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Raoul Vaneigem: A radical politics of life

From Ballast, an excerpt from Raoul Vaneigem’s most recent essay, which we present below in translation.

Originally published by Autonomies.

Raoul Vaneigem, Belgian philosopher and former figure of the Situationist International, published on May 2, 2019 with Libertalia Editions, his latest book : Appel à la vie contre la tyrannie étatique et marchande. Although it tries to say otherwise, this text takes up, in the midst of the intense social mobilisation of the yellow vests, the crucial and old question of “What to do? “. It is irrelevant, according to him, to seize central power (by the ballot boxes or by weapons): with the powerful experiences carried out in Chiapas, Rojava and in the French ZAD, the author enjoins to break en mass with the State and its relay apparatuses, to secede so as to “found territories” of self-management. We publish a chapter of the essay, a matter of sustaining the debates on the battle in progress.

It is futile to expect from the arrogance of the State and the cupidity of the multinationals that they tolerate our resolve to found and propagate collectives hostile to all forms of power – beginning with the predation of natural resources. But that it be just as obvious for our part that we have no intention of tolerating their booted, helmeted repression, supported by journalistic spinelessness. We will not bow down to the programmed desertification of what lives in us and around us.

The crushing of the communalist endeavour of Notre-Dame-des-Landes is a warning shot, among others, of the world order and its state machinery. The Mexican government and its paramilitaries continuously threaten Zapatista communities. The interests of the West and the oil dictatorships isolate the Rojava fighters who oppose to this party of death, whose Islamic barbarism is not its only element, a society determined to establish not the rights of a people, not the rights of the people, but the rights of the human being.

Life is our only demand. We refuse its shrunken, amputated, sacrificed version. We want it sovereign. We want it creating and constantly recreating our existence and our environment. It is for us the leaven of a society, where the harmonization of individual and collective desires is the fruit of a passionate experience. To pursue such an enterprise further, we have no other weapons but life itself.

You who tax us utopians, have the honesty to agree that in utopia you chose the worst: the belief in a liberating economy, a technical progress leading to happiness. You have put yourselves up to your necks in shit and you treat as dreams, as chimeras, those who escape to clear a land, where they can breathe without the risk of bogging down in the muck.

The hordes of profit, the junkies of mad money, the mechanical puppets who possess only the intelligence of gears, these are our real enemies. The mafia wars which tear them apart are not ours, they do not concern us.

They know everything about death because it’s the only thing they know how to give. They are ignorant of the riches that life gives to those who know how to collect them. It is a territory unknown to them, the creativity and imagination that every child, every woman, every man has when he is listening to his will to live.

The fear of jumping into battle to fulfill one’s most cherished desires is one of the most deplorable effects of voluntary servitude. For rhetoric, Danton’s exhortation “From audacity, from audacity, always from audacity! “Would regain its relevance if it animated those who try the adventure of territories torn from the state and merchandise; if it determined them to go beyond the simple resistance they oppose to the implantation of nuisances and, on this acquired solidarity, to base, so modestly as it is, radically new modes of collective meetings.

Wherever subversive guerrilla warfare and insurrectionist warfare obeyed the abject slogan “power is at the end of the gun”, their triumph planned a situation often worse than the old one. To the overthrown State, another succeeded it, no less oppressive. Rifles in the service of power turned against those who, by handling them, had lent them the weight of freedom. Allegedly Soviet Russia, Maoist China, Castroist Cuba, Guevarism, Farc, Zengakuren, Red Army Faction and other paramilitary leftisms, have not these palinodies sufficed?

A lesson not to be forgotten. The first defeat of the Spanish revolution of 1936 dates back to its beginnings, when the militarization demanded by the Communist Party resulted in the transformation of volunteers into a disciplined soldiery, volunteers who with the armed columns of Durruti and his friends, had broken the first fascist offensive. The recovery of the popular initiatives was carried out with the appearance of a so-called revolutionary government where the libertarian organizations (the CNT and the FAI) sat alongside the Catalan nationalists, socialists, communists under the orders of Moscow.

What is functional kills. Poetry is a perpetual renaissance.

What makes the repressive power of the state lies less in its cops than in the State that is in us, the internalised state, which bludgeons us with its fear, its guilt, its astute programmed despair.

Most libertarian communities have succumbed to the old world’s residual taints, which hindered their struggle for a new world. Little leaders easily grow on the manure of the passivity they maintain.

How many libertarian micro-societies have we seen sink into rivalries of power? Fighting barbarism and the party of death with the weapons of barbarism and death condemns everyone to a new form of voluntary servitude.

[…] The commitment to life dispenses us from forming a party. See what happened to the movement of Indignados giving way, in Spain, to the party Podemos, the anti-parliamentarianism of an Italian group, very quickly induced to constitute the Five Stars Party and the flashing brown lights in the hemicycle of the government. In January 1938, in Republican Spain, the Stalinist Togliatti had already revealed the trick. He said he preferred the opening of a single front with libertarian bodies (CNT, FAI) rather than risk confrontation with them. Because, he said, the popular union will allow for the final defeat of anarchism, and for the good reason, for in the eyes of the working masses, the CNT has the advantage of not participating in the government.

To cultivate the gardens of earthly life (there are no others) is to invent territories which, offering no hold to the enemy – neither appropriation, nor power, nor representation – makes us elusive. Not invincible, but inalienable, like the life that its perpetual renaissance delivers from its ancestral yoke. No destruction will bring to an end an experience that we are determined to start again, without end.

The more we develop the existential adventure of life to explore, the more we will deter corpses, galvanized by power, to turn the earth into a graveyard. Little is necessary to slow and block the mechanism which moves the the lackeys of the State. Trust in yourself, not in a God, a master, a guru. No matter how awkward and wrong, we will correct ourselves. Abandon Sisyphus to the rock of ambition, which his enslavement pushes day and night.

Our education has taught us only the game of death. It is a rigged game since it is understood that death wins at the first stroke.

It is in the game of life that we will initiate ourselves. There is no winner or loser. What a puzzle for political shopkeepers who, apart from supply and demand, see nothing, perceive nothing. Did this prevent the state bulldozer from crushing the collective gardens, the sheepfold, the self-constructions and the social dreams of Notre-Dame-des-Landes? Certainly not, but the dead eyes of power do not suspect that everything begins at the base, rebuilds itself, starts again and strengthens.

The human being possesses in her/himself, from childhood, a playful genius. It is this genius that revives the struggle for life: the poetry it infuses restores the energy taken away by the absurd competitive struggles of survival and work. Do not be surprised that its tiny sparks set fire to a world that aspires to the illuminations of joy, which has been stolen.

The surest guarantee for the liberated territories of State and commodity tyranny is that the inhabitants give priority to new ways of life, to the development of creative enjoyment, to festive solidarity, to the alliance with other species hitherto despised, to the progress of human consciousness banishing all forms of hierarchy and power.

Rather than calling the insurrection of life peaceful, it is better to speak of a pacification movement. We are caught between a will to live that supports neither prohibitions nor oppression and a system whose function is to exploit and repress the living. How to wage a war by avoiding it? This is the challenge.

On the periphery of this vital radiation, of this indivisible nucleus, there is a zone of friction where the old hostility to life is manifested, a force of aggressive inertia accumulated over centuries by voluntary servitude. On the fringe of the free lands extends a no man’s land, an area of turbulence, a fringe of disquite. This fear will fade as the core of life radiates more and more, but it is there that it may be necessary to eradicate the threats of destruction that weigh on our reinvention of life. There move those who stigmatize by the name of “casseur” [vandal/rioter], while the true casseurs, those responsible for the planetary degradation, are pale lackeys of finance.

To render things free is a weapon that does not kill. It is with all legitimacy that we have the right to refuse to pay taxes, the tolls of all kinds, imposed on us by the State and the financial mafias that manage it. Because formerly affected (in part) to the public sphere, this money is now used to bail out bank malpractices.

To act individually would be immediately to fall to the violence of laws enacted by profit. Acting together, however, ensures impunity.

“Pay no more” is an appropriate response to those who impoverish us to enrich themselves. Let us no longer pay for trains, public transport. Let’s not pay the State any more, let’s not pay taxes. Let us decree the autonomy of places of life where co-operatives and inventiveness together lay the foundations for a society of abundance and freedom.

The Zapatistas of Chiapas have shown that small autonomous and federated communities can cultivate the land by and for all, provide medical care, produce natural energy, renewable and free (an option ignored by the ecological mafias). It is essential that gratuity enter, like life, into our manners and our mentalities, from which it has been banished, excluded, forbidden for millennia. No illusions, however: the struggle against the chains with which we have deliberately held ourselves back may be very long. Which is a good reason to give ourselves over to it immediately.

La vie s’ecoule, la vie s’enfuit

Life goes by, life escapes
The days march by to the step of boredom
Party of the Reds, Party of the Grays
Our revolutions are betrayed

Work kills, work pays
Time is bought at the supermarket
Paid time does not return
Youth dies from lost time

The eyes, made for love to love,
Are the reflections of a world of objects
Without dreams and without reality
We are condemned to images

Those who were shot, the famished
Come towards us from the depths of the past
Nothing has changed but everything begins
And ripens in violence

Burn, dens of priests
Nests of merchants, police officers
On the wind that disseminates the tempest
The days of festival are harvested

The guns directed at us
Against the bosses they will be turned
No more leaders, no more State
They profit from our battles

(Words by Raoul Vaneigem, May 1968; music by Francis Lemonnier. Translated from the French by NOT BORED! October 2006. Slight modifications made January 2015.)

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