Here is the provisional description of a social place that tries to get out of the dead ends of industrial capitalism and to escape its collapses. This place is the « zad » located in the bocage of Notre-Dame-des-Landes, about twenty kilometers northwest of Nantes. It is in this bocage that, for the past 40 years, various French governments have tried to impose a larger airport than the first one (« Nantes-Atlantique »). But « escaping collapse » is a bit abstract. This is why a resident of the bocage specifies that beyond this aspect, there are concrete and sensitive desires: » It is also, he says, the desire to get out of a life too narrow to be exalting, to break with a path of life too individual and solitary not to be pathological, to escape from work in a company in whose values and from which one does not recognize himself. It is finally the desire that something new is born, carried by a popular force much larger and stronger than us « . Is the « Nantes » or « libertarian » bocage (I’ll call it that from now on) another society? A society after ? For a quick characterization, I would say that we are in a place of real transition: we live differently than in our cities and our countryside. The difference is very noticeable, although there are inevitable « remnants » of industrial capitalism (the libertarian bocage is neither off the ground nor out of time). The present account is mainly a provisional ethnographic description, with minimal elements of anthropological analysis added here and there.
SOME PRELIMINARY PRECAUTIONS
- For all intents and purposes, I remind you that there is already a « historic » airport south of Nantes (« Nantes-Atlantique »), and for successive governments it was a question of building a larger airport in the bocage.
- In general, the words we use today are important because they either try to express a truth-reality (and then they compose a language) or to mask it (and then they compose a novlanguage). The question arises immediately for the « zad ». From now on, I will no longer say « zad » (« Zone d’Aménagement Différé », acronym of the state and entrepreneurial technocracy, acronym that the resistance fighters have reversed into « Zone À Défendre » during the fight against the airport). I won’t say « zad » anymore because some of the bocagers, I believe, want to abandon the word. It must be said that from now on the area is no longer to be defended, but to be inhabited. (All this is not to say that the resistance fighters in Nantes did not like the word « Zone À Défendre » and the thing it referred to). Instead of « zad », I will say « bocage » or I will use any other non-technocratic word. In the same way, I will no longer speak of « zadists », but of « resistants » or « inhabitants », « libertarians », « eco-libertarians », or I will use any other appropriate term. It is important here not to presuppose that the resisters are a homogeneous, uniformly environmentalist group. That some have this sensitivity at the outset is certain. But many others come from different horizons: proletarian struggle, fight for freedoms and public services, solidarity with migrants, anti-authoritarianism and self-management, squat movement, etc. Then, thanks to the fight against the airport, a fight with obvious ecological resonances, reciprocal influences were exerted, and convergences took place which encouraged the consideration of these issues.
- The people of the bocage are often called anarchists and sometimes they say they are (in some of their dry toilets, one reads the humorous inscription: « Anarchy in the sawdust »). For my part, I will not use the word anarchy again because it has so many meanings and covers so many different political tendencies that it is difficult to find one’s way around (when the word does not simply mean: chaos, bazaar, anomie…). I would say rather libertarian, because the people of the bocage practice values of common, active and concrete freedom : freedom to act in common, solidarity, mutual aid and daily co-activity, non-centrality of property and money, priority of use over property, active autonomy (independence from the sovereign State and the Company), real autonomous activity (and not this passivity disguised as activity which characterizes the wage-earner and in which the wage-earner, subjected to a manager-president, state or private, is more passive than active because a good part of his « activity » obeys the objectives of the managerial technostructure of the absolute State and of the Enterprise) To all this we can add: absence of personal hierarchy, therefore practical and concrete equality, refusal of a vertical authority instituted in a system, acceptance, it seems, of a verticality of « the social imaginary meaning » (Castoriadis), which means: each one obeys the symbolic Law (or « imaginary meaning ») that the members of the political community have placed above their heads, an imaginary meaning that can be summed up in a few words: « active liberty, practical fraternity, and concrete autonomy of the community and of the individuals ».
For lack of space, I will not insist at length on an important anthropological aspect: political sacredness . But the importance of this point requires that, even in the narrow space of this description, a few words be said about it — starting with this: the sacred is not the religious or the divine. The Nantes bocage is a region of political sacredness, in the sense that the sacredness that characterized most human societies before the capitalist-industrial revolution of the eighteenth century is precisely destroyed by the said industrial revolution. This is why Marx, in The Manifesto, speaks of the bourgeoisie as a desacralizing force. Definition: the sacred (in Greek: hieros = sacred and strong, robust, vigorous), it is the common power that rises from below, from the people, and that places above the individuals social imaginary meanings, in this case values of common autonomy that come from their interrelations (according to a process that is therefore neither a flat individual interiority, nor an exteriority falling from the sky, but a relational interiority that rises in superiority). The sacred goes hand in hand with what Simone Weil, in her little book on The Sacred and the Person, calls the « common » or the « impersonal. The concrete values of the impersonal community (common freedom to debate and decide, equality, autonomy, mutual aid) are sacred in the anthropological sense of the word, i.e. unconditional, superior to the individuals they constitute from within. It is because there is an impersonal hierarchy in the bocage (the impersonal Value « Equality-Active Freedom » dominates the community of people) that there is no hierarchy of people (inequality) and that there is no fundamental contradiction between the common values and the individuals who practice them.
In this, the sacred is opposed to the divine (or religious) which is born with the three monotheisms, and especially with pontifical Christianity in the XIcentury: the divine, including in its secularized form that is capitalism, is a power that descends from above on the people (multiple power: God, the State, Capital, Technoscience). The CEO of Goldmann Sachs bank recently told a journalist: « I am a banker doing God’s work « . One understands better here in what it is the capitalist or industrial God who desecrates men and society. On the contrary, it seems that the movement initiated by the bocagers tends to re-sacralize society and men. Sacredness, of course, is not religious, but political, since common practices are not set in stone once and for all, but are always open to debate and discussion. Durkheim writes in The Elementary Forms of Religious Life : » There is, at least, one principle that the most free-minded people tend to put above discussion and to consider as intangible, that is, as sacred: it is the very principle of free examination. « .
- Generally speaking, I will use the word State in a sense related to the first meaning given to it by the Italian philosopher Gramsci. This first meaning (according to a Gramsian vision that has been slightly reoriented here) is the State as government, as absolute Sovereign, and therefore really or potentially authoritarian or totalitarian. (There is a second meaning, that is, the State as an instrument of administrative and social coordination, but it is not this State that is discussed hereafter. It will only be about the absolute Sovereign, historically inherited from the Gregorian reform of the Church in the 11th century, and the absolute monarchy of the classical age. When the State is sovereign, it is because the people are not. It is, for example, the absolute Sovereign who decrees a state of emergency, whether sanitary, police or military).
- I cannot relate here all of what I observed during my stay, because I saw sometimes things (not serious actually, but) which are at the limits of the unjust legality of the industrial society; to tell them would be to expose the libertarians of the bocage to the risk of judicial and/or police retaliation. But ethnography, even in the minimal version practiced here, is not an activity of snitching. Let us not forget that in an industrial society, the Law is first of all the armed arm of the Economy (of Industry, of Capital or of the Enterprise) in whose service the sovereign State works. In this case, the sovereign state had planned to entrust the construction, operation and profits of the new airport to the construction company Vinci.
- In order to do so, and to understand the present period, it would be necessary to relate the recent past of the bocage, which is a history of resistance to the will of the concrete industry to dominate the people and the peasant lands. It would take too long to tell this story. But it is important to know that the local occupants lived through the war. War waged by the sovereign state with the aim not of killing, but of evicting and injuring people. The photos of the grenade-launching tanks in the bocage are impressive. It should also be remembered that during the fight against the airport, the resistance collective had its own ambulance, because it was not uncommon for the « forces of order » to delay the arrival of help in case of injury to the demonstrators in order to physically and morally despair the resistance movement.
MINIMUM PRESENTATION OF THE BOCAGE
Physical geography: the libertarian bocage is a very small region located at about twenty kilometers in the northwest of Nantes. This region has the elongated shape of an almond. The bocage kernel is about 8 kilometers long (east to west) and about 2 kilometers at its widest point (north to south). To the north we find the village of Notre-Dame-des-Landes (there we don’t say « village », but « bourg »). To the south are three other towns: Temple-de-Bretagne, Vigneux-de- Bretagne and La Paquelais. The bocage is a beautiful ensemble of meadows, woods, paths and tracks, ponds, hedges, fields where you can see many different birds, deer, frogs, etc. But beware of illusions: this nature is far from being wild, it is strongly anthropized: it is a culture. This does not prevent her from being beautiful. Moreover, libertarians are not lulled into the wild delusion that nature must be an untouched sanctuary. And above all: they oppose the fantasies of ecological « solutions » that would not call into question capitalism, industrialization and « development » — said « solutions » feeding the idea that the sanctuary of the 1,600 hectares of the bocage would make it possible to accept that outside the bocage, people continue to make themselves dependent on the commercial and industrial sphere. The bocagers, on the other hand, feel that they are somewhere between sanctuary and industrialization. For example, they seem to claim a peasant and not an industrial forestry. Perhaps the future of the local forest will tell if their sentiment matches reality.
Political geography: Physically very small, this region is symbolically (politically) of immense importance. Unless I am mistaken, the number of eco-libertarian inhabitants can be estimated at about 150–200. Which is not much. But let’s remember that at the height of the struggle against the Vinci State airport, the demonstrations in Nantes and Brittany were able to gather 50,000 people! People coming sometimes from all over France and sometimes from several foreign countries. Moreover, the Bocage libertarians are in constant international contact with other regions of the world: Italians from the Val de Susa, inhabitants of the Mexican Chiapas, Kurdish Rojava… and also with an English environmentalist group that is fighting the creation of a third airport runway in London, etc. So no localist or nationalist withdrawal among the bocagers. Generally speaking, one can consider that these 150–200 eco-libertarians are the « children » of the tens of thousands of people who have demonstrated more or less regularly for years against the airport project. In other words, the 150–200 condense in themselves the social forces of the active people who, by opposing the airport project, led in January 2018 to the defeat of the Vinci State and the victory of the libertarians over it… This victory must be added to that of Larzac in 1981, to that which was won, the same year, against the project of a nuclear power station of Plogoff (Finistère), then to that which signed, in 1997, the abandonment of another nuclear plant in Carnet (Loire-Atlantique). In the wake of the Notre-Dame-des-Landes victory, there are also more discreet but no less significant victories: that of the inhabitants of Roybon in Isère against the Center Parcs project of the tourist-industrial company Pierre et Vacances, and the victory of the market gardening district of Les Lentillères in Dijon, against a real estate project for an eco-neighborhood elaborated by the city council.
Population: The population of the bocage and the surrounding area is diverse. There are animals: we have already listed some of them (« wild »). But there are also domestic animals: cows, pigs, sheep, horses, chickens, dogs, cats (sometimes etic and pitiful). There are historical inhabitants (who live in the villages and in the peripheral housing estates). Some were hostile to both the airport and the (eco)libertarians. Among these historicals, there are « individual » farmers who are either indifferent or hostile to the libertarians, or sympathetic, and in the latter case, they cooperate (example: the libertarians give a hand to the historical farmer, and the latter lends his old… industrial tractor to the libertarians… who debate whether an old tractor should still be called « industrial »). Some historical farmers of the bocage have actively participated in the common fight against the airport project: and for good reason! The airport risked wiping their farm off the local map. The community of resistance in the past has allowed for an active and concrete solidarity between the historical and the « new » today. Besides the animals and the historical inhabitants, there are also the (eco)libertarian inhabitants (estimated 150–200 permanent people). They represent only a part of the libertarian activists engaged in the resistance to the airport project. This movement is very diverse, and we can say that the (ecologist)libertarian tendency that inhabits the bocage today is the most… (actually, it is difficult to name it). I would be tempted to say: the most « moderate » tendency (but that is the vocabulary of technocrats). Perhaps we should say: the most concrete, the least ideological, the least ideocratic, the most determined tendency to inhabit the bocage, to make a new concrete society emerge, to make sure that the Sovereign State, Vinci and their policemen do not come back to put their nose in the bocage (« pass your way, it is occupied and inhabited! »). In short, it is the tendency that does not hesitate, when the game is worth the candle, to make compromises with the historical inhabitants and with the Sovereign State.
It should also be noted that — paradoxically in appearance — the victory (the official announcement, made by Macron in January 2018, of the government’s renunciation of the airport project) almost took on the appearance of a defeat for the resisters: for once the victory was achieved, what was to be done? » We won. Very good. What do we do now? Shall we go? « But wouldn’t leaving leave the door open to new industrial invasions? Moreover, almost no one wanted to leave, most people wanting to continue to live there and fight what libertarians sometimes call « Babylon, » the corrupt world symbolized by the airport project. It remains that for many resistance fighters it was difficult to anticipate or imagine the change of situation — for some it was even existentially impossible. The question was posed to the resistance fighters in more or less these terms. And it has caused serious dissension and rifts in their ranks. To put it too quickly, some so-called « purist » libertarians have objected to the current « concrete » tendency that one should not negotiate with the Sovereign State because it would first be unworthy and then doomed to failure. The current « concretes » replied that if the goal was to preserve « our bocage, our lives, our friendships, our attachments and the political sense of the way of life that we defend, not individualistic, more peasant, determined to defend the commons » (I quote a resident), it was necessary to stay and, for that, to negotiate with the State. In the end, the « purists » left. And the « concretes » have agreed to file individual files with the Prefecture for agricultural installation (9‑year lease, renewable — some files are still being processed). Initially, the « concretes » wanted to submit common files, but we know that the European absolute State is individualistic: » The State is me « , said Louis XIV and Stalin. And since the individualistic State is powerful and formalistic, the « concrete » ones said to themselves: we accept to file individual files, and afterwards, we will do what we want, and if we want to work in common, we will do it without shouting it from the rooftops, and nobody will prevent us from doing it. It should be noted that being officially recognized as an individual farmer allows one to obtain subsidies from… the French and European governments for a certain period. It helps! (Another contradiction of the (eco)libertarians. But who would dare to reproach them for it, they whose daily physical and moral courage is no longer to be demonstrated?)
The current concrete libertarian inhabitants form a whole which tries to make society. For my part and for the moment (it can change), I am not sure that it can already be called a company. Why? Because a society is at least (beyond concrete solidarity and mutual aid) a mixture of adults, children and old people. But in the eco-libertarian bocage there are very few children, and no old people (but there are old historical peasants). The bulk of the bocage-libertarian population is composed of adults in their thirties (sometimes a little less, sometimes a little more). This ultimately raises the question of the organic social longevity of the libertarian bocage. Also noteworthy, in the two places I saw, was the strong disproportion between men and women: in each case, in a collective hamlet of about 10 people, there were only 3 women. Why? Mystery. But I was told that another place was all female. Since I haven’t seen it, the case is to be followed.
Sociologically speaking, among the current libertarian residents I have stayed with, there are non-baccalaureate holders, baccalaureate holders, a convict (who did 5 years in prison), engineers, a classical and modern dance enthusiast, a social worker (special educator), and students who have broken off their studies. All of them were very knowledgeable both manually and intellectually, and made up a very courteous and educated group. Note: Blacks or North Africans are very rare in the bocage. Almost all the inhabitants are white. What does that mean? I don’t know. In any case, I will not reproach the libertarians with this insofar as Blacks and North Africans already have difficulty integrating into Babylon. A fortiori they do not seek to experiment with other forms of social life.
Third type of population seen in the bocage: « marginals » (that I did not frequent closely). Nevertheless, I will try to describe them briefly, superficially. Let’s say that they don’t have the same habitus as the previous ones and don’t live in the same places as them. From a distance, they appear to be de-socialized, or at least lacking in the desire to institute a new society. They look a bit like the vagrants we meet on our urban sidewalks. It is possible that they have fled from our corrupt and inhospitable cities (our Babylons) and that they have found in the bocage a refuge where they are « left alone » and where they manage to live or survive under solid and more or less waterproof roofs (it seems that it rains from time to time in Brittany).
I am now focusing on the (eco-)libertarian inhabitants.
HABITAT AND LIFESTYLE
The (ecolo)libertarians live according to the principle of the « collective » (group of about ten people). The groups live either on historic farms (or hamlets) that have been deserted by the owners, who were expropriated by the state in exchange for money to build the airport, or on recently self-developed sites in the form of a wooden house (often called a « shack »). The occupants do not pay rent and at the same time they do not own anything. Free use of land and « real estate ». So there are no « homeless » among the eco-libertarians. (It should be noted that the occupants are not yet paying rent, i.e., they will not pay rent until the central or local government regularizes the habitats by signing leases). It seems that the collectives were formed on the basis of friendly-political affinities during the fight against the airport. The bocage kernel includes about fifteen such collectives (hamlets, farms or « cabins »). The names are historical when the farm or the hamlet is historical (Les Fosses Noires, la Noé verte). The names are recent when the development is recent (the Hundred Names).
The farmhouse or wooden house is usually located in the center of a fairly large meadow. This center constitutes the space of the common life. It includes a kitchen, a dining room (and sometimes reading, computer and home theater), a shower room, a laundry room with electric washing machine. I emphasize that all these spaces and facilities are shared. Around the common center, a few meters or tens of meters away, there are caravans or mobile homes that are the private and intimate spaces for singles or couples (or the rare couples with children). Don’t forget another peripheral space: the small hut housing the dry toilets. Since there is no pit under the toilet, when the bucket is full (of sawdust and the rest) it must be emptied in turn onto the manure pile. After two years of composting, the manure naturally feeds the fertility of vegetable gardens.
In the historic hamlet of La Rolandière is the library of the ecolo-libertarian bocage (known as Le Taslu). All in wood. Splendid. Free of charge. You can consult or take away. In the farm of Haut Fay (outside and north of the bocage almond), there was an « anarchist university », but it ceased its activities after a few gesticulated conferences and a few courses. One resident explained that the idea was too ambitious. Today it is a place for workshops, parties and concerts. The groups and individuals that make up the collective hamlets have a very social life: they receive many outside visits (e.g. friends, libertarians from elsewhere, researchers, anthropologists, artists, writers, photographers, comic book authors) and many inside visits (from members of other local groups). We easily invite each other to eat between groups. As long as « non-bocage » visitors participate in agricultural and culinary activities, they eat for free with the « bocagers ». In the ecolo-libertarian bocage, we cook every day (in turn) and we eat well, the food is tasty! On the whole we are rather vegetarian. The auberge des Culs-de-Plomb is very « carnivorous ». Note that on this point the carnivorous libertarians are consistent and courageous: they do not rely on industrial slaughterhouses to eat meat, they kill the animals they eat themselves. Vegetarian food — tomatoes, zucchini, beans, etc. — comes from nearby organic gardens.
Every Monday is a cleaning day for everyone: we wash, sweep, clean the gas stove, the work surfaces and the sanitary facilities. It is so in all the bocage almond. Residents find it convenient to have everyone on the same day for this set of tasks because it also makes it easier to hold thematic activity group meetings, which usually bring together people from different locations. The eco-libertarians go out quite often, especially in the evening. Mainly to Nantes. Friends, restaurants, movies, etc. They are driving to work. Hello ecology. But leitmotiv: who will dare to blame them? In general, the cars are personal, but we lend them to each other. Sometimes they go (much) further than Nantes, for vacations or to see the family. But the journeys are not necessarily made by car. The train is also used.
Recently (July 2020), in a meadow next to the Hundred Names, the ecolo-libertarian bocage hosted a summer camp for underprivileged children from outside. Camp in the form of camping: the children and the monitors sleep in tents. Temporary showers and toilets. One evening, a local man, self-taught in magic, performed card tricks for us. We are the other inhabitants of the Hundred Names, the visitors and the children of the camp. Free show. Impressive. Great success! Anthropologically speaking, it is interesting to note that the Nantes bocage has seen the emergence of a rituality of its own. Rituality obviously not religious, but political, or aesthetic-political. It consists of parties, balls, banquets, fest-noz. For example, every January 17th, the abandonment of the airport project is celebrated with a banquet, songs, instrumental music, and possibly with a collective lifting of the frame. On January 17, 2020, the bocagers and their outside friends also celebrated two other victories: that of a small market gardening district in Dijon called Les Lentillères (where the town hall gave up building an eco-neighborhood) and that of Gonesse where the EuropaCity project was abandoned.
« ECONOMY »
We must put « economy » in quotation marks because strictly speaking there is almost no economy (in the capitalist or industrial sense) in the eco-libertarian bocage. « Almost » because the industrial economy being pervasive, how could it not be present in the bocage too?
The near absence of savings means mainly 4 things:
a/ money and private property are not central to the social life of the bocage. This raises a question: can we say, using a word of the philosopher-sociologists Pierre Dardot and Christian Laval, that the central principle of the bocage is the inappropriable? Legally, the 1,600 hectares of land in the almond grove belong to the sovereign state (which expropriated and compensated the former peasants in order to build the new airport), but in fact the balance of power established during and after the resistance means that the state does not use its right of ownership: it is forced (for the time being) to « tolerate » the occupants and the occupations Everything happens as if the land belonged to no one. For the better? Or for worse (sometimes the state seems to suggest that, when it decides, it will sell these lands, even if it means driving out the bocagers)? A December 18, 2019 departmental document states, » The Department is not intended to retain ownership of agricultural land. The objective of any land intervention will be the resale of acquired land to farmers or communities « (PEAN [Plan Espaces Agricoles et Naturels] des vallées de l’Erdre…, September 2019, p.23, see Nadir.org, Terre en Commun, Fonds de dotation: https://encommun.eco). The libertarian bocage therefore drew the conclusion that it should prepare to buy the land that would be sold by the department (see below the passage on the Endowment Fund).
b/ there is no notion of « economic growth » in the bocage: we work, we build, we cultivate simply to provide for collective and individual needs. For example: we do not build to make a return on real estate.
c/ the social division of labor, which in industrial society goes hand in hand with the totalitarianism of the market (« Don’t you grow the carrots you eat? Buy them. Don’t know how to install a faucet? Pay for the services of a plumber. You don’t know how to build a car? Pay for the car, gas, insurance, parking tickets, maintenance and repairs, tolls. »), this division of labor is rather reduced: in the bocage, the division between intellectual and manual workers is weak, even non-existent. In addition, and quite often, bocagers are both « artisans » and « farmers ». (When one does not know how to weld, one calls upon external craftsmen, even sympathetic, or even family members: » my brother-in-law is a plumber »).
d/consequences of a + b + c: just as there are no « homeless » in the eco-libertarian bocage, there are no unemployed. Everyone decides, works, builds, cultivates, tinkers, harvests, cooks, so everyone lives and eats with dignity.
The libertarian inhabitants are almost self-sufficient for (they produce themselves): construction wood (reasoned cuts of trees in the woods of the bocage), organic meat, organic vegetables (beans, potatoes, carrots, zucchini, onions, eggplant, peppers, etc.), organic milk, organic flour, organic bread, organic pancakes and crepes (we are in Brittany…), their internal or external publications. Organic bread is prepared in several places in the bocage. We know how to bake: the bread is delicious. It is free, but you can also pay: it is 2 euros per kilo. It is better to order in advance, otherwise at the last moment you may find yourself without bread. (Some inhabitants from outside the bocage come to buy their bread on these places: they pay 2 euros the kilo). As far as wood is concerned, the libertarians of the bocage have in the hamlet of Bellevue a sawmill with an impressive saw bench and a carpentry workshop with sophisticated machines. The bocagers seem to be experts in wood (from the maintenance of the forest to the final object).
It is clear that the new inhabitants of the place are anything but lazy. If work is defined as salaried activity, they are not working. If work is understood as a productive activity (even if not salaried), they work a lot. A bocage woman says, « The value of work is strong here. » She’s right. She says this with an ambiguous, perhaps very slightly critical intonation. One of his classmates seems to agree with him: he pleads for a day that would be less worked than the others. This raises the question of whether the bocagers are working too hard. But perhaps this is because the company is at the beginning of its institution and much remains to be done.
(Ecological) libertarians are not self-sufficient in (they do not produce): summer fruits, sugar, salt, chocolate, butter, oil, vinegar, clothes, laundry detergent, fuel for cars, DIY materials other than wood. So they need money to buy some of these things. They don’t buy chocolate, no fruit, at least not summer fruit (I guess it’s too expensive). They buy the other things listed above, starting with salted butter (this is Brittany…).
Their sources of money are:
- the RSA (550 euros/person): all the bocagers who are entitled to it receive the RSA, others share their RSA (RSA couple: 750 euros);
- French and European agricultural subsidies;
- the sale of bread, pancakes and crepes (which they prepare in large quantities). These (delicious!) pancakes are sold at low prices to AMAPs and to organic and solidarity grocery stores in Nantes;
- their expertise in wood. Sometimes a private forest owner calls upon these skills to maintain and use his forest. The (eco)libertarian « foresters » then charge for their services;
- other outside work (roofing, covering, etc.) that they are paid for.
All the money (except the RSA) goes into a common fund that is used for work sites and purchases. Each person, insofar as he or she receives RSA, pays 200 euros per month of this RSA into the common fund. If they wish, the temporary visitor can put money in the common fund. The common fund is that of the local collective. I don’t know if there is a common fund for the whole ecological bocage that would allow, for example, to help a collective in financial difficulty. What is certain is that there is mutual aid (materials and work) between the local collectives. At the Cent-Noms, one person voluntarily takes charge of the organization or coordination of material solidarity with the outside world. In the bocage, three other people participate in this organization-coordination. But this is only the last « stage » of solidarity activity: in fact, almost all bocagers participate in the earlier stages of solidarity activities. Recently this solidarity has been shown with the Yellow Vests and with the strikers of the SNCF (resistance to Macron’s counter-reform of pensions). When people are in financial difficulty because of low wages or because of a long strike, we prepare baskets of food, and we take them to Nantes for free distribution.
There is an « Assemblée des Usages » in the bocage which meets in principle on the first Tuesday of each month. The Assembly of Uses is the main organ of discussion and decision of the libertarian bocage. The choices to be made for the life and activities of the community are discussed and decided. Everyone can participate. Unless I am mistaken, about 30 people out of 150 or 200 bocagers regularly attend the Assembly sessions. This is not very many, but it is explained by the fact that the days are already full of peasant and artisan work, and other meetings devoted to the organization of this or that (solidarity, etc.). That said, many bocagers keep up with the work of the Uses Assembly. On this point, let us finally specify that the 30 participants are not always the same. There are spontaneous rotations according to the availability of each other. There is an endowment fund in the Bocage called « La terre en commun ». It is a legal tool in the making, at the service of the common good, mutual aid, respect and protection of biodiversity. The Assembly of Users is the place where debates are held, open to all, around the development of this tool. A bocager tells me more specifically: » The Fund is a strategic emanation of the resistance movement; its aim is to make the bocage lands a collective property, to facilitate collective uses, with all that can result from this in terms of the common organization of life and the collective relationship to the territory. »
The state is trying, as much as possible, to defeat this strategy and not sell anything to the bocagers… yet. The bocagers hope to be able to buy at least some of the buildings, but nothing is certain: » We’ll see what we can pull off… » says one of them. If the wishes of the bocagers were fulfilled, the land would become a definitive collective and inalienable property. It is with a view to purchasing the land that the fund is trying to collect various kinds of donations. With approximately 1,600 hectares, if a hectare costs 1,600 euros to purchase, the Fund should collect approximately 2.5 million euros. We thus see that the principle of the common as inappropriable(cf. Dardot and Laval mentioned above) seems for the moment unrealizable. This is quite logical because for the moment the Sovereign State is the owner of the land… which it can therefore sell to other owners. At best, the Sovereign State would accept that the land be collectively owned, but certainly not a common property-inappropriable.
There is also in the bocage a craft and agricultural cooperative called the Bocagère, composed of about forty people from different hamlets of the bocage. Its members recognize themselves from the Assembly of Uses and try to participate when they can. In addition to the endowment fund and La Bocagère, there is an association called Sème-ta-zad, which coordinates agricultural activities, organizes land rotation, and provides tools. In the La Bocagère cooperative, the decision-making process is interesting: it is estimated that one person opposing (out of 32) is not enough to block the decision-making process. If at least two people express opposition, it is considered to be starting to look like a collective idea, and a group of several people then takes on the task of thinking through the idea formulated. If this group work is not enough, but it doesn’t break up the whole, we move on. If there is a risk of a breakdown, the « red button » is pressed: we stop and discuss. Generally speaking, it is considered that a single person cannot be right against the collective practical intelligence. A bocager showed me a text by Georges Bataille that warned against the bureaucracy of the parties, against the mistrust of professional « revolutionaries » towards both the people and the intellectuals (see Contre-Attaque, 1935–1936, by Georges Bataille and André Breton, preface by M. Surya, ed. Ypsilon, Paris, 2013): » It is frequent, writes Bataille, to note among revolutionary militants a complete absence of confidence in the spontaneous reactions of the masses. […]. The same kind of distrust prevails against intellectuals. The distrust of intellectuals is only apparently contradictory to that which underestimates the spontaneous movements of the masses. « Very well. But, after having frequented the libertarian bocagers, the visitor wonders nevertheless if the « intellectuals » are not the object of a certain distrust on their part and thus if the bocagers are not in contradiction with Bataille.
Going through the preceding lines, a Taoist reader (yes, yes, it still exists!) asks me the great question that Hannah Arendt already formulated in her essay On Revolution, the question of « the freedom of non-participation in politics ». Let us recall a significant fact: Arendt described this freedom as « negative ». And one immediately thinks of the great paradigm of « negative freedom »: the freedom not to live, therefore to commit suicide. The Taoist reader asked in the current version: » Is it possible, in the bocage, not to participate in political life, i.e. in the elaboration of common decisions? Or is the social pressure so strong that it tends to exclude such a possibility? « Answer: my impression (it is only an impression) is that for those who want to keep away from the community (isolate themselves in their caravan or in the Taslu library to read, write, listen to music, not participate in assemblies), it is possible to do so. But if « we » do it too long-systematically-it can be a problem. It seems to me that it will be more acceptable that this or that person does not participate in the Assembly of the Uses, rather than that he or she does not participate in the common agricultural and artisanal works. Because if « we » don’t participate in them, it might start to look like « parasitism » (« You guys go ahead and work, I’ll isolate myself and eat what you produce »). That said, at the Cent-noms, I saw that one of the members of the hamlet had an orphan disease which made him suffer a lot, with in addition a strong claudication resulting from blows of police truncheons received during the movement of resistance to the airport project. Maybe that’s why I’ve never seen him (but who knows?) participate in the work in the fields or in the wood workshops. On the other hand, he was very active in the other common activities: cleaning, cooking, organizing solidarity with Nantes, etc. In sum, he had an obvious place in the collective because of his strong past participation in the fight against the airport and his undeniable present contribution to the activities of the hamlet itself.
Less impressionistically, I would say that the individual freedom not to participate in the communal-political life of the bocage is not a problem if others take up the slack and if there is thus a sort of spontaneous rotation. But then we see that it is a question of balance (necessarily precarious). How many participate and how many do not? And are there enough participants to keep the processes of concrete democracy going? I am struck by the fact (a mere coincidence?) that the proportion of participants in the ecclesia-assembly of customs (20 or 30%) and non-participants (80 or 70%) is about the same in Athens 2,500 years ago and in the bocage today.
As a provisional conclusion: brief reminders, principles and clarifications.
It should be remembered that the resistance movement to the airport was extremely diverse in its tendencies and in its components (not everyone was « anarchist » or libertarian or environmentalist). Let’s name some of these trends or components:
- ADECA (which dates from the 1970s and brings together farmers threatened by the airport: Association Des Exploitants Concernés par l’Aéroport).
- ACIPA (Association Citoyenne Intercommunale des Populations concernées par l’Aéroport).
- CéDPA: Collective of elected officials doubting the relevance of the airport.
- the collective of Naturalists in struggle (experts who make inventories of the fauna and the flora of the bocage).
- a coordination of struggles within which were found local representatives of national organizations, parties and associations (ATTAC, Modem until the referendum of June 2016, etc.).
- The COPain collective: Collective of local farmers’ organizations.
- The movement of occupation of the bocage.
- Outside support committees (200 committees in 2012).
This diversity, the ups and downs of the airport fight, and the petty « wars » within it have prompted the bocagers to debate and elaborate principled boundaries for self-regulation of conflict. These principles are:
* No physical violence without mutual consent;
* Prohibition on the permanent carrying of weapons or tools (axes) that can be used as weapons;
* Prohibition on selling drugs for personal profit (dealing);
* Prohibition of sexual assaults (especially by men on women), with, in the event of a problem, a strong voice given to the female victim;
* Prohibition on brandishing firearms, even on the police;
* Prohibition of stray dogs, and respect for places that do not want dogs;
* Establishment of a group of 12 randomly selected individuals to mediate conflicts.
If one recalls here the principal facts described in this account, one finds in sum some of the phenomena anthropologically typical of the process of sacred institution of a society: in particular, the auto-institution of the positive and negative limits (see on the subject the classic work of Roger Caillois, Man and the Sacred, Gallimard, 1950). Limits are positive: they are prescriptions that tell us what we must do (here, participate in the commons in various ways). But the limits are also negative: they are the prohibitions that we have just seen; there are things that we must not do. However libertarian a society may be, it cannot do without prescriptions and prohibitions, it being understood that these are self-prescriptions and self-prohibitions (all coming from below). This last point makes the decisive difference with the modern States where the Law of the State formulates prescriptions and prohibitions that fall from above on the heads of men. Will the self-institution of limits — along with other practices seen above: the egalitarian practice of the commons and mutual aid — be enough to institute a new society? Only time will tell.
Last thing. Another type of discourse is held on the libertarian bocage: that of Alessandro Pignocchi, who is in the line of the anthropologist Philippe Descola. According to this discourse (see the comic strip The Recomposition of Worlds by Pignocchi), the bocage would have abandoned the nature/culture divide and the very (Western) notion of nature. My only stay in the Nantes bocage does not allow me to make a definitive judgment on the question. Not that this speech is not interesting and that we should not hope that the wishes it contains will come true. But, after having seen two hamlets and walked through the bocage, I will tentatively say that Pignocchi’s reading seems exaggerated: doesn’t she take her desires for reality? It is likely that some of this vision is relevant. For example, the bocage libertarians (or some of them) think that it is not enough to « protect nature », the rest can be happily urbanized and exploited. They are aware that the social way of life of many indigenous peoples has been far less harmful to themselves and to ecosystems than the urban ways of life to which the West has driven them. In fact, the bocage is the very example of « nature » being entirely caught up in « culture ». An eco-libertarian says about the bocage: » It is a so-called « natural » space but has always been inhabited and worked by man. And even which was entirely created by him (meadows of breeding and cultivated fields + planted hedges; and some coppice of chestnut trees planted to make stake and firewood). The biodiversity that inhabits it is closely linked to human activities. « For its part, the collective of Naturalists in Struggle is unanimous in saying that the protection of biodiversity in the bocage is not only compatible with the maintenance of the current inhabitants, including libertarians, but even radically depends on it. However, without denying the sensitive attachment that eco-libertarians have developed towards the bocage, I think I can say, after my little experience on the spot, that this attachment remains partial. It is said that sometimes some animals participate in human decision-making assemblies and that their interests are taken into account in the same way as those of humans. I haven’t seen anything like that. This does not mean that such participation does not exist — but that it is not systematic. Examples: as soon as I arrived in the bocage, I came across a pen where three little pigs had their tails cut off at the buttocks, instead of being corkscrewed, which probably means that they come from an industrial production unit where this operation was done on the spot when they were born. In the same place, the hens are locked in a henhouse where food and water are insufficient (it is July). However, it is not difficult to see what is wrong with them running and pecking freely during the day. Moreover, the cats we see, most of them skeletal, are seriously pitiful. In short, the overall impression is that, for the most part, the libertarian bocage maintains the nature/culture disconnect and the Western notion of an external nature. I hope this impression is misleading. These remarks are not reproaches: they have only the function to moderate the descolien enthusiasm of Pignocchi as for a decisive anthropological and cultural turn in the bocage. Is it necessary to specify that, in view of the destruction of social relations and ecosystems by industrial society, we can only hope for such a turnaround and its generalization?
Postscript on Covid and the bocage: My stay in the bocage came after the first confinement. Life there was normal, and no one seemed to have been contaminated. Today, as the second lockdown has just been declared, a bocage worker writes to me: » There were few Covid patients on the zad. But there have been some, at Noë Verte in the spring (only half of the collective), then well afterwards, one at St-Jean, later one at the Wardine, one at the Hundred Names (who did not contaminate anyone, not even his lover). We take precautions, but not infinite precautions; we don’t want to sacrifice too much joy, life and conviviality (that’s important too!) for a disease that doesn’t seem so dangerous (at least for us) and that will last a long time. We think especially of the others, we would not want to be responsible for having infected fragile people of the anti-airport movement (some of whom are old people in the associations and committees of the movement). We discuss a lot: what precautions do we take? To what extent? We look for a compromise between precautions and desirable life. At the beginning of the spring, we were very precautionary, really. We didn’t receive (almost) anyone anymore, we cancelled all our welcomes, we « compartmentalized » the groups (for example: people could stay and do the collective workcamp with us, but then they did the whole confinement with us in the bocage. We also tried to cross paths as little as possible between different living areas). Today, if someone has a doubt about his/her health (cold, or if he/she saw a person who could have infected him/her), he/she keeps away. He/she tries not to enter the collective spaces, eats alone, uses a mask. Otherwise, the mask is a real pain. During the spring confinement, we still organized some parties on the zad, in the open air, and with space to be able to keep our distance a little. We also held a few organizational meetings with people from Nantes « against the reintoxication of the world », that is, against the reactivation of certain industrial sectors.
Marc Weinstein, Aix-en-Provence, late October 2020