(The following is a translation of Chapter One of Alain Tizon and François Longchampt’s Votre Révolution nest pas la mienne, Editions Sulliver, Arles, 1999. Translation by Loren Goldner.)
A Thousand Triumphant Ubus
an incredible sale, covering two floors with evening gowns and synthetic leather wallets. The alarm clocks are made by Chinese political prisoners. Morality or savings: you gotta choose!
Nova magazine, 1997
Simone Veil is a dog, shes misshapen, shes a hunchback. Has she got a scoliosis?
20 ans, February 1997
Happily, some of the older forms of human stupidity have been seriously eroded. The authoritarian floor-walker from the personnel office has disappeared, and the aggressive and racist redneck attacking homosexuals, men with long hair and women in miniskirts is definitely on the defensive. But along with such pitiful figures, who are missed by no one, other types, both more dignified and more infused with a real humanity, have also disappeared. The schoolteacher who, above and beyond his devotion to his students, was sure he was fulfilling the noblest of missions, the worker in love with his work taking pride in passing on his craft to others, the self-taught proletarian with an unquenchable thirst for knowledge and proud of his class, the militant sure of the grandeur of his struggle…
We know there is a world between the modern proletarian consumer and the Communards of 1871, or the poor peasants of Aragon, who barely knew what money was, and for whom the project of an anarchist society was immediately transparent and palpable. We are far indeed from that “crystalline era of the workers movement when everything could be discussed without fear”(1) evoked by the Greek revolutionary Stinas in his Memoirs, we will never again see the Paris Commune, nor any of the other revolutions of the past. For the troubles that lie ahead, we will have to make do with people encumbered with commodity and media-saturated prosthetics, raised and educated in a world whose entire energies are devoted to ruining the very qualities within them which would allow them to deal with the constraints of a freer and worthier life, and to so finely perverting their intelligence and imagination that it becomes difficult for most of them to have even the slightest idea of what it could mean.
Because while the revolutionaries were talking to mythic proletarians, their adversaries were speaking, and more successfully, to real existing proletarians in the realistic language of consumption. Today, the immense majority of our fellow citizens are no longer grappling with anything other than the problems of consumers, and are all the more inclined to take refuge in consumption since the company of their counterparts has so often become for them a source of boredom, competition or bother.
Because we are starting to encounter everywhere the rough-draft prototypes of the new man created by the bourgeoisie, truly adapted to his epoch, with a thousand faces, most of them ugly. Health-conscious, nice, tolerant (with the phony tolerance doled out by the status quo), ready to break with anyone and anything because their commitments are weak, housebroken by the existing powers-that-be and housebroken in advance for any future dispensation, once their material comfort is provided for, exercising their freedom only in the refusal of all responsibility. For such people, where there is no advertising there is no freedom, and where there is no supermarket, poverty reigns. They are not all people of property, although many of them aspire to be, and this fragile hope has sometimes become the only meaning of their lives, since the accession to property remains one of the essential vectors contributing to the dynamic of the society. But they love this world which, in a certain way, has become their own, produced for their use and to comfort them in their situation, by the desire for accumulation which it promotes and maintains even among the poorest people. They love its technological horizons, which fascinate them, the pleasures it allows, its promise of happiness endlessly deferred but which they in no way intend to renounce. It is for such people that the ideology of consensus is produced, the right to be different, the wide-eyed respect for all cultures, tolerance and fair play, this edulcorated variant of a utilitarian Christianity stripped of everything troubling.
Further confirmation of this state of affairs crops up in the vanity or in the staggering vulgarity of most conversations, a condition poorly concealed by the inevitable background music one finds wherever human beings have not been relieved of the necessity of being together, in cafes, in restaurants, on public transportation and in the shopping malls that have been paving over everything. Hence the almost universal disappearance of those forms of politeness and courtesy which were, let us recall, created by man to make human relations easier and more agreeable; hence the boorishness, illiteracy and brutal behaviour, the provocative, hate-filled looks, or those looks quite simply void of all expression, which one encounters every day, and even on the faces of children, the impoverished sales-clerk smile which, even when there is nothing to sell, tries to overcompensate for the malaise that results from the grinding down of all palpable intelligence in daily relations.
All this has gone so far that one might well ask if capitalism has not colonized humanity to the point of making it unsuited for any other destiny than the one which the system itself provides, ruining in advance any chance for a new society through the mass production of beings so totally dispossessed that the only thing they have left to defend is their alienation, which they experience as their ultimate property (and the only one giving meaning to their lives), people who would be threatened by a chance to really exercise free will, and who would line up under the banner of any party assuring them a return to their resignation, to that tranquility of noncommitment and irresponsibility, to that obsession with security which makes servitude so palatable. Because capitalisms success lies in its ability to make people dream, and in its unsurpassed skill in sparing them the pain of thinking.
But no less phony is the rebellion of this new man, this antisocial provocateur, determined to make himself unbearable everywhere. And for this kind of crass, insolent and joyless stupidity one encounters in all classes of society, toleration is not enough. It struts about insolently, it speaks loudly and is intent on occupying all the space that our reluctance to confront it confers. And even the most inoffensive and protected petty bourgeois, if he fancies himself an emancipated person, is happy to flash us that hate-filled and chilling grin one sees in American films(2), the ineffable and laughable attribute of todays notion of virility and the inevitable manifestation of its cult of the ego. Because the most fearful people want to be in the swim, and to take advantage of this new license, this green light they are given to vent their impulses without risk. Waving the banner of the unquestionable affirmation of the right of everyone to his or her individual freedom, they want to get theirs, insulting the pettiest public functionaries and stealing in stores when it is easy to do so. All that (and everything else) makes it possible to display the empty trappings of rebellion without really risking much, because these forms of behaviour with pretenses to originality (whereas originality today has become the norm), quite often translate themselves into nothing more than an exploration of the straightest path to consumerist frenzy.
Crudity, boorishness, the brutalization of sensibilities, the fading away of poetry, are the best props for contemporary disorder and are tending to ruin in advance any chance of one day seeing humanity accede to a most just and freer condition. That is why pseudorebellion and bargain-basement nonconformity are powerfully encouraged by the ruling powers, who all do their part in the roughshod shaping of subjectivities in order to better reap all the benefits.
“The subculture of the dominant groups has absorbed the subculture of opposition and has made it its own,” as Pasolini wrote in his Dialogues in Public, and if it is fashionable to be rebellious today, to be shamelessly self-serving and to wear on ones sleeve a sovereign contempt for convention, it is because these rebellions are provided for and even encouraged. Who, today, is really scandalized if someone steals records or smokes hashish? If someone cheats at every opportunity or wears their arrogant boorishness on their sleeve? Doesnt a lot of this acting out really show, spasmodically, that one is “with it,” in ones own way? The little world of media people openly flaunt their drug habits, the most materially-deprived young people ostentatiously brandish all the signs of belonging to an order dreamed up in the marketing department (baseball caps, sneakers, walkmen and sometimes weapons). The most vulgar talk-show host or the dumbest and most sinister filmmaker can pass themselves off as real libertarians, and any violent aphasic steeped in some subculture or other will be duly anointed a young rebel by the intelligentsia, once he establishes the credentials of coming from a rough neighborhood.
Saint-Just In A Black Leather Jacket
For years, an insidious propaganda has been trying to get us to accept and internalize a diffuse everyday violence, which a part of society has rendered sacred to the point of making it into a value just like effort or success, and which dominant ideology is then shocked to see turning up in schools, and for which “inner-city kids” take the brunt of the blame, in spite of all the young people, including kids in the inner-city, who in no way see themselves in types of behaviour of which they themselves are the first victims.(3) Because in a certain way violence has become recognized as a particular property of the excluded, even for those among them who want no part of it, a property which marks them and excludes them even more, all to the hollow, approving applause, better suited to the circus, that issues from a safely-distant clique of spectators who (of course) never partake themselves. Because there exists a whole fascination with violent street kids, a fascination having its leftist and ultraleftist variants, and flowing directly from the legacy of the Situationist International and its ridiculous “Saint-Just In Black Leather Jackets,” its in-your-face ideology conferring the seal of authenticity on the formidable truth of rebellion.
In fact, there is no reappearance of the “dangerous classes,” contrary to what Ignacio Ramonet wrote in Le Monde Diplomatique,(4) making a dubious amalgam between les banlieues(5) and the gangs attempting to take them over, between the hassle and fear that some people there inspire in their neighbors, and the old red peril. And the “urban eruptions”(6) as Laurent Joffrin(7) says discreetly to describe veritable acts of barbarism, have nothing to do with the “popular feelings coming the working-class neighborhoods”(8) as he would have us believe, with all the dishonesty of which certain journalists are capable, determined as they are both in their drive to slough off something that bothers them as in their anxiety to justify phenomena for which they have basically been the apologists.
But the state has no fear of these rough areas, whose periodic bouts of fever are expected, and in which violent, useless people (useless for capital, useless in the struggle for a different world) are increasingly the products of the whole society, excluding themselves de facto from any sociability except a clannish one, and for whom reality holds up models of behaviour quite obviously incompatible with any social life. Such people have never called into question anything in a world whose essential values, it is often forgotten, they basically share (the law of the jungle, competition, aggressiveness, success) except perhaps in their refusal of the slightest effort to make themselves in any way bearable. Precursors of a new world on which we are summoned to put a brave face, they make abundantly clear their perfect understanding of the unwritten rules clearly destined to replace the forms of sociability inherited from the past, and in the process of disappearing, because they are marked with a humanism troubling in every sense of the term. Contrary to what a complacent rhetoric asserts, most of these people have chosen to exclude themselves, and communicate only in the mode of provocation and confrontation, cultivating everything that sets them against the proletarians they despise, and who are their main victims. Generally hated by modest people of all walks of life, people whom they devote their energies to cloistering in front of their TV sets, determined to impose their law on larger and larger pieces of turf, deliberately using their capacity for intimidation which youth, determination and lack of scruple confer on them, counting on the weakness and even the cowardice of a population which no longer has the heart for physical confrontation, many of them already belong to what Pasolini, in 1960, while speaking of the Teddy boys who had murdered a gas-station attendant,(9) called a “typology of neofascist delinquency.”
Because if some of them are only imitating bigger fish, for lack of appropriate models, if some others will end up taking their place in the status quo and becoming insignificant once given the slightest opportunity, like many petty thugs in their time, what can we say about the others, the ones who openly spout their racism, who run their rackets on the poorest people and who respect nothing but brute force and loathe the culture which attacks them, undoubtedly because it still has enough vitality to show them what they really are? What are we to say about those who take their pleasure in nothing but the fear they inspire, always preying on the weakest people around, professing their admiration for the Mafia, not to mention those who can form packs of fifteen or twenty to stomp another youth to death, or those, in the final extreme, who have not stopped short of torture to inspire the terror and submission they require for their rackets?
We fear, in any case, that this morbid ferocity, unfortunately in perfect step with the brutality and boorishness now spreading through all social classes, will find its uses in the near future, particularly in the case of a serious social crisis; because what these people want is power, and the bourgeoisie is starting to give it to them, letting them maintain the sinister order that already reigns in certain urban areas, this already Mafia-like dispensation where social peace is the tradeoff for undisturbed racketeering and trafficking of all kinds, to which the bourgeoisie seems to have condemned a growing number of workers and unemployed people, including not a few immigrants.
By its ideological content, shaped as it is by mass propaganda and tolerated by a whole social environment which allows it to spread from fatigue and from fear, isnt this phenomenon in many ways similar to the rise of the brutality and boorishness we witnessed in the 1930s? Disturbing enough in its own right, it moreover feeds into the imbecile and simple-minded reaction of the National Front, the refuge for a not-negligeable part of those people in whose faces every door has been closed, because the left, frozen for decades in a time-worn demagogy, has had nothing to say to the people, both French and foreigners, who must daily undergo their share of anxiety, harassment and humiliations. And it inspires on the other hand that “fashionable antifascism, useless, hypocritical and, at bottom, appreciated by the regime”(10) which Pasolini had already denounced quite appropriately in his own time, and which helps give a clear conscience to naïve people who only cling to the phantoms of the past in order to better accomodate themselves to the present and to everything else in society.
In any case, it demands an appropriate response, because nothing justifies acquiescence to hate-filled arrogance and terrorist provocation, whatever its source, except perhaps a certain conformism that is widespread on the left, and whose libertarian variant deserves a closer look. Because this kind of conformism is still strong enough today to block any serious thought on this question, and on others.
1. A. Stinas, Memoires, 60 ans sous le drapeau de la Révolution sociale (Greek original 1977, French translation, 1990).
2. To take one example among hundreds: the subway posters, advertising a film, which at least were frank enough to hold nothing back while promising “Sex, murders, betrayal. Life is really worth living. A film by Oliver Stone…”
3. As seen, in spite of the inevitable political co-optations, in the development, in 1998, of the movement Stop The Violence.
- Le Monde Diplomatique, January 1998.
5. In contemporary French, les banlieues (essentially, the modern working-class suburbs built in the 1960s and today concentrations of immigrants, high unemployment, youth gangs and drugs) carry the connotations of the American English term “inner city,” the latter term, of course, even more charged than les banlieues with racial overtones.
6. A minimally adequate translation of the French débordements des cités, which once again connotes violence of different types in the suburban high-rise cités dortoirs (dormitory suburbs), which would be closest in some ways to “housing projects” (though just as often not suburban) in the U.S.
7. Editorial in Liberation, May 13, 1998. Cf. also Alain Touraine in Le Monde de lEducation, May 1998. “…And it is up to everyone to call for the defense of the (etat de droit), which is the keeper of public peace and personal security against the gangs or the dangerous classes, of which the nineteenth century was already so afraid.”
8. Faubourgs (in contrast to banlieue) refers to the old working-class neighborhoods within Paris itself that have been emptied out by gentrification.
9. Pier Paolo Pasolini, Dialogues en public, Ed. du Sorbier, 1978.
10. Pier Paolo Pasolini. Ecrits corsaires, Flamarrion, 1976; cf. also Dialogues en public, 1962, published by Ed. du Sorbier, 1980. “There is no need to be strong when confronting fascism in its (insensés) and ridiculous aspects; one must be strong in the extreme to confront the fascism of normality, this joyful, worldly (choisie) codification of the brutally egoistic foundation of a society.”