At the close of 2016, Verso books published Revolutionary Yiddishland: A History Of Jewish Radicalism, by Alain Brossat and Sylvia Klingberg. Eager to learn more about Jewish radicalism of all stripes, one CrimethInc. agent sent away for a copy of this book. The results were surprising, as detailed in this full report to Verso.
I am sad to say that I recently received a defective book and I would like a full refund. The book I ordered was Revolutionary Yiddishland: A History Of Jewish Radicalism, but instead I received an incomplete version. It seems that any mention of anarchy, anarchism, anarchists, and even anarcho-communism has been left out completely from my copy. When looking in the index I found that my copy was missing even the most notable Jewish radicals, who happen to be anarchists, such as Emma Goldman and Alexander Berkman. Also, there is no mention of the anarchists who participated in the 1905 uprising, the Bialystok anarchists,1 or the notable anarchist group, The Black Banner. When the authors got to the assassination of Symon Petliura on page eight, there was not one mention of his assassin, Sholem Schwartzbard, a Jewish anarchist. I noticed, too, that the numerous Jewish anarchist newspapers were missing, as well as the Jewish anarchists who wrote, compiled, edited, and printed those papers, such as anarchists David Edelstadt and Saul Yanovsky.
Ironically, the title of the book I received is “Yiddishland” and yet Baruch Rivkin is not mentioned once in my copy. Rivkin, an anarchist, diligently wrote on the subject of “Yiddishland,” and arguably coined the term. It grieves me that I was sold an incomplete version of a “History of Jewish Radicalism.” I am sure it was an honest mistake and not false advertising, since there is not one point in history when communists or socialists have attempted to erase anarchism, anarchists, Jewish anarchists, or Jews from its pages.
All the members of the first anarchist group in the Russian Empire, which was formed in 1903 in Bialystok, were Jews. Yiddish-speaking Jews participated in the International Anarchist Congress of Amsterdam in 1907. ↩
Federal agents approach you. Perhaps they just ask a couple offhand questions; perhaps they have a deal to propose. They might tell you they are trying to help you; they might tell you that you are in a lot of trouble and it will just get worse unless you cooperate with them; they might tell you that they need your help to prevent something terrible from happening. But whatever they say, you can’t be sure what their real agenda is or what they’re trying to learn. Whether you’ve already been approached for interrogation or you simply want to be prepared for the possibility, this FAQ answers all the questions you might have. Don’t take our word for it—follow up with other legal scholars for more perspective.
The FBI went to great lengths to target Martin Luther King, Jr., the Black Panthers, and countless other activists and social movements through COINTELPRO and other programs like it. Just like the KGB or the East German Stasi, their operations depend on a population that is willing to inform on each other out of cowardice and self-interest. The “War on Drugs” and the “War on Terror” have both relied on informants to fill US prisons with millions of inmates. Under Donald Trump, we see police and FBI agents ramping up their activities to intimidate and entrap more people than ever, with the explicit purpose of suppressing dissent. We have to stand up to these bullies.
Am I obligated to cooperate with police?
No, you don’t have to answer any questions or supply names to the authorities. Neither you nor anyone else has a legal obligation to assist the police in solving a crime. You are not legally required to cooperate.
If I do inform, will they protect my identity?
Though the state often refers to informants as “confidential informants” or “confidential human sources,” prosecutors may be obligated to disclose your identity in court, especially if you were central in the issuance of a warrant or if you were present at the scene of whatever the defendant is accused of. The defense could also force you to testify in open court: they are guaranteed the right to do so under the confrontation clause in the Constitution. Generally speaking, the FBI and prosecutors only concern themselves with protecting the identity of informants as long as they have additional plans to utilize them.
If I don’t inform, can they make me testify in court?
If you lead a prosecutor or a law enforcement officer to believe that you have relevant information, you could be subpoenaed to testify. Your best chance at avoiding this is to refuse to talk to them from the beginning. That way, if they come after you later, other people will have good reason to trust you and support you in continuing to resist the pressures of the state. Your strongest and most secure right is the right to remain silent from the very beginning.
If they are threatening to arrest me in order to get me to inform, don’t they have to give me access to a lawyer?
While this might depend on the jurisdiction, the answer is generally no. You have a right to an attorney if you are being arrested, but law enforcement guidelines give officers wide discretion to make offers to get someone to inform. They may never formally arrest you, just detain you and question you.
Is the FBI obligated to give me what they offer when they are trying to get me to inform?
This is a grey area. Federal agents may offer formal informants a written agreement that is supposedly enforceable like a contract—but the FBI is obviously the more powerful party in this negotiation, with little to lose from failing to follow through. Law enforcement officers often maintain a network of unregistered informants whose testimony is not used in court but rather provide tips and useful information to aid in investigations. Many informants think they will get off for snitching, only to learn later that they still face time for lesser or reduced charges.
In short: the FBI cares about repressing communities and disrupting social movements, not about protecting informants.
Can’t I just feed them false information to keep them off my back?
18 U.S.C. §1000 makes it a federal crime to knowingly mislead or lie to federal officials, including law enforcement. Federal agents have used this law to prosecute those they suspect of “domestic terrorism” when they have no other evidence to go on.
Remember, if law enforcement is looking for informants, there is a good chance they don’t have a case against whoever they’re trying to target. Don’t give them a case against you.
Couldn’t I just give them worthless or meaningless information?
It’s always better to remain silent and not cooperate when approached by the FBI, then speak to a lawyer as soon as possible. Information you might assume to be irrelevant could be of interest in an entirely different case; it could implicate people you did not intend, or give the Feds a reason to really harass you. If you give them information about anyone, however harmless you think that information is, you increase the likelihood that they will attempt to intimidate and interrogate that person and likely others—and that they will come back to keep trying to learn more from you.
Don’t make the mistake of thinking you can control the situation by talking. You can’t know what the actual goal of their inquiry is, or what their strategy is in approaching you. The only control you have is in refusing to speak to them.
Don’t FBI agents need to have something on me before they can approach me?
FBI agents can run with what is called an “assessment.” It doesn’t require a warrant or approval from superiors, and it can be just as invasive as a full-fledged investigation. According to their guidelines, this assessment can be used to “seek information to identify potential human sources [i.e., informants], assess the suitability, credibility, or value of individuals as human sources, validate human sources, or maintain the cover or credibility of human sources, who may be able to provide or obtain information relating to criminal activities in violation of federal law, threats to the national security, or matters of foreign intelligence interest.”
In other words, they are free to approach you and say whatever they like without any information whatsoever.
What are the chances they are going to approach me? How many informants are there, and how important are they to the activities of the FBI?
Law enforcement is dependent on informants. The FBI alone maintains a network of some 15,000 informants just for their counterterrorism program. Since September 11, 2001, nearly every major terrorism-related prosecution has involved a sting operation with a government informant at the center; there have been at least 416 defendants in terrorism prosecutions involving an informant.
While it is impossible to determine what the chances are that any particular individual will be approached to become an informant, it’s reasonable to assume that federal agents will approach members of our communities whenever they see an opportunity to collect information or disrupt our organizing.
What if they have already talked to me and I agreed to help them because I was scared?
You are not obligated to cooperate. You can invoke your right to remain silent at any time. If you have already spoken with law enforcement, seek an attorney immediately.
You also need to be honest with everyone in your life about the conversation you had with them. If you fall into one of the traps that the FBI is so good at setting, you should be completely honest and transparent about it and recount the encounter in full. This is the only way to deserve the trust of your companions, be accountable for your actions, and make it possible to obtain support from others if you need it.
Even if you do not divulge any information whatsoever, you should report any interactions with federal agents to your community at large. You don’t need to keep it a secret that you are being targeted—the ones targeting you already know. Bringing FBI activity to the attention of the general public can discourage federal agents from harassing people. It also enables people to organize together and support each other.
What should I do if I am approached to become an informant?
Remember these four things:
-Non-cooperation is the best way to protect our communities and movements against state repression.
-If they are approaching you about informing, they probably have a weak case if they have a case at all.
-You do not have to cooperate. You have the right to remain silent.
I shall die, but that is all that I shall do for Death;
I am not on his payroll.
I will not tell him the whereabouts of my friends
nor of my enemies either.
Though he promise me much,
I will not map him the route to any man’s door.
Am I a spy in the land of the living,
that I should deliver men to Death?
Brother, the password and the plans of our city
are safe with me; never through me
Shall you be overcome.
-Edna St. Vincent Millay, “Conscientious Objector”
With fascism on the rise both in the United States and Europe, it’s a good time to remind everyone of Inglourious Basterds. This movie is full of people kicking Nazi ass and offers a wealth of entertaining operational security lessons. The following text is packed with both spoilers and important takeaways from the film.
Lesson 1: Don’t put your trust in someone who has everything to lose from helping you and nothing to gain.
The opening scene of Inglourious Basterds features a confrontation between a Nazi officer and a French dairy farmer who is hiding a Jewish family under his house. The Jews have entrusted their safety to the dairy farmer because, prior to the German occupation of France, he was one of their neighbors. The farmer has nothing to gain from aiding his Jewish neighbors besides the fact that offering to hide your neighbors when they are being threatened with genocide is the only decent thing to do. Unfortunately, the dairy farmer has three daughters and a vested interest in keeping them safe from the occupying Germans. The farmer reveals the location of the Jewish family because protecting them and protecting his family have become mutually exclusive.
People who stand to gain little from helping us seldom choose decency over the preservation of their own interests. This doesn’t necessarily mean we should never place our trust in such people, but it does mean that we need to have explicit conversations with them about how much risk they’re willing to take on in the course of providing their assistance, especially when betrayal carries serious consequences.
Lesson 2: Share details exclusively on a need-to-know basis.
Shoshanna is a woman with a plan. To pull it off, she needs complete buy-in from her counterpart, Marcel, and the services of a film developer. Her plan is both dangerous and tenuous, and even one breach in security could land her and her co-conspirator in a concentration camp (or worse), leaving Hitler and the rest of the Nazi party top brass free to continue their reign of terror. Fortunately for Shoshanna, she has two really important things going for her: she is cool as a cucumber, and she knows better than to share essential details with nonessential players. Shoshanna never reveals even a single detail about her plan to the film developer, choosing instead to provide what you might call an alternate incentive for his cooperation. In fact, aside from Marcel, whose complete loyalty has already been verified, and whose collaboration is essential to ensure the success of Shoshanna’s plan, Shoshanna never breathes a word about her intentions to anyone, leaving her free and clear to carry out her act of vengeance.
This lesson applies in real life: if you never tell your colleagues anything more than what is needed for them to execute their part of the plan, you significantly reduce the risk that they will share damaging information and ruin your plans.
Lesson 3: Own your weaknesses so you can work around them.
Lieutenant Archie Hicox is an exemplary soldier and an above-average spy who understands German fluently. Unfortunately, Lieutenant Hicox speaks with an unusual accent, and while his knowledge of German film is unparalleled within the Allied forces, his understanding of German culture is severely lacking in several regards. Also severely lacking is Hicox’ awareness of his weaknesses. As a result of this lack of self-awareness, Hicox first draws attention to his covert meeting by being overheard speaking with an odd accent, then ultimately botches the mission, resulting in his own death and the deaths of nearly everyone else in the room. Fraulein von Hammersmark later tells Lieutenant Rains that Hicox screwed up by holding up the incorrect fingers to signal “three” while ordering from the bartender. While this is certainly an accurate description of events, the truth is that he flubbed the operation by not having the good sense to shut the hell up once he’d drawn the attention of an SS officer.
This offers two real-world takeaways: first, be self-aware about your weaknesses so you can work around them. The second, which is related, is to be aware enough to know when your operation has failed, so you can pull back in time to regroup and try again later—or at least so you can live to fight another day.
Lesson 4: Clean up after yourself.
Sure, Bridget von Hammersmark made a mission-critical error by choosing a pub full of Nazi soldiers as the place for her rendezvous with the Basterds, but her much deadlier mistake was neglecting to clean up after herself before leaving the scene. It can be damn near impossible to keep your wits when everything is falling to pieces around you, but if you’re engaged in something subversive or clandestine, you need to remain calm during catastrophes to ensure that the trouble doesn’t spread. In Bridget von Hammersmark’s case, a discarded autograph and an errant shoe effectively sealed her fate.
In the real world, cleaning up after yourself might be as simple as wiping chat and text message logs before going out to a risky action, or making sure your bags do not contain anything you don’t want to be arrested carrying before you leave the house, or making sure you don’t leave behind anything potentially incriminating.
Lesson 5: Sometimes you can’t salvage a plan.
The Basterds had an airtight plan for infiltrating the premier of Fredrick Zoller’s film: send in three operatives all fluent in German to accompany famed German actress Bridget von Hammersmark to the premier of Stolz der Nation, and use the event as an opportunity to take out Hitler. Unfortunately, all the German-speaking Basterds were present at Frau von Hammersmark’s disastrous basement rendezvous and none of them survived. Now, most people might face these facts with an air of resignation, but Lieutenant Aldo Raine is not most people. Raine makes the extremely ill-advised and regrettable decision to move forward as planned, posing as Italians rather than Germans. Granted, Aldo speaks Italian… sort of. And sure, Frau von Hammersmark does tell him that Germans don’t have a good ear for Italian accents… but reasonably, all parties involved should have called it quits.
Sometimes, it is impossible to salvage a plan. The best you can do is call it quits and live to fight another day—whether that means backing out of a plan to assassinate Hitler, or recognizing that it’s time to leave an action, go home, and start preparing for the next one.
Lesson 6: The most dangerous kind of adversary is the one who has nothing to lose.
Shoshanna Dreyfus, aka Emmanuelle Mimieux, is a young Frenchwoman who owns a movie theater. Unbeknownst to everyone but her lover and her reluctant but loyal collaborator, Marcel, Shoshanna is also a young Jewish woman whose family was massacred before her eyes, who only barely escaped sharing their fate. In other words, Shoshanna is clean out of fucks to give, and is willing to burn it all down in order to get revenge and prevent others from sharing her family’s fate. Shoshanna is the epitome of a dangerous adversary because she has decided she has nothing to lose.
The lesson here is a grim one: you can only defeat an adversary willing to sacrifice everything to take you down by acting preemptively. In the best-case scenario, you should not make such enemies in the first place. In the worst-case scenario, you must neutralize such threats before they are able to enact mutually-assured destruction.
Lesson 7: Be careful making deals with your adversary.
There may come a time in your life when, like Colonel Hans Landa, you need to make a deal with your enemies in order to ensure your survival. The lesson to take away from Landa’s deal with the American military is simple: make sure you iron out all of the details and don’t trust your adversary any more than is necessary. Landa, for example, probably shouldn’t have trusted Aldo Raine to adhere to all the details of the agreement he had made.
In a real-life context, this means you should never trust the police when they offer you a deal in exchange for information. Police frequently assure arrestees that if they cooperate (i.e., answer questions and give up information), they’ll tell the district attorney to go easy on them. The reality of the situation is that police have no control over how a district attorney files charges or tries cases, and a police officer is never going to get on the stand and testify that a defendant should be exonerated if the DA instructs him otherwise.
It is also important to be circumspect about making deals with your adversaries when you are considering accepting a plea deal offered by a prosecuting attorney. Be wary of plea deals stipulating probation, as probation frequently carries with it a suspension of the meager civil liberties offered by the state—sometimes not just for the person on probation, but also for all those in proximity to that person. If you are considering accepting a plea deal rather than going to trial, work with your attorney to try to negotiate a deal that actually protects you and your comrades.
Always do your best to find out what your enemies stand to lose if they go back on their word. If it’s negligible—or nothing at all—there’s no reason to put faith in the deal.
A series of fierce protests broke out all around Belarus in February 2017, continuing throughout March and shaking the foundations of Lukashenko’s decades-old rule. Anarchists were at the forefront, radicalizing both the street confrontations and the proposals advanced by the movement; anarchist tactics spread to many other participants, who joined anarchists in pushing back against aggressive police repression. We interviewed Belarusian anarchists who participated in the movement to prepare this full report.
The Belorussian president Alexander Lukashenko first came to power in 1994; he won his fifth mandate in Fall 2015. He has become notorious for violently suppressing social movements and any kind of opposition. The small yet vibrant anarchist and antifascist scene has endured grave repression for many years, with many comrades serving long prison sentences.
The Criminalization of Poverty / The Parasites Fight Back
Belarus has experienced a deep recession for many years now due to its strong economic ties to Russia; consequently, the government has made severe financial cuts in the welfare state. Yet this most recent attempt to criminalize and humiliate the most vulnerable parts of Belorussian society pushed people over the edge. In 2015, Lukashenko introduced a new law stipulating that everyone who has not held a job in the last six months has to pay a special tax to the state to cover the costs of public health care and education. The poorest parts of the population were described as “social parasites”; the only way to avoid the tax was to go through humiliating process of explaining their financial circumstances to a special government commission. According to some estimates, the law affected about half a million of people. Those who could not afford to pay the tax could be sentenced to 15 days of forced labor.
The first march against the new law took place on February 17 in the Belarusian capital city, Minsk. This demonstration was forbidden by the authorities, yet it attracted some 2000 angry people. Some opposition politicians participating in the protest tried to calm the others down, but loud anarchists remained ungovernable. The state responded immediately with repression, but the crowd showed considerable solidarity, rescuing everyone that the police sought to arrest.
Demonstrations spread from Minsk to the cities of Gomel and Brest; they also occurred in small towns that have not seen protest activity in decades, like Orsha, Bobruisk, Kobrin, and Luninec. Despite the fact that Lukashenko pulled back and promised to suspend the law, protests continued, calling for his resignation.
It appeared that what pushed people to the streets was, on one hand, the criminalization of poverty and, on the other hand, the gradual destruction of the welfare state. What do you think brought people over the edge?
Belarus is in an economic crisis right now and that is completely ignored by the state. The President of the country, Alexander Lukashenko, is trying to pretend that everything is better than ever. At the same time, salaries are in decline, factories are closing, and a wave of privatization is pushing people to the edge. To maintain itself, the state has to squeeze even more money from the people—apart from talks about social parasitism, there is an attempt to blame society for the crisis. So the recent moves away from a welfare state have alienated a lot of people who were supportive or at least not openly opposed to Lukashenko to conclude that something has to change.
The protests were decentralized; in many cases, quite self-organized. Who were the people on the streets and how were they organizing?
In many cases, the protests were still called by opposition activists. However, they managed to mobilize everybody who is dissatisfied with the regime right now. The organization is currently taking place through social networks and some oppositional media platforms that are using their potential to spread news about the events.
It is worth mentioning that normally, protests are concentrated in the capital city of Minsk, but this time, most of the protests took place outside of the capital. People face worse conditions outside of the bigger cities, and this might explain why the protests have been so distributed.
Did any groups try to take over the narrative of the uprising, to centralize it, to control and neutralize dissent and the multiplicity of voices within the protests?
Each opposition party and group is trying to claim the protest. You can see that different oppositional platforms are depicting the protests in different way; they already struggling with each other for the influence. Unlike the first social demands, they are trying to push ideas of fair elections and reforms.
I think a lot of people are skeptical of the opposition parties—they have compromised themselves many times. Already in the protest, they had a split and mobilized only for their own actions, ignoring the actions of their opponents. At the same time, there was a chance that different opposition groups would try to take over the protest in different parts of the country, since different parties have influence in different cities. In the end, however, this didn’t happen.
Were nationalists part of this movement?
Liberal-nationalism is a really important ideology among the Belorussian opposition, so you could see some nationalist flags and symbols in the protests. But so far, the socio-political part of the protest didn’t give so much space to nationalist agenda.
People forced the regime to rescind the law that provoked the protests. Then they turned against the regime itself. But did they go further than asking for different politicians?
The first demand was to stop the “parasite law,” and then, further, to get rid of Lukashenko. Did people have any idea who or what they wanted to replace him with? I doubt it. This is not what you are thinking about when you are standing together against a dictator. For the revolt to embrace the idea of autonomy and other anarchist values—this is really far away from our society right now. It is also important to mention that eventually, Lukashenko denied that he had canceled the law, so even this small victory has been taken away from people.
The uprising in Belarus is yet another in a long line of Eastern European protests over the last few years. How do you understand the Belarus uprising in the context of hostility between East and West?
The demonstrations around the country didn’t lead to any further activity. We hope that after repression, the wave won’t subside, and perhaps in that sense, things will get rolling. For now, it is a long shot even to say that Belarus is close to some kind of bourgeois revolution.
However, if the people win and Lukashenko steps down, then opposition will move for sure towards the West and away from Russian influence. At the same time, this could trigger the Ukrainian scenario in which Russia intervenes to keep this territory—annexing it or establishing a puppet regime. The fall of the regime definitely will not contribute to the stabilization of this region in the short term; however, it might bring at least some liberal freedoms in place of the long-lasting rule of dictators from USSR to Lukashenko.
Under a Red and Black Flag
Anarchists were the key element in the protests and, consequently, the main target of oppression. The government went out of its way to argue that anarchists are provocateurs trying to create a “new Maidan” and to destroy peace in Belarus. The authorities issued statements, published videos, and began to prosecute and arrest all the radicals in the country. First, they went after anarchists after the demonstrations, sentencing them to short jail sentences; then they began re-arresting people before they were released from jail, prolonging their sentences.
The demonstration of March 25 was supposed to be one of the biggest gatherings of protesters, a culmination of struggle. Instead, it was the biggest show of police brutality in years. In the days leading up to it, police carried out raids under false pretenses such as calling the fire brigade to break into apartments, arresting everyone who had any prior connections to anarchism or previous political charges. They even broke up a small gathering of people who tried to collect food and money for detainees, arresting them and sentencing them to up to 15 days in prison. Of approximately 100 arrestees, between 30 and 40 were anarchists.
On the day of the March 25 demonstration, police occupied the capitol and started to arrest people as soon as they showed up. Without a clear indication of the final number, it is believed that up to 600 people were arrested. Most were released the same day, but about 100 stayed in prison.
It seems that both Western media and the regime in Belarus have been united in arguing that anarchists played an important role in this protest. What sort of presence did they have?
Anarchists participated in three protests and one failed attempt to join a protest in which they were arrested before reaching the gathering point on March 25. The role of the anarchists was to make the protests lively and to move away from traditional oppositional protests, and this was quite successful: there was a lot of positive feedback from other parts of society. The socially-oriented slogans and alternative proposals that anarchists brought to the movement were far more persuasive to other protesters than the old overused opposition slogans. In that sense, anarchists formed a political movement that could attract a lot of people.
At the same time, the groups of anarchists were never particularly large. Between February and March, the biggest mobilization saw around 30 to 40 people in the anarchist bloc. Yet even that was enough to show that we offer something completely different than the traditional opposition.
Lukashenko identified anarchists as provocateurs, warning of a “new Maidan” and trying to create a state of emergency. On the other hand, the opposition tried to impose the language of peaceful transition on the protest. What was the anarchist reaction to both of these maneuvers?
I don’t think that there was a lot of reaction. In his delusions, Lukashenko is always blaming agents of West that are supposedly planning to destroy his oasis; so for us, those attacks were not that important. Likewise, we didn’t plan to react to the peaceful language of opposition; we have our own agenda, and there is no point in getting into discussions with those groups.
How did anarchists try to reach out to other participants in the protests? What lessons can be taken from these two months of participating in such an uprising?
Good slogans and new chants were used for each protest. The visual and audio aspects such as banners and drums brought people closer to the anarchists and increased their curiosity. The media was eager to transmit anarchist messages as part of the protest. We also brought leaflets to spread among people attending the demonstrations. It is hard to talk about the lessons that we got from this movement; the conclusions will be discussed when people are released from prison.
It seems that anarchists were the chief targets of repression. Why do you think that is? Did the state believe that the protests would die out if they cut out the most radical part of it?
The anarchists comprise the group that is most capable of going beyond state-tolerated protest. The bigger the influence of anarchists in protests, the bigger the potential of mobilizing others to go beyond those limitations. I think the police understand this clearly. Anarchists are a threat because they don’t hold to dogmatic ideas about non-violent resistance or legality, and they don’t have leaders that the authorities can “work with.”
Were anarchists a visible power in Belarus before the uprising? What has the situation been for anarchism in Belarus in the last couple of years?
I think anarchists were visible in Belarus before this. For the last few years, the opposition abandoned the streets in many senses, and anarchists were among the few who were still carrying out some illegal actions and bringing some social projects to society. Still, not so many anarchists were visible in the political arena of the country.
Despite repression, it seems that people have persistently struggled against the regime in Belarus for a long time—not just anarchists, but random people as well. How did other protesters react to repression in this movement? We heard stories about other protesters defending the black bloc and similar occurences.
Indeed, some people were eager to participate in the demonstrations, even if they would be arrested. This was something that fascinated us: they were not hardcore political activists, but normal people fighting for changes despite the threat of repression.
The solidarity that other demonstrators displayed towards anarchists was incredible. Riot cops were trying to arrest anarchists at the very first demonstration, and some people who were going home from the protest started helping anarchists and pushing away the cops. They didn’t expect that from “normal people”! After that, this sort of solidarity occurred again several times. We saw it again on March 15: when the police arrested 50 people, 15 or 20 of them were ordinary participants who had been helping anarchists to resist arrest.
The demonstration of March 25 was supposed to be the biggest protest so far, but Minsk came under police occupation, with the biggest wave of repression so far. What is the situation of those arrested? How many anarchists remain in jail?
Most people have been released from jail following short-term arrests. Unfortunately, one person was sent to jail for violating probation; he will serve two years now. Some arrestees expect to be expelled from the university or to lose their jobs. There is at least one case in which a landlord is evicting someone after the KGB pressed him to do so.
Anarchists from Belarus have called comrades around the world to show solidarity. What can people do to support the struggle?
There are many different ways to support anarchists in Belarus. You could carry out solidarity actions, collect money for legal support, or offer information about how to carry out protests, de-arresting, and any other knowledge that can be useful in such situations.
On May Day 2017, massive demonstrations against capitalism and state violence took place in Paris, France. Afterwards, sensationalistic footage circulated around the world of police being attacked with Molotov cocktails. Yet these video clips do not show the larger context. They do not show the intensifying police repression of French society as a whole, nor the police attacks that provoked such desperate acts of self-defense. In this report from France, our Parisian correspondents describe the events of the day and offer more background on the clashes.
The anarchist march departed from the Place des Fêtes for the Place de la République to join the May Day demonstration. We arrived at Place de la République unhindered and assumed our place in the Cortège de tête, the combative group that has marched at the front of demonstrations since the movement against the labor law (the Loi Travail) in 2016.)
We were expecting the police to employ the same strategy they had used in response to many demonstrations over the past year: to cut the demonstration in two, separating the head from the body, in order to isolate the autonomous bloc from other demonstrators. The police employed this strategy on May Day 2016, but in the trap they created, they caught a considerable number of “ordinary demonstrators”—families, elderly people, and children. This provoked indignation from others in the demonstration and created hostility towards the police from demonstrators who had not previously expressed any objection to them.
This occurred because last year, the techniques of the police failed. The demonstrations during the movement against the labor law, especially those of June 14, 2016, prompted a revision of the police strategy, with the collaboration of the security service of the CGT, the majority trade union: the syndicate’s security service, armed with helmets and sticks, pushes the autonomous procession before it into the hands of the police, so that the police can easily kettle the black bloc. Obviously, this is to allow the CGT and the police to enforce a distinction between good and bad protesters: between those who willingly walk around inside a cage comprised of riot police and protest marshalls on one side, and the evil vandals on the other.
But this year, there was another objective, an unavowable one: this time, the goal was above all to hide the police violence that was in store so that it would not be visible to the main body of the demonstration, for no one could witness so much violence without horror. According to many participants, May Day 2017 saw the most violence from the police in a very long time. The police applied it methodically, gradually using more and more serious weapons.
First, after having kettled the autonomous bloc, the police used tear gas attacks to push us onto Boulevard Beaumarchais to keep us out of sight. When that was accomplished, they started to use flash-balls and sting-balls, while shooting tear gas continuously. It was a veritable avalanche, a ceaseless barrage.
In response, some people throw stones. Fireworks too. Some Molotov cocktails. The police pushed us relentlessly towards the Place de la Bastille, shooting at us without pause. Once there, they formed a trap at the foot of the steps of the Opera Bastille with perhaps two hundred people inside it. For those people, it turned into a scene of tragedy worthy of The Battleship Potemkin. The police pushed people on the steps while soaking them in tear gas. We could see nothing, there was no place to escape, people crashed against the steps, jostling and falling on top of each other like in the Odessa Steps Sequence.
Fortunately, we were not in this group. The police pushed us onto Avenue Daumesnil, then Boulevard Diderot.
Picture yourself in this scene. Tear gas grenades are exploding incessantly. Sometimes you think you can escape by a street, so you run there—in any case, you have no choice, because you need to breathe—but the police are waiting for you on every street. As soon as you pass the street corner, they kettle you in, shooting concussion grenades into the middle of the crowd, knowing perfectly well that there is no space to avoid them.
Dozens of people were injured in situations like this. One of our friends got fragments of sting-balls stuck between her bag and her back, burning the bag completely and leaving deep marks on her skin.
We formed circles to let those dressed in black change clothes out of sight of the cameras of the police. The police began to let us go, one by one, inflicting random blows as we did.
Our friend who had been injured was very afraid at this moment, not because of her injuries, but on account of a bureaucratic issue: because she was not French, she had every reason to fear that an arrest would mean expulsion from France.
Those who fear the election of Marine Le Pen must understand that the French police are already carrying out an effectively fascist program. Not only do the majority of policemen admit to voting for the extreme right, but the state is already employing them to implement totalitarian conditions. Migrants and refugees can tell a lot about this.
In this two-week interval between the two rounds of the election, it is becoming clear that the real seizure of power is not taking place through the election, but at its borders, more or less concealed, in the increasing autonomy of the police force. In our last report, we explored the ways that extending the state of emergency has both paved the way for the police state and rendered it invisible. Since the arrival of Le Pen in the second round of the elections, we see the police behaving as if she had already won the election.
The evening of the first vote was the occasion of an anarchist-organized call to gather at the Place de la Bastille for a “Night of Barricades.” Dozens of people were wounded by police that evening, humiliated, undressed in the street. Journalists were beaten up with their own cameras.
Two days later, statutory refugees (who are officially supposed to benefit from “state protection”) were expelled from their homes and thrown into the streets by police, for no reason, out of pure racism. The next day, a friend’s squat was attacked by the police. Our comrades were tackled to the ground with a Flash-ball on the temple. One of our friends was subjected to sexual assault in the car that took her to the police station. Coincidence or not, a few days prior, that squat had hosted a projection of videos we have made in Paris over the past few months documenting police violence against migrants.
All this is further evidence, should more evidence be necessary, that fighting against the extreme right means fighting against the State. It is something we must make a daily practice.
On May Day 2017, anarchists participated in lively demonstrations all around the United States, from the heartland to the coasts. In the Northwest, Seattle witnessed a successful block party at the site of a juvenile corrections center, while in Olympia anarchists barricaded train tracks to oppose fracking and clashed with police. Support arrestees here. Yet Portland, Oregon may take the cake for the most creative and combative May Day. Demonstrators not only defended themselves from unprovoked attacks from police who declared the march a riot—they also introduced exciting new innovations into the aesthetic of the black bloc street presence. Here, comrades from Portland explain their goals with the giant spiders they created for May Day, and offer a helpful guide for those who wish to make spiders of their own.
How to Build Your Own May Day Spiders—and Why
In an effort to bridge the gap between art and activism, giant spiders were assembled off-site and pushed up the street to the demonstration, stocked with water bottles, snacks, earplugs, and other party favors. The idea was to narrow the divide between “us” and “them” that often exists at demonstrations, and it was a complete success. We performed community outreach, engaged in cultural development, boosted morale, provided crucial supplies, and created an amazing photo opportunity in the process.
The concept is multi-dimensional: it works on many different levels. The idea began from frustrations around attendance at local demonstrations. In Portland, where the majority of citizens seem to be white, middle-class, and apolitical on account of these privileges, they don’t show up unless a demonstration concerns their interests specifically. However, Portlanders are fascinated by their own love of art and “wacky” stuff as well as the commodification of protest as “funtertainment.” We decided to embrace this love of the “weird” to test whether a hyper-localized approach to engaging people could succeed.
Our tactical art enabled us to fill a supporting role for other participants in the march, helping challenge narratives that the black bloc is an “othered” or “othering” tactic. Whether this separation is intentional or not, the fact remains that the general public is often hesitant to engage with us. Bearing that in mind—as well the tendency of the Portland Police Department to brutally shut down demonstrations—we stocked our Spiders with fliers, water, LAW (liquid, antacid, water, the eyewash with which street medics treat pepper spray), ear plugs, and snacks. We also included a few other party favors, because anarchy needs revelry!
We intentionally engaged with the folks around us. A lot of people walked up to ask what the spiders meant! It was inspiring to see so much dialogue between folks in everyday garb and folks in black bloc. We explained the ideas behind our actions as anarchists and the creations themselves: the three spiders representing Mutual Aid, Solidarity, and Direct Action.
A word about symbolism. The idea of using the spider as an icon of resistance is that spiders are always there watching, waiting, and keeping the environment free of pesky insects and other parasites that consume resources without supporting their fellow beings. While we may look scary, we’re here with you and for you. We are the spiders, and the insects are the societal ills that we fight against.
The symbolism of the black widow spider is rich with history that guides our work. We want to contribute to that rich history, adding our own interpretations. Mutual Aid, Solidarity, Direct Action are our black widow’s cruses. (Crux? Curse? Cures?)
In regards to developing our own culture, there are many barriers we face in this process. State repression is the biggest threat, of course. The specter of state repression can complicate organizing, planning, and building trust in our communities. Portland has a history of repression and slander, ruining the lives of activists and anarchists; these horror stories reverberate throughout the underground. We can’t allow ourselves to be publicly disparaged and forced into hiding by our adversaries and their culture war, so we create as a political act. Creating is intuitively human: we plan, we build, we think, we conspire, we imagine. It is also an activity in which everyone can engage to some degree while building new skills. It enables us to get to know each other, build trust, and share time and company.
More globally, seizing the Spectacle is a step towards our goals, because it allows us to dictate our own narratives. With the development of Public Relations and Social Engineering, the visage of capitalism has come to define its delusional reality. To paraphrase Guy Debord, lived experiences are now taken in as a collection of representational images. We can tell our own stories and show the general public what these three principles mean in action. We can create our own mythos, speaking out on our own terms, in our own language, with our own symbols. The state and media dictate too much of what we’re allowed to say and how it’s spun—it’s time to spin our own webs to connect and fortify our relationships.
We are building the bridges we need to move forward. The existing connections between art, activism, and anarchism are fiery and well-storied. The new wave of repression under Trump’s regime is still building steam, but it is already proving dangerous. We need to be more careful than ever. Art allows us to demonstrate and show our fangs, and we can use art to empower those around us.
May Day is one of the days on which anarchists celebrate self-determination and self-realization. People have lit bonfires to mark the end of winter for thousands of years; it wasn’t until industrialization forcibly disconnected people from the land base that nourished them that May Day came to be observed as a labor holiday. At base, May Day isn’t about labor: it’s about abundance. It’s about excess, pleasure, freedom—the burgeoning source of life itself. As a millennia-old holy day honoring the return of spring, May Day directs our thoughts to nature—a wild and beautiful chaos that flows through us and nourishes us, which we can enjoy but never control. Our joyous acts of rebellion do not point to a world in which workers are paid a little better for their labor, but to the possibility that we could sweep away all the forms of oppression that stand between us and the tremendous potential of our lives.
Here follow a few recent exciting moments in the centuries-old legacy of May Day. All the best in your own efforts today: as the folk singer croons, “To fight for something is to make it your own.”
Before May Day: 1871, 1877, 1884
Before May Day became the international day to celebrate labor struggles, workers and other rebels observed March 18, the anniversary of the beginning of the Paris Commune in 1871.
For example, on March 18, 1877, the young Peter Kropotkin joined Pindy, Stepniak, and anarchists from all around Switzerland for a march in Bern. Kropotkin is largely remembered as a peaceable advocate of science and mutual aid, but he and his friends brought flagpoles, brass knuckles, and other weapons to defend themselves. After a lengthy street confrontation, they managed to rescue their red flag from police who tried to seize it, and proceeded to a 2000-strong meeting at which they recited speeches, sang revolutionary songs, and read out telegrams of encouragement from France and Spain.
Meeting in Chicago on October 7, 1884, the Federation of Organized Trades and Labor Unions resolved to demand that the workday be limited to eight hours by May Day 1886. The leadership of this organization, which later became the American Federation of Labor (AFL), secretly issued a statement advising members not to become involved in the movement around this demand, but the rank and file embraced it in large numbers.
The anarchist organizers Albert and Lucy Parsons led 80,000 people down Chicago’s Michigan Avenue in the first modern May Day Parade, chanting, “Eight-hour day with no cut in pay!” Over the next few days, 350,000 workers around the US went on strike at 1200 factories, including 70,000 in Chicago, 45,000 in New York, and 32,000 in Cincinnati.
Four days later, the police attacked a labor rally in Chicago, someone responded by throwing a bomb, and the rest is history.
Albert Parsons and four other anarchists lost their lives in the ensuing show trial, which was so widely regarded as rigged and unjust that in 1893 the governor overturned the convictions and criticized the court proceedings. Lucy Parsons, later a co-founder of the Industrial Workers of the World, dedicated herself to a life of revolutionary organizing.
Determined to avenge the Haymarket martyrs and build a revolutionary movement capable of abolishing capitalism and the state, the seasoned anarchist organizer Errico Malatesta secretly returned to Italy in order to prepare fierce demonstrations for May Day.
On the afternoon of May 1, 1891, thousands of workers gathered in the plaza of Santa Croce in Rome to hear a series of speakers. A march of thousands more soon arrived, including members of the anarchist federation with red-trimmed banners. As the police chief noted, “The appearance of the Federazione Anarchica stimulated immediate excitement in the crowd.”
The anarchist Amilcare Cipriani, who had been condemned to death and then exiled to New Caledonia as punishment for acting as Chief of Staff during the defense of the Paris Commune, rose to speak. Noting the forest of bayonets with which hundreds of soldiers and mounted cavalry had surrounded the plaza, Cipriani pleaded for calm, arguing that it was not the proper time to confront the authorities. Yet an unscheduled speaker, the anarchist Galileo Palla who had lived in exile in Argentina with Malatesta, leapt onto the rostrum and exhorted to the crowd to rise in revolt, concluding, “Long live the revolution!”
The ensuing riots spread throughout the city and lasted well into the night.
Massive rioting swept Cleveland, Ohio on May Day 1894 in protest against unemployment stemming from the economic crisis of the previous year. The Pullman Strike began a few days later, on May 11, culminating with countrywide disruptions and the murders of many workers by police and other mercenaries.
In response, President Grover Cleveland announced that Labor Day in September would become a national holiday, attempting to coopt workers’ struggles without affirming the anniversary of the Haymarket incident. Samuel Gompers, a founder of the AFL and a virulent opponent of immigration, anarchism, socialism, and, later, the Industrial Workers of the World, supported the federal government in crushing the Pullman Strike and backed Grover Cleveland’s effort to undermine the momentum of May Day. Make no mistake: the official leadership of legalized labor organizations has largely aimed to tame and hobble them from the very beginning.
Two labor rallies were announced for May Day 1909 in Buenos Aires. One was organized by the socialist General Union of Workers (UGT); the other, by the anarchist Argentine Regional Workers’ Federation (FORA).
As anarchist historian Osvaldo Bayer recounts, “After noon, the Plaza Lorea began to fill with folk not habitués of the city: lots of mustaches, berets, neckerchiefs, patched trousers, lots of fair hair, lots of freckled faces, lots of Italians, lots of ‘Russians’ (as the Jewish immigrant was called in those days) and quite a few Catalans. Along came the anarchists with their red flags: ‘Death to the bourgeois! War on the bourgeoisie!’ were the first cries heard.”
The rowdiest crew seemed to be the anarchists from the association “Luz al Soldado” (“enlighten the soldier”). According to the day’s police report, they wrecked trams, liberated horses from city cabs, and smashed bakeries that refused to shutter their storefronts in observance of the workers’ holiday.
Unexpectedly, police chief Colonel Ramón Falcón drew up in his vehicle and gave the order to attack. Police cracked heads, shot demonstrators, and trampled them on horseback, killing as many as 11 workers and seriously injuring dozens more.
Socialists joined the anarchists in calling for an open-ended general strike demanding Falcón’s resignation. The Colonel responded with arrests and raids and shut down the anarchist press. On May 4, 33 years to the day after the Haymarket incident, a crowd of up to 80,000 gathered to accompany their martyrs’ remains to the cemetery. Falcón’s police showed up again to beat and shoot at the bereaved.
One of the anarchists impacted by the May Day massacre was a Ukrainian-born teenager, Simon Radowitzky. Six months later, Radowitzky used a homemade bomb to blow up Falcón’s carriage, killing the Colonel and his secretary Juan Lartigau. When finally caught and beaten by police, he shouted, “Viva el anarquismo!” Radowitzky became one of the most prominent political prisoners in Argentinian history.
Riots broke out again in Cleveland, Ohio when reactionaries and police attacked a May Day parade of union members, anarchists, and socialists protesting the imprisonment of Eugene Debs, a labor organizer who had cut his teeth in the Pullman Strike decades earlier.
Between May 3 and 8, in what came to be known as the May Days, clashes erupted in Barcelona between anarchists and other grassroots participants in the Spanish revolution, on one side, and on the other, police, communist party members serving Stalin, and other members of the Republican government. This presaged the defeat of the Spanish revolution at the hands of Franco, betrayed by authoritarians within its ranks.
“The thing for which the Communists were working was not to postpone the Spanish revolution till a more suitable time, but to make sure that it never happened. This became more and more obvious as time went on, as power was twisted more and more out of working-class hands, and as more and more revolutionaries of every shade were flung into jail. Every move was made in the name of military necessity, because this pretext was, so to speak, ready-made, but the effect was to drive the workers back from an advantageous position and into a position in which, when the war was over, they would find it impossible to resist the reintroduction of capitalism… There is very little doubt that arms were deliberately withheld lest too many of them should get into the hands of the Anarchists, who would afterwards use them for a revolutionary purpose.” -George Orwell, Homage to Catalonia
As a teenager, the Spanish anarchist Antonio García Barón joined the Durruti Column to defeat fascism and advance the anarchist revolution during the Spanish Civil War. Thanks to the indifference of capitalist nations, Nazi support for Franco’s forces, and the communists’ betrayals of other anti-fascists, the revolution in Spain was defeated by 1939, but Barón himself never gave up. He made his way to the battle of Dunkirk, where he gave a hungry British soldier a much-needed lunch break by grabbing his gun and shooting down two Nazi warplanes, much to the soldier’s surprise.
Not long after, Barón was captured and sent to the Nazi death camp at Mauthausen. Even surrounded by mass executions and starvation, Barón carried his anarchist ideals with him. During a visit by Himmler himself, Barón managed to confront the SS leader. Spain had taken away Barón’s nationality when he entered the concentration camp; he never attempted to get it back. In Mauthausen, Barón was marked with a blue triangle and the letter “S”—the mark identifying prisoners who were deemed stateless.
The gas chamber executions at Mauthausen continued until just before Adolf Hitler committed suicide on May 1, 1945. On May 5, the Allied Forces liberated the Mauthausen concentration camp. They were welcomed with a banner that read, “The Spanish antifascists salute the liberating forces.” With the defeat of fascism and the liberation of the concentration camps, Antonio García Barón set out to live his life outside the reach of the state, capitalism, and most importantly the church. He settled down in the Bolivian jungle where, despite jaguar attacks and multiple assassination attempts, he lived on to be the last survivor of the Durruti Column.
Black workers in South Africa had participated in May Day demonstrations since 1928, when their march dwarfed the whites-only demonstration organized by the racist Labor Party. In 1950, the Communist Party of South Africa called for a May Day strike to protest against the Suppression of Communism Act. South African police retaliated with brutal violence, killing 18 people across Soweto. The young Nelson Mandela sought refuge in a nurses’ dormitory overnight to escape from the gunfire.
Following months of conflict between students and authorities at the Paris University at Nanterre, the administration shut down the university on May 2, 1968. Students at the Sorbonne University in Paris met on May 3 to protest in solidarity with students at Nanterre. On May 6, more than 20,000 students, teachers and supporters marched towards the Sorbonne to confront the police who were attempting to seal it off. Massive clashes ensue, precipitating a month of strikes and occupations that nearly toppled the French government.
On May 1, over 50,000 people attended an anti-war concert in Washington, DC organized in coordination with the May Day Tribe, a radical left formation including Yippie, gay, and feminist contingents. The government rescinded the permit and evicted the park in which the concert was taking place. Nevertheless, at dawn on May 3, well over 15,000 anti-war protesters organized into affinity groups attempted to shut down the entire city of Washington DC by means of coordinated civil disobedience. An equal number of police, soldiers, and marines responded with tear gas and violent attacks, seizing and destroying property at random including two marked ambulances. Over 7000 people were arrested by 8 am, and the number approaches 13,000 by the end of the week—only 79 of whom were ultimately convicted. A federal court later awarded a total of $12 million to arrestees.
In Ukraine, state celebrations on the one-hundred-year anniversary of May Day proceeded as planned, although many of the officials of the ruling Communist Party were absent without explanation. That was because the nuclear reactor at Chernobyl was melting down, pouring lethal radiation into the air. The party bureaucrats knew that this was occurring, but had yet to acknowledge it to the public, exposing countless workers to radiation poisoning.
This catastrophe illustrates the fatal effects of the cooptation of May Day and workers’ movements in general by authoritarian parties. Whether socialist or democratic, the very existence of the state itself presupposes hierarchies that inevitably expose workers and others to disproportionate risk.
In Berlin, a street party in the Kreuzberg area on May Day unexpectedly became a major conflict drawing in many sectors of the population, forcing police to abandon the district for hours. From that night of freedom sprang a tradition of mass confrontation, a yearly day of rioting in downtown Berlin that continues up to this day.
In 2006, tens of thousands of immigrants and supporters went on strike to demonstrate against repressive migration policies.
May Day 2010 saw small but combative demonstrations across the United States such as Asheville, North Carolina and Santa Cruz, California, both of which included considerable property destruction as demonstrators struck back against gentrification. In Asheville, police arrested eleven people at random and charged them with a variety of felonies including conspiracy. The case dragged on for years. In the end, a few defendants took misdemeanor plea deals, while the rest were let off without convictions.
May Day 2012 saw powerful anarchist demonstrations around the world, notably in Montreal, Oakland, and Seattle.
In Montreal, at the high point of a powerful student strike, hundreds of participants in a fierce May Day demonstration clashed with police. The march started on the Champ de Mars, just in front of Montréal City Hall, and quickly moved towards the downtown core. It included one of the largest black blocs that had taken the streets of Montréal at that point—perhaps 300 strong.
In Oakland, after a night of vandalism throughout rapidly gentrifying neighborhoods in San Francisco, hundreds marched across the city, beginning and ending the day by clashing with riot police at Oscar Grant plaza, previously the site of Occupy Oakland.
In Seattle, a black bloc marched through town, unexpectedly attacking the Niketown famously damaged by demonstrators against the 1999 World Trade Organization summit. What had taken activists from all around the United States and the world to accomplish in 1999 was now carried out by locals despite the presence of large numbers of police.
Several hundred demonstrators in Milan clashed with police in protests against capitalism, the state, and corruption around the corporate “Expo 2015.”
On January 20, when downtown Washington, DC was crowded with massive protests against Trump’s inauguration, police cordoned off an entire city block and mass arrested over two hundred people, slapping the same charge of felony riot indiscriminately on every one of them.
On April 27, the prosecution filed a superseding indictment adding several more felony charges to each of these defendants: inciting to riot, rioting, conspiracy to riot, and destruction of property. About half of the defendants are also charged with the same count of assault on a police officer. This is punitive charging: the intention is clearly to terrorize the defendants into taking plea deals so that these inflated charges will never come to trial.
Adding additional felony charges to hundreds of defendants rounded up in a mass arrest is unprecedented in the contemporary US legal system. It marks a dramatic escalation in the repression of protest in this country. Essentially, over two hundred people swept up for being in the vicinity of a confrontational protest are being accused of breaking the same handful of windows.
Imagine if everyone in the vicinity of an Occupy or Black Lives Matter demonstration at which a little property destruction took place had been charged with eight felonies. Thousands of people would have charges now. If the prosecution is able to set this precedent for blanket intimidation and collective punishment, it will mark a significant step in the rise of tyranny.
This case is of concern not only for the hundreds who face these charges, but to the tens of thousands who might face similarly indiscriminate prosecution if the prosecution is able to set this example.
Please print out these handbills and spread the word.
It appears that the French Republic is reaching a tipping point, a fundamental break with the way that rule has functioned here for three decades. Everything indicates that the political legitimization of racism and violent policing must either lead to tyranny or provoke an uprising. These two forces—tyranny and revolt—define the moment we are experiencing in France today. The confrontation is now permanent. In the following report, the second installment in our series leading up to the French elections, we explore these developments and the prospects for revolutionary movements in France.
Today, a year and a half after the declaration of the state of emergency, we count the dead, the wounded, the imprisoned. It has long been the case that ten to fifteen people die at the hands of the police each year in France, always from lower-income neighborhoods. But the level of violence has increased under the state of emergency, extending to the entire population. This supposedly exceptional regime, declared by the President after the attacks of November 13, 2015, gives the police extended power to arrest people, search premises without a warrant, and prohibit demonstrations. It bears a colonial pedigree: the legislation for the state of emergency was passed in April 1955, during the French occupation of Algeria.
At the time, the aim of the exceptional regime was to forcibly subdue the Algerian nationalist movement by releasing state repression from any legal constraints. The special powers it gave to the police led to the generalization of torture and summary executions in Algeria and also in France. A state of emergency is the hallmark of arbitrary repression and the establishment of a security regime; it paves the way for escalating racist violence and the opening of internment camps, without doing anything to prevent further terrorist attacks.
The rise of identity-based discourse across the entire spectrum of the political class over the past thirty years has led to this: the designation of certain categories of the population as enemies, creating a covert war within the national territory that is justified by racist discourse and the legitimization of the police. In December 2015, a month after the state of emergency was declared, police officers brutally beat Zohra Kraiker and her two sons. In July 2016, Adama Traoré died in the hands of the gendarmes at the age of 24. In February 2017, a 22-year-old man, Theo, was beaten by the police and raped with a nightstick. In March 2017, police murdered Liu Shaoyo, a 56-year-old Chinese citizen, at his home in front of his children.
The lessons of thirty years of designating internal enemies and using working-class districts as a laboratory of repression are now being deployed against demonstrators of all stripes. It is inherent in this exceptional regime that it tends to extend its scope. The first unsanctioned demonstration under the state of emergency resulted in 344 arrests, without anyone being charged with a single crime; this set the tone for everything that followed. The police have arrested and injured thousands of protesters at the demonstrations of the past year, whether sanctioned or unsanctioned. At least 2031 political activists and trade union members have faced trial over the past 13 months.
France is a police state. No police officer has ever been convicted, even for murder, if the police unions support him. In recent months, armed, hooded, and aggressive police officers have held dozens of unauthorized street demonstrations of their own. The police were received in the Presidential Palace and received 250 million euros for new weapons. Two months later, a law was passed relaxing the conditions that justify self-defense for the police, giving them a license to kill. The murder of Liu Shaoyo took place only a month later.
The totalitarian drift of the state and institutionalized racism is even more blatant in the case of migrants. Living on the streets, they suffer cold and sickness; they are dehumanized, harassed, and imprisoned. Officers arrive early in the morning, take position in a neighborhood where migrants sleep together, and surround them with the now-familiar kettle. Sometimes they kettle an entire neighborhood, locking up everyone they catch, residents included. At the police station, migrants are often asked to sign an OQTF form (accepting the obligation to exit French territory within 30 days) on the false premise that it is an application for a place in a shelter.
Between July 31 and December 1 of 2016, more than 5000 migrants were arrested in the street, many of them repeatedly. More than 200 were placed in detention centers, and hundreds received orders to leave France. When not simply denying the facts outright, politicians use the state of emergency and the fear of terrorism to justify these police operations; in reality, they take place mostly on the margins of the law, with the aim of ensuring that migrants do not assert their rights. There are centers of “administrative detention” in which migrants are locked up, accused of only one crime: not being citizens.
France is proud to be the homeland of human rights. But chartered rights granted by a government or sovereign can also be revoked on account of real or imagined emergencies. Like people in the United States, we live in a country that can deny rights and put people on lists, often for purely political reasons. After the attacks, coinciding with the declaration of a state of emergency, the President proposed inscribing in the constitution “la déchéance de nationalité,” the ability to revoke the French nationality of any person committing an offense “constituting an attack on the fundamental interests of the nation.” This proposal has been withdrawn, formally speaking, but it continues in practice. In the eyes of the state, the inhabitants of working-class neighborhoods are sub-citizens, just as migrants are subhuman.
Governance by Exceptional Regimes
Likewise, the rights of those who are ostensibly considered citizens may be revoked if they exceed the narrow framework of behavior permitted by the state. This is being inflicted on Antonin Bernanos at this very moment. He was arrested on the testimony of an anonymous informant—who lawyers later discovered to be a cop—on the charge of having participated in the burning of a police car during a demonstration against a gathering of extreme right Police Unions. His guilt has never been proven; at best, he is accused of having been present at the demonstration in question, or of frequenting the “antifa environment.” In spite of all this, he spent 10 months in prison, in “preventive detention,” until his trial. Then he obtained the right to be released pending his first hearing, but this right is subject to a measure of exile: he must leave Paris to live in the north.
Indeed, pre-trial detention and exile measures have been used extensively over the past year and a half. This form of banishment takes us back to the Middle Ages, showing that the rights of the citizens may be suspended at any time.
People challenged the state of emergency in the street starting from the very first day. Since November 2015, simply meeting in public space is an act of rebellion.
The year 2016 saw a long and tenacious social movement, a rare thing with the Left in the Presidency. Finally, autonomous confrontational elements began taking the head of the demonstrations—“le cortège de tête”—rather than the back, as was traditional in France. Revolted by police violence, more and more people joined the autonomous bloc to confront the police. Even “Nuit Debout” rejected the state of emergency.
The support committee for Adama Traoré succeeded in organizing an exemplary mobilization, despite fierce judicial repression. To break the mobilization, the police sent several of the murdered young man’s brothers to prison. But every time the police killed or injured someone, it only renewed the mobilization: wild demonstrations took place every day for three weeks in Paris and its suburbs after young Theo was raped by police, and the murder of Liu Shaoyo has revived the mobilization again.
In some cities, the outrage has gone so far that the Socialist Party and the Prime Minister were forced to cancel their meetings for fear of confrontation. This occurred in Rennes, where no demonstration is ever reported to the authorities in advance, a tradition since the police murdered a trade unionist in 1968. At a time when all the candidates in the upcoming election are vying with each other for the backing of the police, and are trying to define a “French identity” on a clearly racist basis, it is delightful to observe that in the streets, the identity that is asserting itself more than skin color or religion is best summarized by the slogan everyone chants at demonstrations: “Tout le monde déteste la police.”
Everyone hates the police.
Elections: Only bad choices
The presidential election appears to affect nothing in this situation, as if it were taking place in another world. The only notable change is that some masks are falling. The corruption cases of the political elites follow one after another.
A series of scandals have beset the candidate of the Right. First, he fictitiously employed his wives and his two children with the money of the Senate. Then he was offered clothing tailored by a lobbyist of French neo-colonization in Africa. Then it was an undeclared loan of 50,000 euros, then a watch offered, then checks from the Senate. The same candidate maintains that while earning 20,000 euros a month he cannot manage to put money aside. He presents a program of austerity while living in a castle and taking advantage of public funds. In spite of all this, he maintains his candidacy and says he is a victim of a set-up. To galvanize his base, he has been radicalizing his speech and spreading conspiracy theories. This puts him at the same level of speech as the extreme right candidate Marine Le Pen, since the two contesting the same electorate.
The third candidate is the neo-liberal candidate Emmanuel Macron. Previously, he was a banker at Rothschild and a member of the current President’s government, but he still claims to represent a break with the political class in business. In this election, he is positioned as a pro-European and thus appears to be the best candidate, compared with the probability of Marine Le Pen reaching the second round. The reality is that his alternative to national isolationism is simply the individualized personal isolation of neoliberalism. He wants to continue the destruction of the labor code that he began when he was the minister responsible for the budget; he wants to make employees face their bosses alone, without trade unions or laws to defend them. In the neoliberal model, we will not live anywhere, we will travel by Uber from one Airbnb to another, blown about “flexibly” before the winds of the market, without ever meeting anyone except those we do business with, and we will spend our pay just to be able to work.
The fourth candidate is Jean-Luc Mélenchon, the candidate of the supposed “radical left,” who has been contorting himself skillfully not to appear as such—for example, by making crowds sing the national anthem for him, distributing thousands of French flags in meetings, or advocating the return of military service. Even as a “radical leftist,” he does not take many risks; like the entire French political class, he has adopted most of the identity discourse that was previously exclusive to the far right. Mélenchon is the candidate who promises to renew the Left as a way to restore the strength of state.
The polls place these four candidates neck and neck, so it is difficult to guess who will be in the second round of elections, though the far-right candidate and the neo-liberal candidate seem to be the favorites. In any case, whoever is elected will inherit and maintain the repressive apparatus that the previous governments have put in place. In this regard, the election offers only bad choices: do we prefer to be governed by an overtly authoritarian government, or by a covertly authoritarian government?
But we should also watch how many people will abstain from voting. Each of the four candidates claims to break with the establishment, but they are all connected to it, whether via their direct interests or their class interests. It seems that more and more people understand this. Furthermore, holding elections while the state of emergency is still in effect, so it is possible to prohibit any demonstration, raises doubts about the “democratic” nature of the situation.
All these institutions exist above all to preserve capitalism. No change will be possible without confronting them directly, by popular mobilization. Besides, as the writer Georges Darien put it, “Only revolutionaries think that honesty is really possible.” In order to live honestly, we must break down the hierarchies that corrupt humanity.
The Future of the Movement
For all these reasons, our anti-authoritarian movement bears a tremendous responsibility. We must be able to welcome all the new people who are coming to us, to offer them political perspectives and propositions that can be put into practice. If we fail to do so, they may swing to the other side, the side defined by identity and nationalist isolationism. This is our hour. We have to rise to this situation—this situation that we have desired for a long time—or bear the consequences.
Take responsibility for being inclusive and welcoming.
Intensify the force of attack while protecting the participants and supporting the victims of repression.
Develop the ability to accommodate several forms of expression in our demonstrations, as not everyone may be able to confront the police physically. It should be possible to support confrontational tactics in a variety of ways.
Control the narrative. It is not enough to despise the society of the spectacle; we must gain ascendancy over it.
Improve life immediately. This includes all the autonomous practices our movement has developed, such as opening squats to house people, redistributing food, and helping those who have problems with the police to hide when they have to, especially migrants.
Finally, laugh—laugh a lot. Give ourselves the means to laugh by inventing actions that are both offensive and enjoyable.
Imagine something better than this closed world would constrain our imaginations to. Our survival is closely linked to our ability to imagine a world that is wider and freer and richer than this small world of padlocks, property lines, and batons that is presented as immutable.
As the French elections loom, threatening to elevate ultra-nationalist Marine le Pen to power alongside Donald Trump, the eyes of the world are turned to France. In this situation, we don’t look to other French politicians for salvation, but to the ungovernable social movements that have rocked France over the past several years. The only surefire way to block neoliberal austerity measures, nationalist violence, and state repression is by building grassroots networks powerful enough to put a stop to them directly. In vivid firsthand accounts, the following retrospective traces social unrest in France from the declaration of the state of emergency in 2015 through the street riots and plaza occupations of 2016 up to the present moment. This is the first installment of a two-part series on the situation in France we are publishing in the lead-up to this weekend’s elections; the second will follow tomorrow.
After the attacks claimed by ISIS in January and November 2015 and the declaration of a state of emergency, no one could have predicted that France was about to experience several months of upheaval. This is an attempt to offer an overview and analysis of the disruptions that followed the El Khomri work reform proposal (known as the “Loi Travail”). It is neither a comprehensive account nor a universal perspective, but a true story from the perspective of some who joined in the clashes. Although the events took place all over France—in Nantes, Rennes, Lille, Toulouse, Lyon, and elsewhere—we will focus on some of the actions in Paris in which we actively participated.
On the Eve of the Work Reform Proposal
At the end of February 2016, France was a powder keg. In retrospect, it’s not surprising that the political instability of the preceding years, coupled with deepening distrust of the government, gave anarchists the opportunity to play a leading role in the movement against the Loi Travail.
The ISIS attacks of 2015 offered the French government an excuse to intensify control of the entire population. Taking advantage of the shock that followed each attack and the fear of future attacks, the authorities passed a new surveillance law and declared a state of emergency. This enabled them to apply new “temporary” and “exceptional” laws, such as forbidding demonstrations in the name of national security, regulating people’s movements and residence, and carrying out house searches without a judge’s authorization. This state of emergency was only supposed to last three months; in fact, it is still in effect as of April 2017. For more information about the state of emergency, consult the 2015 dialogue between CrimethInc. and Lundimatin.
Meanwhile, the situation of migrants in France had been worsening since September 2015. The local authorities intensified their strategy of daily harassment, sending police forces to expel and dismantle several makeshift camps in Paris. The idea was clearly to ensure that groups of refugees would not be able to gather or organize effectively. Near Calais, the French government took drastic steps to reduce the number of people living in the “Jungle,” the refugee camp near the border crossing to the UK. They stepped up violent policing, created a militarized and highly secured “humanitarian camp,” and evicted the southern part of the Jungle on the morning of February 29, 2016. For more information on the plight of refugees in Calais, consult Calais Migrant Solidarity, which is close to the European No Border movement.
Moreover, in the course of the preceding years, political discontent had crystalized around a few specific environmental issues, also known as “projets inutiles” (useless projects), and the resulting ZADs (“zones to be defended”). These include a new train line between Lyon and Turin (the notorious TAV), the dam project in Sivens where police brutally murdered the young activist Rémi Fraisse in November 2014, and the new airport at Notre-Dame-Des-Landes, regarding which the French government gave authorization to begin construction October 2016.
In this context, it was not surprising that when the government invoked the state of emergency to shut down the official demonstrations during the international summit on climate change (COP 21) in Paris beginning on November 30, 2015, we decided to take the streets to defy them. The clashes with the police that took place at Place de la République the day before the opening of the COP 21 were a foretaste of what was to occur regularly on those streets few months later.
All this explains why the French government faced an impasse at the beginning of 2016. Its popularity was low; people criticized its decisions, feeling betrayed by the openly neoliberal and repressive agenda of the traditional “Parti Socialiste.” However, desiring to continue the economic restructuring that followed the international financial crisis of 2008 and to keep presidential promises such as reducing unemployment rates, President François Hollande sought to revitalize his presidency by reshuffling his cabinet on February 2016. A few days later, Myriam El Khomri, the newly appointed Minister of Labor, presented the government’s new work reform as a way to facilitate employment and boost economic recovery. Despite this framing, it was easy to see that the primary objective of the law was to facilitate corporate flexibility at the expense of workers’ rights. In a nutshell, this law would make working conditions more precarious than they already are.
Soon after the reform was announced, some people started mobilizing via online videos asking viewers to sign a petition against the law. Meanwhile, some radical groups appealed to people to take the streets and go on strike. Little by little, other organizations joined these calls until a national day of action against the Loi Travail was planned for Wednesday, March 9. Trade union leaders did not want to take part in this day of action, as they were not behind the call. However, after realizing that they were losing authority among their ranks as numerous trade unionists decided to attend the national demonstration as individuals, some major trade unions (including the CGT, FO, Solidaires, and FSU) decided at the last minute to join the festivities.
We, too, decided to participate in the action. But we did not take the streets because we were opposed to this specific law or wanted a better one. Rather, we went because we consider capitalism and work itself to be illegitimate, alienating, and obstructive to our research and emancipation. On the eve of the first national mobilization, we had no idea that these calls would lead to four continuous months of mobilization.
Sowing the Seeds of Revolt
March 9, 2016 – Early in the morning, students decided to block access to their high schools. Meanwhile, in several universities, students were gathering to prepare their banners for the afternoon march. Later that morning, hundreds of students and activists converged at Place de la Nation to demonstrate without any political affiliations, official organizations, or trade unions. Taking advantage of a surprisingly low police presence, this large group of people took the streets, blocking traffic and throwing projectiles and paint bombs at a McDonald’s restaurant. This inspired some participants to begin tagging billboards and walls and smashing the windows of cell phone stores, real estate and insurance agencies, and banks, not to mention ATMs and cameras.
This continued without interruption for more than 30 minutes until we reached Place de la Bastille. There, several brigades of riot police (CRS and/or Gardes Mobiles) were blocking the most direct access to the touristic sites and stores of downtown Paris. Some people threw projectiles at the police as a distraction so the rest of us could continue our march along another unblocked boulevard. Nevertheless, just before we reached a bridge that would have lead to another district of Paris, several riot police squads and their vehicles blocked our path. This successfully reduced our numbers, as some students left the action in order to avoid confrontation. The morning ended in a cat and mouse game, as small groups of protesters walked through the narrow streets of the Saint Paul district to avoid police control and arrest.
That afternoon, people converged at Place de la République for the official demonstration. When we arrived on site, it was a great pleasure to see the square and its surroundings full of people. We were surprised to see so many people gathering in the streets under the state of emergency, considering that few months before, during the COP 21, only a few thousand people had gathered at Place de la République.
At the beginning of the protest, information started to circulate that an autonomous group would form somewhere in the middle of the trade unions and official organizations. This marked the emergence of a large group of individuals from different backgrounds (anarchists, appelistes/tiqqunistes, insurrectionists, antifascists, etc.) that later came to be known as the “cortège autonome” (“autonomous procession”) or “cortège de tête” (“leading procession”).
As during the morning action, people within the autonomous group started targeting major symbols of capitalism; this continued from République to Nation. Again, every single bus station, bank, and real estate or insurance agency saw its façade smashed and tagged. Although the autonomous group welcomed such actions with cheers and anti-capitalist chants, other demonstrators criticised them, and some even tried to personally interpose themselves to obstruct these actions. Surprisingly, during the hours that the demonstration lasted, the police made very few appearances.
March 17, 2016 – Only a week after the first demonstration against the Loi Travail, we had another appointment to continue the struggle on Thursday, March 17. That same day, the Conseil d’Etat—an institution responsible for advising the French government on the lawfulness of law projects—was due to present an opinion on the proposed law. Once again, we decided to join hundreds of students at Place de la Nation for another morning action.
That day, more people attended the morning action, probably due to the increase of blockades at high schools and general assemblies in universities. The atmosphere among the crowd that rushed into the main boulevard was a pleasant mix of joy, friendship, and determination. Nevertheless, it was immediately clear that events wouldn’t play out the way they had the previous week. After only ten minutes in the streets, we saw the first riot police show up in force. As soon as we saw their vehicles passing in front of us, we knew that confrontations would be inevitable. Their orders were probably to avoid any kind of public loss of control, and to make specific and targeted arrests.
The first projectiles were thrown at the police vehicles; some of us picked up tools from a nearby construction site to attack them. Others took up stones and barriers to create a more offensive bloc to confront the police. The police eventually blocked the boulevard in front of us. The confrontation escalated for several long minutes as we tried to press forward and create a breach in their lines. People threw stones, glass bottles, and all kinds of projectiles at riot police, who answered with tear gas canisters, flash-bang grenades, and rubber bullets.
Recognizing that we could not maintain the pressure any longer, we retreated in hopes of finding another route to our intended destination. After running through narrow streets, we arrived at another boulevard, only to see police trucks blocking our path once again. Taking advantage of the fact that we could not advance, police officers in plain clothes who had been following us throughout the action carried out several violent arrests. Many of us left the action as soon as we saw the first arrests, recognizing the police trap slowly closing on us.
A couple hours later, we attended the afternoon protest organized by student unions and organizations. As soon as we found the “cortège autonome,” we realized that this was not a good idea. Indeed, to our surprise, this segment of the march was small and isolated from other groups of people. Moreover, on each side of the boulevard, police officers in plain clothes and members of the anti-criminality brigade (BAC) were following us.
The first part of the demonstration was quiet and passive, as we were all concerned about the police observing us. Nevertheless, we managed to outwit police vigilance by dividing the “autonomous procession,” joining the mass of students within their organization- and union-free procession. Being among students allowed several of us to take action, especially against the main police station of the 13th district. Several arrests were made just before we arrived at Place d’Italie, the end of the demonstration. The square was completely surrounded by police forces; luckily for us, we entered the metro without being searched or controlled.
Earlier in the afternoon, an invitation spread by word of mouth suggested that an occupation and a general assembly to discuss the perspectives of this emerging movement would take place at the university of Tolbiac later that night. Several activists and students sneaked into the closed university and started the occupation. Unfortunately, members of the university administration called the police. After only several minutes, hundreds of CRS and BAC members entered the university, charging and expelling the occupants.
The events that took place on Thursday, March 17 represent a key moment in the mobilization against the Loi Travail. The violent interventions made by law enforcement authorities showed that the government was determined to suppress the budding youth movement by any means necessary. With hindsight, this strategy was a mistake—for the stronger the repression, the more people joined the “autonomous” group, chanting “everyone hates the police” and confronting them. From a more positive point of view, these first two days of action and mobilization showed some of our potential to go on the offensive—prepared to fight back, to improvise, to organize, and to take initiatives collectively.
During the last two weeks of March, the mobilization against the work reform intensified. Several general assemblies took place in universities and among radical circles. This is where the first disagreements about strategy, objectives, and “agenda” emerged. For some of us, the priority was to take the lead during protests and confront police forces, while others thought we should also take advantage of this new social movement to diversify our strategies by sharing our ideals with others. The difficulty of finding common ground we experienced during our first general assemblies was not an isolated case. In Paris, some radical groups always try to defend their own image and interests by imposing their point of view on others. We often face this problem in autonomous circles: the challenge of dealing with power dynamics and the hegemony of certain groups or individuals.
On March 24, students and workers took the streets again. Despite the fact that numerous high schools and universities were blocked during the day, the afternoon demonstration gathered fewer people than before, as most of the official calls had been made by student organizations. The lower number of participants did not affect the determination of some of us, as evidenced by several offensive initiatives, confrontations with the police, and attempts to rescue arrestees. The official march ended with a spontaneous uncontrolled protest in the district of the Eiffel Tower, leading to a game of hide-and-seek with riot police in the Champs de Mars.
Earlier that day, video footage of police officers surrounding and punching a teenager had spread across the internet. This had occurred that morning near the Bergson high school in the 19th Arrondissement while students were blocking their school. The following day, students organized a wild demonstration leaving from Bergson high school in response to the numerous cases of police violence since the beginning of the movement. While wandering in the streets, some of them sought revenge by attacking several police stations.
Finally, another national call against the Loi Travail was made on March 31. This demonstration was one of the largest that took place in Paris that whole spring. Despite the heavy rain, hundreds of thousands people marched on the streets of the French capital city. That day, the “cortège autonome” took the lead, and kept its position to the end of the event. For the first time since the beginning of the movement, a kind of cohesion appeared among the autonomous groups: a solid black bloc asserted itself as a single force despite being composed of many different affinity groups. At the end of the protest, responding to a call made earlier that week, hundreds of people converged at Place de la République with a specific goal and lots of ambitions.
Nuit Debout—A Failed Attempt to Build a French Occupy Movement?
Nuit Debout began the evening of Thursday, March 31, when, following that afternoon’s demonstration, activists from a variety of political and social backgrounds gathered at Place de la République with the idea of occupying the square. That night, the first tents and plastic tarps appeared—things we had not seen since refugees were occupying the square in November 2015. Numerous people attended the first general assembly of what was intended to be the French Occupy movement. In fact, Nuit Debout and the occupation of the République had been planned carefully in advance by people close to the French alternative Left. This movement was not as spontaneous as it was intended to appear.
Over the following days, new initiatives and collectives joined Nuit Debout. During the day, workshops (woodworking, gardening, etc.) and discussions on various subjects (direct democracy, environmental issues, anti-speciesism, police violence, etc.) took place. People were regularly invited to form small groups, sit down, and start to exchange their opinions and views on a selected topic. Activists and anarchist publishers set up their tables to provide radical literature, raising money to cover the lawyers’ fees of comrades. At night, Place de la République was filled up with people attending the daily general assembly and related activities such as documentary projections, outdoor shows, and artistic projects. A do-it-yourself restaurant offered food in exchange for donations, and people stayed out until really late at night. Nuit Debout became a logical rendezvous point for radical activists and anarchists to exchange, debate, organize, and take action.
At first, Nuit Debout brought a new dynamic to the movement against the Loi Travail and to activism in general. During its first month of existence, the occupation at Place de la République was essential in enabling us to meet new people, extend our relationships, develop our capacities, and take more initiatives. Some people were curious to learn about new political theories; others finally felt the need to get involved and organize. Every night of April, we could feel this mix of joy, love, excitement, effervescence, and power emanating from each one of us while we waited for the next opportunity to take action. There was a naïve feeling in the air that something new and radically different was at hand.
Nuit Debout provided us with a fixed location, which enabled us to initiate both spontaneous and planned actions. If you were at Place de la République at night during April or May, you could be sure that several times a week you would participate in wild demonstrations and confrontations with riot police. However, this occupation movement that had initially gathered thousands of people progressively lost attendance throughout May. The various efforts to evict the Place de la République initiated by local authorities in the name of maintaining social order succeeded in discouraging some of the occupants of the square. By the end of June, the movement and its daily general assembly only gathered a maximum of a hundred people.
The Strengths and Limits of Nuit Debout
From an interview conducted with anarchist participants:
Why did “Nuit Debout” take place in 2016, rather than 2011?
After the 2008 international financial crisis, several European countries, such as Greece and Spain, saw their economies faltering or collapsing. In order to recover from the crisis and to maintain its economic and geographic power, the European Union and the governments that compose it began to impose austerity measures. Three years later, in 2011, the situation remained precarious. Countries such as Greece and Spain were still experiencing increasing poverty and astronomical unemployment rates. The global context at that time, but also the fact that these governments made the population “pay” for their crisis, generated defiance against politicians and the global economic system, producing movements such as the 15 de Mayo in Spain and the anti-austerity movement in Greece, not to mention Occupy Wall Street in the US.
However, as Pierre Haski explains, the context in France was different. Compared to Greece and Spain, France was still in better “health,” maintaining its leading influence in Europe alongside Germany. In the collective imagination, the Greek and Spanish situations were unthinkable in France. But the main reason an Occupy movement did not emerge in France then, despite several attempts, was due to the French electoral calendar: 2011 marked the last year of Nicolas Sarkozy’s presidency. Consequently, most public attention was turned to the upcoming 2012 presidential election and the hopes represented by the socialist François Hollande.
Of course, once elected, he did not create the improvements people wanted to see in their lives.
So France followed a different trajectory than Greece and Spain. While the fierce movements in those countries were ultimately, albeit temporarily, pacified by the ascension of “alternative” political parties such as Podemos and Syriza, part of the French population gave the Socialist party a chance before becoming absolutely disillusioned by François Hollande and government in general.
It was strange for us in the US to witness French people employing a strategy and rhetoric that we imagined had been thoroughly exhausted four years earlier, when many people in the US tend to think of France as the avant-garde of radical theory and practice. How were the idea of occupying public space and the rhetoric of democracy and demands able to gain so much traction on the popular imagination in France?
First, concerning the image some people in the US have of France, we have to say that unfortunately it is related to some kind of romanticism. Yes, in the past, France had its avant-garde moments in radical theory and practice; but like in every country, radical theory and practice face moments of inefficiency and failure. Living in France, we have a more critical opinion of radicalism and its capacity to change things here. Luckily, events like the ones during the first half of 2016 revitalize our circles and create new momentum.
Now to answer your question: we can trace the popularity of democratic rhetoric and the idea of occupying public space in France to multiple origins. For one thing, France has a longstanding connection with the concept of democracy itself. A significant part of the population believes that we should not criticize the democratic system, as it is supposedly the only alternative to fascism or dictatorship. This notion is so deeply rooted that even leftist protesters criticize democracy only to reform and improve and thus reinforce it.
Another source of enthusiasm for building an Occupy movement could be the popularity of concepts such as “civil disobedience,” “non-violence,” and “participatory democracy” among the French alternative Left. Mainstream activism has an unfortunate tendency to imitate what has already been done rather than learning from past mistakes to create something new. Of course, the people who initiated Nuit Debout might have had a complete different vision of the effectiveness of such a movement, and fewer criticisms regarding the limits and failures of the Occupy movements than we do as anarchists.
In other words, French activists also fall into the trap of romanticism regarding foreign actions, and this admiration towards Occupy movements could be an example of it.
What is the significance of the Place de la République, where the first clashes took place after the declaration of the State of Emergency and the Nuit Debout occupations later began?
The decision to occupy the Place de la République likely had more to do with geographical convenience and traditional political symbolism than revolutionary history, imagery, or strategy. The square is served by five major metro lines, easily accessible by foot, and at the junction of three of the 20 districts of Paris. All these criteria make Place de la République one of the most important central places of the French capital city. Moreover, since its renovation in 2013, the square includes a large pedestrian space, which enables crowds to gather for all kinds of occasions: outdoor shows, demonstrations, gatherings, and the like. However, the new setup of the Place de la République also serves those who aim to maintain social order. As people are concentrated in the center of the square, police forces can be strategically positioned in every single adjacent street and boulevard, easily surrounding, controlling, and containing the crowd.
Nevertheless, there is much to say regarding the history and symbolism of Place de la République. First, as its name suggests, the Parisian square pays tribute to the political regime under which we are living—the Fifth Republic. However, the origin of its name dates back to the end of the 19th century. The Second Empire ended on September 2, 1870 after the defeat of the French army in Sedan and the capture of emperor Napoleon III by Prussia. On September 4, the Third Republic was proclaimed as a desperate attempt to reestablish political stability within the country. Contrary to the French government’s hopes, the first years of the Third Republic included the events of the Paris Commune, a failed attempt to restore the Monarchy, and numerous political crises. Political stability did not return to France until Jules Grevy was elected President in1879. In 1883, a large statue to the glory of the Republic was inaugurated at the center of the square, then called the Place du Chateau d’Eau, renamed Place de la République in 1889.
As for other symbolism, the traditional Left is also historically associated with the Place de la République. When the traditional Left or trade unions take the streets for demonstrations, the République square is usually a central location on their route. For example, every year, the May Day protest starts from Place de la République. More recently, just after the Paris attacks in 2015, politicians and part of the population used the square as a mourning site.
Finally, if the square has significance for anarchists, it is because since September 2015, Place de la République has been the site of many struggles, including refugees’ camps, defying the “state of emergency” by demonstrating against the COP 21, and more.
How did the situation in Paris compare with those in other regions? What kinds of coordination existed, formal or informal?
At some point, the situation in Paris felt really good, as more and more people were attending the general assembly and activities. However, to be realistic, the number of people who took part in Nuit Debout, even if they were several thousand at its climax, represents only a small proportion of the population of the Paris region. International media coverage of Nuit Debout made the movement seem bigger than it actually was. We were far short of the massive occupations seen at the Puerta del Sol (Madrid), Tahrir Square (Cairo), or Taksim Square and Gezi Park (Istanbul).
What is certain is that, like other Occupy movements, Nuit Debout gained power and popularity via the internet. Using the tools offered by social media, Nuit Debout was able to multiply its initiatives and communicate widely about its aspirations. Social media and new technologies also enabled people to coordinate general assemblies in their own cities and regions.
How much influence did the discourse of democracy really have in Nuit Debout? How did that discourse and the practices associated with it interact with more traditional French Ultraleft practices and values? Did the visits paid by David Graeber and other Occupy Wall Street participants to Nuit Debout make any impact?
As we mentioned previously, the discourse of democracy was central to Nuit Debout. The French Occupy movement was hard-pressed to detach itself from traditional democratic discourse and practices. From the beginning, Nuit Debout stood for a reformist leftist alternative to the system and traditional parties rather than a strong revolutionary movement. Some participants in Nuit Debout were more passive, asking for change rather that acting to bring it about. The most commonly heard demands included a better and fairer democracy in France; less corrupt politicians; and ending the 5th Republic and starting a 6th Republic, an idea already defended by the Front de Gauche political party.
In its practices, Nuit Debout reproduced systems that already exist in our society such as making decisions by majority vote of the people attending the general assemblies and establishing security groups in charge of maintaining “order” at Place de la République. Among the numerous workshops and activities offered at Nuit Debout, the discourse of democracy was omnipresent—for example, people asking you to sign petitions for specific issues, or, more surprisingly, a workshop about writing a new Constitution.
However, the interaction between Nuit Debout participants and the Ultraleft generally went well, in the sense that everyone was free to organize, participate, or not participate in any action or general assembly according to their personal values and beliefs. If you did not agree with a decision, you could simply leave the assembly or not take part in the action. All the same, tensions repeatedly appeared between reformists and radicals. As always, the issue of pacifism divided us, as some reformists were obsessed with creating a “legitimate,” “likeable,” and “righteous” image for the movement. Once, some Nuit Debout security members tried to extinguish a bonfire that some of us had started, on the grounds that they had decided that bonfires were forbidden—but above all because they wanted to avoid any trouble with police. Yet despite these few moments of tension, participants in Nuit Debout generally did well in respecting a diversity of actions and values.
Finally, we have no idea if advice from Occupy Wall Street participants made an impact on Nuit Debout, as we were not present during these discussions. However, unfortunately, it is certain that Nuit Debout was not able to distance itself from the traditional political masquerade, as evidenced by the warm welcome addressed to Miguel Urban Crespo (the European Deputy of Podemos), and the former finance minister of Greece, Yanis Varoufakis, when they made their speech at Place de la République. Once again, we see how “romanticism,” denial, or simply a lack of understanding of foreign social and political contexts can impact a social movement. It is still surprising for us that these international figures from the so-called “alternative left” were taken seriously rather than openly confronted or criticized by the crowd at the general assembly—especially considering the social and political situation of their respective countries.
What limits did Nuit Debout reach, and why?
The main limit that Nuit Debout encountered was its failure to continue expanding. By the end of June, the movement was only drawing a few dozen people to its daily general assemblies. How can we explain this phenomenon?
First, it seems that Nuit Debout did not succeed in reaching many people from outside the Alternative Left or Ultraleft circles. This represents a major problem, especially when the movement claimed to embody a “convergence of struggles.” Many people who experience the violence of our system at a higher level due to their social background must not have felt any interest in the proposals made by Nuit Debout, or simply did not feel included by the movement. These failures contributed to a lack of diversity. As a result, the French Occupy movement sometimes felt more like an activists’ microcosm than an inclusive movement in which everyone could feel welcome.
During discussions at Nuit Debout, some of us experienced resistance to anarchist and revolutionary ideas. Even if we were allowed to speak our minds, some people were not ready to challenge their own beliefs, habits, or comfort. It was challenging to argue to people that reinventing our relationships and ourselves should not be limited to Nuit Debout, but should become a widespread practice.
Finally, some of the practices and power dynamics integral to Nuit Debout contributed to its decline. In an effort to approximate “democratic equality,” the “official” moderators allowed everyone present to address the crowd about subjects of their choosing, giving each speaker the same amount of time to develop their thoughts—just a couple minutes. Although appealing in theory, this practice rapidly revealed its shortcomings, as imposing the same speaking time on each orator did not achieve the expected effects. Instead, this decision ended up preventing spontaneity and serious discussion. Furthermore, because the moderators deliberately refrained from directing or reframing, the conversation moved arbitrarily from one subject to another without any closure. While attending general assemblies at Place de la République, it was not uncommon to have the impression that one was participating in group therapy—in which everyone could express their frustration in public—rather than taking part in a constructive discussion that would lead to important decisions for the movement and our future.
Ultimately, the fatigue resulting from weeks of activism and occupation—the feeling of constantly going around in circles in the general assembly—the incapacity to rally more people to the movement—the lack of interest in preparing for what would come next—and increasing police harassment at the square put an end to the French Occupy movement.
Increasing the Pressure
April 5, 2016 – That Tuesday morning, students and activists gathered at Place de la Nation for another autonomous and offensive demonstration. That day, several affinity groups decided to join forces and work hand in hand for strategic purposes. Police forces were already controlling access to the main square by searching the bags of potential “threatening protesters.” These security measures did not stop many of us from participating in the action. As soon as the crowd of demonstrators rushed into the street, a large black bloc appeared at the front bearing several reinforced banners. Less than ten minutes after the beginning of the protest, numerous police forces began to encroach on the back of the march. To stop this, part of the bloc confronted them.
After long minutes of intense confrontation, the riot brigades charged us and succeeded in splitting the march in two, isolating the head—where the black bloc was—from the rest of the crowd. Several arrests took place during the police charge, and the majority of us ended up cornered between police lines and a large wall. This marked the end of the action. After more than an hour of waiting, the police received the order to search and arrest as many people as they could. As a result, more than a hundred people were sent to police stations to get their IDs checked before being released.
There are several ways to understand the failure of this morning action: first, the crowd was not compact enough, which enabled the police to separate the “potential threats” from other demonstrators. Also, the confrontations lasted longer than they should have, allowing us to make more mistakes and to become more vulnerable. Finally, the bloc remained completely static, as most of us were only focusing on the clashes; there would have been no real obstacle or danger if we had continued moving through the streets.
Later that day, some of us met at Place de la République during Nuit Debout. Some comrades were still detained after the morning events; they could be facing criminal charges. To show solidarity, we initiated a prisoner support action. We appealed to others at Nuit Debout to gather in front of the police station where our friends were detained. Many people left the République and started converging in the Saint Michel district where, decades earlier, students had created barricades during the uprising of May 1968. A spontaneous demonstration began blocking traffic as we approached the police station on rue de la Montagne Sainte Geneviève. About fifty people joined us in front of the station, chanting in unison, “Free our comrades!”
In the meantime, other people began blocking the major intersection next to the station, employing various components from a nearby construction site as barricades. Due to the traffic this created, the police called for reinforcements, which had great difficulty reaching our location. Knowing that the reinforcements were finally approaching the police station, the crowd decided to leave the intersection and began another wild march towards the cathedral Notre-Dame. Near the cathedral, police tried to block some of us, but without any real success. Indeed, more and more people from Nuit Debout were already converging in front of the police station. This solidarity action lasted until early the next morning, gathering more than a hundred people.
If we can draw conclusions from this action, we would argue that spontaneity, motion, and determination took the police by surprise and gave us a clear advantage against them that night. This also shows how Nuit Debout was used as a platform to inform protesters about planned initiatives.
April 9, 2016 – Following a major demonstration, thousands of people gathered as usual at Place de la République to spend another night at Nuit Debout. The first action that took place that night was against borders. Around 9 pm, several hundred people left the occupied square and went to Stalingrad. Once there, protesters destroyed all the fences that prevented migrants and refugees living in this district from setting up their tents and building a camp under the elevated metro station. Afterwards, the group improvised a wild march back to République.
A bit later, during the general assembly, three speakers made the same funny proposal: why not invite ourselves to get a quick drink at our Prime Minister’s house? His house was located on rue Keller in the Bastille district, not too far from République. After walking around the square to initiate the action, we could hear from the crowd different voices shouting “Aperitif at Valls’!”
As a result, about 3000 people left the square and entered the only boulevard that was not blocked by the police. At a quick pace—mobility being our chief asset against police squads—the crowd made its way through the streets, happily chanting the already famous “Paris, debout, soulève toi!” (“Paris, stand up, rise up!”) and “Tout le monde déteste la police!” (“Everyone hates the police!”). During our advance on the Prime Minister’s address, several quick confrontations with police took place, the police station of the 11th district was attacked, police cars parked outside were destroyed, and small barricades appeared in the streets. Access to the Prime Minister’s building is well-guarded, and police reinforcements showed up rapidly. Reaching Manuel Valls’ apartment would have not changed anything, anyway, as he was in Algeria. Police troops surrounded part of the remaining crowd; after half an hour, they decided to let everyone go, pepper spraying everyone one last time for good measure.
On their way back to République, the remaining couple hundred people, joined by some new supporters, initiated another offensive action. Surprisingly, traffic had not been interrupted on the main boulevard leading to the occupied square, and police forces were totally absent. Activists took the streets again, smashing advertising billboards and every single front window of the banks and insurance agencies on their way. At Place de la République, there were still a good thousand people present and a bonfire was lit. The rest of the night was spent in riots. People started putting barricades into the streets, some surveillance cameras were sabotaged, projectiles were thrown at law enforcement units, and an AutoLib car—the name given to the electric car-sharing service operated by the industrial holding group Bolloré—was set on fire. Police responded by charging the square, using flash-bang grenades, and shooting rubber bullets, inflicting several arrests and injuries.
April 14, 2016 – After more than a month of national mobilizations against the Loi Travail et son monde, the French government was ready to do whatever it took to bury the movement once and for all. The authorities gave police more material and human resources, but also more freedom to impose “social order” in the streets.
A national coordination of students organized a protest for the afternoon of April 14. The initial route was to connect Place de la Bataille de Stalingrad to Place de la Bastille. As usual, groups of students, anarchists, and members of the Ultraleft met in the morning at Place de la République with the intention of initiating a wild action that would end by joining the afternoon’s authorized demonstration. On their way to Stalingrad, the march attacked numerous symbols of capitalism and the state. Upon reaching Stalingrad square, the march faced numerous police squads that were already surrounding part of the afternoon demonstration. It seemed that the police had received orders to contain the crowd and to block or delay the protest’s departure. Deciding not to let the police divide us, we started confronting the closest police lines in order to create a breach that would allow all the demonstrators to join together.
The police ultimately retreated under increasing pressure and the action finally started. The tension was palpable. Confrontations erupted as soon as the head of the demonstration reached Place de la République. Looking at the police presence at the square, it was obvious that they had received the order to stop the protest by any means necessary. They emptied the entire square by throwing tear gas canisters and flash-bang grenades.
That night, President François Hollande was invited to a live political TV show to talk with a panel of selected citizens. Nuit Debout decided to project the debate. As usual, we went to the square to “take the temperature” of the crowd and see if there would be any opportunities. After the events of the afternoon, police forces had increased their presence all around the square. During the discussion, President Hollande clearly stated that the Loi Travail would not be withdrawn, but some modifications could be made during dialogues with trade union representatives.
Soon after the debate ended, we gathered with other radicals and started walking around the square as an attempt to initiate something. Quickly, people lit torches and some of us started chanting “Si on ne marche pas, ça ne marchera pas!” (“If we don’t take action, no change will come!”) while others discussed whether to go to the Presidential Palace.
Hundreds of people set out for the Boulevard Saint-Martin, but were stopped by police lines. While a group of us confronted the men in blue, the rest decided to continue the action by entering the Boulevard Magenta, where, once again, police forces were waiting for us and started shooting flash-bang grenades and tear gas. However, while focusing on the small group confronting them, police forces made a strategic mistake: they neglected to secure an adjacent street. We took advantage of the situation by entering the rue Léon Jouhaux and unleashing the storm.
The first target attacked was the regional Customs’ building. At the end of the street, we all crossed the bridge of the Saint Martin canal, then turned on the Quai de Jemmapes, increasing our pace and covering the walls with our thoughts, dreams, and desires. A bit further, some people smashed the front windows of a corporate grocery store, then rushed inside to loot everything they could. Ahead, we could see numerous police vehicles coming our way. Taking advantage of their lack of mobility, we took a narrow street, heading north to the Boulevard de la Villette. Along the way, we expressed our rage by destroying banks, real estate and insurance agencies, AutoLib cars, bus shelters, billboards, and a Pôle Emploi agency—an administrative institution in charge of employment that actively participates in maintaining the conditions of exploitation by providing a desperate workforce, reinforcing social inequalities, and destroying people’s lives by denying or reducing unemployment benefits.
At Colonel Fabien, we took the Avenue Mathurin Moreau, leading to the Buttes Chaumont Park. Again, several AutoLibs were destroyed, and hasty barricades were erected in the street to slow police vehicles. As a wink to the COP 21 decision to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, some of us decided to assist by destroying a luxury car dealership located nearby. Once in front of the park, what remained from the hundreds of people who had left République continued walking towards the 19th district’s City Hall.
However, feeling that the wind would sooner or later turn, we decided that it was the right moment for us to leave the action—which ended few minutes later anyway, when the first police squad showed up just after the crowd reached City Hall. Indeed, as we were withdrawing through another avenue, we passed dozens of riot cops who were trying to reach the demonstration.
Nevertheless, the arrival of numerous police reinforcements in the area—a desperate attempt to regain control of the situation—did not change the course of the evening. That night, the storm raged in the streets of Paris, and we were part of it.
April 21, 2016 – While taking part in Nuit Debout at Place de la République, we got word that an initiative to help migrants and refugees was planned for later that night. The idea was to open a new squat somewhere in Paris for migrants to occupy. To succeed, such an action would require support from outside to prevent the police from intervening. We were informed that the location was already selected, and that, at the appointed hour, we would receive the address. In the meantime, other activists would lead a group of refugees to the location.
We eventually received the address, left République, and took the metro to our destination. The squat was an unoccupied high school on Avenue Simon Bolivar, near the Pyrénées station, in the northeast of Paris. After waiting in small groups outside fast food restaurants or cafés to look less suspicious, we learned that the group of migrants was close. The crowd converged in front of the building, occupying the entire sidewalk and hiding the main entrance from sight. Several activists sneaked inside the high school, opened the main entrance for the migrants, and then, a few minutes later, closed and locked the doors from inside. Altogether, the entire action only took several minutes.
Unfortunately, the authorities were warned that something unusual was happening in the neighborhood, and the first police car patrol showed up just after the doors were closed. We decided to stay near the squat, ready to respond to police intervention. Police reinforcements stopped in front of the squat, but in the end they did nothing more than try to see if the building was occupied and threaten us.
Despite several actions to support this initiative, the squat only lasted for two weeks. On Tuesday, May 3, late at night, we received a last-minute appeal to gather in front of the squat early the next morning, as an eviction was imminent in consequence of a decision of the Administrative Court of Paris. Unfortunately, the large crowd that responded to the appeal could not do much to stop this massive police operation. As expected, on May 4, early in the morning, polices entered in the squat and violently evicted almost 300 migrants.
May 1, 2016 – For many countries around the world, May Day is the international day of workers, paying tribute to the workers’ struggles of the late 19th century and the introduction of the eight-hour workday. However, it has a different connotation in France. In 1941, Marshal Pétain—fervent anti-Semite, head of the French government during the occupation, and one of the main people responsible for state collaboration with the Nazis—enacted new legislation stating that May Day would be called “la fête du Travail et de la Concorde sociale” (“the day of labor and social harmony”). The objective of the law was to create a rupture with socialism and Marx’s theory of class struggle. Since that law, Labor Day in France continues to bear the name “Fête du Travail,” paying tribute to Pétain’s maxim “Travail, Famille, Patrie” (“Work, Family, Fatherland”).
How ironic and exciting it was for us to take the streets on Labor Day, then, when we had been fighting for almost two months against a new work reform—but also against the concept of work itself and the political and economic system as a whole. We were absolutely determined to see how this day would unfold.
Every May Day, during the morning, traditional anarchist unions such as the CNT, the Fédération Anarchiste, and Alternative Libertaire gather at Place des Fêtes for an anarcho-syndicalist demonstration to pay tribute to the events of the Haymarket and its martyrs. Unfortunately, these protests are purely symbolic—they are more akin to a nice Sunday family outing under black and red flags than a passionate, offensive anarchist action. Nevertheless, alongside with other autonomous anarchists and insurrectionists, we decided to join their ranks to participate in the festivities—and who knows, maybe make the event more effective than usual.
Hundreds of people took part in the demonstration from Place des Fêtes to Place de la Bastille, the official departure point of the national Labor Day demonstration. The anarchist march was more fun and offensive than we had expected: the walls of a church were spray painted, specific stores, windows, and ATMs were redecorated, and firecrackers and other projectiles were thrown at some police squads. As a whole, the action went without a hitch, as police kept their distance from us most of the time. The only discordant aspect of the morning was that someone who identified with anarcho-syndicalism started threatening some of us for attacking symbols of the capitalist system. His main arguments were that such actions were stupid and dangerous because they would get us all arrested. This example highlights some of the conflicts between different schools of thought in anarchism—but mostly, it shows how deeply rooted skepticism towards a plurality of tactics remains among many activists.
As had become usual since the beginning of the movement, anarchists, autonomous radicals, and non-affiliated individuals took the lead in the demonstration. What a great pleasure it was to do this on Labor Day, relegating trade unions—political traitors and pawns of established political power—to the end of the procession where they belong, behind those who refuse any kind of political hijacking or representation.
The least we can say is that the “autonomous procession” on May Day was incredible. We had never seen thousands of people of all ages, genders, and social backgrounds interacting in such a powerful and chaotic harmony.
Because police had often shot tear gas canisters, flash-bang grenades, and rubber bullets at demonstrators since the beginning of the movement, numerous people came to the protest with protective equipment: safety or swimming goggles, face masks, gas masks, scarves, first aid medical kits, and more. As soon as the demonstration started, we set the tone by attacking the isolated police units positioned along our route. All kinds of projectiles were thrown at them: glass bottles, stones, firecrackers, fireworks. Despite the imposing police presence—from police officers in plain clothes (recognizable from miles away) following us on each side of the march to riot squads at each intersection and in front of potential targets—we managed to remain offensive, compact, and in constant motion.
Unfortunately, the situation changed once we reached the intersection of the Boulevard Diderot and the rue de Chaligny. There, police forces succeeded in blocking us, and, to some extent, disorienting us by attacking the march from several directions at once. After long minutes of confrontation, riot police squads slowly gained the upper hand, dividing the head of the demonstration into two parts. Again, we paid the price for our failure to stay mobile, a mistake we had already made in the past and failed to learn from. The first part of the group was completely surrounded by police lines only half a mile from our destination, Place de la Nation. Again and again, we confronted the police lines in hopes of creating a breach, but without success.
However, the second part of the “autonomous procession,” which remained all that time behind police lines, refused to disperse or to continue demonstrating without us. In solidarity, hoping to reunify the head of the demonstration, they increased the pressure around the police lines by getting closer and collectively screaming anti-police chants. After almost an hour without moving, police brigades finally backed down, as they were completely surrounded and could not handle the pressure anymore. When the two crowds reunited, we all joined in long cheering and the protest resumed its course. During the half mile that remained to our destination, we spray painted almost every wall, smashed billboards, and some of us attacked a small group of riot police in a nearby street. All these initiatives received acclamations from the crowd. Then, suddenly, thousands of people began chanting in unison “Nous sommes tous des casseurs” (“We are all rioters”) until we reached Place de la Nation.
This last event might seem trivial; in reality, it represents an extremely important ideological shift in the movement. Since the beginning of the movement against the Loi Travail et son monde, media figures and politicians had worked hand in hand to make a distinction between the “legitimate, good, respectful, and non-violent demonstrators” and the “casseurs” or other “rioters” belonging to the notorious “black bloc,” who supposedly had no legitimacy or place in the movement. Unfortunately for them, the events of May Day broke their spell. People realized that the so-called “rioters” were just demonstrators like everybody else. Moreover, during the confrontations, they experienced mutual aid and solidarity, as the “rioters” were there to provide assistance wherever it was needed, to reassure people who were scared about the situation, to protect others during police charges, and to throw tear gas canisters back at the police who shot them. After experiencing disproportional police oppression on May Day, more and more people became critical of the police as an institution.
May 10, 2016 – Due to the increasing unpopularity of the Loi Travail among part of the French population, but also as a consequence of the difficulty the government had in containing the anger of the social movement, Prime Minister Manuel Valls announced that after consulting his ministers he had decided to invoke article 49:3 of the Constitution. This article allows him to engage the responsibility of the government in adopting a law. By doing so, the law is considered already adopted without passing through the traditional debates and vote at the Assemblée Nationale. The only way to counter such a process is by presenting a motion of no confidence within 24 hours. Using article 49:3 to impose the work reform by force has the merit of revealing the true face of representative democracy.
When this was made public, people converged in front of the Assemblée Nationale, the lower house of the French Parliament. For the occasion, Nuit Debout also relocated its general assembly in front of that building. Upon arriving, we discovered that an imposing police deployment was already waiting for us. Police squads and vehicles could be seen everywhere around the area. Some were guarding the front of the National Assembly; others were standing by, waiting for orders, ready to attack us from the rear if needed. However, the police presence did not intimidate the thousands of people who gathered that night in front of the building to show their opposition to the government.
Unfortunately, for the most part, the action remained static, as police lines carefully contained the expanding crowd by blocking strategic accesses or surrounding groups of demonstrators, like on the Concorde Bridge. Frustrated by such inaction, and knowing that sooner or later police reinforcements would show up to secure the entire area, some of us decided to pay a visit to the Parti Socialiste headquarters located a couple streets away. When our group finally decided to join them, it was already too late, as police were coming our way. To avoid being surrounded, we went down to the docks and ran the opposite way until we reached a safe location. After this short jog, we decided to cross the Seine River and relocated to the Quai des Tuileries. From where we were standing, we saw a large group of demonstrators leaving the site of the Assemblée Nationale and heading towards the Orsay Museum. Instantly, tear gas canisters were shot at the crowd.
At the same time, on our side of the river, police started evicting groups of demonstrators from the Concorde Bridge. As it was obvious that police were becoming distracted dealing with all these different situations, we decided to take the opportunity to start our own action. We shouted for demonstrators to join us and began walking rapidly towards the Louvre. As expected, the spontaneity of our action and our mobility rapidly gave us precious advantages against our pursuers. Near the Pont Royal Bridge, as police vehicles were gaining ground, we threw barriers and construction equipment into the middle of the road. We crossed the Jardin des Tuileries and the Louvre, and then found ourselves face to face with the statue of Joan of Arc, freshly decorated with wreaths of flowers. It took us only few seconds to profane and vandalize this place of worship so dear to the National Front, fascists of all kinds, and other traditionalists. As soon as police vehicles showed up, we rushed into the narrow streets of the wealthy districts of Paris. We continued our pleasant night stroll by passing near the Opera, then headed towards the old Bourse du Commerce, our equivalent of the US Stock Exchange, leaving sporadic marks of our passage before finally vanishing into the silence of the night. Later that evening, we learned with enthusiasm that several similar actions had taken place in other parts of the city.
May 17, 2016 – Desperate to finally muzzle the social movement against the Loi Travail, the authorities decided to make use of the “state of emergency.” Several persons received official documents prohibiting them from taking part in the major demonstration scheduled for May 17. However, these bans were cancelled after that an administrative judge declared that such documents represented a violation of the freedom to demonstrate.
The least we can say is that the entire march, from Ecole Militaire to the Place Denfert-Rochereau, was odd. First, to reach the demonstration itself, we had to cross several security cordons, where police officers carefully searched our bags to confiscate all types of equipment that could be useful during confrontations. For the first time, we felt like all this was some kind of a trap. However, some of us managed to join the march without being searched, finding opportunities to get around several security checkpoints.
Another strange aspect was the fact that the police were leading the procession, which did not bother trade unions and demonstrators at all. Looking at the crowd of demonstrators, it really seemed like we were nothing but a flock quietly following its shepherd, emptied of any passion. Luckily for us, the wind finally turned once we entered the Boulevard du Montparnasse. Groups of people dressed in black began to appear among the crowd of students; shortly after, the first provocations against police lines occurred. The autonomous group was back, ready and determined to interrupt the lethargy of this protest.
Long confrontations took place until the end of the demonstration. At some points, the streets were literally full of tear gas. Nevertheless, we managed to reach our destination, Place Denfert-Rochereau. Once on the square, we saw that most of the exits were closed and controlled by police. Our best chance to avoid being trapped was to exit the square the same way we had come in. This meant making our way out through the various trade unions represented in the march. While we were heading towards the entrance of Boulevard Raspail to exit the square, the closest trade union march stopped. Suddenly, the trade union members in charge of security opened the trunk of a car and armed themselves with baseball bats, iron bars, and pickaxe handles, forming a line in front of us, closing the only safe exit from the square and helping the police to accomplish their goal of controlling the crowd. After long minutes of bitter arguments during which demonstrators and trade union security members exchanged threats, they finally opened their lines so that people could leave the square.
This event illustrates the tensions that exist between the trade unions and the non-affiliated part of the movement. It is not easy to identify the reasons some trade unionists decided to arm themselves to assist the police that day. We can only assume that they were exasperated from having no legitimacy in the social movement and no control over it, and expressed their frustration against those they accused of ruining their political image.
May 18, 2016 – On Wednesday, May 18, the conservative and reactionary police union Alliance organized a protest at Place de la République to denounce the “anti-cop hatred” that had been increasing during the movement. Of course, everyone understood that this victim rhetoric was purely strategic. Having such a meeting for police unionists and officers to speak about the difficulty of their work was a way to divert attention from the daily violence perpetrated by the men in blue. Concerning the Loi Travail, it would be impossible to count how many people had been beaten, injured, or arrested since the beginning of the movement. Finally, the fact that the gathering was organized at République, where the French occupy movement started and where people had confronted the police together many times, represented an open provocation from the police. The police were engaging in a territorial war in order to reassert dominance.
As soon as we heard about the police gathering, we decided that we would also converge at Place de la République to disrupt their protest. Due to the nature of this event, we knew that reaching the square would be difficult—and perhaps dangerous, as the police officers joining the demonstration would not be at work, and therefore even more free from regulations than police officers usually are. Early in the morning, some us met away from the square, with the intention of approaching it casually in groups of two or three.
Unfortunately, this strategy didn’t work at all. As we headed towards République, two of us passed by two unmarked police vehicles that we had previously spotted, and as soon as we crossed the next street, officers in plain clothes stopped us to search and interrogate us. After several failed attempts to learn what we were doing in the area and whether we were involved with the “autonomous left-wing movement,” the leader of the squad lost his patience and started to threaten us. They had nothing they could use against us, so we left them.
In the meantime, at République, a few hundred people were gathering for the “anti-cop hatred” protest. Some politicians showed up to support the angry crowd of police officers and sympathizers. The crowd warmly welcomed several members of the Front National who joined the protest. Some of us succeeded in gathering not to far from the square, but as all the entrances were heavily guarded, we decided to start our own action near the police gathering. While walking on the Quai de Valmy, demonstrators fortuitously encountered a police patrol. Without a second thought, they attacked the police car stuck in traffic, smashing its windows and throwing a lit torch in the back seat. The police officers exited their vehicle and impotently watched it go up in flames.
Whether or not we agree with the way the events unfolded, setting a police car on fire—while only half a mile away, police officers were protesting against “anti-police hatred”—is a beautiful political act, full of poetry and symbolism. However, after this event, the authorities carried out witch-hunts, arresting six people altogether. During the subsequent trials, judges said that some of those charged had been identified by an undercover police officer—which is quite surprising, considering that the protesters who attacked the police car had masked their faces. Under the pressure of the police unions, the judges incarcerated four of our comrades under the following charges: attempted voluntary manslaughter of a person holding public office, destruction of property, group violence, and participating in a masked armed group. Some of them are members or sympathizers of the Paris and suburbs Antifascist Action; another is Kara Wild, an anarchist comrade and trans person from the United States.
June 4, 2016 – While the French government and much of the population were waiting for the opening of the European Football Cup tournament in France on June 10, we were all focused on keeping the movement against the Loi Travail et son monde alive. On June 4, as every year since 2013, an antifascist demonstration took place to commemorate the death of the young activist Clément Méric, who was murdered by neo-Nazis on June 5, 2013.
Hundreds of people gathered at Place de la Bataille de Stalingrad, some German comrades joined us for the occasion, and after a long wait, the crowd started leaving the square. We heard that the police had made it clear that as soon as any property destruction or confrontations took place, they would immediately stop and disperse the procession—as if we cared about their threats!
The antifascist and autonomous crowd crossed the Boulevard de la Villette and took the Quai de Valmy. It was not a coincidence that authorities changed our route at the last minute to redirect us onto the same street where the police car had been set on fire a couple weeks before. However, as soon as we entered the street, the black wave got to work. Windows were smashed, walls were spray-painted, and torches were lit as people chanted anti-capitalist and antifascist slogans. Every single symbol of gentrification on our path was redecorated to our liking.
After a little less than a mile, some of us decided to leave the action, while the rest of the march found itself face to face with police forces at precisely the location where the police car had been set on fire. Considering their presence a deliberate provocation, some people responded by attacking them. Unfortunately, after a while, police squads succeeded in surrounding what remained of the march.
June 14, 2016 – There were nationwide appeals to join the afternoon demonstration in Paris on this special day. We heard that for the occasion, several hundred buses were supposed to converge in the capital city. It seemed that people were more determined than ever to confront the government. The demonstration was supposed to start from the Place d’Italie and take main boulevards to the Esplanade des Invalides. Choosing that location as the point of arrival brought back good memories of riots during a demonstration against the CPE law in March 2006—for some of us, our first experiences of rioting. Could we consider this some kind of sign?
Unfortunately, some of us joined the demonstration pretty late. As a result, we missed some really intense confrontations with police, especially the one at the metro station Duroc, near the children’s hospital Necker. While moving through the crowd to get closer to the head of the march, we realized a few things. First, an impressive number of people were in Paris to demonstrate; it was impossible to see both ends of the protest at once. It has been said that about one million people walked in the streets of Paris that day. Second, we experienced real cohesion, solidarity, and trust among the people who formed the now classic non-affiliated autonomous procession. Whether a trade unionist, a student, or an anarchist, everyone was free to act as she or he wanted, and everyone was taking care of each other. For example, we saw groups of trade unionists confronting police lines, and some of them even helped us to de-arrest comrades.
The intensity of confrontations peaked during this demonstration. The streets were covered with projectiles of all kinds: stones, broken glass bottles, torches, empty tear gas canisters, rubber bullets, flash-bang grenades. The walls were covered with painted messages; the symbols of the old world were destroyed, the windows smashed. For the first time since the beginning of the movement against the Loi Travail et son monde, the authorities used a water cannon to disperse the crowd. Police violence also intensified. During the hour we spent in the demonstration, we saw about ten people injured or laying on the ground receiving assistance from demonstrators, street medics, or emergency personnel.
As planned, the demonstration ended at the Esplanade des Invalides. While the march was slowly entering the esplanade, the classic closing confrontations began. Protesters started attacking the water cannon and the closest police lines. Riot police responded, covering the esplanade with tear gas. Coming from the sides, groups from the anti-criminality brigade (BAC) in plainclothes approached the confrontation zones. Police forces were progressively gaining control of the entire zone. After more than half an hour of chaos, after witnessing a distress flare from police lines, we decided that it was time to leave the esplanade before the authorities managed to close all the exits.
While withdrawing from Invalides, we learned that some people were gathering near the Senate in the Sorbonne district for a “picnic and soccer” party. Curious to know what it was about, we decided to go there. About a hundred people were there, holding a discussion in some kind of assembly. After minutes of waiting, doing absolutely nothing as the access to the Senate was heavily guarded, we finally decided to continue the day of protest against the Loi Travail by stopping traffic and taking the streets for a nice walk. We first took the direction of the Panthéon, going up the rue Soufflot. Then, as police vehicles were following us, we accelerated our pace and took the rue Saint Jacques. We turned in front of the prestigious Collège de France, took the first narrow street, and climbed up the hill as police vehicles were really close to us. Unfortunately, as soon as we reached the Panthéon again from another side, we had to disperse as police were exiting their vehicles.
After this quick but fun wild action, we went to Place de la République. The square was surprisingly crowded, and a bit after 9 pm some of us decided to improve the setting by setting a metro security car on fire. Police squads rapidly arrived at the square. The tension was palpable. We knew that more confrontations were going to occur. Then about a thousand people decided to leave the square for a wild march, followed close behind by police vehicles. That was when we decided to leave the action and République.
After that day, the government changed its strategy regarding demonstrations. First, the authorities canceled a major demonstration that was planned for June 23. Their justification for doing so was that, due to the past events during the previous demonstration, they were not able to ensure the safety of property or individuals anymore. What an interesting statement, the government acknowledging its complete loss of power! However, due to the objections of trade unions, the authorities reconsidered their decision. Finally, the demonstration was authorized for June 23, on two conditions: the authorities would impose its route, and police would intensify their control of demonstrators.
Naturally, trade union leaders accepted these conditions. We decided not to take part in this demonstration. There was no reason for us to rush straight into a trap.
Shortly before June 23, we learned that the march would make a mile-long loop around the Parisian marina, leaving Place de la Bastille to finally reach… Place de la Bastille. To prevent property destruction or confrontations, the authorities covered every potential target with wooden planks, established a large number of security checkpoints, and carefully positioned their troops all around the route, so that wherever you went during the demonstration, police squads would be facing you. Despite all these measures, the demonstration gathered more than 30,000 participants; it seems that some people really love walking in circles and being monitored. On June 28, another demonstration was organized between Place de la Bastille and Place d’Italie, but as the authorities were once again imposing the rules, we decided to stay home.
However, we continued taking part in less official initiatives at night at République. On the evening of July 2, after attending a barbecue organized by some people close to the appelistes, about a hundred people left the party to enjoy a nice walk in the warm summer night. People left Ménilmontant and took the Boulevard de Belleville. We reached the Belleville metro station after several detours through adjacent streets where people destroyed trashcans, wrote on walls, and chanted joyfully. There, some of us attacked the CFDT headquarters, destroying all its front windows. Several minutes after, as police forces were finally showing up, we left the boulevard and disappeared into adjoining streets.
It was not the first time that trade union buildings were targeted during the movement against the Loi Travail. The CFDT (Confédération Française Démocratique du Travail, French Democratic Confederation of Work) was regularly targeted for refusing to take a stand against the law.
Time to Learn from Our Mistakes and Move toward the Future
What happened next was predictable. As always occurs during confrontational social movements, the government contained popular discontent as much as it could while playing for time. This strategy seems to have been fruitful: as the summer holidays were approaching, officials knew that the movement against the Loi Travail et son monde would die down. France has a regrettable tendency to give up struggles as soon as the summer holidays are in sight. Naturally, politicians are aware of this and take advantage of it by passing “sensitive” laws when no one is around to resist.
As expected, after two more applications of article 49:3 of the Constitution, the Assemblée Nationale adopted the Loi Travail despite the months of mobilization against it.
Since the law was adopted, more events have occurred in France. First, frightened by the appeals that insurrectionists and anarchists made to prevent the traditional summer meeting of the Parti Socialiste, the government decided to simply cancel the event. On August 31, Nuit Debout gathered several hundred people at Place de la République for their first general assembly since summer break. Then, to celebrate students going back to school, there was another national demonstration against the Loi Travail et son monde on September 15. As usual, there were intense confrontations with the police; several petrol bombs were thrown at the riot squads. Unfortunately, since then, no more major demonstrations against the Loi Travail have occurred.
In the meantime, fascists, religious traditionalists, conservatives, and police forces have also been mobilizing. The Manif Pour Tous, an organization gathering religious traditionalists, homophobes, and fascists that became notorious after demonstrating against same-sex marriage in late 2012-2013, took the streets again in October 2016 to denounce gender theory, Medically Assisted Procreation, and third-party reproduction. The demonstration gathered tens of thousands of people, far exceeding their earlier numbers. Moreover, in Paris, an accommodation center for homeless people has been attacked several times since its construction. The last attack occurred on November 5, at night, when someone tried to set the center on fire while 27 adults and 24 children were inside it. Finally, in late October, police officers took the streets after one of them was injured by a petrol bomb while on duty in a case not related to the movement against the Loi Travail. They were demanding more equipment and assistance from the government, but also that the conditions justifying self-defense should be reviewed.
As the next Presidential elections were to take place in spring 2017, the government decided to accelerate its pace of decision-making by authorizing the complete destruction and eviction of the “Jungle,” the migrant camp in Calais on the way to Britain. The operation began on October 24. While bulldozers and excavators protected by police were destroying tents and other hand-made habitations, migrants were forcibly sent to other accommodations. The truth is that, for some of them, the journey ended in French detention centers. A week later, the dismantlement of the “Jungle” concluded as the last shelters were destroyed on the afternoon of October 31. More than 6000 migrants and refugees were evicted during this operation. On Monday, November 14, the Administrative Court of Appeal of Nantes rendered its decision, authorizing the construction of the Notre-Dame-Des-Landes airport, ignoring the proofs of potential environmental impact presented a week before by its own public rapporteur.
In view of the overall political and social situation in France, we can see that the upcoming months will be crucial in shaping our future. This is why we took the time to analyze what happened during the months of social upheaval against the Loi Travail et son monde, to make a self-criticism and raise questions. Such reflections should be made collectively, so that they benefit from many different experiences and analyses.
To offer our own contribution to this process, we would like to discuss how the glorification of “insurrection” in our circles could end up alienating us. Of course, we have all shared this dream at least once—that people would suddenly rise up to overthrow the government together. Unfortunately, it seems to us that during the events related to the Loi Travail, this obsession mostly resulted in concentrating our efforts on directly confronting police forces. These confrontations became a kind of routine—for some of us, they became the only reason to participate in a demonstration.
Over time, this approach showed its limits, as police squads ceased to be surprised by our attacks. Several times, it was obvious that they were expecting us to attack, that they actually wanted us to. Those were the moments when we missed important opportunities to diversify our tactics and implement new strategies in order to continue taking them by surprise. Once again, we are convinced that spontaneity, mobility, and the element of surprise are the key elements that can give us a clear advantage.
This tendency to focus on confrontation alone is interrelated with the problem of becoming integrated into the same spectacle that we criticize. We all know that media outlets are partial to sensational and spectacular images of “rioters” attacking police forces. Nowadays, we are not only under the cameras of mainstream media and police officers, but also of other activists who are documenting every moment of our actions. Like it or not, we too are becoming prisoners of our image. By actively participating in reinforcing the culture of the spectacle, we feed and reinforce our own obsession with rioting and insurrection. Even if we criticize this trend, we also acknowledge that such footage might have some utility for presenting events to other activists.
Finally, we believe that we should distance ourselves from the current obsession with insurrection and its rhetoric. If we do not do so, we may end up distracting ourselves from our true objectives. Instead, we should keep our minds clear, work together on new projects, and find new and subversive ways to liberate ourselves from the old world. Several months ago, appelistes claimed that there will be no presidential election in 2017; with the benefit of hindsight, this strikes us as a bit optimistic. All the same, it is time to learn from our mistakes, but also from our victories, to acknowledge our limits and our capacities to exceed some of them. All this, in order to advance upon the future and prepare ourselves for new horizons.
Postscript: On the Eve of the Presidential election
We will conclude with a brief overview of several events that took place in France since we drafted this article at the end of 2016. We hope that it will give a clearer picture of the situation in France before the upcoming elections, but also demonstrate that, alone or in affinity groups, people are still organizing, attacking, and resisting the old world and the pawns that serve it.
Since the end of the mobilization against the Loi Travail et son monde, the French government has intensified its investigations of those identified as “threats.” This is why, while several comrades were already in custody for taking part of some of the events described above, the authorities arrested another comrade in early December 2016. Since then, Damien has been accused of taking part in several attacks during the night of April 14, 2016, when an autonomous march resulted in thousand of euros in property destruction. After going to trial on January 19, 2017, he has been sentenced to 10 months in prison and 14,000€ of restitution.
However, several solidarity actions took place since Damien’s arrest: in mid-December, several bank ATMs were destroyed in Besançon and Marseilles; on December 26 (Damien’s birthday), a luxury car was set on fire in an upper-class district of Paris; finally, at the end of December, in Brussels, several billboards and a security car were destroyed, while on New Year’s Eve a Vinci car and a Bam car—both companies known for building prisons—were set on fire.. Several actions also took place in front of the Fleury Mérogis prison, where some people who actively took part of the mobilization against the Loi Travail are detained.
Meanwhile, at the end of March 2017, Antonin, a member of the Paris and Suburbs Antifascist Action, was released from prison after spending 10 months in custody on account of the police car set on fire on May 18, 2016. Unfortunately, some other comrades remain incarcerated: Kara, Nico, Krème, and Damien.
In the meantime, actions of resistance have intensified throughout France in the different ZADs against the several useless projects. While Notre-Dame-des-Landes remains the best known example of activist resistance in the name of environment preservation in France, another conflict is gaining in importance. For about 20 years, the ANDRA (the National Agency for the Treatment of Radioactive Waste) has intended to establish its new treatment site near Bure, a small village located in the Meuse region of France. The purpose of the ANDRA is to study the soil in the region to find the perfect location for burying high-level nuclear waste. There is no need to explain the environmental consequences of such a project. This is why, for several years now, activists have been organizing resistance in the region through legal objections, protests, occupations, direct action, and sabotage. Last February, activists succeeded in tearing down the fences surrounding the ANDRA laboratory.
In order to weaken the resistance against this project, French authorities employed the tools offered by the “state of emergency,” issuing numerous “inadmissibility” documents that forbid activists to be physically present in the region of Bure However, these threats did not have the expected effect, as some activists publicly expressed their will to continue the struggle in the field.
Finally, during the last months, some tragic events involving police violence and murders have led to several protests and riots.
Last summer, on July 19, 2016, 24-year-old Adama Traoré was found dead after being arrested by the police. Quickly, authorities decided to cover the incident by providing the result of an autopsy, explaining that the death of the young man was not related to the conditions of his arrest but due to personal health problems. However, further autopsies and testimony revealed new information and a whole different story than the one presented by official authorities. After Adama’s death, his family organized numerous protests and gatherings, alongside other organizations, to denounce police violence and impunity.
More recently, on February 2, 2017, after a police control, 22-year-old Théo was hospitalized on account of a long wound inside the anal canal and a lesion of the sphincter muscle. Théo explained that during the police control, one officer penetrated him with his telescopic baton. The first official statement made by authorities did not mention any of this. This tragic event received widespread media coverage, revealing once more how the authorities try to cover up evidence and deny obvious facts.
Politicians saw this event as an opportunity to reinforce their positions in view of the upcoming elections. For example, reaffirming once more her commitment to authority and law enforcement, Marine Le Pen gave all her support to the police officers involved in the case.
However, despite promises to solve the case and uncover the truth behind this so-called “police burr,” the French government did not succeed in containing popular anger and thirst for vengeance. Riots and clashes with police immediately broke out in the suburbs. At Aulnay-sous-Bois, the police shot live rounds to disperse rioters. These events remind us of 2005, when the deaths of Zyed and Bouna—two teenagers who were chased by the police—moved part of the population living in these territories called “suburbs” to revolt. On February 11, 2017 thousands of people gathered in front of the Bobigny Court to show their solidarity with Théo and his family. The massive presence of police forces near the Court and in nearby streets exacerbated the frustration of the crowd, who chose to attack and confront them until late that night..
Numerous protests against police violence and in solidarity with Théo were also organized in Paris, Rennes, and Nantes, which brought back some of the atmosphere we had experienced a year before during the Loi Travail: uncontrollable demonstrations, property destruction, confrontations with police.
Then, on March 26, 2017, members of the anti-criminality brigade (BAC) killed Liu Shaoyo while he was preparing dinner for his family. As always, the authorities tried to explain away this “accidental” death by giving their own version of the event. The Shaoyo family itself contests this version, as they were present during the police raid. Again, this murder led to several gatherings and protests in front of police stations.
The least we can say is that, on the eve of the Presidential election, the supreme example of political spectacle, the climate in France is tenser than ever. During the last presidency and especially since the Loi Travail, part of the population has lost faith in the prevailing political system. Others see in the Alternative Left an option that will deliver us from our miseries. Still others, reinforced by the xenophobic discourses of the “migrant crisis,” the election of Donald Trump, and the Brexit success, seek a solution in the Front National, which promises to defend a supposed “French identity” and national interest against globalization.
On account of its dangerous agenda and its popularity, activists have disrupted some of the electoral meetings of theFront National, including one in Nantes and another more recently in Paris. Moreover, for the first time in the history of the 5th Republic, the two traditional parties might not see one of their leaders elected as President. The outcome of the upcoming election remains more uncertain than ever; it is possible that a fascist, populist, and xenophobic government will come to power on May 7, 2017.
Yet in the face of all these uncertainties, one thing remains certain: whoever is elected, we will remain ungovernable!