Frédéric Lordon: Overturn the El Khomri World!

From Frédéric Lordon delivered the remarks below at the Nuit debout general assembly on Saturday, April 9, at the Place de la Republique in Paris (video here). Translated by David Broder. 

Where are we at? We’ve lost count of the provincial towns where there is a Nuit debout (“Up all night” — an overnight occupation), and the European prairie is now also catching fire, from Barcelona to Madrid, Zaragoza, Murcia, Brussels, Liège, and Berlin. The Place de la République occupation has now produced a satellite occupation at Stalingrad (the Paris metro station, that is). Surprise actions are popping up spontaneously all the time. There is a Radio Debout, a Debout TV, and a Cartoons Debout. Everything is now debout — standing up.

Speaking ten days ago, we had to use the conditional, and could only go so far as saying “It might just be that we are doing something, here.” I think that we can now abandon such grammatical caution: we are doing something. Finally, something is happening.

Something — but what? If no one is directing a movement, how can it take on some direction? That is, how can a movement with no leadership body decide to take one path or another?

In any case, it is certain that it must find some direction. A movement that sets itself no political objective will rapidly fizzle out. Either because it will exhaust the joy of our being together, or because it will again be buried beneath the electoral game.

How can we escape such a fate? While it all begins with the square occupations, nothing finishes there. We remember what pushed us into the streets in the first place — the El Khomri bill [the government’s new Labour Law]. When we set our sights far beyond the El Khomri bill, that does not mean that we have forgotten about it. It is still there. A movement needs intermediate goals and intermediate victories. Finishing off the El Khomri bill is certainly one of these objectives — doing that is still utterly necessary, and we won’t stop fighting for that. But just as the zadistes don’t only set their sights on an airport [ZAD = “Zone to Defend”; so called zadistes recently occupied the site of a planned airport in Notre-Dame des Landes, in opposition to its construction], but the world that engenders this airport, the El Khomri bill is itself the offspring of a whole world that we must oppose.

In the El Khomri world, wage-earners live in fear, and they are held in a state of fear. There are very good reasons for this. They live under the sovereign will of a boss, who has every power over them, because he has a grip on the fundamental conditions of their material survival itself.

So we have to start out from this common experience and deduce from it everything that we can. Firstly, by deciding to name things for what they are: wage-labour is a social relation of blackmail, offering no choice but either to bow down or to put oneself in danger. Calling things by their proper names — as against all of neoliberalism’s ideological covers — is perhaps the first stage of finding the strength to liberate ourselves from this.

After all, everyone will then see that if putting an end to fear demands putting an end to this blackmail and to the bosses’ sovereign will, then we have to put an end to the social order that gives these latter their weapons. That is to say, we have to put an end to the empire of property-owners — and make that constitutional.

That said, at each moment we also have to will the conditions for what we want. If our movement really does have ambitions of that measure, then it will have to equip itself with the means adequate to achieving them. For my part, I can only see one such means: the general strike.

Don’t misunderstand me. I am not here launching an appeal for a general strike; I have neither the power nor the legitimacy to do so. So I am not making a call, but formulating a condition: the condition of overturning not only the El Khomri bill, but the El Khomri world.

We are well-aware that general strikes are not decreed by a click of the fingers. But perhaps we can help tip things to that point. And to that end, recall the immense virtues of the general strike. It means the whole country stopping — as they put it, the country is being “shut down.” But in truth, the exact opposite is the case: the moment that they say everything has been “shut down” is the moment when everything opens up: politics — true politics — speech, action, and even the relations among people. And then — most importantly of all — the possible, the future, itself opens up. We have to shut things down so that everything might open up.

For too long, cracks had been appearing everywhere. You can’t hold a society together forever with the pigs, BFM [a popular right-wing news channel], and prescription drugs. There inevitably comes the moment when people pick up their heads and discover for themselves the immemorial idea of insubordination and liberation.

This moment is ours; this moment is now.