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Raul Vaneigem: Insurrection as a politics of life

Here we are, at the beginning of everything! Raoul Vaneigem, 17 November 2019.

Originally published by A contretemps. Translated by Autonomies.

Here we are, at the beginning of everything!

Raoul Vaneigem, 17 November 2019

The sudden attacks of freedom on the suffocating capitalist hydra, constantly make the epicenter of the seismic disturbances fluctuate. The territories of the whole world affected by the system of private benefits are exposed to the outburst of insurrectional movements. Consciousness is forced to run after successive waves of events, reacting to constant, paradoxically predictable and unexpected shocks.

Two realities struggle against each other in the face of the violence. One is the reality of lying. Taking advantage of technological progress, you try to manipulate public opinion for the benefit of established power. The other is the reality of daily life of the population.

On the one hand, there are the hollow words of corporate jargon which show the importance of numbers, surveys and statistics; which teem with false debates whose proliferation serves to hide the real problems: existential and social demands. The media windows-screens of deceit spill out each day numerous tricks and insignificant conflicts of interest which are of no interest to us, but whose negative consequences affect us. Their profitable wars of devastation are not ours; they have no other purpose than to dissuade us from waging the only war that concerns us, the war against the inhumanity prevalent in the world.

On the same side, according to the absurd truth of leaders, things are clear: to claim the rights of the human being is characteristic of anti-democratic violence. Democracy would then consist of repressing the people, throwing at them a horde of police officers who, by developing the impunity guaranteed by the government and the candidates of the opposition eager to succeed them, incites fascist inducing behavior. Just imagine the songs of the media zombies if it were true that the self-immolation of a victim of impoverishment by fire would lead to the fire of the system responsible for the poverty!

On the other hand, the reality experienced by the people is also clear. We will never admit that the meaningless of poorly paid work, that the bureaucratic pressure that increases interest rates and decreases the amount of pensions and social conquests, that the wage pressure which reduces life to strict survival, can be reduced for business transactions. The lived reality is not a number, it is a feeling of unworthiness, it is the feeling of being nothing in the claws of the State, a monster which shrinks like the skin of a shoe before draining of international embezzlement money.

Well, in the confrontation between these two realities – the one that imposes the fetishism of money and the one that speaks in the name of life – a spark, often tiny, came to light the fuse.

There is no futility today, however small, that is not capable of unleashing the violence contained in repressed life, in the life determined to break everything that threatens to extinguish it.

Secular inertia and lethargy, under the aegis of the ancient “bread and circus” recipe, are the basis of the tremendous power of voluntary servitude. Denounced in the 16th century by La Boétie, it remains our most ruthless enemy. By attacking us from the inside, voluntary servitude promotes an inclination among many that functions as if it were a drug: the will to exercise power, to assume the role of guide. Frequently, the morbidity of the authority of a few has infected the libertarian media, so we should congratulate the determination of the yellow vests and other insurgents of everyday life to constantly evoke their rejection of leaders, of self-appointed delegates, of masters of thought and of pond frogs of the holy water of politics and labour unionism.

Free are those who are happy to die in peace while waiting for death in the combined comfort of the coffin and of television, but we will not let their self-spoiling infect over our will to live.

We want the sovereignty of the human being, no more no less.

Impoverishment knocks on doors with increasing violence, threatening to bring them down. The hedonism of the recent past which crushed us with the consumerist and government slogan is over: “Take advantage of today, tomorrow will be worse!” The worst is already today, especially if we continue to welcome it. We must stop believing in the omnipotence of capitalism and the fetishism of money. We have noticed that the great macabre farce that makes the world dance is the result of a sordid motivation, that of short-term profit, that of the absurd rapacity of a bankrupt merchant scratching at the back of the drawers in the search for more.

I’m not talking about hope. It is only the lure of despair. I am referring to all the regions of the world where an insurrection of everyday life – call it what you like – is trying to dismantle the dictatorship of private profit and to overthrow the States which impose it on the people they claim to represent. What we want is not for tomorrow, but for today, as caregivers, nurses, emergency doctors, paramedics and doctors who deal with the economic management that dehumanises the health care sector so well expressed [in the ongoing general strike in france].

The system of exploitation of terrestrial and human nature goes beyond all horizons. The mantle of profitability, at all costs, closes off all expressions of the generosity of life and the human feeling that promotes its practice.

Obviously, the exploiters and the exploited are convinced that the pot is about to explode. Violence is unavoidable. The problem does not lie with it. The approach to resolve the matter without ambiguity is based on an alternative.

Will we tolerate the social explosion leading to a state of endemic civil war, a chaos of revenge and hatred which will ultimately only benefit multinational mafias, already at liberty to continue with impunity and even to destroy themselves with their lucrative desertification project?

Or are we going to create micro-societies freed from the tyranny of the State and commodities, federated territories where the intelligence of individuals can get rid of this herd individualism in search of a supreme guide who will lead them to the slaughterhouse? Are we finally going to take the reins of our own destiny and outline a clear plan for this social jungle, where the beasts of burden have no more freedom than that to choose the prey which will devour them?

In 1888, Octave Mirabeau wrote: “Lambs go to the slaughterhouse. They say nothing and expect nothing. But at least they don’t vote for the butcher who will kill them or the bourgeois who will eat them. Worse than animals, more crowded than sheep, the voter chooses his butcher and chooses his bourgeois. S/he made revolutions to conquer the right to do so.”

Have they not transformed you from generation to generation with the same indescribable currency: heads, the baton of order; tails, the humanitarian lie?

There is no “vote of the lesser evil”, there is only a totalitarian democracy, which only the direct democracy exercised by the people and for the people will revoke. I was amused by the passage of a slogan which, however rough it may be, calls for a further reflection: “Macron, Le Pen, Mélenchon, the same fight of fools! “(I would have preferred “the same fight of capons”; but the rejection of all forms of power and dialogue with the State is one of those little pleasures from which come the great waves of individual and collective enjoyment).

Autonomy, self-organisation, self-defence

The authorities in power will not tolerate the people being freed from their tyranny. We must prepare for a long struggle. That to be carried out against voluntary servitude will be such a struggle. The only foundation that despotism can take advantage of is the acrimony over security of the resigned, it is the suicidal resentment of a supposedly silent majority who screams their hatred of life.

The best defense is always offensive. To this principle, amply demonstrated by military tradition, I would like to substitute that of openness, because, to the advantage of breaking up of the encirclement is added the pleasure of breaking up the barracks in which we find ourselves.

The openness to life, we see it at work in the fierce determination of the current insurrections. Even if some of them die out, they start again more powerfully. We can see it in the festive nature of the protests which endure, despite the fact that they are met with the blindness, the deafness, the repressive rage of governments. It was on the basis of this openness that I spoke of insurgent pacifism.

Insurrectionary pacifism is neither peaceful, in the bleating sense of the term, nor insurrectional, if one understands by this the aberrations of urban and Guevarist guerrillas.

I have neither the vocation of a warrior nor of a martyr. I leave it to life and its poetry to overcome opposites so that they do not become nuisances, so that they escape the Manichean duality of pros and cons. I rely on the creativity of individuals to invent a revolution of which there is no example in the past. The disarray and the uncertainties of a civilization which is born have nothing in common with the disarray of a civilization which has only the certainty of dying.

Philosophers, sociologists, experts of thought, spare us your endless discussions on the malignity of capitalism which makes its agony profitable. Everyone agrees on this point, even the capitalists. The real issues, however, have not been addressed. These are those of the base, those of villages and urban neighbourhoods, those of our own body, which is all the same, it must be remembered, the real decision maker of our destiny, right?

The more the struggles spread worldwide, the more their meaning gains in radicality, in depth, in lived experience, the more they dispense with militant engagement, the more they mock intellectuals, specialists in subversive or reactionary manipulation (because manipulation deals with both like two sides of the same coin). It is both in their existential experience and in their social function that individuals discover themselves on the ground where their aspiration to live begins to undermine and clear away the wall which counting of profits confronts them with, as if their fate stopped there.

No, we can no longer speak of abstract man, the only one recognised by statistics, budgetary calculations, the rhetoric of those who – laymen or religious, humanists or racists, progressives or conservatives – who have others beaten, blinded, imprisoned, massacred, while, lurking in their cowardly ghettos, they count on the arrogant cretinism of money to ensure their impunity and their security.

The dictatorship of profit is an aggression against the body. Entrusting in life the care of immunising us against the financial canker that corrupts our flesh implies a poetic and united struggle. Nothing like the fires of the joy of living to reduce the morbidity of the world to ashes! The revolution has therapeutic virtues, unsuspected until today.

Ecologists, why bother bawling at States for climate improvement when the same States taunt you by polluting more every day, and when it is urgent to act on a field where the questions have nothing to do with intellectual niceties. Questions such as:

How to move from land poisoned by the food industry to its renaturation by permaculture?

How to ban pesticides without harming the peasant who, trapped by Monsanto, Total and others, destroys her/his health by destroying that of others? How to rebuild on a new basis small village and neighborhood schools that the State has ruined and banned to promote concentration camp-like education?

How to boycott harmful and useless products that advertising harassment tells us to buy?

How to constitute local investment banks where the currency of exchange will compensate opportunely for monetary collapse and the planned financial crash?

How to cut short the tax levies that the State allocates to bank fraud, and undertake to invest them in the self-financing of local and regional projects?

Above all, how to spread everywhere the principle of a gratuitousness that life claims by nature and that the fetishism of money distorts. Free trains and public transport, free healthcare, free housing and self-construction, gradual free local craft and food production.

Utopia? Is there a worse utopia than the hodgepodge of absurd and deleterious projects unpacked, before the tired eyes of television viewers, these talented false actors who stir the specter of their wars of traveling salesmen, endlessly reiterating the antics of the combat of chiefs, veiling the real existential and social questions under false debates, overshadowing state terrorism by a terrorism of trivialities where suicidal madness grows with pauperisation and an increasingly unbreathable ambient air?

Have we not realised enough that, in their diversity, even in their divergences, the yellow vests and protest movements formed a formidable pressure group capable of boycotting, blocking, paralysing, destroying everything that pollutes, poisons, impoverishes, threatens our life and our environment? To make us underestimate our power and our creativity comes from the democratic mechanisms of state and market tyranny. More than its gendarmes, the illusory force of the State rests on a propaganda effect which urges us at every moment to give up the poetic power which is in us, this force of life which no tyranny will overcome.

Now, during this time …In Chile, the fight against the vermin which proliferates on the corpse of Pinochet has rekindled the awareness that everything must start from the base, that the representatives of the people are not the people, that the individualist manipulated by the gregarious spirit is not the individual capable of thinking for her/himself and taking the side of life against the side of money that kills. It is necessary to leave to the people the conquest of an intelligence which belongs to them and which the various forms of power endeavor to remove from them.

The same is true in Algeria, Sudan, Lebanon, Iraq. I trust Rojava to transform its temporary retirement into an offensive. The Zapatistas, for their part, responded to the socialist arguments of the socialist Lopez Obrador by increasing the number of their bases (caracoles) and their Councils of good government, where decisions are made by the people and for the people.

The obstinate demand for a democracy in Hong-Kong oscillates between on the one hand a blind anger, ready to be satisfied with a parliamentarism everywhere else put into questioned, and on the other hand a lucid anger which shakes and makes tremble by its persistence the gigantic pyramid of the totalitarian Chinese regime (which worries about the threat of a financial crash). Who knows? The ivy permeates everywhere, and the insurgent past of Shanghai is not far away.

Sudan shakes off the yoke of tyranny and military power, Iran falters. Lebanon is a wake-up call for Hezbollah and for Islamism, the defrocking of which no longer obscures the politico-oil objective. Algeria does not want a government face-lift. Iraq discovers that social reality outweighs the importance given to religious rivalries. There remain the Catalans, the only ones who want a state when the “coldest of cold monsters” is riddled with arrows everywhere. But it is not impossible that the separatists, engaged in an impasse by the standoff opposing the Madrid state to the no less statist Generalitat, suddenly breathe the ruffles of the Franco corpse that the nationalist spirit has taken out of its cemeteries. So it is not impossible that the memory of the libertarian communities of the revolution of 1936, where real independence was forged, will come back to them before the Communist Party and its ally, the Catalan State, crush them.

It’s only a dream but life is a dream and we have entered an era where poetry is the passage from dream to reality, a passage which marks the end of the nightmare and its valley of tears.

Opening a vital space to those paralyse the dismay and anxiety of the future, is it not poetic practice that makes the insolent novelty of the insurrection of everyday life? Do we not see it in the loss of militancy, in the erosion of this old military reflex which multiplies the little chiefs and their frightened herds?

Under the diversity of its pretexts, the only demand that is expressed today without reservation is full and whole life.

Who would be wrong? We are not in the tumult of foreseeable or unexpected revolts, we are in a revolutionary process. The world changes base, an old civilization collapses, a new civilization appears. Compassionate mentalities and archaic behaviors may be perpetuated under an ersatz of modernity, a new Renaissance is nevertheless emerging within a history whose inhumanity collapses into chaos before our eyes. And these eyes are slowly opening. They discover in women, men and children a genius to innocently experiment with incredible innovations, unusual energies, forms of resistance to death, universes that no imagination had dared to set in motion in the past.

Here we are where, at the beginning of everything!


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