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Sunday, Jun. 18, 2006 at 4:27 AM
about the riot in the french banlieue
Nous les zonards voyous
We need to understand the reason of the Watts’ movement and what we need to prevent it in the future. Because only if we study and assimilate the Los Angeles’ lesson, drawing the due conclusions, could we hope to keep the unstable social components, which are presently clashing in the United States, under control.
(Robert Conot, The Watts’ summer, 1967)
Prevent the phenomenon? Keep it under control? At present? In the United States?
(n+1 editorial staff’s note, 2006)
We of Clichy-sous-Bois…
They were called Bouna Traore and Zyed Benna, two zonard of 15 and 17 years old. Électrocutés in an electric substation where they hid from the pursuing police in Clichy. We put their photos on the lampposts, on the walls, on the windows. Then we began to burn everything in sight. Doesn’t matter who began it, us or the police, who had already arrived, like a colonial army.
We are the French racaille, Sarko correctly states. We are even worse. During the first few days of the riots, papers and televisions depicted us as sauvageons, voyous, criminels. Then they brought up bin Laden. Yes, most of us are Muslims. Or, at least, from Muslim families, that’s a little different. A little while ago, an Israeli press agency (Debka File) wrote that a centralized organization exists and that in France Al Qaida had recruited 40.000 militants. A real war. Le Figaro wrote that a French intifada was beginning. Why not European? The same agency wrote that in Germany another 30.000 terrorists were recruited. They claim to have evidence.
Bullocks. Even if it were true. No one French party has 40.000 militants; it is just that people have had enough. It is anything but integration. Besides, integrate who? Our grandparents immigrated after the war? Our fathers worked at Renault? We were born in Paris, Lyon, Marseille. We, the third generation, burned the symbols of integration.
Supermarkets, cultural centres, cars. They say these are “ours” and we are cutting our own throats. If this were true, we were just being idiots. But who has to integrate whom? And how? A disintegrating society can’t claim to integrate anything. Indeed they try with the sarkonazism, with the results we all know.
To keep you quiet in the marais, they come and meet you; they give you a good thrashing or they talk amongst themselves, saying they must be tolerant of the minorities, with that cooperative and idiotic smile that they use when they talk about pédés, niggers or Jews. Not yet about prolos, at least until they have a mystical idea of them, derived from books on beautiful class struggles against the bosses. The zone is a mixture, for most of us there is not the intermediation of the boss, there is only the State. And this provokes more anger. There’s not a precise target to aim the rage at. Maybe we are just young people and we don’t see any future for us, emmerdés in a shitty city, which doesn’t allow one to clearly express one’s romanticized demands.
That’s why, we don’t have demands. Indeed the problem is not that we don’t want to help, but this time we really can’t help you to solve your problem. At first they - in particular, the bobo-sociolo-démocrates- wrote about everything. In the end they held, as usual, the lack of integration of immigrants responsible, as they do the government or “wrong” laws. I.e. nothing in particular. When the zones stopped burning they calmed down. And they discovered a “dangerous social crisis”. Finally, these bourgeois bohèmes have produced a really creative analysis. We are no longer seen as stupid beurs, manipulated by some mysterious caïd. Why didn’t they realize before? Maybe we should have burnt their cars before. Only now do they realise that the referendum on Europe was perhaps a referendum on the life we have here. Sixty per cent of the French lives in urban suburbs.
Two million Parisians live in the city, but ten million are zonards. Are they all Arabs, Niggers, Turks and Chinese? And they have to be quiet in their ghettos and, at the same time, integrate themselves into the social-democratic swill, which talks about them like animals in a zoo? In the zone there are all sorts. That’s normal. In some neighbourhoods not even the keuf enter. That’s normal. We’re not little angels and circulating among us are many labourers of the neighbourhood’s mafias. That’s known. You talk a lot about communautarisation, about the spontaneous closing in ethnic community-families, but you don’t consider in the urban desert these kinds of tribes are the shelters for the individual, even if not his salvation. And the family that survive in the metropolis can’t be anything else but mafia. Something doesn’t fit. You want the communauté but not ours, or better, not the one you force us to have. Just to say: we invented the rap of the zone; it is urban, international, known also in America, globalized, not at all a communautariste product, which breaks up the family. But since it started selling, you called it “French rap”.
Paris may be France, but the banlieue is it more than Paris
The real city is the banlieue. Tourist and business centres, where nobody lives, are not cities. Ethnic minorities? And belonging to which strange ethnic group? Except for the peasantry, who count in France, suburbs are France. Everyone who goes to the suburbs to see what’s going on knows what it means to be a commuter to the industrial zones, to teach in a school in the banlieue or just to sell newspapers, kebab or frites. The so-called suburbs are the pulsating heart of the city, not its marginal side. Instead of the Zola’s “bowels of Paris”, now there is, symbolically, Le grand trou, an empty hole with shops around it. The bowels have become wide spreading suburbs.
We insisted, for so long, to say that Paris is France that we now believe it. We are no longer in Jacobin’s age. In the net’s age the pyramidal centralism does not make sense anymore: the nerve centre from where instructions come and where reports arrive; where you believe an efficient State exists but instead there is just bureaucracy and police aided inefficiency. You should ask yourselves why a State doesn’t work at least like a factory in which everyone has his own task, a task that isn’t assigned by the boss (who is probably on some Caribbean island getting fucked up on cocaine) but from an impersonal production plan.
Thus Paris has not been “France” for a long time, France is a huge banlieue. In factories they produce in an organized way, so when there’s a strike, it is organized too; but outside there is anarchy, the focused State image and the diffused non-State is contrasted. It is a contradiction, even better the contradiction: the market and society’s anarchy opposed to the production plan inside a single factory. And they complain that everything is out of control. Simply: the banlieusards in factories strike in an organized way; the same banlieusards out of the factories (or that never entered in factories) cause turmoil. It’s true; few rioters worked in factories, as low-waged temporary employees. Their brothers and naturally their fathers worked there. Not everyone but most. Anyway the banlieusards are the inhabitants of France’s heart.
Let reporters talk about gangs, about their hasty raids, boldness in confronting police, without the fear of suffering the inevitable butchery (we’ll never know how many injured people weren’t counted; they counted just 5,000 stopped and held for questioning, but not the thousands with growing feelings of hate and revenge). It’s true; the prolos were not there. But after this statement, the obvious question is: who are these violent and incendiary people, actually? Just thugs? This is the thinking of cops, who read from the passport like a registry office’s computer. But if you look closely, you don’t see in the banlieue a TV program or a movie, but the reality, human groups; you’ll realize this is the pounding heart of globalized capitalism. This is not the façade of tourism and business, that of its decadent and parasitary classes. Prolos belong to a group that doesn’t appear in registry office documents, they are the people who have nothing but children [From Latin prōlētārius, belonging to the lowest class of Roman citizens - viewed as contributing to the state only through having children - from prōlēs, offspring.] or, as someone said, they are “without reserves”.
Île de France is the region where the riots were particularly tough and where the majority of the most violent episodes occurred. 19% of the French population lives there, 23% of all jobs are there and 26% of the GNP is produced there, there is at least one branch of 50% of France’s biggest enterprises (minimum 500 employees). Look at the numerical progression: if 19% of population produces 26% of the income, then the productivity is very high; this explains the high unemployment, which is provoked not by an underdevelopment, but by an over development.
The rioter of the French November could be a resolute Islamic fainéant, black and a thug, but he is “produced” by the cream of capitalism, by an environment that he is forced to confront. Idem for the Seine Saint-Denis: industrial area and difficult confrontations, an environment where, between 2002 and 2004 16,000 companies were founded, but the productive shake-up has destroyed 12% of jobs. The lumpenproletariat, the ragged non-class, doesn’t exist anymore. There are just proletarians, without adjectives: the proletariat that no longer has a guaranteed job, and no new rules for casual employment yet (and maybe they won’t ever). So the banlieusard is not pushed from one workplace to another but constantly searching for work or, at least, some money to survive. They are no longer the “miserables” in the sense of Victor Hugo or Dickens, nor part of the “industrial reserve army” between crisis and economic boom. They are part of a population without reserves, useless to Capital but they don’t die thanks to the high quantity of plus-value drawn from productive labour, which the State can distribute. This is very different to before because no more can the banlieusard board a steamboat and emigrate to America or somewhere else, they have already immigrated here two or three generations ago.
The huge national and worldwide banlieue, evolving over about two centuries as the surrounding of factories and workers, now becomes the mirror of declining capitalism. The plus value production law remains the same, but the modalities have changed, as an historical age is over. The banlieue is the centre of distribution of the value produced by all of society (v+p), but it doesn’t receive the same advantages as before from its wage part because of the loss of workplaces. The combined value was so high and came from so few people that for years there were a lot of dismissals. However, there was enough money to distribute throughout society, using traditional channels or hundreds of other less traditional channels. The bourgeoisie doesn’t die of starvation, and neither does the relative overpopulation, it has to be supported. But now the quantity of value to distribute is insufficient. Thus the situation must explode.
Let’s look at exactly what the banlieue is in the big cities. It is a worldwide phenomenon, despite developmental differences. Industry grew around the ancient centre, dragging with it the workers’ housing. They redrew the city incorporating the factories into its fabric, where the roads radiated out from the centre. Owing to the industrial concentration the factories grew, but the housing had to be moved out to the country where there was more space. This was the first industrial revolution, in which workers’ housing was well built and left some green spaces, in reaction to the excesses of the London prehistory described by Engels. Today this outer belt is occupied by the lower middle class of professional people and merchants; old houses are renovated and new compounds to sustain a minimum standard of living are built.
Between the two World Wars they begin to build the second outer belt, at the same time the lower middle class move there and the factories move out. The phenomenon of internal immigration shapes the workers’ compounds, firstly linked to the factories and then sold or rented to shopkeepers or artisans, who follow the industrial development settling where they can intercept wages. In many cases this belt destroys or, in a sense, incorporates the pre-existing bidonvilles, taking on a different shape. After the Second World War this becomes the real city, the placenta of capitalism, which regulates the osmosis between the inner and outer urban area, producing the need for steel, concrete, asphalt, bricks, furniture, taps, knick-knacks and thousands of bagnoles to move within the areas of the city or, on the week-end, to escape from them.
The prolo-surrounds with blocks of flats change completely and the human cell withdraws into its cocoon, packed into the over rational sardine cans, theorized by Le Corbusier and copied by all the surveyors of the world. The progress called the human anthills “garden-cities”, then re-evaluating it, “dormitory-towns”. Actually, the natural and anarchic osmosis is warranted by the flux between the centre and the suburbs, business and factories, always across the banlieue-placenta. Thanks to transportation and communication nets there is no break in the metropolitan area, which becomes a single living organism (as a cancer with its metastasis is alive, too alive). The class subdivisions persist, revealed by the beating movement of the bobo-4x4 or the metro-boulo-dodo, as the neo-language of the central suburbs displays (and when a mutant language evolves and spreads like a virus, it means something is happening to the species).
The third belt is very far from the centre and its existence is due to a public transportation system, or because everyone who lives there has a bagnole; they have developed a considerable and resigned patience to use both, even if they have to loose - in commuting - a considerable part of their lives. What’s more is the formation of metropolitan satellites-cities, usually run by a social-democrat able to supply them with public services like supermarkets, swimming pools and cultural centres. The economic centripetal force of Capitalism’s representatives corresponds to a centrifugal force for humans. The second belt’s banlieusards are squeezed between the two forces. Like Caesar during the Alesia’s siege, they have to win or be destroyed. They don’t have the meticulous organization of Romans, on the contrary they are the barbarians, but they will win against civilization, it’s only a matter of time. On one hand, closer to the centre, there are professionals and shopkeepers who are not able to stray too far from their workplace, which they dedicate twelve hours a day to; on the other hand, closer to the outer belt, the rest of the lower middle-class or the aristo-prolo, who, driven out by the high prices of houses in the centre, crave their individual space, for a pelouse to cut, for a barbecue, for a joint to smoke in the hidden backyard of their house. They are the two belts of zombies, those who park their 4x4 on the pavements in the city centre, just to demonstrate that they are alive.
Let’s experiment: take a Google satellite map and type “Paris”. Then zoom in on anything want to see. You will see houses, houses and more houses, but also a constellation of factories around the small historical city, which is depicted on postcards. The banlieue is not lieu de relegation, as many say: in some way it’s really a dormitory town, but it is also the place in which millions of people work. The factories are there; if some of them are closed it is worse, because there are people who no longer work, neither there nor somewhere else. However, there are also employees of transportation, postal offices, public administration, shops and small-scale production.
All this is unstable, dynamic. We couldn’t understand this if the three belts’ descriptions matched reality exactly, with its borderlines perfectly evident. Everything is interwoven. People, means and information are moving. There is someone who lost their job and someone else who never found one; someone who doesn’t give a shit about his son being in a school full of Islamic people or if he swims in a swimming pool with niggers and someone who does care; someone who works hard for pennies and someone who scrounges a living. That’s an individual’s business, right, but dynamics add to each other and sometimes they become general situations; and then a fight that has all the features of a class fight explodes, despite being whites, niggers, milkandcoffees, Moslems, Christians. We have already seen the melting pot in action in Chicago, Los Angeles (twice), and also in Europe the ethnic mixture is walking a fine line.
But here in Europe there’ s something different, that never existed in the States: there is an historical class tradition that, over the chattering of the bobos sociologist-democrats, may emerge, as always happens, when a program to go beyond the simple riot is necessary. In spite of what the opportunists –who betrayed the last revolution- said, and in agreement with our current, it is not possible to make revolutions and parties, only to direct them.
We from Aulnay, Evry, Corbeil-Essonnes…
And from another three hundred cities. We didn’t burn our bagnoles, which we don’t own, but those of the inner and outer belts. In Aulnay we burned a Renault dealership with all the new cars inside. We didn’t burn our schools but those of the Republic (the two in Evry); when you graduate from there your chance of getting a boulot is about zero. We didn’t burn our shops but the supermarkets and McDonald’s (in Corbeil). You can blame the thugs, bin Laden, or whoever you want, but if last year we burned 30,000 cars (about 80 per night, mate) the forecast for next year is 40,000; the riot provoked a greater jump in the statistical curve.
We found it very funny and symbolic that police discovered a “Molotov bottles factory” (BBC), with petrol cans and hundreds of ready-made explosive devices, right in an unused police station (in Evry). However: you have to explain why 300 cities burn at the same time, 255 schools, 233 public buildings in the whole of France and in some other countries too. Planetary hooliganism? Blame the small time criminality, but you know, here we shoot a lot, but without accurate aiming accurately. There’s some theft, obviously drug movements, but in particular small things: everybody knows the big racket is in the neighbouring belts, where they snort tons of drugs, another kind of drug, another price. All of this is managed from some luxurious office at Étoile or at Défense. Here there are just labourers.
The sublime prospect, the three pillars of life: family, school and work; the government and television get on our tits about this; for us they are nightmarish. Forty years ago our families were imported from the French countryside and most of all from the ex-colonies like semi-compulsory forced labour; their lives are a serial massacre. There are 30,000 polygamist families, some of them with 25 children: the additional wives came in secret because in France polygamy is severely punished. It’s unavoidable that the families, in a hostile environment, bottled themselves up reproducing a kind of micro society in the zone. And we, their sons and nephews, produce gangs.
Nobody asks why the Polish and Italian families, who came here in 30s, are not remembered as having these same problems (and we only remember them when we meet someone who survived Miner’s Silicosis). Maybe it is because Capitalism was growing then and now it is declining? Be honest, times are hard and there is not enough to go round. We know who is being short-changed. Right, then prepare for a permanent curfew, to build new police stations, to invent new neighbourhood cop figures, which are called Ahmed. And go back to your ghettos with guards and electronic gadgets against strangers.
The school is the institution we hate most of all after police. The republican chef, assisted by corporative unions, served us a soupe gauloise à prétention universelle, thinking he can eliminate with a legislative decree the problems of the so-called integration. For us, the term “integrated person” is an insult; you can imagine what we think of a school especially for integration. A school that propagates the elitist idea that the best will succeed, thus only a few zeppard will have the permission of the State to attend, for example, ScienPo or ESSEC. A school that, conceived as the highest example of democracy to give the same chance to everyone, is revealed to be a place of discrimination, because the people of the inner and the outer belts don’t attend it.
Because the teachers must level the knowledge on someone else’s revolution – for the descendants of those who lived through it, it has already become commonplace - instead of cultivate and even better improve positive differences (oh yes, now you see these differences and you invent the shame called discrimination positive a la française, that means to divide good and wicked, but it’s too late). Last time we burned buildings and above all cars. Think just for a moment if we begin to burn inside, and instead of smashing everything because we are against something, we begin to want something. Instead of the past, the future begins to act, like a demon that grips you, and the only way to be free from it is to accept the subjection to it. Or maybe the future is already operating? We think you have the extreme necessity to find an external enemy, immigrant or alien, upon which to lavish the universal alienation. All this to hide the evidence that the ten million of the zone, who sometimes scratch each other's eyes out, actually besiege the two million in the centre. Dear bobos whose explanation of the riot is taken from ministerial memoranda, with the same level of understanding: it is not Paris, it is the whole world.
After family and school, the third pillar is work. Imagine what we think about work, where all ethnic differences fade away. We, zonard, are in the same boat as the rest of the young people, but for us there isn’t a mattress to soften the fall, or family to maintain us to the bitter end, or studies for half of our lives, just the stark reality. The same reality that is coming for everyone. We aren’t right at the end, we are at the beginning.
Remember to sanctify the work
“A kind of creeping terror rules inside the marginalized banlieues. When at the end of school too many young people see nothing but unemployment, finally they rise up. For now the State can impose order and trust in the benefits of the welfare system to avoid the worst. But how long this situation will last?”
This Cassandra is not the man in the street; he is the president Jacques Chirac, who wrote this in January 1995, before his election (May). Now the worst has already exploded, many accept that the reason for this revolt is exactly that, the lack of prospects and not a vague hooliganism, which would be understood by the statistical composition of the casseurs. The periodical The Economist was the first to underline the reason for the French fire was unemployment, demonstrating it with figures. Le Figaro and Le Monde took the same argument. But everyone is fallen into a moral explanation by stating that it is the lack of integration which provokes unemployment, thus the rage of “immigrants” and their rebellion. That’s true, today there are not many chances to get a job, for someone with skin that’s not exactly white, who is called Ahmed and admits to living in Clichy-sous-Bois. But this never happened to his father or his grandfather; on the contrary they were intentionally taken from North Africa to work in the self same factories.
According to The Economist there are few workplaces because they are divided between a free market and a regulated market (secured workplace), therefore Capitalists don’t employ because the low level of flexibility. It mentions the Prime Minister de Villepin to prove it, who admits that the 70% of new jobs created every year are casual jobs. For The Economist, in a completely wild labour market, there would be neither unemployment, nor anger to vent. We’ll not criticize these fundamentalists of the market; we just need to remember there’s an essential difference between the bourgeois ideological model and the actual model based on the theory of value.
From the practical point of view it is true that if the wages were at the Chinese level the profit rate would grow, even if just in the branches requiring greater numbers of labourers, and more of the low-waged labour-force would be used, that is the 70% of the irregular work market. Suppose it wasn’t waged labour, but unpaid slaves, the whole gain would be just profit. But the labour relations today are completely different from the ancient slavery-based relations. Today there is Capital and the classes are nothing but his agents, therefore it is necessary to have a kind of equilibrium between profit and wage for the smooth operation of Capital. Frankly speaking, the whole society must give its contribution to Capital, the capitalists who produce, the proletarians who consume, the State which regulates the flux of the socially shared plus-value. A lower wage is convenient to the single capitalist, but not for the system in general, because in this case it would jam the mechanism of production and distribution. The problem is that the theoretical limit for industrial production doesn’t exist, but it does for consumption.
According to the bourgeois ideology work is an idea, and it is even holy. It is the moral life’s sap. It is the country and family’s fuel. Increase consumption, therefore the Gross National Product. The capitalist works as well as the worker, the priest and the cop. Unfortunately in the capitalistic society, based on value, “work” as value doesn’t exist. This means it has value only as an application of the “labour-force” to the means of production with the goal to produce plus-value (Marx: “labour value is just an imaginary expression”, Capital, book I, chapter XVII). We would do better to call work washing dishes at home or the bricolage or the hoeing of the vegetable garden for personal consumption. But not the specific activity to obtain commodities, that we call correctly production. Obviously the work with its general meaning has always existed and we continue to call every human activity by this name, also the productive activity. We must specify that the word is used correctly only when there is dissipation of energy to obtain something. When we make commodities, the human ability to apply energy in the production cycle is sold in exchange for a wage, it is sold labour-force oriented to the “production for production” (this is the goal, not the product which could be anything). We could canonize the work of St. Joseph, not the labour of the worker.
Labour-force is the equivalent of everything we need to reproduce it: food, housing, clothes, school and reinvigorating rest. If we introduce a machine that substitutes 100 workers, the equi-valence stops, the labour-force of those 100 workers is worthless. But everything we need to reproduce the labour-force is a commodity as well, produced by other workers. The equilibrium would be restored only with the reemployment of those same 100 workers for the construction of the machine that substituted them. But it is not possible. Machines build machines, work organization is more and more rationalized, there are more commodities that don’t need a plant to be materially produced (wares you pay for with a tariff, like TV, cinema, telephone, water, gas, electricity).
Besides the world’s population is growing, putting new useless labour-force on the market, young and full of frustrating energy. In conclusion, The Economist thesis is completely absurd. As are the entire thesis based on the metaphysical belief that a lowering of the price of labour-force could better the economic results. This could be an advantage for the single capitalist, but not for a society. If we don’t speak about prices but about values it’s easier to understand that: 1) if the whole labour-force’s value decreases, then the values of all the commodities necessary to reproduce it must also decrease, otherwise there will be a revolt; 2) if a part of population is without work, that is without a wage, it is necessary to extract a higher amount of plus-value from the employed workers and divert a part of it to the maintenance of the unemployed workers, engaging them in fake, useless, sterile and even harmful activities. We don’t need university or ministerial super-models, just paper and a pencil.
The destroying self references of such a system are really complex, but what we said is sufficient to conclude that the ambient conditions are produced because someone –white, black, banlieusard or something else- is finding their existence more and more unbearable; and the hate grows against everything which represents the preservation of the existing order. For France the figures speak clearly: general unemployment has risen to a worrying level of 10%; young unemployment is 23%; in the “high risk” areas within banlieue it is at 40%; in some areas 60%. The process is irreversible, because in Asia, for example, there is currently the industrial capacity to produce all the consumption goods, and also many means of production, not only for that continent but also for the whole world.
We from Bobigny, Aubervilliers, Matignon…
Some people say we’re just beggars without organization or a target, some others say we’re a new kind of prolos, damned temporary employees. Either way, it’s normal to meet someone who, following the events, delivers a judgment. But later, after they have listened to the news on TV, never before. But we need to know this before, we are living a no sense life and something must explode. Sometimes just in a stadium or in the suicidal statistics or in the family massacres. Those who wanted the “movement” on the front page with photogenic night fires can be quiet; they have something to theorize on and they can write in conformity to what is running through their minds. But it is like a poem about fire written by a fireman. The pot is continuously under pressure, not only when the valve whistles. Revolution is a pregnant woman, you can’t say “yes now, no wait, yes now, no wait,…”.
Listen: the CRS have combed the neighbourhoods like occupation troops, arresting people in the houses and in the streets. Some MP invoked the army. In Bobigny there’s a court where the casseurs of the post-modern and photogenic riot are tried. During the riot it was open 24 hour a day with three courtrooms continuously working to condemn hastily the prisoners. White judges, white lawyers, and all accused coloured. At present someone who is believed to be on our side invites us to calm down. It’s no longer possible. The bouilie served by parliamentarians (on the side of peace as well as the side of the army) is already a laughing matter; and we burnt their symbols of the vague pretentious integration, like nursery schools where they drive us crazy when we are children. Imagine what an intense hate we have when we see the integration baby food used to feed some zonard who are serving the State.
We incendiary émeutiers and real zonard, we are completely indifferent to the second-hand bobo sociology that studies us as if we were guinea pigs. And we don’t see too much difference between the parliamentary cretinism and the extra-parliamentary one. After all there’s something like a holy alliance between them to invent demands we never made. There’s already a united front for operations like a NGO, to open some Soft Integration Offices, something like the CGT’s aid societies. No, we don’t have and we don’t want interlocutors. You may answer to the desperate appeal of Chirac, we won’t be there.
Just to say. In Aubervilliers and Matignon there were two meetings of citizens who were very worried about our “mistrusting and insolent” violence. On one side they say behaving in such way we’ll not get anywhere, on the other side they are scared of the possible development. They do a great deal for the social peace, to help us. The conventional thinkers can turn up their nose, they can scream for the cohabitation, but we are the “new” prolos without reserves, unemployed, underpaid, enslaved and for now we only know hate.
It is useless to make the same demands as our fathers, the ancient prolos of one and two generations ago. There has already been a negotiation. The result was not “taken”, we never “had” it. The laws just ratify what has already happened, they don’t provoke it. What is happening to us (and to everybody) is that your world is breaking up. The myth of Capitalism which integrates and builds is dying, the same Capitalism which built the zones with the pride of rising graphs, the same which razed to the ground the Nanterre’s bidonville to build the people’s university. Now the curves show an asphyxial society, the living units copied from the Corbu’s rabbit’s cages are the landscape of an inhuman life, and you are destroying them out of shame, building something else in an attempt to recuperate some credibility in front of your integrated helpers. Do you want our thanks?
We were saying: Aubervilliers and Matignon. An assembly of 155 associations was held twice for an appeal to the peace the observance of the law. It called itself Banlieue Respect and has promoted demonstrations. Two among the associations, Citoyenneté et démocratie (Hauts-de-Seine) and Débarquement jeunes (Rouen), spokesmen of the pompier movement, claimed: “we sincerely believe that the Prime Minister and his government have an aim to face the real problems in these high-risk areas”. We sincerely believe this shit. No Prime Ministers can do anything to avoid new fires in the French cities. Not even with the help of his government.
In the meantime it is rumoured that the riot must stop because it is a trick of the State, a provocation for an authoritarian turning point, a coup de main of Sarko.
“We ask you to stop the violence to prevent Sarkozy from his totalitarian and dictatorial plan against France, of which you’ll be the first victims, of a level of violence much more worse than today”,
Two journalists (Smaïn Bedrouni and Christian Cotten) wrote to us in an open letter. Asking de Villepin to excuse himself, in the name of the Republic, for the attack on the Mosque of Clichy-sous-bois. Besides this fireman work, which causes terrorism claiming a supposed provocation, there were also some anarchist groups doing the same thing. But weren’t they the bloody fire-starters, bourgeois’ terror? Also some Italian anarchists, historically aligned with Malatesta and Sacco and Vanzetti more than the Bonnot Band, were talking such shameful conneries.
Cars are not only flammable objects
The casseurs were really attracted to cars. But this is a permanent phenomenon, if you think throughout the country there are about 80 burnt cars a night, 30,000 in one year. A perpetual fire to the Unknown Marginalised, who emulates the one at Arc de Triomphe. Is it just pyromania? If we were dealing with the well-known instinct to burn, we would be dealing with a new and worse form: selective pyromania, specialising in motor vehicle (like in the recent events in Rome).
Someone noticed the reason for the high number of them, abandoned in the night along the street, full of inflammable fuel, an easy target of a thug who lights it and runs away without any risk. But this theory isn’t convincing. In Chicago and Los Angeles more buildings than cars were burned. As a result many shops and supermarkets were ransacked. In Paris ’68 cars where used to build useless barricades and, if some of them burned, it was not caused by molotovs but by sparks on the concrete covered with petrol that had come out of the tanks. Also the tear gas bullets fired by the police can light petrol. In the years after ’68, during the “people’s expropriation” after demonstrations, the burning of cars would have meant the loss of time. During protest against the G8 Summit in Genoa many rubbish skips were burned and some cars, but as an after thought.
But fires had so central an importance in France because they weren’t set in a destructive context, which characterized fires in other riots. Ransacking was completely absent in all of the 300 cities during the wave of rage despite the thousands of people involved in it.
The 8,500 motor vehicles burned in three weeks quintupled the total daily average, in that period. Every night of the year, in the whole of France, bonfires of petrol, plastic and rubber sparkle without media outcry, in the daily normality. A “blind” furore that, for years, shows itself against one of the symbols of mass consumption, from which many people of the suburbs are excluded. A phenomenon that has inverted the praxis of social pathologies and has become from chronic, acute, while the contrary is more usual. The individual reason - the pyromania’s trigger of the single, the mysterious threshold of emulation – cannot be known, but it’s undeniable that the commodity par excellence, the GNP locomotive, the traditional regular worker’s product, as well as the mechanical serial killer, fourth most common cause of death after heart disease, cancer and health service malfunction was burned systematically.
Sociology has nothing to do with this social nemesis: when the outcast and despised sansculottes assaulted, burnt and demolished with rage the Bastille, they didn’t think for a moment of the bourgeois revolution to which they belonged, merely did it and that was that. When the pétroleuses in the Commune 1871 (later shot by the cops of Versailles) burned the buildings of the bourgeois power, they didn’t think at all about the “future society”, they did it and that was that. It is useless to try to understand the individual’s motive, as if you were reading a detective story. It’s useless to add the speech of the individuals to draw conclusions “so that will not repeat it”. Cars burn because they are a social attractor, like supermarkets, schools, kindergartens, town halls and police stations. There are enough symbols to think they are more than just thugs who move in the night, cowardly, sure to go unpunished. Anyway, like the Fonky recite:
You are squeezing us
Well, now you know
We must defend ourselves
Then don’t try to understand.
The organized disorganization
The enthusiasts of historical recurrences noticed that French minister of police called the rioters by the same name used in the Teodosian Code to name the plebeian criminality in the IV-V century: dregs. Already in the II century they used to divide the plebs into three categories: those who were corruptible with free wheat and circensian games (pars populi integra); those restless wretches who were living apart from political games (plebs sordida); those who, belonging to the miserable part, “accepted crime as the form of their own liberation” (plebs infima, faex, dregs, as shown).
It struck no historian to blame the ancient dregs for their rage and consequent disorders, in contrary the roman army did blame them, because it didn’t study the problem after the fact, so they were not overly-particular, especially towards the end of the empire. For example they slaughtered 7,000 plebeians in only one day during the riot of 390 in Thessalonica.
The French police, like the Roman army, represent the State and, as in ancient times, has the function to define political enemies like ladrones, so as to legitimate the repression. Therefore it announced that 15,000 persons where involved in the riots, that 5,000 were arrested, among who 3,300 were caught in the act of the crime and 80% of them were already “known by the police” (that is something very different to “previous offender” used by the press).
The ladrones are not a great number of the 60 million French and 300 cities involved in the riots. They are figures that strengthen the central idea of official theorem of Sarkozy: pitiless repression against the hooliganism of the dregs, composed of common criminals and some isolated crazy individuals (by the way, after a lot of yelling about the integration of “immigrants”, Sarkozy announced that among the 5,000 arrested just 130 were real immigrants, the rest were sons or nephews of immigrants!).
Forget for a moment the speech of the hated minister who talks about something more than thuggery and let’s focus on official data. There was one arrest for every three demonstrators. This happened in the huge banlieue of France, where the only technique used by the rioters was “hit and run”, in the night, in neighbourhoods well known by them and where the police were lost. The cops’ production index was much too optimistic even for the so-called sarkonazism. So we opt for a double fake: first, the legend built on the thuggish dregs (that exists, yes, but it is useful to hide the rest); second, a minister’s blague for the public opinion, for the classes that need reassurance.
But the minister of the interior, the prime minister and the president of the republic, with all the representatives of the bourgeoisie, are forced to talk rubbish like that, even they are conscious of the reality. They know very well that the people involved in the riots were not just 15,000 hooligans, but also 60% of the French population who live in the banlieue and who expressed, like the tip of an iceberg, the pure symptoms of a profound illness. Also the banlieusard with jobs and who, according to the opinion poll, agree with repression and the curfew (75%) is badly off. Many of them paid 3,000 euros per square meter to buy a house and now they have a mortgage to pay, or an equivalent rent.
They travel for hours to get to work. They are stressed by the whole of society, not only by the problems in the banlieue, that however is a “banished place” for anybody, like the name says. Nobody can claim that the police are the social doctor, but everybody knows that if you repress the symptoms, the illness will surely worsen. 40% of arrested people are underage, and in the banlieue they mature quickly, while the illness is extremely contagious. If ten years ago, Chirac predicted what’s happening today (and governments didn’t do anything), it’s easy to predict what will happen in the next ten years.
But Sarkozy said something weird and important: the underage thugs, who would behave instinctively and spontaneously, were on the contrary organized. This was evident to the police as well as to the press. So they easily summarized and laid the responsibility on the organized criminality, on the fundamentalist mosques, on the government provocateur, or directly on Al Qaida. Even better, for Sarkozy the rebellion is an answer to the organized criminality and extremism of the three-year long offensive of the State:
“We launched this safety restoration on the entire national territory, including places considered no-man’s-land. In these areas we inverted the most doubtful traditions, cut the traffics off, challenged the logic of the previous force relations… the return of the republican authority is not indifferent to the unrest of some centres, in which a minority of individuals thought they were the only bosses. The time of truth struck between the world of violence and that of the public peace, between the codes that rules over some neighbourhoods and the rules of the Republic. The stakes are high. Because, if the republican order doesn’t rule over these areas, it will be gangs and extremists” (15th November 2005, speech to the National Assembly).
Then he continues with the description of the impressive deployment of forces, a real military answer to the riot, with the usual occupation of territory and establishment of a terror regime.
The first thing we noticed, after three years of hard activity of “pacification”, instead of peace a riot broke out. But this is secondary to everything, as it is part of police tradition to foment conflicts instead of smoothing them out. The second more important observation is that the control of territory is still in the hands of gangs and extremists, if after three weeks of fires and clashes, just the curfew and the occupation (led by all they had: CRS, gendarmes, mobiles, BAC, RG) were able to stop the “disorders”.
There was organization, that’s certain, but maybe with a different meaning to that of the activist minister, who is used to blaming someone instead of something. In a riot immediate organization isn’t necessary, it emerges when needed, especially in a society that organizes completely the human life and creates any solution (incidentally, it’s the concept of proletarian organized spontaneity of Lenin). We don’t need easy conspiracy hunting –criminality, Al Qaida and other non-specified extremisms- to explain the emergence of organization in the banlieue. From the interviews of the émeutiers and from word of mouth on the Internet it is clear they were not conscious of the spontaneous net, more remarkable from outside. The commonality of purpose and flow of information through the usual channels of communication are sufficient for the emergence of an apparently huge and spontaneous net, able to coordinate fires in 300 cities. It is what The Economist said when it cites mobiles and the Internet, without understanding their importance.
Few observed the similarities of the French riot with those of the Chicago and Los Angeles, and these few drew just one parallel between the coloured people in the past and present. But in America and in France, it has little to do with colour. It’s like saying that in South Africa the majority of the population, who work in the factories and in the mines, fought just because they were black. Besides the mania to discover any ethnical reasons anywhere, nobody thought of the similarity with the strike of the over-exploited temporary workers of UPS in the U.S.A. Two different situations but with more than one similarity. Mobility, for example. Or the Internet and mobile communication. To move in a favourable, or at least non-hostile, field. The evidence that today worker means outcast temporary worker. Also in demands we can see analogies, the banlieusards didn’t have any, but also the UPS temporary workers’ demands were not “classical”: all of them were focused on the precarious life. The demands about wage and rules were few and only partially satisfied, but the precarious life is still there, only worse. In both events, there was an uncontrollable anger and above all a spontaneous organization that shocked everybody.
Apart from the cops’ justifications, we need to understand why riots always seem like they were organized even if they are not. Why they sometimes become really organized. Why they turn in an irresistible wave, undergo a metamorphosis, become liable to be directed, then, become a revolutionary movement. From Euno to Spartacus, from the Ciompi to the Sanculottes, from Stenka Razin to the October. The nets experts know the anatomy of the word of mouth that leads to the discovery of a complex system of relations in which surely some elements become connectors and others hubs, which switches information. In France, during the three weeks of riots they didn’t need any mysterious puppeteer behind the scenes: they needed just the anger, the word of mouth and obviously a little bit of technique, like some mobile and Internet access points.
For this reason the open territorial organization is stronger than with closed cells. This is a concept that our current has underlined since the twenties, when it opposed the enterprise cell organization of the party, imposed by the International; they had already seen the disaster of factory occupation, when the workers imprisoned themselves inside, and the army, the police and the fascists lording over the territory outside.
Intervention de M. Nicolas Sarkozy, ministre de l'Intérieur
[We extracted some paragraphs from the intervention of Sarkozy on the 15th of November 2005. The order of our collage is slightly different from the original published by the Ministry, from which we translated almost literally. We do not agree with those whom define the content as “sarkonazism”: this is democracy, it can’t be anything else. It has always been foolishness to expect the State to do its job “for the good of people”].
Members of Parliament, fifteen minutes away from the centre of Paris and in the heart of our big metropolitan areas we witness fires and destructions. Some French lower their shutters, double-lock their houses and live in a visceral fear. Violence produces anguish, disillusionment and sadness. We didn’t imagine this idea of the Republic.
The riot, as you know, started in Seine-Saint-Denis spreading to many areas in the Île-de-France, finally reaching more than 300 cities. Police officers, gendarmerie soldiers, firemen and doctors on mission have been hit not only by thrown stones, but also by intentional firearm shots. Eight thousand private and public vehicles have been burned and hospitals, schools, primary schools, gymnasiums, any places of religion, even cribs as well.
Why this urban revolt? A shared clearness must lead us to face the trial, because no government can elude its own responsibility. That of the construction of dormitory-towns. To be tolerant in dealing with those who threaten our citizens’ lives, with the excuse of integration. To pretend insecurity is a feeling and not a reality. To underestimate the immigrant problem. To not pay attention to the racial discrimination which damages the worthier youth. To not consider enough public policy and massive financing. To allow the derision of the republican and national values.
Yes, everyone has to take stock of his own actions. Difficult areas are nothing but the exacerbated expression of a country in which the majority is unsure, is scared of declassing and has no hope for the future. How can we offer more justice for high-risk areas when the feeling of injustice spread on social classes? How to set common values up when individualism, ethnic incommunicability and corporatism tempts the whole of society? How can we find a margin of action when, for years, our country has had a growth rate of less than two per cent?
In reality, we have to build a new society of progress and justice, a new republican policy that forces us to rid ourselves of the lies we tell ourselves and on which the reaction flourishes. Many economic and social factors explain the revolt in the neighbourhoods. But besides these factors there is the precise will to resist the republican order. It has been three years that we have had to fight against criminality as a political priority, as no government before has had to. Before the present riot, between 1997 and 2002, there were 25 days of destruction and clashes, but no arrest. This idea was not ours; therefore we reinforced actions against the gangs that have their bases in the high-risk zones, which were really free zones.
Members of Parliament,
in the last three years we carried out 1,600 inquiries; executed 12,000 arrests; imprisoned 3,205 people; confiscated 27 million Euros, 1,500 weapons, 5 tons of cannabis, 100 kilos of cocaine and 1,300 cars. We dismantled businesses and production of counterfeit wares. We routed out an undercover network for immigration. Blocked many bank accounts, real estates and commercial concerns registered in the names of families involved in illegal business. During the present riot we used 10 “hard” operations, which were the result of an offensive strategy that will be extended and organized by placing about twenty police companies and squadrons of gendarmerie in the field. They are forces with specific training based on mobility, capillarity and interrogations; forces who were released from the service of public order, for the interest of our fellow-citizens. A resolute judicial activity of police, coordinated with the Ministry of Justice, act in the same way as police operations. 3,300 people were imprisoned.
Finally, from midnight of the 9th of November, a state of emergency was declared on the entire metropolitan area of the Republic and above all, at the discretion of the prefects, the curfew in the high-risk areas. In twenty-five districts it was determined in which zones complementary measures would be allowed, in particular searches. According to my instructions, prefects were able to use responsibly and moderately the extension of power, a use proportioned to the aim of restoring order. In some districts it was forbidden to sell fuel by retail.
The logic of declaring the state of emergency is a precautionary and prudential logic, which gives us the possibility to dominate and set the necessary measures. This means it is valid everywhere, but only where needed the rules will be applied, to guarantee equilibrium between individual freedom and requirement of public order. Already it has produced some effects: urban incidents of violence and fires now only occur in 102 cities. Naturally, this is still too much; however it seems like progress back to normality. However, we would request that the government prolong the state of emergency that was provided for by law for 12 days. For this we need another law. It would be wise to extent that period for three months. With regard to searches, we guarantee our respect of all the judiciary forms.
"Faire la part du feu"
As you see the bourgeoisie has clear ideas on how to square the demo-populist chatters with the armed repression. But the self-called revolutionary milieu doesn’t have the same lucidity to understand the purpose and duties of the proletariat and its party.
“Faire la part du feu” means salvage whatever possible, more precisely to sacrifice that which can’t be saved to keep the rest. Or, reversing the usual praxis: to burn conscientiously the chaotic and bushy undergrowth to preserve the wood and its secular trees. Bourgeoisie, by wild instinct, does it within the society; the proletariat should do the same to eliminate in its own ranks the bourgeois junk, which prevents it from looking toward the future. Surely the custom to set fires is better than to repress them, as is the tradition among the police ministries, we saw it in France and elsewhere. And it is for this activity that the ingenuous (we hope) anarchists suspected as the particle of provocation without seeing the mountain of millions of banlieusards who, in the entire world, live their no-life.
Then we have to talk about the clearing of the undergrowth which calls itself revolutionary. And there is a lot of chaotic bushy milieu to “burn”, that means to place it definitely within the bourgeoisie with no more feignings, ambiguities, accusations of treason, justifications and so on. Some people no longer betray, but not because they were on the proletarian side and now they sell themselves to the bourgeoisie: they belong undoubtedly to the bourgeois side. When we hear them talk of the banlieusard and insist in a suspicious way about their lack of the beautiful and healthy characteristics of class conscience taken by books; that the fire-raisers are just thugs out of the proletariat; and then this is none of our business, revolutionaries; there, the red alarm has to switch on, in that moment we are facing someone who takes for himself the sarkozian thesis of the criminal will. We are facing someone who, instead of wishing a total break down, deeper than the present one, cherishes a revolution without explosions, fires and broken glass.
It’s astonishing that at the beginning of the III millennium, some cute grandsons of Turati, Tasca and Gramsci still believe the religion of Hegel and Croce according to which: “in the beginning there was the conscience, that is the idea, then came the action”. We knew the operaists who theorized about beautiful and conscientious class struggles and then, when a real one exploded, like in Turin ’62, splendid, wide, mighty against all, they cravenly disowned it, joining the thesis of the Stalinists and police, who saw just southern young thugs who threw stones and burned the riot police’s jeeps. (cfr. Viva i teppisti della lotta di classe, e il nostro L'operaismo italiano e il suo sessantotto, se c’è la traduzione inglese è meglio dare un riferimento a quello).
So there are people who call themselves revolutionary and remark with regret that the government preferred “to send patrols of CRS starting a war… while in the so-called high-risk areas there was no increase in neighbourhood policemen and permanent police positions” (Arlette Laguiller, Lutte Ouvrière). In the same article they demand a different state policy for the popular masses, all within a government attitude. It’s not so different to that of the ex-“theorist of the mass illegality”, Toni Negri: “we need to open true participation process, which is a serious matter. Participation is questioned by power relations, schools that work, saving banks which lower the interest rate” (interview with La Stampa). Saving banks! Undoubtedly: all doctors at the bedside of the capitalistic corpse, eager to cure it to restore it to working at best.
Enough now, this reformist junk doesn’t deserve so much space. We leave the weapon of criticism to the banliesards.
“Oh, les anars, les cocos! No god or owners. Great. We don’t have a conscience, true. It wasn’t a rebellion as it should be, true. But it’s very hard to do something while they put you under a projector for what you are, while everybody, from the imam to the trade unionist, invites you to be quiet. While the Left search for credit for the fire, this time, it is not their fault. While the Right would gladly lock up the ghetto throwing away the key to the servants who put themselves out for the work. This is not so catho, boys. So this time I will say something really réac, in the way of a petit-bourgeois zonard without conscience: I prefer the hooligans who mime the rappers and put molotovs under the bagnoles as you post your curricula to enroll for ScienPo. I prefer the little voyous who corrupt the language throwing you into ecstasies or getting you angry, depending on whether you are intello-bobo academics or normal academics. If you left enough space on the pavement that you occupy with your big jeep 4x4 I will go for a walk with other réacs like me, who don’t give a shit about the republican future, about the flicaille of Sarko and about the charity of Villepin. Ahmed, tiens le coup. No god or owners. Great”.
We think the message of the banlieusard – the usual collage, just to give an idea – is clearer than so many intellectuals “taking sides”: faire la part du feu, to burn (obvious: metaphorically) leftists without hope to be saved, to save everything that has a future. The riots, even if they are dumb, have something to say, and this is not expected. It’s useless make them speak using words which are not theirs as if we randomly put subtitles 0n a film of which we don’t know the language.
Glossary of words used in this article
BAC: Brigade Anti Criminalité.
Beur: Arab, in pejorative meaning.
Bobo: Acronym of Bourgeois-Bohème. Term coined by the journalist David Brooks of the New York Time to indicate the leftish bourgeois fanatic of health, ecology, a little new age, but who drives a huge jeep 4x4, which looks like country-side style but pollutes like a truck. Bobo-sociolo-démocrat is the bourgeois who is not just social-democrat (sociolo-démocrat) but also sociologue, who studies the banlieue-zoo
Bobo4x4: Bobo on his jeep
Banlieusard: Inhabitant of the banlieue (means commuter too)
Casseur: Someone who breaks something. In argot means also “burglar”.
Catho: Catholic. The word is not always referred to religion (“n’est pas très catho”, from a beur to a white: “You are not coherent, it’s not good what you say”).
Communautarisation: spontaneous formation of community.
Corbu: Le Corbusier, architect and urbanist.
CRS: Compagnie Républicaine de Sécurité (riot police)
Émeutier: Who participate to a riot, but also bungler.
ESSEC: Business School, private university.
Flic, Flicaille: Cop, cops
Gendarmerie Mobile: Anti-terror special squads
Lieu de relégation: Internment place.
Marais: Marsh, synonym of zone, with meaning of ghetto.
Métro-boulo-dodo: Word absolutely pejorative to describe who has a job and is perfectly integrated, that is one who take the Métro to go to work (boulot) and come back to bed (dodo).
Pédé: Gay. The word is used without specific sexual meaning.
Racaille: Dregs, scum.
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