The Reasons for Wrath

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Translators’ note: This short article by former Situationist Raoul Vaneigem on the Gilets Jaunes or “yellow vests” movement was first published by Sine Mensuel in December 2018 under the title “Les Raisons de la colère,” a play on Les Raisins de la colère, the French title of John Steinbeck’s famous anti-capitalist novel The Grapes of Wrath.

We have to wonder why it took so long for such a great number of men and women, whose existence is a daily struggle against the profit machine and the deliberate undertaking of the desertification of life and the Earth, to rise up from their lethargy and resignation.

How could we have tolerated, with such persistent silence, the arrogance of the financial powers that pull the strings of both the State and the supposed representatives of the people (that only truly represent their own selfish interests) to enforce laws and morals?

The silence was truly well-maintained. We diverted our attention toward making a great deal of noise around political quarrels, where the conflicts and coupling of the Left and the Right became exhausting, sinking into ridicule. We have even, at times surreptitiously, at times openly, incited a war of the poor against the poorest—against migrants chased by war, poverty and dictatorial regimes. It was at this moment that we realized that during this perfectly orchestrated distraction, the meat-grinder for the living had been running endlessly.

Therefore, we had to be aware of this progression of desertification, of the pollution of lands, oceans and air, of the growth of both capitalist greed and poverty which currently threaten the very survival of so many species—including our own.

The silence held by the deception of our informers is a silence full of noise and fury.

This has clarified many things. We finally understand that the real thugs are States and the financial interests that sponsor them, not the window-smashers of luxury stores that mock the victims of consumerism and rising poverty with the same cynicism of the politicians, regardless of their party or faction.

The men and women that took the Bastille on July 14, 1789 had very little knowledge, except through vague glimpses, of the philosophy of the Enlightenment. They discovered later, without realizing it, the freedom yearning to see the light that Diderot, Rousseau, Holbach, and Voltaire espoused

This freedom was able to destroy tyranny. This deep-rooted refusal of despotisms resisted the guillotines of the Jacobins, the Thermidorians, Napoleon Bonaparte, and the restoration of the monarchy. It later resisted the rifles aimed at the Paris Commune, passing over Auschwitz and the gulags.

Certainly taking over the Élysée Palace would be giving too much credit to the grotesque paladin in power that the Order of Multinationals put in charge of doing the cops’ dirty work. We should not be satisfied simply with the destruction of symbols. Burning a bank does not destroy the banking system and the dictatorship of money. Setting government buildings and the paperwork of administrative centers on fire does not abolish the State (no more than deposing its public figures and high-ranking officials).

We should never break human beings (even some cops have a bit of human conscience to save). That the yellow vests would rather choose to break the machines that charge us for everything and down excavation tools that dig the trenches of profit through our landscapes is an encouraging sign of the human progress of revolts.

Another reassuring sign: while crowds and social assemblies can be easily manipulated—as the clientelism of both the far-left and far-right suggests—we can note that, at least for the moment, the absence of leaders and appointed representatives greatly frustrates power; from which end should they catch this moving nebula? Here and there we observe that individuals, who are usually drowned out within the mass, are among themselves manifesting the creative humor, initiatives and ingenuity of human generosity (even if things can always go wrong later).

From the yellow vests movement, there emanates a joyous wrath. State authorities and capitalists would like to say it’s blind. It is only searching for clarity. The blurred vision of governments is always searching for glasses.

A woman in yellow states, “I would like Macron, who lives in a palace, to explain to me how I can live on 1500 euros a month.” And thus how can people tolerate budget restrictions that affect public health, non-industrial agriculture and education, that lead to the cancellation of rail lines and the destruction of landscapes to profit real estate and commercial complexes?

And the petrochemical and industrial pollution threatening the survival of the planet and its populations? Here the First Paladin responds with an ecological measure. He taxes fuel, whose costs fall on consumers. That keeps him from touching the profits of [French oil company] Total and its associates. He already showed his environmental concerns by sending 2500 cops to Notre-Dame-des-Landes to destroy community vegetable gardens, a sheep pen, self-built houses, and the experience of a new society.

And what of all those taxes and duties which, far from benefitting the average citizen, are used to bail out bank embezzlement schemes? What of the hospitals lacking medical personnel? The farmers re-naturing soil while private subsidies go to an agribusiness industry that pollutes land and water? The high school students in their factory farms where the market goes to choose its slaves?

“Proletarians of all countries,” [Belgian Surrealist and anarchist] Scutenaire once said, “I have no advice to give you.”

Quite evidently, as verified by the trend of democratic totalitarianism, all forms of government historically and presently have only worsened our bewildering inhumanity. The cult of profit cripples solidarity, generosity and hospitality. The black hole of cost effectiveness slowly absorbs the joie de vivre of its galaxies. Without a doubt the time has come to reconstruct the world and our everyday existence. Without a doubt the time has come to “handle our own business” against the businesses working against and disintegrating us.

Judging by the freedom of commerce that exploits and kills the living, freedom is always fragile. It would take almost nothing to reverse it and change it to its opposite. And it would take almost nothing to restore it.

Let’s take care of our own lives—they concern the life of the world.

-Raoul Vaneigem
December 2018