The new French resistance

Something very important is happening in France at the moment.

The immediate catalyst for this historical turning-point has been the murder, by gendarmes, of a young environmental protester, Rémi Fraisse, near Albi on October 26.

The 21 year old, studying at nearby Toulouse, was supporting a campaign to stop a dam being built in a local valley. This dam, at Sivens near Le Testet, was only ever designed to help local agri-business and had been pushed through by local representatives of the ruling Socialist Party.

Unsurprisingly, the pros and cons of the scheme were suddenly exposed to the full spotlight of national publicity once the news eventually got out that Rémi was dead and that he had indeed been killed by a sound-grenade fired into his back at point blank range by the military-run police.

Some of the massive media attention has been diverted on to the usual party-political level of internal criticism and a deepening gulf between different groupings on the Left.

But it has also forced into the French public consciousness in a big way the fact that there is serious resistance being mounted against industrial capitalism. This has long been apparent with the Notre Dame des Landes ZAD (zone à défendre) against the proposed new airport for Nantes, but with Brittany in a general state of rebellion this was perhaps dismissed as an exception.

Now attention has been drawn to the fact that these kinds of battles are being fought all over the country, many of them going unreported in the corporate national media.

These protests are reminiscent of the wave of anti-roads protests in the UK in the 1990s. Traditional local opposition has successfully merged with a more radical approach, to the extent that a diversity of tactics does not prevent a unity of purpose.

Much was made by right-wing media of the fact that Rémi was killed during or after a full-on night-time attack on the dam building site by mostly masked-up comrades, in which molotovs were apparently thrown at the cops – this had followed a 7,000-strong protest march that afternoon.

But the manner in which he was killed has exposed the far greater violence deployed by the authorities in their policing – campaigners have reported weeks of constant physical intimidation by gendarmes, long before protesters finally tried to fight back.

And, of course, the violence of the police is just an echo of the violence against nature of the dam project itself, of the violence inherent in the entire ecocidal industrial system.

The astonishing thing is that people saying this, and calling for increased resistance, have actually been given a voice in the mainstream media, on the wave of public shock at Rémi’s death. 

No doubt this will only be a temporary blip and the usual propaganda will be restored as soon as possible, but in many ways that will be too late. The can of worms has been opened. The public now knows that there are thousands of people – many of them very young – across France who consider themselves at war with the industrial machine,  all its political parties, its hired uniformed thugs, its lies and assumptions.

If France is ahead of the UK in this respect it is perhaps because there is a lot more countryside here – France has about the same population as the UK, but is twice the size. People dropping out of the rat race tend to flood into cheaper remote rural areas in a way that is not possible in England, where land prices ensure the countryside is often the preserve of the rich. 

Many of those fleeing to the countryside are aiming to escape modern industrial life rather than combat it. But once they get there, they inevitably come across the latest local tentacle of the global greed-monster destroying our planet. And they stand and fight. When, as ever, the capitalist system treats them like criminals for daring to dissent, they are radicalised. And they increase their resistance, deepen their solidarity with others.

It is significant that it is the so-called Left that is in power, both locally and nationally. Because what is happening has very little to do with outdated notions of Right versus Left, in which all are agreed on the need for “economic growth”, for “progress” and for “jobs”.

The opponents of the dam are in favour of  “décroissance” (“de-growth”), of “anti-productivisme” – a philosophy which flows easily into the decentralism and anti-capitalism of specifically anarchist currents.

This is the war which is already being fought all over the world, but can only become clearer and more intense as time goes on. It’s humanity against the machine, nature against profit, the life-force against the industrial death-sentence.

The murder of one of our comrades by henchmen of the capitalist system (in France this time, but it happens everywhere) confirms again in a sickening way that this war is real and their intentions are ruthlessly lethal. 

We must take this knowledge on board, gain a clear and uncluttered overview of what is happening and communicate this understanding to others, so that we can mobilise all that is good and strong in humanity to ensure that the foul forces of darkness do not prevail. The stakes could hardly be higher.

Save the Cévennes!

Resistance is growing to a threat facing one of the most important expanses of forest in western Europe.

German energy firm E.ON has signed a 20-year contract with the French authorities to ravage the stunning countryside of the Cévennes in order to provide biomass for its newly-converted power station at Gardanne, near Marseille.

It has got its greedy eyes on between 800,000 and a million tonnes of wood a year to keep the turbines of private profit turning.

The fact that much of the targeted area in the south of France is in a national park is of little interest either to E.ON or to its governmental collaborators, who are subsiding the firm’s ecocidal profiteering to the tune of 1.4 billion euros.

Of course, the whole thing is being wrapped up in green tinsel and presented as some kind of “sustainable management” project, particularly of the extensive local chestnut forests.

But any comforting images of hardy lumberjacks patiently thinning out the trees on the verdant mountain slopes are very far from the mark.

Instead, E.ON’s collaborators will be launching a full-scale industrial attack on the forests, using massive machinery to clear-cut vast swathes of trees from what is currently a landscape of remarkable beauty.

The “innovative” means it has it mind to penetrate the often-inaccessible areas include giant forestry “spiders” and mobile bridges to get across inconveniently-placed mountain rivers.

The usual excuse of “creating employment” falls a little flat when it only takes a few people to operate these machines. Predictably, though, the workerist “left” in the form of the CGT union has decided to support the whole madness on the basis of protecting a few dozen jobs back at the power station – as ever, actual opposition to the industrial capitalist system is out of the question.

With most levels of authority, including the Cévennes National Park, having bought into the project, it has been left to locals and environmentalist campaigners to take up the struggle. 

The radical Cévennes newsletter Bogues reported that a resounding and unanimous “no” to E.ON’s disastrous plans has emerged from “all the different meetings attended by residents, elected representatives and forestry professionals which have been held on this subject in our valleys”.

E.ON itself has noted the “initial negative perception of our project” – arrogantly assuming with the use of the word “initial” that people will eventually swallow its greenwash propaganda.

While the third biggest energy supply firm in the world is trying to pass itself off as a supporter of “sustainable energy”, its past tells a different story. In 2008 the group was the second worst CO2 polluter in Europe. In 2009 it was also famously on the receiving end of the second biggest fine in the entire history of the EU (533 million euros) for illegally trying to stitch up the distribution of Russian gas in France and Germany with GDF.

E.ON is putting it about that it will be mainly using green waste and bits of wood that can’t be used elsewhere. But in truth, the trees it cuts down will account for 80% of the biomass that it consumes. (This process is itself wasteful – its 33% efficiency means two out of three trees will essentially be burnt to heat up the atmosphere rather than produce electricity).

To start with, half of the timber will come from abroad, where other forests will be rased to keep the money-making fires of Gardanne alight. The other half will come from the local regions of Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur, Rhône-Alpes and Languedoc-Roussillon.

By 2025, all of the wood is planned to be cut down from the forests of southern France, with E.ON particularly targeting areas of the Cévennes in the southern part of Lozère, to the north of Alès, and around Le Vigan, Quissac and Anduze.

There are countless environmental dangers involved in the scheme, of course – such as soil erosion in the newly clear-cut areas and chemical pollution of earth and water. With no replanting plans announced, spaces left by felled chestnut trees will naturally be refilled by maritime pines, the local pioneer species, leading to acidified soil and greater risks from forest fires.

Roads will have to be built and widened to take all the heavy traffic. And campaigners warn that in the wake of the industrial clearances will come monoculture plantations, genetically modified trees and increasing domination of forestry resources by big business, leaving little room for local initiatives.

There is more to a forest than a potential source of fuel. It is part of nature, part of the eco-system which keeps us alive and part of the culture of the area. If the profusion of chestnuts, “poor man’s bread”, in the forests of the Cévennes symbolises the enduring potential to survive outside the industrial civilisation, the intrusion here of capitalism’s war-machinery is symbolic of the scale of the threat facing our autonomy and our planet.

Pascal Menon, a local woodcutter opposing the scheme, told Nature et Progrès magazine that there was a deeper cause for the threat than simply financial gain. “There’s something more serious there, a notion of anti-nature which comes from the fact that we’ve cut ourselves off from our own so-called ‘wild’ feelings. We need to find a different basis for our relationship with the forest.”

Every battle like this, anywhere in the world, forms part of one big war – that of humanity, nature and life against capitalism, greed and death.

The people of the Cévennes have a long and proud history of standing up against injustice imposed from outside, whether in the form of the Camisard guerrillas who defied the French state and the Catholic Church 300 years ago, or the Maquisards who maintained armed resistance to fascism throughout the Vichy regime and German occupation.

We can be sure that they will put up a spirited fight on the ground against E.ON and its co-conspirators. With a little help from the outside, such as through a broader international campaign against the German energy firm, they might even hold them off, leaving open the possibility of an eventual victory in the bigger war for our collective future.

Bogues newsletter has a website at and can be contacted via

The SOS Fôret Cévennes Collective (with its slogan “The forest is our future”) has a website at and can be contacted at

There is an online petition at

Against this world of concrete and profit

A good read for anyone who understands French is Lèse Beton, a bulletin from the ZAD occupation against a new airport near Nantes.

It’s subtitled “against the airport and the world that goes with it” and it’s this sense of perspective that appeals to me.

One particular article in the summer 2013 edition explains that Nantes has been named “green capital” of the year – and is reminding its residents of the fact through endless billboards.

It asks how this title was ever bestowed on a town “with ambitions to expand as far as Saint-Nazaire, which is widening its roads and is so eager to push through its airport project”.

The answer, it seems, lies in its glossy presentation skills and a marketing angle presenting Nantes as a hub for the “Grand Ouest”, a centre of good living that appeals to the “creative classes”, by which they mean executives, professionals, people with loads of money to spend.

All the big cities, metropolises and regions are now in competition with each other to draw in wealth, the article notes. “The principal objective of a town becomes the same as that of a business – competivitity”.

It adds that the modern metropolis also includes a space around it for agriculture, a green belt featuring the odd park or nature reserve. “Because they need little bits of green somewhere for them to concrete around.”

Behind all this is “a global logic in which the only criterion for judging a project is economic profit”, says the article.

It continues: “Anything which isn’t actually within the metropolis is considered to be there to serve the metropolis. Since, according to the Journal de Nantes Métropole,  ‘the attractiveness of a town is measured by the number of its connections it establishes with the rest of the world’, the countryside gets gobbled up by the transport infrastructure linking urban nodes: coastal motorways, high-voltage power lines, pipelines, and of course, here in Nantes, a grandiose international airport.

“The priority is increasing the flow of energy and information, accelerating the movement of goods and members of the ruling classes. With rationalisation comes the suffocation, isolation and destruction of the smallest pockets of autonomy. Space is arranged to exclude anything beyond the officially-defined purpose and laced with CCTV, cops and consultants.

“Unexpected encounters, street life and makeshift areas have no place there. Life in the metropolis is about travelling from one designated space to another: from the place of work to the place of consumption; passing through a district on your way home to a dormitory zone in the town or surrounding village.

“Life in a metropolis is to be forever on the move in functional zones. The construction of this metropolis always involves tearing people away from their spaces, their soil, their neighbourhood, their connections.

“We don’t want our space organised in a way that revolves around financial returns, where the bosses decide whether to pull down or put up according to their idea of how things should be arranged.

“We don’t want isolated lives in sleek, compartmentalized spaces. We want to live in our neighbourhoods or countryside. We want to co-operate with the people we share our space with. We want to choose together what we do there, and how we do it, according to our own needs. We want friendships, we want to meet people. We want to have control over our own lives.”