Political Prisoners and the Question of Violence :: Action Directe

Political Prisoners and the Question of Violence

June 19th 1998 – Joëlle Aubron, Nathalie Ménigon, Jean-Marc Rouillan

“There is no revolution without violence. Those who don’t accept violence can cross out the word revolution from their dictionary.”
-Malcolm X

Working to free political prisoners is not a neutral act. It never has been. It must primarily be a means of reappropriating the concept of revolutionary violence. To do so today is to challenge the sense of taboo and mandatory silence that befell the movement after the defeats and reversals suffered by the guerilla and other hostile forces on this continent. The bourgeoisie has repressed the very idea of violence.

From Paris to Naples, from the workplace to the ghetto streets, a recomposition of the revolutionary forces has begun. It cannot be denied. Within this overall revival, the movement should now find the strength to stop repeating simplistic anti-terrorist denunciations and churning out watered down revolutionary clichés. Because both of these betrayals maintain the proletariat in the same state of impotent submission.

The years of reformist pacifism and sectarian catechisms, all about what the counter-violence of the exploited and oppressed should and especially should not consist of, have clouded any emancipatory vision. Sure, some still talk of picking up the gun but always without acting concretely to prepare the organisation of the revolutionary war. As far as they are concerned, the time is never right for revolutionary action.

The big anti-terrorist campaigns of the eighties took advantage of these twin betrayals of the fake revolutionaries. And now campaigns for the freedom of political prisoners are being organised based on the same collaboration: first off they claim that no good came of the armed struggle of the sixties to the eighties. That this struggle represented nothing more than a “death-wish” after the barricades of ’68 were defeated. That it all originated in the badly healed history of the forties. Turning a new page is what is most important for all of these “supporters”. The obvious conclusion, then nothing else will happen and their past and present betrayals will all be justified.

For others, the failures of the eighties all boil down to the simple defeat of the guerilla, and are mystified by the mantras of the official protester. All of their favourite empty formulas are called out: the absence of a Party, of a class union, of an organised autonomous movement…

Within these rearguard campaigns the liberation of political prisoners becomes the ultimate way of rewriting the revolutionary history of our continent since the sixties. It amounts to the partial sectarian critique carried out by the new talking shops.

We, who have for years been held hostage behind these prison bars, refuse to have any part in this or to be turned into the objects of these underhanded operations.

One does not work to free political prisoners out of a sense of charity or humanism. Denouncing the conditions in which political prisoners are held should mainly be a matter of agitation and propaganda. It should automatically overstep the boundaries imposed upon it and confront the fundamental questions of revolutionary process in our era. It is thus a political act and a class position. A way to fight to reappropriate our memory and knowledge, to empower us and destroy bourgeois power. By fighting for liberation we reappropriate our hidden history and experience of struggle. But more than anything else, we reappropriate the very concept of legitimate “counter-violence”.

For years this concept has been attacked, distorted and dragged through the mud.

The class struggle, however, is constantly creating and reproducing this counter-violence. It is inherent in the violence of the capitalist system itself. The first violence is that of exploitation, routine, the discipline of the factory barracks, misery and forced labour. The violence of profits. Within this mode of production the exploited naturally engage in this counter-violence: it is the unavoidable result of the violence of capital’s relations of production. It is its condemnation.

During the movement against the closing of the Renault factory in Vilvorde a worker reminded us of this, remarking that “the violent ones are those who shut the factory and throw the workers into the street.”

The violence is the whole system. The least of its social relations is violent. Violence is the logic of imperialist subordination and impoverishment that condemns humanity in the periphery to misery. Violence is the fascistization of the monopolies’ power. It is the apartheid of institutional racism, the rise of reactionary policies. It is sexist violence…

Daily life leaves the mark of violence on the body of every man and woman who is exploited, oppressed, pushed around, forced to struggle just to survive.

To resist and rebel against this violence is a “life instinct”.

The exploiters monopolise violence, which is concentrated in the mechanisms and relations of the State. The confrontation between State and Class is thus at the heart of all conflicts, but in a different way than in the past. What with globalisation the State is no longer simply the government apparatus of the nation-state or the State system. The relations and mechanisms of State express themselves differently within the global conjuncture of their contradictions and political crisis. The State is the reflection of multinational monopoly interests and also reflects their contradictions in a competitive war without mercy.

The cops and anti-terrorist laws are the armour that protects these local, national and continental multi-State powers. They militarise them. The more violent power becomes, the more violence becomes power. The more they are taken over by the real economic power of a handful of monopolies and managerial elites, the more they insist on the spectacular manipulation of “democracy”, with its obsessive, ever-present and one-dimensional self-legitimising propaganda. This show has become the dictatorial means by which the violence of everyday life is managed.

Those in power have always accepted “protest” as a perfectly tolerable ghetto – more than that, today it is a subculture parasitically tied to the survival of the bourgeois regime. It has guaranteed itself this status by going along with the manipulation and denunciation of revolutionaries, out of fear perhaps that even silence could be construed as tacit support for “terrorism”.

The protester’s pacifism is bound by whatever the powerful will make of it.

The social movements only threaten the established order when their actions contain the possibility of stepping outside of the regular framework of struggle. They are only a threat inasmuch as they appear to be able to turn to revolutionary action raising the question of revolutionary violence. But it is clear today that the card-carrying activists have internalised the mantras of official anti-terrorism to the point of caricature. They stitch the slogans of order and morality in the prairies of submission.

At the top of their lungs they repeat that it is the aggressor who is weak one and the victim who is strong, that those who rebel are fanatics and those who exploit are legitimate spokespeople, partners in “democratic” reconciliation and republican antifascist fronts!

The official commemoration of May [’68] was a true victory for these pseudo-revolutionaries. Their road to Damocles had been blessed. By condemning violence, the sanctimonious ones justified the fact that they had returned to the fold of the bourgeois elite.

Sixty-eight was recuperated because it could be. Everything about it that was characteristic of protest in the metropole and that it never managed to completely escape allowed its history to be taken over. The insurrectionary autonomous movement that followed in ‘77 had to be dealt with differently. From the insurrectionary demonstrations in Milan and Rome to the acts of anti-NATO resistance, to the “asambleista” movement in Spain, and from the grassroots rebellions of the working class to the guerilla attacks, ’77 was autonomous and armed and ripped a hole in the consensus of the imperialist centers. Faced with this situation the repression could not afford any half-measures. These events had to be wiped from the collective memory and those who participated were to either repent or rot in special prisons.

The movement of ’77 had pushed the autonomous alternative too far, and so all of the system’s various forces united in attacking it, making it pay with every ounce of its being.

Yet revolutionary violence remains on the agenda, all the more so because the monopolies have taken over and fenced off all political space. Revolutionary violence definitely cannot and will never take the archaic form many imagine for it. For them it is nothing more than a memory, a fantasy or a diversion…

They should explain to us how we are to subvert and destroy the monopolies and their militarism, how we should sabotage the fascistization of globalisation.

In all seriousness, who still believes that we can win by reading from our prayerbooks of pious wishes, by fighting for little reforms, by signing petitions and going for long walks?

For having merely asked such obvious questions we can already hear the regular insults: adventurists, substitutionists, immediatists, anarchists…

Back in 1971 Lotta Continua already knew exactly what to make of such attacks: “Those who get scandalized and yell about terrorism and romanticism are usually just trying to hide their own cowardice before their revolutionary duties.”

And this is exactly what is going on today.

The violence that political prisoners symbolise is not just ancient history. It is more than just the human legacy of the past two decades of struggle with its successes and failures. Anyone who still cares about the emancipation of the proletariat and who takes the time to understand it within its historic context knows that it is much more than that.

It shows that armed violence is necessary if one wants to subvert the management of our neoliberal societies today. That it is and will continue to be necessary to use it in order to break out of the straightjacket of the fake protester. This straightjacket is necessary to maintain submission, with some differences but still essentially the same; submission to dictatorship’s future. Only armed violence can tear away the banner of citizenship’s “good wishes”, of new “New Deals”, of a return to the welfare state, of anti-fascist unity with the “progressive” bourgeoisie…

A minor sidenote. Lots of people demonstrate every week against Le Pen, against Fini… alongside the very people who maintain the wall of silence that surrounds political imprisonment in our European countries. As far as the prisoners from the guerilla are concerned, the social-democratic management of the prison system has nothing to learn from authoritarian regimes. They use the same methods, such as criminalization, white torture [solitary confinement], arbitrary treatment and beatings, and hide them all behind a façade of foolproof arrogance.

In France our comrades Groix, Ramazan Alpaslan and Pello Marinelarenari have died in their cells. Many other comrades suffer from incurable diseases that were caused by the conditions of their imprisonment.

Two hundred political prisoners are rotting in the French prisons, and yet those in charge of this “slow death” still want to lead the anti-fascist struggle!

Those who do not want to talk about imperialism and State repression should also remain quiet when it comes to fascism.

To raise the question of political prisoners and revolutionary violence is to relentlessly work to revolutionise the “revolutionaries” in the metropole.

First of all because this question reveals the degree to which an alliance has been built with the “left-wing” managers during two decades of campaigns for charity or establishment anti-fascism. When these do-gooders were in the government they enthusiastically defended the triumph of neoliberalism and were responsible for a leap forward to unprecedented inequality. They wrote the laws of this new apartheid and proportional representation for the Front National.

Furthermore, used properly the question of violence and political prisoners should also be a tool to fight against the gradualist tradition that was inherited from the opportunistic old “Communist” Parties. All those concepts of peaceful coexistence that are repeated out of a sense of habit: “the mass line” and the rejection of the minority aspect of violence, everything that has been used to indefinitely postpone any revolutionary action.

Decades of “responsible” actions, appeasement, electoralism, routine, reducing revolutionary activity and ideas to a set of cliche-ridden platitudes… this has made the movement lose sight of one of the key points of Marxist theory: that the transition from capitalism to socialism will be full of revolutionary violence. It cannot happen any other way.

To raise the issue of revolutionary violence is thus to regain a sense of the revolutionary goal. It means reconnecting our present-day struggles and resistance to the possible destruction of the system itself, tying a sense of daily combat to our historic class interests.

It means acting in the spirit of past struggles and rediscovering the red thread that runs from June 1848 to the Paris Commune, from the Revolution of 1905 to the European Revolution of 1917-1923, to the Spanish Revolution in 1936, to Barcelona’s Mayo ’37, to China’s Long March and Cultural Revolution, to all the anti-colonial struggles, to Che Guevara and the Cuban, Congolese and Bolivian guerilla; and from Europe’s May piu senza fucile of 1968 to the automous offensives and movements of 1977-78.

It means putting theory back on its feet. The lessons and experiences of past struggles and the entire revolutionary process are part and parcel of the practical problems, the resolution of tasks, the direct action of revolutionaries today. Gravediggers and talking shops will never own the theory of struggle. Whenever struggle breaks out anew it is imperative to break through all the litanies and spectacular traffic and reappropriate the practical theory.

Today as in the past, communism is the language of preparation and application of revolutionary violence. It is the will to incarnate times of [working] class power. With no theory, memory or violent practice, proletarian activists will never be able to afford a consistent strategy to build class power.

This is all the more true now that the key subject is a highly marginalised proletariat. In fact, the revolutionary subject capable of transforming society is no longer a professional worker, or even the mass-worker of the post-war era, but rather the impoverished worker who is suffering the intense violence of worldwide exploitation. The same subject from Jakarta to La Courveuve, from Los Angeles to Lagos, but at the same time a subject that reflects strong social diversity. The homogenisation and polarisation of his/her condition has rearranged the context of the class struggle. It is obvious that the proletariat can no longer recompose itself with the same means of struggle and organisation as in the past. These historic methods have actually become obstacles that aggravate his/her economic and social marginalisation, with all the associated political and cultural consequences. The super-exploited proletariat will not recompose itself as a revolutionary class through strikes or trade union politics, nor even by joining this or that political party whose talk is more radical than its neighbours. These are no longer options. Instead, he/she will learn through direct action and in the flames of revolt. The misery in which s/he lives and the repression s/he faces from those who represent capitalism in crisis constantly force him/her into violent confrontations.

To prepare for armed confrontation is to work for the recomposition of the class, for the unity and politicisation of this global super-exploited proletariat. It is to show that it represents the only worldwide class capable of carrying the revolutionary process to its final conclusion. A class which is made to fill this role, its historic and collective nature being to destroy its present individualised position as an economic and political slave of capital.

This is a long-term process of consciousness raising and organisation, a class war in which sporadic battles will spread into an insurrectionary confrontation.

To face up to the question of violence implies organising it along revolutionary lines. It is an initial collective and practical attempt to rearm the proletariat with the desire to arm itself and wage revolutionary war against capital. It is the concrete application of the questions at the heart of the struggle for political autonomy.

In time the [working] class will once again take up both its flag and its gun, in one burst, as they are inseparable. It will carry forth its own interests and the war to make them triumph. Through their interaction class interests will guide the gun and the gun will clear the way to reveal its uncompromising global interests.

In conclusion

What does it mean to raise the question of armed violence on this International Day of the Revolutionary Prisoner?

From the back of our prison cells we can already hear the sighs of the ill-intentioned. No comrades, the question of armed violence is not the only revolutionary issue we care about, nor is it the only pressing issue that needs to be addressed. Some people have always distorted the guerilla’s position by claiming that this is all we think about. This is a ready-made argument that all too often serves as an excuse for not carrying out any real discussion about the necessity of violence and its organised practice. It has always been the trump card used by those who wish to silence the debate.

We prisoners from the guerilla are simply trying to examine some basic elements of this question. Its actual nature and the contradictions with which it confronts activists in the imperialist countries.

Amongst the latter there are many who support a guerilla somewhere in the world. Few, however, take the next step and go from support in this particular situation onto the global nature of the issue, and so on to the concrete implications concerning where we live. Because supporting the idea of a revolutionary guerilla automatically raises practical political questions. To do all you can so that the guerilla wins in Mexico, Turkey or Asia demands serious thought about what action revolutionaries should take in the “belly of the beast”, in the fortress where the monopolies keep their loot. Where the owners and technocrats who carve up the whole planet live in prosperity. Where the exploiters and oppressors of over 90% of the global proletariat live.

In 1972 Andreas Baader, Ulrike Meinhof and the other comrades from the RAF offered an initial answer to this question by destroying the American military computers that were being used to plan the bombing of Vietnam. This action overstepped the boundaries of mere support, becoming instead a concrete act that united the anti-capitalist and anti-imperialist struggles here with the struggle for freedom on the periphery.

For three decades the globalisation of production and exchange has undergone an unprecedented qualitative advance. Not a day passes that even the least of things does not remind us of this fact. But this globalisation is first and foremost the globalisation of class struggle, the globalisation of problems and the globalisation of solutions.

At this point, who can seriously claim to understand why people take up arms in the Sierra and simultaneously condemn those who do the same in the fortresses of the imperialist order? Who can claim that the specific factors dominate the general conflict to this point? That this is a fair and revolutionary position?

The search for unity is the revolutionary projection of the global proletariat.

Wherever they find themselves revolutionaries should reinforce and direct this “long march”. They should work towards the politicization and recomposition of the class in the framework of this era’s dominant space, in all its dimensions from the local to the global. Everywhere they should destroy obstacles and limits that always reduce struggles to the rules and boundaries of the system’s national and institutional organization. The two are now directly connected. And in the imperialist metropole, the national and the institutional are all the more reactionary, as they become mechanisms in the process of fascistiation of the monopolies.

The vast armies of poor workers, the big monopolies’ new slaves and the disinherited slum dwellers, constitute the majority of humanity. This super-exploited proletariat is the axis around which the questions of wealth redistribution and the appropriation of the means of production must be resolved. It’s the only way. No other class or subclass can be substituted for it in the revolutionary process. Least of all the representatives of local and national metropolitan classes who always end up defending “progress”, the reforms of imperialist citizenship and the sacred charities.

How can anyone believe that there is even a grain of hope to be found in the netherworld of the “left of the left” and the other forms of metropolitan protest? In the end all they will ever do is work to protect and manage the minor local advantages. They can not escape this bureaucratic destiny.

Furthermore, they know very well that these little reforms are only granted on condition that they divide the [working] class and mobilise it around issues tied to its own backyard which is protected by borderguards and vigipirate plans (translators note: Vigipirate is an anti-terrorist plan that especially targets immigrants). Behind their façade they are collaborating with apartheid.

For more than fifty years, the triumph of “social democratic” thought in the European metropoles has revealed itself to be a sham at both the level of institutions and protest groups. The half-measures of populist programmes have not saved the proletariat from monopoly capitalism’s legal claws. On the contrary, they have made the claws more dynamic. The chasm between stolen wealth and poverty has never been so violent. Not only increased productivity and the infernal rhythm of production, but also precarity and the insecurity of millions of proletarians have all aggravated the already intense level of exploitation.

As far as the proletariat is concerned institutional politics offers a choice between the lesser of two evils, or simply quitting the game.

Around the world the proletarian class is alone faced with the alternative of socialism or barbarism that is comes from the development and decomposition of capitalism.

From the streets of Gaza to the barricades of Bogota, from Chiapas to the ghettos and slums of our own European megacities, wherever it rebels it must take up arms… everywhere the masses are overstepping the rotten boundaries of the old structures. The political parties and institutionalised trade unions are today reduced to impotence and inadequacy when faced with the new spaces and their globalisation. Everywhere the proletariat is socialising new resistance, in self-education and self-organisation, in the quest for its political autonomy. Of course this doesn’t come about without many mistakes. False beliefs and real fundamentalism are spreading like a new plague. Yet the winds of freedom are blowing, and they are stronger.

Wherever proletarians rebel they recover the sense of revolutionary violence. Where there are no guns they use stones. And yet some people insist that the guerrilla’s time has past, that armed struggle is ancient history!

We are told that all of this changes nothing for revolutionaries here. That we must faithfully continue to go through the ridiculous motions of revisionist gradualism. That we must perfect our bottled jargon on imaginary insurrections to come and remain patient while getting ready for them. The only way to really get ready for the revolution is by engaging in revolutionary action. Legalism, pacifism and daily compromises have never come close to bringing about revolution. Only firm revolutionary action, the resolution of tasks as they actually arise and the subversion of barracks rules will awaken the revolutionary spirit.

The preconditions of the coming revolutionary surge show the centrality of the perfect ties binding together the struggles for class autonomy, armed liberation and proletarian internationalism. It’s only a beginning…

It is right to rebel!
Dare to struggle, dare to win!



This text was translated by Solidarity, a Montreal collective that existed in the early 2000s. The original in French is available on the Action Directe website at http://www.crosswinds.net/~actiondirecte

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