The government’s offensive against the Zad, a decades-old occupation of the site where an airport was to be built close to Nantes in France, aims to destroy the possibility of alternative ways of living. It is part of a global trend of neo-liberal ruling classes to crack down on people.
2,500 riot police, armoured vehicles, helicopters, trucks, livestock trucks... and a few hundred state security police in Nantes and Rennes as back-ups... France is at war from Monday, April 9. Against who ? Against some two hundred people living in a grove where they make their own bread, beer, have a farmers’ market, tinker, discuss, read, come and go. The military apparatus of France, which intervenes in Mali, in Syria, in Iraq - without debates in Parliament, in contradiction to article 35 of the French Constitution -, has been deployed in the Zad of Notre-Dame-des-Landes.
Any sensible being would consider the apparent logic of this operation a most acute manifestation of a great delusion : after giving in to a popular struggle to abandon the Notre-Dame-des-Landes airport project, the government wants to demonstrate its strength by expelling « illegal occupiers ». The government despises procedures to rigorously supervise deportations, rejects without discussion the proposal for collective management of lands maintained for ten years by these occupants, and has no concrete project to use this ecologically unique area, which has been well preserved precisely thanks to those that Messieurs Macron (President of France), Philippe (Prime Minister), Collomb (interior minister) and Hulot (environment minister) want to drive out.
This brilliant quartet will, thanks to the images and commentary complacently relayed by the media of Messieurs Niel, Drahi, Bolloré, Dassault, Lagardère, Bouygues, and the other handful of billionaires that own French media, show the public what « order » means and give the various social movements that are bubbling in the country an indication of what they can expect.
But this is not the only political effect that Macron and his henchmen seek. The disproportionate response indicates that what is happening at the Zad threatens the neo-liberal order : the possibility of existing differently, seeking cooperation rather than competition, organising without hierarchy between people, settling conflicts without the police or judiciary, sharing the commons in harmony with nature, subsisting soberly, escaping the rule of money... Has this life become a reality at the Zad ? It’s hard to say. But they try and there are many examples that show that there is a wonderful alternative, an open window in the stifling wall of capitalism. The mission of the 2,500 robocops sent by the ex-banker president is to shoot down the opportunity to live differently.
We must go even further. What is happening in Notre-Dame-des-Landes is part of a general war waged by the oligarchy against the people. Recent news of the bewildering circumstances of ex-president Lula’s imprisonment who was seen as a voice for the poor in Brazil, or how the Israeli state kills demonstrators and journalists in the Gaza Strip are just the latest outbursts of a continuing global wave of authoritarianism on the part of the ruling classes. Almost all of Latin America (Brazil, Chile, Argentina, Peru, Guatemala, ...) has come under harsh austerity to apply the neo-liberal recipe of rule. In China, President Xi Jinping has recently strengthened his power. In Russia, Putin reigns by stifling all opposition. In the United States, Trump continues his policy of financial and environmental deregulation without real checks and balances. In the Philippines, Poland, India, in dozens of countries, we find this combination of strong power, defending the interests of the oligarchy, and destroying the environment in the name of economic growth. More and more, Europe is moving towards this new model of authoritarian oligarchy. It is in fact a global civil war that is unfolding, a war waged by the ruling classes against people dazed by globalisation, and against the factions that still manage to oppose the shock strategy of the capitalists.
One figure indicates what’s at stake in what is not only a social struggle, but a war over the future of humanity on a planet beset by a historical ecological crisis : the members of the group of the richest 1% in the world emit an average of 80 t of CO2 each year, which is nine times more than the average of the world’s population (6.2 t). In other words, the richest are the most polluting. And given the gravity of climate change and its predictable impacts, it can be said that these emitters of 80 t CO2 per year are truly criminals.
What the oligarchies promote is to maintain a system in which they undermine the public interest. The ecological crisis is at the heart of the public interest at the beginning of the twenty-first century. Its outcome will decide the conditions of humanity’s existence. It is almost ironic that their current attack is aimed at a place where people seeks to find ways to - among other things - live in a way that does not alter the climate.
This is why Messieurs Macron, Philippe, Collomb and Hulot, who preserve the interests of the members of the 80-tons-a-year club, are also criminals. And that is why we must defend the Zad.
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By Hervé Kempf. A French version of this article was originally published on Reporterre.