René Riesel’s reflections on the anti-GMO sabotage campaigns of 1998-2001 in France, the subsequent responses of the supporters of GMO research, the Montpellier and Agen trials and the resulting opportunistic political manipulations and media circuses, and the broader implications of GMOs, and the loyal opposition that wants to reinforce the power of the state in order to regulate them, within the context of the accelerating “domestication” and totalitarian conditioning of the population in a society he characterizes as a “world-laboratory where the sterilization of historical life is assayed”.
“Socialism in more ‘modern’ countries has accepted wholesale the ‘progressive’ industrialist outlook of the bourgeoisie. In Spain the masses revolted, and basically, still revolt against all sorts of progress and Europeanization…. Under the repeated impact of those countries which are still progressing, it has passed into a period of disintegration which is far from being at its end. But in the course of this slow process of disintegration the primitive, spontaneous forces of the lowest classes—of which there is so much talk and so little reality in the progressive West—have been set free and started to act, with incredible force, along the line of the most basic reaction of all backward people against their more progressive neighbors; the Spanish masses hated and hate this modern civilization which is forced upon them, and fight it with the fury which only Spaniards are able to display on such occasions.”
Franz Borkenau, The Spanish Cockpit. An Eye-Witness Account of the Political and Social Conflicts of the Spanish Civil War , The University of Michigan Press, Ann Arbor, 1963, p. 5.
The documents that accompany this text were made public over the course of the agitation carried out five years ago in France to block the development of agricultural genetic modification. As exemplary direct actions whose purpose was—literally—to explain this campaign, their primary goal was to at least interrupt the automatic dissemination of the elevator music to which this “genetic modification issue” gave rise, supported by numerous contradictory white papers, civil society charades, media intoxication, anti-globalization slogans and ethical debates. Our campaign was therefore obligated to begin by criticizing some of the most carefully dissimulated aspects of contemporary reality: agriculture and genetic engineering, technological proliferation and scientistic ideology, the civil society movement and ‘governing’ by means of fear, and the total war on the natural environment and human societies. It then had to sort out, as far as possible, the relations that united these phenomena and that linked them to other modes of the optimization of mass submission to the conditions of industrial survival and the market. And, finally, it had to consider all of these things as manifestations of a unity, from the perspective of modern alienation, and of the collapse, chaotic yet still sustainable, of industrial society. This implied, in short, an extravagant undertaking for the spirit of our times, that of attempting to see to it that “insignificance does not get the last word”.1
Is something true on this side of the Somport, but error on the other?2 The uniformity of the conditions of survival in the highly developed countries provides a refutation of this maxim, so that we can even ask ourselves what interest, apart from a strictly historical one, this publication could arouse in a Spain that is so unrecognizable, and from now on so advanced and so forgetful, too, of its history, its rebellions and its former pride, a country that has now become the only country in Western Europe in which genetically modified crops are spreading massively without encountering the slightest obstacle. Not to mention contamination by way of pollen, almost five percent of the maize produced in ‘the regions of the Spanish state’ is presently genetically modified. Admitting that no one could imagine that a mere pamphlet can reverse this trend, it will fulfill its mission if it contributes some reinforcements in the form of the solidarity of some improvised yet already tested munitions to the efforts of those who are engaged in the indispensable Reconquista of social critique on the Peninsula.
These texts are not just propaganda texts; to speak of ‘combat’ would not be inappropriate. Perhaps they would have been better if they had been written in the silence of a study rather than in haste. Perhaps not. They possess some of the qualities and some of the defects of the genre, which is so often deemed anachronistic: a tone that is occasionally prophetic (when it would be enough to just verify what exists); a certain excessiveness in what is otherwise such a moderate text; and deliberate exaggerations. They have also been accused of being too narrowly topical. And it is true that they are often elliptical or overly allusive. When they are conceded some lucidity, they are judged to be too pessimistic and, above all, discouraging. This—definitive?—complaint seems to be very widespread, among the ‘participants in social movements’, among certain ‘radical’ anti-globalization militants who privately admit the poverty of the stale slogans they substitute for analysis but also their fear that they would confuse their followers if they changed them. We shall attempt to prove here why it has become so difficult to understand and to criticize what is really being said, and even to what extent this condition in fact originates simultaneously from the transformations of what has been conveniently called domination, as well as from the absence of an effective opposition to its current conditions and the retreat of critical thought.
It is not the formal merits or defects of the texts collected here, but the universality of the realities they address, which makes them something more than just topical propaganda with nothing to say about questions that lie beyond the particular issues that triggered their production. This is why it would not be superfluous to clarify and complete their message after reading them, and to further elaborate the points of view they expound, responding to the often-absurd accusations and critiques that have been directed both against them and against their author and his friends. This is the purpose of these notes.
Human history, this erratic course that has so often lost the thread of humanization, has witnessed the birth and the downfall, in so many different ways, of diverse forms of social organization. Industrial society, in its current stage, is certainly not the first social organization to proclaim its perfection, to demonstrate its obsession with itself, incapable of representing or conceiving of itself in any other way. Finally, it is only called modern (there are those who claim, as strange as this may seem, that in this respect, too, it has achieved perfection) because it asserts over traditional societies and ‘static’ civilizations the superiority of not just understanding them but also the fact that contact with it causes all of them to dissolve. It is the first one to base its turbulent immutability not on the final forgetting or mythology of the past but in its scorn for the past, persuaded as it is of having preserved and fulfilled the promise of everything that had any value in its legacy; of being, as it believes, the necessary, the unique, unsurpassable and eternal result of that legacy. This totalized society does not want to see anything but its own prehistory in the societies that have preceded it.
As for its own history, this society prefers to ignore it, and is incapable of understanding it, in the best case, as anything but immediate history, a dead history that was instantly embalmed. This shoddy3 labor must be subjected to constant renovation (perhaps the contemporary reader would understand it better if we said, remastering?) and it is naturally destined to be reworked, reconditioned and revised.
These considerations will be judged to be too extremist, in view of the reality—ultimately a trivial reality—they address, or else they will be judged to be incapable of elucidating the indifference that our contemporaries display towards what they are presently experiencing. Both of these judgments amount to the same thing, however. This society in motion, under the spell of innovation, which dreams of eternal youth, is more ecstatic than any previous society; it feels a congenital need to annihilate time. It does not know what to make of it, except to perceive it as a space that is parallel to that of its eternal present. It becomes a magmatic time, the time of heroic fantasy [in English in the original—translator’s note], a hallucinatory non-place where everything has the same value, the celebrated ‘real time’ to which electronics alone has finally given us access. Others have already examined this question better than I can. This state of affairs, however, gives rise to the awful impression of encountering nothing but the most terrifying mental chaos everywhere.
In a Chinese city, sheltered from the prevailing winds by a hill and suffocated by its industrial pollution, the local experts conceived last year of a (logical) project of reducing the height of this bothersome hill by several hundred meters. Does this demented scheme make you laugh? Go ahead, laugh. But consider this: scientists have proposed dumping iron filings on the surface of the ocean in order to encourage plankton to collaborate more actively in the mitigation of the greenhouse effect; to tow the fresh water of icebergs to the Persian Gulf; to erect mountains of expanded polystyrene to trap clouds over the Rub al Khali; and engineers are now proposing to build an apartment block one kilometer high, flanked by a field of solar panels installed on 500 hectares of land, to the southwest of Sidney—for this Babylonian solar power plant is destined to supply the city dwellers of Australia with two hundred megawatts of domestic comfort—it is clear that plans to open up the Bielomorkanal, so long dreamed of by the Stalinist bureaucracy, are by no means a dead letter.
It is the outright inordinate scale of these schemes, which are based on the same shop-worn technical certainties, whether or not they are based on more or less scientifically demonstrable postulates, that confers a familiar air to these unhinged deliriums.4 Thus, such excesses will continue—when the most extravagant microscopic ambitions, bio- and nano-technological plans, for example, are encouraged, to cite only the most charismatic ones—and at first glance it seems that they only involve a new direction for the modern project of dominating, equalizing or subjecting the forces or resources of nature. But the spontaneous strategy of blitzkrieg has already demonstrated its limitations. Two centuries of scorched earth and collateral damages, human ones in particular, have rendered it materially inconceivable that there should be any retreat and no other option remains to the industrial coalition of the economy and technology besides going on the offensive. This pursuit of the offensive strategy imposes on it the imperative of producing in advance by its own devices the totality of conditions that appear to be indispensable for it, in addition to muddling through with the mechanisms required to convince itself that by attaching one prosthesis after another it will still be able to limp towards a possible future. Without ever being able to discern the effects of the slightest flap of the wings of the ubiquitous industrial butterfly.
It is often admitted that, directly or indirectly, methodically dismissed or only unforeseen, the consequences of industrialization have begun to raise an obstacle to certain excesses of techno-scientific imperturbability and the enormous idolatry of progress that levels mountains. At the same time, it is still utterly heretical to announce that technological knowledge or its achievements could encounter any but provisional limits, or that these limits might point to an obstacle that now acts as a constraint on them. This is awkwardly revealed, each in its own way, by that Australian solar project, or the resumption of the international program known as ITER, which is devoted to research on thermonuclear fusion: scientistic optimism is still vigorous, and not only in the context of propaganda speeches. For now, the obstacle, proposals regarding which call not for a frontal assault but rather an attempt to circumvent it, is the disturbing rebellion, the profound upheaval of the functional base to which this industrial society has reduced nature, by not seeing it as anything but a reserve of resources and a basin to collect its effluents and wastes. Existence is threatened with depletion; the sewer is overflowing.
What has come to be called “ecological awareness” is born from the nausea caused by this overflowing, which was so precociously discussed by Elisée Reclus: “Wherever the soil is ruined, all poetry disappears from the countryside, the imagination is extinguished, minds are impoverished, routine and servility seize people’s souls and predispose them to lethargy and death”.5 This situation has emerged over the last forty years, in the industrialized countries, when the threat of the silent spring6 was discovered to menace our sick planet. At the beginning it was merely a feeling, but one that correctly perceived the extent, washed by these fetid waters, of the obscenity of the new conformisms, of the sterile isolation, of the hygienic solitude of the deodorized and fattened multitudes. It was not yet capable of distinguishing the depletion of resources from the depletion of humanity, crippled by the exhortations of mass society, spiritually constrained by instrumentalist rationalism, physically separated from the natural world, led by the leash of the comforts of the poverty of the market, imprisoned in the spectacular system of appearances. Thus, against all of this the last insurrection of the senses would emerge, the final great frontal assault launched against the really existing capitalisms, an assault whose most advanced expression was the ‘French May’, one that proceeded by way of the simultaneous rejection of barracks socialism and the Welfare State that then held sway in the nations of the West.
Environmentalism, strictly speaking, is nothing but a product of the disorderly rout that would follow the defeat of that last frontal assault, and is one of the numerous fragmented ‘terrains of struggle’, substitutes for revolt (feminism, gay rights, anti-prohibitionism, terrorism, anti-consumerism, etc.) with a long half life, that would help modernize the restored order; an integral pacifism of a collective every-man-for-himself attitude that demands for everyone, as a right, free access to condoms, gas masks and iodine pills. Environmentalism would distinguish itself particularly by its harmful contributions to the movement in opposition to ‘civilian nuclear power’, counting becquerels, presenting its now-responsible counter-experts with their inept estimates of costs per Kilowatt/Hour, who went so far as to prefer, instead of ‘psychosis’, the timid pacification of populations, begging for the safety of reliable standards, loudly expressing their indignation about the alleged secrecy, which was in reality insolently public,7 maintained by the nuclear power industry about its activities; and forbidding the posing of the only really practical question: what strange necessities have led men to the condition in which they find themselves, peacefully suffering the nuclearization of the world? Only in this domain, that of choice, has environmentalism itself summarized the whole mechanical terror of contemporary man who, “in his anxiety in the face of anxiety”,8 insists on persuading himself that, after the bomb, and Chernobyl, Seveso, Bhopal, twenty oil spills, an ozone hole, thousands of square kilometers contaminated by asbestos, millions of hectares of devastated virgin forests, and the entire morbid litany of environmentalist lamentations, it is still humanly possible to go on without doing anything but asking how to get out of this hell by remaining within it.
Environmentalism, furthermore, has not hesitated to become political: such good intentions should not go unexercised. It found reinforcements, as early as 1972, in a good number of ‘summits’ and reports, reasonably specialized and alarmist,9 co-produced by international development bureaucracies and their spokespersons, NGOs and ‘civil society’ lobbies, all of which would compete from then on for the leadership of the movement. These reports demonstrate that progress has been derailed, that most of the goals established by the major international organizations since the Second World War are still unattainable, that armed conflicts continue to follow one another in continuous succession, that malnutrition and hunger are endemic, that development is still unequal, and that the rich countries have subordinated development goals to economic growth and the unlimited expansion of the productive forces, without taking into account their ‘negative externalities’. These reports provide detailed accounts of the new threats, pollution, global warming, and the depletion of fresh water resources, threats that are characterized by the fact that they are not restricted to the regions of the world where these problems originated. In addition to these threats, these reports described the functional illiteracy that is now combined with the pure and simple variety, various pandemics, the return (facilitated by poverty, war and overpopulation) of plagues that were thought to have been definitively suppressed, the multiplication of ‘illnesses of civilization’ and the new social pathologies, the growth of organized crime, geopolitical chaos, the insecurity and unhealthiness of the megalopolis and, summarizing them all, a worrying decline in numerous parameters of the Index of Human Development. This demoralizing inventory, however, has displayed a tendency to coordinated expansion, revealing what the economic indicators confirm, which one could have predicted, that the global quantity of ‘wealth’ produced has not ceased to rise in the interim. This is why, in 1987, the international community began to speak of committing to the idea of sustainable development,10 an inept chimera whose universal popularity itself summarizes the progress of imprisonment in the industrial mentality.
Nothing illustrates this more clearly than the blessings that are expected from recent advances in molecular biology. According to some, they will offer an elegant and ecological solution to the difficult problem of pollution of the soil by certain waste products, especially heavy metals, a solution that would make the activities of numerous industrial sectors ‘sustainable’. This new specialty is called bioremediation. Based on the fact that some wild plants exhibit the special property of accumulating via their root systems, and in some cases their above-ground parts, diverse toxic substances, organic compounds, metallic compounds and heavy metals, this discipline seeks to carry out an inventory of such plants, isolate their genes of interest, stimulate them through genetic engineering or directly transfer certain ‘hyper-accumulative’ genes to plants that are more adapted to local climates and will also produce more biomass. We can therefore have a natural remedy, one that also features the added advantage that, after incinerating the plants following their harvest, we will be able to extract an indefinitely recyclable raw material from their ashes.11
But it only gets better, as the newspaper Le Monde subsequently reported: “In the profuse family of extremophiles, bacteria capable of enduring the most fearsome conditions of temperature, pressure, acidity or toxicity, Deinococcus radiodurans is in a league of its own: this ‘strange bacteria that is capable of resisting the effects of radiation’, as its academic denomination expresses it, can survive levels of radiation 1,500 times greater than the fatal dose for other organisms […]. Some hope to make radiodurans, or other transgenic bacteria that have inherited its properties, convenient gravediggers for nuclear wastes.”12
Such very useful works appear to be poised to satisfy all the supporters of sustainable development. Evidently, the sustainable economy would benefit from them. The friends of the environment will have reasons to be satisfied insofar as these chimeras, when they become operative, will be supplemented by the operational means required to prohibit their dissemination. The friends of equality will only have to see to it that the non-patentability of life permits its access to the most disadvantaged.
The incivilities that nature displays in order to remind this society of its existence, the first society that simultaneously treated it like a barbarian, and relegated it to last place in civilization, have only increased. The justifiable and spreading impression of it as an ubiquitous threat camped before the gates, looming over our heads, threatening, like the "Brown Cloud" of South Asia, to darken the sky of the social technosphere. The latter discovers that it does not dispose of sufficient means to ensure its independence, and that its survival still depends on that hostile external world. It fears that it will not be able to replace it quickly enough with the totally artificialized world that will allow it to finally and totally emancipate itself from it. It nonetheless persists. Thus, a person like Philippe Marlière, founder and scientific director of Evologic, a company employing twenty researchers “in collaboration with Génoscope de Évry and the Scripps Research Institute of La Jolla (California)”, proudly announces their plans: “The goal is to re-program living organisms in order to provide them with either an expanded or reduced genetic alphabet. We expect to reorient the processes of evolution toward directions that have not been spontaneously explored by nature. We intend to produce bacteria descended from those that are adapted to the needs of industry and the environment. […] The risks connected with technological development must never be dismissed a priori. We are taking active measures to contain them. […] These techniques, which now exist, will allow for a relentless process of domestication of these new organisms. […] Naturalism is the trap of biological science. We shall not get anywhere by scrutinizing what exists, angstrom by angstrom, but by manufacturing artificial and alternative biodiversities.”13
In vain do we seek for the least objection to the pathological experimentalism of these totalitarian spooks. Silence all down the line. Unless you take seriously the symptomatic fevers that affect certain champions of radical naturism—I am thinking of deep ecology, the Gaia Hypothesis of James Lovelock and the ‘primitivism’ of John Zerzan—which rapidly enable us to see that, beyond the superficial differences of what passes for thought in these milieus, how they take to an extreme a very modern hatred of human history, one that is ultimately quite similar to the lucubrations of Fukuyama. But there was not even one philosopher-journalist of the sciences, techno-doubter, sociologist of intervention, knowledge broker, ethical busybody, or the least important university intellectual; all of them are evidently too busy with more important things to raise the alarm. Every one of them is working hard to open up an area of expertise, they are applying themselves to the genealogical quest for the sources of modernity (is it the fault of Moses, or Plato, or Descartes, or the Enlightenment?), they trace the metamorphoses of the feeling of nature, they search for the epistemological tool that would raise them at least to the level of the soles of Heidegger’s shoes. And because they have to prove that the gas mask does not mar the uniform, these lily-livered humanists support the lesser evil, and suggest with their special pathos that it is urgent to reflect on the conditions in which we can try to reconsider, not the war itself, but the modalities of the war waged by industrial society against nature and human nature, and propose, neither more nor less, “to seek society in its juridical foundations, to set the law in motion”.14
Very much at the top of the heap, only recently published in France and Spain, the book by Ulrich Beck, Risk Society,15 is only the most typical product of this trend. No one will be surprised to see someone like Bruno Latour fascinated by it—these analyses from 1986 are, of course, infinitely more penetrating than the gesticulations of some lackeys—so fascinated that he comically concludes his preface, entitled “Beck or How to Rehabilitate the Intellectual Equipment” (sic), with a revealing “something that is exceedingly rare in the intellectual world, Beck is not a critical thinker: he is a generous thinker”. This is because Beck, at least in his book, goes out on a limb, he takes a risk, and dares to articulate a coherent concept of the “(industrial) risk society”, which is “self-referential” and independent of the context of the satisfaction of human needs”, “the society of catastrophe” in which “the state of emergency threatens to become the normal condition”.
Right from the start, Beck correctly refutes the idea of a “post-industrial” era: “‘Post’ is the key to the confusion that rules the world of fashion”. What he calls “the risk society” is in his view nothing but a “new form” of industrial society. This assessment is reasonable. It is, he says, a society in which “nature is subordinated and exhausted”, which is obvious; in which “[nature] has been transformed from an external phenomenon to an internal phenomenon”, which, however, seems quite premature. In which, from “a given phenomenon it has become a produced phenomenon”, which can be verified. Thus, the risk society follows an early stage of industrial society, characterized by “the contrast between nature and society, […] a construct of the 19th century that serves the dual purpose of dominating and ignoring nature”. This is more specious: no one can believe that the 19th century in the West, since it is the West that we are talking about here, innovated nothing by “constructing” more than any previous century the opposition between society and nature; it inherited it and redirected it; the previously unimaginable power, brutality and expansionism of the system of industrial technology created the new conditions and the arsenal in which the illusory and catastrophic project of liquidating an opposition admitted to be of universal scope by dominating nature via the domination of men was armed. You do not need Carbon 14 to date the origins of and the course traced by this illusion.
That first stage may be characterized by the formula, perhaps too general, of Horkheimer: “The history of man's efforts to subjugate nature is also the history of man's subjugation by man.”16 Before the advent of modern industry, there are too many examples of symbiosis or of domestication rather than subjugation of nature, often combined with various modalities of the subjugation of man by man, which refute this postulate. And in this society that has succeeded industrial society, which Beck calls the Risk Society, we may doubt that it even makes any sense to resort to the convenience of categories such as subjugation or even exploitation of man by man as they were understood by the old revolutionary movement, when voluntary submission to the system is much more evocative of a process of domestication. Merely by dismissing the rituals of exorcism that they would like to use to disguise it, one may observe that the representations and the instruments that currently rule the totalitarian irrationality of the industrial Urbs is born from the womb of the long period of transition, which extended from the beginning of the First World War to the end of the Second World War, which imagined, explored or subjugated everyone with a first volley of tests.
In order to proceed to the essential of its exercise (that hallmark of critical sociology, still alive but somewhat flaccid, which shocks Latour so much that it makes him recognize it only as a relation of Bourdieu and Crozier), and to arrive at some quite vague reformist proposals, quite close to the neuroleptic nonsense of a Hans Jonas and the democratist idealism of the (federal) German ideology, Beck needs to erect something like a theoretical foundation for the program of resignation. He discerns quite well the profound autism of industrial society—these are the best analyses of Risk Society, except that Beck treats it as a mystery, with the critical theory of the Frankfort School; he considers it sociologically as a kind of historical conquest or an irreversible fait accompli.
By means of an ingenious maneuver, Beck proposes that, “the opposite of socialized nature is the socialization of the destruction of nature, its transformation into social, economic and political threats of the system of super-industrialized society”. But just what is included in this category of the destruction of “socialized” nature? The catastrophes that industrialization inflicts directly on nature and human nature? Those that a devastated nature, in the form of blowback, continues to cause in these increasingly dehumanized and incoherent societies? Or the natural catastrophes that will continue to take place and which on the surface seem hardly avoidable, even when their consequences are obviously aggravated by the organization of survival, as was just demonstrated by the latest earthquake in Algeria? Beck seeks to establish the unity of his risk society, but forgets to distinguish the cause and the effect of this society; and they will certainly continue to dispatch almost identical rescue squads and psychological counseling teams, and they will resort to the same procedures to control information, regardless of the purpose—earthquake, flood, revolt, nuclear meltdown, coup or oil spill—of their interventions “on the ground”.
Although he will still have to use an ideological ramrod and some shakes of dialectical talcum powder, this is enough for Beck to consider that the unstoppable disasters by means of which a sick and distorted nature warns us of its embarrassing reappearance leave us only one way out: to finally admit its “socialization”, to accept it as integrated into the closed circuit of industrial society. Perceiving it this way, this “peculiar mixture between nature and society” will operate in such a manner that “the consequences that human beings will suffer will not have anything to do with their actions, the damages they undergo will not have anything to do with their works, and in the meantime for our consciousness reality will undergo absolutely no change”. This concept seems to be shared at least by the trade unionists of AZF,17 combined with the painful cry, Never again, not here or anywhere else!—that contemporary No pasarán! that is just as incapable of stopping the progress of oil slicks and radioactive clouds as the original slogan was of stopping fascism—but how convenient it is, an enduring complaint of the patient that is not satisfied by his insurance coverage, in order to convince him that he swallowed the Prozac pill by accident, without reading the fine print. The reality, concerning which our refusal to face the anxiety that it implies constitutes an attempt to persuade our senses that everything is proceeding without any changes, is obviously the main enemy of the chaotic self-reproduction of the industrial world. In order to resolve this insolent contradiction nature must be declared to have been “socialized”, in order to deny everything that is not of the technocosmos and to surround it with a mirror that only reflects its image, depriving sight of all perspective, of any possibility of flight towards any point at all that lies outside the social totality. There are those who have recognized, re-arising by way of this incredible detour, the Andersian theme of the laboratory that is coextensive with the world, with which Beck of course is acquainted and which he recycles in such an astonishing way.
The seduction that the theses of Risk Society appears to exercise does not imply—Beck would assess it as the deficit of “reflexive modernization”—that the distortion of perspective that they propose has been perceived for what it is, nor that it has even been understood by the various factions, extremists or moderate, of the party of submission, regardless of the benefits and results they may derive from them. The discrepancy, pointed out by Beck, that exists between the effective modernization of industrial society and its comprehension, while the adequate procedures of social emergency have already been implemented, itself explains why none of these factions are yet prepared to invoke the theoretical justification that Beck offers them.
By pausing to consider the assumptions that lie behind Risk Society, I have sought to refute the idea, which has been so smoothly insinuated into our era, that “the end of ideology”, at first embraced with relief, is the reason for our contemporary confusion. That is not at all the case. Ideological rehabilitation is following its course and domestication knows how to strike at the essential in order to find reasons to continue its forward progress, with its eyes on the ground and its feet plunged into the wastes of the world. The short history of the “anti-GMO struggle” in France has, from this perspective, amounted to somewhat more than just another experience: it is a kind of model.
The anti-GMO agitation in France can be divided into two periods or, if you prefer, two distinct campaigns. The first extended from January 1998 to June 1999. By exposing, on the basis of a case as obvious as agriculture, “the normal course of submission in becoming a fait accompli” and the latest outlines of the project for the artificialization of life, the actions carried out to destroy experimental GMO crops that followed the attack on the Novartis factory in Nérac, almost all of which were openly carried out by a fraction of the Farmers Confederation, a small organization of left wing farmers, ecologists, small consumers groups and a few small groups of independent anti-progress activists, helped to bring about, quickly enough, real economic damage to various pharmaceutical-chemical companies that had been hastily reconverted to agricultural genetic engineering. Some of them were forced to restructure or even just abandon their operations (the latter, however, only applies to the food sector, since the pharming18 sector emerged from the campaign almost intact).
The French state, but also the European Union and its member states, were obliged to disguise their inexperience and confusion, which comprise the cross that must be borne by the modern states in these matters, as the price of the democratic process (technophilic voluntarism and economic interests or “the precautionary principle”?). If they are still capable of initiating and financing huge programs and, on the other hand, of occasionally attenuating and postponing (what the civil society movement calls regulating) certain marginal effects of the autonomous development of the economy or, more accurately, of the automatic unfolding of technological innovations, all the effectiveness of the real prerogatives that remain to it are only capable of conferring a varnish of déjà vu upon the unprecedented processes of social decomposition that are underway in our time and upon the means with which they intend to deal with them. These adepts of innovation therefore curiously confirm that old observation according to which “[h]e who desires or attempts to reform the government of a state, and wishes to have it accepted and capable of maintaining itself to the satisfaction of everybody, must at least retain the semblance of the old forms…. For the great majority of mankind are satisfied with appearances, as though they were realities, and are often even more influenced by the things that seem than by those that are”.19 This is why our contemporaries can still believe, on a scale that singularly calls to mind the results of the elections held in those nations that are considered to be non-democratic, that the simulacrum of their existence has something in common with what could still be called life in the days before World War Two, or even life as it was lived thirty years ago. The same thing can be said of power, regardless of what those who exercise it or suffer from it may assume. And the same goes for the nature of their submission.
Thus, public opinion, duly informed by the press, is careful not to evince anything but a distracted indifference. Statistically studied by the surveys of the public opinion industry,20 seventy-six percent of the respondents nonetheless declared that they were concerned yet prepared to remain calm if the necessary measures are taken to subject the agro-genetic innovations of the multinationals to study by independent scientific experts, that is, studies carried out by the competent investigators of public research, having learned that such studies are carried out in other, similar cases.
The Government, disturbed by the judicial setbacks inflicted on certain former cabinet members due to their confessed responsibility for massive contamination scandals,21 and quite tempted to share any responsibility that might in the future be imputed to it, dared to give an ad hoc parliamentary committee (this kind of committee now exists in every modern state) the mission of convoking a “consensus conference”.22 These guided labors of participatory democracy, innovative although partaking of the old tradition of televised conferences, could only confirm the results of the polls. They did so, precisely.23
For those who would still attempt to judge a movement of opinion by its effects—this disused way of measuring a popular emotion, when it exists, seemed for a long time the only possible way of doing so—this hardly disputable apathy should have constituted, in itself, a cause for bewilderment.
Such a lack of certainty was unbearable and, above all, inconceivable for the few groups of militants who were then interested in the question. Any point of view, regardless of its provenance, that was not openly opposed to their own positions, environmental or “socialized”, of rejection of GMO crops, seemed to them to be capable of being invoked indiscriminately; it supported, in their opinion, not only the legitimacy of their positions but also their right to uphold them. Deus ex machina, the resource of the Farmers Confederation was for them in this context unexpected and they continued to insist on the style of action of Nérac, which was so opposed to its methods. Everyone saw that thanks to this style they could intervene and demand a podium from which they could express their opinions on sustainability and the precautionary principle.
The same reticence persisted, furthermore, within the Farmers Confederation. A specific argument had been raised within the Confederation, focused on the emergence of the dependence of the farmers on the seed producing companies, but there was hardly any unanimity for proceeding any further with the question, especially in such a brutal manner, and only a solidarity action could overcome the most deep-seated reticence. Consensus, however, was achieved. It was based on the demand for a moratorium that, stricto sensu, established various conditions that obviated in advance any possibility that the moratorium would be permanent; everyone, however, agreed to this demand with relief.
“Farmers, environmentalists and consumers” triumphantly attempted to demand all at once, when circumstances should allow for it, prohibition and moratoria, a real democratic debate, public reports of experts, real accountability, separate sectors, acceptable levels of contamination, etc., always resorting to that plaintively moralistic tone, but sure of their rights, that Le Monde Diplomatique, the Farmers Confederation and the Greens have specialized in (the latter making an attempt to wash their ministerial hands), before being transformed, a little later, into the hallmarks of the civil society movement. The invocation of the most inconsequential “tactical decisions” thus reflected pure and simple confusion.
However, if the anti-GMO campaign, when it really began in France in January 1998 with the sabotage of Nérac, took place suddenly after several mollifying debates between authorized consciences, numerous clandestine attacks on experimental GMO crops had already been carried out in the United States, either in confined environments or in open fields, in 1987, in response to the retirement of the placebos prescribed by the conference of Asilomar;24 and such actions were especially numerous in Germany.25 They were committed by “activists” who were often associated with the deep ecology movement and hardly had any influence on the anemic legalist protest movement, which was becoming increasingly more festive and colorful, as was to be expected, of the responsible and specialized environmentalist and consumer groups.
Another very prosaic reality came into view: in addition to the hundreds or thousands of hectares of experimental crops, there were tens of millions of hectares of commercial GMO crops already cultivated on other continents, without any noticeable reaction, with the exception, it would seem, of India. Merely from the point of view of the dissemination of GMOs in the environment—or in other words, from the point of view of the spread of the experimental domain of molecular biology to the test tube of the entire planet—it would seem just as difficult to refrain from considering this information as it would to refrain from scrutinizing the conditions in which this vast demonstration of force could be executed.
Unless you believe in spontaneous generation, the construction of a real movement capable of constituting an obstacle, even if only limited to France or to Europe, made this understanding an indispensable prerequisite. However, the cyber-activism that had begun to wreak havoc in Europe and the kind of mental attitudes that it demands, and the hypnotic state of mind it entails, easily replaced the effort that would have been necessary to confirm what the continuous circulation of emails has been claiming in broadband regarding the rise of the expected worldwide resistance movement. Furthermore, a reaction of terror instantly answered any attempt, no matter how cautious, to spread “the problematic of the GMOs” even a little further. Except for ad nauseam dissertations on the crimes of the multinational corporations.
In February 1998, the publication on the internet of a particularly demented comprehensive free trade project, the Multilateral Accord on Investment, discretely elaborated within the OECD, was enough to cause this Accord to be shelved indefinitely. This success, largely attributable to the telecommunications efficacy of lobbyists in the employ of numerous organizations, all equally “anti-GMO”, not only strengthened the most economistic perspectives of the critique of genetic engineering but also immobilized it in this comfortable simplification.
Under these conditions, the most important point of disagreement within the ranks of the “opposition” was still the diverse interpretations of the ridiculous precautionary principle. The most pro-progress elements, who were also the most numerous, called for its application. Others had conceived of the idea of its strict observance, and immediately began to apply it on their own initiative. These radically opposed versions, however, which the “activist” factions would later apply to understanding the “direct actions” that they had jointly carried out, ultimately revealed the real dividing line.
We must not be surprised that such irreconcilable attitudes should have somehow coexisted during this first period. This can hardly be avoided during the first stages of a conflict, and as a result of this mixing, the antagonisms will necessarily arise which never take long to clarify the existing positions and cause everyone to occupy their rightful position. It does not exempt anyone from drawing conclusions or from expressing them.
Already, my “Declaration before the Tribunal of Agen”,26 even though it was characterized by a certain moderation, immediately led to expressions of rampant and hostile spite. At least part of what I proclaimed to the Court was more or less admitted among these detractors. As a result, they instead took issue with the tone, which was so bitterly vexing for its departure from the militant’s aura of suffering that it led some of the most perspicacious to doubt the orthodoxy of the discourse, while others only seemed to be surprised because they could not recognize the usual litany of the responsible slogans disseminated by the specialized NGOs. At the same time, however, this “Declaration”, reproduced on several occasions, encountered a kind of popularity, a vague approval whose most singular characteristic was nonetheless the fact that it did not continue, not even among those who were the least regimented. This phenomenon is worthy of note because it is representative of the confusion and the inconsistency that played such a determinant role throughout the episode that they can be considered to have provided the latter with its most salient meaning.
Thus, we can hardly escape the conclusion that there is something like a specific deficit of understanding in this form of tele-communion that must repeatedly derive the most insignificant practical conclusion from the points of view that it professes to support. This feature, shared by an increasingly more overwhelming number of our contemporaries, is the master lock that must be broken by any attempt to arm—to elaborate, to disseminate and to subject to discussion—any critical project.
The sabotage, at the beginning of June 1999, of a greenhouse that contained GMO rice, at CIRAD, a state agronomic institute devoted to “cooperation” with the former French colonies, triggered the momentary crystallization in extremis of a tangible line of demarcation. I have already pointed out why CIRAD was chosen as a target, and the occasion, the transit of the “Intercontinental Caravan”, that provided the context for this operation. And I still tranquilly assume responsibility for it and its consequences.
I shall take this opportunity, however, to set forth some clarifications concerning the course of events and the circumstances that preceded the incident. Not for purely anecdotal purposes, but because they alone can illustrate my words. The idea of this caravan had taken shape, it would seem, in 1998, within a recently created internationalist “network”, People’s Global Action, a group in favor of direct action, and an improbable aggregation of pre-multitudista but still “anticapitalist” young European squatters, Canadian postal workers, representatives of Italian “social centers”, Brazilian landless activists, Columbian cleaning women, members of the English group, Reclaim the Streets, Indian peasants, etc. Having provided itself with minimalist permanent structures, the PGA did not exist outside of its assemblies, which were the only institutions empowered to speak in its name. The idea for the caravan seems to have come from a “delegate” of the Indian peasants, a “professor Nanjundaswamy”, known as “Swamy”, who was thought to be a kind of “charismatic” leader of a powerful organization (ten million members, they said) of the village communities of the state of Karnataka, in the south of India, the KRSS. The idea was to stage a European tour of several weeks for 450 peasants from “the countries of the South”, during the course of which the participants would engage in demonstrations and “non-violent direct actions” against “centers” of finance, militarism, industry and research facilities, chosen in conjunction with the “welcome groups”, which would help them and provide support for their actions.
The manifesto of the caravan, a long text that was obviously written by this Indian leader and a European “activist”, was entirely abandoned to the robotic repetition of the rhetoric of anti-globalization, in a “radical” version, but also displayed, particularly with regard to the question of the modernization of the underdeveloped countries, a relative lucidity; it had the merit of being quite explicit about the choice of direct action and affirming the autonomy of the caravan with respect to any parliamentary or institutional organization, party or trade union: the caravan was experimental and ephemeral, and only its manifesto and its actions can speak for it; the “welcome groups” declared their agreement with the demands of the Caravan and committed themselves to helping to put them into practice. This fine program was made even better insofar as those who were party members and supported the Caravan, who were numerically weak, poorly represented along the itinerary of the tour and completely lacking any means to carry out such a serious operation, were often unable to dominate the “Welcome Groups”. Some managed to do so, and others allowed them to succeed and allowed themselves to be used for all the subsequent recuperations.27
In France, the minuscule number of individuals—including me—who had assumed responsibility for coordination of this event did not suffer from the same faults and obstinately persisted in trying to see to it that the principles of the group should be respected. The specialists of every kind of solidarity, who were all the more enthusiastic proponents of solidarity insofar as they hoped to obtain some kind of advantage for their empty churches, did not see it the same way as we did; they sabotaged as much as they could, in every imaginable way, the efforts of our small handful of irresponsible individuals, who represented nothing and lacked realism, who went so far as to rigidly cling to a handful of principles, principles that were furthermore incomprehensible. Although this lack of understanding was in this case obviously biased, it had the same origins and the same mechanisms as the kind of misunderstanding I mentioned above.
These maneuvers could have been prevented if the sabotage of CIRAD had been carried out at the beginning of the French itinerary of the caravan. The fragility of the logistics, which were undermined everywhere, prevented this from happening. This also forced us to renounce other objectives that nonetheless deserve to be mentioned, since their mere enumeration—the Center of Scientific and Technical Studies of Aquitaine in the Gironde, a mill in Nantes, the IP4 laboratory in Lyon, the “Chemical Platform of Toulouse-Sur” (SNPE, ONIA-AZF)—suffices to refute all the retrospective reductive interpretations of what was done at CIRAD, and which would have presupposed, as we wished, a distinctive and useful act of counter-sabotage of the various maneuvers we expected.
It would be idle to repeat the details of the operation. It began well. The state, its scientific community and its thinkers spluttered with indignation and virulently condemned the obscurantist procedures of the enemies of progress. Evidently, the “anti-GMO” activists tried to lay claim to an excess that they could not openly repudiate, but without being able to offer any responses at all to the complaints of the cabinet ministers, researchers and philosophers who refuted their inept arguments one after another. Did you call for research and public reports by experts, independent of the corporations? That is what you sabotaged. Did you protest in favor of the development of the Third World? You attacked an institution whose generous vocation was precisely that. Are you opposed to the dissemination of GMO pollen? You attacked a quarantined greenhouse. Are you opposed to American domination over Europe? Europe had financed what you destroyed. Then these activists tried to proclaim the lie that the research that had been destroyed was the object of a collaborative project involving a multinational. This was false. All that was left was the absence of transparency, the botanical risks and their good intentions. The Farmer’s Confederation was also shaken up by the affair, and when it finally recovered its composure, not without difficulties, as a result of the stimulus of responding to repression, it authorized one of its members to declare that “this destruction of public experimental installations [is contrary to] the position of the Farmer’s Confederation, which is to support the demand for a five year moratorium on GMOs, precisely in order to carry out more research”.28 The rout was complete. Among those who had attended the sabotage without participating in it, some whined about the fact that they had not been warned—maybe by television?—about the nature of the damages that would be incurred in their presence. The most beautiful thing was to hear others strive to explain that what they had wanted to do there was entirely different from the media reports that claimed that they had wanted to do what they did. This convenient schizophrenia had quite a future ahead of it, as we would soon learn.
However, by degree or by force, despite all these contortions, everyone became aware of the difficulties encountered in the attempts to make this inconceivable attack presentable by reducing it to a protest against the deviations of public research that had been led astray by shady deals with “private interests” or lost to its fate in the desperate quest for returns on its investments. Are these attacks on public research the result of some kind of “misunderstanding”, as a text signed by several hundred researchers sought to make us believe,29 or were they rather deliberate attacks on research as such? In a society corroded by numerous anxieties, the terrain would have been shifted in an unprecedented way if it was possible to establish the rejection of democratic debate, the denial of social dialogue. There was no way to stop this moment of truth from unfolding.
The chickens would come home to roost. Three weeks after the sabotage, after a series of police raids, the forces of order detained and then charged three persons, among them Bové and myself, relying on multiple conjectures, based on the video images of the cameras brought by Bové and a confusionist pamphlet whose dissemination I had prohibited, but too late. The report was voluminous but omitted certain elements. The bus that transported the Indians had been intercepted by the police; we resolved to do without these exotic criminals. An act of imprudence, which was not my responsibility, had permitted the identification, due to the automatic collaboration of the telephone “providers”, of a contact inside CIRAD. The authorities refrained from pursuing this uncomfortable lead any further. To the contrary, they spent a great deal of effort to establish the identity of the person whose fingerprints—Benjamin Péret would have laughed at this—were discovered on a mysterious letter found at the site of the crime: Let’s Unmask the Researchers and Evacuate the Laboratories. But they refused to examine the telephone records that would have allowed them to reconstruct without much difficulty the sparse organizational chart of the caravan. The police are, of course, sometimes clueless when faced with organizational methods foreign to hierarchical functioning, but in this case their purpose was above all to incriminate the Farmer’s Confederation as expeditiously as possible. The examining magistrate proved to be quite pleased with having to work with such a “complete” report. So they left it at that.
This solution was for the best. It is better to uphold the hypothesis of a misunderstanding and then to address it, to which the communications media devoted themselves in the most responsible way. Every “protester”, all the “actors”, with the Farmer’s Confederation in the lead, agreed about the urgency of reestablishing an authentic social dialogue. This is why they began to recite, since it never fails to work, the old refrain about “repression of trade unions”.30 There was no lack of voices raised in protest against the abyss that separated scientific institutions from society. The leadership of CIRAD admitted that, despite its efforts, its facility suffered from a communications deficit that it was going to try to correct not just with regard to the public, but also internally. At Montpellier a working group was formed to establish communication between researchers and farmers. Discussions were underway behind the scenes concerning the creation of an institute for sustainable development. There was talk, mezza voce, about reorienting public research; there was even some talk about a civil society-based science.
The pressure was not great enough to incite even one researcher to cancel his vacation, but we sowed some very bad seeds at CIRAD. They began to germinate slowly. On August 12, in Charente-Maritime, apparently sick of the delays of “opposition”, a group that assumed the fantastic name of “Enragés en Campagne” [Enragés in the Countryside],31 destroyed three hectares of Monsanto maize; this experience, however, became the object of public debate, surely quite successful since it lasted three weeks. This first clandestine sabotage would be the last action of the first campaign. The latter had been carried out almost entirely openly.
Its greatest merit was to reestablish the practice of sabotage, as it was understood by workers direct action before trade unionism extirpated even its memory from the ranks of the industrial workers. The campaign had thus distanced itself from the conciliatory turn-the-other-cheek attitude that characterized from their origins most of the struggles against one or another harmful phenomenon. The active participation of a number of farmers prevented it from being reduced to a protest of consumers, users or victims, as was so often the case involving those movements in opposition to harmful phenomena whose perspective could be summarized as an appeal to the public powers to reduce pollution or to change the planned route of a project like the High Speed Train, excusing themselves from any responsibility for the reproduction of the system of needs that made such things indispensable. This first campaign reminded us that it is still possible to firmly reject the role assigned to people in this system of production and reproduction, and to do so “in the name of the most universal interests”. And this was no small achievement.
Also on August 12, the “dismantling” of the McDonald’s at Millau took place. As everyone knows, the success of this event, well designed to take advantage of the sanctity of agriculture by flirting with a little illegality under police vigilance, was not expected. The fact, however, that it was conceived by some advocates of direct action against genetic engineering, its different goals, methods and motives, as well as the media saturation caused by the judicial circus it unleashed, gave a decisive turn to anti-GMO actions. The young judge who made José Bové famous was not so stupid, after all.
Suddenly the little world of the anti-GMO activists got a little more breathing space. They had finally found a way to avoid sliding down the slope of adventurism that threatened to drag them down; they could include GMOs in the pseudo-critique of bad food, and label them a symptom of “neoliberal globalization”, they could view them as a perverse but reversible instance of “commodification” that could thus be transformed into a subsidiary issue. The enthusiastic interest of the communications media in broadcasting the existence of these dangers was not at all surprising. It was just a continuation of the applause that had been lavished in 1986 on the emergence of the “moral generation”, anticipating the role that would be played in 1995 by a new kind of strike committee,32 one that promoted car-pooling among the non-strikers and offered the strikers, with the collaboration of qualified experts, the “project of society” (the return to the “civilization of public service”) that they seemed to be demanding. This same enthusiastic interest guaranteed this outrageous retreat by expediting the grant of the certificate of legitimacy that had been vainly begged for until then: from then on they could rest assured that authentic questions of society would be posed; the newspaper said so.
Those who sought to continue on the course embarked upon at CIRAD agreed that it was undoubtedly preferable to postpone their projects for a while. The truce lasted about ten months. From June 2000 to October 2001, a second campaign of acts of sabotage, all clandestine, once again assumed the offensive, picking up where the first one left off, demonstrating with more or less skill that its participants knew they had to fight on two fronts at once, against the “research and development” of GMOs as well as against the mystifications of its civil society-based pseudo-opposition. In June, some “Nocturnal Researchers” carried out sabotage against experimental tobacco, Arabidopsis and alfalfa plants in an INRA greenhouse in Toulouse. In September, in Anjou, some “Enemies of Genetic Modification and Its World” (who were immediately denounced by the Farmer’s Confederation, ATTAC and some local agro-biologists as “a hindrance to [their] efforts, whose goal was essentially to establish transparency and to modify the laws”) destroyed a parcel of GMO maize owned by Biogemma. In December, in Montauban, a group calling itself “Pissed Off and Angry” destroyed several tons of Pioneer GMO seeds that were destined for the Spanish market. These clandestine acts of sabotage prepared the ground for a dozen operations, both claimed and unattributed, that would take place in September and October of 2001 throughout the country. Groups with clever, more or less evocative names, such as the “Ravagers” or the “Anti-Scientistic Obscurantists” or the “Destroyers of Evil by the Root”, the “Fed-up Wild Boars”, the “Unconfined”, etc., would issue their challenge, one way or another, to the substitutes for direct action that were being carried out under the standard of the Farmer’s Confederation, by various farmers and by the militants of the Green Party and ATTAC.33
The Farmer’s Confederation was, as it turned out, paradoxically obliged to participate in the “struggle against GMOs” despite the risks this entailed, after the CIRAD affair, due to the uncontrolled demands indulged in by the extremists. At the risk of merely appearing to be just another little leftist group in the crowds of the counter-summits, demonstrations in support of the “undocumented” or among the “human shields” of the crapulous Arafat, the Confederation had to reaffirm its “farmers’ credentials” one way or another. Its hardly charismatic commercial basis as a professional trade union, a hot air factory for bureaucratic controls devoted to the attempt to bring about an egalitarian reform of European agricultural policies, did not make this task any easier. It could only seek to make its presence felt in every arena that public opinion and the media perceived as involving agriculture. Since the “recognition of civil society” was enough to justify its spectacular leadership over the civil society movement, the Confederation perhaps dissimulated the weakness of its real representativeness in the agricultural sector. It even allowed Bové to issue an “ultimatum” to the French government: if it did not destroy all the GMO crops by August 12, 2001, the citizens would do it for the government.
The citizens effectively destroyed four parcels of GMO crops, in the South of the country. A new terminology was employed to describe these “neutralizations” in order to dispense with talk of destruction or ransacking. From then on, “harvest” was the militant euphemism, like the famous “dismantling”, the only politically correct, rustic and convivial word that was fitting to designate an act committed under the aegis of “the necessity defense”. Which necessarily exonerated the harvesters from any legal responsibility in the case that—an intolerable scandal—their status as trade unionists was not enough to guarantee their fundamental rights,34 and they are exposed to the undignified treatment meted out to “common criminals”. In other regions they limited themselves to experimenting with new forms of non-violent direct action, whose contents can be summarized as follows: a) impose the most extreme discretion on the militants in order to prepare for the demonstration; b) notify the local media in advance; c) express in front of the cameras your indignant surprise at seeing the riot police had already arrived; d) negotiate with the police in order to obtain an interview with the cabinet director of the subprefect; e) direct the demonstrators to peacefully disperse . The journalists then assumed responsibility for creating a sea of images from this mass of bird droppings.
An anonymous text entitled To the Anti-GMO Movement was distributed in May 2001. Among other things, one could read in this text the following: “[…] the fundamental nature of industrial and market society is its inability to allow the interruption or even the slowing down of its self-development. We wouldn’t dream of helping it to achieve this. We must endeavor to interrupt it wherever we can….” No one knows if this enigmatic program faithfully reflected the ambitions of the groups of clandestine saboteurs. In this case, although excellent, they were unfortunately not sufficient to prevent their enclosure in such a perfect secrecy that today one can almost doubt that such numerous and such perfectly executed acts of sabotage ever took place. Who was responsible? Was it possible to avoid this defect?
Some of the communiqués published by these groups35 suffer from the defect of having been subordinated—as has been noted—to other, more technical, considerations. One or two display a strange moderation and restrict themselves to discussing the most conventional topics, in a mild tone, as if their authors still thought it was possible to deal tactfully with the illusions of the civil society movement, or they imagined that their rhetorical restraint had the least possibility of deceiving anyone. The press was not fooled, in any event. The press knew how to immediately distinguish between the good examples of civil society passivity and these annoying examples, circumventing the latter with the greatest discretion, except for two notable exceptions. The first concerns the sabotage at INRA in Toulouse that we mentioned above, because in this case, as at CIRAD, it was an attack on a public research institution, and also because they were terrified that its authors could have been members of the research community.
The second concerns the “decontamination”36 carried out in the Drôme on August 11, 2001, “without waiting for compliance with the ‘ultimatum’ established for August 12”, at “four fields of maize genetically modified by the Meristem Therapeutics corporation […] so that their DNA would express the gastric lipase of a dog, for medical purposes”. It was the first attack undertaken, “by a mysterious organization, the Limes à grain”37 (Le Parisien), against pharming, that monstrous embryo that the pharmaceutical industry would like to implant in the still fertile womb of industrial agriculture.
On the first page of Le Monde,38 Alain Catala, the director general of Limagrain, an affiliate of Meristem Therapeutics, violently denounced certain actions and discourses that “reveal a totalitarian and obscurantist frame of mind [of] pseudo-crusaders for justice [who] proclaim a triple disdain: towards the ill […], towards research and the scientific community, accused of working at the expense of the population […], towards all dialogue, towards democracy and finally towards the laws of the Republic, by way of a deliberate call to arms”.39 Nor did he spare the drivel about the “sick people who are hopefully awaiting the promising experimental results of the research of Meristem Therapeutics”.
People, here and elsewhere, are beginning to tire of the charity scam of the Telethon and its promised imminent experimental results, a promise that is never fulfilled, in the treatment of cancer or the so-called genetic diseases, especially those that are defined as orphan diseases. Things have reached the point where these con artists, sensing that the wind is changing, are beginning to reluctantly admit that, of course, the map of the human genome is not the whole territory of life, and they are becoming more evasive about the deadlines they think they can establish for their future victories over tragedy. Victories that, ten years ago, were promised to take place within ten months, are now postponed to ten years from now, and those that were announced to be within our grasp in the span of three months are postponed to the end of the century.
“One of the greatest hopes of this new medical industry […], one of the very rare attempts at genetic therapy in the world that has demonstrated real efficacy”,40 the experimental treatment of children affected by hereditary immunodeficiency (the “bubble children”) carried out in Unit U-429 of INSERM at the Necker Hospital, however, was suspended several months ago. It was noted that one, and then two, of the seven children who were thought to have been cured after having been treated with gene therapy developed a particular form of Leukemia—which will have to be treated with chemotherapy—that was probably caused by the unfortunate proximity of an oncogene at the moment of insertion—a necessary risk—of the transgene in their genomes. The resumption of the experiments will be contingent on an “enormous labor” of evaluation of the risk “of such accidents”, a labor that “could take months”. According to professor Alain Fischer, one of the inventors of the treatment, “if the risk of an accident is one in every thousand treatments, this would be acceptable, considering the extreme seriousness of the disease, but it would not be acceptable if the risk of serious complications was ten percent”.41
Not even a person like Catala could avoid devoting himself to this kind of analysis of the “risk-benefit relation” in the experiment. If the “experimental results” of the research of Meristem Therapeutics promises benefits, these benefits will accrue to the corporation: the use of gastric lipase in the treatment of the illnesses associated with cystic fibrosis or pancreatic cancer is not a therapeutic innovation. It is a treatment whose goal, unfortunately, is not to cure the victims but to contain the illness. The technological innovation that consists in having produced lipase via genetically modified maize, while offering the advantage of eliminating the risks connected with using animal cells, offers above all the advantage of being more profitable than their production confined in a bioreactor, which, at least, leaves no room for the risk of the pharmaco-dissemination that was provisionally terminated by Limes à Grain one morning in August 2001.
One may regret that in this case, as crude as it was, the swindle was not more explicitly exposed by the communiqué issued to claim responsibility for the operation, so as to give this pseudo-philanthropic scam its comeuppance. But ultimately this does not matter very much, since from the beginning, and a fortiori, at this stage of the conflict, the truth of this or that argument was not at stake, because in any event there was no one to listen, to understand or to discuss it. It would, after all, be slight consolation to attribute to the simulacra of civil society opposition to GMOs the decisive responsibility for the overwhelming apathy of the public. In this matter, as in so many others, the civil society movement, by providing a scenic backdrop for passivity, only proposes its extremist reflection. No one could ever think of suddenly provoking, miraculously, a real hostility to neo-technologies or even only to agricultural GMOs; the goal of the second campaign was limited, in fact, to disturbing as much as possible the automatic operation of this fait accompli, provoking enough dysfunctions and damages to delay the research, in order to see if the old adage that time lost for research is time gained for consciousness is true.
Almost all the GMO “operators” and crusaders perceived the danger to their immediate interests. An extreme example of what a vigorous campaign of sabotage can accomplish was provided in Belgium, where a single demand “for authorization for dissemination” (later rejected) was proposed for the industry in 2003. Catala provides a faithful reflection of the concerns of the latter: “Do we have to knuckle under to these terrorists […], renounce research, experimentation, innovation, progress […], abandon the national territory and relocate to other countries, as so many others have? Of course not! Our duty is to carry on our research with resolve […], bring to trial those who are destroying our experiments […] as well as those who are encouraging others to commit these acts of destruction.” The time has come to condemn these terrorists for treason, at least, as they are responsible for “business relocation” that is hastening the decline of the European arena for research even more rapidly than the crisis of the professions and the brain drain, caused and perpetuated by the very same movement of the modernization of research industries.
The groups that participated in the second campaign of sabotage can at least lay claim to this achievement. Not having been able to open a larger breach in the wall of confusion, having conferred a fleeting shimmer of radicality to the anti-GMO civil society protestors, the minor mistakes mentioned above, this element of failure—that was at any rate foreseeable—that attached to their attempts helps even more to highlight the importance of the almost immediate understanding by “the main enemy”, if it is possible to express it this way, every time some qualitatively more ambitious goals are proposed which, in a clandestine manner, reproduce the sabotage of experimental crops carried out in the first campaign, in relation to which the actions simultaneously staged by the civil society movement were only a parody. But it is never desirable to allow oneself to become intoxicated by a few well-aimed blows and mistake the games of clandestinity for war itself. The real repression bides its time. The saboteurs are not mistaken in their judgment that it is useless to repeatedly expose themselves to it if, as they say, they have chosen to scatter their activities randomly; they would suffer in isolation and indifference. It is better to intervene where no one expects it. This is not said lightly. You cannot get anywhere wearing stilts in this new stage of the industrial war waged against humanity: it did not begin with the mere eruption of genetic technologies and first we have to begin by saying where this stage came from, and upon what “anthropological defeat” it feeds.
However unstable the progress made during the course of the campaigns may be judged, those who participated in them do not have to be ashamed of what they did. Continuously marginalized by the empire of progressivism, these campaigns are, together with the reasons they have championed in their confrontation with genetic engineering, the reasons for opposing the continuing process of the industrialization of the world that has culminated with their resurgence in what no one dares to call the public space of contemporary chaos. The shock, the indignation, the hostility, but also the insults, the threats, and above all the deceptions that have greeted this fragile resurgence have already rendered them homage.
The relatively exposed position in which I found myself during the course of these operations could not but earn me various attacks and crusading condemnations. Some of these merit commentary. One observation is in order, however: except for a few exceptions (one or two diatribes whose motive is, all too visibly, resentment, and the innocent joke about the anti-industrial shepherd who threatens to return to his sheep), I have not been the target of very many of those criticisms, more or less correctly referred to as ad hominem, that I considered to be inevitable. The reason for this is right before our eyes: anyone who goes to prison is generally considered to be untouchable, from the moment when the punished crime is “ideological” and no blood has been uselessly spilled. Except in what remains of the “radical media”, no one has attempted to discredit the positions, called reactionary, that I advocate. In the swamp of the civil society movement, on the other hand, not only have they abstained from ad hominem criticisms, but from all criticism whatsoever. Why give publicity to this eccentric distant cousin, a little bothersome with his obsession with disturbing the festive unanimity on each judicial stage? It is enough to refer to him when it seems opportune to point to a supplementary victim of the “repression of the social movement”.
The verdict of the first trial in Montpellier, which took place in February 2001, was announced in March. It was rather lenient. A suspended sentence of eight months in prison for the two principal defendants, considered to be repeat offenders, makes it clear that the court judged that the civil society makeover given to the sabotage campaign was sufficiently mature, upheld the hypothesis that it was all a misunderstanding—which it had already fostered by making the courtroom into a kind of talk show—and assumed the part that it was supposed to play in the complaisant efforts of all those who wanted the whole thing to end by calming down the players and finally forgetting the trauma caused by the crime. The court refused to accept that the crime had been committed under the influence of the “necessity defense”, but agreed de facto that it performed a “warning function”.42 Thus, the only aspect of the crime that was really punished, by way of a final warning without any consequences, was the “violence” that had turned a good question (regardless of the answer the competent authorities would give) into a poorly posed question.
Only the “anti-industrial” activists and, from the opposite viewpoint, certain members of the leadership of CIRAD, still refused to agree with such a conclusion. The latter had every reason, on the other hand, to satisfy Bové and his entourage, except that they were stupid enough to expect a peaceful sentencing. Bové, however, immediately appealed the sentence, and I was thus obliged to follow suit since the case would be tried again. I was concerned primarily with avoiding being dragged through the indignity of a reprise of the farces staged in February. This is why I submitted the two books containing my texts to the court, appeared without counsel and left immediately after delivering a succinct explanatory declaration43 that earned me the hostility of a nervous prosecutor of the Republic, who considered me to be a fascist because of my outrageous refusal to engage in dialogue. The verdict, once again submitted to examination, was announced on December 20. This time we were sentenced to serve six months in prison, in addition to the revocation of the suspension of the previous eight-month sentence announced at the Agen trial: fourteen months in all.
They could once more denounce this instance of “anti-trade union repression”, discretely counting on a pardon from a President Jospin who was as virtual as the “movement” that was supposed to compel him to issue it. They used the same tactic again when the Criminal Chamber of the Supreme Court rejected the defendants’ appeal for a stay in November 2002. Their lack of realism was so great that, when a proceeding was filed by Bové’s attorney, for once doing something that was not too stupid, for “an appeal for non-revocation of a suspended sentence”, Bové, facing a ten month sentence, continued his histrionics by proclaiming that he refused to appear before the competent judge to be sentenced (which itself carries a twelve month sentence) and that it was up to the re-elected President, whom Bové had supported,44 to make a “political” decision by pardoning him. Having apparently measured the strength of the “civil society movement” by the yardstick of his own media coverage, he tried to get his pardon—and mine—by way of the eternal horde of signature-gatherers, led by decomposed Stalinists, reinforced with a few other comedians, movie extras, puppets, green deputies, pop singers and bishops in partibus.
Faced with such indignity, the only thing I could do was to speak to these people in the only language they understand. So I signaled a court attendant and asked him to convey my message to them that they should desist from associating me with their repugnant scheme. Everyone knows what happened then: the “brutal” arrest of Bové, mild protests by the broad civil society left, not to forget the forgiveness of the agronomy researchers at CIRAD. As if to destroy the last illusions of those who are not totally blind, nothing or very little was said about GMOs in the anemic protests that followed, in which complaints about the violation of trade union immunity were ubiquitous, from the FNSEA to the CNT. One last recantation: one month after he was imprisoned, his lawyers finally appealed for the reduction of the sentence of the intractable trade union weathercock, while, just for good measure, the Farmers’ Confederation once again carried out a few “symbolic neutralizations”. We have to give the last word to Jean-Yves Nau, the perfect journalist of Le Monde, who published a commentary some days after Bové’s transfer by helicopter to prison on the vote in the European Parliament on a text supported by the Greens, Greenpeace and the consumers’ organizations, “defining the modalities according to which the citizen of tomorrow will be able to be informed—via labeling—of the nature of the plant-based foods that he may or may not consume”. For him, the impending end of the moratorium, now that we will be provided with a model system of modern and democratic health and safety, “in which the revolution constituted by the cultivation and consumption of GMO vegetables will lead to neither irrational rejection nor to a compulsory acceptance, but to a possible controlled, studied and tested development”, is sufficient to refute the arguments of both sides, “the somewhat archaic initiatives carried out by the Farmers’ Confederation, among others, and those of the lobbies of the agro-business and agro-pharmaceutical multinationals”.45 This expression of relief is reminiscent of the assessment contained in the Open Letter of the researchers. “Those who are responsible for these actions have always emphasized, and since then reiterated, that they are not opposed to basic research”.
Some may think that I took too long to react, in view of what I had put up with in order not to jeopardize my solidarity with my “co-defendant” in the least. Rather the opposite was the case: in general, my reactions to the schemes mentioned above were greeted with shock, sometimes with the admission that I availed myself of the right not to want to be associated with them, but condemning with greater or lesser severity my irresponsibility, while some hillbillies pointed out that I risked harming the “common cause” of the anti-GMO movement, and even that I had jeopardized Bové’s chances of getting a pardon.
Now they found strategies to frame their public denunciations of what I had chosen to do, scornfully draped in my toga, “withdrawing to the Aventine hill”, as if this discrete criticism of the elitism I betrayed by my rejection of any compromise and any relations with those who had proven that they know what to do about the question of GMOs conferred upon them an undeserved empathy.46 In their view, I had made a strategic mistake. It is of no use to be correct in isolation. I should renounce my anathemas, and instead make an effort to “radicalize the movement”, and render myself truly useful. Useful to those who will never refuse to join forces with the people who know that you despise them, those who still feel the need to open up their “networks” to you, to make you share their amnesias and their cowardice. What a lovely project that would have been, to become accessible, and above all how useful! To become accessible to Serge Halimi so he can settle his accounts with José Bové in the columns of Le Monde Diplomatique; to the leftists, in order to reinforce their soft underbelly, as Hervé Kempf suggests;47 to that editor of L’Écologiste, who is so contrite for having censured “one of the principal opponents of GMOs in France”;48 or to the “movement”, all those people who are in a hurry to join the fray, who only join the civil society movement for a lack of anything better? Because not everything is decided yet. We are living in the year 1864, which is still promising, as a theoretician has written, who has discovered that, “similar in this respect to the First International, [the] first victory [of the “anti-globalization movement”] is its existence in acts”.49 Barbarian! We have to once again make the past a tabula rasa, since that has worked so well.
Naturally, one needs very little strategic sense, or to focus on a few mediocre goals combined with a disarmed cynicism, to submit to the most backward illusions of immediate efficacy and, accepting the idea that one can expect some results from the combination of bluff and passivity, agree to play the role of fellow traveler of a makeshift “historical pole”, ship your suitcases and become a nullity in this mediocrity.
Attentively observing the civil society movement, we may be tempted to stress some of its similarities with Dolly, the “first cloned sheep” that was finally euthanized a few months ago: the poor creature was born old, first suffering from arthritis and then shortly afterwards from compromised lung function.50 Not only because it first won fame in France (in other countries where it is more firmly established, it attained the same results with less fanfare) by beginning with the unopposed denaturalization of the first attempt at open resistance to this unprecedented form of the perfecting of life. Other aspects invite comparison, such as the number of experienced, tough militants, who defend their views in it, or the accelerated aging of the ideologies from which it borrowed part of its discourse. But we should refrain from inferring from this that the civil society movement is nothing but a false childhood and that its lifespan will not exceed that of a cloned sheep or cow. To do so would be to deceive ourselves about the nature of the phenomenon. I account myself among the first to perceive this, to try to define it and to give it a name. But if the word has passed into current usage, the reality it designates is still largely uncomprehended.
Some even dispute the appropriateness of the name. Thus, incredible objections have been raised by some veterans of the historical ultra-left. They do not want to see it as anything but a “radical democratism”, representative of the current stage “of the multiple internal contradictions of the accumulation process”, etc. This does not evoke so much its invariable insights but rather its quaintness; it is clearly the case that we are not living in the same reality. Another objection deserves to be addressed. Some foreign interlocutors have criticized the use of the idea of citizenism [no proper English word exists for this term; I have been using the words “civil society movement” to translate it up to now—English Translator’s Note], which is in their opinion unintelligible outside of France, due to the indissoluble relation, both with respect to the word as well as to what the word refers to, with particularities of French history, the Jacobin traditions of the Revolution of 1789, etc. The movements that can be subsumed under the phenomenon we are discussing, it would seem, are characterized by sufficiently differentiated forms depending on the country in question to prevent their consideration as unified and their designation under a single name. But it is what is shared by rather than what superficially distinguishes the multiple forms of a new phenomenon that should be emphasized. And there is no need for etymological detours to show that the emergence of the notion of the “citizen” in the 18th century was not just a tributary of the representations conceived of the ancient citizenry by the emancipatory currents of thought of that era, but responded above all to the needs of the modern state and nascent industrial society. The idea of the “citizen” expanded with the latter forms, and still reflects that tie when the civil society movement seeks to apply its neo-adjective “civil” on all the products of industrial democracy and the market.
If the understanding of this phenomenon has made any progress over the last four or five years, it is among what one may persist in referring to as those in power, that is, among the agents, technicians and beneficiaries of the system’s reproduction, especially the politicians, who have shown the greatest abilities in understanding the benefits that could be expected from the enlightened governance demanded by the civil society “counterpowers”. That is why they went to Porto Alegre.
They are familiar with this kind of terrain. They know by memory this porridge of problematics from the times when they, too, carried out their medical examinations of a sick world, from international summits to futurist think tanks, bending their professional ears to the reports of their consultants and the experts of their NGOs. They are not at all unacquainted with the civil society professions of faith, even their most outlandish “sovereign” aspects (did they ask themselves, for instance, just what “food sovereignty” was?). They saw them, correctly, as so many of the convergent formulations of the universalist utopias of the global techno-bureaucracy. The civil society activist can boast of formulating the entire set of questions that affect social organization; and he does so in the same way as the high level managers, in the same terms, with the same categories. Like them, he feels obliged to contribute answers, and dreams of a worldwide shadow cabinet, granted “the power of proposing legislation”; and his proposals are always similar to those of those high level managers. Whoever doubts this should listen to them, and not just to the declarations of their leaders. You do not even have to eavesdrop on one of their scientific committees; all you need to do is to listen to any of their activists. Their lexicon does not allow for the shadow of a doubt about it: the civil society movement speaks the language of power.
As for the journalists, the civil society movement is in thrall to them so that public opinion should be informed with the latest updates on its passivity. They cannot withhold their collaboration from this civil society movement. Their volapük offers, always subject to description in the standard format (twenty-five seconds of prime time or its equivalent on paper), normative explanations, made for them, of the diffuse and authentic, although radically disarmed, conflict, that has swept their contemporaries, and from which the journalists are less immune than anyone else, faced with the insidious sensation of universal degradation.
This conflict is all the more deeply rooted insofar as this movement is incapable of assuming responsibility for its causes, raised as it is on the fear of being separated, even secretly, from the rhythms of the total society whose every necessary stanza they want to love. It is almost a shameful remorse, which always comes too late, of the consumer who has left the store and is pushing his shopping cart through the parking lot. It is the same conflict that vaguely feels confident that one can always proceed to withdraw social imperfections, in the way that businesses worried about their images recall defective pressure cookers or automobiles. In the underdeveloped countries, the extreme brutality of the ongoing modernization process is clearing away of the remnants of the old systems of representation and crushes the ways of life and the social relations that animated them; they are generally content with deploring the consequences—corruption, civil wars, pandemics, famines, etc.—of this cataclysm by accepting the consolations of the pro-progress type explanations that are restricted to blaming the structural adjustment programs of the IMF or the tricks, the low blows and the shamelessness of the oil and mining companies, their more or less high-tech mercenaries, their honorable counterparts among the shady politicians of the West, or of particularly unsavory NGOs. In the developed countries, the conflict is of the same nature, despite the induced consensus regarding the economistic postulates of alter-globalism, even when they persist, after the bursting of the speculative bubble of the “new economy”, in attributing this conflict to the effects of the relative increase in the globalization of financial and commercial exchanges, or secondarily, to those of “globalization” itself. Since the dismantling of the “social conquests” recreates certain conditions of exploitation that lead to a feeling of déjà vu, the civil society movement fills the vacuum left by the marginalization of social struggles or, more precisely, of the conventions and rituals that had ended up taking their place. What the civil society movement seeks to rehabilitate is only the conventions and rituals, in order to bring them up to date.
Naturally, we must be careful not to view the civil society movement as nothing but the expression of the belated confusion of declining sectors, or sectors given up for lost, such as education, social welfare, trade unionism, health, culture, etc., that once executed some of the functions of socialization necessary for the operations of the former Welfare-State, on the pretext that these confused sectors effectively constitute its potential constituency. Nor does the civil society movement restrict its activities to expressing the more recent anxieties disturbing the sectors that have replaced the former: biological remediation and monitoring, social economy and associational networks, neighborhood policing, reintegration and other emerging services of social security.
Another error, one that is quickly committed by disappointed activists, is to attach the infamous label of reformist to the civil society movement. A good number of the latter’s activists would enthusiastically welcome this label, as they would be relieved with having traded their old “revolutionary commitments” for a more pragmatic attitude, without thereby renouncing the pursuit of the same “ideals of progress and social justice”. The civil society movement, however, is obviously not a kind of reformism, because reformism only thrives when there is widespread fear of an overthrow of the foundations of the social order, that is, only so long as the practical forces that appear to express the desire for or are capable of carrying out such an overthrow. This situation no longer exists. Where reformism promised progress and social justice within the framework of the existing society, the civil society movement promises nothing. It only asks. It does not want to abolish power, or seize it; it wants to help power to continue to be power. Le Monde highlights this feature as it is displayed by one of its most famous celebrities: “Marcos states that he does not want to seize power (which he does not have the means to accomplish, anyway) but seeks to change the nature of power.”
This exclusive preoccupation is enough to establish the fact that the civil society movement cannot be reduced to fabulous events, of the Seattle or Porto Alegre variety—the networks also do business behind closed doors—not does it flourish only in the most highly developed countries; quite the contrary. It spreads everywhere that the appetites for over-socialization51 are deemed to have been curtailed by a derelict state (in recent years it has been more and more frequently deploring the persistence of “pre-state” forms) or by the slowness of the transformations of the state. This is easily demonstrated with reference to the rapid generalization of its themes in the developing countries. A particularly gross example was provided by the case of the horrible sinking of the Joola, a ship with 550 passenger compartments that serves the Casamance region of Senegal, which left 64 survivors out of a total of 2,000 passengers: some Senegalese intellectuals, the inevitable self-proclaimed representatives of civil society, immediately set out to reinforce the authority of President Wade, who condemned widespread irresponsibility and greed, demanding regulatory measures to control the deterioration and overloading of the collective taxis, in order to improve traffic safety. This was, for West Africa, the only suitable lesson to be learned in their opinion from the shipwreck of a boat managed by the national army. We are compelled to offer for comparison the heartrending complaint of Gilbert Luneau, José Bové’s “black”: “Our state is overwhelmed by the problem. Its power is not even capable of protecting the DNA of our plants and animals.”52
This obviously leads us to recognize the civil society movement for what it more or less explicitly is: the party of the state, as Miguel Amorós has correctly defined it.53 Such an observation, however, entails a corollary: it is a defeated party. And it is a split party, since at the same time that it expresses the life and death needs of the modernization of the state apparatus (expansion, deconcentration, dissolution) and calls for their implementation, it also calls for the return of a state that will never exist again, for it has everywhere been necessary to renounce the large scale solutions that it was historically attributed with responsibility for implementing, because everywhere the means to impose them are lacking, especially all those that would allow for their imposition on a universal scale. This by no means implies that these solutions will be systematically discarded one after another; whenever other requirements of the flight forward do not rule them out in favor of more brutal methods, these solutions will perhaps be implemented by virtue of the type of calm that they procure for the population and its representatives, if it appears to be momentarily possible or useful to respond in this way to a social demand for protection, or even to spur such a demand. One cannot say that the civil society movement’s thinkers are so far off the mark when they declare that this would serve the best interests of the system. They only regret the fact that we do not live in a world where one would have the real leisure to reflect on strategies of “governance” (the fate of this word suffices to expose this impossibility), instead of being reduced to a few incoherent improvisations, pure disordered reactions to the constant bombardment of phenomena now caused, now suffered. Not having the free time to plan enlightened modes of governance, they will only respond to the need to believe that it is possible to intervene in the chaos knowing what is being done, what is being provoked, or that someday one will be able to discern an order in this chaos. The civil society movement legitimately boasts of representing “dominated” populations. It represents their absence, the real movement of their submission to the catastrophic conditions prescribed by industrial society.
Faced with such a situation, one could almost end up finding the dogmatic vitality of the old progressivist reaction to be salutary. In the view of that phalange of humanists, mandarin and rhapsodic experts of a brilliant future, all the more frantic when their activities are related to a start-up, the administrative councils, the ethical commissions and the ministerial cabinets are transformed into pure examples of scientific disinterest, and anyone who attempts to justify such acts of violence after having devoted himself to them, can only be a Manichaean, a paranoid, fascist, fisher in troubled waters, demagogue and manipulator, saboteur in every possible way of national interests. It is no exaggeration to speak of terrorism in this connection. The Foucaultian François Ewald, the cretin Guy Sorman, that starched-shirt Philippe Kourilsky, the Althusserian Dominique Lecourt, the nuclear-Stalinist Charpak, the researcher and cabinet minister Claude Allègre, the philosopher-cabinet minister Luc Ferry and other republicans of the same type have conscientiously devoted themselves to the voluptuous civics of denunciation. The homogeneity of their outbursts prevents us from privileging one of these bums over another. To give you an idea of what we are talking about, we shall have to be content with two lesser authors who present the particular quality of being, as it would seem, on two opposite sides of the question.
The first is Dominique Bodin-Rodier. In two articles (“Long Live the GMO Revolution!”, which appeared in Libération on June 16, 1999, and “High Tech Agriculture and Anti-Globalization”, which appeared in the economic journal Les Échos in its March 2002 issue) she seeks to put an end, emphatically, “to anti-GMO fanaticism”. Curiously, she attributes it to “a handful of fundamentalist researchers, more concerned with anti-globalization proselytism than with scientific truth”, formulations that evoke, at times word-for-word—“they treat the land like a laboratory flask, […] the researchers do not know what they are doing”—the same words I have used on several occasions. She appears to believe that “these anti-globalization researchers are, with respect to their thought, the offspring of Marcuse, opposed to ‘industrial society and its technocracy’, opposed to ‘the representative society and its market economy’, and in favor of a civil society free of all alienation, without a state or a social order, with a solidarity-based economy of fraternal and festive self-subsistence”. There are no such researchers, however, at least not yet, either in the so-called hard sciences or in the soft. And when they do arise, at the price of a patient process of disalienation from their initial training and from the career imperatives that have made this social group an almost pure model of false consciousness, of intellectual passivity and docile submission for all of modern domesticity,54 it is hardly possible to imagine one of them, despite the lamentable illusions that our author has attributed to them, discoursing before the Economic and Social Council in which, so it seems, they are presenting this program. The fatwa proclaimed by Bodin-Rodier against these “fear-mongers” who are not “real researchers, impartial minds”, serves her as a pretext to proclaim her insipid definition of the noble mission of the real researcher so dear to her heart, whose “chosen terrain […] is the unknown”, whose role is “to reveal and to discover solutions that are useful for all”. Instead, these depraved elements “approve of the actions of commandos […] in the CIRAD greenhouses […] or even the destruction of experimental crops of GMO maize that produce a medicine, gastric lipase, to save the lives of children afflicted with cystic fibrosis or pancreatic cancer”. Worse yet, “they call for ‘sustainable development’ in accordance with the most archaic and dangerous possible method, bio-dynamics, invented in 1912 by the mystic, Rudolf Steiner […]. With respect to action, they are the offspring of Bakunin, with hatred and violence […]. Their current Bible is the text by the anarchist John Zerzan, Future Primitive, which advocates […] a return to the pre-cultural Mesolithic society of the hunter-gatherer”. These researchers seem to reside in squatted buildings and must be a little confused.
Bodin-Rodier is program director for research at the Ministry of Agriculture. As a result, when she recites the conventional inventory of the miraculous innovations that she tries to convince her readers will be prevented by anti-progressive actions—“agricultural products of the highest quality […], improved foods for the health of our overweight population through the modification of the structure of fats and sugars or by means of the extraction of allergens, but also new, safer and more effective medicines […], new more flexible and durable fibers for micro-surgery […], astonishingly less polluting bio-fuels for our environment, which has suffered so much damage”—she is not trying to make us believe that we really run the risk of being deprived of them. She knows that her industrial fate is sealed: “There are no more wars to fight, it is too late for the ideological struggle. The historical revolution is here, fully established. The biotechnological revolution replaces the physical and chemical revolution of the past centuries. It is inevitable and irreversible, regardless of what we may think: we shall not escape from it.” We should therefore be pragmatic and address the real problems. While “our researchers, authors of great achievements which they have placed at the service of the common good […], remain silent, terrorized by so much irrationality”, “elsewhere […] an entire ‘genomic economy’ of added value, creating new processes, and therefore jobs, [develops] with intelligence and enthusiasm […]. Now is the time to become aware of our great retreat”. For “only technological advance gives power to states […]. The future empires will undoubtedly be powerful ‘biotech’ poles that will clash like tectonic plates and crush the weakest. It will be the subtle war of the 21st century for increasingly more intelligent products”. Hence the need to defend, to the last breath, the national tectonic plate against the invasion of “burger-fries-cola”.55
If Mrs. Bodin-Rodier invokes the eugenicist ghost of Jean Rostand (“All dictatorship of doctrines, regardless of their type, blocks the development of the truth”), it is the ghost of Pasteur—the “image”, for the Robert dictionary, “of the disinterested sage who is totally devoted to his work”, and the prototype of experimental adventurism as well as a very modern cynicism that compellingly reminds us of someone like James Watson—that a person like “Daniel Marti” chose to oppose to my “reactionary arguments” shortly after the trial in Montpellier. His article did not appear in a newspaper of capital but in the organ of the workerist sect, Lutte Ouvriere. Its evocative title, “A Curious United Front to Block Scientific Research”, sets the tone of the article. “Daniel Marti” begins by attacking some declarations of the leader of the French state in opposition to so-called therapeutic cloning: “His words can only please the most reactionary fringe of his constituency, all those who believe, due to their religious view of the world, that a human embryo, even in the first stage of its development, is a human being with full rights […], possessing an ‘eternal soul’. This makes us turn the clock back twenty-five years, when a large part of the right wing deputies declared, for the same reasons, their opposition […] to the voluntary termination of pregnancy.”56 The rationalist “Daniel Marti” then came to the crux of the matter: “At first sight, the most reactionary faction of the Chirac electorate and the militant leaders of the Farmers’ Confederation have nothing in common. However, the vandalism of the CIRAD greenhouse goes far beyond the denunciation of GMOs; it also poses the problem of the prohibition of scientific research.” Thus, “behind this ‘direct action’ we can discern the outlines of certain ideas that have nothing progressive about them. To be convinced of this, you need only read the two-page interview with […] René Riesel published in the newspaper Libération on February 3-4, 2001”.
Annoyed that someone would dare to proclaim, since now we are dealing with more than just indistinct grumbling, that the GMO researchers are fiddling around with living organisms while renouncing any effort of understanding—an effort that has been replaced, due to the necessities of the cause, by a vague but totalitarian utilitarian and reductionist metaphysics—this materialist indignantly complains: “To point out that a Pasteur discovered by ‘fiddling around’ in his day, ‘without the least theoretical understanding’, a vaccine against rabies would not convince our philosopher….” This epistemological heresy, however, is still small potatoes, since “what Riesel rejects, furthermore, is not just genetic research, but everything that has been contributed by the industrial development of the last two centuries”. Even the hardly original observation that Auschwitz and Hiroshima might also be considered as a result of, a matrix for and a key to understanding the benefits of techno-economic development disarms the program of the scientific materialist dogmas of this cretin, who complains: “So Nazi barbarism was not a consequence of the decisions of German imperialism, nor was Hiroshima due to the policy of imperialism of the USA: both have their origins, it would seem, in industrialization.” For which reason, sounding like a return to the NEP, he attributes to me the curious idea, “the solution to all our problems, […] is to return to the peasant society of the 17th century”. “The problem is that in that era the Earth had less than two billion inhabitants, and even the richest countries underwent periodic famines. Do we have to ask several billion of our contemporaries to commit hara-kiri so that our planet can resume the project of ‘humanization’” by renouncing GMOs? This author need not worry, I admit that this is not the time, amidst the disaster we are living through, to engage in a serious debate about the Malthusian attitudes that will not fail to afflict a humanity that is reasonably the master of its fate.
The choice of the preceding examples was not the product of a prejudice against the quaintness of the vigorous convictions of these two persons or against the facile comical effect produced by a comparison of their similarities and differences, so minor at first sight but which nonetheless are of importance for them, and which they presumably distinguish. These examples are representative of the genre of irony (back to the plough, the guild of the artisans, horse-drawn wagons, flint, the Mesolithic environment and the sociability of the Bonobos or the hippies) and the most elaborate refutations, constantly opposed to those who have engaged in or advocated the sabotage of GMOs in the name of their hostility to the dominant ideas of progress and the tangible realities of industrial society. They constitute a variety of the best of the basics of the ideology of progress. Transcending any other apparent disagreements, their unity makes the industrial representation of the world, more than any other more easily recognizable representation, vulgar or critical economism, the real ruling ideology of our time, the one that reconciles all the others. This explains those outbursts of rage against the simple fact that the attempts, as modest as they were, to take the operations against genetic engineering to another level have, in spite of everything, succeeded in bringing about the practical reappearance of the specter of critique in these ill starred times. And the fact that this critique should, to top it all off, be a critique of industrial society.
Anyone who has some interest or who has participated in historical struggles knows that major effects may ensue from minor causes. This partially explains the fact that among the most bitter enemies of the anti-progress camp there are some who claim, for their part, to the exclusive legacy and use, which no one challenges, of one or another radical doxa. If they customarily begin by opposing to this abominable regression some imprecations similar to those we have just sampled, they always conclude by carrying out a meticulous and obsessive inventory of the unfulfilled promises of the real dogmas of which they consider themselves, each one at his post, guardians. In this endeavor they recapitulate the solid arguments to which various living fossils resort, arguments derived from situationism or the ultra-left, in order to refute the idea that one may define this society as an industrial society. They think it is sufficient to continue to speak, now of capitalist society, now of capitalized society, now of the society of the spectacle. As the flames of the world-factory scorch their eyebrows, they squirm in their seats, they shout themselves hoarse mangling reality to force it to pass through the sieves of their petrified theories, and finally these unfortunate exegetes end up distorting their own theories. Why linger in this mausoleum of critical thought? For the lover of old photocopies who has a personal computer that is connected to the internet and who wants to know what these people have on their bookshelves, he will have no difficulty in satisfying his curiosity: all he needs to do is to type the necessary keywords in a halfway decent “search engine”. Since everyone is now free to communicate as he wishes, most of these critiques of technophobia and the technophobes have effectively found their proper form; they expect to find their public on the internet, that great libertarian environment where capital strives to plunder the creativity of the masses.
The real nature of the present desolation (“in what kind of world we live”) will undoubtedly be better understood if we trust simple sense perceptions, rather than the systems of interpretation, all of which are bewildered, and which contribute nothing but consolation: the illusion of control, at least in an intellectual sense. By thus paying attention to sense perception, by facing up to that perception without limiting ourselves to it, is in any event the necessary step for anyone who seeks to reconstruct his intelligence in situ, without the filter of representations: it is the beginning, necessarily an individual one, for all excarcelation, for awakening in the deepest recesses of oneself one’s atrophied senses. That this should be painful at first, like any detoxification, only shows the personal damage that underlies the apparent adaptation of all.
The fact that, once the factories have disappeared or have been “relocated to other countries”, the whole world becomes one vast factory, can be perceived by anyone, merely with their eyes or their ears, in their harassment by constant noise, which also includes the noise of the entertainment industry. This “becoming-world” of the factory (the becoming-factory of the world), however, has hardly been noted by the theoreticians of society, thinkers of the “end of work” and the all the rest; and even less so its current supersession, in accordance with the technical-scientific development of industrial organization, by a “becoming-world” of the laboratory. This latter development, however, we also feel in our flesh; our senses maddened by the continuous flood of audio and visual stimuli, our vertigo amidst this incessant motion, our constrained hatred for those with whom mass society forces us to come into contact; all of this makes us aware, without needing to know anything about the nuclear or biotechnological “experiments”, that we are the fear-stricken and exhausted guinea pigs of some kind of “research program”. But research of what?
The practices of domestication have become furiously experimental. All kinds of recombinations are being blindly assayed, not just biological, but also political, social and moral. Within the framework of this total experimentation we must understand the aspect of “self-management of chaos” embodied in this variety of the realization of the revolutionary project that we are witnessing, when everyone is an artist and a creator: the world of commodity civilization in decline is full of insane situationist ideas. “Everything is permitted”, in the sense that, effectively, everything must be attempted within the industrial laboratory.
We note, for example, that every year for the last ten years, at the end of August, thirty thousand Americans have gathered in the desert of Nevada to “construct an ephemeral city from scratch, where everything is permitted, where freedom of expression and creation will be absolute, and where each person will be able to live his fantasies, without limitations and without shame”.57 After seven days of an orgiastic technologically super-equipped outburst, during the course of which the most out of control rave party seems like a Sunday School picnic, this situationist city, “Burning Man”, is delivered over to the flames by its “inhabitants” in a gigantic potlatch of destruction: no trace of it must be left because “next year, everyone must start from scratch, everyone must start all over again as if it was the first time”. In this very advanced experiment, certain aspects stand out quite well which illustrate—I would not venture to say marvelously—what the freedom of modern man essentially consists of, that awful relief of being freed from history and from any responsibility by an eternal “first time”. And, above all, that “this community that functions according to the principle of ‘the economy of the gift’” proscribes precisely all the obligations (even simple gratitude) that could give shape to a real community: above all, there must be no history, not even in the most trivial sense, among individuals, pure monads, tumultuous atoms who have so well internalized the instantaneity and the irresponsibility of the market, for whom at no price at all their happening is like the transcription into a “living spectacle” of the infinite spiritual poverty that constantly flows through the portals of the internet; for within this sort of Castle of Silling, all ready to go, are the servants who are authorized, once a year, to realize their fantasies in perfect equality. (“The S&M clubs and the erotic role-playing salons open at ten in the morning, and often operate in the open air….”)
As for what concerns us here, the principal feature that we must note is that this laboratory intends to be just that, in accordance with the terms of its promoter and “charismatic patron”, a laboratory of an “effective” economy: “… the participants create an immense ‘social capital’, which produces quite concrete wealth and a network of productive relations, […] they rediscover the meaning of community, its civic spirit” (ibid.). What could pass for an erratic “ship of fools” is in reality a rationally administered and hardly vanguardist experiment. Due to the way it elaborates the festive style of the new conformism and organizes the social demand for monitored entertainment, it must be included in the same plan as the creative innovations that are being hatched in other incubators, equally productive of “social capital” and the “civic spirit”. “For Filippo Ceccarelli, a specialist in the ‘society of the spectacle’ (in the sense defined by the situationists) and a journalist for La Stampa: ‘The media fantasy of the pacifists is based on the alternative countercultures. Their actions have more to do with art than with violence. They use provocation in order to obtain a powerful impact with their image’.”58
On the other hand, one cannot easily discern the more tortuous and adventurous links with other experiments; whether they are devoted to the “great masters of the Russian chaos”,59 those of the Chinese chaos, or, indistinctly, in the world disorder, various “centers” or services, both those of the masters of war as well as those of the more classical leaders of states. But the most reasonable course to take with respect to these questions is undoubtedly not to over-rationalize them; in any case one should not attempt to identify, in these struggles that are barely comprehensible from an outsider’s viewpoint, a general rationality, a “center” of some kind or even a power that could play a leading role from the wings of the theater. What “conspiracy theories” lack is not, of course, conspiracies, which abound, but instead the theory and the understanding of these general conditions in which there is such an abundance of conspiracies and so little strategic thought. The error consists in attributing them to those “masters of chaos” who only reign precariously due to their opportunistic ability to adapt to unpredictable circumstances. And the display of force that, like operation “Shock and Awe” in Iraq, seems to momentarily rise above the chaos by means of technological power, in reality only succeeds in extending, spatially and quantitatively, the chaotic conditions that it promised to suppress. It used to be said that one can do anything with a bayonet except sit on it, but such obsolete instruments of human carnage seem almost like comfortable easy chairs compared to these other, most various, instruments that industrial development has scattered everywhere.60
In all countries, both developed and underdeveloped, the chaos of a despoiled nature is combined with that chaos provoked by the disintegration of human societies under the effects of modernization and development. This disintegration, which is simultaneously the disintegration of customs, shared ways of life, and the framework of the nation-state in which domination is organized everywhere, liberates destructive energies which lack neither opportunities nor means to be put into effect. Modern technology provides them in abundance to one and all, thus increasing both our vulnerability as well as their capability to inflict harm. In Politique du chaos, Thérèse Delpech speaks of the “loss of control of the states” and calls, humorously enough, the Aum sect and Al Qaida “NGOs of proliferation”, referring to their use and their appetite for unconventional, biological, chemical or nuclear weapons. It would be very risky, however, to forget, on the pretext that we have left behind us a century in which one could have believed that the growing control of the states over the economy and everyday life enable them to effectively pacify society by monopolizing the use of violence, that privately owned arms are not a historical novelty, nor is it really new for a condottiere to set up on his own and turn against his former master. It is only new, on this scale, in the industrial era.
After the attack on the Twin Towers, some noted, sometimes with relish, the fragility of a system that found itself at the mercy of a couple of box cutters. Regardless of the origin of the death wish of the “Islamic” suicide bombers—and here genealogy, in this case the genealogy of the “uncontrolled” tendencies of the Arab-Islamic world, does not explain everything—it is this death wish armed with a technological grasp of reality (the opposite could also be true) to which mass industrial society has delivered itself. (Just look at its children, their occupations and what they call their games.)
Because it is the case that in this world-laboratory where the sterilization of historical life is assayed, all the forms of power and submission that have been known over the course of history are recombined and recycled for this purpose, some have thought that they could speak of a return to “feudalism”. To avoid the facile resort to such assertions about a past that is to some extent reassuring—since at least we know how feudalism ended—we need only think of how every kind of liberated subject knows how to freely make with the most untrammeled abandon their contribution to the great work of dehumanization; and we need only note, for example, returning to our subject of genetic engineering, the appearance of “garage geneticists”, freelance agents of the dissemination of GMOs who, inspired by the best intentions, are also opposed to the patentability of life that is viewed with such disdain by the civil society movement. It is in California, of course, that such “rebels” have first made their mark.61 Besides the absurdity of the announced goal of this first attempt (“to create an animal that does not exist in nature: the venom-free bee whose sting would be harmless and almost entirely painless”), their ambition is no less than to launch, in the name of “the absolute freedom of scientific research”, “a crusade against the spirit of mercantilism and bloody competition that reigns in the American biotechnology companies”, a crusade that will at the same time be directed against the “traditionalists”, that is, those who “seek to prevent the advent of a new world, a world redesigned by genetic engineering”. Most importantly, however, we must note that the information technology that provides the means for this research that is carried out without the motivation of money also provides it with its model of proliferation: “[…] numerous bioinformaticians are advocates of the principle of mutual aid and sharing: ‘The infectiousness of the Internet has been decisive. When I first got involved with informatics, I discovered the spirit of disinterested cooperation of the hackers and of the spirit of communication of free software, which operates on open source code: the authors publish all the code that constitutes their software. Today, most of the computers used in bioinformatics work with the Linux free operating system. It is much better than the equivalent commercial products because it is the product of mutual aid among thousands of passionate volunteers’.” (ibid.)
Such enthusiastic and “disinterested” participation, spontaneously partaking of the civic spirit, in the pursuit of the perfection of the megamachine, shows beyond the shadow of a doubt that it is too late to fear no more than a biological modification of the species (obviously denounced as totalitarian), when its mental modification, its domestication via technology, is already so advanced. In this stage, it is more or less a Byzantine endeavor to distinguish between the easily identifiable death wish of the kamikazes of various disciplines and the “passionate” vitality devoted to submission to the non-living: the border between them is so porous that it would only take one unexpected shock, one wrong turn on the roadmap, for one to cross over into the other category. Such deviations, however, that affect the human material, are no more effective than the others in reducing the system’s capacity for self-reproduction, which extracts even from its failures new means to rejuvenate the social demand for high security enclosure. So we may say that if the research program whose guinea pigs we are is moving in some direction, that direction is the reinforcement of the historical paralysis before the objective precipitation of the course of events.
The nightmare that afflicts the slumbers of industrial society, and ours, irresistibly reminds us of the Prestige, that oil tanker that went astray off the coast of Galicia. One could exorcize it, tow it out to the high seas as the Spanish government did: its terrible cargo is still leaking and, when the accursed ship breaks apart and sinks, it is only to exude its poison in a more sustained way. Our nightmare, and the nightmare of all of those who do not consent to allow themselves to balk indefinitely in order to keep up appearances, will last as long as the acquiescing voices of those who shout over and over again, “Never again!” and who ask that they be rid of the evils whose causes they persist in desiring, continues to be decisive.62
Against what is assuming the aspect of destiny, we must keep in mind that it is still practicable to discover unexpected opportunities to change the course of events, even if they should last only as long as a lightning bolt, in a system that is so incapable of predicting its own future. The freedom to break out of the industrial prison is the only experiment that is worth testing. We could rely on the awareness that “nothing that has existed is ever lost for history”.
Towards the end of his work, Democracy in America, after having explained “what kind of despotism the democratic nations have to fear”, De Tocqueville mentioned the opinions, all equally disastrous, which cause some to turn their backs on freedom “because they think it is dangerous”, and others to abandon it “because they judge it to be impossible”. And he said: “If I were to believe this latter opinion I would not have written the work you have just read; I would have instead restricted myself to secretly pitying the fate of my kind”.
Translation of René Riesel, “Los Progresos de la Domesticación”, in Los Progresos de la Domesticación, tr. Javier Rodríguez Hidalgo and Roberto Fernández Suárez, Précipité, Ávila, 2003, pp. 7-67.
- 1See the essay by the Encyclopédie des Nuisances, “In the Name of Reason”: http://libcom.org/library/name-reason-encyclopedie-des-nuisances.
- 2The Somport Tunnel, which allows trucks to penetrate the natural frontier of the Pyrenees and transformed the Aspe Valley into the culvert for the commodity flows passing along the highways between Northern Europe and the Iberian Peninsula, was finally opened, without much fanfare, in January 2003. As much as we may disagree with his methods, we must recall the fate of Éric Pétetin, who was emotionally broken by his tenacious opposition to this new instance of progress with regard to the organization of territory. [“Truth on this side of the Pyrenees, error on the other”, Pascal, Pensées (Translator’s Note).]
- 3This was the term applied by the Luddites to describe goods produced by machines.
- 4The reader who is an aficionado of this kind of extremism may consult the excerpt from a speech by Vyshinsky that is quoted in the eleventh issue (1987) of the journal Encylopédie des Nuisances: “We shall utilize atomic energy to demolish mountains, change the course of rivers, irrigate deserts. We shall utilize atomic energy to bring life to those places where man has up until now found nothing but desolation”; or the speech by Marcellin Berthelot reproduced in “Complete Confessions…”, p. 105.
- 5Elisée Reclus, Du sentiment de la nature dans les sociétés modernes, 1866.
- 6Rachel Carson, Silent Spring, Houghton Mifflin Co., New York, 1963. For France, see also, from the same period, the numerous books and articles by Bernard Charbonneau, in which he further elaborated the intuitions of his 1937 text, “The Feeling of Nature, a Revolutionary Force”.
- 7As Bella and Roger Belbéoch have continued to demonstrate.
- 8Günther Anders, Die Antiquierheit des Menschen, 1956.
- 9The Club of Rome, the UN, Zero Growth, We Only Have One Earth, etc.
- 10Justifiably ridiculing this oxymoron, a Serge Latouche, like other supporters of ‘post-development’, nonetheless limits his ambitions to “regulating the curtailment of growth”. See his afterword in François Partant, Que la crise s’aggrave!, with a preface by José Bové, Parangon, Paris, 2002.
- 11Le Monde, December 20, 2002.
- 12Le Monde, January 11, 2003.
- 13Le Monde, March 2, 2002, “The Sorcerer’s Apprentices of DNA Invent a New Genesis”.
- 14Yann Moulier-Boutang, afterword to “Collectif sans ticket”, Le livre-accès, with a preface by Isabelle Stengers, Éditions du Cerisier, Mons, 2001.
- 15Ulrich Beck, Risk Society: Towards a New Modernity, Sage Publications, London, 1992.
- 16Max Horkheimer, Critique of Instrumental Reason, Seabury Press, New York, 1974.
- 17AZF is the Toulouse factory that exploded ten days after the attacks on the World Trade Center, causing several deaths and an outbreak of panic in the area.
- 18A term invented from the combination of the words, farm and pharmacy: the cultivation of plants devoted to the production of compounds “of strategic interest”.
- 19Niccolo Machiavelli, Discourses on the First Ten Books of Titus Livius, Book I, Chapter 25.
- 20The environmentalist-lobbying group, Greenpeace, carried out its own poll, as part of its marketing strategy.
- 21Especially the “contaminated blood scandal”, which led to trials of several former cabinet ministers of the Republic.
- 22In France, this committee is called the “Parliamentary Office for the Evaluation of Scientific and Technological Decisions”. Concerning so-called “civil society” or “consensus” conferences, see “Entretien avec René Riesel” published in the French journal, No Pasarán, March 2000 (available online at: http://www.theyliewedie.org/ressources/biblio/fr/No_pasaran_-_Entretien_avec_Rene_Riesel,_reflexions_sur_la_lutte_anti-ogm.html).
- 23Which leads us to ask what scruples prevented the OPEDCT from publishing its report.
- 24In February 1975, a conference was held in Asilomar (California), on the initiative of some scientists who were worried by the prospect that seemed to be opening up due to the new techniques of production of genetically modified organisms, including J. Watson and P. Berg, who had spearheaded the research in GMO technology and had proposed a moratorium the year before. The conference of Asilomar lifted the moratorium and replaced it with security regulations, later approved by the National Institute of Health and then by other national legislation that was repeatedly revised.
- 25At the time there was talk, ironically enough, of ecoterrorism. In France, Le Figaro would much later invoke the prospect of eco-crime, recycling a neologism forged originally to define industrial infractions of “environmental” legislation. The notion of ecoterrorism reappeared in 2003 in Belgium as part of a clumsy police maneuver, probably orchestrated by political circles close to the Genetics industry, which sought to prove, without the least concern with the evidence, that the incidents of sabotage were the work of the milieu of the leftist groups, informed, as they went on to allege, by a subordinate of the ecologist minister of the environment (the location and description of the experiments were actually accessible to anyone, since they were made public on account of the principle of transparency).
- 26See “Declaration before the Tribunal of Agen”, available online at: http://www.notbored.org/agen.html
- 27Ultimately, the “caravan” was in reality composed almost exclusively of Indian “middle-level farmers” who were able to pay their traveling expenses and among whom a good number proved to be inconceivably odious, beyond the realm of any kind of “cultural” misunderstanding. They did not spare any efforts in their participation in the actions, as if it was a compulsory duty imposed by the conditions of the group that bought their plane ticket, thus inaugurating, in a way that was furthermore extremely uncomfortable, the protest tourism that emerged shortly thereafter that involved traveling from one counter-summit to another. The suspicions that were aroused by this suspicious attitude, aggravated by the presence of Maoist bureaucrats at the 2nd Conference of the PGA held in Karnataka in August 1999, were confirmed in late 1999 when some documents and eyewitness testimonies testified to Stalinist practices and constant purges implemented by “Swamy” within the KRSS in order to preserve his caricature of autocratic power. The “caravan” possessed the dual interest for this “Swamy” of not only consolidating his prestige in India, bit also presenting him to other countries as a leader of antiglobalism. The KRSS is still part of the Vía Campesina. “Swamy” was called as a witness for the defense in the trial of José Bové and D. Soullier during their appeal in the CIRAD case in November 2001.
- 28La Recherche, October 1999.
- 29Libération, June 23, 1999.
- 30The formula, of course, is inappropriate. If it was a case of anti-trade union repression, as generations of revolutionary workers know, then they would have had to face both the repression exercised by the employers and the real trade union repression at the same time.
- 31The Enragés were the most radical French revolutionaries of 1793.
- 32See Encyclopédie des Nuisances, Remarques sur la paralysie de décembre 1995, Éd. de l'Encyclopédie des nuisances, 1996.
- 33On several occasions, the saboteurs destroyed crops where the civil society protest movement had been content to participate in a protest picnic. Once, however, in the North, the civil society protestors finished the job begun by the “Radicals of the Weeds” by uprooting the GMO beets that the latter had missed.
- 34In the chapter of fundamental rights, which has not ceased to be expanded in step with the progress of the conscience of civil society, we must highlight the right to electricity, a brilliant discovery of certain squatters in Dijon whose electricity had been cut off.
- 35These communiqués are reproduced, together with a chronology of the campaign, in Textes et documents pour instruire le public et ceux qui font métier de l’informer sur la deuxième campágne contre le genie génétique (Montpellier, November 2001), an anonymous pamphlet available at some bookstores and on the internet.
- 36This euphemism at least has the merit of precision.
- 37The saboteurs engaged in a play on words with the name of the seed corporation, Limagrain.
- 38Le Monde, August 16, 2001, “OMG: refuser l’obscurantisme”.
- 39The communiqué of “Limes à grain” concluded with the observation that “the only way to fight GMOs is to fight the world that produces them”.
- 40Le Monde, January 17, 2003, “A Second Case of Leukemia in a French Child Has Been Cured by Gene Therapy”.
- 41Le Monde, October 5, 2002, “Suspension of Gene Therapy for the ‘Bubble Children’”.
- 42The expression would be used later in an Open Letter to the President of the Republic that requested a pardon for José Bové, signed by over forty researchers from CIRAD (Le Monde, June 28, 2003).
- 43See René Riesel, “Declaración pronunciada antes de abandonar el tribunal, al comenzar el proceso de apelación por la destrucción de arroz transgénico del CIRAD”, in René Riesel, Los Progresos de la Domesticación, tr. Javier Rodríguez Hidalgo and Roberto Fernández Suárez, Précipité, Ávila, 2003, p. 115.
- 44In the second round of elections that pitted Chirac and Le Pen, Bové advocated voting for the former “despite political affiliations or resentment against the system” [Note of the Spanish translator].
- 45Jean-Yves Nau, “GMOs: For European Control”, Le Monde, July 5, 2003.
- 46This allusion to Roman history was not very apt, but it was entertaining, because it is fashionable in our time to steep the republican sentiment more in Habermas than in ancient Virtue. In reality, as Titus Livius recounts, it was a part of the plebs which seceded in the early days of the Roman Republic and abandoned the city in order to retire to the Aventine hill.
- 47“Why the Soldiers Bové and Riesel Must Be Saved”, Le Monde, November 23, 2002.
- 48“Ouvrir une vendetta entre les rares personnes qui critiquent la société industrielle, est-ce bien la priorité?” (Letter written by Thierry Jaccaud, August 26, 2002).
- 49Jordi Vidal, Résistance au chaos, Allia, 2002.
- 50Usually, when a sheep dies, it is butchered to make sausages. Dolly will be stuffed for display.
- 51In the sense given to this word by Theodore Kaczynski.
- 52Le Monde, December 5, 2002, “Yes to a Pardon for José Bové”.
- 53“The Party of the State”, Ekintza Zuzena, No. 25.
- 54See Carlos Ojeda, “Research as Seen from the Inside”, L’écologiste No. 5.
- 55For the reader who would like to read more about Bodin-Rodier’s imaginary, see the book entitled, La guerre alimentaire a commence, Albin Michel, 2000.
- 56In late 1998 or early 1999, several months prior to the sabotage of CIRAD, during the “Scientific Interviews at Brest”, in which I spoke for the last time in the name of the Farmers’ Confederation, a former Stalinist minister, Anicet Le Pors, accused me of behaving like the “hooligans of the banlieus” who throw stones at municipal buses; the socialist mayor of Brest thought it was more appropriate to exclaim that I had acted more like the “anti-IVG commandos”. It must be assumed that both of them later signed the petitions for the pardon that the trade unionist Bové did not request.
- 57Yves Eudes, Le Monde, September 29-30, 2002.
- 58Le Monde, March 30-31, 2003, on the European Social Forum in Florence.
- 59This is what Sophie Shihab called them in an article on the attacks that took place in 1999 that were attributed to Chechens, Le Monde, November 17-18, 2002.
- 60“One of the principal stumbling blocks encountered with regard to policies of control of the export of goods and technologies is the current difficulty in knowing just what use, civil and military, many of these products will be put to, and which are hard to prevent, because they potentially have dual use.” (Thérèse Delpech, Politique du chaos, Seuil, 2002.)
- 61“In California, some bioinformatic rebels are designing and freely disseminating over the internet scientific data that would make it possible for the ordinary person to perform genetic manipulations” (Le Monde, September 17, 2002).
- 62As opposed to the well-intentioned slogan, “Never again!”, another more energetic slogan has fortunately been propagated in Spain: “If you have a car, you will eat fuel.”