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Réfractions #42 - Unexpected encounters, unlikely alliances
Article mis en ligne le 13 juillet 2019

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Réfractions #42

Unexpected encounters, unlikely alliances


The idea of an issue focused on the ways in which libertarian activism can lead to unlikely alliances was germinating long before the Yellow Vest movement burst on the scene. Our initial thought was to investigate the effects of short or long-term encounters between people with diverse backgrounds who are brought together by a common cause. This includes such examples as anti-racist movements, the fight against mistreatment of the undocumented or the homeless, the struggle against worthless mega-projects, and mobilization against climate change.

It is true that such encounters do not actually defy the laws of probability. Nevertheless, they are surprising to the extent that they transgress social boundaries (between the peasantry, proletariat, or sub-proletariat and petit-bourgeois intellectuals), ideological boundaries (between Catholics and anarchists, in the case of mobilizations on behalf of the homeless and migrants), or simply the ordinary boundaries of activism. The first effect of such encounters is to challenge the comfortable complacency of being part of a social or activist in-group. What also turned out to be surprising was the ringing confirmation of the relevance of our topic by the appearance of that extraordinary phenomenon called the Yellow Vest movement.

Beneath the unity expressed in the movement’s dress code lies an unusual diversity. This diversity is embodied in its demands, its modes of organizing or refusing to organize, its social make-up, the level of activist experience of its members, and its various approaches to the question of representation. Such diversity helps explain the ambivalent reactions it has evoked, including on our part.

The existence of such a movement today gives the questions posed in this issue a particular pertinence. What are the causes of the encounters under consideration, and what are the effects on those who are involved ? Are the alliances that come out of them based on real affinity or are they merely a marriage of convenience ? On what basis do these encounters turn out to be either good ones or bad ones ? More specifically, to what extent do they cause confusion or even lead to the dissolution of the libertarian project ? In other words, what can we achieve when we join such movements ? What do we find there that attracts us ? On the other hand, we must consider the fact that such alliances sometimes do not take place, because we are afraid of being led astray, because we can’t relate to them, or because they don’t seem capable of achieving what we desire. And indeed, many of us had reservations, at least initially, about a movement like the Yellow Vests.

Clearly, these questions have a distinctive meaning for libertarians due to the fact that our participation in such composite movements is not motivated by a desire for power, by entryism, or the goal of infiltration. In reality, such unexpected encounters and unlikely alliances are nothing new in the history of the libertarian movement. They appear at least as early as the era of the Dreyfus Affair, when many anarchists, after briefly hesitating to get involved in what seemed to be an internal matter for the French Army, finally joined together with Dreyfusard liberals, radicals, and socialists. Such engagements are, in fact, even definitive for the anarchist movement, which was born out of its encounter with the working-class movement.

It is also important to note the cases in which the opportunity for such historic encounters has not occurred. For example, one might cite the potential alliances between the Zapatistas and anarcho-syndicalists in the Mexican revolution, between anarcho-syndicalists and Moroccan nationalists during the Rif War, and between workers and students in May ‘68. However, since such encounters contain both an individual dimension (thus, I met one person or another whom I might just as easily never have met) and a collective and historical one, they are potentially constitutive of a revolutionary becoming that destroys and abolishes, at least temporarily, the boundaries between classes.

When one considers such occasional convergences, the question of point of view obviously comes up. In looking at such movements from the outside can we say anything beyond what the participants themselves would report ? This question arises even more saliently in the case of the Yellow Vest movement, which occasioned an outpouring of analyses of all kinds, most of which were quite confused. These came in particular from academics, including some libertarian sympathizers, who were very careful not to take part in the movement. Since we did not want to limit ourselves to such an external or bird’s-eye view of the movement, we decided to raise questions only about experiences in which we were personally involved.

The scope of this collection is thus both broad and modest. It involves reporting on certain experiences in the movement, and on the sometimes-narrow areas and grounds of agreement, that help us undertake reflection on the potential for insurrectional or even revolutionary dynamics within our societies. Such reflection was already initiated in issues #24 (“In Search of a Revolutionary Subject”), #28 (“Indignations, Occupations, Insurrections”), and #36 (“Reinventing Revolution”) of this journal.

The current issue includes a section entitled “Continuing the Debate,” in which Jean-Marc Royer replies to the collective review of his book that appeared in the preceding issue. In another section, “Transversals,” Tomas Ibáñez presents an homage to Eduardo Colombo and Amedeo Bertolo, and addresses their thought. This is followed by an article by René Fugler, who responds to a recent publication by reexamining what occurred behind the scenes of the “Strasbourg Scandal” of 1966, in which libertarians and Situationists were involved in the publication of the famous pamphlet, “On the Poverty of Student Life.”

(trad. John P. Clark)


Anarchism, a history of encounters

Good and bad encounters, Daniel Colson
Anarchists and the Dreyfus affair, Jean-Jacques Gandini
Imaginary encounters, true meetings, Alain Thévenet

Meeting on the field and finding common grounds

From the unexpected encounter to the improbable alliance, Yan Ejaz
Pulling down walls to build the commons, Annick Stevens

Shades of yellow

Yellow impressions, Pierre Sommermeyer
Despising “people of nothing”, Bernard Hennequin
The movement of the Yellow Vests as seen in the Lyon demonstrations, a discussion with Gilles Héjosne
Walking in Marseilles with the Yellow Vests, One among many others


Correspondence between Emma Goldman and Aldous Huxley


Convergences and divergences between the thoughts of Amedeo Bertolo and Eduardo Colombo, Tomas Ibáñez
The Strasbourg scandal as seen by its actors, René Fugler

Continuing the debate

A Reply about a review, Jean-Marc Royer

Books, reviews, etc.

(trad. Ronald Creagh)

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