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"If we sack the banks, it's because we have recognized money as the central cause of all our unhappiness. If we smash the windows it's not because life is dear, but because commodities prevent us from living at all costs. If we break the machines it is not because of a wish to protect work, but to attack the slavery of salary. If we attack police it's not to get them out of out neighborhoods, but to get them out of our lives. The Spectacle wished to make us appear dreadful. We intend to be much worse."
The Gravediggers, Paris, May 1980
May Becomes New Years
Os Cangaceiros was a group of working class revolutionaries who emerged from the student/worker riots and occupations in France of May 1968. Coming together in Nice, France, Os Cangaceiros â€“ or Les Fossoyeurs du vieux monde (Gravediggers of the Old World) as they were also known â€“ were characteristic of the new antagonistic social movements in post-may Europe that demanded nothing short of an "End of Politics". Described in local Newspapers as â€œhooligansâ€ and â€œjuvenile delinquentsâ€, they had no formal structure but formed a collective of individual desires capable of finding expression in one another. With 'Never work . . . Ever.' as their program, they set about creating the circumstances that would immediately make this possible. To this end, they collectivized their resources and their talents for crime that sat easily with their desire for adventure.
They would move throughout the south of France making friends and initiating actions autonomously; most often against police, union bureaucracy, politicians and social managers of every sort. They lived nomadically and sought to identify spaces where dissatisfaction was reaching a peak and to pass through there in order to exacerbate situations within the limits of their resources. Particularly, they highlighted the role played by liberal, social democrats and leftists to manipulate and recuperate those in revolt to their own ends, taking the struggleâ€™s determination out of the hands of a generalized radicality that had its own dynamic.
"Let's stress once and for all that we, Os Cangacerios, don't come from leftism: there isn't a single ex-leftist among us. And none of us has ever been mixed up with any kind of political racket in any way. We have only one form of relation with political groups and organizations: war. They're all our enemies, there's no exception."
This included anarchism and their struggles with anarchists in Paris led to at least one fatal casualty.
In the late 1970's they traveled extensively in Italy where Autonomia was reaching its first peak and the revolutionary movement spun the factories and youth out of control of the Communist Party and the Unions. There they came across Comontismo who called for "Criminal struggle against capital" and witnessed firsthand the violent assault against the State by the Italian uncontrollables. As their methods of operation led them frequently into illegality and sometimes jail, they understood the significance of this and would turn their attention later more tangibly on the system of crime and punishment.
Throughout the 1980's, Os Cangaceiros followed trouble across country and continent, spreading subversion and forming networks of support in Paris, Lyon, Belgium, Poland, Brixton and Toxteth. The attraction drawing them to these places varied; in Lyon it was the thrill of joyriding and its twin hobby of ambushing pursuing police cars by a crowd waiting with stones. In Poland it was the wildcat strikes and occupations against the communist government. In Brixton and Toxteth it was the explosion of inner city youth against the boredom and police repression. In each place they would carry out their own actions as a contribution to the struggle without attempting to manipulate the local participants in any way. In their journal at the time, which was not a political paper but a summary of their activities and reflections upon it, they dealt with such questions as the need for invisibility (and the consequent rejection of political milieu which positively invites the police attention for its own vanity) and strategies for undermining the old world of capitalism and its novelties and lies. In 1984, Os Cangaceiros went to England to throw their stones with the miners and stayed there for a year in several Yorkshire towns; this was to be the last stand of the traditional working class movement in Britain, the country last to follow the European model. After this, they returned to Paris (with several miners they had become friends with) and began to squat houses.
"Let's not give free reign to our jailers, strike the tiger's heart every day, in every way, according to our differences, against the sadness and solitude of our cells of confinement."
A Momentary Rest
While other squatters attempted to use conservationist and architectural arguments to justify the occupation of abandoned, disintegrating buildings, Os Cangaceiros decided to seize the best buildings they could find -- they saw squatting as a direct expropriation of the material luxury we are all entitled to, as each of us is tantalized lifelong by the illusion of material wealth, and they wished to realize and exhaust the lie. To this end, they moved into a newly constructed apartment block and drove out the yuppie inhabitants who complained. The seized building was then fortified against police attack and they set about creating a no-go zone for police in their district. When the police finally arrived to evict them, it took them three hours to get through the steel plating on the door, during which time their network of supporters were alerted by phone and counterattacked the police from behind.
In the late 1980's, Os Cangaceiros entered a new trajectory and began to direct their efforts against the Prison-Industrial Complex. In the following three years they carried out multiple acts of sabotage against prison construction sites, stole the architectural plans for new prisons, beat up some of the architects who were designing the new Gulags and drew attention to the resistance gathering pace inside the walls as well. The Industrial Complex forced Os Cangaceiros to disband their journal and go underground entirely, as they were now being heavily pursued by police. One of their last acts (before dissolving into informal criminal networks they had spent nearly two decades creating) was to publish a book on the 16th-century Movement of the Free Spirit, a proto-anarchist current that they strongly identified with.
"At the dawn of Industrialism, factories were modeled after prisons. In its twilight, prisons are now modeled after factories."
Teeth and Claws
In May of 1985 prison riots erupted all across France. Acting in a solidarity based on their personal hatred of prisons and not as third party liberators, Os Cangaceiros attacked targets ranging from rail lines to Tour de France cars in order to publicize the prisoners' resistance.
- May 5, 1985 In Fleury-MÃ©rogis, the prisoners of the D4 wing riot and wreck the whole wing.
- May 6 Again in Fleury, 300 people from D1 wing refuse to return from their hour of exercise; sixty of them set fire to the infirmary.
- May 7 In Bois dâ€™Arcy, about fifteen juvenile detainees (inmates under 18 years old, usually held in separate blocks or prisons) climb onto the roof, remaining there until
- May 9, supported and supplied by their fellow prisoners.
- May 8 In Lille, ten or so prisoners climb onto the roof. In Bastia, inmates refuse to eat prison food in solidarity with the other prisons. (The â€œrefusal of prison foodâ€ is not exactly the same as a hunger strike, though this may be one way of carrying it out.)
- May 9 In Fresnes, 400 people climb onto the roofs and clash with cops who kill one prisoner. In Compiegne, about ten prisoners climb onto the roofs following those of the morning â€˜shiftâ€™. At Bonne Nouvelle in Rouen, about fifty juvenile prisoners climb onto the roofs while other prisoners wreck their cells; after apparent negotiations, about thirty climbed back on the roof in solidarity with Fresnes.
- May 10 From the 9th through the 10th, some prisoners went up on the roofs in Douai. There was a brief clash with the CRS (French riot police). In Amiens, about fifty prisoners climb on the roofs. In Nice, about sixty prisoners on the roofs join together with about twenty juvenile prisoners during a clash with the cops. In Beziers 130 prisoners take three prison guards and one male nurse hostage for three hours.
- May 11 In Evreux, Saintes and Coutances, prisoners climb onto the roofs and clash with cops. The same thing happens the following day in St. Brieuc.
- May 19 Prisoners wreck Montpellier prison entirely (arson and destruction) and clash with cops. Outside, the crowd, consisting of prisonersâ€™ relatives and friends, attack the cops from behind.
Moreover, numerous disturbances break out in various prisons, with the destruction of cells and attempts at arson (in Rennes, Angers, Metz, etc.) as well as collective refusal of prison food (Lyons, men and women in Fleury, Ajaccio, Auxerres, St. Malo, Avignon, Chambery, etc.). There are many 'suicides' during this time. Rebels in Douai and Evreux are given heavy sentences on the pretext of damages committed.
- June 17 A barricade is set on fire on the Nantes-Paris railroad line near Nantes in solidarity with the prison revolts.
- June 20 Sabotage of the TGV (High Speed Train) railroad lineâ€™s installations in the south of Paris.
- June 27 A barricade is set on fire on the Toulouse-Paris railroad line near Toulouse.
- June 30 On the night between June 30 and July 1, the printing of the Paris daily papers is paralyzed by sabotage of the IPLO print shop near Nantes.
â€œWe decided to impose a half dayâ€™s silence on the national press in honor of the rebellious jailbirds.â€ The action is also dedicated to all the dead prisoners who were â€œsuicidedâ€. â€œAll these papers are well known for their hostility to the recent movement of revolt in the prisons.â€
- July 1 Sabotage of the railroad installations on the Nimes-Tarascon line.
Every time these actions cause prolonged interruptions of railway traffic and hours of delay for the daily trains. The demands were always the same:
"A reduction of punishment for all condemned prisoners. The release of all prisoners awaiting trial. The definitive stopping of all deportation measures against immigrants. The cancellation of sanctions for all the rebels."
- July 2 The Paris-Brussels TEE train is stopped near Compiegne; the four demands are spray-painted on it. Windows are smashed, and copies of the pamphlet â€œFreedom Is the Crimeâ€ are thrown through them.
- July 5 Sabotage on the Paris-Le Havre line. Four people are arrested in Rouen two days later and imprisoned for three months in relation to this action.
- July 8 From the 7th to the 8th, prisoners in Chaumont climb onto the roofs, demonstrating their anxiety in the face of the forthcoming presidential amnesty of July 14 (Bastille Day) that promises to be particularly meager. There are conflicts with the cops. Four of the rebels receive heavy sentences.
- July 9 An anonymous act of sabotage is carried out against the Paris-Strasbourg line which passes near Chaumont.
- July 12 In the early morning, two Paris subway lines are blocked for several hours after heavy objects were thrown on them in solidarity with the Rouen 4 and the rebels of Chaumont; the four demands were once again publicized.
- July 13 In Lyons, two official cars are set on fire in solidarity with the cityâ€™s prisoners. Even before the details of the concesssion are known, various disturbances resume in various prisons (Fleury, Loos-les Lille, Toul, etc.).
- July 14 At St. Paul prison in Lyons, about twenty prisoners of the â€œpsychiatricâ€ unit rebel, destroying and burning. The pathetic presidential amnesty is announced: a one to two month reduction of short-term sentences. The JAP [Judges for the Application of Penalties] will expand their workload: 3000-4000 prisoners will get out in the next few days. Numerous disturbances will accompany the news in the countryâ€™s prisons.
- July 15 During the night between the 14th and the 15th, tires of the convoy that accompanies the Tour de France are slashed (immobilizing about one hundred vehicles) in solidarity with the condemned rebels.
In Toulouse, a business that employs prisoners is destroyed by fire.
- August 18 In Lille, dozens of prisoners climb up on the roofs. In Lyons, the ROP print shop for Parisian daily newspapers is wrecked. Publication and distribution are seriously effected. Once again the aim was to castigate the papers for their lies and hostility toward the rebels. The text, "The Truth About Some Actions" was left on the premises. To report once again, during disturbances in Guadalupa, the escape of about thirty prisoners from the Pointe-Ã -Pitre prisoner following a revolt.
"The demands form a prisonersâ€™ offensive against their isolation and an appeal to those on the outside to act concretely to break it. Itâ€™s a question of bringing pressure to bear against this society, of shitting on a world that would prefer to remain deaf in ragards to its prisons."
In 1990, a voluminous dossier began to circulate in France. The dossier, sent by Os Cangaceiros, included stolen prison plans and documents, as well as a chronology outlining Os Cangaceiros' campaign of sabotage against the "13,000 Project", which pertained to French State plans to create new maximum security penitentiaries with room for 13,000 prisoners. Also in the file were reproductions of communiquÃ©s sent to those who were targeted in their attacks. Interestingly, the police and companies who were attacked tried to remain very discreet about this campaign, apparently wishing to give it as little publicity as possible.
Letter to an Architect
" Subject: Ambush
Are your wounds well healed, architect ? Did you figure out why ? Shamelessly, with no discretion of any kind, centimetre by centimetre, you have conceived these cages in which even the handicapped will be locked up. Inside the walls which you have designed, individuals who are worth more than you will be beaten up on a regular basis. It is good that you have received an appetizer of what thousands of prisoners will endure to the nth degree. To be sure, architect, this is not your company's first infamy. Considering what you build to house normal citizens, one can guess your competence to shut away delinquents. One moves easily from the tower blocks of the 13th arrondisement to prison cells. Pig, looking at your snout up close, we were able to note form your tired face how deeply you involve yourself in your projects. Before you were building walls, now you're going to knock them down."
Os Cangaceiros, Lyon, 29/03/1990
- basse intensite Many articles about Os Cangaceiros, in French
- Very long URL because of a protracted Google Translate search Basse Intensite (trans. Low Intensity) article about Os Cangaceiros, might be possible to trim the URL and keep the translation.
- Basse Intensite translation
- More information may be available under the search term "Les Fossoyeurs du vieux monde" than "Os Cangaceiros"