The light at the end of the tunnel is the light of the train. Open letter to Yves Cochet

With his book Devant l’effondrement (Facing Collapse), Yves Cochet seems to massively deny that there is still time to undertake any political initiative to halt the ongoing disaster and to pilot the landing of the mad mega-machine that has as its names modernity and progress, and that in reality devastates, desertifies, disfigures. However, here and there, in his rich, lively, well-documented and paradoxically invigorating text, the subtle denial of this open defeatism emerges — a return of the repressed obliges! Here we wish to enter the breach of contradiction. Not because of optimism — the carrots are cooked, of course — but because the desire persists beyond the obvious cancellation of any chance of being carried out, as a game of the imagination. So let’s write the program and breathe a sigh of relief after Marx and like him: diximus et salvavimus animas nostras. We will be dead on our feet, but not undead.

Dear Yves Cochet,

You had succeeded in making us (extremely) sympathetic a (former) member (certainly not any but almost the only one) of any European government subsequent to our ‘political birth’ (which took place at the end of the 70s) by your famous article published on August 23, 2017 in Libération and taken over by the décroissant newspaper Kairos since.

Now that we read your Facing Collapse, we are convinced of the need for collaboration. About a year ago, we started working on a draft of a crash program (we would have said: a landing program) of classical partition (with its chapters ‘defense’, ‘demography’, ‘agriculture’, ‘education’, ‘urbanism’, ’employment’, ‘mobility’, ‘energy’ etc.), which would be incubated by a circle of counter-experts as large as possible in the European French-speaking world (following which the other Europeans would of course be invited to decline in their own languages), within a reasonable time. Let’s admit that from our Brussels desert and as the colleague and comrade Bernard Aspe says, the world does not respond, who would have thought it (you no doubt) — the small world of the first concentric circle, at least. Fortunately, there are circles beyond the first (or the last, depending on which).

As a consequence of this embarrassed or hostile silence encountered at random in our ‘militant’ encounters, or rather in defiance of any institutional militancy (alas!), we wrote an appeal defended last summer in Millevaches during the week of seminars of the Écoles de la terre organized among others by the Éditions Dehors and in which Latour, Hache, Wahnich, Aspe, Patrick Degeorge (from À l’école de l’anthropocène de Lyon) and many other researchers, activists, neo-rurals etc. We have conceived this call essentially in the direction of this diffuse counter-expertise that constitutes the vast family that ignores itself (or rather neglects itself, competition obliges) of scholars dispersed more or less advantageously in the educational-scientific system and who feel strong anti-systemic sympathies without often having the opportunity to express them fully, and almost never publicly. The objective is to convince her of the need to collaborate in the development of this crash program. This call waits to be sent until the basic outline of this program is written. Yet successive disillusionments encountered since late 2019 have interrupted our writing course. But no matter, that disillusionment falls away when reading you.

Of course, you claim to be free of any political perspective that aims at what we call a controlled landing (which you call ‘soft’, p. 33, to make it impossible) as opposed to a spontaneous and chaotic collapse. Thus we read on p. 150 that « the steps to adapt to this future are therefore inspired by necessity rather than will », as if to clear your speculation of any political obligation — is this possible? But then he adds: « except that of minimizing the suffering and death over the next three decades ». You might as well say that your desire for impact — what else is politics? — reappears as soon as it is supposedly swept away.

Better, p. 142 already, we read that « the food shock will be comparable to that experienced by the inhabitants of Cuba immediately after the fall of the USSR in 1991 », after which you explain how the Cubans remedied the situation, not to mention that there was no collapse, but that’s what we understand from reading you. The perhaps unnoticed consequence of what you say about Cuba is that a power of type globally planner (however questionable it may be in its tropical form), in a situation such as the one we nice ‘market-friendly’ liberals will have to face, manages to avoid the collapse by substituting the piloted landing. From there to claim that it is necessary to imitate Cuba, there is a step that we will obviously not take, except to consider imitation as always inventive, with Tarde.

In other words, there seems to be only one piece of paper between your ‘non-political’ recommendations… and the possible political recommendations. Our question is therefore: why not (no longer?) include the ‘State’ element in the set of factors of transformation-less disastrous-possible, if not for having (you) experienced it, disastrous for the time being according to your statements (and we have no trouble believing you)? That this state in its essence is the armed arm at the national level of a globalized productivist gangsterocracy is not in doubt. But finally, revolutions (the opposite of what you rightly call ‘reformism’) always invest in principle this apparatus of massive nuisance (right hand: productivism, repression, etc., and the Bourdieuan left hand is only charity or egoism, which is now disappearing) in order to neutralize it, that is, to make it function in reverse to its ordinary missions and to make it work. — But finally, revolutions (the opposite of what you rightly call ‘reformism’) always invest in principle this apparatus of massive nuisance (right hand: productivism, repression, etc., and the Bourdieuan left hand is only charity or evertarianism, now in the process of disappearing) in order to neutralize it, that is to say, to make it function in the opposite direction to its ordinary missions, and to make it contribute to ends that are entirely new and ‘aberrant’ from the point of view of its former tenants.

In fact, your hesitation can be traced as early as page 9, where you say: « If I were to state one of these orientations today, on a global scale, it would be: organizing the urban exodus and building bioregions that are resilient in terms of food and energy. There are other interventions of yours on Youtube where you put forward such proposals with the skepticism of a scalded cat who is not to be messed with anymore. In short, the abandonment of policy that you trumpet, you are in fact doing so only reluctantly.

We could continue to quote you to further illustrate this oscillation between political renunciation and velléité. After having disavowed political millenarianism as belonging to sad affects (with the class struggle etc.), you claim this same millenarianism, renamed certainly ‘secular’ on pp. 221 and 226 — but you favorably evoke on p. 224 an eschatology that is indeed political, this time! We find it difficult to see how a millenarianism could not be an eschatology. Even better, on p. 226, you explicitly say that « it is a question of elaborating a whole policy in the perspective of an imminent collapse of the world and of humanity ». More clear than that! You go so far as to confess that « contrary to your party comrades, I have been aspiring for about fifteen years to a catastrophist ideological refounding of political ecology within the framework of the Anthropocene »! This is the only way, you say elsewhere, to revive public interest in ecology: by inventing a new grand narrative; to make ecology politically important.

To crown it all, this measure that we have just quoted and that appears in your book is one of the three main orientations of the program to come such as we conceive it in a still only embryonic way: the urban exodus appears indeed side by side with the denatality and the rehabilitation of workers’ formations that would restore the domination of the tool by the worker against that of the proletarian by the machinism. We therefore believe that this crash program should be developed.

Let us leave for the moment possible arguments like these: you rightly dismiss the ‘felicitous’ and ‘persevering’ (p. 225) reformists of the happy transition (‘no drop in living standards for the middle classes!’) in the name of a rupturist perspective. But what is a piloted landing program if not a transitional program of disruption ? Disruption, in the context of transition as we understand it and which is not related to the ‘development-sustainability’ transition, would be controlled, that’s all — rather than being synonymous with systemic collapse as you suggest.

Similarly, your barrage against the notion of capitalocene. But, you say in substance, « capitalism is not the only problem, it is productivism in general! Socialism evolves according to the same model! Except thatthis time it’s different, according to your own admission, and you start the Anthropocene… with the industrial age. This is exactly why the Malm etc. speak of the capitalocene, so as not to trace the anthropocene back to the Neolithic, as per your own express recommendations p. 224: « the Anthropocene is not the Holocene ». It is clear that the dominant statist Marxism of the 20th century has not done much to attract the sympathy of radical ecologists for Marx’s writings, but we are sure that your intention is not to insult Marx by reducing his thought to a vulgar Melenchonian distributivism (there is no need to go through the endless volumes of the Critique of Political Economy (this is the subtitle of CapitalMoreover, contemporary American Marxology today (Foster, Burkett, etc.) firmly revives the anti-industrial vein (most often implicit, it is true) of the Marxian critique of value, in a more visible way than its predecessors of the twentieth century, who ended up in the camps or in suicide or both, it is certain and obvious. We are at the antipodes of Marxism, this ode to the industrial bourgeoisie painted in red. What Marx shows is that industrial civilization begins by destroying the non-environmental part of the ‘environment’ — of nature — namely the human race itself in the slavery of capital valorization. You are not mistaken in quoting Gorz but also W. Benjamin, who was not precisely a progressive, without being unfavorable to Marx’s thought. But let’s leave this tradition of thought that the convulsions of the 20th century have maintained in a very understandable way at the distance of radical ecology, a distance that is in fact unnatural. However, the gap is floating: do we still have to quote you? You mention the fetishism of the commodity on p. 52, economic planning on p. 79, the international division of labor, the accumulation of capital on p. 80, the production of commodities that appeared in the 16th century on p. 93… So many conceptual borrowings from the critique of political economy for an author who is reputed to be heterogeneous to this tradition!

In short, if you were the head of a party, we would be its most fervent supporters. This is not the case. It remains to be developed. Not yet to found it in hard, as Lordon says, with walls, secretariat, treasury etc., but as a program. This is why we call this program the program-party, a party that would (for the time being?) resolve itself entirely into the program, but that could serve as a charter, when the time comes (of a relative hegemony within the opinion — to be measured how? we’ll see then) — to serve an organization, therefore, where each impermanent member would be able (a bit like your rotating police) to play successively various political roles, in a context where the assumption of the functions of public power (to be transformed into dysfunctions, it is understood) would be the order of the day, because, once again, of a tilt in opinion in favor of the said program and which would call for such a constitution to come out of virtuality.

A congress of adoption of this party-program (rather than party-foundation), where the latter would be adopted after final debates, could be held at the Théâtre National in Brussels, where a political event of this kind was already telecast in 2017 on the occasion of the inaugural session of a world parliament of activist associations convened at the Schaubühne in Berlin by its then director Milo Rau.

Wouldn’t this be at least, if not the best, a pleasant way to wait for 2025, 2030, 2035? As William the Silent said,  » there is no need to hope to undertake or to succeed to persevere ».

We evokeions the large family who ignores himself (not quite, but where are the family meetings?) of the European counter-expertise: it goes far beyond the framework of academic science, of course, to include the vast world of associations of partial struggles (sometimes to agenda antihidden systemic). In this network, your institution is certainly a node and, therefore, a relay considerables.If you agree, you could, in addition to your direct contribution to the development of the programto help disseminate the call with the ‘thinkers’ of the transformation in progress. The basic outline of the program — which should be taken for what it is and nothing more, a pretext to start this vast collective work, a canvas on which to embroider in an authorized way for the (counter-)experts of which, unlike you, we are not part — would then follow quickly in order to be able to start the work with those who would have responded favorably to the call in question — starting, we hope, with Momentum.

With our warmest regards.

Jean-François Gava

Jonas Vigna Carafe

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