Photograph above by Christel Bonard of Gwendolyne, holding the Guianan flag (thanks Lya Selma Zébus-Loubidika)
You might or might not have heard about the general strike currently unfolding in Guiana. Guiana is a French colony in South America, home of 250,000 people, including 9,000 members of the Indigenous Nations of Kalina, Arawak, Emerillon, Galibi, Palikur, Wayampi and Wayana whose ancestors were slaughtered in trying to prevent the colonization of their land in the 18th century. Thousands of enslaved African bodies were later forcefully brought to Guiana by the French. Some became maroons and formed free communities in the rain forest. Similarly to other French slavery colonies, the 1948 abolition saw the engineered arrival of Chinese and Indian exploited manpower to the territory. It is now only known by most French “metropolitans” as the rocket-launch site of the European Space Program.
OVERSEAS “DEPARTMENTS” ///
Since 1946, Guiana is one of the five “overseas departments” of France alongside Martinique, Guadeloupe, Mayotte, and La Réunion. The departementalisation of four of these colonies was indeed voted a year after the end of WWII in a law drafted by the parliament representatives for Martinique and Guadeloupe (Léopold Bissol), Guiana (Gaston Monnerville), and La Réunion (Raymond Vergès) and eventually carried by Aimé Césaire (who was then Mayor of Fort-de-France, and also representative for Martinique) himself. This law was granting the full French citizenship to all colonized subjects in these four territories and it does not require much speculation — Césaire was, of course, very vocal about it — that these representatives were in no way aiming for the current still colonial conditions when drafting this law. In fact, the current six overseas departments (Mayotte became a “department” in 2001) are subjected to an ambiguous contradictory designation that, on the one hand, make them fully French when it is to the advantage of the French State, while, on the other hand, deeply neglecting their existence, as well as undermining the legitimate claim to the French full-citizenry for their predominantly racialized populations (cf. articles by Françoise Vergès and Hamid Mokaddem respectively about Mayotte and New Caledonia-Kanaky in the 9th issue of The Funambulist).
GENERAL STRIKE ///
Today, Guiana, just like Martinique and Guadeloupe in 2009, undertakes a general strike to protest against the extreme precariousness in which non-public workers have to live and the deep disparity between the level of life in “Metropolitan France” and in the colonies. Rallying under the Creole scream “Nou Bon Kesa” (“We Won’t Take It Anymore”), they are dozens of thousands striking and demonstrating — they even succeeded in stopping the launch of a rocket last week — creating what Western media seem unanimous to call “a paralysis” of Guiana in a biased capitalist (and implicitly ableist) reading of the situation. The understanding of society in the strict form of flows and the perception of their interruption (the “paralysis”) as a form of violence corresponds, indeed, to the capitalist vision transformed into reality.
The “500 Brothers,” a group of masked Black men mobilized against criminality and who form one of the core organization in this strike particularly catch the French press’ gaze, revealing the apparently terrifying-yet-fascinating vision that unidentifiable, resolute Black male bodies constitute for white viewers — we can see in this terrified fascination a perfect and rare correspondence of what they actually see and what they imagine seeing. As usual, this paranoid fetichization of what is perceived as a violence — made illegal by the 2010 islamophobic law forbidding anyone to “wear an outfit dissimulating the face” in public space — to which the gun and sword logo in the back of the “500 Brothers” (either clumsily or very skillfully) contributes, takes the focus away from the formidable crowds demonstrating these last few days.
“MANIFESTO FOR HIGH-NECESSITY PRODUCTS” ///
During the general strikes of Guadeloupe and Martinique in 2009, Édouard Glissant, Patrick Chamoiseau, and seven other Caribbean (male, regrettably) authors had published with Galaade Editions a short “Manifesto for High-Necessity Products” that envisioned a post-capitalist society that the strike was alluding, where high-necessity products consisted of food of course, but also “dignity, honor, music, songs, sports, dances, readings, philosophy, spirituality, love, free-time dedicated to the accomplishment of great intimate desires (in short, the poetics).” They borrow Jean-Claude Michéa’s concept of “ethic cleansing” (“épuration éthique”) as a creation of capitalism that “directs all imaginaries” (“préside dans tous les imaginaires”). And. although I have followed some thinkers in the past in arguing that Gilles Deleuze had a rather “metropolitan” reading of islands and their colonial conditions, it is tempting to also use the quote about Third-World Cinema in The Time-Image (1985) that these Carribeans authors use to open the manifesto:
The moment the master, or the colonizer, proclaims “There have never been people here,” the missing people are a becoming, they invent themselves, in shanty town and camps, or in ghettos, in new conditions of struggle to which a necessarily political art must contribute.
We can re-read the manifesto today, having in mind that, on the contrary of the imaginary created by the mainstream press and politicians of overseas territories being far behind the Metropolis’ modernity, their struggles constitute the vanguard vision of the decolonial processes that shall happen in the old Metropolis as the last lines of the manifesto suggests:
So here is our vision: Small countries, suddenly at the new core of the world, suddenly immense to be the first examples of post-capitalist societies, able to undertake a human fulfillment as a part of the living’s horizontal plenitude.