Are we living in an era of uprisings?


How can a majority and legitimately democratic movement bend the neo-liberal intransigence of a government? This is the topical question in France.

It undoubtedly sums up the global challenge of a XNUMXste century already marked by waves of riots and uprisings of a rare breadth and density.

A recent American study shows that at XXe century, non-violent civil resistance has been more effective than armed struggle. But the study stops in 2006 and in a interview at Monde in December 2022, the American political scientist Maria J. Stephan, one of the two authors, admits that this efficiency has been in sharp decline for a decade.

Towards violence?

A rupture occurred at the beginning of the century in the political interlocution between peoples and powers, breaking the implicit political and democratic pact according to which the crates (power in Greek) cannot be deaf to demos (the people). In the search for popular consent, states seem to have moved from the patient construction of hegemony to the brutal establishment of obedience.

“Oderint, dum metuant”. "Let them hate me, as long as they fear me" would have said the emperor Caligula according to Cicero. This sentence expresses the essence of the phase of brutalization of political relations which opened with the XXIe century. While the Porto Alegre World Social Forum raised hopes for a peaceful counter-globalization, the crackdown on protests against the G8 summit cost the lives of Carl Giuliani, a 24-year-old student shot dead by Genoa police on July 20, 2001.

Peoples do not choose without reason to go beyond the terrain of non-violence. For 20 years, riots or confrontation have often taken precedence over political debate, as we saw last weekend during the demonstrations against mega-basins in Sainte-Soline. While the strategy of repression measures the concern of the authorities, the body language increasingly takes precedence over word language.

This turning point is quantifiable. I have been involved in it since 2007 by building a global database that can be consulted online on the site [ Anthropology of the present]. The statement is made on Google news the last 24 hours from five keywords: riots, clashes, riots, clashes, unrest. It is supplemented by specific research on each place identified in English and in the language of the country on Google and on YouTube. The statistical unit of account is a day/a city.

Any collective physical confrontation between civilians and law enforcement (army or police), or between people themselves (community clashes or stadium incidents) is listed there, regardless of the seriousness of the event or its origin. , from the spontaneous riot to the incidents of demonstration. We will talk about uprising when this confrontation takes hold over time and extends over a larger territory.

Waves of uprisings

If the situations of riots and local civil confrontations multiply, sometimes, without warning, the spark sets fire to the country… or to several. The riot becomes an uprising as in France in 2005, in Greece in 2008, in Tunisia in 2010, in the United States in 2020, in Iran in 2022, the death of a young person, a black man, a woman assassinated by power is the lever of the conflagration.

"A riot is the language of the unheard," on a sign held up during a protest over the death of George Floyd in Los Angeles, California on May 30, 2020
"A riot is the language of the unheard," on a sign held up during a protest over the death of George Floyd in Los Angeles, California on May 30, 2020. Shutterstock, CC BY

This beginning of the century was punctuated by successive waves of uprising. In 2011, the " Arab Spring " amazes the world. Everywhere peoples have risen with the national flag as a standard and the fierce desire to "release" hated powers.

As of May 15, 2011, the uprising and the occupation of squares cross the Mediterranean. The dual model of Tahrir (Egypt) and Puerta del Sol (Madrid) inspires the initiators ofOccupy Wall Street (New York) from October 15. More than 600 towns are thus “occupied”, temporarily giving consistency to the symbolic power of non-violence. These places are from the popular cauldron of Taksim in Turkey (May-June 2013) to Maidan in Ukraine (2013-2014) until the movement of the Parasols in Hong Kong (November-December 2014), then to the uprising of this city in June -August 2019.

The third wave is that of justice and political morality (against corruption and clientelism). By a revolt on the price of gasoline, the yellow vests inaugurated and marked a exceptional year of national uprisings. Twenty countries are concerned, on four continents (France, Venezuela, Sudan, Haiti, Senegal, Algeria, Colombia, Honduras, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Ethiopia, Bolivia, Ecuador, Panama, Iraq, Lebanon, Guinea, Catalonia, Iran, India). The shock wave is felt until 2022, including during the pandemic.

live and survive

The French movement against pension reform is part of this third wave. This is rooted in previous mobilizations for survival or vital resistance against the high cost of living and austerity, the shortage of water or electricity, the loss of status and the value of work, right down to the consequences social aspects of managing the pandemic. This rise in power in the fight against neo-liberal casualization does not only concern the poorest countries.

We can go back to 2006 in our country with the refusal of the First Hire Contract (CPE), the last major victorious national mobilization. On a global scale, the starting point is undoubtedly the year 2008, those of the "food riots" resulting from financial speculation on cereals. Violent mobilizations then took place in Indonesia in January, in Cameroon and the Philippines in February, in Senegal in March, in Haiti, in Côte d'Ivoire, in Egypt in April.

Riots and clashes during mobilizations for retirement 2009-2022. Alain Bertho

Retirement as a vital issue is not just a French or even European affair. If it mobilizes Spain (2011), Greece (2016) and Russia (2018), it also mobilizes in Asia (Sri Lanka 2011 and Taiwan 2017), in North Africa (Morocco 2016 and Algeria 2018) and especially in Latin America (Argentina 2012, Chile 2016, Nicaragua 2018, Colombia 2019 and Brazil 2021).

France, however, holds a special place. Have we already forgotten the toughness of the 2010 movement, its determination both in blockages and in interprofessional solidarity, the special place held by a high school youth repressed with unprecedented brutality]? Have we forgotten that this collective power had no decisive effect on governmental decisions? It is likely that union strategies at the time sought less the immediate victory than the power to influence the 2012 election.

The quest for another policy

The trade union strategy of 2023 seems to assimilate the experience of 2010, in its relations with the parties as well as in its inclusive attitude with regard to the diversity of struggles.

Riot during protests against the government in Antagagosta, Chile on October 21, 2019
Riot during protests against the government in Antagagosta, Chile on October 21, 2019. Shutterstock, CC BY-NC-SA

But the scale and speed of climate catastrophe as the pandemic experience appears to be accelerating time demands. The question of the meaning of work and the value of life takes on an unprecedented depth, especially in a youth tempted by the "desertion".

The structural dominations of humanity are massively challenged, making "I can't breathe" and "Woman Life Liberty" slogans with global resonance. Faced with the purely accounting management of life, the era resembles a sort of "uprising of the living".

This context feeds the depth of popular rejection of reform. But the strategic question remains intact. While it has been proven that since the beginning of the century, non-violent strategies have clearly lost their effectiveness due to the intransigence of the powers that be, riots and uprisings have not shown greater efficiency.

How many, since the turn of the century, have been successful and at what cost? What happened to the Tunisian “jasmine spring” of 2011 ? where is it “Women Life Freedom” in Iran? What price did the Chileans to whom we had "everything stolen even fear", to finally overthrow President Pinera?

Faced with the inevitable confrontation, the challenge everywhere is to go beyond the simple capacity for resistance to embody an alternative in the face of the brutality of governments that depoliticize their decisions. This is the leitmotif of the uprisings of the century: how to embody a restoration of politics, of popular deliberation, of collective decision-making.

"I can't breathe". Saint-Denis June 2020. Alain Bertho

Alain Bertho, Emeritus Professor of Anthropology, Paris 8 University – Vincennes Saint-Denis

This article is republished from The Conversation under Creative Commons license. Read theoriginal article.

Image: Hadrian/


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