A response to Mr. Hazan


Dear Eric,

The article which you wrote three weeks ago [April 18, 2016] made me reflect on the role of the police at the heart of this movement [against the Labor Law] and our general confrontation with the forces of order. I would like to reprise your arguments one by one that you presented since it seems to me that they arise from an ahistorical reading of our situation and produce a kind of paralysis which we would be better off without during these important times.

The principal thesis

You say: “During the protests these last few days, the watchword most commonly reprised by the youth has been: ‘Everybody hates the police!.’ It’s emotional and understandable but not very intelligent. In all successful insurrections, from the storming of the Bastille up to the fall of Ben Ali & Mubarak, the decisive moment was when the ‘forces of order’ defected. Inversely, each time that the forces [of order] have formed a block to defend the regime, the insurgents have been defeated and massacred. It’s a kind of law, without exceptions.”

A law that is universal and ahistorical,without exception: we need the police to succeed in an insurrection. To support this famous law, we have three examples which we must revisit.


The bad examples

The storming of the Bastille, July 14th 1789. Without getting into the details, which you would know better than I would, let us remember that on July 12th, it was no less than 48,000 voters which constituted a militia, pillaged storehouses in search of weapons, ordered the construction of 50,000 lances, went to seek out weapons at Invalides the very same day and finally end up seizing the Bastille which was held by 30 Swiss Guards and 80 injured veterans of war. Of course after the pillaging of Invalides, certain regiments would refuse to attack the 80,000 persons gathered out front. Evidently, things would have taken a different turn if there were a direct confrontation. But no one went to go see them and ask that they take another way: the heads of the regiments decided themselves, without any coercion, to not charge against an armed crowd prepared to do anything to reach their goal.


The fall of Ben Ali and Mubarak. When it comes to Tunisia, about 388 persons were killed during the revolution of 2011 and more than 2000 injured. The people of Tunisia fought against the police unto death. Hatred of the police was one of the three pillars of the movement (along with political corruption and social misery). No one in Tunisia had seen such violent clashes for 30 years. The same situation with Mubarak: across Egypt police kiosks were burned down, then police cars and then police stations from which prisoners were released. The following days, the police station archives were meticulously pillaged and destroyed. Three rockets were launched on the police in the Sinai (probably be Bedouins) at Sheikh Zuweid. There again, the police were a preferred target before becoming allies in the ultimately victorious insurrection. Apparently when 60% of police stations are burned down in a few weeks, some police will switch sides. They do so because of fear, not due to any kindness.


A diversity of situations

Let us analyze these situations. If the linking of Ben Ali and Mubarak appears justified, including the seizure of the Bastille seems to be an aberration: maybe the political context is similar (social misery, inequality, etc.) but the institution of the police and the “forces of order” have nothing to do with the first two examples. In 1789, various infantry, calvary and artillery corps were juxtaposed and did not answer to a unified command. Most of the soldiers were locally recruited and could have easily joined the side of the crowd, which they came from. Some regiments effectively refused to defend Invalides when ordered to. In Tunisia and Egypt, an essential distinction was made between the army and the police. If a few police officers joined the protesters, this was a negligible event in both cases. The overturning of the “forces of order” names in reality the heavy decision of the army to intervene between the protesters and the police. “The forces of order” are much more complex than you make them out to be and they never join en masse the side of the protesters. It is necessary in your analysis to begin to distinguish between the police and the army to better understand the situation in certain countries. You will also have to take into consideration, as in the case of France, the advances made in the sector of the maintenance of public order. To cite a single example, we all know that the anti-riot police, since the mid-20th century, have been immediately separated from the region they live in so that fraternization with the people becomes difficult. The police have above all policed the police officers: from life in the barracks, to career goals, all is done so that fraternization is impossible or undesirable.


Political calculation

With a closer attention to these situations and the famous overturnings of the forces of order, we cannot just simply pretend that they are those responsible for the “victory” of insurrections. There is a profound naivete to support the idea that the Egyptian army placed itself in service of the people and the revolution without any other motives, convinced of the merits of the revolt. Certainly the army intervened after a few weeks between the police and the protesters and we cannot deny that this averted many more deaths. But how could we not look beyond the images of the jubilant crowds dancing on the tanks in Tahrir square? How could one not see, for example, that this same army now forbids the Egyptian people to celebrate the anniversary of January 25th, 2011 in Tahrir Square? The army took on the role of the savior of the people, which allowed it to hijack the revolution and to place their men in power. The bill for the victory.


Determination and fear

When it is not political calculation which guides the overturning of the forces of order, it is neither the pleas of the protesters, but rather their determination. In all the examples cited, we never see mentioned that the protesters cried out “the police are with us” as you would encourage us to do. No one pleaded to them: a growing fringe of people had simply joined an uncommon determination. Let us sack all the police stations and see if the police still dare to rough up high school students. Let us attack a building with 80,000 and let us see if they dare shoot at us. The challenge is not to plea to the “forces of order” but to raise the permanence of the level of conflictuality to reach a relation of force such that it allows, by fear, for them to switch sides. The cops will not join us when we have convinced them to, but when we have learned how to make them tremble. They will only desert when the situation will lead them to seriously reconsider which side is worth taking. Apparently it is only when the streets have discredited the existing order of things, when those in power are everywhere fleeing, that, at that very moment, the representatives of the State begin to think about what they do. It is that which we must achieve, which does not just include the police: to generate situations where everyone must join in. In this way “victorious” insurrections or failed ones do not primarily address the police, though they are are the first targets: these insurrections are moments where no one can escape, where everyone must take part and which radically redesign the political map.



Anyway, even if an insurrection could make recourse to the forces of order, is it not embarrassing to continually beg for their help? To say that an insurrection could only be victorious but with the help of the forces of order, we are compelled to make police officers into arbiters of the revolution, instead of toppling them to join us. We do not want to struggle this way. We refuse to be victims: this is why we must organize against the forces of order with a growing determination. Above all, there are many of us in this movement which desire a world without police: ultimately, “some police officers” which desert may have some good sense and fortitude which would make us of; on the other hand, “the police are with us” is the last thing we could aspire to.


Everyone hates the police

Finally, I maintain that the absolute relevance of the slogan which has become majoritarian within the movement against the Labor law: “everyone hates the police.” Apparently, it does not reflect reality: in France, the police remain an institution adulated by too many, notably other police officers. But there remains a diffused feeling, a sort of rampant small hate against these men whom wield every right, give depositions, shout at us, arrest our friends, go into the homes of anyone whenever they want, maim teenagers with flashbombs with complete impunity, etc. In a way, every one has their reasons, either grand or small, to detest the forces of order, which highlights the relevancy of the slogan. Let us return to an argument which you proposed on this matter: “let us avoid watchwords that bind the enemy as an undifferentiated mass.” First, I will note the passage where you unite the enemy when speaking of the “forces of order,” of the police and the army, as though they were a single institution. But I also ask myself if your argument does not ultimately address itself to police officers themselves, to create a schism within their police subjectivity, between the representative of public authority and the “famous” human being that hides behind the uniform. In other words, I wonder if the police also come to hate themselves as police officers.


Anyway, it seems they kill themselves more frequently than others. We can understand why. This explains why they felt the need to protest on May 18th against the hatred we feel for them: they feel threatened and thus must seek out some confidence. “Force must remain within the law,” they thump. “Neither law, nor labor” affirm our banners. Even police officers understand that the hate we feel for them makes them weak, and this is what we aspire to, among other things, to construct a relation of force.

“Why not be intelligent?” you ask.  Why not, in effect, analyze a bit more closely the historical contexts, the unbearable situation we find ourselves in, the role of the police in all its forms in this situation and the place of our fight in all this? In light of the last lines, in place of “take down your helmets, the police are with us,” I would rather address myself to everyone else and say: “put on your helmets, the police are afoot.”





ediciones chafa, August 13, 2016


Originally published on May 9th, 2016 on Lundi Matin.
Translated from the French.


ediciones chafa, a chicano from NorthEast L.A. sharing with you the fruits of translation from the French & the Spanish. this chicano is a non-professional, non-academic translator. original texts will also live here from an anti-political, anti-capitalist position.

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