Just like for issue 07 (Sept-Oct 2016), this issue’s interview occupies a large format in order to unfold the complexity of the colonial genealogy that founds the current French police. These colonial heritage designates as much the counter-insurrectional doctrine imported from the French colonial army, as the relationship the police develops with people of color who, for many, are the descendants of the colonized bodies on which this founding violence was deployed. Mathieu Rigouste is an independent researcher, author of five books about securitarian capitalism and the French police. His dissertation, published in 2009, examined the historical definition of the “enemy within” in France, from the 1950s to the 2000s.
LÉOPOLD LAMBERT: To many extents, your work consists in revealing the colonial genealogy determining the way the French police operate nowadays. I would like to begin this conversation with the October 17, 1961 massacre, when the Parisian police killed between 40 and 100 Algerians during demonstrations that had gathered about 30,000 people in solidarity with the FLN. When we evoke the bloody suppression by the French State during the Algerian revolution, we often think of the violence deployed in Algeria, but not necessarily committed in the “métropole” (the term used by France to designate itself vis-à-vis the colonies). It is however where the current French police determined their ideology in relation to the population coming from the former colonies of “the Empire,” as we’ll discuss later. Could you describe to us this relation, as well as the determining figure of Maurice Papon, who was a prefect of the Vichy Regime during WWII, then in Constantine, Algeria, and finally at work in Paris during this massacre?
MATHIEU RIGOUSTE: The securitarian order has several roots. My research’s axis is the securitarian restructuring that goes along with our contemporary era’s neoliberal restructuring of capitalism. In all my work, I find this mechanism in which we see the French imperialist society importing colonial and military apparatuses into its control, surveillance and supression system. Algeria was the French settler colony that was the most extreme in its experimentation with the military management of the colonized population. From 1830 onwards, these apparatuses will influence the restructuring of population control in “metropolitan” France, which includes their implementation on people directly designated as the descendants of indigenous Algerians, mainly Arabs, in Paris. There are therefore particular apparatuses, violent police regimes applied to the colonized bodies in metropolitan France, which make regular use of coercive practices, humiliation, raids, assassinations, and torture, long before the war in Algeria. In the 1930s, there was already a police force called the North Africans Surveillance Brigade (BNA), which was therefore operating under racist criteria, charged by the use of coercion to control the North African French. These apparatuses are transmitted: the continuity of the state means the continuity of staff, governments, bureaucracies. And, through the restructuring of the police units, there is also a transmission of discourses, imaginaries, ideologies, and practices.
So at the time of 17 October 1961, there already were all these apparatuses that belong to the arsenal of the regular and daily supervision of Arabs in Paris. I try to follow a slightly new hypothesis that brings an additional critical look at the work that had been done on the issue and that tries to show how counter-insurgency doctrines dominated military thinking at the time, and how they have been imported and rearranged after their industrial application during the war in Algeria, notably from 1956, to move from the military and colonial apparatus to one of the police, dedicated to crushing Arabs in Paris. You said it, it goes through administrators — we think of the figure of Maurice Papon indeed — but also through middle and lower police levels, the CRS [anti-riot police], the gendarmerie mobile [the mobile component of the French Armed Forces], etc. Everyone stayed in Algeria during the war as a police officer in training, or to serve in the army, because they had used most of the military and police troops at the time. So there was already a mass of police and gendarmes who had been engaged in the war against colonized populations, and they appropriated the model of counter-insurrection, the state terror model. And then there was also the contingent of drafted soldiers, a whole generation of young males who were going to construct themselves — some of them in opposition, but only a minority — through the Algerian war, the psychic economy that it implies, and the fears and ferocity that it will generate in an entire generation, who will then take the levers of the Fifth Republic.
What I try to show is that as Inspector General of the Extraordinary Mission Administration (IGAME) in Algeria, Maurice Papon trained himself for counter-insurrection — that’s clear in his speech at the Institut des Hautes Etudes de Défense Nationale (IHEDN) in 1960. He was already an expert in purges and had taken part in the deportation of Jews from Bordeaux during the German occupation. Logically enough, he was named IGAME in Algeria to organize the defeat of the Algerian Revolution, and he became an expert in counter-insurrection. He then experimented in remodeling military and colonial counter-insurrection into a military/police and administrative counter-insurrection. He was fascinated by this doctrine that calls to seize the enemy within in order to pacify the population, and that says the guerrilla is like a fish in water (water being the population), and that one must therefore seize the water/population. This ideological and technical system was elevated to a state doctrine and became hegemonic in the thinking of the French military from 1956 on. Since then, the “counter-revolutionary war” doctrine has fed the restructuring of the internal defense apparatuses — “the Interior Defense of the Territory” at the time — that is to say, the great plans of militarization of the French territory in case of a Soviet invasion.
Papon was pushing an analysis that says that a Soviet invasion — this is the general interpretative framework for all military thinking of the time — was certain to be preceded by massive communist and North African demonstrations. He somehow unveiled the Interior Defense of the Territory plans on October 17, 1961. There had been very little intelligence about the demonstration on the side of the Prefecture, and they were taken by surprise. When they realized on the night of the 16th, or the morning of the 17th, that there would there be a demonstration, they looked at the available apparatuses: in this case, the Interior Defense of the Territory, which therefore constituted the plans for a military management of the country in case of Soviet invasion. This explains a lot about the power of the apparatus used. On the police radio, psychologically manipulative messages were broadcasted, which said that the Arabs had killed ten policemen in one place, etc., so as to excite the ferocity of the police.
There is yet another aspect to be taken into account — I’m working on this right now — which is the uprising of the urban masses in December 1960 in Algeria. It’s a bit of an answer to the Battle of Algiers; that is to say, the response of the colonized people against the counter-insurrection. It’s a flood of masses (children, old people, women, etc.) into the streets of the main Algerian cities, overflowing militarization, overflowing the military and police counter-insurrection, and winning the political side of the Algerian war, when the military side was almost lost. The FLN and the National Liberation Army were almost militarily knocked out, and it was thus ‘the little people’ that won the political dimension of the Algerian war. It very strongly marked the administrative, political, military, and police staff, and when Papon returned to Paris, it was because he was recognized as a specialist in the management of Arab in the colonies, and he was asked to do the same in Paris. He therefore brought this experience with him, and when his staff got the information that there were going to be events organized by the FLN, and that Algerian people would walk from the outskirts to the city centers — the same type of movement that took place in December 1960 in Algeria — he used the crushing arsenal available to him.
Of course, all this sowed the seeds throughout the Fifth Republic, which is based around the military coup that brought Charles De Gaulle back to power in 1958, and throughout this ideological grammar that considers Arabs and Communists as an enemy within that should be seized to protect France and the “free world.” That’s the ideological context.
LL: In the book that your dissertation became, The Enemy Within (La Découverte, 2009), you describe this genealogy in great detail. Can you talk specifically about how the French colonial counter-insurrection doctrine, first developed by the military and Marshal Bugeaud at the time of the colonization of Algeria, and by others like Roger Trinquier or Jacques Massu during the war of independence, later influenced other police and international armed forces? We might think of places like Northern Ireland or military strategists like Ariel Sharon or David Petraeus…
MR: Arguably, it is the very source of the construction of the State. The State is forged as a counter-revolution. It is an apparatus that allows the ruling classes to shut down either the revolutionary movement or the time and space of war, in order to establish their domination. Any state is therefore forming itself around counter-insurrection apparatuses. There is counter-insurrectionary thinking in Sun Tzu or any other political philosophy, for instance. But with the advent of the modern nation state, of capitalism and of its imperialist version, counter-insurrection itself took modern and industrial forms. It went global, technical, and rationalized itself, and evolved along with technological systems. There are therefore modern forms of counter-insurrection doctrines, in the way Marshal Bugeaud operated, indeed. His career and thoughts reproduced the imperial restructuring mechanisms, that is to say, the importation of apparatuses from the colonial and military experimentation towards the domain of control. He was thus able to experiment with counter-insurrection practices throughout the conquest of Algeria with all sorts of devices that continued later, such as raids, population displacement, etc., and others that had been set aside as the “enfumades” [asphyxiating Algerian people who sought shelter in caves by lighting fires at their entrances], but there remained a logic of extermination throughout the conquest of Algeria.
During the last decades of his life, Bugeaud continued to insist that he invented a counter-insurrection doctrine applicable to the labor movement in France. He also spent a lot of time demonstrating the similarities between the revolutionary process — what he called “the insurgencies” — in the 19th century in France and the revolts in the colonies. At the end of his life, he even wrote a book (which was not distributed then) called War of the Streets and Houses (Éditions Rocher, 1997) in which he proposed to transfer his counter-insurrection apparatus to the war in French cities. In it, he developed a theory of architecture that intersected with the ‘Haussmannisation’ of Paris, which corresponds to the application of the industrial revolution to the capitalist city. We thus see military and colonial doctrines transfer to the domain of policing when Haussmann “pierced the pumpkin,” as he said; that is to say, when he traced the broad avenues that allow the police or the army to charge against the workers movement. He also introduced all this disease imagery of tuberculosis, miasma, etc., equating the poorest part of the population with disease spreading in Paris that therefore necessitates the circulation of air. It’s like today in urban renewal: we open roads for the police to enter the neighborhoods as easily as possible and to lock these neighborhoods up. Here again we invoke the airflow. It was therefore logical that while this prophylactic and hygienist imaginary was constructed, counter-insurrection apparatuses were imported to the domain of police throughout the second half of the 19th century.
With the imperialist restructuring, nation states of the Western world continuously exchanged their experiences. We can find traces as early as 1917, after the Russian Revolution, when we see the police and armies of the Western world establish records and synthesize an exchange of experiences. And it’s like that throughout the twentieth century. You spoke of Ariel Sharon; there are traces of evidence that special envoys of the Israeli military (and perhaps the police) had contact with and were probably also trained at the Pacification and Counter-Guerilla Instruction Center (CIPCG) in Algeria. The French and Israeli counter-insurrection specialists therefore exchanged, as early as the Algerian war, their models to crush the respective enemies within. There is thus a sort of permanent movement of revolutionary and counter-revolutionary texts. I worked on this for a foreword that I wrote for the reissue of the Urban Guerrilla Handbook: it is said that this manual has circulated much more within the counter-insurrectionary milieu than in the revolutionary movements — which were saying that they did not really need a manual for the urban guerrilla in the 1970s. This perpetual movement of these texts is therefore sometimes paradoxical.
LL: We could say the same about Gillo Pontecorvo’s film, The Battle of Algiers.
MR: Exactly; that’s where I was going next. This film was first censored in its early years, but it circulated clandestinely and was actually quickly approved by the French army, which said that things happened almost exactly as we see them in the movie. This therefore introduced to many the counter-insurrection question and the French model in particular. Although it has not necessarily influenced the exact application of this model in all Western armies, this film has been studied by many others internationally. We also find the film in revolutionary movements. For instance, we know that the Zapatistas project it from time to time, especially since the Mexican army is an important collaborator with the French army. The Mexican police that recently killed teachers in Guerrero had been formed by the French gendarmerie according to this model of crowd management, but also to the use the weapons that France sells through this training.
LL: In another book, The Police Domination (La Fabrique, 2012), you dedicated an entire chapter to a branch of the French police, which is probably the party contributing the most to the continuation of colonial segregation in French society, especially in the banlieues (suburbs): the Anti-Criminality Brigade (BAC). Didier Fassin made a valuable anthropological study of it, but it was altogether a rather academic one because it came from the outside. But since you have lived the greater part of your life in the Paris banlieues, in Gennevilliers specifically, your writings can give us a more incarnated account of the racist (and often sexist and homophobic) violence that this police branch has developed. Can you briefly trace for us the history of the BAC, and talk about its action in the banlieues over the past decade (i.e., since the 2005 riots)?
MR: The Anti-Criminality Brigade is pretty much representative of what I try to show in my work on securitarian capitalism, because it has two origins; it is the merger of endo-colonial branches of the police with the neoliberal restructuring of the state. The BACs were formed in the early 1970s, and that brought in staff, ideological grids, and the toolboxes of the endo-colonial police. I use the term “endo-colonial” to talk about these branches of the police, such as the North Africans Surveillance Brigade, and later the Aggression and Violence Brigades (BAV), deploying colonial apparatuses on populations internal to the country, based on socio-racist criteria. I use this term because this is not the same violence as the one applied to colonies, but neither is it the same violence as the one applied to the white working class — the Black Panthers were not overthinking it; they just talked about “internal colonies.” Since the imperialist society needs to maintain the overexploitation and overdomination of a part of the working classes (the racialized part), it also needs a specific police for that. That’s why after 1945 — that is to say, after the true/false scandal of the collaboration of the French police with the destruction of European Jews — the Gaulienne bourgeoisie invented “the resistant France” and attempted to make-believe that this racism had been obliterated. But of course, the same types of apparatuses are reinvented, often with the same staff — the staff of the North African Brigades had the experience and was being asked to pretty much continue the same job — and they were given a new name: the Aggression and Violence Brigades. A socio-racist management apparatus was thus mystified through the change of name, in the same way that this logic was mystified by the change of name into the Anti-Criminality Brigades nowadays, through this rhetoric of “war against petty crimes” that allows the production of socio-apartheid apparatuses to hide behind legalistic myths.
That’s how we ended up with a police that do pretty much the same thing, rationalizing and modernizing themselves. In the early 1970s (i.e. just after 1968), because the enemy within was also the leftist, the figure that had never completely disappeared from the revolutionary embodied in the figure of the Fellagha, there was a need for modern police to go into the working-class and racialized neighborhoods in order to install the new rational, optimized, neoliberal society. The first experiment was done in Seine-Saint-Denis [northeastern Paris banlieues] — which is no coincidence — and in 1973, a former officer of the Aggression and Violence Brigades was put in charge of the neighborhoods of this area, and his unit was named the Anti-Criminality Brigade. He took advantage of everything one could have learned at the time in the elitist schools of the new society; that is to say, what was soon to be called “the new management”: the neoliberal restructuring of companies applied to state apparatuses. It’s also interesting to see how the counter-revolutionary war doctrine was also transposed into neoliberal theories. One would speak of “economic war” for instance: the goal was to destroy the enemy company’s business, by poisoning, by squaring the market, using intelligence agents; all this rhetoric was born in the 1970s. This first BAC then influenced the birth of other units in the same style in different French cities. This is how endocolonial management methods were applied to working-class and racialized neighborhoods, and this later lead to the first great revolts against police violence in the cities.
A new accounting logic also appeared at that time — what we would call “politics by the numbers” today — which consists in optimizing the performance, the productivity, of the police machine. Working by the numbers means making the largest amount of tallies. They call it “making a sale”; which is a euphemism that means bringing someone to the Judicial Police Officer (OPJ), and if the story that goes with the arrest is usable enough to make a case to the prosecutor, and thus to go through the justice system and put this person in jail, or at least try, that’s a tally. These tallies inflate a career, and therefore a Commissioner who would want to “climb the ladder” to become prefect, or whatever else, has every interest in developing BAC units in their police station, because they make a lot of “sales,” since they operate on the principle of catching people in the act. North African Brigades also operated on that idea. This principle implies a sense of proactivity. The illegal act is to be enabled, framed, or even suggested or completely manufactured to be able to seize the “offender” when they take action. The BAC is an apparatus that mostly works to produce its own conditions of extension. This underlying logic contributed to the development of the BAC in the securitarian era: because they make a lot of “sales,” they also produce the conditions of the socio-racist domination, something the State needs in order to contain the socio-apartheid. We can see this in the fact that the easiest way to make a large amount of tallies consists in making arrests based on Offences against the Legislation on Drugs — guys who smoke joints — and Offences against the Law on Foreigners —undocumented persons. How do we find weed and people who don’t have an ID? Well, you stop Blacks and Arabs. So you prowl around racialized neighborhoods to make discriminatory arrests working-class persons of color.
That’s roughly how the BAC was born in the 1970s. It then developed throughout the 1980s, first through the Night Surveillance Brigades (BSN) and, in the early 1990s, during the advent of Charles Pasqua — the most grotesque symbol of police and military political logic from the Algerian war and whose political career is structured around the hunt of the enemy within. At the Ministry of the Interior, he intensified the use of counter-insurrection apparatuses and incarnated the tip of the French securitarian system’s genesis. He made it possible for all cities in France to develop BAC units, for instance. What is very interesting from the new perspective of securitarian capitalism is that the BACs are units that use a lot of equipment, and that scream of the need to be always more armed. That’s very interesting for the security industries. BACs immediately requested to be armed with flash-balls when they were put on the market, for example, and then they wanted the newer models, and joint ventures with manufacturers to create new models. Of course, they’re also the police force that uses the largest amount of ammunition: rubber bullets are used every night in the working-class and racialized neighborhoods of France. Same thing with tear gas; we see a lot of it in the policing of social-movement demonstrations in city centers, but they are used on a daily basis in these neighborhoods.
The phenomenon has continued to grow in the last decade. The BACs look really characteristic of this securitarian capitalism, through their ferocity but also by their neoliberal dimension: hyper-productive, hyper-optimized, hyper-male, hyper-mediatized, the BAC units take the stage, officers are inspired a lot from what they see on the TV. There’s even an extension of the techniques they invented to manage and control other social movements, like in the recent struggles against the new French labor law. Generally, BACs are used as a penetration apparatus, to seize and capture, but this is increasingly combined with the encircling, confining, and strangling methods for which the anti-riot police are used. We saw it during the recent movement against the labor law: the BACs were employed to “maintain order.” In Toulouse, we saw BAC officers used in testing new hybrid devices: able to simultaneously maintain order and capture or intervene, moving from one to the other constantly, and to reach levels of high-intensity very quickly. The BACs thus join the logic of all current apparatuses’ restructuring logic, which consists in becoming rheostatic: being able, just like Toyota’s “Just-in-Time” production model, to adapt instantly to the demand with the least possible expenditure and stock, and in the most streamlined way possible.
LL: Like Hacène Belmessous in the second issue of The Funambulist Magazine (Nov-Dec 2015), you describe how the “urban renewal” program initiated in 2003 is in many respects a way for the police to appropriate the banlieues’ urban space for future interventions. Can you tell us more about this?
MR: There was indeed an increase of such plans in 2003, but it started much earlier. One of the first large districts that was subjected to the policy of what they call “urban renewal,” which has actually more to do with destruction and redevelopment, was the neighborhood where I was born; Le Luth in Gennevilliers. It was a collaboration between the Pasqua Plan and the French Communist Party (PCF), which has ruled the city since the 1930s. Both were happy to get rid of the poorest families and to try a new form of management of working-class and racialized neighborhoods. It’s a constant process: the capitalist city, aligned on a capital over-accumulation crisis, is restructuring to continue to concentrate masses of poor workers around its centers of capital accumulation. And in these neighborhoods, these camps, shanty towns, these miserable territories, the dominated, the exploited, the oppressed, the wretched, constantly invent forms of self-organization, of empowerment, of escape and counter-attack, of insubordination and ways of making themselves ungovernable. There is therefore a constant need in the State for both a police that can destroy this autonomization and survival tendency, and for plans of redevelopment of the territory. There is a need to segregate and penetrate these territories to destroy in them everything that can emerge as subversive. Urban planning takes a fundamental role in the securitarian restructuring of the capitalist city. This logic was already at work in the slums of the banlieues during the Algerian war. There were specialized police in slum management — that is to say, harassment, brutalization, surveillance, monitoring, sometimes torture, and sometimes even the murder and disappearance of the slums’ residents and the destruction of their dwellings. This was done because even in the slums, we were seeing forms of commoning, self-organization, revolutionary politicization, anger, self-help, all sorts of things that threatened the structure of power and therefore required intervention. In addition to intervening with the ideology, entertainment, or development, there was a need to intervene with coercion.
We find this process throughout the history of the capitalist city: it is a permanent dialectic. But what emerged in the 1970s was a resistance to it. From the moment when fierce police, such as the BACs, began operating in working-class and racialized neighborhoods, they produced police violence, and consequently, anger. The dominated residents facing this produced tactics, techniques, strategies, resistance practices, and counter-attacks. It led to revolts, sometimes very spontaneous, sometimes more organized. A history of counter-attacks against the police thus emerges during the 1970s, and it is then observed that, in the way these revolts and their suppression are presented, municipalities in collaboration with the police and the media are able to designate certain working-class and racialized neighborhoods to the public authorities and the rest of the population as unmanageable, abject, unrecoverable. This is accompanied by a humanitarian approach: there is a need to “save people,” while demands for better living conditions are permanent, and the people never get anything.
Still during the 1970s, this logic activated the recognition by the government and industrial and financial capital that when one is able to designate a neighborhood as abject, one is actually able to activate a financial circuit first, then an industrial one, related to what marketing calls “urban renewal” — that is to say, a restructuring protocol of this neighborhood, up to its complete destruction. Many restructuring plans emerged this way: some push away the poorest and least governable, others organized the total evacuation of these populations, others that we have seen a lot since the early 2000s, through the mystification embodied by the notion of “social diversity,” consist in talking about rehabilitation, but actually displace the poorest residents without destroying the neighborhood. This is done by the police and the prisons, but also with rising rents caused by the arrival of public transport nodes, which allows a small executive class to live there who would have not moved that far otherwise.
In short, through this entire marketing program that urban renewal constitutes, the transformation of working-class and racialized neighborhoods into predominantly white middle-class neighborhoods has attracted huge capital flows, especially since the early 2000s, as the State invested heavily to support local authorities in their urban restructuring policies. This is money that will fall immediately into the pockets of the building industry, but also into those of the security industry, again, because we can see that once the police, the media, the prisons, and the municipal authorities have managed to “clear the ground,” the redevelopment of these neighborhoods is done in collaboration with surveillance and design technologies, advertising, businesses; in short, a system of companies that make profits around it. The underlying logic is both to strengthen the socio-apartheid, but also to extend a form of internal colonization through the expansion of the capitalist city and the invention of new forms of supervision and management of social life.
LL: At the time of this interview, the State of Emergency promulgated by François Hollande in the wake of the November 13, 2015 attacks in Paris has been renewed three times. For a number of rich and middle-class French whites, this represents only a negligible nuisance, but for the racialized French population, in particular for persons accurately or inaccurately assumed to be Muslim, this legal regime providing even greater latitude to the police proves more than ever the existence of a sub-citizenry in France. Are you currently working on how the State of Emergency acts as a precedent both legally and in police practices?
MR: I do not work specifically on this aspect of things, but of course, I follow what is happening, especially by being engaged in political struggles that reflect on this condition. You sum it up well; there is an entire part of the privileged strata of society, and even part of the working classes, that do not realize what the State of Emergency is, because they do not see it, and media really have a fundamental role in that. That’s also what the socio-apartheid is about: lives are separate, they do not intersect. Indeed, the state of emergency has intensified segregation, but also mechanisms of oppression against the racialized neighborhoods, which can remain completely invisible to the rest of the population. The police are doing extremely violent searches: exploding through the door, ordering everyone to lie on the floor while their guns are drawn, sometimes using teargas inside apartments, sometimes hitting people. It causes a very strong trauma in families; we get stories of night searches, and several months later, the children, the mom, the grandmother are seeking help from psychologists. In school it’s dramatic, children are not able to focus after the military-police units break into their homes in anti-terrorism mode. The violence also intervenes in the form of house arrest or probation. It’s hard to grasp without experiencing it, but it is a very hard controlling system, because you have to go sign yourself in a couple of times a day at the police station. It’s important to say that most of these cases later prove null; there have already been victories in court, because the vast majority of these house arrests are based on pretty much nothing, solely on the fact that this person has been identified by some as “very religious,” possibly “radicalized” through denunciations. There is therefore a very strong and very deep violence deployed against (mainly Muslim) families through these searches, house arrests, and these legal procedures that last for a long time and, of course, exhaust people; their names are dropped in the press, suddenly your neighborhood looks at you like you are a probable terrorist. So in conclusion, the State of Emergency allows indeed the intensification of socio-apartheid, islamophobia, and state racism, which combine quite well with the daily management of working-class and racialized neighborhoods in imperialist France.
Conversation recorded in French on September 23, 2016. Transcription and translation by Léopold Lambert.