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ORIGINAL FRENCH ARTICLE: Manifeste pour les produits de haute nécessité

by Ernest Breleur, Patrick Chamoiseau, Edouard Glissant et al.*

A Plea for "Products of High Necessity"

A manifesto by Ernest Breleur, Patrick Chamoiseau, Serge Domi, Gérard Delver, Edouard Glissant, Guillaume Pigeard de Gurbert, Olivier Portecop, Olivier Pulvar, Jean-Claude William.*

Translated Thursday 5 March 2009, by Isabelle Métral

Our solidarity with the deep social movement that has taken hold of Guadeloupe, then of Martinique, and seems to be spreading to Guiana and °Réunion, is total and unreserved. None of our demands are illegitimate. None are irrational in themselves, and certainly none are more inordinate than the machinery of the system they come up against. Consequently, none of them should be neglected, both for what they represent and for what they imply in relation to all the other demands.

« Even while the masters and settlers proclaim “there never was a people here”, the people (i.e.: the "supposed" Guadeloupian "nation") [1] that is missing is in the process of becoming, it invents itself, in the shanty towns and camps, or in the ghettos, where, because the circumstances in which the struggle takes place have changed, Art must needs be called upon for a political contribution.” Gilles Deleuze L’Image-Temps (The Time-Image) [2]

“It can only mean one thing: not that there is no way out, but that the time has come to turn away from the old ways.” Aimé Césaire, Lettre à Maurice Thorez (Letter to Maurice Thorez)

Our solidarity with the deep social movement that has taken hold of Guadeloupe, then of Martinique, and seems to be spreading to Guiana and Réunion, is total and unreserved. None of our demands are illegitimate. None are irrational in themselves, and certainly none are more inordinate than the machinery of the system they come up against. Consequently, none of them should be neglected, both for what they represent and for what they imply in relation to all the other demands. The strength of that movement lies in its capacity to organize on a common basis what had remained cut off, shut off in the blind alleys of specific claims, namely the struggles that had so far remained inaudible in public administrations, hospitals, schools, companies, local government, among the small craftsmen and the professions…

But most important, the dynamics of Lyannaj [3] – which is to bind together, rally, link, connect and relay all the movements that were separate – is that the real suffering of the great mass of people (confronted with frantic economic concentration, illegal arrangements and profits) meets diffuse aspirations, which are none the less real for being as yet inexpressible, among young people, grownups, among the neglected, the invisible, in short, all the indecipherable suffering parts of our societies. Most of those who march en masse discover (or begin to remember) that what is deemed impossible can be seized by the collar, or that fatalism can be unseated from the throne where our renouncement has put it.

This strike is therefore most legitimate, most salutary, and those that falter, dither, and stall instead of proposing decent solutions must reap contempt and due censure.

Consequently, behind the prosaic concern over “purchasing power” or “the housewife’s shopping basket” looms the essential need for what gives meaning to our life, namely, poetry. All human life that is fairly evenly balanced will satisfy both the immediate, vital needs of food and drink (to put it plainly: the prosaic) and the aspiration to self-fulfilment nourished by dignity, honour, music, songs, sports, dancing, reading, philosophy, spirituality, love - leisure time for the satisfaction of one’s great innermost desire (to put it plainly: the poetic). As Edgar Morin proposes, living for ithe sake of living or solely for one’s own sake can open out on no plenitude – for plenitude requires giving a lifelong lease of life to what we like, to those we love, to the impossible, and to our aspirations to surpass ourselves.

“Price inflation” and “the high cost of living” are not petty ziguidi devils that suddenly crop up before us – creatures of spontaneous cruelty, of a few true-bred békés [4].They are the creatures of a fully-toothed system whose teeth are the free-market dogma. The dogma now reigns supreme all over the world; it oppresses all the peoples of the earth and holds sway over all their imaginary worlds – resulting in no “ethnic cleansing” but in a real “ethic cleansing” – namely the disenchantment of the whole human sphere, the removal of all sacred aura and of all symbolic value, or deconstruction even. The system has caged our lives in the tight cells of egotistic selves that shut out all horizons and leave us with no choice but between the most miserable alternatives: to be either “consumers” or “producers”.

Consumers live only to consume what their merchandized labour force produces; while producers limit their productions to what can bring unlimited profit through unlimited, phantasmagorical consumption. The whole system generates the antisocial form of socialization that André Gorz announced, where the economic dimension becomes its own finality, to the exclusion of everything else. So when “the prosaic” life does not open out on to the heights of “the poetic”, when it becomes its own finality and so burns itself out, we tend to believe that what we aspire to in our lives, the meaning we must give them, can be found in these familiar “bar codes”: our purchasing power, and the housewife’s shopping basket”. Worse still, we eventually find ourselves believing that the virtuous management of the most insufferable misery simply requires humane or progressive policies. It is therefore urgent to add another list to the list of bare necessities, namely another category of “goods or factors of high necessity”.

The notion of “high necessity” is meant to alert us to “the poetic” already at work in a movement which, beyond the question of purchasing power, stems from a real existential demand, from the most profound aspiration to the noblest in life.

What should we count as “goods of high necessity” then?

These are at the core and in the throe of our desire to become a people and a nation, to accede in dignity to the vast stage of this world – and these will not be found at the core of today’s negotiations in Martinique and Guadeloupe, nor (in some near future, probably) in Guiana and Réunion.

First no social progress can really bear fruit unless it involves a political experience that brings to light the lessons and structural principles of what has taken place. This movement has exposed the tragic institutional dispersion in our countries, and the lack of an authority that might provide a framework. No “determining” or “decisive” factor can be secured without trips or phone calls. Competence comes only with emissaries. Contempt and carelessness can be sniffed on every floor. Analyses are warped by the islands’ remoteness, by blindness, and distortion. The imbroglio of the pseudo regional, départemental, administrative authorities, even like that strange creature, the mayors’ association, have shown their powerlessness, and even their total failure, when a serious and massive claim arises in a historical cultural entity with a human endogenous specificity distinct from that of the ruling continental power, the reality of which has never been acknowledged in actual fact.

The slogans and mottoes have immediately jumped over our “local presidents” to go and beg elsewhere. Alas, any social victory that were won in this way by a leap over ourselves and ended there would aggravate our assimilation; it would thus only confirm our want of a distinct existence in the world and show up our pseudo-powers.

Consequently, this movement must needs bloom into a political vision that can generate a political force of revival, capable of opening up prospects that might give us the capacity to enjoy full responsibility for ourselves and by ourselves, and to exert full mastery over ourselves and by ourselves.

And even if such capacity solved none of those problems, it would at least enable us to address them soundly, in full responsibility, and so to tackle them at last rather than acquiesce to the customary sub- contracting. The béké question, or the problem with the ghettos that sprout here and there are petty questions that could be settled by an endogenous authority. The same is true in all respects of the question of the distribution and protection of our land, as of the priority to be given to our young people. It is also largely true of the reform of our justice or the fight against the drugs plague.

The want of responsibility creates bitterness, xenophobia, fear of others, and lack of self-confidence…The question of responsibility is therefore one of those high necessities. Collective irresponsibility is the den to which persistent obstacles in the present negotiations must be traced. In responsibility lies the invention, suppleness, creativity, the need for novel endogenous, pragmatic solutions.

Responsibility is the necessary condition for failure or powerlessness to be an opportunity for a real experience and a real process of maturation. Responsibility makes it possible to target more quickly and more positively what is truly essential, whether in our struggles, aspirations, or analyses.

Then there is the high necessity of understanding that the dim and inextricable labyrinth of prices ( with the margins, sub-margins, occult commissions, and obscene profits) is inscribed in the logic of the global free-market that has swept all over the world with the blind force of a religion. They are also deeply rooted in the colonial absurdity that has estranged us from our country food and cultural realities, to deliver us over (trouser-less, and without our bokay-gardens) to European eating patterns. Fancy France being obliged by a like decree to import all of its food and all of its basic goods from thousands and thousands of miles! To negotiate with the unfathomable chain of operators and middlemen within that absurd colonial system can no doubt bring a short-term relief to some of the grievances, but the illusory benefit of such accords will soon be swept away by the free-market dogma and all the machinery above which, lured by the pwofitacyon [5] fostered by the “colonial spirit” and sanctioned by the distance, hovers a greedy swarm against which bonuses, freezes, virtuous allowances, opportunistic exemptions, and tinkering with dock dues are powerless.

So it is a high necessity for us Caribbean people, to want to live as Caribbean People as concerns our vital exports and imports, to think of ourselves as Americans for the satisfaction of our needs, of our energy and food self-sufficiency. Then another very high necessity is to commit ourselves to a radical opposition to today’s capitalism, which is no perversion of the system, but the full, hysterical development of a dogma.

The high necessity is to try right now, without delay, to lay down the foundations of a society that is not ruled by economics, where the notion of development through perpetual growth is replaced by the notion of self-fulfilment; where wages, salaries, consumption and production are synonymous with self-creation and the perfecting of humanity. If capitalism (in its purest principle, which is its present form) has created this Frankestein of a consumer who is nothing more than his basketful of necessities, it also engenders wretched “producers”, bosses, entrepreneurs, and other inept professionals, who are incapable of feeling any pangs when confronted with an upsurge of suffering and the urgent necessity to imagine another political, economic, social, and cultural horizon.

In that respect, there are no opposite camps. We are all victims of a system that is now blurred, having gone global, and which we must confront together. Workers and petty bosses, consumers and producers carry within them, somewhere, inaudible yet irreducible, the high necessity that is yet to be brought out into the open, namely the need to live one’s life, one’s own life, in the constant aspiration to the highest and noblest standards, which are the most totally fulfilling.

Which means living one’s life, living fully, in the vast and free reaches of the poetic.

Mass marketers can be brought under if we opt for healthy food and change our eating habits.

SARA and the oil companies can sink into oblivion if we use other means of transportation than the car.

We can force back the water companies if we start right now to consider the least drop as a precious good to be protected everywhere, to be used as would the last, odd trinkets of a treasure that belonged to everyone.

The prosaic cannot be defeated or transcended from within the cave of the prosaic. What is required is an opening out on to the poetic, de-growth and soberness. Today’s so arrogant and powerful institutions (banks, transnational firms, mass marketers, health or cellular telephony operators) could in no way resist this.

Lastly we come to wages and employment.
On that question too we must determine where the high necessity lies.
Today’s capitalism reduces labour’s share of the profit as it increases its production and its profits. Unemployment is a direct consequence of its decreasing need for labour. When factories are relocated, it is not because capitalism is after a plentiful labour reserve, but because it wants to cut labour’s share even more quickly.

All wage deflation generates profits that are immediately fed into the great gambling welto of finance. It is therefore perfectly legitimate to demand a substantial wage rise: this would be a first step toward fairness and should be imitated all the world over.

As for the notion of “full employment”, it has been nailed in our imagination by the necessities of industrial development and the ethic cleansing that followed in its wake. Originally, labour was inscribed in a symbolic and sacred system (in the political, cultural, personal spheres) that defined its limits and its meaning. Under the capitalist rule, it gradually lost its creative meaning and its totally fulfilling virtue as it became, to the exclusion of everything else, both a simple “post” and the sole spinal column of our days and weeks. Work lost all significance when, having become a simple commodity itself, it ended by being nothing but access to consumption.

We are now in the depths of the abyss.

We must therefore re-instate work in the sphere of the poetic. However strenuous and hard, work must once again be a means of self-fulfilment, of social invention, and self-construction, if not primarily, then secondarily, and if not the only means, then one among several.

Myriads of talents, abilities, creative activities, fertile insanities are right now sterilized in ANPE (National Employment Agency) corridors and the fenceless camps of structural unemployment that have mushroomed under the rule of capitalism. Even when we have got rid of the free-market dogma, the technological breakthroughs (with soberness and selective de-growth as our guides) will help us turn the value of labour into some kind of rainbow, from the simplest auxiliary tool to the equation of any activity involving incandescent creativity. Full employment will not be the child of prosaic productivism, but it will be sought wherever it can initiate new modes of socialization, autonomous production, leisurely, after-hours creation, and wherever it will provide new opportunities for solidarity, for sharing, or supporting the down-and-out, or revitalizing our environment…

It will be sought in “whatever makes life worth living.”

There will be civic work, and a civic income, in all stimulating activities, in whatever fosters dreaming, leads to meditation, or opens out on to the delights of spleen, or gives access to music, or provides bearings for rambling in the land of books, or art, singing, philosophy, study or the high-necessity consumption that blooms into creation: creative-consumption.

On the poetic scale, there are no such notions as employment or full employment or state handouts, but infinite potentialities for all talents and aspirations. On the poetic scale, the GDP of market-based societies reveals its brutality.

Here is the first basket that we bring to all tables of negotiations and their sequel: that the principle of free access should be posited wherever free access helps people break free from their chains, feeds the imagination, stimulates learning and creativity in everyone, and sudden bolts of the intellect without manman. Let this principle mark out the paths to books, tales, theatre, music, dancing, the visual arts, and crafts, culture and agriculture. Let it be inscribed above the entrances to nursery, primary, and secondary schools, to universities, and all the places of knowledge and learning… Let it lead to creative uses of the new technologies and cyberspace. Let it multiply, by all manner of means (through meetings, relations, co-operations, interconnections, and roaming for new directions), the possibilities of contact with the unforeseeable potentialities of tout-monde (all-world) [6].

Having laid down the principle of free access, it will be left to the social and cultural public policies to determine the extent of the exceptions.

Guided by that principle, we shall have to devise non-market scales ranging from totally free access to access at a reduced or nominal price, or from public financing to individual or voluntary contributions. Free access on principle should be the foundation of our new societies and imaginative solidarities…

Let us direct our imagination to those high necessities until the strength of Lyannaj or of the will to live-together is no longer “the housewife’s basket”, but the multiple desire for the full development of the idea of humanity.

Let us imagine all together a political framework that allows the revitalized societies of Martinique, Guadeloupe, Guiana, and Réunion full responsibility for themselves and sovereign participation in the global fight against capitalism and for a new ecological world order…

Let us make the most of this new, raw awareness so that the negotiations lead to substantial mutual exchanges, and have a sequel in the future, and having gained all ears, open out on to a blossoming across our nations. An gwan lodyans [7] without dreading or turning away from the great thrills of utopia.

Ours is therefore a call for those utopias where politics is not simply the management of inadmissible miseries nor the regulation of the market’s wild excesses, but where it is restored to its true essence, and made to serve all that confers a soul upon the prosaic by surpassing it or putting it to strictly limited use.

Ours is a call for politics to be elevated into an art, with the individual, and the individual’s relation to others, at the core of a common project that gives pride of place to life’s highest, and most intense, and most radiant exigencies.

And so, dear compatriots, by getting rid of all the colonial archaic legacy, the colonial dependence and assistance, by resolutely committing ourselves to the ecological revival of our countries and of the world to come, by challenging the economic violence and the market-based system, we shall be born again into the world, and shall appear in the full clarity of a post capitalist dawn and of a global ecological relation to this world’s environmental balances.

Such, therefore, is our vision:

Small countries suddenly at the heart of the new world, suddenly immense for being the first instances of post-capitalist societies, capable of nurturing a full human development inscribed in the horizontal plenitude of all living beings.

Translators’ notes:

*A word about the authors: Ernest Breleur is a visual artist, Patrick Chamoiseau a writer, Serge Domi, a sociologist, Gérard Delver, a writer, Edouard Glissant, a writer, Guillaume Pigeard de Gurbert, a philosophy teacher; Olivier Portecop is head of the centre of digital resources at the Université Antilles-Guyane. Olivier Pulbar, is a lecturer at the Université Antilles-Guyane, Jean-Claude William is professor of political science at the Law Faculty in Martinique.

[1«Ce constat d’un peuple qui manque n’est pas un renoncement au cinéma politique, mais au contraire la nouvelle base sur laquelle il se fonde, dès lors, dans le Tiers-Monde et les minorités. Il faut que l’art, particulièrement l’art cinématographique, participe à cette tâche : non pas s’adresser à un peuple supposé, déjà là, mais contribuer à l’invention d’un peuple. Au moment où le maître, le colonisateur proclament “il n’y a jamais eu de peuple ici”, le peuple qui manque est un devenir, il s’invente, dans les bidonvilles et les camps, ou bien dans les ghettos, dans de nouvelles conditions de lutte auxquelles un art nécessairement politique doit contribuer. L’auteur de cinéma se trouve devant un peuple doublement colonisé, du point de vue de la culture ; colonisé par des histoires venues d’ailleurs, mais aussi par ses propres mythes devenus des entités impersonnelles au service du colonisateur. L’auteur ne doit donc pas se faire l’ethnologue de son peuple, pas plus qu’inventer lui-même une fiction qui serait encore une histoire privée. Il reste à l’auteur la possibilité de se donner des intercesseurs, c’est à dire de prendre des personnages réels et non fictifs, mais en les mettant eux-mêmes en état de " fictionner " de " légender" de "fabuler". L’auteur fait un pas vers ses personnages, mais les personnages font un pas vers l’auteur : double devenir. La fabulation n’est pas un mythe impersonnel, mais ce n’est pas non plus une fiction personnelle : c’est une parole en acte, un acte de parole par lequel le personnage ne cesse de franchir la frontière qui séparerait son affaire privée de la politique, et produit lui-même des énoncés collectifs.» - Gilles Deleuze, L’Image-Temps, Editions de Minuit, 1985.


[3Lyannaj, short for Lyannaj Kont Pwofitacyon, the name of the “collective against excessive exploitation” that leads the present strike in Guadeloupe (representing unions, political parties, associations).

[4békés is creole for the descendants of the white settlers.

[5pwofitacyon: see note [3] above.

[6tout-monde: a notion coined by Edward Glissant (it was the title of one of his novels, published in 1993, and of a collection of Essays published in 1997. The notion refers to a world in which all would feel at home. Edouard Glissant’s favourite themes are creolization, multiple identity, and cross-fertilizing. He has made use of the concept of rhizome developed by Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guatari.

[7an gwan lodyans: possibly “une grande audience” or, in English, “a large audience”.

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