Reflections on Violence
From Lundi Matin
"Little by little, the 'question of violence' appears for what it is: a diversion."
Since the events of April 9th and the wild week that followed, the Nuit Debout (Rise Up At Night) assembly put the question of violence at the center of debate. While citizens persist in their rigorous pacifism, stances in favor of the "diversity of tactics" are multiplying. The National Student Coordination itself has explicitly refused dissociation between rioters and demonstrators.
Amongst this proliferation of discussions, the Nuit à Bout Action Committee has gathered the positions that seem pertinent to the context of the reinforcement of the movement as well as its repression. The more we seriously assume our presence in the Place de la République, the more frequently situations leading to confrontations will present themselves to us. We must prepare for them. This isn't a question of convincing everyone that violence is a viable option or a necessary route. It's simply a matter of finding the forms of action, perhaps frightening, that will deliver us from fear.
What must be explained is not why things sometime get out of hand around the Nuit Debout gatherings in Paris, but why it doesn't happen more. In the end, it's clearly understood why people who have been gathering every night for two weeks to envision the end of capitalism end up exploding the windows of the Société Générale bank (#PanamaPapers). Obviously this is right, it makes total sense. The problem lies elsewhere. This is why neither the moral apologies for violence nor the theoretical or ideological justification of trashing will succeed in bringing more people to fight against the police or smash bank windows.
We shouldn't forget that if many people are keeping themselves quiet in demos, it's not because pacifism is in their blood, but simply because they're afraid. To surpass this fear is a collective task that is nowhere better accomplished than in the streets. In drawing attention to everyone, and not only to one's friends; in taking care of each other, even in the worst situations.
"Diversity of tactics" is an expression which, like its cousin, "convergence of struggles", tells us nothing about what must be done when people are brought together who don't have the same ways to struggle, or don't even have any way to struggle at all. This expression actually hides a pretty liberal idea: everyone struggling next to the other, in their own way, without bothering or talking to one another.
It's nothing more than another subtle way to dissociate oneself. When will we get a "diversity of corteges"? This is something the FIDL already claim at every demo of high schoolers.
The question is not to be or not to be violent. The question is to be offensive, or inoffensive. Three gangs of five friends determined to smash vending machines but incapable of organizing on a larger scale than their own affinity circle are as inoffensive as 10,000 unionized citizens slowly marching behind the CGT's sound-system-french-fries-van. Conversely, 3,000 people holding their ground in the tear-gas and a bunch people throwing rocks from behind a banner almost succeeded in taking a drink at Valls' house.
All the strong moments experienced in the streets since March 9th have implied, at one time or another, that those who are ready to fight and those who are not draw attention to each other, decide to hold together, and not just stand side-by-side in polite and diplomatic indifference. On April 9th at Place de la Nation, there weren't enough tear-gas grenades in all the capital to separate the hundred of people who were bombarding the CRS lines from the hundreds of people who were booing and filming the cops, while cheering or nursing the rioters.
Little by little, the "question of violence" appears for what it is: a diversion. As long as we continue to talk about this, and moreover to speak about it in moral and ideological terms, we won't confront the true strategical problems posed by the demonstrations. To make the apology of violence yet again will do nothing. There are plenty of people ready to defend themselves from the police. What's missing is precisely a cortege to defend.
A demonstration is not a symbolical ritual. It is a test of strength, where the population that has reasons to revolt meets, physically, the people who get paid to maintain the world in the deplorable state we now find it in. Every demo is the actualization of the rapport du force between those who are ready to take risks to change the situation, and those whom we pay to preserve it. The problem of official and union demonstrations is that they downplay the existence of such a rapport du force. They give an image of life, of struggle, that disgusts us. Sponsored balloons, sausage-slogans and security squads; if "struggling" means to march like the CGT, than to struggle means: to remain passive, to repeat the same gestures again and again, and to never take risks. That, in addition to being deceptive, is intolerable. One only starts to fight when one ceases to be inoffesive: it may seem tautological, but the whole of the union forces spend their time affirming the opposite. Their gestures, in the streets, express nothing but submission.
The police maintain order. Because it is a protest against the order of things, a demonstration is, in its essence, a confrontation with police, no matter what form it takes. Therefore, when night comes, there is a winner and a loser. Either the police win (April 5th), or the demo wins (March 31st). The police win when everything goes as planned by the prefecture. Demonstrators win when everything doesn't go as planned by the prefecture. Freedom then, is gained when we pull something off in the face of the police. Winning matters. As much for the construction of a rapport du force as for our ties to each other, for our courage. Too many people come to rallies like tourists, unconscious of the importance of successfully breaking the mold. Those people can be sympathetic clowns dancing in front of the CRS, or rioters who are indifferent to the behavior of the cortege. It doesn't matter: they are inoffesive.
To ensure that everything happens as expected, the cops set up apparatuses: kettles, closed streets, hordes of undercovers, etc. In demonstrating, the challenge to combat is the police apparatus: we must keep it from working, we must break it down. Not only are there thousands of different apparatuses, but there are thousands of different ways to break apart the same apparatus.
Likewise, there isn't much to say about a demo where the police apparatus hasn't been put into question. That's why the media's approach to demonstrations is to set their sites solely on the outbreaks. These alone mean something. To say that, "confrontations occurred on the fringes of the cortege," makes about as much sense as saying that, "goals have been scored on the sidelines of the football field".
Trashing is the easiest, most obvious way to break a police apparatus. It is also one of the least interesting, and most boring. What most narratives on rioters miss is that the latter would often prefer to do something else: to break police lines to free the cortege, to occupy a building, to start a wild demo, to hold barricades, paint inspired tags, etc. Trashing is often a second-best option. It is the zero degree of the demonstration. As for the classical union rally, family-friendly and good-natured, it isn't even a demonstration: it is a police operation.
It's worth noting that there's rarely been as few windows broken in a social movement as that of the month that just passed. One doesn't trash anything when one confronts the police. One has better things to do.
If the Nuit Debout's assembly can be in turns entertaining, touching or ridiculous, it won't help us in any way to organize with a revolutionary perspective. This statement is a practical one: one can't discuss such things like one takes a ticket at the butcher shop. The infinite succession of stop-watched and disconnected speeches all but abolishes the conditions of a constructed conversation. Nobody can say anything intelligent in two minutes. Everybody sees it, but everybody goes along with it. However "democratic" the will of certain organizers or "facilitators" may be, the decision and voting procedures are usually nothing but a farce. What they parody in "formal democracy" is the impotence related to the fact that the decision, in the end, engages nobody. Yet, to keep up the confrontation requires that we make certain decisions – decisions which the general assembly makes de facto impossible. We attend them as we would watch The Voice. To elaborate a revolutionary perspective requires that other modes of speaking, of sharing and of building collective intelligence be deployed at the same time in the square.
Our corteges will start to look like something once everyone shares, not a tolerance of principle towards the actions of others, but a common strategical perception of the situation. That is to say, once we perceive all demonstrations as battles we must win by any means necessary; once we are all inclined, not to violence, but to taking the offensive with speed and surprise. It is by drawing attention to the movements and affects which agitate our demonstrations that we will succeed to find a common ground allowing a true convergence of struggles – its meeting point, Place de la République.
There are thousands of non-violent gestures that then come to mind which would increase many-fold our efficiency in the streets:
– March in masses on sidewalks in order to prevent the lateral movements of the CRS from catching the demo in its claw.
– Raise concerns over the routes of wild demos. Those leading the cortege, in the heat of the action and improvisation, don't always choose the best routes. Help them.
– Get in the habit of hiding our faces at the right time: as much to sabotage the identification and surveillance work systematically and massively conducted by the police as to make indistinguishable demonstrators taking part in confrontation from the others.
– Confrontations tend not to unfold in silence or on mute. Slogans and chanting express the spirit of the movement. Thus, they have their place in all moments of confrontation. When others fight, sing and dance.
– Be mobile and do not allow any holes to form in the cortege when security squads or police attempt to divide it.
– Learn to protect ourselves from tear gas so that it's not just those who are equipped in the clouds.
– Systematically send back tear gas canisters, or at least keep them away from the cortege.
– Stay calm during police charges to avoid brawls. Hold together and don't back off a hundred times farther than where the police line stops so as not to give them free space.
Their morals are not ours.
Nuit à bout Action Commitee