Can dialectics break sheet glass?

The following text, published collectively by a Parisian assembly, deals with the unhappy events at Place de la Bastille, where an occupation of the opera there was liquidated by the police with astonishing efficiency which led many to speculate that they’d provoked the whole thing in the first place. It also touches on ‘comrade ninja’, so-called for having been filmed launching a flying kick into the back of a ‘good citizen’ trying to stop a hooded guy from smashing a window. All of them were widely denounced as police, too.

Really the last edition to this first number of LIENS (page 13).

Can dialectics break plate glass?

Thoughts on the 16th of October, what followed, and the repression of the movement.

After the arrests during the action on the October 16th organised by the “Strike-Blockade-Sabotage. First round, we’re still going!” assembly, it was decided collectively to write the following text.

In the current movement the strike’s come up against certain limits. The legislative enclosure of the ‘right to strike’ – with the ’requisitions’ which forced strikers back to work under threat of jail, the minimum service, and the ban on occupations – was an effort to limit the effects of the strike. The legalisation of the struggle’s least effective parts, and the criminalisation of their most effective, is one of the methods used to control it – even if the movement, whenever it’s on the lookout for a little more force or community, doesn’t focus on these distinctions, and finds instead that for it legality isn’t an impassable frontier, nor illegality an end in itself.

The same thing goes for the demonstrations. Foremost amongst the methods of repression are the route negotiated with and controlled by the police, the collaboration of the union stewards and the care taken to ensure that everything stays in order. To try and escape from this tool is to attempt to constitute a collective force, to reclaim for oneself the street, and to depart from a simple numerical assessment of the forces in play. That’s what happened on the evening of Saturday the 16th of October, when a group of many hundreds of people left the official meeting-point to try and occupy Bastille Opera, with the idea of disrupting the live transmission of the performance and holding a general assembly there. This sort of action has taken place all over and forms part of a general dynamic. As well as that, we were trying to get out of the institutional space left for demonstrations.

As an outcome of this effort, 40 people were arrested and detained without charge. Detention without charge [garde à vue] (automatically renewed for up to 48 hours) is used by the cops as a punishment in itself. Of those 40 people, 8 were charged, some for participation “in a group, temporary or otherwise, for the purpose of the preparation, characterised by one or many acts (or actus reus, ‘fait matèriel’) of voluntary violence against people or of destruction of or damage to property [biens],” and violence against police. Amongst those arrested were also some guys who were already on bail [sous contrôle judiciare] for charges related to previous actions. Their bail conditions banned them from meeting each other: arrested together that evening, they were accused of having violated this obligation. The argument didn’t hold: they’d been part of a group of hundreds of people. Summoned by an investigating judge [juge d’instruction, part of Inquisitorial law: a judge whose role is to discover the facts of the case, before passing the dossier to another judge to try the case. No parallel in English adversarial law.] they received a warning, with the threat of being put back in jail “next time”. Five of the eight who passed before the judge were also bailed conditionally.

water mill

What they’ve basically been reproached for is having taken part in a demonstration instead of lying low and staying home. Conditional bail is a method of intimidation and isolation. It amounts to banning certain people from frequenting certain places, seeing certain people, having a certain attitude. In short, it boils down to denying to those who are in power’s sights the power to participate in the social contestation, on pain of imprisonment. Repression, like always, bears down in different forms, fits itself out appropriately to destroy collective solidarities.

What warranted judicial intervention against participants in this demonstration was that they’d had a stake in an action in the course of which a few bank windows were smashed. The idea, well illustrated by the utilisation of the famous, recently-passed “law against gangs,” is that mere participation in a meeting, a “crowd” or an action makes one criminally liable for everything which happens. From all that, we can see pretty clearly that it’s the simple act of leaving the institutionalised spaces and the habitual forms of organisation that’s being targeted.

Let’s be clear: to take it out on a symbol of capitalism by breaking the window of a bank isn’t unusual or incomprehensible. Offensive practices such as sabotage or confrontations with the cops form an integrated part of yesterday’s struggle as they do of today’s. But at the moment one can see that repression doesn’t only bear down on those directly accused of leading these attacks, but also on all those who rally around them. These laws aim to render possible no actions but those supervised by the stewards: actions where the participants are forced to police themselves, and where nothing can ever take place. It’s all aimed at the policing of our practices and our spirits.

In the discourse of the police and media the attack on a bank window must have been the work of the casseurs. This term, utilised exclusively with the aim of disqualifying the practices of direct action, is a totally artificial abstract category. It smoothes out a complex social reality and drains it of all political content. Such practices become purely asocial destruction, with neither perspective nor sense.

When they say that the casseurs “aren’t anything but rudeboys” or when they imagine, as is often the case today, that it’s a question of undercover cops infiltrating the demonstrations, they show up at bottom the same basic reasoning: the “casseur” is foreign to the struggle, outside the movement.

It’s true that, for the past few years, undercover cops have become less and less afraid of coming right into the heart of demonstrations in order to make arrests. It’s important not to tolerate them and, whenever they’re clearly identified, to drive them off so far as it’s possible. But this tendency has increased paranoia to such an extent that some see cops everywhere. Surfing on the pervasive mood of intrigue, the politicians or the unionists, such as Mélenchon and Thibault, come out with a discourse as old as Stalinism: everything which escapes them and that they can’t control is accused of being manipulated by the cops.

The hysteria amongst politicians and the media has grown around the episode of “casseur Ninja” as he’s been dubbed by the press. Starting from the confused images diffused through the internet, the most delirious theories have proliferated: the action at Opera was organised by cops, or in any case desired by the chief of police [prefecture]; the journalists had already been stationed there to broadcast the images of violence on 20 Hours [television news programme on France 2, like the BBC], etc. Under the cover of the conspiratorial mood the idea reasserts itself that nothing violent and illegal could have taken place unless power was at the origin of it, or at least let it happen. They’ve convinced themselves so thoroughly of the absolute power of the state that the least act of revolt becomes suspect. Social control is such that it slips the idea into the brain that it’s inescapable. They come to identify the barrier of the legal with the field of the possible.

This frenzy, this confusion, directly feeds the repression: the cops were sent forth, the criminal brigade at their head, looking for the masked protagonists from the video – and have already put away someone accused of being one of them. (He’s at Fleury-Mérogis until his trial on the 6th of next December). In other towns too, for example in Nanterre and Lyon, the obsession with the casseur pushes the police to use sophisticated means of investigation, normally restricted to investigations into organised crime, to find those who’ve been in confrontations with the CRS: high-resolution photos from a helicopter, swabbing DNA from stones etc.

Thus, everything combines to turn each of us into our very own cop: fear and paranoia, anxiety over the legitimacy of the movement, the repression aimed at all those who want to get off the beaten track.

We’ve got to combat this paranoia and the individualisation caused by repression by organising ourselves collectively. The next assembly for “First round, we’re still going!” is on Wednesday the 17th of November, 5-7-9 rue de capitaine Marchal, at 7 pm.

FOOTNOTES:
1.‘Loi contre les bandes’: proposed by the UMP and passed last February, criminalising “participation in a violent band” with a possible sentence of one year in prison or a €15,000 fine, with harsher sentences where measures were taken intentionally to conceal one’s identity, notably with hoods.

2. Pun on BAC, ‘Brigade Anti-Criminalité’, an undercover police public order unit which takes on the role in riot situations of skirmishers (in the classic military sense) in front of formal police lines. They really do lead charges, as well as move in nasty packs picking off stragglers.

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