An essay proclaiming the pivotal role of "harmful phenomena"--broadly defined to include everything from nuclear meltdowns to the construction of a superhighway--in the resurgence of a movement of "anti-economic and anti-statist emancipation", and warning against reformist "ecologism" as "the principle agent of censorship of the social critique latent in the struggle against harmful phenomena".
Address to Those Who Would Rather Abolish Harmful Phenomena than Manage Them - Encyclopédie des Nuisances
Our epoch can at least be sure of one thing: it will not go down peacefully. The results of its unconsciousness have accumulated to the point where even material security is endangered, the conquest of which once constituted its sole justification. And as for life, properly speaking—customs, communication, feeling, creation—the epoch has brought in its wake nothing but rottenness and regression.
All society is, in principle, with regard to the organization of collective survival, a form of appropriation of nature. Due to the current crisis of the use of nature, the social question is once again posed, and this time universally. Not having been resolved before the material, scientific and technological means were allowed to fundamentally alter the conditions of life, the social question reappears, together with the vital necessity of questioning the irresponsible hierarchies that monopolize those means.
To prevent that from happening, society’s owners have unilaterally decided to decree an ecological state of emergency. But what are they trying to achieve with their partisan catastrophism, painting such a bleak picture in describing the hypothetical disaster and making speeches that are all the more alarmist the more they refer to problems concerning which the atomized population possesses no means of addressing directly? Would it not be the occultation of the real disaster, concerning which one does not need to be a physicist, a meteorologist or a demographer to have an opinion? Because the constant impoverishment of the world caused by the modern economy, which is growing at the expense of life in all domains, is being constantly verified: with its devastations it destroys biological foundations, it subjects all of social space-time to the policing needs of its functioning and replaces all of reality, in the old days routinely accessible, with a substitute, whose residual content of authenticity is proportional to its price (it is no longer necessary to create special stores reserved for the nomenklatura, the market will take care of that).
When the managers of production take notice of the fragility of their world while contemplating the harmfulness of its outcomes, they still derive arguments from this exercise to present themselves, backed by their experts, as saviors. The ecological state of emergency is at the same time a war economy, which mobilizes production at the service of the common interest as defined by the State, and an economic war directed against the threat of those protest movements which straightforwardly criticize it.
The propaganda of the leaders of the State and of industry presents the advancement of economic development, corrected with measures imposed by the defense of survival, as the sole perspective of salvation: regulated management of “resources”, investments in nature conservation, that is, to integrally transform nature into the raw material of economic management, from subsurface aquifers to atmospheric ozone.
Domination never ceases to perfect its repressive means, at all levels: in “Cigaville”, the urban stage set constructed in Dordogne after May 1968 to train riot police, they simulate “fake attacks by antinuclear commandos” on its streets; at the Belleville nuclear plant, the directors learned techniques of information manipulation while simulating a serious accident. But the personnel devoted to social control are, more than anything else, dedicated to the prevention of any development of the critique of harmful phenomena [nuisances] that could lead to the critique of the economy which gives rise to such phenomena. Discipline is preached for the armies of consumption, as if it were our garish extravagances that have destroyed the ecological equilibrium and not, rather, the absurdity of a routine system of production; a new civic virtue is proclaimed according to which the whole world is equally responsible for the management of harmful phenomena, in perfect democratic equality: from the rank and file polluter, who releases chlorofluorocarbons every morning when he shaves, to the chemical industry…and the ideology of survival (“Everyone united to save the Earth, or the Loire, or the baby seals”) serves to inculcate this kind of “realism” and “sense of responsibility” which leads people to assume the effects of the experts’ unconsciousness and, therefore, gives a breathing space to domination, since it provides, on the one hand, an opposition of constructive proposals and, on the other, minor repairs along the way.
Ecologism is the principle agent of censorship of the social critique latent in the struggle against harmful phenomena (1), that is, of the illusion according to which the results of alienated labor can be condemned without attacking alienated labor itself and the society based upon the exploitation of labor. Now that all the politicians have become ecologists, the ecologists do not hesitate to declare themselves supporters of the State. Frankly, nothing has changed in the least in this respect since their “alternative” whims of the 1970s. Only now they are offered positions, functions and fame everywhere, and the ecologists accept all this without the least objection, proving that they never really broke ranks with the dominant irrationality.
The ecologists play the same role, on the terrain of the struggle against harmful phenomena, that the trade unionists play on the terrain of workers struggles: mere intermediaries interested in the preservation of the contradictions whose regulation they assure; smooth-tongued negotiators adept at haggling (in this case the for the revision of the rules and rates of environmental damage replace the percentages of wage increases); mere defenders of the quantitative at the very moment when the economic calculus is extended to new domains (air, water, human embryos, synthetic sociability); they are, ultimately, the new commissars of submission to the economy, whose price must now include the cost of “a quality environment”. One can already discern the outlines of a redistribution of territory between sacrificed zones and protected zones, jointly administered by “green” experts, a spatial division that will regulate the hierarchical access to the commodity called nature. Radioactivity, however, will be for everyone.
To say that the practice of the ecologists is reformist would do them too much honor, since such a practice is inscribed, directly and deliberately, in the logic of capitalist domination, which ceaselessly extends the terrain over which it holds sway by means of its own devastations. In the midst of such a cyclical production of evils and aggravating remedies, ecologism will have been nothing but the strike force of an epoch of bureaucratization, in which “rationality” is increasingly defined without considering either the individuals concerned or any realistic knowledge, with all the renewed catastrophes that all of this implies.
There is no lack of recent examples that prove how quickly the administration of harmful phenomena has come to be an integral part of ecologism. Leaving aside for now the “nature conservation” multinationals such as, for example, the World Wildlife Fund and Greenpeace, the “Friends of the Earth”, amply financed by the Secretary of State for the Environment, or the Greens of the Waetcher type (2), cronies of the Lyonnaise des Eaux (3) in the exploitation of the sewage treatment market, there are semi-opponents of all stripes, who always limit themselves to a technical critique of harmful phenomena and have always rejected social critique, co-opted by state agencies of control and regulation, or even by the environmental remediation industry itself. For example, an independent laboratory like the CRII-RAD (4) (founded after Chernobyl)—independent of the State but not of regional and local institutions—assumed as its sole objective “the defense of the consumers” by counting their becquerels. Such a neo-trade unionist “defense” of the occupation of consumer—the last occupation—does not attack the dispossession which, depriving individuals of any power of decision in the production of their conditions of existence, guarantees that they must continue to endure that which is chosen by others and must continue to depend upon uncontrollable specialists in order to discover, or to remain ignorant about, the noxious evils which that existence imposes upon them. It cannot surprise us that the President of CRII-RAD, Michele Rivasi, was nominated for a position in the National Air Quality Agency; in that position he will be able to realize his independence at the service of the State. Nor does it seem strange to us that the timidly anti-nuclear experts of the GSIEN (5), by considering it scientific to not pronounce themselves radically against the nuclear delirium, remained faithful to the new start-up of the nuclear power plant at Fessenheim, before a new “accidental” escape of radioactivity arrived shortly thereafter to provide the authoritative commentary on their realism; nor that the Boy Scouts of “Robin des Bois” (6), climbing up the corporate ladder, associate with a corporation involved in the production of “clean wastes” and defend the “Geofix” chemical waste project in the Alps of Haute Provence.
The goal of all this intensive whitewashing activity is entirely predictable: “decontamination” based upon the model of what was known as the “war on poverty” by means of abundance at the service of the market (camouflaging of visible misery, combined with the real impoverishment of life); the expensive and thus useful palliatives consistently applied to damage already done, mixing its destructive activities—which are ongoing and will continue—with fragmentary reconstructions and partial repairs. Certain harmful phenomena, validated as such by the experts, will be taken into consideration precisely to the extent that their treatment constitutes an economically profitable activity. Others, generally the most serious, will continue to exist clandestinely, on the margins of the rules, such as, for example, the low doses of radiation or the genetic manipulations which are preparing the AIDS of tomorrow. Finally, and most importantly, the prolific development of a new bureaucracy which has assumed control on the pretext of rationalization, will achieve nothing but immersion in that specific irrationality which explains all the others, from ordinary corruption to extraordinary catastrophes: the division of society between leader-specialists in survival and ignorant and impotent “consumers” of this survival, the last face of class society. Unfortunate are those who need honest specialists and enlightened leaders!
It is not by virtue of a kind of extremist purism or, even less, of a politics of “the worse, the better”, that one must violently distinguish oneself from all the economy’s ecological computers: it is simply a result of having a realistic attitude towards the obvious future of the whole affair. The future development of the struggle against harmful phenomena demands the clarification, by way of as many exemplary denunciations as are necessary, of the opposition between the ecolocrats—those who would derive power from the ecological crisis—and those who possess no interests distinct from those of the masses of dispossessed individuals and of the movement that can put them in a position of being capable of abolishing harmful phenomena, thanks to the “rational dismantling of commodity production in its entirety”. If those who want to abolish harmful phenomena find themselves perforce on the same terrain as those who want to administer the same phenomena, they must, nonetheless, occupy it as enemies, on the pain of seeing themselves reduced to the role of extras on the stage set of territorial organization. They can only really occupy this terrain, that is, discover the means of its transformation, by asserting, without concessions, the social critique of harmful phenomena and their managers, directed as much against the incumbents as against the aspirants to this office.
The road that leads from contesting irresponsible hierarchies to the installation of a kind of social control that consciously rules material and technical means, passes through a unitary critique of harmful phenomena [nuisances] and, consequently, through the rediscovery of all the previous points where insubordination was applicable: wage labor, whose socially harmful products correspond to their destructive effect upon the wage workers in the production process, up to the point of not being able to endure it without liberal doses of tranquilizers and drugs of all kinds; the total colonization of communication by the spectacle, making the falsification of reality correspond to the falsification of social expression itself; the technological development which, at the expense of all individual or collective autonomy, exclusively increases submission to an ever more concentrated power; the production of commodities as production of harmful phenomena; and, finally, “the State as the absolute harmful phenomenon, which controls that production and organizes its perception, programming its tolerance thresholds”.
The final destiny of ecologism has shown even the most naïve person that one cannot really fight against anything if one accepts the separations of dominant society. The aggravation of the crisis of survival, and the protest movements to which it gives rise, induce a fraction of the techno-scientific personnel to refuse to identify with the foolish flight forward of technological advance. In this way, some of them approach a critical point of view, while many others, yielding to their socio-professional inclinations, will attempt to recycle their expert status towards a “reasonable” opposition, and will therefore try to make a fragmented denunciation of the irrationality in power prevail, attending only to purely technical aspects, that is, to those aspects which appear to be technical. Against a still-separated and specialized critique of harmful phenomena, the defense of the simple unitary demands of social critique not only implies its reaffirmation as a total objective, concerning which one does not attempt to convince the experts in power to change their minds, but of abolishing the conditions which make experts and the specialization of power necessary; it is also a tactical imperative of the struggle that one does not speak the language of the specialists if one really wants to find allies, when it is addressed to all those who have no power no matter how specialized they are.
In the same way that the general interest of the economy was once—and still is today--juxtaposed to wage workers demands, now the planners of waste and all the other Ph.D.s in trash do not deprive themselves of the opportunity to denounce the blind and irresponsible egoism of those who rise up against a local harmful phenomenon—whether a waste dump, a highway, a high-velocity train, etc.—without stopping to consider that it has to be put somewhere. There is only one dignified response to such general interest blackmail: to affirm that, when harmful phenomena are not wanted anywhere, they must be rejected, as an exemplary act, wherever they may be found. Consequently, the struggles against harmful phenomena must be prepared by way of the expression of the universal reasons for any particular protest. The fact that individuals who only represent themselves, without invoking any qualification or specialty, take upon themselves the freedom to associate in order to proclaim and to put into practice the judgment which this world deserves, will seem somewhat unrealistic to the people of an epoch which is paralyzed by the isolation and the sense of doom which the latter imposes. One fact, however, against the background of so many pseudo-events fabricated one after another, casts ridicule upon both the calculations from above as well as the cynicism from below: all the aspirations to a life of freedom and all human needs, beginning with the most basic, converge in the historical necessity of putting an end to the lacerations of economic dementia. From such an immense reserve of rebellion only a total lack of respect for the derisory or demeaning necessities in which the current society recognizes itself can issue.
Those who, in any particular conflict, believe that they do not have to give up when their protest yields partial results, must consider it a moment of the self-organization of dispossessed individuals moving towards a general anti-Statist and anti-economic movement: this ambition will serve as a criterion and point of reference for judging and condemning, adopting or rejecting, various means of combat against harmful phenomena. Everything that favors the direct appropriation of their own activity on the part of associated individuals must be supported, beginning with their critical activity against various aspects of the production of harmful phenomena: everything that contributes to dispossessing them of the first moments of their struggle, and thus reinforces their passivity and isolation, must be fought. How can individuals’ struggle for the control of their conditions of existence—in a word, the struggle for the realization of democracy—be served by anything that would perpetuate the old lie of separate representation, whether by uncontrolled representatives or by outrageous spokespersons? Dispossession is reinstated and ratified, of course, not only by electoralism, but also by the illusory search for “media impact” which, transforming individuals into spectators of a cause whose formulation and extension they no longer control, converts them into the raw material of diverse lobbies [in English in original—translator’s note], which more or less compete among themselves in the manipulation of the image of protest.
One must, consequently, treat as recuperators all those who, with their pretense of realism, try to abort, thanks to the media’s organization of confusion, the assays at direct expression, with neither intermediaries nor specialist guarantors, of the disgust and rage which are caused by the calamities of a mode of production—one can cite, as examples, the attempt to discredit the protest of the inhabitants of Montchanin (7) carried out by Verges (8) with his attendance as a lawyer who defends any dubious cause, and the ignominy of the modern “emotion mafia” taking advantage of the “children of Chernobyl” in order to use them as the theme of a “Telethon” (9). When the State offers local protests the terrain of juridical and administrative procedures, so they will become lost in them, one must denounce the illusion of a victory sanctioned by lawyers and experts; for this purpose it suffices to recall that a conflict of this kind is never settled as a result of law, but as a result of a correlation of extrajudicial forces, as is demonstrated for example by the construction of the bridge to Île de Ré, carried out despite various court orders against it, and the abandonment of the plans to build the nuclear power plant at Plogoff which was in no respect a result of a legal process.
Ways and means must vary according to each occasion, and it must be made clear that all means are good which confront apathy in the face of economic fate and promote desires to intervene against the destiny to which it subjects us. If the movements against harmful phenomena in France are still weak, day after day they constitute the only practical terrain where social existence can be discussed. The State’s leaders are quite aware of the danger this represents for a society whose official reasons do not bear scrutiny. Parallel with neutralization by means of media confusion and the integration of the ecologists’ leaders, the State’s leaders strive to prevent any particular conflict from becoming an impediment to its purposes, which would provide the forces of contestation with a pole of unification and also a physical place for meetings and communication of critique. For this reason all decisions were “shelved” concerning the locations of radioactive waste sites and the Loire Basin project, in order to wear out the activists of the various protests and to permit the installation of a network of responsible representatives ready to serve as “social barometers”—to measure the local temperament—as well as to stage-manage the “coalition” and to make trivial victories pass for successes.
It will be objected—and already has been—that it is, in any event, impossible to completely suppress all harmful phenomena and that, for example, we have to take nuclear wastes into account, which will remain with us for more or less an eternity. This argument evokes that of a torturer who, after having cut off the hand of one of his victims, goes on to say that, now that is done, would you please allow the other hand to be cut off as well, because if all that you needed them for was to applaud, there are machines for that. What opinion should we have of someone who would agree to “scientifically” debate this subject?
One thing is certain: the illusions of economic progress have led human history down the wrong track for a long time, and that the consequences of this detour, even granting that they can be remedied, will be inherited as a poisoned legacy by liberated society, not only in the form of wastes but also, and above all, in the form of a particular material organization of production which must be transformed from top to bottom in order to be of service to a free society. It would have been better if we did not have these problems, but since they are here, we maintain that the collective assumption of the process of their gradual disappearance constitutes the only possible perspective for the resumption of the real human adventure, of history as emancipation.
The adventure begins again when individuals discover forms of practical community within the struggle which allow the consequences of their initial protest to be extended and the development of the critique of the conditions imposed upon them. The truth of such a community resides in the fact that by itself it constitutes “a unity which is more intelligent than all of its members”. The hallmark of its failure would be regression towards a kind of neo-family, or towards a unity which is less intelligent than any one of its members. A long period of social reaction comes as a consequence, together with isolation and confusion, and peoples’ decline into fear of divisions and conflicts at the very moment of the attempt to construct a common practical terrain. However, just when one is in the minority and needs allies, it is fitting to formulate a very precise basis of accord, and to undertake alliances and to boycott everything which must be boycotted on the basis of that accord.
Above all, in order to delimit the terrain of collaboration and alliances, criteria are required which are not moral criteria, that is, not ones based upon a proclamation of good intentions or a supposed good will, etc., but are practical and historical criteria. A golden rule: do not judge people according to their opinions, but according to what their opinions make of them. We believe that in this text we have provided a few useful elements for the definition of such criteria. If we want to make them more precise and delineate a trajectory from which solidarity could be effectively organized, we need discussions based upon the analysis of the concrete conditions in which everyone is immersed, and also upon the critique of earlier attempts at intervention, beginning with the present contribution.
Social critique, and the activity which develops and communicates it, has never been a peaceful place. Today, such a place no longer exists—the universal pollution has reached even the summits of the Himalayas—and dispossessed individuals do not face the choice between peace and all the disturbances of a hard struggle, but between disturbances and struggles which are even more terrible insofar as it is others who direct them, and to their own advantage besides, and disturbances and struggles which they conduct and extend by themselves and on their own account. The movement against harmful phenomena will triumph as a movement of anti-economic and anti-statist emancipation or it will not triumph at all.
Encyclopédie des Nuisances
1. The word “Nuisance”, in general use among French speakers since 1965, which we have translated here by the approximating term “harmful phenomena”, is defined in the dictionaries we consulted as a “thing, person, action, etc., which causes inconvenience or harm”. They provide the illustrative examples of mosquitoes, impertinent children, someone who urinates openly on the street, noise and dumping garbage in inappropriate places. These dictionaries, as tools of the false consciousness of the epoch, contribute to the conceptual paralysis by which this epoch presents itself as an immutable image without contradictions, where “nuisances” are trifles. Those who write the dictionaries have absolutely no appreciation for the protean aspect of words and detest the evolution of their meaning as much as they hate the changing reality itself; they have carried out genuine labors of obfuscation which could be easily revealed by taking examples which are better indications of undeniable “nuisances”: institutions, wage labor, pollution, nuclear power plants, the system of production, urbanism, industrial food production, the new illnesses, racism, the apparatus of repression, experts, leaders, etc. Words are used not only to describe reality, but to transform it; their meaning consequently works against the forces which stand in the way of that transformation. Words are re-elaborated to reveal the truth of a world which lies hidden behind the veils of a mortal language. For these reasons, and in a direction contrary to all existing dictionaries, L’ENCYCLOPÉDIE DES NUISANCES attempts to publicize the historical dimension of words which, in the case of “nuisance”, amounts to the revelation of the most common characteristic of the current form of social organization and the most abundant effect of modern production.
But leaders cannot tolerate the fact that history, which they are trying to abolish, should leave them so far behind. Thus, the term has recently undergone an ecological redefinition. The latest edition of one of the dictionaries referred to above has added the following: “The collection of factors of a technological (noises, despoliations, pollutions, etc.) or social origin (crowds, promiscuity) which harm the quality of life. Acoustic, visual, olfactory, chemical ‘nuisances’. ‘Nuisances’ for the people who live next to highways.” If ecologism can be in power, why can it not get into the dictionaries?
2. Waetcher is an especially soporific leader of the French Greens and a European Deputy.
3. Lyonnaise des Eaux is a water-treatment multinational.
4. CRII-RAD is the Independent Regional Commission for Information on Radioactivity.
5. GSIEN is a group of scientists that provides information on nuclear energy.
6. Robin des Bois is a groupuscule that is more activist than Greenpeace, from which it split, and specializes in spectacular operations like scaling the cooling towers at nuclear power plants.
7. Montchain is a city in the French region of Morvan, near an industrial waste dump where, illegally and clandestinely, toxic wastes from the European chemical industry were dumped for years (along with, probably, the drums containing the dioxin from Seveso).
8. Verges is a lowlife lawyer, an old Stalinist and Third-Worldist, a specialist in scandalous lawsuits that lead to trials which implicate the French State, such as, for example, the defense of the Nazi torturer Klaus Barbie.
9. A Telethon is an ultra-cretinizing television reality show that appeals to popular charity in order to finance relief operations.
Published in Spain in Contra el Despotismo de la Velocidad (Editorial Virus).
Spanish Translation by Miguel Amorós available at: