The insurgency of the Gilets Jaunes (Yellow Vests) has obtained an important contingent victory, bending the government to its will and forcing it to retract the increase in gasoline and excise taxes. This result was not obtained through representative channels, but rather through weeks of clashes with the police, barricades, blockages of circulation, and the destruction of many different objects that don’t necessarily have anything coherent in common, just as there isn’t anything coherent about the composition of the mobilized participants.
Only the coming days will reveal whether this victory will lead to an exit from the terrain of open social conflict, or whether it will serve as a base for new attacks. We will not dwell on the usual question “Who are the Gilets Jaunes?” for two reasons. First, because a number of analyses already exist, to begin with that of our comrades in Rouen Dans la Rue. An analysis, keep in mind, that was written before the insurgency’s explosion. Written, in fact, at a time when many of the people now jumping onto the victorious bandwagon accused the Gilets Jaunes of being fascists and reactionaries. And here we arrive at the second topic which we feel has already been adequately addressed. For years we have emphasized – from the perspective of analysis, of militant research, and the gamble of political intervention – the political centrality of the crisis of the middle class, that is, of the process of déclassement and material impoverishment, of the fragmentation and polarization of a class figure that had never been homogeneous, the betrayal of a promise centered on the balance between status and obedience, between the guarantee of a form of life and the role of social stabilization, between the recognition of privileges and the ordered reproduction of what exists. At the moment when the middle class enters a crisis of mediation, as we have repeatedly said, what emerges is an extraordinary space of conflict that opens in directions that are not merely different but inevitably opposed. The internal polarization and grinding down of the middle class in fact corresponds to a polarization of the conflict: for the sake of simplicity, let’s say that it can proceed in either a reactionary or revolutionary, either a radically egoistic or radically recomposing direction. Undoubtedly, in the short and medium run at least, there no longer exists a citizenry that has the option of reformist and democratic moderation, either of the left or right. Undoubtedly, let’s say it even more explicitly, there is no longer any space for the traditional dialectic between left and right. It is precisely France, where this dialectic was born and where it took on the names “left” and “right” from the positions occupied in the National Assembly, that has once again demonstrated its exhaustion.
In the streets and in the squares of France over the last few weeks it was not only this impoverished middle class in its crisis of mediation that was present, of course. From time to time, in different cities and urban conflict zones, there were various proletarian and sub-proletarian segments, stratified and held in tension by generation and race. It is precisely the recomposition between the middle class in its crisis of mediation and a proletariat deprived of a future that, as we have said for some years, constitutes the decisive political point of the movements within the crisis. This was the case of the Occupy cycle, which however was entirely unable to actualize it. Those city squares were still too homogeneous to be recomposed, too clean for a rupture, too much of the “left” to be revolutionary. So, as early as 2012, thanks to comrades in Palermo we began to hypothesize that the “time of the forconi,” was on its way, in other words, that the subjective and social characteristics that we saw strongly displayed that year in Sicily and in December of 2013, particularly in Turin, prefigured and anticipated central paradigmatic features of the movements to come.
To be clear: we are not saying that insurgencies such as that of the Gilets Jaunes have in fact solved the problem of recomposition. We are simply saying that within this terrain the question has been materially and spontaneously posed.
To claim this, however, means finally doing away with the fetish of purity. Where there is a terrain of recomposition, it will necessarily be contradictory and full of dirt and shit. We don’t say this because we like it, but because that’s how it is. How is it possible that from the shit of thirty years of capitalist restructuring and ten years of devastating crisis a beautiful, sweet-smelling subjectivity is supposed emerge, as if by magic? The fact that within this mobilization there are some who respond to the promises of supposedly anti-establishment reactionaries (need we say that this claim is of course only instrumental?) is what makes this question terribly important. Today, however, we are wary of pure and homogeneous “mobilizations,” because this is a matter of self-representation. And the key to recomposition is never found in self-representation, that is, as long as this term is not used in a mystifying way to refer to the summation and alliance of groups that proclaim themselves the representatives of social segments. Recomposition always means contradiction and internal conflict, rupture not only with the enemy but also within the original social composition, the composition formed by capital and its processes of subjectivation.
In conclusion, the Gilets Jaunes are not indignant (not Indignados): they’re pissed off, like wild beasts. They have a confused sense of who to fight against; they don’t yet know who to fight with. The direction this type of mobilization and insurgency will take also depends on “us,” on our capacity to remain within and against: within and against its social composition, within and against the movements (the real ones, we mean, not those of their autonomized representation). To do this we certainly need to get rid of an instinctive attitude: the search for reassurance. Many analyses seem to begin from a correct premise in terms of reading the composition of the masses in the public squares (where things that we, a minority of comrades, have been saying for several years regardless of the labels and excommunications we’ve received from the priests of the “movement,” are fundamentally acknowledged, in guilty retrospect) only to arrive at conclusions that are once again wrong, dictated by bad conscience and opportunism. So, in order to reassure themselves in the face of the monstrous Gilets Jaunes, they search for their own kind: and then it turns out that, yes, it’s all right, because here is the CGT, here are groups of our friends, here is a platform in the name of who-knows-what through which we can express ourselves in “our” language. In short, they’re OK because they’re the Left. Exactly what, to our eyes in continuous search for rupture, constitutes the cork that we have to pop. The attempt to tame the beast breaks its power.
(Here it may be useful to clarify a point. We do not in fact underestimate the use that workers make of the official unions, which has long been an important feature of the development of the struggles in France. However, what is important is not trade union mediation, but rather the autonomous and opportunistic use of these structures by fragments within the composition of the class. Indeed it seems to us that within these fragments are present the same ambivalences and ambiguities from which groups in the movement shy away.)
Dear comrades, for once let yourselves be productively caught off-guard by the class struggle. Abandon ideology, wash your worn-out categories in the Seine of social conflict, try to understand without sweetening it the disturbing and ambiguous face of the monster, because it is precisely the fact that it is disturbing and ambiguous that makes it potentially disruptive of constituted power. Always remember that where the masses are, there is no purity. And whoever seeks purity only desires self-referentiality, and practices hypocrisy.
So, instead of saying that France is not Italy (merci monsieur de La Palisse!),1 why not pose the problem of what do with the Gilets Jaunes. Don’t imitate them, or think that it’s a matter of photocopying the phenomenon, but simply learn from the struggles and try to spread the plague bacillus. Recently we have argued for the need to act on the promises of the present Italian government (which is – need we add? – our sworn enemy), in order to draw out their most extreme consequences and thus throw them in the face of those who formulated them. [Link: http://commonware.org/index.php/framing/855-nel-tempo-della-folla-solitaria] That is, granting two premises, which we now consider even more valid after the French lesson. The first is that the yellow-green coalition, in its profound internal heterogeneity, relates to fragments of the social composition that for now do not make up consolidated social blocks of political consensus.2 On the contrary, they are extremely liquid and volatile, which is simultaneously both a problem and an opportunity. The second presumption is that the current government (which has significant points in common with various international tendencies) mobilizes expectations that structurally cannot be achieved within the framework of contemporary capitalism and which are incompatible with those of the coalition itself. These expectations are therefore occasions for a conflict that will probably assume characteristics similar to those we have seen in France. The explicit aims of these mobilizations thus contradict the possibility of realizing them: for example, the middle class, struggling to restore its condition and form of life, clashes with the impossibility of a return to the past. It is precisely this structural impossibility of winning that determines our space of possibility, that is, of redirecting this mobilization in a different and indeed opposite direction. Because when you begin to struggle, the struggle itself becomes a goal and a form of life that can produce a heterogenesis of ends.
Our task is thus to move within ambiguity, with our eyes fixed straight ahead. Not to glorify the struggles of others, in order to find out what our rhetorical acrobatics allow us to fantasize, but rather to use them as an instrument of anticipation, intervention, wagering, or rather the construction of processes of rupture and counter-subjectivity. Don’t worry, dear comrades, we are not appealing to the need to get your hands dirty. For the simple fact that, in contrast to the beautiful souls of the so-called “movement,” we are convinced that revolutionaries have never had clean hands.
1 “Monsieur de La Polisse” refers to the word “lapalissade,” which means a tautology.
2 “Yellow-green coalition” refers to the present Italian government, which is composed of the populist Five Star Movement (yellow) and the right-wing Liga party (green).
NOTE: We were recommended this text for translation by a Portuguese comrade. We have since learned that the website is mostly Leninist in orientation. We translated this piece since it very much looks beyond politics and would say it is even anti-political (in the sense we use). We in no way endorse Leninism.