I did a test run with some of the money I had earned already. I was really nervous—taking risks with money is completely contrary to my character. I also hadn’t been to casinos, so it was terrifying to watch people lose hundreds and thousands of dollars in seconds. I watched a
couple who had just gotten married earlier that day, still in their wedding attire, lose more money than I was slated to make all year in less than an hour. I wasn’t cut out for this.

Still, I persevered, comforting myself with the thought that if I lost my own money, I’d just take it from the company and figure out some way to get away with it. Sure enough, a nerve-wracking hour or so later, I had more than doubled my initial bet. Like many gambling strategies, it worked in the short term.

The next day just happened to be an anniversary dear to jingoistic patriots. It always feels appropriate to do something irreverent to capitalism and America on such a day. We went into the casino, a battlefield of flashing lights and singing machines desperately fighting to keep you feeling like a winner while draining all of the life and money out of you. I’d heard that when you’re gambling, it’s important to have a stopping point—a goal you set beforehand to keep yourself in check in case the desperation of losing or the elation of winning takes over. I won’t disclose the numbers, but with the pretty penny squeezed out of all those Bob Marley posters in my hand, I set out to make ten times the amount I walked in with.

In casinos, they don’t want you to stop gambling. They offer free drinks to gamblers, free food, members-only areas, concerts, shirts, stickers, and all sorts of other useless crap to assure you that you’re a winner in hopes that you’ll go on gambling until you’ve lost it all. I couldn’t fall victim to this nonsense; I had a scheme supported by math problems I did on napkins. It was mechanical, cold, exacting, and required the cool-headed rejection of any kind of victory-induced excitement that could tempt me to stray from my path.

Dealer after dealer watched me make the same tactical choices, unfazed by the results. While most gamblers would think about their next bets and take time to place them, I had already done my thinking and was simply executing a strategy. I didn’t take any of the free alcohol; I gave it to my tour buddy, who intelligently decided not to participate in my harebrained scheme. Like a rising flood, my winnings slowly grew while I watched other gamblers win and lose thousands of dollars around
me. After a full day of what must be called work, I achieved my goal. I had taken company money and made tenfold what I put in.

I experienced none of the feelings I project to be associated with gambling—I felt no elation, no highs and lows, no sense that my good fortune would enable me to steal the wealth of the casino. I did a math problem and it worked long enough for me to quit while I was ahead. Having reached my self-prescribed goal, I was free to revel in all the benefits that the riverboat casino had to offer. We enjoyed all the free bowling we could handle, ate free hot dog after free hot dog, and danced with middle aged day-drunk casino-goers to a band of older men doing a cover of “What I got” by Sublime (with several additional gratuitous saxophone solos).

The money I made came and went, as money does. But the feeling of getting yet another one over on the company that had engineered nothing but failure for its workers is something that I’ll carry with me forever. It reminds me that if I divert the energy and time that my bosses want me to invest in the job towards the more strategic goal of subverting my workplace, my fellow employees and I will come out ahead.



The Hard Stuff

On March 30, 2018, longtime anarchist and author Paul Z. Simons passed away. Paul was a determined rebel and illegalist; his writing is both lively and erudite. He published an article entitled “Take Things from Work” in Black Eye, a journal he helped edit some three decades ago. More recently, in “Illegalist Praxis: Notes on a Decade of Crime,” he outlined his own experiences stealing from work as a young person.

Bear in mind that Paul was writing about a different era, when surveillance cameras were less of a concern. But you’re not the sort of person who would consider doing what he’s describing, anyway, are you?

Before I begin, a disclaimer or two. First, I never knowingly physically harmed anyone. Second, most of my criminal activities were driven by survival, in some cases by desperation.

A quick philosophical footnote: money taken in crime is far sweeter than money earned. The fact that one relies on oneself, or a group, to outthink, outsmart, and outbrave some stupid boss and his security precautions turns ill-gotten gains into reward beyond compare. Plus, the hours, while short and nerve-wracking, are never boring.

Oddly, one of the best ways to begin a burglary is by getting a job in the store you plan to hit. In general, places that have loads of cash, that deal with deposits in a lazy fashion, and that trust you just enough to let you know that the burglary alarms are “just for show.” After a week or two of drudgery, you’re ready. The neighborhood is dead quiet at night, there are rear entrances that haven’t been used in years, and hopefully those entrances have windows. Timing is key and I recommend between 3 and 4 in the morning on a Monday, Tuesday, or Wednesday. The cops are all changing out shifts, the security guards (if any) are drinking coffee somewhere trying to stay awake, and the neighbors are all tucked in their beds. Windows can be easily removed by breaking through the glass with a cloth wrapped hammer and steel bars can be separated using a tire jack. If the back is lit by floodlights, unscrew them. For windows placed high, use a car as a boost to reach them. A quick dash into the establishment—to exactly the place where you know the day’s cash receipts are hidden—and out. A peek in the rear view mirror to make sure you’re clean—and gone. Like it never happened. The rewards from burglaries can be surprising: in one short twenty minute stint I walked off with almost $5000. They can also be disheartening; one burglary took almost an hour and netted less than $300—but that was the exception.

Resources for Steal Something from Work Day 2018: Posters, Stickers, and More

It’s that time of year again! For years, employees around the world have celebrated April 15 as Steal Something from Work Day, a day to even the scales with those who profit on our labor. This year, April 15 falls on a Sunday, which means employers should have nothing to fear—since for thousands of years, Sunday has been designated as a day of rest on which no one should have to work. Didn’t we win the struggle for the 40-hour work week? However, just in case the ever-increasing precarity of the labor market has forced some poor soul to work on Sunday, we’ve prepared a great deal of outreach material celebrating Steal Something from Work Day.

The capitalists are enriching themselves on your labor! Settle the score!

Stickers

To employ these, just print them out on a sheet of sticker paper, cut them up, and deploy!

Classic Sticker

Click the image above for a downloadable PDF of a sheet of our classic Steal Something from Work Day stickers.

Classic Sticker, på Svenska

Comrades have translated our classic sticker into Swedish!

Click the image above for a downloadable PDF of a sheet of these stickers.

Sticker Mix

Click the image above for a downloadable PDF of a sheet with a variety of Steal Something from Work Day stickers.


Posters

If Your Coworker Needs Something

Click the image above for a downloadable PDF.

Hang in There

Click the image above for a downloadable PDF.

Trifold

Print out this trifold to spread the word. Slip it into lockers, leave it in a tip jar paper-clipped to your tip, give them out at the metro.

Until we can abolish capitalism—make every profit cost them!

Resisting the Eviction of the ZAD: Fighting for Our Dreams, Fighting for Another Reality

Since the government’s decision to cancel the construction of an airport at Notre-Dame-des-Landes (NDDL) on January 17, 2018, life on la ZAD—the Zone a Défendre (Zone To Defend) where the airport was to be built—has been a complicated series of conflicts about whether to negotiate with the government for the future of the land. Any lingering illusions that it could be possible to coexist peacefully with the authority of the state were dispelled this week, as the French government initiated what they hope will be the decisive eviction of this world-famous inspiring autonomous zone. To learn about the fifty years of struggle that led up to this moment, read our full history, “La ZAD: Another End of the World Is Possible.”

The end of March marked the end of winter, and with it came the possibility that the police would strike. Over the past several months, the ghost of a massive eviction like Operation Caesar of 2012 haunted everyone’s minds. On Saturday, April 7, the media announced the convergence of about 2500 police forces in the region of Nantes and Rennes. Over the weekend, it became obvious that the authorities were about to launch their final eviction operation to conclude the “illegal occupation” of the land once and for all. On Monday, April 9, 2018, at around 3 am, police forces entered the ZAD via the road D281 to recapture this autonomous territory.

This is a non-exhaustive report and photoessay documenting the first three days of the eviction operation at the ZAD. You can follow constant updates on the eviction process at the ZAD via the Flash infos on zad.nadir.

Footage of the evictions on Monday, April 9.

Day 1: The Eviction Begins

At 3:22 am on Monday morning, an emergency call appeared online alerting activists that police forces had entered the ZAD via the D281, the famous “route des chicanes.” Entering the occupied zone, they encountered numerous barricades that had appeared overnight. This slowed their progress. The arrival of gendarmerie troops (military-status police forces) during the night confirmed that authorities wanted to get a head start on the operation by deploying their forces beforehand—as, for legal reasons, the eviction couldn’t start before 6 am.

The authorities were counting on the element of surprise to facilitate their operation, but that didn’t work; in the obscurity of the night, the first barricades were set on fire. Before the operation had even begun, the police were already the target of numerous attacks. The first tear gas exploded into the fresh country air.

Meanwhile, numerous reports mentioned the massive police presence around and inside the ZAD. Dozens of trucks and military transport vehicles belonging to the gendarmerie were seen at various locations; two armored vehicles were already inside the perimeter. Anti-riot fences began to appear on the major roads. It was reported that at least one comrade was arrested and another injured during these clashes.

Around 6 am, the Minister of the Interior, Gérard Collomb, posted the following statement:

“This morning, starting at 6 am, the Gendarmerie will start an eviction operation of the illegal occupants of the parcels of land of Notre-Dame-des-Landes. In accordance with the Prime Minister’s announcements on January 17, the objective is to put an end to this lawless area.”

The eviction was officially underway. According to reports, the Ministry of Interior sent 2500 gendarmes—25 squadrons—to evict the occupied zone and its 250-300 inhabitants. In addition, a helicopter, several drones for aerial surveillance, and four armored vehicles (VBRG) arrived at the ZAD to break through the barricades created by zadists.

Later that morning, in an interview on national radio, Gérard Collomb stated that about 40 different sites—representing approximately 100 individuals—were to be evicted and destroyed in the operation. He explained that police forces would stay on site “as long as will be necessary to avoid any new occupation,” then added: ”we will destroy these places, but we will propose a rehousing to everyone.” Due to the number of places to be raided and the intensity of the clashes that could occur, this eviction operation could last more than just a couple days. Once more, with this massive eviction, the state is seeking to take revenge on the anti-airport movement. The goal is to regain control over its territory and wipe out once and for all any autonomous experiments and forms of life.

In response to the attack, zadists made the following call:

Kept at bay for years by the movement, a new attempt at eviction of the residents of the ZAD at Notre-Dame-des-Landes has begun. Starting at 3 am today, the operation began deploying in all its brutality: interminable lines of blue police vans, armored vehicles, tear gas, the first injuries and the first arrests. Gendarmes announced that reporters were strictly forbidden “throughout the operation” and blocked their access to the site. They declared that the press was prohibited from taking photos and that the media would have access only to images supplied by the Gendarmerie. The expulsions confirm the government’s pretense of re-establishing the rule of law while in fact grossly flouting the law. The Prefecture has not even granted the inhabitants of the ZAD access to the minimum guaranteed by the law on the right to housing, in this case the right to individual procedures and the right to contest an eviction decision. Yet the residents of most areas within the ZAD have identified themselves by name on several occasions over the past few years. The Prefecture’s outrageous duplicity is visible today in all its hypocrisy: after announcing it would seek a “serene and peaceful evolution of the situation,” it sends 2500 police/army to destroy residents’ homes. We are told that a selection will be made on the basis of categories that are pure fiction and have no bearing on anything but the needs of the repressive storytelling the government has locked itself into. There is no false division here between radicals on the one hand and farmers on the other; what exists are a number of different and intertwined ways of sharing this land. Contrary to what [Minister of the Interior] Gérard Collomb claims, in fact, no one has been individually legalized over the recent weeks at the expense of the others. The movement as a whole has proposed a framework for a collective agreement involving all residents and all their projects. But the government could not simply admit that the proposed airport was useless; they were bent on taking revenge against those who had forced the abandonment of the project. The land is dying, the most brutal forms of economic processes are atrophying our lives, and everywhere, people aspire to alternatives to that situation. On February 10, 30,000 people committed to supporting the future of the ZAD. But the government’s political message is very clear this morning: It will allow no possibility for spaces where alternative experiments can take place.

Our anger is profound this morning at the terrible waste that the destruction of the houses and living spaces we have built here represents. Our emotion at the idea that the collective experiment that is the ZAD can be endangered by a police/army assault is strong. But the ZAD will not disappear because of this. We live here, we have roots here in this countryside, and we shall not leave it. We salute the courage of the people who have already joined us on the site and have answered our calls. In 2012, the government’s destructive arrogance ultimately turned against it. In the current context of widening strikes, demonstrations, and occupations throughout the country, we believe that the razing of Notre-Dame-des-Landes will become a new engine of a revolt that will take hold. This destructive operation will turn against its perpetrators. We call on all those who can join us now or in the next few days to come to the ZAD. More than 80 assemblies are already planned all over France this evening, including in Nantes and Rennes at 6 pm. The response to these expulsions will also extend over time. A demonstration has been called in Nantes on Saturday and a convergence on the ZAD is being organized for this weekend.

Facing the continuous waves of destruction, evictions, and repression orchestrated by the state, zadists defended every inch of land and every single building by all means necessary. The entire day was filled with acts of resistance and blockades, as well as fierce and courageous attacks against police forces. Unfortunately, at the end of this first day, several important buildings inside the ZAD had already been destroyed. Among them, Les Planchouettes, the collective and individual cabins of the 100 noms, and the agricultural shed and sheepfold of the 100 noms.

A video montage of courageous acts of resistance on Monday, April 9.

While the state and the prefecture officially committed to preserving and protecting the agricultural projects of the ZAD, the destruction of the sheepfold of the 100 noms revealed the absolute hypocrisy of the prefecture and the emptiness of its official promise to maintain the agricultural projects. According to Nicole Klein, the prefect of Pays de la Loire et Loire-Atlantique, the destruction of the farm was justified, as “the 100 noms have not filed for an agricultural project and are composed of precarious dwellings.” Welcome to a world in which everything must be put under state control in order to be permitted to exist!

In total, 13 locations were raided and evicted and six were completely destroyed during the first day of the operation. You can find an updated list and images of the different cabins and locations of the ZAD that have been destroyed here, along with those that are currently threatened by eviction.

In reaction to the evictions at NDDL, more than 80 spontaneous gatherings and actions of solidarity took place throughout France and Europe that same day and night. To show their solidarity with those facing repression at the ZAD, activists occupied city halls, gathered in front of government buildings, took the streets in spontaneous demonstrations, blocked traffic, and covered numerous walls with messages of solidarity. You can read a list of solidarity actions here.

“This is dialogue.”

Tear gas.

Another reality is at stake.

Barricades on fire.

Building barricades everywhere.

Getting organized.

Intruders in the bocage.

Police forces have been deployed.

Police forces progressing through the ZAD.

Ready for the evictions.

Slowing down the operation by any means necessary.

Tear gas fills the morning air.

The destruction of the marquee of the Lama Fâché.

The fight for the ZAD is declared.

The true face of democracy.

The zone is locked down before the beginning of the evictions.

They are here!

We have been waiting for you.

Welcome to Hell.

Zadists create a human chain to protect the farm of les 100 noms.

Zadists sitting on the roof of the agricultural shed of les 100 noms.

Day 2: Unleashing the Storm

The second day of the operation began like the previous one, with burning barricades to slow the evictions. However, it was clear that the operation was becoming more massive than the government had originally announced. Shortly after 6 am, zadists were already mentioning on zad.nadir that police trucks were too numerous to be counted. Reinforcements had arrived on site overnight. The authorities themselves announced via the national media that the situation at the ZAD was worsening. That day, the majority of the confrontations took place around the areas of “les Fosses noires” (the Black Pits), one of the emblems of the struggle against the airport, la Chèvrerie, and les Vraies Rouges.

By 7:30 am, police forces were already throwing numerous stun grenades and tear gas canisters to push the zadists back. The zadists retaliated with whatever projectiles they had at hand. This confrontation set the tone for the entire day. All day long, the armored vehicles of the gendarmerie were struck with incendiary devices; police forces seeking to gain ground were held at bay with showers of stones, Molotov cocktails, and other projectiles. The gendarmerie helicopter hovering over the conflict zone became a target for anti-hail rockets. To defend themselves during the confrontations, zadists also used an artisanal catapult and trebuchet. Tractors belonging to local farmers assisted zadists in building barricades and protecting important sites in the occupied zone.

Targeting the helicopter above the conflict zone.

The confrontations escalated in intensity during the second day of the operation. Unfortunately, so did the number of injuries. At the end of the day, the medic teams at the ZAD reported that about 30 individuals had been treated at the medic station. Two seriously injured comrades were evacuated and hospitalized, and four others were also sent to the hospital for more minor injuries. According to the ZAD medics:

“The majority of injuries have been caused by sting grenades’ shrapnel received especially in the face or in the thorax, LBD (ed. Flash-Ball) shots in the thorax, and flat trajectory shots of tear gas canisters […] Moreover, since the end of this afternoon, numerous firings of GLI-F4 grenades have been noticed. The medic team expresses its strong worry for the following days.”

The GLI-F4 grenade is an instant tear gas grenade which creates a strong blast to deliver the gas. As always, police forces cried in the national media that they were the ones being injured. In total, 28 gendarmes were injured, most of them for “sound trauma” due to explosions; one allegedly has a fractured nose, and four others were injured when their own grenade exploded. Mainstream media always attempts to portray the injuries inflicted on zadists and the injuries experienced by police officers on the same level, as if both sides had access to the same equipment during confrontations. In fact, it appears that most of the injured police suffered offensive injuries caused by their own attacks.

At the end of the day, the impasse at the ZAD was total. Some zadists demanded that police forces withdraw either outside the ZAD or to the other side of the road D281. By doing so, they hoped to reopen dialogue with the authorities in order to halt the destruction of the remaining habitations and agricultural projects. It is no surprise that the authorities didn’t pay attention to this request for a truce. However, what is interesting is that during an official press conference, the authorities had the nerve to say that they were still engaged in a dialogue with the ZAD. Welcome to a reality in which our rulers can say one thing and do the exact opposite without even shocking anyone anymore!

On Tuesday, April 10, three new locations were destroyed during the eviction process: La Chèvrerie, Le Port, and La Tour. In total, after two days of operations, 16 squats or habitations have been raided and evicted and 15 of them have been razed to the ground. During a daily press conference, Nicole Klein said that the initial objective announced by Prime Minister Edouard Philippe of evicting 40 locations would be reduced to 30—unless the government redefines its objectives yet again.

Earlier that day, with tear gas and concussion grenades exploding in the background, we interviewed a comrade on the ground to learn what was currently happening inside the ZAD. You can listen to their heartbreaking personal account of the evictions here on our podcast, the Hotwire.

“Destruction of hope in progress.”

“Stop Violence.”

“You can destroy our houses, but you won’t crush our aspirations.”

A flat trajectory shot of a grenade.

Clouds of smoke in the bocage.

Collecting more ammunition.

Defending our homes.

Defending the ZAD, barricade after barricade.

Early morning vision.

Fire is our ally.

House raids.

Insuring state dialogue.

Police forces covered in mud.

Preparing a gift for law enforcement.

Progressing through the front lines.

Protecting the ZAD night and day.

Resisting evictions.

The confrontations intensify.

The destruction continues.

The infamous armored vehicle of the gendarmerie.

Welcome to a world of destruction.

Day 3: Our Dreams Are Stronger than Their Weapons

On Wednesday morning, the gendarmerie helicopter was already flying over the ZAD as police forces progressively surrounded the zone and closed its roads. But, as some zadists said: “they are numerous, we are determined.”

Around 7 am, clashes started again as a group of about 70 zadists attacked police forces not far from the road D281 and set fire to several barricades and trailers before retreating. Then, confrontations broke out in a nearby field where about 150 zadists equipped with handmade shields faced off with police forces for much of the day.

Footage of the evictions on Wednesday, April 11.

Shortly before mid-day, the ZAD published the following call:

A CALL FOR INTERGALACTIC SOLIDARITY ACTIONS EVERYWHERE TO END THE DESTRUCTION OF THE ZAD OF NOTRE DAME DES LANDES

We are writing with the smell of tear gas rising from our fingers. The springtime symphony of birdsong is punctuated by the explosive echo of concussion grenades. Our eyes are watering, less from the gas than the sadness, because our friends’ homes, barns, and organic farms are being destroyed. Bulldozers, supported by 2500 riot police, armored vehicles, helicopters, and drones, are rampaging through these forests, pastures, and wetlands to crush the future we are building here on the ZAD (the Zone to Defend).

We are calling on you to take solidarity actions everywhere; it could be holding demos at your local French embassy or consulate, or taking actions against any suitable symbol (corporate or otherwise) of France! And if you are not too far away, bring your disobedient bodies to join us on the zone. If the French government evicts the ZAD, it will be like evicting hope.

For fifty years, this unique checkerboard landscape was the site of a relentless struggle against yet another climate-wrecking infrastructure, a new airport for the nearby city of Nantes. Farmers and villagers, activists and naturalists, squatters and trade unionists wove an unbreakable ecology of struggle together and three months ago, on the 17th of January, the French government announced that the airport project would be abandoned. But this incredible victory, won through a diversity of creative tactics from petitions to direct action, legal challenges to sabotage, had a dark shadow. In the same breath that declared the abandonment came the announcement that the people occupying these 4000 acres of liberated territory, the 300 of us living and farming in 80 different collectives, would be evicted because we dared not just to be against the airport, but its WORLD as well.

Since that victorious day, the battle has transformed itself and is now no longer about a destructive infrastructure project, but about sharing the territory we inhabit. We stopped this place from being covered in concrete and so it is up to us to take care of its future. The movement therefore maintains that we should have the right to manage the land as a commons (see its declaration, “The Six Points for the ZAD because there will never be an Airport”). Today, this is the struggle of the ZAD (Zone to Defend) of Notre Dame Des Landes.

The ZAD was launched in 2009 after a letter (distributed during the first French climate camp here) written by locals inviting people to occupy the zone and squat the abandoned farmhouses. Now the zone has become one of Europe’s largest laboratories of communing. With its bakeries, pirate radio station, tractor repair workshop, brewery, anarchitectural cabins, banqueting hall, medicinal herb gardens, a rap studio, dairy, vegetable plots, weekly newspaper, flourmill, library and even a surrealist lighthouse, it has become a concrete experiment in regaining control of everyday life.

In 2012, the French state’s attempt to evict the zone to build the airport was fiercely resisted; despite numerous demolitions, 40,000 people turned up to rebuild and the government withdrew. The police have not set foot on the ZAD since… that is, until Monday morning, when at 3 am the gendarmes pierced into the zone.

On day one, they destroyed some of the most beautiful cabins and barns, but yesterday we stopped the cops from getting to the Vraies Rouge, which happens to be where one of our negotiators with the government lives. Destroying the house of those that agreed to sit at the table with you was a strategic mistake. The fabulous ZAD press team used this as the media hook and today we are winning the battle of the story. If enough people get to the zone over the next days, we could win the battle on the territory as well. We need rebel everything, from cooks to medics, fighters to witnesses. We doubt this rural revolt will be finished before the weekend, when we are also calling people to come and rebuild en mass.

Already, solidarity demonstrations have taken place in over 100 cities across France, while the town halls of several towns were occupied. Zapatistas demonstrated in Chiapas, Mexico; there were actions in Brussels, Spain, Lebanon, London, Poland, Palestine, and New York, and the underground car park of the French embassy in Munich was sabotaged. They will never be able to evict our solidarity.

Questioned at the Assemblée Nationale (National Assembly) on the situation at the ZAD, Prime Minister Edouard Philippe paid tribute to the supposed “great professionalism” of the law enforcement officers [read: despicable mercenaries] who are conducting the evictions. Contrary to what some politicians from his own political party were requesting, he emphasized that there would be no interruption in the operation and no effort to reduce the intensity of the confrontations in order to reestablish some kind of dialogue. Edouard Philippe added:

“The operations are taking place in accordance with the calendar that was decided… The operations will continue in the same spirit, with the same firmness, and at the same pace.”

It seemed that the government expected the operations to last until the end of the week.

Meanwhile, at 7:30 pm, zadists posted on zad.nadir a list of some of the many individuals injured during the day.

“Today, at 5:45 pm, we saw 9 injuries due to the use of Flash Balls (rubber bullets), including one serious injury in the face, and 16 injuries due to flat-trajectory shots of tear gas canisters aimed at the head. According to the medics, it is obvious that police forces are using tear gas canisters as projectiles to target people. There are also 22 injuries due to grenades’ explosions, of which a dozen relate to grenades shrapnel, including some in the throat, some with suspected sequelae to tendons and nerves, and others related to auditory troubles due to the explosions of F4 grenades that were shot at people randomly and without aiming. In addition, 12 head injuries were reported, with some involving eye issues.”

Moreover, a badly injured person in need of evacuation was blocked for more than 30 minutes by police forces before finally being permitted to access proper medical aid.

Even after the prefect officially announced the end of the evictions for the day during her press conference, police forces inside the ZAD continued their operations, using tear gas and all kinds of grenades to try to regain control of the roads and consequently injuring additional zadists. During this long day of confrontations, we know that at least the cabins of la Gaité, la Boite Noire, la Dalle à Caca and L’isolette were evicted. As of this publishing, we don’t know yet whether they have been destroyed.

At 9:16 pm, some zadists posted an update concerning the violent eviction of la Chèvrerie. While trying to resist the eviction by holding onto the sheet metal of the roof, a comrade had two of his tendons severed on the same finger. He received 30 stiches inside one of his palms and 15 stiches on the other side of the same hand. The other hand was also damaged during the arrest—and all this while he was handcuffed and evicted by force.

“If we can’t build the dream anywhere, then it will be the nightmare everywhere.”

A small collection of law enforcement ammunition used during the evictions.

Destroying dreams.

Let’s unleash the storm.

Police charge.

Progressing through the clouds.

Scenes of civil war.

Sending back a tear gas canister.

Solidarity in action.

A spontaneous barricade.

Still-smoldering vestiges of the battle for the ZAD.

The arrest of the comrade on the rooftop of La Chèvrerie.

The confrontations continue.

The lackeys of the state.

We are here to stay.

You won’t stop us!

Day 4: Breaking News

President Emmanuel Macron announced the end of the evictions on the grounds that “the operation has arrived at the point where everything that had to be evicted has been evicted. Now there will be in the following days a mission, under the authority of the prefect, that consists in allowing legal agricultural projects to be realized.”

In total, 29 squats had been evicted, fulfilling their objective of evicting about 30 squats. Now the authorities can undertake the second stage of the operation, clearing out the wreckage. On Friday, April 13, the prefect Nicole Klein is to hold a press conference officially announcing the resumption of negotiations with [some elements of] the ZAD. She said: “I will resume the negotiations with l’Acipa and those who want to. Therefore, I am announcing the end of the operations led by police forces.”

While the ZAD was fairly quiet on Thursday morning—with medics counting more than 80 people injured during the confrontations on Wednesday—around 1:30 pm, a squadron of gendarmes fell into a trap. A group of zadists allegedly attacked a truck, injuring 10 gendarmes; five had their legs burnt and another received multiple pieces of shrapnel from an artisanal explosive device. Several more confrontations took place towards the end of the day. The medic team recorded at least seven people injured by the end of the day.

As the Operations Continue…

Our comrades at the ZAD have more difficult days ahead. The “resumption of negotiations” is a trap to make the remaining zadists complicit in the brutal violence that has been enacted against their neighbors. We hope that everyone who has not yet been attacked will stand with those who were targeted by the government. If we do not all stand together, the authorities will come for all of us, one by one.

Let’s pay tribute to the courage and determination of the individuals currently at the ZAD who are still fighting fiercely for the reality they have created there and for what they believe in. The fact that zadists still possess the tenacity to confront military forces and defend their habitations at all costs, knowing that they were in the minority in a last-ditch battle for the survival of the ZAD, will surely inspire many others worldwide. Whatever the result of this struggle, we will remember the precious lessons that the ZAD at Notre-Dame-des-Landes taught us, and continue carrying in our hearts our desire to build new realities outside the framework of their destructive world.

Never stop dreaming! Never stop fighting!


Further Reading

Defending the Zad,” published in 2016

When Lama angry, Llama Spit!, a critique of the zadists who decided to seek to coexist with the state after the airport was canceled rather than expressing solidarity with those committed to irreducible struggle. The title references the ZAD squat named Lama Fâché, which was dismantled by some zadists during the infamous clearing of road D281.

A new documentary on the ZAD entitled “Demain s’entête sur la ZAD de Notre-Dame-des-Landes”

The Tarnac Verdicts: Unraveling the Logic of Anti-Terrorism After Ten Years, the “Tarnac Affair” Concludes in France

In 2008, the state of France accused the Tarnac Ten of terrorism, charging that they had formed “a group of the ultraleft, of the autonomous type, maintaining links with international extremist movements.”1 After a decade-long ordeal, the remaining defendants received their final verdict on April 12, 2018.

All of the defendants were found not guilty of the charges of sabotage, rioting, and conspiracy; the terrorism charges had been dropped much earlier. Christophe Becker was sentenced to six months of probation for possession of fake IDs and a fine of 500 euros for refusal to give a DNA sample to the authorities. Julien Coupat and Yildune Lévy were also found guilty of refusing to give DNA, but face no sentence on account of the amount of time that has passed. Considering how many resources the French state had invested in this court case, this represented a massive victory for the defendants.

What can we learn from this passage of a few people through a rather long trial for terrorism? Let’s review the background of this story, the details of the case, and its implications for the future.

The defendants, prosecutor, judge, and police embark on an absurd field trip to re-enact the alleged crimes.

All the Unsettled Debts of History

As popular movements around Europe collapsed in the 1970s, anti-imperialist armed struggle groups formed—including Action Directe in France and the infamous Red Army Faction in Germany. Taking on the state in symmetrical warfare proved a doomed venture; by the early 1990s, all that remained of these groups was the repressive apparatus that the state had generated in the course of destroying them. Capitalism appeared to have permanently triumphed, with few signs of revolt visible within the core countries. Nonetheless, in the United States and in France, a few strange young people began reading the Situationists and plotting their escape from the 20th century.

In the United States, the mid-1990s saw the emergence of the CrimethInc ex-Workers Collective, a decentralized network of aspiring revolutionary dropouts, whose publication of Days of War, Nights of Love upturned traditional revolutionary dogma. Across the ocean, a mysterious review of “critical metaphysics” called Tiqqun appeared, advocating for the formation of a Society for the Advancement of Criminal Science, repurposing the concepts of thinkers like Deleuze and Foucault who had long been neutralized by academia.

Shortly thereafter, to everyone’s surprise, the so-called anti-globalization movement precipitated the fiercest clashes Europe had seen in decades. In France, in the wake of the protests against the G8 summit in 2001, a mysterious anonymous text entitled The Call appeared, demanding “a new kind of international that will not make the same mistakes as the old.”

In fall 2005, ahead of the global wave of uprisings that were to begin with the Greek insurrection, France experienced an outbreak of riots in the banlieues followed by a powerful student movement against the Contrat première embauche (CPE). In 2007, the Invisible Committee’s L’insurrection qui vient took the French radical milieu by storm much as Days of War, Nights of Love had taken the North American milieu. In the seven years that separated these two books, rebellion had acquired a sharper edge: to go into exodus no longer meant simply withdrawing from the feedback loops that reproduce industrial capitalism, but entering into open battle.

When revolutionary ideas spread rapidly throughout society, those whose task it is to preserve the prevailing order get nervous. It appears that the French state decided to employ the same strategy of repression that had been so effective against armed struggle groups in the 1970s against these new anarchist-inspired movements. The more fluid structure of anarchistic networks made it more difficult for the state to determine the precise membership and leadership of these groups, but nothing is impossible for the authorities if they are prepared to be dishonest enough. In 2008, police and intelligence services carried out one of the largest anti-terrorism operations ever coordinated on French soil. The French anti-terrorist police (SDAT) arrested nine young people, then added another for good measure. Interior Minister Michèle Alliot-Marie declared victory, proclaiming that the “inner circle” of the Invisible Committee was now arrested and their head, Julien Coupat (a former associate of Tiqqun), had been cut off the body. If only it were so easy to suppress revolt!

Ten years later, what seemed impossible has already come to pass. It is widely agreed that capitalism is in a state of terminal collapse; propositions that seemed outrageous in the late 1990s are now regarded as self-evident. On April 12, 2018, the no-longer-quite-so-young people accused of forming a conspiracy to overthrow capitalism heard their final verdict for being, literally, “an association of wrongdoers.”2

The British Undercover Inside the Anti-Globalization Movement

When we organize demonstrations, discuss anarchist theory, and commit ourselves to direct action, it can be easy to feel that our individual efforts have little effect. But the Tarnac case confirms that the headmasters of global capitalism take very seriously the possibility that our actions—and even our words—can change the world.

At the G8 counter-summit in 2001, the confrontations in the streets of Genoa reached such a pitch that the Italian police openly murdered a participant in the black bloc, Carlio Giuliani. In order to prevent such revolts from occurring again, European governments established new agreements about sharing intelligence and deployed long-term undercover agents into the anarchist movement with the goal of disabling international anti-capitalist protests.

The British intelligence service had been infiltrating radical circles since at least the 1960s, but the influx of people newly curious about resistance gave them a new opportunity. A longhaired and tattooed radical calling himself “Mark Stone” showed up at the 2003 EU Summit protests in Dublin, taking the front lines against the police. His real name was Mark Kennedy; he was an undercover police officer from the National Public Order Intelligence Unit sent to infiltrate the anarchist wing of the anti-globalization and ecological movements.

A comparative anthropological study of the police of different nations would be revealing. Police infiltrators in the United States set out to get immediate results by entrapping protesters and charging protest organizers such as the RNC 8 of “Conspiracy to Riot in Furtherance of Terrorism.” By contrast, British intelligence, drawing on their experiences with the Irish Republican Army (IRA), used undercover police officers over a long period of time to map the social networks that mobilized the anti-globalization and ecological protests around Earth First! in the UK.

All the undercover cops in the world cannot stop a protest whose time has come: Mark Kennedy and his handlers failed to prevent the G8 protests in Great Britain, as we described in “Can’t Stop the Chaos.” While Mark Kennedy focused the attention of the London Metropolitan Police on arresting the WOMBLES at a pub in Glasgow, he completely missed the primarily German black bloc that emerged to wreck havoc from a seemingly eco-hippie camp outside Stirling. To prevent this from recurring in the future, he was ordered to infiltrate the infamous “German Autonomen” that were to be key in the 2008 G8 in Heiligdamm, Germany. After gaining the trust of the notoriously security-conscious German anarchists by burning a car, his attention turned to a group of French revolutionaries, including Julien Coupat, a participant in Tiqqun.

In January 2008, Mark Kennedy showed up in New York City at an international discussion on the future of social movements. His targets were Julien Coupat and Yildune Lévy. These discussions focused primarily on how to go about occupying social space, an obvious necessity in New York City that prefigured #occupy. At the same time, Japanese intellectuals arrived in New York City who were interested in organizing an anti-globalization protest at the G8 in Japan. Mark Kennedy enrolled the FBI to help him keep tabs on Julien and Yildune.

Based on a televised statement from the New York City Chief of Police, it appears that police thought that Julien and Yildune might have been connected to the “Times Square Bicycle Bombing,” but as it turned out, neither of them were in the US at the time of the attack. The following year, raids on a house belonging to New York City anarchists turned up no useful evidence. Even the FBI eventually lost interest.

Meanwhile, the French police, too, were descending into a state of paranoia, as the 2011 G8 was slated for Deauville, France and the authorities were terrified of a massive black bloc taking the streets. The French police set their sights on a group of young people who had established a commune in the remote village of Tarnac3 as the locus of a subversive virus that had the potential to spread throughout all of France.

The Anti-Terrorist Police Strike

Like an old king in a Shakespeare play, the state was terrified of its own doom. Alain Bauer, foremost theoretician of the security apparatus, discovered The Coming Insurrection and mailed 40 copies of it to police forces, claiming that the book represented the re-emergence of the left-wing armed struggle groups that the police thought they had defeated in 1970s. President Sarkozy had combined the foreign-facing anti-terrorist group, the DST (Direction de la Surveillance du Territoire), and the internal Renseignements généraux together into a single new intelligence agency, DCRI (Direction centrale du renseignement intérieur). Inside this new word salad, the two agencies detested each other and began jockeying for power. In order for Renseignements généraux to be taken seriously, they had to prove that there was indeed a serious threat to the internal stability of France.

The French state decided that the debut party of the new French FBI, the DCRI, would be to eliminate their new “anarcho-autonomous” terror cell. The DCRI prepared for the SDAT (Sous-direction anti-terroriste) to carry out arrests throughout France on November 11, 2008.

The excuse the state put forward was that co-ordinated sabotage had taken place along four lines of the French national SNCF train system on the evening of November 7, utilizing a technique from the German autonomous movement in which the saboteur places an iron claw on the electrical lines of the railway so that the claw “unplugs” the electricity of the train. The purported sabotage occurred on the day that the infamous Castor nuclear trains carried nuclear waste from France to be dumped in Western Germany. Local farmers and various German movements have protested these nuclear waste transports for decades. The same evening that the train lines in France were shut down, a communiqué in German was sent to newspapers claiming the anti-nuclear action.

The French police claim that they had 18 police officers following Julien Coupat and Yildune Lévy on November 7, starting at 10 am. The surveillance was heavy-handed; frustrated at the oppressive atmosphere created by their police escorts, the two left Paris in hopes of getting some time to themselves. There followed a cat and mouse game as the young couple tried to lose the police who were tailing them. They stopped to eat a pizza, then tried to find a hotel room, but all the hotels were full. They decided to sleep in their car for a little while, then drove back to Paris.

In Rouen, in the region of Normandy, the police were monitoring well-known collective houses and noticed that Matthieu Burnel, Aria Thomas, Bertrand Deveaux, and Elsa Hauck had mysteriously left their house on the evening of November 7 as well. Benjamin Rosoux, Manon Glibert, and Gabrielle Hallez were also hassled by the police while sleeping in their car on November 7.

Three days later, on November 11, anti-terrorist police stormed Tarnac in an operation involving helicopters and hundreds of police. They arrested Julien, Manon, Gabrielle, and Benjamin; a similar operation seized Matthieu, Aria, Elsa, and Bertrand in their collective houses in Rouen. Yildune was arrested in Paris. Minister of the Interior Michèle Alliot-Marie took the stage to declare victory to the media, announcing that the police had stopped a terrorist cell that was preparing to violently overthrow the state.

The Tarnac Nine were accused of being part of an association of wrongdoers in relationship with a terrorist enterprise (assocation de malfaiteurs en relationship avec un enterprise terroriste). The equivalent in American or British law would be a conspiracy charge with terrorist enhancements. The number of defendants was expanded to ten after the arrest of Christophe Becker in Tarnac for creating documents found on Manon Glibert’s computer, which had been seized in a house raid.

The state thought it was finally safe, and yet no amount of undercover police and preemptive arrests can uphold a dying order for long.

The Insurrection Arrives

“Everybody knows it’s about to explode!” chanted occupiers at an impromptu release party in Barnes and Noble for the English translation of The Coming Insurrection in New York City.4 And explode it did. As the anti-terrorist operation was rounding up the supposed masterminds of a new terrorist network throughout France, the financial crisis of 2008 pitched the world into global crisis, underscoring that the greatest risk to humanity is not those who threaten the system, but the system itself. As hatred of the banking system increased, riots spread throughout Europe like flames from a Molotov cocktail. Although there was no international barbarian horde to tear down the gates of the G8 at Deauville in 2009, it was because no one besides the police even cared: the G8 was clearly impotent in the face of generalized financial meltdown and increasingly decentralized unrest.

Meanwhile, the Tarnac defendants were imprisoned as political criminals and terrorists. Some arrestees were released quickly, while others were jailed for months. The accused “chief of the terrorist enterprise,” Julien Coupat, was held the longest, spending over six months in jail before public outcry over the emerging weakness of the case finally forced the authorities to release him. This reflected the challenges of bringing terrorism charges against young white people: it is likely that a Muslim charged with terrorism in those days would have remained in jail for much longer.

Unexpected friendships blossomed during the defendants’ imprisonment; Benjamin Rosoux befriended Maka Kantè from the banlieue of Villiers-le-Bel, who was accused of shooting at the police during the clashes of November 25-26, 2007. Villiers-le-Bel had erupted into open insurrection against the police after officers murdered two young locals. Despite their differences, the “anarcho-autonomous” arrestee from a middle-class family in Brittany and the second-generation African immigrant found common cause: “Nous savons que nous sommes toujours plus nombreux, de tous horizons, déterminés à ne pas les laisser marcher sur nos têtes.”5

Across the world, solidarity groups were launched from Russia to the United States. In Greece, beside an official French administrative building that had been attacked with Molotovs, graffiti appeared reading “From Tarnac to Athens, the insurrection has arrived.” Sales of The Coming Insurrection skyrocketed to 80,000, with the English translation prompting right-wing radio-host Glen Beck to state that it was an “evil book” but “it’s important you read this.”

In response, the state did everything possible to isolate the Tarnac Ten from each other even after they were released from prison, instituting strict rules of non-association. This controle judiciare restricted their movements to a small geographical area. In some ways, it is more humiliating and boring to be kept under house arrest at your parents’ isolated residence than to be kept in jail where you can fraternize with other victims of the state. Somehow, however, the idea of Tarnac as a collective political project survived, as comrades from places as distant as Switzerland and Italy moved to the tiny town to keep the Magasin General open. 6

In December 2009, the Tarnac Ten decided to wilfully break their non-association rules, announcing in Le Monde that they would no longer abide by them. A lawyer representing them had officially asked the Court of Appeals to drop the charges restrictions, but they boldly posted their statement two days in advance.

“But what we desert first is the role of public enemy, that is to say, basically, of victim, that they wanted to make us play. And, if we desert it, it is to be able to resume the fight. ‘For the feeling of hunted game, we must substitute the initiative of the combatant,’ said Georges Guingouin, in quite similar circumstances.”

-The Tarnac defendants, writing in Le Monde

Protests in Geneva in solidarity with the Tarnac Trial.

While Julien, Benjamin, Manon, and Gabrielle returned to Tarnac, the forces that had set the operation in motion were beginning to fall apart. In England, Mark Kennedy’s identity as an undercover police officer was revealed in 2011 when his activist partner discovered his real passport and later found a birth certificate with the father’s profession listed as “police officer.” Confronted by his old friends, Mark Kennedy claimed to repent and even offered to help roll back the charges for previous court cases he had been involved in. There followed a uniquely English sex scandal that engulfed the London Metropolitan police and disrupted an undercover operation to infiltrate social movements that dated back to 1968. However, Mark Kennedy was no friend of the Tarnac Ten. He insinuated that stopping them justified his other less glorious undercover activities, such as sleeping with activists under his false identity.

As the Arab Spring kicked off in the former French colony of Tunisia, Minister Michèle Alliot-Marie proposed that the same anti-insurgency expertise responsible for the Tarnac arrests could be exported to Tunisia—along with a little tear gas—to help quell the unrest. When public sympathy turned in favor of Arab Spring, she was forced to resign; Sarkozy lost the French election in 2012 to the Socialist François Hollande, a deputy from Corrèze, the administrative division of France that includes Tarnac. In a statement entitled “Paris, Texas,” the Tarnac Ten wrote that Sarkozy should return to his paymasters in the United States in the same manner Mubarak did when he fled for Saudi Arabia during the Arab Spring: “Mr. President, there are ranches for sale in Texas, and your plane is waiting for you at the Villacoublay airport.”

Police officers worked themselves into a state of complete paranoia. Christian Bichet, one of the officers who had been surveilling the Tarnac Ten since at least 2007, opened no less than seven different blogs personally attacking them. The attacks of this particular disappointed intellectual-turned-police officer were so venomous that they appeared to come from disappointed ex-comrades from the anarchist milieu. This police officer formed fake support groups in order to obtain the names of supporters, wrote letters of support to the real support committees, and started leaking evidence of a global conspiracy to newspapers. When he was revealed, Bichet was removed from his position and demoted to tend the police archives.

One of the chief witnesses for the prosecution, a local farmer who had accused the defendants of burning down unemployment buildings and training for armed struggle, not only admitted to having signed the deposition that included these allegations under police pressure without reading it, but he also appeared to have lost his sanity. In an unrelated case, he was charged with fabricating death threats against himself, among other things. So much for that evidence! However deranged the authorities may make rebels out to be, you can count on ordinary people to be stranger.

The “investigating magistrate”7 Thierry Fragnoli behaved like a jilted lover. After announcing to a journalist that he wanted to be played by Brad Pitt in a movie about Tarnac, he ordered more house raids and arrests in Rouen in hopes of turning up actual evidence of terrorism. Fragnoli imagined that Charles Torres, a blacksmith and the grandson of a Spanish anarchist veteran, had manufactured the iron claw used to shut down the train lines. However, during a house raid, the blundering French police accidentally left a dossier containing files on everyone they were surveilling in Rouen on the table—along with one of their police phones, which they had to meekly return to pick up! When the dossier and personal emails expressing his virulent hatred of the defendants were leaked to the French press, Fragnoli sent a paranoid letter claiming that a conspiracy existed between the French media and Julien’s Jewish lawyer, Jérémie Assous. This letter was duly published in the media. In response to subsequent pressure, Fragnoli quit the case and was effectively Limoged3 to a French colony in the Pacific, Petite-Île.

While politicians, police officers, witnesses, and judges struggled with incompetence and delusions, the villagers of Tarnac were at first divided on how to respond to the arrests. On one hand, their quiet rural lives had been disrupted by the terrorist raids; on the other hand, the young people that the state was targeting were clearly bringing life back to the little village. The terrorism trial revived the historical memory of the old communist mountain farmers of Tarnac, who had resisted the Nazi occupation and bore more than a passing resemblance to Julien Coupat. At the local general store, the conversation turned to the topic of “collaboration” as the villagers recognized the latent fascism hiding under “anti-terrorism.” The very evening of the arrests, a solidarity committee formed in Tarnac, echoed shortly thereafter by dozens more solidarity groups across France. Together, they began raising funds and publicly speaking on behalf of the arrestees.

“Fuck the state of emergency”: Tarnac locals demonstrate at the Tarnac Magasin General in March 2018 ahead of the trial.

By and large, anarchists and—more surprisingly—the broader Left united around Tarnac. By 2011, this solidarity had given the defendants such courage that many of them publicly participated in a massive public direct action to stop the very same Castor nuclear-waste carrying trains that they had been accused of sabotaging in 2008. Such public support for an action that had been labeled as terrorism only a few years earlier highlighted how the context in France had changed since the arrests. When the Hollande government attempted to push through the construction of an airport near Nantes, eco-anarchists set up the autonomous ZAD (Zone À Défendre) occupying the proposed site. When the French state sent over two thousand police to evict them in the hilariously misnamed “Operation Caesar,” more than forty thousand people showed up from all walks of life in support of the new barbarians.

The Tarnac Ten continued their process of collective theorization, repairing their raided farm at Goutailloux in order to host seminars on everything from feminism to cybernetics. This helped to reinvigorate the French autonomous movement, eventually resulting in the first new book from the Invisible Committee since the arrests, To Our Friends, which hazarded an analysis of the insurrectionary process after 2011. It was published in 2014, not a moment too late; #occupy finally hit France in the form of the Nuit Debout protests, followed by massive black blocs at the anti-austerity protests against the Loi de Travail in 2016. These protests undermined whatever remaining credibility President Hollande possessed, leading to the historic collapse of both the French Socialist Party and the right-wing Les Republicains. In the wake of this final wave of protests that shook France to its very foundations, the Invisible Committee published a new book in 2017, Maintenant. Finally entering the internet era, associates began producing on online newspaper, lundi.am.

As the French state continued to face one popular uprising after another, the charges of “terrorism” seemed increasingly quaint. Scandal after scandal had sapped the police of legitimacy; the illegal involvement of the British undercover Mark Kennedy could not be denied when notes detailing his surveillance of Julien in his handwriting were revealed, by accident, via court disclosures in the United Kingdom. At the same time, France was rocked by attacks carried out by fundamentalists affiliated with the Islamic State. This made the tremendous amount of resources the state had poured into trying to make a “terrorist” menace out of the ultra-left appear ridiculous. The new investigating magistrate, noting the fate of her predecessor Fragnoli and the popularity of the Tarnac Ten, decided that the terrorist charges were to be dropped.

The original charge was essentially terrorist conspiracy—seeking “to severely disturb public order through intimidation or terror.” The alleged crime consisted of taking part in international meetings in Germany, the US, and Greece, inciting violence against police officers and destruction of property, and destroying train power lines. The anti-terrorist prosecutor was determined not to let the narrative of terrorism collapse, and presented appeal after appeal against the dropping of the terror charges. Eventually, the prosecution took the accusation of “terrorism” to the highest court of France, the court de cassation. In 2015, the court ruled that the charge of a “terrorist enterprise” was to be dropped, but that a criminal trial without the charge of “terrorist enhancement” would continue.

The accused of Tarnac were downgraded from terrorism defendants to an association de malfaiteurs, a charge introduced in 1894 for the express purpose of sending anarchists to jail in France for supporting direct action in newspapers such as l’Anarchie even if no other charges could be brought against them. Without the terrorism charge, the case was held together by the barest of threads. Gabrielle Hallez and Aria Thomas saw their charges completely dropped, reducing the Tarnac Ten to the Tarnac Eight.

Matthieu Burnel and Benjamin Rosoux were charged with refusing to give their DNA to the police. Manon Glibert and Christophe Becker faced charges for faking documents. Bertrand Deveaux and Elsa Hauck remained charged with association de malfaiteurs, but not on account of the sabotage, which everyone maintained they had nothing to do with. Rather, they were accused of participating in an anti-fascist demonstration against an EU summit on blocking immigration that was organized in Vichy—ironically, during the occupation, the seat of the collaborationist government that deported Jews and communists to Nazi death camps. Only Yildune Lévy and Julien Coupat retained the sabotage charges and the charges of being part of an association de malfaiteurs. Julien had been demoted from being the chief of a terrorist conspiracy to a mere animateur, dovetailing with his current job as part of a theater group.

The attempt to introduce the logic of anti-terrorism had failed. The French state had tried to use a massive media operation to convince the public that the “anarcho-autonomous” movement was a “pre-terrorist organization” in 2011, but they were defeated on their own territory. The Tarnac Ten withstood the pressure and managed to convince the vast majority of the French population that autonomy was not synonymous with terrorism.

At the same time, in the end, the prosecution was able to avail themselves of all the special resources reserved for pursuing terrorism cases to target what turned out to be a handful of perfectly ordinary activists. All the evidence gathered under the auspices of “fighting terrorism” was still admissible in the trial. The lead anti-terrorist prosecutor was still prosecuting the case, despite the merely criminal nature of the trial. Above all, the tremendous, debilitating repression reserved for terrorism cases was directed at paralyzing the defendants and their communities. This gives us a foretaste of what we can expect from the security apparatus in the future. We can see this process somewhat further along in Russia and Brazil.

The “Tarnac Process”

“Before the judges of the bourgeois class, the revolutionary does not have to account for his acts nor does he have to respect any so-called truth of theirs.”

-Victor Serge

In every court case, there are certain roles: the solemn judges, the defendants pleading guilty or innocent (but above all, pleading), and a well-paid supporting cast of parasites, from lawyers to journalists, who stand to profit from the case. The entire procedure requires everyone to play by the rules. Even denouncing the entire juridical procedure, as popularized by Algerian revolutionaries and illegalist anarchists,8 has become a formalized part of the procedure. But when the court case opened on March 13, 2018, it became clear that the defendants were not playing the game.

How might the accused avoid playing the game of the state? Perhaps, first, by treating all the members of the trial, including the prosecutor and the judge, as everyday people: laughing when they say something stupid, chiding them when they forget a key point, refusing to put them on a pedestal. The judge, irritated, demanded that the defendants either denounce the court or continue in a respectful manner: “You are free to adopt a defense of rupture,” she railed, “it’s your right. But if you don’t want this, you need to respect the court.” The Tarnac defendants refused either approach, discussing the facts of the case in detail but according the pomp and circumstance of the judicial sphere no respect. The proceedings resembled a decidedly more philosophical version of the Chicago Seven trial, with the defendants constantly interrupting the judge, the police, the lawyers, and each other.

Another way the defendants subverted the justice system was by neither denying the charges nor validating them. While the act of sabotage itself was clearly defensible as an anti-nuclear ecological measure and the French court attempted to suppress the fact that police had received a communiqué from German groups claiming responsibility for it, the defendants never denounced the action. Likewise, the prosecutor showed picture after picture of the accused at a demonstration in Vichy against the opponents of immigration, at which they were alleged to have brought ropes to pull down the fencing around the meeting. Finally, Christophe emerged and noted that it was ridiculous to question the defendants about a demonstration that had taken place ten years earlier, but asserted that he was proud to have participated in a demonstration for immigration. The entire court broke into applause. The defendants never recanted any of their actions but, one by one, gave reasons for them. Julien, for example, justified his illegal border crossing into the United States from Canada as a refusal of a fascist biometric system.

More importantly, the defendants never refused their cause. While the defendants proclaimed their support of the autonomous project of Tarnac in public, the police and intelligence officers hid their identities behind masks, referred to by numbers rather than names.

The judge attempted to go through the file in chronological order. She hastily pushed through the files on Mark Kennedy and the infamous trip of Julien and Yildune Lévy to New York City after Julien openly mocked FBI reports about a Network of Worldwide Anarchists (NWA). Even in France, NWA sounds like an acronym for a hip-hop band or wresting federation; the defendants took the opportunity to hold forth on the history of hip hop in the USA. Still, the judge refused to acknowledge the crucial role played by the intelligence of Mark Kennedy, seeking to avoid blaming the English spy for the initial frame of anti-terrorism.

As the trial continued, the question of the authorship of The Coming Insurrection came up again and again. The book states that,

“To sabotage the social machine with some consequence today means reconquering and reinventing the means of interrupting its networks. How could a TGV [high speed train] line or an electrical network be rendered useless?”

This quote was used as evidence to demonstrate conclusively that there was a plan to “paralyze” the city. While expressing agreement with the contents of the book, the defendants never admitted to authoring the text. Strangely, the charge of thoughtcrime premised on authorship of The Coming Insurrection had been the raison d’être for the terrorist charges. In the time since the charges had first been pressed, it had become one of the best-selling political books in France; legions of intellectuals, paranoid police officers, and journalists had agreed that the book was of high quality. The terrorism charges created a paradox for those who wished to see themselves as the defenders of society: if the authors were terrorists, was the popularity of the book a sign of popular support for terrorism?

The Tarnac defendants and their supporters demonstrate their contempt for the proceedings.

The court embarked on outright Dadaism when it was decided that both the police and the defendants had to re-enact the original sabotage. As if on a school field trip, the judge, the prosecutor, and the defendants rode together to Dhuisy in a bus to re-enact the purported sabotage. Five anti-terrorist police officers who participated in the trial as masked anonymous witnesses rode along in one of the 30 police cars that escorted the bus; a police helicopter flew along overhead the whole day. The police and intelligence agency witnesses had to keep their masks on the entire time. As the court had to verify elements of the police testimony both in daylight and at night, the court and the defendants had to wait in a festival hall surrounded by dozens of gendarmes. The defendants ate and drank wine in this surreal situation while the antiterrorist witnesses had to stay outside to maintain their anonymity. When the police reappeared for the last verification of the night, they complained to the judge that they couldn’t eat. The defendants’ lawyers answered that there might be some crumbs left over, hinting that—in a reversal of the ordinary relation between rebels and the lackeys of the state—they should eat the defendants’ trash. Of course, the police refused their just desserts.

As the trial closed, the judge struggled to maintain order. Mathieu Burnel, in his final statement, used the court as a platform to indict the state apparatus itself rather than submit to the judgment of the state. Julien took the stand and noted that it was indeed their privileged roles as intellectuals that saved them: “The peculiarity of this trial is that the judicial apparatus has come up against people who are prepared to defend themselves and determined not to let themselves be crushed. We are conscious of having had the chance to defend ourselves, of being able to speak, of having three weeks in which to do so. Since we’ve fought, we have benefited from certain privileges. Having spent a little time in prison, I would like to dedicate this trial to all those who haven’t had the means to defend themselves, who are not listened to and who are convicted in silence.” The court broke into a final applause for the alleged terrorists.

There’s No Justice—It’s Just Us

So what can we learn from the Tarnac case? First, that with a little luck and perseverance, it can be possible to face down the full force of the state. The Tarnac case could have turned out much worse had the defendants not stood together uncompromisingly. At the beginning, the situation must have looked grim indeed.

After the Tarnac arrests, at previously tame French demonstrations, more and more young masked people attacked the police. The police have also learned from the Tarnac affair, continuing to repress revolutionaries with absurd charges, although somewhat more discreetly. We cannot say that either party has really come out ahead in this conflict. What we have seen over the past ten years is a parallel development of both forces. On one hand, the idea of a few revolutionaries being really dangerous as a small self-contained group has been dispelled, yet everything that the police targeted spread throughout French society: anonymity, riots, the refusal of all institutional politics. At the same time, if the Tarnac prosecutions did not entirely succeed, the police are rapidly learning how to employ their intelligence gathering more effectively. Conspiracy cases are more and more common; surveillance and police violence are intensifying by the day. The end of this story has yet to be written.

Anti-terrorism is a peculiar kind of logic. As the enemy is potentially anyone, all it takes to label someone a terrorist is to frame the actions of the accused in such a way that they potentially undermine the stability of the state. As the state edges closer to dissolution, there are more and more excuses to accuse people of undermining its stability. The security apparatus is on the lookout for anyone who refuses the logic of capitalist individualism—a category that can include anyone from Islamic fundamentalists to anarchists who want to live in a commune. Benjamin Rosoux observed this irony in court when he noted that life in Tarnac was based on openness and sharing, while the police were hiding in the forest taking photos of their houses.

What is terrorism? Terrorism is the panic put into the state apparatus by the fear of its own demise. Terrorism, defined by the state, is not a matter of human anguish but of institutional loss of control. The Tarnac Ten struck a chord of terror in the state—not because of the force they could muster, but because of the uncontrollable potential they represent. The specter of insurrection that had disappeared in the 1980s returned, as new groups of young people appeared who were prepared to defy the existing order.

One should never underestimate the power of small groups. The Paris Commune was not brought about by a great organization or Party, but by myriad small conspiracies: the Vigilance Committees that met in each arrondissement, the networks of friends and neighbors on each street in the faubourgs. When the stars align, little conspiracies like these can spread like wildfire until they are innumerable; that is what creates the conditions for uncontrollable insurrection. This is why the state apparatus always attempts to nip these conspiracies in the bud; it is why they targeted the Tarnac defendants in hopes of forestalling the wave of unrest that surged in December 2008; and it is why no amount of repression can ultimately stem the tide of insurrection, for it can spring anew from any of the countless nodes in the vast web of relations that makes up this society.

It is the intensity of feeling that we can share that the state fears above all, the capacity to generate new dreams and ambitions together. This is the very stuff of life. For those who can find it together, it is worth any ordeal, any degree of repression.

Some have criticized the way the Tarnac Ten engaged with the media and with the public notions of legitimacy represented by the intellectuals who came forward to speak in their favor. We should never make the mistake of believing that media exposure or social legitimacy are tools that can in themselves serve to advance the cause of liberation; but nor can we always afford to do without them entirely when the forces of repression use those tools to set the stage to destroy us. As anarchists, we are always fighting against the terrain itself as well as against our adversaries. This is not a reason not to fight on the terrain of media or perceived legitimacy; it simply means that we must find a way to operate in that territory that enables us to outflank the authorities without absorbing their logic. Every blow they strike against us must cost them double: in this regard, the explosion of interest that the Tarnac arrests produced in The Coming Insurrection sets a good example for how revolutionaries can prepare to make the phase of repression just another step in our plans—a phase in which we can continue to advance.

At the same time, spectacular fame is dangerous, above all because it enables the spectator to sit back and let another protagonist stand in for his or her own agency. We must not look to any particular cadre of heroes for the next brilliant theory or courageous action. If the promise of the Invisible Committee is that perhaps, in a world of Maoist academics and hipsters spouting empty words, someone somewhere might be putting their thoughts into action, that someone must be us.

There are still many battles to be fought, and many thoughts yet unthought, and many acts for which one must try not to get caught. The fear of imprisonment should not prevent us from unifying our thoughts with our actions. Indeed, the possibility that we might do so is the last, best hope of a dying world.


Appendix I: Extracts from Mathieu Burnel’s Closing Statement

“You have all claimed that this trial was exceptional. What we’ve seen on the contrary is something extremely banal: different parties disagreeing who debate, argue, and talk. This is what has been happening forever in all human aggregations. It’s banal and normal. What you actually consider exceptional is that we come into this court without looking down and without kowtowing. That we didn’t submit to all this, this little theatrical ritual of submission that makes your daily life…

“We came here out of curiosity, but to be honest, Madame judge, we haven’t discovered much in this court that we didn’t expect. A ritual, some theater, robes, gildings, and all this petty quaint staging. Everyone playing his role, playing his little music, his little indignation, his little seriousness, his little articles of law and even sometimes his ‘great and just authority.’ In reality, what I believe, Madame president, is that what we obliged you to tolerate those three weeks, what you condemned yesterday evening9 is that we were the only people in this room to not play a role, to not pretend, to not play the petty game of justice…

“What actually happened during those long days of trial that you call ‘exceptional’? A small displacement, a tiny step aside. You came here with some expectations. You were going to see this famous ‘Tarnac group.’ Gurus, a sect, ‘political activists,’ ‘anarcho-autonomous,’ professionals of riots or theoreticians of violent revolution, what else? But in the end, you ended up in front of us: Manon Glibert, Julien Coupat, Benjamin Rosoux, Yildune Lévy, Christophe Becker, Bertrand Deveaud, Mathieu Burnel. And we appeared banal, normal. You even asked us some really curious questions: Manon, what is the musical instrument she’s playing? Benjamin, his political science degree, he received it in Rennes or Paris? And how do you manage to live on 750 euros a month?

“This tiny step aside, we probably provoked it, but it is within yourself that it operated. You’ve gathered in the course of these three weeks of trial that what is the most singular about revolutionaries is that they are made of what is infinitely common.

“We don’t need any empathy, we actually never complained. What we did during those ten years is what we know how to do: fight. This is what people like us do: resist, fight back. It was about holding ourselves to a central and sovereign refusal: not to accept to be crushed. The forces joined against us were massive and powerful. We had to find resources, time, strength, and complicities. We held ourselves to this tiny but irreducible truth: you won’t crush us. The ‘us’ here not being limited to the eight of us, of course, but to all those who were indirectly targeted by this political, media, and juridical operation. We and our friends, who are numerous. Whatever the outcome of this trial will be, we’ll come out of it stronger than we entered it, stronger than ten years ago.”

Appendix II: A Few Snapshots from the Intelligence Documents

An English translation of the French intelligence documents about the Tarnac defendants.

FBI response to French intelligence service request for information on the US anarchist movement.

Report on the “bicycle bomber” in New York City.

Authorization of Mark Kennedy to continue to spy on anarchists.

Authorization of Mark Kennedy to commit crimes in order to legitimize himself to the targets of his infiltration.

  1. The quotation is from the intelligence files gathered on the defendants. Roughly translated, the report is entitled “From the CPE Movement to the constitution of a European pre-terrorist network”—suggesting a link with the student movement three years before the arrests. 

  2. The so-called Loi Scélérates (“Scoundrel Laws”) of 1893 and 1894, which were passed specifically for the purpose of repressing anarchists, introduced this charge as a way of targeting those who did not themselves engage in illegal activity, but associated with those who might. 

  3. To give a sense of the remoteness of Tarnac, we need only note that the nearest town of any note is Limoges, the name of which has entered the French lexicon as a verb meaning to be fired or to be sent into exile. Of a judge who was demoted from a position in Paris to serve in one of the outer colonies, for example, it could be said that he was “Limoged.” The expression derives from the First World War, when Limoges was so far from the action that General Joffre sent senior staff there that he considered useless.  2

  4. To illustrate the common soil from which early CrimethInc. and Invisible Committee grew, we need only point out that this model was borrowed from a similar unpermitted release party at an unsuspecting corporate bookstore in the year 2000, at which a CrimethInc. cell in Connecticut celebrated the publication of Days of War, Nights of Love. The difference was that at the earlier event, the participants did not invite a reporter from the New York Times. 

  5. “We know that we are always more numerous, from all walks of life, determined not to let them step on our heads.” Maka Kantè and Benjamin Rousoux. 

  6. The village’s “general store.” 

  7. An investigating magistrate is a judge, supposed to be neutral, who is charged with assembling a dossier representing the “truth” of the court case—a rather Enlightenment tradition. 

  8. In France in the 1960s, during the Algerian war, a lawyer who later became famous “invented” what he called the “defense of rupture,” in which the accused did not recognize the legitimacy of the trial. In the context of fighting colonization, it meant that FLN members did not recognize the right of French courts to judge them on Algerian soil. Afterwards, some extreme-left groups used this approach up to the 1980s to denounce “bourgeois justice,” as opposed to some sort of imagined “proletarian” justice. 

  9. When she said the defendants were the most ill-mannered people she had ever met. 

La ZAD: Another End of the World Is Possible–Learning from 50 Years of Struggle at Notre-Dame-des-Landes

On January 17, 2018, the French government announced on television, via the voice of Prime Minister Edouard Philippe, that it had given up on pursuing the highly controversial project of building a new airport at Notre-Dame-des-Landes (NDDL). This decision capped five decades of political, economic, legal, environmental, and personal struggle. The airport was to be located approximately 30 kilometers north of the city of Nantes in western France; instead, the site became la ZAD—the Zone a Défendre (Zone To Defend). What began as a small protest camp grew into a world-famous space of autonomous experimentation that lasted almost nine years.

At the very moment we are publishing this article, a massive police operation has invaded the ZAD to evict it. The French government was prepared to lose the fight to build an airport, but no state willingly cedes autonomy to anyone within its territory. The ZAD’s moment of triumph as a single-issue struggle may have spelled its doom as a space of contagious freedom.

Yet the state alone could never destroy such a vibrant project. As we will explore in detail below, dynamics that emerged from within the occupation enabled the police to resume the offensive. In some regards, this pattern is built into the life cycle of movements based around concrete objectives; but in other regards, what took place at the ZAD is avoidable, and we should make a point of learning from it if we hope to create permanent autonomous zones.

The similarities to the story of Standing Rock are obvious. In the US, starting in April 2016, thousands of people mobilized to block the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline through North Dakota. Following months of clashes with the police, President Barack Obama announced that the Army Corps of Engineers would deny the permit for the last leg of the pipeline; protesters declared victory and many left the camp. Within a couple months, Donald Trump’s administration reversed the decision, the police evicted the last stragglers in the camp in a brutal raid, and the pipeline proceeded after all. The ZAD and Standing Rock offer cautionary tales about the perils of victory.

As one zadist wrote presciently to the occupiers of Standing Rock at the peak of the latter movement,

“All the things you dream of: do them now, while your enemies are reeling, trying to figure out their next angle of attack. There won’t ever be less repression, less police and private security, less drones and dogs. I personally regret not pushing harder before our possibilities shifted, not taking things to the fullest expression they could have reached. I hope you won’t have these same regrets.”

In the following text, we trace the history of 50 years of resistance to the airport at NDDL and analyze the internal dynamics that set the stage for today’s police raid.

Clashes with the police in the ZAD.

The Airport at at Notre-Dame-des-Landes: From the Cradle to the Grave

1960s: The Story Begins

The idea of building a new airport in the Nantes area dates back to the 1960s. At that time, the Paris region (Ile-de-France) was constantly consolidating more and more capital. To reverse this tendency, the French government decided to embark on a new project of decentralization by creating new areas that would be attractive for investors.

In the Grand Ouest, the geographical area including the cities of Nantes and Saint-Nazaire, local authorities were concerned that the infrastructure of the region was lacking. For example, the dilapidated airport at Nantes fell short of their desire for a hub that could receive millions of passengers, provide trans-Atlantic flights, and offer a runway for the Concorde, at the time the new national aeronautic jewel. In 1965, the Loire-Atlantique prefecture agreed to start looking for an additional aeronautic site for the region.

In 1968, Notre-Dame-Des-Landes was selected as the best place to build a new airport on account of its location between Rennes and Nantes. Local farmers opposed the project; they formed the first organization to defend against it in 1972. In 1974, a zone d’aménagement différé (deferred development zone) was created at Notre-Dame-des-Landes. This official decree allowed the government to progressively purchase land in the area. However, the oil crisis of the 1970s and the opening of the new high-speed railway line (TGV) at Nantes in 1989 delayed the project for several decades.

No airport!

2000s: The Airport, Again

In 2000, the project was revived under the government of Socialist Prime Minister Lionel Jospin. This delighted Jean-Marc Ayrault, then Mayor of Nantes (and later Prime Minister under François Hollande’s presidency), who had personal plans for restructuring his city. The plan from 1970 was already obsolete. After creating a special committee to study the issue, the local authorities received an official report validating that the project promoted “public utility and interest.” Despite the newly adopted Grenelle de l’Environnement1 stating that no new airport should be build in France, on February 9, 2008, the French state signed a decree valid for 10 years stating the “public utility and interest” of building the new airport.

At this point, various groups began to object that environmental issues had been set aside in order to speed up the validation process. Opponents of the airport organized awareness campaigns on a local and national scale.

In 2009, their determination paid off. That summer, local activists and residents organized a “climate action camp” on the designated site of the future airport. Hundreds of activists discussed the issues at stake in the decision to build an international airport on top of these fields and historic farmers’ houses. The first major occupation took place during this camp. Understanding that the French government was determined to pursue the project, activists decided to occupy the site of the future airport by squatting the buildings and farms that were left empty by the authorities and building their own shacks and houses. On the incandescent ashes of the “climate action camp,” the ZAD was born.2 When the occupation began, several organizations decided to follow the legal protocol by presenting the Conseil d’Etat3 with several objections to the airport project, focusing on its environmental impact. The Conseil d’Etat rejected their demands.

Among the numerous objections raised to the airport at Notre-Dame-des-Landes, the major ones include:

• In addition to the obvious fact that airplanes are accelerating global climate change, the new airport would destroy approximately 2000 hectares of well-preserved forests and wetlands. The project would have a massive impact on the biodiversity of the region, including on hundreds of animal species and natural water sources within and around the ZAD that are officially “protected.”

• The airport would also affect human beings, destroying farming lands and eliminating the chief income of local farmers and their families. The contract for the construction of the airport included measures to expel the inhabitants of the construction zone. Living near an airport would also raise health and quality of life issues for residents.

• There were also economic problems relating to the airport. Why put money into creating a new airport rather than renovating the existing one? What would happen to the older airport once the new one was operational? A new airport in the region would impact the locals in other ways, as taxes would increase.

• Finally, the lack of transparency. At first, authorities promoted the new airport by explaining that it would be bigger than the existing one. However, opponents revealed that the plans for the future airport indicated that the additional space would not be used to increase the “comfort” of passengers in the terminals, but rather to create a bigger shopping area. This increased popular opposition.

The classic slogan of the ZAD: “Against the airport and its world.”

2010s: The Struggle Intensifies

In December 2010, a subsidiary company of VINCI, the internationally well-known French Concession and Construction Company, was selected as the state’s new partner for the airport project. According to the contract, VINCI would receive funds from the state to design, build, and operate the future airport for 55 years, in addition to the existing airport between Nantes and Saint-Nazaire. The opening of the new airport at NDDL was set for 2017.

After the official announcement, the French multinational was targeted in solidarity actions across France and elsewhere around the world. The decision did not discourage the opponents. On the contrary, more and more people showed up to occupy the land. Many activists were eager to experiment in alternative forms of autonomous living based in mutual aid and self-sufficiency. Parcels of land were transformed into collectively cultivated gardens; collective spaces were created as well as several forges, bakeries, and mills. Here is a rough translation of a text published in December 2011 summarizing the general idea behind the creation of the ZAD at NDDL:

Nôtre Dame des Landes

The struggle against the NDDL airport is an attempt to create a breach in the capitalist ramparts. Because for many of us, to attack capitalism, we had to start somewhere!

This is 2000 hectares that will be razed to the ground and covered with concrete, with the delusional goal of creating a HQE (High Environmental Quality) international airport. We could laugh about it if the local population in favor of this project were not imagining making a profit from it. But the rich will become richer and the poor, poorer. The realization of this project led by VINCI, a multi-national company present on all the continents (also in Khimki, near Moscow, where VINCI wants cut down the last local forests, and where the weak resistance on the ground confronts ultra-violent far-right wing militias, in a context in which political assassination is common place), was therefore chosen, in defiance of the local population, who made a call to occupy the land in 2009 to resist this decision.

The occupation has been going on for two years now, during which a handful of anti-capitalist resistance fighters have developed food, cultural, and political autonomy. The squatting of this zone to defend (ZAD) slows down the construction of the airport, leading to the charging of activists, repression against them, and starting not long ago, eviction procedures, but we will resist whatever the cost!

This is why, today, we are calling for the re-occupation of the site and for international rebellion!

It goes without saying that when they evict us, we will resist! (And international solidarity is necessary if we want to put capitalism to an end!)

Against rampant capitalism and the sacred power of money, there is only one solution: insurrection!

“This is a summons to resist.”

A map of the ZAD.

The ZAD progressively became a sort of autonomous community, drawing a wide range of individuals from longtime farmers living on the ZAD to anarchists, anti-globalization activists, liberals, and leftists. The zadists themselves emphasize this diversity. Years later, in 2017, “Camille” (a standard nom de guerre among activists), a zadist at Notre-Dame-des-Landes, explained:

“The movement itself is large and has great solidarity, but there’s a great diversity of people and opinions (…) From those who’ve got degrees to people from the streets or those who just want to get away from their families (…) some are already politically engaged, some just broken by conventional life.”

The growth of the ZAD led to an intensification of legal battles to block the airport project. The opponents filed many appeals and legal proceedings followed one another for several years. In 2012, two local farmers went on hunger strike in front of the Nantes prefecture to protest the project. The newly elected Socialist President François Hollande promised that the government would not physically enter the zone until every other means available had been exhausted.

“Welcome to our vision of the future.”

Nevertheless, early in the morning of October 16, 2012, the government of Jean-Marc Ayrault—now Prime Minister—launched Opération César, the official name given to the eviction of the ZAD.4 More than one thousand police forces, two helicopters, and several armed vehicles were deployed in this operation.

On the first day of Operation Caesar, police forces slowly progressed through the occupied zone, destroying everything in their path. However, the authorities had underestimated their opponents: unanticipated resistance from zadists stymied the operation. Over the following days, activists gathered to reoccupy and defend the ZAD. Demonstrations delayed police operations while activists erected barricades and pelted the police with stones. The wide array of actions, the unfailing solidarity among zadists, and their knowledge of the terrain were major assets. The NDDL movement gained more and more support and visibility while Operation Caesar bogged down.

After days of perpetual harassment on one side and tenacious resistance on the other, the government suspended the operation. This decision was not taken lightly. On the first day of the eviction, the Prefect of Loire-Atlantique, Christian de Lavernée, had declared, “If the state can’t take back the zone, then we should be worried for the state.”

“If the state can’t take back the zone, we should be worried for the state.”

The French government had admitted defeat. This was a major turning point in the psychological war between the authorities and the zadists. The following month, on November 17, 2012, several thousand people showed up to reclaim and reoccupy their land and to clean and rebuild the ZAD. You can read a report from the reoccupation demo here. To read a longer personal account of Operation Caesar, we recommend “Rural Rebels and Useless Airports,” published in two parts here and here.

A week after the successful reoccupation, the government changed its strategy, seeking to restore its public image by announcing the establishment of three different commissions—one gathering experts, another focusing on establishing dialogue between the different parties, and the a third composed of scientists—in order to find a solution to the conflict.

In 2013, the movement around the occupation of the ZAD continued growing; numerous agricultural and living projects appeared. In the meantime, direct action and sabotage became more frequent, as chronicled in a zine entitled Défendre la zad, Paroles publiques depuis le mouvement d’occupation de la zad de Notre-Dame-des-Landes, 2013-2015.

For example, in March 2013, a group went to a construction site outside of Nantes. This construction site was slated to start building a major highway connecting Saint-Nazaire, Nantes, and Rennes in order to facilitate the transport and delivery of equipment to build the airport at NDDL and to connect it to those three cities. The group destroyed ducts, cables, surveyors’ equipment, and six electric poles. They justified this attack with the following arguments:

  1. Defending the zone and fighting against the airport and its world doesn’t just mean occupying the ZAD or living there while awaiting eviction. It also means building a real offensive against the project by developing practices of active resistance.

  2. The movement must not fall into the traps of the government and be neutralized. That includes the commission aimed at establishing dialogue, with all its negotiations, agreements, compromises, potential moratoriums, and other frauds.

  3. Direct action will increase the pressure on the decision-makers.

Indeed, on April 2013, the dialogue commission presented its conclusions. Once again, the airport project was announced to be of “public utility,” but this time the commission asked for a few improvements regarding environmental compensations. For example, in view of the hundreds of protected species living on the ZAD and its surroundings, the commission determined that financial compensation should be granted in return for… four of them. This underscores the cynicism of the state.

Building new realities.

A habitation in the ZAD.

An occupied site in the ZAD, 2013.

On Saturday, February 22, 2014, the resistance movement flexed its muscles with a massive demonstration in Nantes. As one of the participants wrote, this day represented “one of these magic moments where life resurfaces with a roar.” This day of actions remains one the high points in the struggle against the airport, not only because of the intensity of the fighting in the streets of Nantes, but also because it showed that the participants were capable of breaking out of the narratives that are usually imposed on activists by the state.

The battle of Nantes, February 22, 2014.

On that day, they proved they were not only defending a specific territory, but were capable of going on the offensive. Projecting themselves into the heart of a major metropolis and attacking it from the inside, the zadists used tactics that had been developed inside the ZAD including barricading, ambushing, building huts, and hosting collective discussions and meals. Early in the morning, over 500 tractors converged on Nantes, causing traffic jams on all the major routes around the metropolis. Some of them established a picket in front of the Nantes Atlantique airport. Then tractors entered the city and blocked the tramway lines.

Meanwhile, a colorful and heterogeneous crowd took over the streets. According to the previously mentioned account, the general atmosphere was carnivalesque, distinct from the usual monochrome, mournful, and powerless demonstrations organized by political parties and trade unions. That day, it seemed that everything was possible:

• A group built a tree house in front of the prefecture building;

• others attacked economic and political infrastructure and smashed store fronts;

• riot cops were spray-painted with a fire extinguisher;

• a police station and an administrative court were attacked;

• a drilling machine and an excavator were set on fire at a construction site;

• the VINCI real-estate headquarters was looted and destroyed; and

• a train line was sabotaged in solidarity with the No TAV struggle in the Susa Valley.

The author of the abovementioned account emphasizes that despite the confrontations between activists and police, demonstrators never disassociated themselves from each other or scattered: “there was room for all the practices that constitute the movement.” From the beginning of the ZAD, a diverse range of people had occupied a large open space and created multiple contrasting atmospheres and spaces within it; this experience spilled over into the demonstrations.

For all these reasons, the demonstration on February 22, 2014, caught the authorities off guard, sending a clear message to the government again and opening new breaches for future struggles. The total cost of damage from the demonstration exceeded a million euros.

Photographs from the streets of Nantes on February 22, 2014 illustrate the intensity of the confrontations.

Graffiti in Nantes on February 22, 2014: “ZAD everywhere.”

Nantes on February 22, 2014.

Cops outside a police station that came under attack in Nantes on February 22, 2014.

The VINCI real estate building in Nantes on February 22, 2014.

On July 17, 2015, the Administrative Court of Nantes once again rejected all the appeals that had been presented against the airport. The construction of the airport was to move forward. The authorities were gambling that they could outlast the opposition, or at least outgun them.

On October 30, a month before the COP 21 (the United Nations Climate Change Conference), the government, via the voice of its Prime Minister Manuel Valls, announced that the construction of the new airport at Notre-Dame-Des-Landes would resume in 2016. Due to the Court’s decision, the authorities and VINCI wanted to accelerate the process and start the construction as soon as possible.

The COP 21 opened in Paris on November 30, 2015. Despite the newly established State of Emergency that followed the ISIS attacks, earlier that month, people gathered at Place de la République to oppose the international political spectacle. The forbidden demonstration ended with long confrontations with police forces on the famous Parisian square and mass arrests. Repression did not succeed in intimidating environmental activists, however; actions continued on a daily basis until the Climate Change Conference ended on December 12, when 195 countries signed a supposedly historic agreement to save the planet by limiting global warming. On the one side, a permanent state of emergency; on the other, the proponents of the airport, greenwashing an imposed consensus reality.

Graffiti in Nantes on February 22, 2014: “Neither airport nor metropolis.”

Zadists and other activists organized several days of action at the ZAD and in other major cities nationwide for the beginning of 2016. On January 9, 2016, over 20,000 people demonstrated near Nantes by blocking roads and freeways to show their opposition to the reopening of the airport project. You can find photos of the demonstration here and an English transcription of the speeches here.

On January 13, the trial opened for the families who lived on the site slated for the airport. More than 1000 supporters gathered in front of the Court in Nantes. Another national day of mobilization against the airport took place on January 16. In Paris, people gathered at a large banquet to denounce the State of Emergency, then took the streets with banners showing their support for the ZAD.

Bad news arrived on January 25, 2016. The High Court of Nantes called for the evictions of the remaining inhabitants of the ZAD. Eleven families had until the end of March to leave their houses. Among these families, four local farmers faced additional peril as their cattle, buildings, machines, and fields—their entire livelihoods—could be destroyed or seized at any moment by the authorities. This decision did not weaken the resistance against the airport project, as a direct action report from February 1 illustrates. Some zadists responded by building new houses and infrastructures within the ZAD. In addition, there was a national call to demonstrate against the airport on February 27.

Meanwhile, the government announced a local referendum on the airport issue. This strategic decision can be analyzed at different levels:

  1. The proposition can be seen as a way to muzzle and weaken the movement, imposing a question from above in place of the narratives arising from below;

  2. the vote would be used to divide people into those in favor and those against the project;

  3. the vote could offer a new way for the government to legitimize and impose the project by justifying it through participatory direct democracy.

On February 27, between 30,000 and 50,000 people responded to the national call to action, gathering on the main national roads next to the ZAD. Over 60 busses carrying demonstrators from all over France joined pedestrians, motorists, over 800 cyclists, and about 50 tractors in what is considered to have been the highest turnout at a demonstration that Notre-Dame-Des-Landes had seen since the beginning of the struggle.

In the meantime, another major succession of events diverted the government’s attention from the ZAD, as confrontations erupted in every major city of France in opposition to the newly presented Loi Travail. Consequently, no evictions took place in the ZAD that March, as had previously been planned.

On June 26, 2016, while the struggles against the Loi Travail were slowly losing their intensity, the results of the local referendum on the airport were released, showing 55% of the voters in favor of the project. Opponents of the airport criticized the wording of the question, the geographical area of the vote, and other aspects of the referendum. Nevertheless, it was certain that this result gave more perceived legitimacy to the French government in pushing through the project once and for all. Fortunately, however, the French political agenda ended up playing to our advantage. As presidential elections were set in April-May 2017, politicians were focusing more on their campaigns and careers and therefore decided to not to get their hands dirty in the controversial project until after the voting.

In May 2017, newly elected President Emmanuel Macron decided to continue misleading everyone with his campaign promise of doing politics differently. He named a mainstream environmental figure, Nicolas Hulot, to be Minister of the Ecological and Solidarity Transition. Before making a final decision, the new government officially announced a new mediation plan to lower the pressure from protesters and study all the aspects of the highly controversial airport project one last time.

Six months later, in December 2017, three mediators handed their study to Prime Minister Edouard Philippe, explaining that between the options of building a new airport and expanding the existing airport in Nantes, both options were “reasonably conceivable.” As the possibility increased that the project would be abandoned, a new media campaign to delegitimize zadists emerged. An article posted on the official ZAD website explains that this “last hope” attempt to discredit the ZAD and its resistance originated from the Gendarmerie (the national police force in France, which has military status), who sent photographs and false information to several major media channels.

Journalists, thrilled to have a major headline and opening subject, published and commented on the information and pictures without verifying their accuracy or questioning their origin. This smear campaign described zadists as “terrorists” ready to “fight and kill” if necessary, using projectiles full of acid and pétanque balls (heavy metal balls used for the eponymous traditional game) spiked with razor blades or nails. Suddenly, the ZAD turned into a battlefield where activists dug tunnels and entrenchments, built weapons caches for firearms and incendiary devices, and hid traps in the forest.

The question of whether some activists had weapons in the ZAD is a distraction. Could such weapons have posed a lethal threat to heavily armed police forces? No, the threat of violence at NDDL always came from the state; it was always the police who determined its intensity. The police are the ones who have repeatedly murdered activists who posed them no threat, and not the other way around. The important thing is to understand what objective drove the authorities to spread such allegations. One doesn’t have to be an expert to see that the primary objective was to weaken the struggle against the airport by creating divisions within the ZAD and its supporters. By portraying zadists as “terrorists” and the ZAD as a major national threat, the authorities sought to spread anxiety among the public so that when the eventual eviction took place, fewer people would identify with its inhabitants.

Police units progressing through the woods of the ZAD.

January 2018: The Airport Is Canceled

As the official decision regarding the future of the airport project at Notre-Dame-des-Landes approached, police forces were deployed in the ZAD to reaffirm the government’s legitimacy and control over this “too long abandoned and uncontrolled” piece of land. Fearing what could be the fiercest demonstrations since Operation Caesar in 2012, the authorities allocated considerable resources for the anticipated eviction. Between 400 and 500 riot policemen (CRS) were sent to Nantes and Rennes to put down demonstrations. In addition, around 500 military officers (gendarmes) were deployed near the ZAD. The gendarmerie helicopter was back in the sky of NDDL, keeping every person in the ZAD under surveillance and studying every single house, farm, hut, and other form of shelter constructed thought the years of occupation. Large armored vehicles usually used for clearing roads of obstacles and barricades were sent near the eviction site. On the eve of the Prime Minister’ declaration concerning the future of NDDL, the massive law enforcement presence clearly gave an impression of siege, as the 300 people living inside the ZAD were under constant surveillance and pressure. Police units surrounding the ZAD sought to ensure that no vehicles or resources could enter the zone. The idea was to isolate the inhabitants from outside supporters in order to speed the eviction process. In the meantime, we learned via mainstream media that even more police squadrons were on their way to the ZAD.

On January 17, 2018, a little after mid-day, Prime Minister Edouard Philippe announced on live television the long-awaited government decision. After a long and solemn introduction to his discourse, he finally said: “Today, I note that Notre-Dame-des-Landes is the airport of division. Since the election of the President of the Republic, we are mobilized together to strengthen the country’s security, and to transform it. The seriousness of the economic stakes that the country is going through, the seriousness of the security challenges it faces, demand that we stay together focused on our priorities. The project of Notre-Dame-des-Landes will therefore be abandoned. This decision is logical in view of the stalemate in which this project is located. Fifty years of hesitation have never made a forgone conclusion. This decision is without any ambiguity. The lands will return to their agricultural vocation. Contrary to what the report proposes, they will not be retained to carry out the project later.”

Celebrating the victory against the airport at the ZAD on January 17, 2018.

The decision was clear. The government acknowledged its inability to pursue the construction of the future airport; finally, they were dropping the controversial project. However, shortly after uttering these words, Edouard Philippe revealed the government’s true intentions. To assuage the loss of the new airport at NDDL, the French government would commit to guarantee that the cities of Brest, Nantes, and Rennes would have easy connections with other European metropolises. To do so, the government wanted to not only reorganize and extend the existing airports of Nantes and Rennes, but also to intensify the connection between air and rail in the west of France by improving rail infrastructures and assuring more train connections between the western metropolises, Paris, and its international airports.

Finally, regarding the situation in the ZAD, the Prime Minister pretended to open a dialogue with its inhabitants, a dialogue that looked more like an ultimatum or warning: “[t]he three roads that cross the site of Notre-Dame-Des-Landes must now be returned to free circulation for all. Squats overflowing on the road will be evacuated, obstacles removed, traffic restored. Otherwise, the police will carry out the necessary operations.” Later, he added: “In accordance with the law, expropriated farmers will be able to return to their lands if they wish to do so. The illegal occupants of these lands will have to leave by spring or will be evicted. (…) From now on, law enforcement are mobilized to ensure that this process is conducted in compliance with the law and that squatters gradually release lands that do not belong to them.” The French government was hoping that people would conclude that the ZAD no longer had any reason to exist as the project had been dropped. Zadists would have until the end of winter break—the end of March—to leave the ZAD and their houses. Otherwise, the authorities would carry out a complete eviction and “cleaning” of the zone.

This decision is not surprising. Any government fears losing control over its territory, its subjects (citizens or not), and their personal initiatives. Everything that does not originate from the government’s decision or the law it enacts must either be wiped out or integrated into the legal framework. The latter approach is the easiest way for the authorities to participate in the trend of “alternative projects” while imposing control over such initiatives. One of the many examples illustrating this trend within French cities is the multiplication of legalized “artistic” squats—opened with the approval of local authorities and under their supervision—which accelerate the constant process of gentrification.

Celebrating the victory against the airport at the ZAD on January 17, 2018.

Numerous journalists were present at the ZAD at the time of the Prime Minister’s announcement to cover the reactions of its inhabitants. Some local collectives and organizations planned a press conference to comment on the government’s decision. The abandonment of the airport project was received as a great victory from some of the zadists. However, others were wary regarding the future of the ZAD and the real objectives of the government. Here is the common press release made by the anti-airport movement on January 17, 2018, originally posted on the official ZAD website:

Common press release from the anti-airport movement following the government’s announcement.

At lunchtime today, the government finally announced that the airport project located in Notre-Dame-des-Landes has been abandoned.

We do note that the “DUP” (ed. Declaration of Public Utility) will not be extended. The project will definitely be null and void by February the 8th.

This is an historic victory against a destructive project. This was made possible thanks to a long mobilization that has been both diverse and determined.

First of all, we’d like to sincerely thank everyone that mobilized against this airport project over the past 50 years.

Regarding the future of the ZAD, the whole movement would like to confirm the following points:

  • The need for the farmers and people that were expropriated to recover their rights as soon as possible.

  • The refusal of any eviction of those who came here over the last few years to live and defend the place, and who wish to continue living here and look after the area.

  • The will to let the various actors of the struggle (farmers, naturalists, locals, groups, people who have lived here for a long time or have just joined us) handle the land of the ZAD in the long term.

To implement these measures, we need to put a hold on the institutional redistribution of the land. In the future, this place must remain a place of social, environmental and agricultural experimentations.

Regarding the question of the reopening of the road D281, a road closed by the state in 2013, the movement will take the matter in its own hands. A police presence or intervention could only create tensions.

On this memorable day, we would like to address a strong message of solidarity towards all the struggles set against other destructive projects that threaten territories.

We are calling on everyone to join us on the 10th of February to celebrate the abandoning of the airport project and to keep on building the future of the ZAD.

Acipa, Coordination des opposants, COPAIn 44, Naturalistes en lutte, les habitant-e-s de la zad.

The official press release raises a lot of legitimate questions and concerns:

• First, while signed by only five collectives and organizations involved in the struggle against the airport, the official statement claims to be the voice of the entire “anti-airport movement.” This is already concerning, as it excludes the voices and opinions of other individuals involved in the struggle and life within the ZAD.

• Secondly, in presenting an official press release in front of the national mainstream media, this part of the zadists fell into the trap set up by the government, accepting dialogue, negotiation, and ultimately legal conditions concerning the future of the ZAD.

• Finally, by tacitly agreeing to reopen the D281 road and even to assist the authorities by removing every obstacle and barricade on it themselves, the signatories of this press release accepted the terms of the government in a way that could facilitate the eviction of the ZAD.

In other words, the press release signed by only a part of the protagonists involved in the life of the ZAD endangered not only everyone who might be opposed to dialogue, but also the future of the ZAD itself. As we will explore below, this press release reintroduced the tensions between the different components of the ZAD. Worse, it revealed that the same authoritarian specter that haunted past struggles is still undermining our struggles today.

Police forces preserving the habitat of Notre-Dame-des-Landes.

For footage of some of these events, consult this collection of video coverage from Operation Caesar to the end of February 2016. You can also view two independent documentaries on the ZAD, one in French and one with English subtitles.

Opening New Horizons: Reflections on the ZAD at NDDL

The occupied road D281, also known as La route des chicanes.

La route des chicanes.

Destroying the Myths behind the ZAD

Throughout the years of struggle against the airport project, the ZAD of Notre-Dame-des-Landes acquired a reputation—not only among anarchist circles worldwide but also among liberals and mainstream environmental activists. However, it is almost inevitable that when a struggle receives a lot of attention, its image tends to be idealized and consequently falsified.

Unfortunately, the ZAD is no exception to this rule. After years of effort and collective work to build a new kind of reality outside of the destructive, exploitative, and authoritarian world we all know, the government’s decision and the official victory celebration from part of the zadists revealed the long-suppressed conflicts between the different political tendencies of the participants.

Whether in a small countryside community like the ZAD or in our oversized cities, living with others involves quarrels, agreements, conflicts, friendships, fights, love, and all the other complexities of human relations. Refusing to acknowledge this reality in order to maintain the pure and virtuous image of a united political struggle is dangerous, as it divorces people from their own individuality, differences, and autonomy. Moreover, making the conflicts within a struggle invisible does not help us to learn from them in order to be better prepared for future struggles. With the survival and the legacy of the ZAD at stake, we consider it important to share some articles written by dissident voices on the situation within the occupied zone following the government’s official announcement and the “historical victory of the movement.”

Fires in Nantes on February 22, 2014.

On January 19, 2018, two days after the government’s decision to drop the airport project, an article entitled “NDDL: La lute continue! Une réalité cachée” was published on Indymedia Nantes. The article explains that contrary to the image depicted by some zadists in the national media, the actual situation within the ZAD in the aftermath of the so-called “victory” was catastrophic. According to the author, some “dream-seller productionist capitalists” had also settled in the ZAD and were working on evicting the “less desirable” activists from it. After the official announcement of the “victory” against the airport, some zadists close to political organizations (Front de Gauche, NPA, Europe Ecologie Les Verts), collectives, committees, and associations (ACIPA, COPAIN44, ADECA, ACEDPA) were attempting to transform the Zone To Defend into a legalized alternative occupied zone.

According to the author, in order to do this, they agreed to collaborate with the authorities to find a common agreement on the future of the ZAD. In the process of seeking to legalize the occupied zone, they dissociated themselves from more radical or autonomous individuals, denying their longtime involvement in the struggle against the airport and their contributions to life at the ZAD. Finally, the author adds, even if the ZAD is an important case within the recent history of international autonomous struggles, it is important to acknowledge that the collective life within the ZAD was complex, difficult, and not without issues—including violence, drug and alcohol use, and even informal militias. Moreover, regarding the myth of unity at the ZAD, the author asserts that there had never been solidarity “between the white sheep and black sheep” on the ZAD, except when police forces entered the occupied zone in 2012.

This personal account raises an important question: if the ZAD has been victorious, what sort of victory are we talking about? In the article entitled Mouvement, où est ta victoire? (available in English here), the authors explore the real nature of the “victory” that was announced by self-designated leaders.

The authors do not deny that the government has abandoned the airport project, which obviously represents a victory for the struggle. But if we consider the impact of the ZAD at a larger scale, can we still call it a victory? Have we won enough to be talking about making peace with our adversaries already? The ZAD did not succeed in defeating VINCI or the State, or even transforming people’s relations or power dynamics. Indeed, according to the article, even if the project has been abandoned, VINCI, the chief beneficiary of the airport project, would still receive financial compensation from the state and would continue to reap profits by upgrading the Nantes airport and increasing its role in airport management on a national scale. Moreover, now that the future of the ZAD was threatened anew, conflicts regarding private property and land exploitation were breaking out to such an extent that, as the authors put it, “the ZAD will be an agricultural battlefield.” The article also mentions power struggles, imbalances within decision-making structures, and class inequalities among the inhabitants of the ZAD.

Finally, considering the question “Is this struggle victorious against capitalism, sexism, speciesism, classism, and authoritarian practices?” the authors caution that “after the abandonment of the project emerges the risk of forfeiting the political struggle by setting aside its radical dimension.” Unfortunately, through the ploy of opening negotiations, the French government succeeded in creating potential representatives and mediators within the ZAD in order to pacify those who might resist. Once more, this article reveals the contrasting interpretations, objectives, and aspirations of the various individuals involved in the struggle against the airport. As soon as some semblance of victory was reached, liberals, political opportunists, and others called it quits.

In short, without the single issue of the airport to rally around, fractures appeared along all the fault lines within the social body that had maintained the occupation. This put the zadists who prized the ZAD not only as a protest camp but also as a break with the existing order in an awkward position. With some locals and farmers also desiring to “return to normal,” should they break with their fellow occupiers and prepare to take on the state alone, or attempt to hammer out some sort of compromise with them even if this meant answering to the pressure of the state? We can appreciate the difficulty of this question.

Our dreams, their nightmares: Nantes on February 22, 2014.

The danger that the struggle will be pacified is exemplified by one extremely controversial decision: the agreement to clear and reopen the road D281, as the government requested in its official announcement. As the authors of the text Mouvement, où est ta victoire? explain,

“What was missing for these dominant factions of the movement to gain legitimacy from the government is obviously the demonstration that they were able to bring order to the zone, the order of the movement approaching that of the state. This is how one can understand the cleaning of the notorious road D281, a veritable showdown within the movement.”

This decision increased the tensions among the different participants in the ZAD. In a letter addressed to “all who recognized themselves in the movement against the airport and its world,”5 the authors explain:

“We attach a strictly political importance to the future of this space and what is played out here: the questioning of the speed, of the place that the automobile takes in our lives and the terrain we occupy, and finally of a certain vision about the functionality of the space where the usage is decided from above rather than locally on the ground. These questions will always be relevant after the hypothetical end of a police threat. For many of us, this road is also a part, small but vital, of this struggle for space to imagine. That is why if this road becomes once again a normalized road, to the detriment of all the praxis that have been created there over the past five years, a part of the movement would experience it as if it were the beginning of the normalization of the occupied zone.”

Unfortunately, these concerns and warnings did not change the decision some people made to clear the road in compliance with the wishes of the state. On January 22, 2018, less than a week after the official “victory” against the airport, they participated in demolishing the famous “route des chicanes.”

Anti-riot fences deployed to protect the “cleaning” of road D281.

This hasty action left more than one activist stunned and furious. Watching other activists destroying the living spaces you spent hours building—just because it has been decided by some sort of unofficial authority—is a form of violence. In reaction, numerous articles appeared expressing personal stupefaction and disapproval, or simply to publicly denounce the authoritarian tendencies that had finally erupted into plain sight.

In one article, an activist living in Mexico shared his opinion on the movement’s decision to help the government clean D281. The author raises numerous legitimate questions: Why were they so quick to act? Why didn’t they wait for the government’s ultimatum before clearing the road? Who negotiated with whom? Who promised to do what? Who is going to lose this game in the end? For the author, these negotiations with the government looked like under-the-table agreements. He wonders why the principle of majority rule was suddenly implemented in making the decision to clean the road, rather than the practice—longstanding at the ZAD—of taking all the time necessary to discuss a matter until everyone arrived at a unanimous decision.6

In response to this attempt to reintroduce the old model of democracy, participants in the ZAD made it clear that they had refused to be part of the old world from the beginning, and openly rejected the concept of democracy itself. Decision-making processes aside, regardless of what the arguments were for cleaning the road, doing so was like setting down one’s weapons before signing a peace treaty. It was a fatal tactical error.

Cleaning road D281: “Smile! You are on camera!”

Police forces ensuring the cleaning of road D281.

By removing obstacles from D281, it seemed, the movement sought to erase any vestiges of the old, “improper” ZAD that could impact its new image as a victorious democratic movement in dialogue with the democratically elected authorities. The author of the aforementioned text also criticized a statement of Julien Durand, spokesperson of the ACIPA, during a radio interview:

“Since the project of Notre-Dame-des-Landes is abandoned, there is no longer a threat, therefore we are no longer in a phase of resistance. From now on, we must think differently, that is to say, thinking about the future of the zone so that there is good understanding, serenity, and dialogue within it to achieve a normal daily life.”

This quote speaks for itself. This self-proclaimed leader of the ZAD decided to turn the page on the struggle, falling for the illusory promise of a pacified future for the occupied zone—a vision in which the ultimate goal was to return to normal daily life.

What does Julien Durand mean when he refers to “normal daily life?” Does his model of “normal daily life” line up with the one imposed by society at large? His statement could be interpreted to mean “We won! Now let’s go back to normal!” Moreover, as the abovementioned author highlights, this statement denies “any political dimension and the eminently fruitful nature of conflicts inherent to this heterogeneous community experience.” According to the author, it is concerning that such participants in the ZAD would seek to exclude the supposed “margins” from its official history. The author asserts that the “victorious” movement seemed to be (re)constructing a narrative that would muzzle dissident voices, omitting many important aspects of the collective of the ZAD. “Leaders” and states both seek to rewrite history for their own purposes.

Finally, the author explains that one of the essential dimensions of the ZAD was that it gave a lot of individuals the possibility to escape from the deadly cycle of this society by putting their desires and hopes immediately into action. These were the rebels who made the airport impossible. He concludes with a warning:

“If it is they who today must, on the seemingly consensual motive of ‘disengagement from the route des chicanes,’ be sacrificed on the altar of ‘normalization’ or ‘pacification,’ then the exceptional adventure of NDDL will fall miserably, for our greatest shame, into the sad and dismal dustbin of history.”

The author of the previous article was dead on the money. A couple of weeks after the clearing of D281, on February 5, 2018, police entered the ZAD to escort official cleaning vehicles on the “route des chicanes.” Several dozen gendarmerie trucks, anti-riot fences, and a helicopter were deployed on the ZAD for this official “cleaning operation.” If you give the authorities an inch, they will take a mile.

Road D281: the trucks of the gendarmerie return to the heart of the ZAD.

In a desperate ploy to reinforce their legitimacy in the public eye after the decision to cancel the airport, authorities invited several media outlets to show that they were regaining control of the zone. For the first time in months, police units and trucks were able to reenter the heart of the ZAD and to clear the once-occupied D281. Due to the presence of law enforcement during the cleaning operation, some zadists made the following call:

“Today, contrary to what has been asked for in exchange for the lifting of the works’ blockade, a dozen heavy police trucks entered the ZAD to ‘protect the works’ (the official cleaning operation) that were not blocked, searching a living place on their way, which we experienced as a provocation.

We are calling all the sympathizers of the movement against the airport and for the future of the ZAD to come tomorrow (February 6, 2018) for peaceful rallies to ensure that the (cleaning) workers pass without the cops and to protect all the living spaces in order to prevent any eviction attempt.

-Some occupants of the ZAD”

It is hard not to see this call as naïve, especially in relation to the authorities. It appears that the authors realized, to their surprise, that the intruders had not abided by the agreements that zadists had made with the government. What a shock!

In our opinion, it was a mistake to join a discussion with the authorities in the first place. It always end the same way: the leading figures of a movement enter negotiations, and in doing so they show that they are prepared to give up some of their autonomy. The authorities take advantage of this to offer a few meaningless concessions; in the end, they regain control of the situation, after which they no longer have any reason to continue making concessions or abiding by agreements.

Any form of leadership is an Achilles’ heel for the struggle: so long as there is a leader, they can be deputized, replaced, or taken hostage. It would be much more difficult for the authorities to pacify movements if every participant had a sense of their own agency and was determined not to let anyone else make decisions for them.

The police destroy habitations on the ZAD.

Once law enforcement entered the occupied zone without encountering fierce resistance, an eviction became inevitable. On February 23, 2018, several activists informed us that the situation within the ZAD had worsened. Starting with the official cleaning operation of D281, the police presence and occupation increased. On a daily basis, between 20 and 50 police trucks occupied D281. Officially, they were there to oversee the cleaning process; unofficially, they were there to increase surveillance and repression. Helicopters and drones flew over the ZAD, recording living places, fields, and farms for topographical purposes. Video cameras, antennas, and listening stations were deployed in the ZAD. The police began to raid living spaces. These strategies of intimidation are nothing new; they served to prepare the ground for the eviction planned for the end of March. You can view video footage of the cleaning operation carried out by authorities on Sunday February 11, 2018 in two parts, here and here.

Since the “victory” of the ZAD, several dissident autonomous and anarchist voices have denounced what they perceived to be authoritarian tendencies within the struggle. These criticisms were nothing new, but after the cleaning of D281, they became more audible. The chief groups described as displaying authoritarian tendencies in general assemblies and other decision-making processes include the more institutional elements of the struggle such as ACIPA, COPAIN, and Naturalistes en lutte, but also some of the “fringe” occupiers of the ZAD, including some involved with the Comité pour le Maintien des Occupations (“Committee for Maintaining the Occupations,” or CMDO).

This is not the first time such concerns have surfaced. Regarding the case of D281, an article posted on Indymedia Nantes asserts that people affiliated with the Maison de la Grève took part in destroying the living spaces established on the occupied road alongside members of the previously mentioned organizations. The article also refers to the tensions that occurred during the dismantlement between the inhabitants of the road and the “agents of the imaginary order party.” The author concludes by saying:

“We could talk about a world turned upside down were it not that, after having stood alongside them in this struggle and elsewhere, this is not a surprise for anyone anymore. But still, crawling in front of the prefecture and being to that extent its armed wing, it seems that with the victory the masks come off. Count on us not to let this pass in silence. It has to be known.”

The least we can say is that the events described in this account are extremely concerning. As the author says, for years, “appélistes”7 and their sympathizers have stood alongside anarchists and other autonomous individuals throughout all the major struggles that have taken place in France. On numerous occasions, we have fought on the same side, taking part in the same actions, confronting the same police, facing the same state violence and repression, assisting each other in the same difficulties, and meeting in the same general assemblies—even if difficult power dynamics emerged repeatedly.

One can read another perspective on these events from the CMDO in a text entitled The ZAD Will Survive, distributed in newspaper form on February 10. This is their account of the controversial decision to clear the road:

“In the days following the announcement of the abandonment, the clearing of the D281 would become the focal point around which one of two possibilities was going to play out: either the final breakup of the movement, or the possibility of seeing it grow and continue beyond the 17th of January. Should one risk losing everything–the experiment of the ZAD, being united in defense of our squatted land, a common future with the other components of the movement—for the sake of a symbol? It was decided in an assembly that, no, we could not, yet without really reaching consensus. Some people took the decision really badly, and it involved long discussions, often turning to outright shouting matches, to finally dismantle the two cabins that stood in the roadway.”

In reaction to the dismantlement of D281 and the seizure of power by some groups and individuals at the ZAD, a call was made to discuss these issues on February 10, 2018 at a distance from the national convergence and demonstration in the occupied zone. About 200 people answered the call and gathered to discuss the logic of political composition (political alliances due to common interests, affinity groups, etc.) and the concentration of power within the struggle. This personal account sums up the general situation within the ZAD, from the unexpected political alliances that decided the future of the zone to the explicit censorship and exclusion of anarchists and other radical elements in order to facilitate the pacification of the struggle.

One of the conclusions of this unofficial discussion was that the most institutional tendencies of the ZAD had attained hegemony. Usually, leaders would meet off the record to reach agreements, then use the assemblies to impose their decisions. Due to these tendencies, but also to the way that less experienced individuals often found themselves on the receiving end of mockery or exclusive behavior, some of the occupants had deserted their spaces. The most radical individuals found themselves a minority within the assemblies, their voices nearly inaudible. In such a situation, assemblies show their limits as a horizontal model for decision-making.

Alongside this stratification of decision-making within the movement, participants in the discussion identified an increase in control and censorship in the communication venues and media of the ZAD, such as the local committee mailing list and the official website, zad.nadir.org.

This is how, as the author explains, anarchists, anti-speciesists, and other autonomous elements found themselves isolated as they faced the state, hierarchical political organizations, and trade unions. An Italian activist who participated in the discussion reported that the situation reminded him of what happened at the Val Susa (Italy) during the No TAV struggle.

The logic represented by the “liberation” of D281 is obvious in retrospect. The official position of the movement was to continue the occupation while collaborating with the state. With control of the land at stake, the critique of property was suddenly inconvenient. In any case, as today’s eviction demonstrates, in the absence of a unified, illegal, and uncompromising occupation of the ZAD, there was no question of the government permitting the occupiers to remain. In the end, it was not the intransigent anarchists who were being unrealistic.

The author of the abovementioned account notes that what was taking place within the ZAD was also occurring at the same time in many other spaces. Before 2012, the flags of political organizations, liberal political banners, and journalists were not welcome at the ZAD. But following 2012, the atmosphere changed completely. Yet the limits of political compositions are now exploding in broad daylight. “There is no unity within struggles. There are always internal conflicts that we should accept rather than conceal”—as had been done at the ZAD for several years.

This article is valuable because it seeks to present the situation at the ZAD as it really is, with all its ambiguities and complexity, instead of idealizing it. Moreover, as the author explains, doing this is not only a way to support the experiments in progress and the individuals who don’t want to give up the fight, but also to support and spread anti-authoritarian and disruptive positions in general.

For more information about the situation at the ZAD after the cancellation of the airport, read this personal account about the power dynamics and political alliances, and this compilation of articles written by dissident voices in the aftermath of the “victory.”

At the same moment that we published this article, another entitled ZAD: Second Round appeared in France, offering another perspective on the conflicts about whether and how to negotiate with the state, exploring the challenges of maintaining collectivity across different perspectives, and critiquing the tendency of some groups to isolate themselves with a narrative of radical puritanism. Suffice it to say—these are complicated subjects and there are many different sides to the story.

Breaking up the paving stones to use as projectiles in Nantes on February 22, 2014.

The ZAD Might Be Dead, but the Struggle Continues

On January 9, 2018, shortly before the government announced that they were giving up on building the airport, the public prosecutor’s department of Toulouse dismissed charges against the gendarme who had used a grenade to murder the young pacifist Rémi Fraisse in 2014 during a night of confrontations at Sivens, where another ZAD was fighting against the creation of a dam.

This ruling was not a surprise. Since the beginning of the investigation, the French government had sought to conceal its responsibility in this case—although during such confrontations, law enforcement units directly execute orders from higher ranks within the state apparatus. A few weeks after dropping the airport project, the French government launched an eviction operation at the ZAD of Bois Lejuc, near Bure—a foretaste of what was to happen in NDDL. Starting in summer 2016, activists had been occupying nearby woods and villages to prevent the construction of an industrial center of geological storage (Gigéo) for the most dangerous radioactive waste. On February 22, 2018, about 500 gendarmes entered the occupied woods, raiding living spaces including the maison de la résistance and arresting several activists. Nevertheless, despite the violence of the eviction and a strong law enforcement presence at the site, the struggle at Bure is not over, as evidenced by the gathering of committees to discuss the future of struggle that took place on March 3-4.

As we prepare to publish this article, the eviction of Notre-Dame-des-Landes is underway. Yet even if the eviction is successful, the ZAD at NDDL has renewed environmental struggles in France and around the world by spreading notions like direct action, sabotage, mutual aid, self-determination, autonomy, and opposition to capitalism and the state. The ZAD has been a space of experimentation, strategizing, brainstorming, debate, conflict, victories and defeats, and dreams. It will continue to nourish our imaginations as long as we tell its story.

When we do, it is vital that we discuss what happened during the last months of the ZAD’s existence and after its victory. Power imbalances, “leadership,” and authoritarianism represent terrible menaces to our aspirations, as the pacification of the ZAD demonstrates. Reflecting on the ZAD, we have to reconsider how we approach struggles; we have to become more skilled at identifying and breaking up concentrations of power, so we can prevent them from jeopardizing our capacity to open new horizons.

Nantes on February 22, 2014.

In opposition to the old leftist myth of a future revolution that will liberate us all one day, like a miracle or prophecy, we believe that the present is the greatest imaginable gift and the best time to engage in struggle. As some friends once wrote, “There is no secret for revolution, no grand dialectic, no master theory. Revolution is simple. Go out and meet folks who are just as passionate as you are— and if they don’t realize it, help them along the way. Combine forces, scheme, and make plans. Then, do it.” Acting enables us to embrace self-determination and discover that we have the power to open breaches within an overdetermined world. These breaches offer opportunities to experiment and experience new forms of relations, living arrangements, and aspirations.

As our future darkens from one day to the next because of industrially produced climate change, capitalist immiseration, and intensifying authoritarianism, this sort of secession becomes ever more vital. This world will never change if we hesitate to cut ties with it, for it is our participation that reproduces it. This is why we have to secede right here, in the heart of the empire: not to present demands to the rulers, but to seize back the resources they have taken from us, creating spaces beyond their control in which power flows according to a different logic. This is not a passive conception of what it means to secede. It means creating and multiplying self-sufficient spaces in which we can take on the authorities and win. To borrow one of the most famous slogans of the ZAD, “Secession everywhere!”

We have nothing to gain from clinging to the prevailing order. As other comrades have written, every unique, self-determined action is a spark that shoots beyond the confines of both the status quo and abstract critiques thereof, threatening both, not to mention those who uphold them. All the necessary ingredients to bring about the end of their world are at hand. The question is: Are we willing to use them?

The end of the world won’t wait! Fight now! Fight everywhere!

Tear gas in the bocage.


Appendix: What is the ZAD?

This is a translation of a zine written in French by some occupiers of the ZAD, July-August 2015.

The ZAD at Notre-Dame-des-Landes has been a hotbed of struggle for several years. Thereafter, other ZADs have begun to appear everywhere. But what is a ZAD? A lot of people who got involved in its creation behave as if the answer was obvious, but this is a question that is almost never raised. So, this is the question we want to pose to those who use this word, and, to start with, to ourselves.

The authors of this text are a group of individuals who have been living and fighting on the ZAD of Notre-Dame-des-Landes for several years and who decided to spend some time thinking about the question of what a ZAD is for us. What we are going to tell you here is our response to our question. It is a subjective response that we don’t consider the only possible answer. We would like you to take it as an invitation to ask yourself the same question with those with whom you share some parts of life and struggle. We hope to see your answers, as many definitions of the ZAD could lay the foundation for a movement that is still waiting for us to give it some consistency.

As the starting point of our reflections, we took the ZAD of Notre-Dame-des-Landes, the one that we know the best, but also the first one created.

A collective kitchen in the ZAD.

Direct Action

For us, one of the facts that distinguishes the ZAD from other places is that it originated from direct action. The latter is not necessarily a hidden or risky action. Living in the ZAD is in itself a direct action: it means squatting in a place in the countryside where there is a large infrastructure project. At the ZAD of Notre-Dame-des-Landes, the ratio of power is such that occupying lands became something “normal,” trivial, which can happen without any complications whatsoever.

Direct action means taking action, often as a group, to fight directly against a situation that affects our lives or the lives of others—without asking any intermediary (such as trade unions, political parties, governments, or other “competent” authorities) to intervene. For example, holding a demonstration against VINCI (the concessionaire of the airport project) would be a symbolic action, but going to their actual buildings, blocking the doorways, and making sure that no one can actually work would make it into a direct action. Direct action could also include preventing bulldozers from moving forward during an eviction or construction project, occupying and cultivating a piece of land, burning down a prefecture building, barricading a road, or collectively planting an orchard on a field slated to be covered with concrete. In a world that makes us feel powerless, it is a way to regain control of our lives.

As our desires are in conflict with the interests of the state, illegality is a reality here and often our tactics are also illegal, as the ZAD would have never existed legally. We do not recognize the state’s legitimacy to decide for us what should be permitted. What the state wants is to control us and assure the enforcement of the law, hence the advantage of forbidding everything that is outside of its control. However, rejecting the state’s legitimacy is not an end in itself. In this struggle, there is a diversity of tactics: legal actions, excavators’ sabotages, acts of resistance by the inhabitants of the ZAD to the state’s expropriations of houses and farms, expropriations of supermarkets, large demonstrations, ambushes against the police… This diversity constitutes the strength of this struggle, and the fact that an action is forbidden does not make it less legitimate.

The media often discuss non-violence and violence by assigning them moral values: it is implied that “violence” is bad, when the “violence” they are talking about consists in resisting and defending ourselves against the police or inflicting material damages. For us, violence is on the side of the state and its decision makers—for example, through territorial planning and development. Moreover, labeling individuals who resist as violent takes part in a maneuver to discredit them and the ZAD. Be aware that an individual can both be cultivating the land and fighting with the police.

Another way of living.

Resisting eviction.

Building Another Reality

An important aspect of the ZAD is the idea of building another reality in which we are less dependent on the state and capitalism. Living here means learning to handle things with what we have, or finding what we need without having to rely on professionals or experts. We do not call an electrician to fix a problem because if we have electricity, it is not through a legal way: either we are producing it ourselves, or we connected ourselves to the electricity network illegally. For some of us, it is politically important to know that we can build our houses with what we found in the dump, that we can fix everything with the blue farmer string. For others, it means taking the time and giving themselves the means to cut wood and create beams for present or future constructions. In any case, learning to be more autonomous for practical things is a way of defending ourselves against a system aimed at making us dependent. It is not a question of each individual learning how to do everything, but rather of helping each other and sharing our knowledge and resources so we can take care of things all together.

We live on the zone on a daily basis, therefore we try to create the level of comfort that we need to feel good. This is also linked to the desire of projecting ourselves in the long-term, to live permanently here. For many people, the ZAD is not only a direct action or a way to show their ideals—it is also their life, and their home. We know that our houses and vegetable gardens could be destroyed at any moment, and that we might be forced to leave, but we live and organize as if we could stay here for the rest of our lives: we can’t just stop doing things just because they could evict us at some point.

We are not simply against the government; we also want to create something that is more suitable to us. The ZAD is a place that is managed by its inhabitants, who decide what happens within it: the state doesn’t have any say about it anymore. In the same way that we don’t want to follow the official regulations to build our houses, we want to decide everything, and figure out our way of getting organized.

Zadists defending their living spaces.

An Open Community

Those who live and fight on the ZAD share numerous common backgrounds and experiences: living within the same space; being confronted with clashes when cops or fascists show up; living with each other on a daily basis. There is also solidarity and mutual aid on a daily basis: giving somebody a hand, lending what the neighbor doesn’t have, sharing what we cultivate or collect. Of course, all this doesn’t take place without a hitch, but despite everything, it binds all the inhabitants of the ZAD together. In this way, the ZAD is, less by choice than by fact, a form of community.

But the ZAD remains open. Everyone can, if they wish, come live in the ZAD for several days or weeks. Not every community or collective will necessarily welcome you with wide-open doors, but overall, the ZAD is accessible to anyone, even if the individual doesn’t know anyone or comes from a completely different culture. Often, squats or groups of individuals involved in direct action are not easy to approach or access (for reasons related to friendship, affinity, or safety, for example). One of the strengths of the ZAD is that it offers an open door to possibilities of living and struggling that are different from the models imposed by the dominant socio-economic order. Such possibilities play the role of key moments and meeting places that social movements often provide too.

The ZAD brings together a variety of individuals who come from really different worlds and backgrounds: from the activist’s milieu—local or not, familiar with street tactics or squats; from the farmer’s milieu—where some of them left their jobs; or from a completely different background, or from all of them at once. All these people sharing the same space, living and fighting together, creates a big mess, but also, and mostly, a great wealth. While everyone tends to isolate us, sharing a space and working with all kinds of individuals is already a victory that inspires us.

This openness and diversity make the ZAD a meeting place, a crossroads of struggles: some nomads who build bridges between a lot of different places live alongside established individuals who carry long term projects; some people find within it a stable basis from which they can take risks elsewhere; already constituted groups arrange to meet here; strangers forge new complicities.

But the ZAD is also deeply rooted in its territory: the link with “historical” inhabitants, those who were already present before the project and who were often the first opposed to it, represents one of the major strengths of the ZAD of Notre-Dame-des-Landes. It was a group of defiant inhabitants who made a call to occupy the land, a call answered by people who were living further away. These links and connections, the mutual aid or rants and quarrels that are shared on the ZAD also involve the “historical” inhabitants of the ZAD themselves or their nearby neighbors. The occupiers came progressively to reinforce the local struggle that had already existed for years.

Welcome to the ZAD.

A barricade in Nantes on February 22, 2014.

Some Shared Ideas

Behind our ways of living, fighting, or building relationships, there are some ideas that, in our opinion, are largely shared. Even if we never reach a collective agreement about them, they are part of the ideals we aspire to.

By opposing an airport project, we fight in reality against territorial planning and development, in which people’s lives are decided beforehand by engineers and architects who impose the locations of stores, housing, airports, and more. They want spaces in which everything is controlled, surveyed, and planned. From its birth, the occupation movement fought not only against the airport project, but also against the managerial logic of those in power.

In the world of the developers, most exchanges are made via money. The current system enables some privileged individuals to enrich themselves by impoverishing others. We want at the same time to make this system collapse and to create relations that are not based in money.

More generally, we aspire to step aside from the logic of domination, which gives more value and power to some individuals over others: those with IDs over those without, men over women or others, white people over those who are not, heterosexuals over homosexuals and others, “French” people over foreigners. These inequalities also exist within the ZAD, but there are attempts to make this space hospitable for everyone.

Finally, we don’t grant the state or anyone else the authority to decide how we have to live and what we have to experience. We try to organize the life and struggle at the ZAD without hierarchies, by giving the same power to everyone. This is not something that runs smoothly, but rather something based on constant debates and permanent experimentation.

Unafraid.

An Expanding Movement

After Operation Caesar, numerous energies converged towards the ZAD of Notre-Dame-des-Landes. A lot of us wanted this energy not to simply stay focused on Notre-Dame-des-Landes. This reminds us of the image of a rhizome where this energy would be concentrated, crossbred, growing here and then radiating out to feed the struggle everywhere else. The idea would be for the individuals who are fighting locally against infrastructure, metropolis, or territorial development projects to use the ZAD as an example: like an idea, an image, that could help them to skip a step, that could enable them to benefit from its media coverage, that could give them a concrete reference point to direct people to so they wouldn’t have to explain a lot of abstract concepts. That “the ZAD” belongs to a largely shared imaginary helps people to act locally in their own ways, against the same forces. Through this process, we hope to break the image of a so-called democratic society, and to become more numerous in fighting, everywhere.

Here, some rare and uncommon conditions are combined, such as little intervention from the police and state, some cultivable fields, and a desire to live without hierarchies. The life that is created from the intersection of these conditions provides one idea of a possible future among thousands of others possibilities. This is not an alternative showcase—because we do not create the ZAD to prove anything—but a concrete experience to organize our own lives for ourselves.

The idea of a ZAD seems to have the strength to gather and federate groups and individuals within the dynamics of struggle. A ZAD movement seems to appear everywhere—Roybon, Testet, Agen, Echillais, Oléron, and more… Let’s think about the traps and obstacles that we frequently face: from the action of political parties that manoeuver among these opposition movements for political ends, to the idealization of a “zadist’s way of life” without any political convictions, without forgetting the criminalization of such movements that is intended to empty actions of their meanings, or even the demand formulated to opponents to offer the proof of a viable alternative. All this prevents a global questioning and reduces each problem to technical or legal issues… To avoid depoliticization or being taken over by the state and its henchmen, it is time to think collectively about what we are carrying in order to create a revolutionary struggle.

The bocage of Notre-Dame-des-Landes.

  1. The Grenelle de l’Environnement is an official political report adopted in 2007, dedicated to “protecting the environment.” Like so many other official political meetings and documents dealing with ecological issues, greenwashing is one of the chief objectives. 

  2. Although the climate action camp marks the creation of the ZAD, the first occupation on site actually took place in 2007 at the Rosier (“rose bush”) squat, an old house located within the ZAD’s perimeter. 

  3. An official institution in charge of advising the government in preparing laws and decrees, having the status of being the supreme administrative judge. 

  4. This recalls Julius Caesar’s invasion of France, which set the stage for him to abolish democracy in the Roman Republic. It’s not surprising that the French security forces chose such an authoritarian title for their attack, but it is striking that they framed themselves as an external force invading France. 

  5. The original version is available in French here

  6. This is not to say that consensus process is always ideal, either. For further analysis of democratic decision-making, we highly recommend the book From Democracy to Freedom. 

  7. “Appélistes” are a sort of neo-Blanquist network inspired by a text entitled Call and the works of Tiqqun and the Invisible Committee. Although their effort to reconstruct a non-Marxist communism is noteworthy, some of them have made a point of not calling themselves anarchists—and we should probably take them at their word. 

Brazil: Rivers of Blood Peace Is War, Security Is Hazardous, and Citizens Are the Targets of the State

In 2016, Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff was impeached in a legal coup d’état. On March 14, 2018, City Council member Marielle Franco was murdered in downtown Rio de Janeiro, likely by the police or their colleagues in the paramilitary cartels. Yesterday, a judge ordered the imprisonment of Lula da Silva, the most popular candidate in the upcoming presidential election. Rather than understanding these as interruptions of Brazilian democracy, we have to recognize them as the functioning of a system in which the forces that purport to provide security are themselves the greatest source of danger.

The army on the streets of Rio de Janeiro after the decree of occupation.

The Execution of Marielle Franco

On March 14, City Council member Marielle Franco and driver Anderson Gomes were shot and killed in downtown Rio de Janeiro as they were leaving a gathering of black women from a variety of social movements. The attack bears all the hallmarks of an execution. Nothing was stolen; she was shot in the head from behind and the driver was shot in the back. Both died on the spot. Days before, Marielle had used social media to denounce police brutality in the neighborhood of Acari, where the military police battalion responsible for the region has been carrying out executions and threatening residents.1

Marielle had dedicated her work to recording and denouncing the occupation of the favelas in Rio by the Pacification Police Units (UPP), which began in 2008. Recently, she had been one of the preeminent voices against the Federal Intervention undertaken by President Michel Temer. The Federal Government, in accordance with the State Government, took over the Public Security Secretary, putting in charge an Army General, with deployment of Army troops. This was an unprecedented measure, deemed by many unconstitutional, reflecting the tactics of a government determined to remake the law.

Many anarchist collectives and groups joined the protests denouncing the murder of Marielle. She was a black lesbian woman, a longtime grassroots militant in feminist movements and black resistance in the favelas. Her work at the biggest university in Rio de Janeiro was dedicated to exposing the previous military occupations. She was a comrade to all who fight against oppression, state violence, and patriarchy.

Dozens of other prominent participants in social movements have been killed in Brazil over the past few years; at least seven have already been murdered in 2018. Despite being a known member of a political party, she was shot and killed in the middle of the street. This shows that not even a public position of power can protect you in the situation of pervasive, constant and systematic violence that is now normal for many in Brazil.

Marielle Presente.

The corporate media is trying to whitewhash and conceal the radical aspects of Marielle’s activism, suggesting that she was just fighting for a vague notion of human rights. Worse, they are using the murder to justify the military occupation, as if she was murdered because there were not enough police on the streets.

On the contrary, Marielle Franco was murdered because of the police, and quite possibly by them.

What is driving the militarization and repression in Brazil? How has it escalated since the uprising of 2013, the World Cup, and the subsequent reaction? What can it teach us about the future of democracy?

Tropical paradise.

Escalating Militarization and Policing

It is difficult to arrive at an understanding of Brazil’s political and social situation today when the political and analytical categories one would previously have used to do so are totally exhausted. Classical concepts such as “citizenship,” “sovereignty,” “representation,” “constitutional guarantees,” and all the other terms that derive from them have become plastic; they have melted in the heat of the conflicts taking place across the globe since the end of the 20th century. One has the impression that not even those who utter these words are able to believe in them. Today, everything has become its own opposite: peace is war, security is hazardous, and citizens are the targets of the same state agencies tasked with protecting them.

The constitutional and militarized intervention in the public security of Rio de Janeiro, instituted by presidential decree and captained by a general of the Brazilian Armed Forces, exposes these contradictions. It is so absurd that it provokes paralysis, waiting, polite requests for explanation.

Though such a governmental decision is unprecedented, when we look at the various interventions in the favelas of Rio de Janeiro that have taken place over the last several decades, we can see that it is part of a stream of events that has been flowing for a long time. One landmark was the GLO (Guarantee of Law and Order) of 1992,2 used to impose the ECO-92 on the city of Rio de Janeiro.

Starting from Operation Rio (1994-1995), the use of the armed forces, especially the army, through the GLO ceased to be exceptional. In view of recent events, such as the pacification of favelas in Rio de Janeiro and the so-called “public security crises” in the north of the country, Espírito Santo and Goiás, we can conclude that the relationship between the military and the police has been inverted. Whereas once, the Military Police designated auxiliary reserve forces to serve the Army of Brazil in the event of a external conflict, today the military itself has become a sort of auxiliary police force answering to the state governors.

So the militarization of Brazilian society was already in progress well before 2013. The National Security Force, for example, was created in 2006 under the Lula administration. Yet the uprising of June 2013 marked an inflection point.

How many more have to die for this war to end?

Paulo Arantes wrote, “After June, peace will be total.” Five years later, his prediction is confirmed—provided we understand democratic social peace as identical with this militarized war on the population.

The conservative reaction intensified with the so-called mega-events, the 2014 World Cup and 2016 Olympics, both of which took place in Rio. All of these offered the state the opportunity to implement institutional adjustments in the field of security. The police received new equipment and special training from the military, in partnership with police from the UK and France; new special battalions of police were created; GLOs have been issued regularly; and a new anti-terrorism law has been introduced (No. 13,260 of March 16, 2016). In addition, police are focusing more on video recording operations and monitoring social media.

After June 2013, the ghostly figure of a diffuse and faceless (or masked) enemy took on more discernible contours. The case of Amarildo de Souza, who was tortured and murdered by a UPP (Pacifying Police Unit) and reported missing, was a warning about the escalation of policing that found no echo. The case of Rafael Braga Vieira, arrested in June 2013 in Rio de Janeiro, exemplifies the expansion of the power of security forces over the civilian population. All these were forewarnings of the murder of Marielle Franco.

Today, it is possible to justify almost anything in the name of security. Daily life is full of little humiliations that supposedly preserve our safety. These are still aimed chiefly at black people, the poor, women, rebels, and others who are marginalized; Marielle Franco was all of these. Because anyone can be understood as a potential terrorist, anyone can become a target of state terrorism. Those who object to this are themselves targeted for additional scrutiny from law enforcement or subjected to monitoring devices.

Safety and danger are imposed by the same institutions. They have become inextricably entangled, indistinguishable.

A soldier taking a photograph of the ID of a person who is attempting to enter a neighborhood on the west side of Rio de Janeiro.

Not Securing Democracy, but Securitizing It

All of these developments confirm the authoritarian tendencies that have already been consolidating in the world’s democracies for decades now. At the same time, they hint at the steps that are coming next.

The fact that all this is coming to pass under democracy rather than a military dictatorship seems to contradict the old-fashioned understanding of the state of exception as the suspension of the law. In Brazil, we are witnessing this intensification of violence, repression, and electronic surveillance not as an interruption of the rule of law, but as an extension of its logic. Today this is called the “austerity policy”—the similarities with Greece are evident, especially in Rio de Janeiro. These austerity measures are only the latest reallocation of resources in a centuries-ongoing series of colonial robberies channeling resources from the public purse into the pockets of the powerful, a process that precedes democracy yet has been stabilized by it. What is disappearing now is the illusory promise of isonomy (self-rule and equality under the law) that supposedly qualified Brazil as a modern democracy.

Crises do not necessarily cause moments of rupture. Instead, they can offer new opportunities to impose government. In a society in perpetual crisis, it is not surprising that the subjects want more and more security—even though the ones promising security are also the ones generating the crises. Here we arrive at what we can call the securitization of democracy, in which the citizen to be protected and the threat to be eliminated merge into a single subject, with the criminal justice system and the armed forces playing central roles.

This explains, on the one hand, the militarizing of the police and, on the other, the use of armies as police. Criminal justice is expanded and “democratized,” becoming the locus of political decisions in all spheres from local to international. At the same time, the armed forces have redefined their functions and adapted to the constitutional rules and protocols of international organizations, acting in new spaces and according to new strategic objectives. These developments give a grim subtext to the maxim “we must defend society.”

The result is the transformation of urban zones into theaters of war and the vertiginous increase of state murders. In Brazil, this translates into something like 60,000 corpses stacked up every year, almost all black and poor. If in the 1990s it was said that Haiti is here in Brazil, today the number of deaths surpasses the accumulation of corpses in the Syrian conflict.

Michel Temer signs the decree of military intervention in Rio de Janeiro.

The Courage to Be a Minority

With the military intervention, it was clear that we had reached a low point, but the well has no bottom. The execution of PSOL councillor Marielle Franco exceeds the routinely deadly violence of securitized democracy. It confronts each of us with the necessity of taking sides in this stupid war.

Some have speculated that Marielle’s assassination was motivated by the pursuit of electoral power. This is partly true, but that narrative is most useful to white experts looking to fill the airtime of their innocuous televised debates. Marielle Franco was not executed as part of an isolated plot to undermine democracy. She was executed by the state for the same reason that thousands of other black, poor, queer, and female people are executed.

Whenever people mobilize autonomously—for example, against the tariff in 2013, or against the extermination of black people and poor people by the police—the police intensify their violence. Any police action, no matter how violent, can be justified in the name of maintaining order, the sanctity of property, and even the security of the demonstrators themselves. That includes the extrajudicial murders of untold thousands.

Who will police the police? This is one of the fundamental problems with state democracy. There is no democratic principle, no civil or human right, that could stop the security forces from mobilizing against the population. The question of the legitimacy of specific instances of police violence, so dear to liberals and defenders of constitutional rights, has no bearing on the systemic function that the police serve through the countless acts of violence that are never documented. To this day, from Ferguson to Rio de Janeiro, the relationship between police violence and legality is the insoluble problem of administrative law. And yet it is the police that enforce the law; they are the precondition for its enforcement.

This is why we argue that we are witnessing the consolidation of democratic securitization, rather than a permanent state of exception or a slide towards a dictatorship like the ones that governed so much of the world during the 20th century, especially in nuestra América. And we have to fight it accordingly—not by demanding the return of democracy to the state, but by definitively rejecting the violence of the state in every form it can assume.

In 2018, we will see elections for executive and legislative positions throughout Brazil, including president and governors. It is the first election year after the impeachment of Dilma Rousseff. It will be an electoral process fraught with fear, suspicion, and danger—posing serious risks of legal and constitutional insecurity, as jurists like to say. This was already true before the execution of Mareille Franco.

It would not be surprising for social movements to show interest in this electoral contest. Indeed, it is precisely when democracy fails people the most that they most want to rehabilitate it. However, looking closer at all the parties contending to take the reins, we can see that whoever comes to power will not put a stop to the bloodshed. The police and the army are the primary agents of the violence that government officials claim to be fighting, and they are essential to the system. Neither Lula da Silva nor Dilma Rousseff did anything to rein in the security forces when they were in power before. Nor will any of their successors—unless governing itself becomes impossible.

A protest in Belo Horizonte remembering Marielle Franco on March 15, the day after she was murdered.

We do not seek seats at the negotiating table of legislative power. We have to take to the streets, as so many people did after Mareille Franco was executed. We have to make the streets our arena and make ungovernable revolt our instrument of struggle. The alternations between parties in the government have gotten us nowhere. If the state is the space of modern politics where all seek recognition, we need something that is unrecognizable on that terrain—that does not depend on the assembling of majorities or the preservation of a lethal security.

To begin this process, it does not matter if a thousand people take the street or a hundred thousand. It does not matter if the movement receives a hundred “likes” on social media or a million. What causes the annoyance to our rulers—and has the power to expose the scandal of the truth—is the courage to be a minority.

This is the only path forward out of securitized democracy. It is also the only way to properly honor all the people who have died at the hands of the police and the military over the years. As the artist Rogério Duarte said, describing his experience of torture during the civil-military dictatorship in Brazil (1964-1985) when he faced the Grande Porta do Medo (Great Door of Fear): there may be a beginning and an end to the stories, but what really matters is the river of blood that runs in the middle.

They don’t care about us.

  1. In Brazil, we have three different kinds of police. The Civil Police investigate crimes on the state level; the Federal Police investigate crimes on the national level; and the military police patrol the streets. The military police are the ones who will profile you for your color or beat you when a riot breaks out. 

  2. The GLOs are carried out exclusively by order of the Presidency of the Brazilian Republic to arrange for the intervention of the armed forces in situations in which the public security forces are not able to ensure order (see Art. CF 1988). In early 2014, during the administration of Dilma Rousseff, civilian and military advisers produced a “GLO Manual” that standardizes the prescribed activities of the forces deployed in this type of activity. 

Remembering Paul Z. Simons: An Unyielding Anarchist, Author, and Rebel

We’re saddened to announce the passing of Paul Z. Simons, longtime anarchist, journalist, and author. Paul was an anarchist writer with a playful spirit, an uncompromising love of life, and equally uncompromising hatred for authority—be it from the right or the left. We treasure our memories of Paul. His presence will be sorely missed.

Recalled by his eldest daughter as “a uniquely intelligent writer, traveler, idealist, and fire-breathing anarchist,” Paul participated in some of the most inspiring thought and action of the past forty years. We are not equipped to properly write his eulogy, but we hope others will, and now that he is no longer able to speak to you himself, we urge you to read the materials he left behind.

Paul wrote with great eloquence and erudition on everything from theater to insurrectionary strategy, from play to hallucinogens. In his history writing, he explored everything from the anti-racist insurgency of John Brown to the English Revolution of 1645 from an insurrectionary perspective. He reported firsthand from the front lines of riots in Athens, Greece, revolts in France, and reactions in Brazil, never hesitating to subject himself to great risk or set off on a romantic adventure in pursuit of his ideals and desires.

Embracing illegalism and open confrontation with the state not only in his younger days but also throughout his life, Paul nonetheless managed to remain free, demonstrating how much is possible despite all the oppressive forces arrayed against those who defy the prevailing order. In his lifelong rebellion, he offers an example for younger people who would also like to arrive at the age of 57 without tempering their enthusiasm for freedom.

At the cusp of the 1990s, in an article entitled “Social War” in the New York publication Black Eye, Paul wrote:

The single task that presents itself now is that of social insurrection, the stripping away of centuries of consensus based on coercion… the ripping up of the social contract and the tearing down of the edifice of capital.

Over a quarter of a century later, when some of us met him in Oakland after his return from the Syrian civil war in Rojava, Paul had not lost a single spark of this fiery determination. He welcomed us warmly into his company, readily sharing his experiences, friendship, and resources. Paul published “Rojava: Democracy and Commune” with us about his experiences visiting Rojava and participated in the dialogue that produced our book From Democracy to Freedom. The book draws on a train of thought much older than our collective, which Paul had participated in years before we joined in.

As a participant in the generation of anarchists preceding ours, Paul was a repository of the kind of historical knowledge that is rarely passed on properly in English-speaking anarchist movements. Last December, for example, Paul published Waging the War on Christmas: King Mob and the Battle of Selfridges, recounting the adventures of anti-authoritarian rebels in 1960s Britain. It is tragic that he was not able to pass on more to us before his passing.

In the photo above, we see Paul at Père Lachaise cemetery in Paris, standing before the wall where the last participants in the Paris Commune were executed. He is displaying a YPG flag, proclaiming the continuity of insurgent struggles for freedom from Paris in 1871 through Rojava in 2015. His aspirations, his struggles, and his legacy are now passed on to us, and it is up to us to craft lives of joyous resistance that are worthy of them.

To learn from Paul today, you could begin with these resources:

  • Read some of Paul’s more recent work at Modern Slavery under his own name and his pen name, El Errante.

  • Read Paul’s work archived at the Anarchist Library.

  • Listen to interviews with Paul on The Final Straw podcast about his experiences in Rojava.

  • Read the collection of Black Eye, a journal based in New York that Paul participated in at the end of the 1980s.

Paul presenting on his experiences in Rojava in the US upon his return.

J20: Fighting the Trumped up Charges–A Poster, Call-in Campaign, and Day of Solidarity

Thus far, the J20 case has been a humiliating fiasco for the state. The first six defendants were declared completely innocent, forcing the prosecutors to drop the charges against 129 more defendants despite their vow to try every single one. But 59 people still face six felony and two misdemeanor charges each, and the case is far from over.

The next trial block begins on April 17. The prosecution aims to convict alleged organizers and DC-area locals in hopes of setting a precedent criminalizing ordinary political activity as conspiracy. If they succeed, it will move the political climate in the US one step closer to Putin’s Russia.

In response, we’ve designed a new poster supporting the J20 defendants. We also announce a call-in campaign for April 2-3 and a day of solidarity on April 10.

Poster: The J20 Prosecution—Trumped up Charges

We’ve prepared a new poster emphasizing that the J20 charges are a baseless attempt to terrorize people out of standing up to the Trump regime. Please print these out and post them everywhere!

Click the image above for downloadable PDF.

The poster reads:

On January 20, 2017, while tens of thousands protested the inauguration of Donald Trump in Washington, DC, the police closed off an entire city block and arrested everyone on it. The arrestees were all charged with 8 felonies each. This kind of indiscriminate judicial harassment is unprecedented; it was surely ordered from the top. The first trial ended with all the defendants completely exonerated; the prosecutors were forced to drop the charges against 129 more arrestees. Yet 59 people still face these charges.

The goal is clearly to terrorize protesters out of the streets. Even if every single defendant is declared innocent, the charges themselves are the punishment.

Call in Campaign to Drop the Charges: April 2-3

To underscore how unpopular this prosecution is, supporters have announced a call-in campaign today and tomorrow to pressure the US Attorney’s office to drop the charges against the remaining 59 defendants. If it would help to work from a prepared list of talking points, you can find one here; be careful not to give away any personal information about yourself, lest these bullies come after you as well. Here are some of the malefactors you can call:

  • Jennifer Kerkhoff: Lead Prosectuor on the case, Deputy Chief of the Felony Major Crimes Trial Section (202) 252-7380

  • Lisa Greene: The Deputy Chief of the Superior Court Division, Kerkhoff’s direct supervisor (202) 252-7485

  • Richard Tischner: The Chief of the Superior Court Division, Kerkhoff’s direct supervisor (202) 252-7274

  • US Attorney for DC Jessie Liu: The person in charge of the US Attorney’s office, a Trump appointee (202) 252-7566

  • Rizwan Qureshi: Assistant J20 prosecutor (general line – use directory/operator) (202) 252-7679

  • John Gidez: Chief of the Felony Major Crimes Trial Section, Kerkhoff’s colleague (202) 252-6752

  • John Borchert: Assistant J20 prosecutor (esp. Dreamhost and Facebook warrants) (202) 252-7679

Day of Solidarity with J20 Resisters: April 10

We join others in calling for a day of solidarity with the 59 remaining J20 defendants on April 10, 2018. Each and every remaining defendant deserves our full support! You could poster the streets of your town, carry out a banner drop, throw up a graffiti installation, or set up a film screening, presentation, radical trivia night, bake sale, or benefit show.

Until all the charges are dropped, Donald Trump and Jennifer Kerkhoff are publicly humiliated, the US “justice system” is abolished, and every last chicken comes home to roost!

Defend the J20 resistors!

We Fight because We Like It: Maintaining Our Morale against Seemingly Insurmountable Odds

Last week, comrades published Conflictual Wisdom, “Revolutionary Introspection towards the Preservation of the Anarchist Individual & Community.” In this collection, longtime anarchists reflect on how to maintain longevity while confronting seemingly invincible adversaries. Here, we present a refined version of one of the anonymous contributions, exploring how to understand the anarchist project outside a post-Christian millenarian narrative of redemption.

“They are just ghosts, the ones who think people fight to win! They fight because they like it.’”

And There Was Light, Autobiography of Jacques Lusseyran, blind hero of the French Resistance


It is not a question of whether we can win, but of how we wish to live.

I’ve participated in the anarchist movement for a quarter of a century. In the course of that time, I’ve seen us achieve inspiring victories against overwhelming odds. From local conflicts to international confrontations, we’ve forced the authorities to back down time and again, securing space in which to carry out our experiments to invent other ways of living and relating. Some of these spaces have lasted for minutes; some of them have lasted for decades. We can understand the anarchist movement itself as one of these spaces.

I’ve also seen a lot of suffering and despair. Many of our comrades have been injured, shot, imprisoned, or killed in the course of fighting for the ideals we share. Many more have lost faith that we will ever arrive in a better world—that all this sacrifice will be justified. It can be very difficult to maintain your morale when you’re taking on the global order itself.

I still passionately believe that a few people can make tremendous changes in the world around us. But I’m not looking to be paid for my efforts in some future paradise. I’m not an employee seeking the wages of revolution. I do this because the struggle itself is fulfilling.

I don’t buy into the progress narrative of the Western Enlightenment, in which life inevitably becomes better and better over time and if we do our part we can congratulate ourselves on being a part of the arc of history that supposedly bends towards justice. On the contrary, the struggles we are engaged in today are very old. In some ways we have gained ground, in other ways we have lost ground, but there is no such thing as absolute victory or absolute defeat, and there are no guarantees as to how these struggles will turn out.

I don’t participate in anarchist struggle because I think we will save the world. On the contrary, I fight because I know that one day the whole world will be destroyed—the earth will be consumed by the sun, leaving only ash—and when that day comes, I want the story that ends to be a story of beauty and tragedy and resistance to tyranny. I want the story we live to be a story of joy and courage and togetherness. I fight because it is a way of remembering those who came before us, because it is a way of honoring the creativity and rebelliousness of my contemporaries, because it is an act of care for everyone else whose heart breaks to see injustice and misfortune. I fight because I know that there is no happily ever after, there is no salvation waiting for us at the end of history; there is just what we do together today. That is all the beauty and meaning in the world that there will ever be, and it can be more than enough.


But isn’t it more difficult to fight? Aren’t we setting ourselves up for gratuitous suffering, taking on such powerful adversaries? Wouldn’t it be easier to give up and go with the flow?

Each of us is bound to suffer regardless—that is the only certainty in this world. Mortality is a far more formidable adversary than the state. Whether we choose to fight or not, we will suffer. The question is what we want the context of that suffering to be. Will we suffer in pursuit of the things that are most precious to us? Or will we suffer meaninglessly, attempting to flee from pain and uncertainty, as if that could protect us? My experiences in a hundred black blocs have convinced me that it is usually safer in the front.

I’ve made peace with the fact that we are participating in struggles that can never be definitively won. It’s not a question of simply overthrowing a single government or destroying the state as a social form, but the never-concluded process of challenging hierarchy and oppression in all the different forms they can assume. This is not a project that will ever be complete.

For me, accepting that my actions cannot derive their meaning from some future goal is intertwined with the process of coming to terms with my mortality. Recognizing death as inevitable, I don’t
hurry any faster towards it. On the contrary, my attention shifts elsewhere, to everything that is not death, however small it may be. In a world of death, in a necrocosmos extending across billions
of light years of mostly empty space, a cosmos that is already on its way, astronomers anticipate, to universal heat death, the germination of a single seed holds more meaning for me than all the swirling galaxies of dust. We may be defeated by our enemies, we are certainly doomed to become dust ourselves, but if these things are so, then the entirety of what is meaningful consists only of the moments that something else is happening, something other than death—be it a loving interaction between two friends, the maintenance of an anarchist social center, the development of a grassroots music tradition like punk or klezmer, an explosion of rioting, or the toppling of a government.

The fact that each of these moments has occurred will remain forever, immutable, in defiance of the vacuum. The cowardice and violence of individual police officers and of the police as an institution, the egregious acts of ISIS and the KKK—those are just background noise, death and taxes.


From these moments—from our lived experiences of anarchy and freedom—we can extrapolate a vision of the future that is not a reiteration of Christian eschatology but rather a dimension of how we conduct ourselves in the present. We may or may not live to experience anarchy on a scale greater than our hard-won friendships, love affairs, projects, and uprisings. But in the meantime, the vision of that possibility can anchor and orient us in the present, informing our actions, the way a mariner navigates across the sea by the stars. Regardless of what happens tomorrow, when we are able to imagine a utopia, that utopia can gain traction on reality by enabling us to take actions we would otherwise not be capable of. The reality content of a future utopia is determined by the actions it enables us to take today.

In this regard, my ability to believe in the possibility of change—not as something to occur in the future, but as something I can pursue right now—is a fundamental part of my power to live fully, to maintain a healthy relationship to my own agency. This is different from believing in a millenarian vision of revolution. It is not a prediction about the future, such as a scientist might make, but rather a decision about how to relate to myself and my own capabilities.

This is what enables me to take action, however humble, however imperfect, and to learn from my actions, make contact with others, and take action again. The history of anarchy as the lived experience of human beings is comprised of such actions, which will hang in eternity after every empire has triumphed and been destroyed and the earth has been swallowed up by the sun.


Further Reading

Desert: “In our hearts, we all know the world will not be ‘saved.’”

Green Nihilism or Cosmic Pessimism by Alejandro de Acosta

The greatest weight.— What, if some day or night a demon were to steal after you into your loneliest loneliness and say to you: “This life as you now live it and have lived it, you will have to live once more and innumerable times more; and there will be nothing new in it, but every pain and every joy and every thought and sigh and everything unutterably small or great in your life will have to return to you, all in the same succession and sequence – even this spider and this moonlight between the trees, and even this moment and I myself. The eternal hourglass of existence is turned upside down again and again, and you with it, speck of dust!”

Would you not throw yourself down and gnash your teeth and curse the demon who spoke thus? …Or how well disposed would you have to become to yourself and to life to crave nothing more fervently than this ultimate eternal confirmation and seal?

-Nietzsche, The Gay Science