Two texts from issue 9 of Paris Sous Tension, published this week, responding to the ongoing French electoral circus.
Originally published by Paris Sous Tension, translated by Bordered by Silence
No bosses, no nations! No Le Pen, no Macron! 
Everyone knows the results of the first round of the presidential elections . For us, this isn’t what matters. That millions of people still bother to go vote shows that we are still living in a society largely made up of obedient citizens and not, alas, of free individuals. But how could this surprise us when we know of the whole range of institutions – starting with school – that continue, year after year, to reproduce such creatures. That a majority of them gave their support to an ex-banker (a veritable messiah of the coming capitalism) and to a disgrace (a populist demagogue who plays on the hatred and resentment that drives so many of our contemporaries) reminds us that we truly have no hope of sharing anything with such people. And sadly, it shows where resignation, everyone-for-themselves, identification with the national community, the abandonment of all hope of revolution, and the erasure of historical memory can lead. Nothing surprising. But let’s leave the pessimism for later.
That night, several hundred people showed their refusal of the elections, their unequivocal and unconditional defiance towards the person who will reach the throne. Several unpermitted demos wove their way throughout north-east Paris, moving through Bastille, République, Stalingrad, Belleville, Ménilmontant… With the practice of, as much as possible, directly attacking everything that, within their way of seeing the world, doesn’t have a good reason to exist,: riot cops, military vehicles, banks, insurance agencies, advertising panels, surveillance cameras, real estate agencies, various businesses… 
For all democracy tries to give the vote an aura of liberty, for all it insists on presenting it as a mode of expression – while voting is nothing other than giving others the power to answer questions that they themselves impose – it seems that night, many found it more reasonable to go out into the streets together to reject it as a bloc. It’s more reasonable to be with other rebels and to follow up our words with deeds, to express through actions a refusal of this society, one structurally based on authority, that runs on exploitation and pillage, and whose sole “success” is to have quantified and put a price tag on everything, at the cost of an unprecedented human, ecological, and existential disaster. It’s a refusal to choose a master and a flock, because for us, it’s not a question of which master, but that there is one at all. Like thousands of others, we’d rather refuse to vote and go out and struggle rather than step into the voting booth only to later stay home, glued to the TV, watching the results. We collectively refuse passivity, delegation, and resignation.
“You have to know how to experience freedom to be free. You have to get free in order to experience freedom. Within the existing social order, time and space prevent us from experiencing freedom because they smother the freedom to experience”. Here’s an invitation for all rebels to begin, to continue asking themselves their own questions and seeking out the means to answer them.
Ballot boxes are for the dead, the streets are for the living!
1] In French, this chant is Ni Le Pen Ni Macron! Ni Patrie Ni Patron! It rhymes and is the main chant to emerge in the period between the two rounds of voting.
2] Do you really, dear anglophone reader? The French presidential election takes place in two rounds, the first of which is open to any candidate who receives 500 endorsements from other elected officials. I think there were 11 candidates this time. The second round is a run-off between the two candidates who scored the most votes. We’re currently in the two-week period between the two rounds. The candidates in round two are Emmanuel Macron, a former banker and finance minister who favours neoliberal economics, and Marine Le Pen of the National Front, the once openly racist, far-right party that has more or less stolen the welfare state from the political left (but for good French citizens only).
3] There’s a longer account of the night in French at the link with some pictures, but in brief, between 8pm and 1am, five or six little snake marches took off one after the other, moving quick and high energy, building little barricades every they could throughout the city: https://paris-luttes.info/recit-et-reflexions-a-propos-de-la-7965?lang=fr
Already yesterday, Again Today
“The anarchist does not want to be a slave, to follow orders, but also does not want to be a master, to give orders. They are repulsed by the authority wielded over them, like they would be repulsed by the authority they might wield over others.”
Over a hundred years ago now, an anarchist who spent his whole life trying to provoke and participate in many insurrections all across Europe spoke these few words, as illuminating as the sunrise: “My conclusion is this: that we must completely abolish, in principle and in fact, everything known as political power: because as long as political power exists, there will be dominators and dominated, masters and slaves, exploiters and exploited.” By political power, he meant the most brutal autocracy (like the jails in which he spent some time), as well as the ideal communist society that some of his contemporaries sought to establish, and even the most “perfect” democracy (which in his time was Switzerland). In such a democracy, as today, the high point of political life was the moment of elections. Like many revolutionaries after him, he was aware that universal suffrage was at once the largest and most refined political hoax carried out by the state. He saw it as the surest means of making the largest number participate in building their own servitude, and even in justifying their servitude to the skeptical and indifferent, to those who won’t be had, who fall out of line, the irreducibles, namely, all those who refuse or who abstain from playing their assigned roles, but who nonetheless bear the consequences.
And here they are: the elections!
Already yesterday, someone found it “inconceivable that, periodically tricked and constantly abused, the voter’s confidence survives all the disappointments they suffer and lament. For any reasonable, thoughtful person, it’s stunning to see how parliaments come and go, each leaving behind the same disenchantment, the same disapproval, and yet still, the voter continues to see voting as a duty.” And another said that: “The voter is a person who, when the day comes that they’re called for like a servant, whistled for like a dog trained to obey, on that day they come when authority says, ‘The moment has arrived to endorse us yet again and to keep a system going that’s by and for others than yourself. The moment has arrived to choose those who will be part of this system with or without the intention to change it, to choose those who, for their contributions to the operation of this machine that grinds up the weak, will be paid in money, in influence, in privilege, in honours. The moment has arrived to set aside yet again the idea of revolt against the organization that exploits you and to listen to the authorities. The moment has arrived to vote, which is to say, to take an action that means ‘I recognize the law”.” Still true today…
Each time, we hear the same refrain from all sides, inciting us to go vote. Behind the nagging spiel of the more well-intentioned, we always hear the same reformist mystification, leading us to believe that, if we elect the “right” candidate, it’s possible to “gradually” change the unequal and hierarchical structures of society, without any sudden convulsions, one improvement at a time. But even this lie only manages to wear away at the combative spirit of those who struggle for their emancipation and for a real, direct transformation of the world.
Because voting, yesterday like today, is not action, but a delegation of power. That’s why, in his time, another anarchist said: “To vote is to abdicate; to name one or several masters for a long or short time is to give up our own sovereignty. Whether he becomes an absolute monarch, a constitutional prince, or a simple official delegated a little piece of royalty, the candidate that you carry to the throne or to the arm chair will be your superior. You name people who will be above the law, because they are charged with drafting them, and their mission is to make you obey. […] So don’t abdicate, don’t put your destiny in the hands of future traitors and those who can only be incapable. Don’t vote! Rather than confide your interests to others, defend them yourselves; rather than hiring lawyers to propose future courses of action, act! Those who are willing don’t lack opportunities. To put responsibility for your actions onto others is to lack courage.” Already yesterday, anarchists believed that the remedy wasn’t to change the government, but to do away with it. And still today, in this electoral season, the only position we can take is to proclaim our refusal of mediation, not only in the form of participating in elections, but also the parliamentary system and even the slightest and most “legitimate” representation within government or state structures. Because indeed “People are told, ‘Put your brain in your pocket, you’ll take it out once in a while to vote, meaning to consolidate authority, and while you abdicate, authority will go on functioning’. And we’re surprised that the revolution doesn’t happen! […] The revolution will happen when people stop abdicating their activity. The revolution will happen when people stop delegating their power, when they stop naming masters, when they stop allowing such people to say, ‘You gave me the right to act on your behalf’. Authority will crumble the day people stop imposing this on themselves, the day they stop creating privileged categories of governors and oppressors. The revolution will start at the precise moment when people give up on politics. All revolutions have been moments where people abandon politics, where they take charge of their own conditions. Everyone who abandons politics starts the revolution, because they resume the activities they’d abdicated until then.”
Like for each election, we will abstain. Like millions of other individuals as well, because we know in advance (though in reality this doesn’t matter much), that abstention will win over the most people this election. Yeah yeah. This in spite of the permanent commotion these past months, and in spite of a mountain of propaganda developed by the current democracy. This propaganda is much more widespread, much more constant, pernicious, and insidious, much more effective at orienting individuals, than the propaganda of the totalitarian regimes of the last century. Though it has in common with the propaganda of these totalitarian regimes at least this, as perfectly explained by one of the most powerful and influential nazi official, Joseph Goebbels: “The people must share the concerns and the successes of their government. These concerns and successes must thus be presented and hammered into the people on a permanent basis so that they see these concerns and successes as if they were their own. Only an authoritarian government, firmly tied to the people, can do this in the long term. Political propaganda is the art of anchoring the affairs of the state within the masses of people such that the whole nation feels they are involved, and so it cannot remain simply a method of taking power. It must also be a means of building and maintaining power.” The big difference is that today, propaganda is not controlled by the state, but rather originates from many actors who contribute to the reproduction and reinforcement of the state, which is to say, the political organization of passivity.
So abstention. This means the desire to not participate in the electoral circus and the rejection of the illusion that we can transform anything in this way. But abstention in itself is not enough, because it is also not capable of changing anything. This refusal must be turned into action. Already yesterday, an anarchist said that, “every individual must act without ever offloading on to others the task of acting in their place. It is in these gymnastics that the individual is imbued with a with a sense of their own worth, and in extolling such worth lies the fertilising power of direct action. It marshals human resourcefulness, tempers characters and focuses energies. It teaches self-confidence! And self-reliance! And self-mastery! And acting for oneself!” And still today.
“Faced with injustice, for as long as it persists, anarchists are and remain in a state of permanent insurrection” Elisée Reclus