In response to current mass mobilisations of people on the streets, roundabouts, and fields of France, the French President Macron said “We will never give in to this violence. In a democracy, we do not have the right to use violence”. Before I explain the malicious nature of this statement and how its not an uncommon sentiment amongst people who have succumbed to or benefit from (neo)liberal culture, let me just provide a little context.
These mobilisations are not singular but involve multiple issues and cohorts of people. Ostensibly the main mobilisations are about the President pushing through a law without consent from elected members of the French government. However it is more accurate to say that this law is the insult added to injury sparking current mobilisations. Broadly speaking trade unions are mobilising in this regard on city streets at key establishment buildings and elsewhere in urban industrial contexts. Broadly speaking the yellow vests (a combination of precarious workers and consumers) are mobilising on roundabouts and traffic intersections in towns, villages and more rural places.
In addition, mobilisation has been building against mass water enclosure and maladaptive policy on climate change and food production in Western France. An alliance of peasant farmers and people coming from various countercultures that understand ecology and who won the Zadist struggle of the last decade, have joined up with multiple other alliances and contributed to this growing mobilisation rooted in ecological justice. In this case the insult to add to injury is the plan to bottle water resources in Western France into big reservoirs that benefit soil mining conglomerates – ‘Big Ag’. Not only does this entrench problems in food production and climate change adaptation in France, it also injures peasant farmers and local inhabitants.
Many have recognised that the injury here in these issues is a shared one, even if there is some variation in the insult. Hence, a recent single rural mobilisation against water enclosure in Western France attracted 25,000 people. It will be a uniquely powerful outcome if all of the aforementioned cohorts of people continue to find intersections to mobilise around, rather than opting to belong to one banner or focus on fractures. Previous experience of people from amongst Zadists, yellow vests and elsewhere will be aware of the opportunity and danger here.
With this context in mind, what about violence? Macron calls property damage violent. Specifically damage of metal, glass and concrete structures, weapons used to inflict the aforementioned insults and injuries and maintain them. As well as used to direcrly attack people mobilising against insult and injury. Macron also calls people mobilising and them being attacked by armed police and then engaging in defending themselves, violent. On the rare occasion that an armed riot officer receives a scratch from the nail of someone they are beating with a baton, this is also officially classified as violence. This is what violence means in (neo)liberal culture.
By contrast ‘use of force’ by Macron or agents acting on his behalf, is not called violence in (neo)liberal culture. Macron ignored elected officials of his government and used force to create the new law about pensions. His agents, including heavily armed militarised police, use weapons to directly attack people mobilising in an attempt to demobilise them. Injuring and sometimes killing humans not so long ago. This is what is called ‘use of force’, not violence, in (neo)liberal culture.
So, next time you say, read or mobilise consider literally, not in abstract, what is violence? Are you or is someone defending you, themselves or others from indirect sustained injury by neoliberal policy past or future violent? Or is it violent to defend oneself or others from direct injury from neoliberal agents in the name of law and order? Is that violent? Is damaging the weapons used to directly and indirectly injure you violent? Because that is what is being smeared as violent in (neo)liberal culture.
I have not even mentioned self-organized defence groups of people who form at mobilisations, where certain blocs of people put themselves in harms way to protect those more vulnerable who are mobilising.
What is called violence in (neo)liberal culture is people defending themselves and people unwilling to keep being injured. If you are not being injured, or are willing to keep being injured, consider whether those who are defending themselves from being injured or defending you from being injured – directly or indirectly – are the actual people who are violent? If not then perhaps reconsider repeating abstract notions such as ‘violence is bad’ or I am against this violence, because unless you specify what you mean (or perhaps you do actually mean defending oneself from injury is violent), you are reproducing (neo)liberal culture – and people the world over like Macron love that.
Finally, even if your heart is not currently into mobilising on streets, roundabouts and fields as a part of shaping social change, but you prefer only policy, voting, petitions, community work, praying or otherwise, and think mobilisation is pointless or can’t do it right now – at least don’t criticise but acknowledge who and what is injurious. Or maybe, go and research mobilisations for yourself or read what those who have actually taken the time of late to do so have to say. Participate and pay attention to what’s happening.