Eric Hazan: "My books are weapons"

A rebel publisher, Eric Hazan fires off a dozen books per year against the capitalist world. The Coming Insurrection, attributed to Julien Coupat and the Invisible Committee, remains his best shot.

A blast of polemics. In articles that were published at the end of December [2009] in Liberation, the publisher Eric Hazan and the journalist Laurent Joffrin -- in an exchange as polite as it was incisive -- established the marker poles in the drama that has long agitated the French left: the consummate division between its weak side (the Social Democrats) and its more radical, even subversive tendencies.[1]

Against "the maintenance of the established order," for which Joffrin and his friends in the "moribund" left work, Eric Hazan bluntly calls for "insurrection." Furthermore, it has already arrived, in the form of the title of the book The Coming Insurrection, which Hazan published in 2007. Written by a mysterious "Invisible Committee," the text has benefited from a cash-box of unforeseen resonance with the Tarnac Affair. By placing the book at the center of its investigations, and by attributing partial responsibility for its writing to Julien Coupat, power itself has taken the new insurrectionary literature seriously. With the result that, during the quarrel between Joffrin and Hazan (as old as the left itself), this fire ship[2] -- which has sold more than 40,000 copies -- was given a new vitality. How should one contest the world today: by accommodating oneself to its foundations or by radically reinventing them?

Two years after the creation of his publishing house, La Fabrique, whose independence he has fiercely protected, Eric Hazan has created a unique space in French publishing: a place of resistance with a modest budget that publishes a dozen books a year. From Jacques Ranciere to Alain Badiou, the authors published by La Fabrique participate in the elaboration of a structured critique of the contemporary capitalist world and the invention of a possible way out of it.

Eric Hazan warmly received us at his little office at the top of Belleville in Paris, which shelters his books and the two people who work wih him. At 74 years old, he has the air of a combatant: the bright eyes, the direct informality, the calm way he asserts that a civil war is being fought. This is our encounter with a rebel publisher.

Question: Is the quarrel between you and the editorial direction of Liberation a symptom of an irremediable caesura between two Lefts?

Eric Hazan: Several journalists from Liberation -- Karl Laske, Pierre Marcelle, Edouard Launet -- are not at all in agreement with Laurent Joffrin, who in my mind represents a moribund Left, one that is so little different from the Right that it has few reasons for existing.

Question: You reproach Jospin --

Eric Hazan: Jospin?![3] No, Joffrin. An interesting slip of the tongue!

Question: Excuse me. You reproach Joffrin for being a part of the established order. That's a strong attack.

Eric Hazan: The values that he identifies with are the same as the Right when it comes to maintaining order. Public liberties, the rights of man, the Republic, [and] the State of Laws are rags; none of them exist. In this country, the law is constantly trampled upon in the name of the State of Law; in the name of the Republic, votes are solicited for a law that would prohibit the wearing of full veils. It is absurd and scandalous.

Question: Why?

Eric Hazan: Jacques Ranciere has written an excellent article in Liberation about the victims: he explains that one of the planned laws would fine veiled women while recognizing their status as victims. They are victims and so we should punish them: that's the logic of this law. A shame.

Question: Do you assume complete responsibility for the text by the Invisible Committee, The Coming Insurrection?

Eric Hazan: Yes, completely. I have even worked with the authors. As they have written, I not believe that one can amend the system with bits of string and patches. I do not believe in the general postulate that there is no salvation [salut] beyond capitalism and that it is enough to moralize it, to manage it. This is impossible: as long as capitalism and the market economy exist, injustice and inequalities will grow. Today there is an attempt to persuade us that this system has always existed and that there is no possible exit, other than the gulag. But the capitalist system has only existed for the last two hundred years. One believes that there is no theoretical alternative, but one speaks more and more of communism. I was, I believe, one of the first to try to restore meaning to this word in a book called Faire mouvement, published in 2005 by Prairies ordinaires. In it, I said: "I am a communist; communism is the only reason to be interested in politics." At the time, Mathieu Potte Bonneville interviewed me but remained dumbfounded. I sent the book to Alain Badiou, who I didn't know personally, dedicating it "To Alain Badiou, communist." Later he told me that this had made him think. Perhaps it contributed to his own reflections on the communist hypothesis.

Question: What is the reason for the resurrection of the communist idea?

Eric Hazan: People feel that there is no longer a choice between the Right and the Left, but between ways of getting out of capitalism. That's the key question. If it remains in the domain of ideas, one can only go round in circles. For me, thinking about communism isn't heading towards a political organization, but towards practical reflections.

Question: Like what?

Eric Hazan: How to abolish the salariat?[4] What to replace it with? The history of the Soviet Union shows that the collective appropriation of the means of the production is not true communism. It led to a disaster because the salariat was retained. Another key problem: how to dislodge work from its central position in social life? How to organize things so that work is no longer a key element around which everything is organized? If one remain in a Marxian problematic, if work remains central, then one situates oneself on the adversary's terrain and inevitably loses.

Question: Does the end of work remain a purely theoretical idea?

Eric Hazan: I'm not extolling the end of work but the end of salaried work. One must no longer consider work to be the basis of social organization. But one must continue to work, of course.

Question: Are you interested in political ecology, which reflects the place of work in social organization?

Eric Hazan: I don't know anything about it. Ecology bothers me. I have reservations about the notion and the word. We will soon publish a new book by Badiou, L'Ecologie, nouvel opium du peuple. Ecology is a new way for power to do everything that it wants to do.

Question: But isn't it one of the only strong ideas to have emerged in the political life of the last ten years?

Eric Hazan: Perhaps it has led people to reflect upon politics, but it isn't an issue. The best proof of this is that ecology has been metabolized by the system. The ecology industry is the only branch of industry with a double-digit rate of growth. Capitalism is in the process of digesting ecology. One can see the political role of Europe Ecologie[5] -- it's a kind of sub-Socialist Party intended to salvage the people who are a little disgusted with the Socialist Party, like Joffrin. For me, ecology is nothing other than the frontline of the civil war.

Question: The civil war is real?

Eric Hazan: Yes, it exists. In 2004, I wrote Chronique de la guerre civile. Then [I wrote] Changement de propriétaire [published in 2007], the civil war continued through Pompidou's election . . .

Question: Not Pompidou! Sarkozy! Your turn to make an interesting slip.

Eric Hazan: Sarkozy, yes! Everywhere. The civil war continues; it has even intensified.

Question: How did you work with the Invisible Committee?

Eric Hazan: I know some of them; they are friends. But I do not know how they were in their group.

Question: How old are they?

Eric Hazan: About 30 years old.

Question: How do you protect their anonymity? Do they have a book contract?

Eric Hazan: There's neither a contract nor author's rights. They didn't want any. They have remained anonymous for an ethical reason, not to protect themselves nor to assume the posture of being authors.

Question: Are you surprised by the success of the book, which was published without any publicity?

Eric Hazan: The book sold well even before the launching of the Tarnac Affair. It sold 8,000 copies, which is a lot for a book published by La Fabrique. But the publicity created by the Minister [of the Interior] Alliot-Marie and the prosecutor Marin caused sales to take off: more than 40,000 copies have been sold. The text speaks of civil war, the creation of "communes" and the diversion of pregnancy-bonuses as a revolutionary act.

Question: Isn't this a little short as far as propositions go?

Eric Hazan: There are two parts of the book: an inventory and a list of actions to get out of that state. The second part is more complex than the first, it is true. More than just a new method of organization and political action, we must invent a new mode of life.

Question: You mean an absolute utopia?

Eric Hazan: The word "utopia" doesn't bother me; look where realism has led us. In 1793, Camille Desmoulins said: in 1789, there won't be ten republicans. The Republic is still in the domain of utopia.

Question: For the last 50 years, hasn't Social Democracy proposed an alternative to the choice between wild capitalism and the gulag?

Eric Hazan: Social Democracy proposes, but it doesn't do anything. To me, the betrayal of promises is inseparable from Social Democracy. To make promises and not keep them: it's in their nature.

Question: The dominant Left and the Right: six of one, half-a-dozen of another?

Eric Hazan: On the other side of the front line -- Jospin, Joffrin, Sarkozy -- they all agree on the essential: safeguarding capitalism and the market. They argue with each other like Guignol and the Commissioner in the marionette theatre. If the Socialists were in power today, they would continue to expel those without proper immigration papers, but in a less ostentatious fashion, with a little less nastiness. Let us remember: the first charters were under Edith Cresson, and the security politics of Chevenement weren't very different from those today.[6] They are different ways of disguising the same reality.

Question: Would the Tarnac Affair have been possible ten years ago?

Eric Hazan: No. The Perben Laws[7] marked a turning point. And the anti-terrorist laws that followed them. Never before had an individual accused of sabotaging a train's power line been indicted for "association of criminals in relation to a terrorist enterprise." Previously, he would have been prosecuted for damaging public property.

Question: What do you think about the new category, the internal enemy?

Eric Hazan: The traditional internal enemy -- the Islamist terrorist -- cannot be found among us. To legitimate the police-related and legislative arsenal put into place since Sarkozy became the Minister of the Interior, the State had to construct an internal enemy. In the Spring of 2008, I published an essay entitled "Les habits neufs de l’ennemi intérieur" in Politis. Some young people had been arrested for having a smoke bomb in their trunk. As for the surveillance of the people from Tarnac,[8] it started well before the business with the train line. They have been seeking to fabricate a credible internal enemy for a long time. Power is terribly afraid of an explosion in the banlieus. It has put everything into place to be able to control a possible uprising in the hours that follow.

Question: The books that you've written and those that you have published go in the same direction. Do you see your work as a publisher as the work of an author, a thinker?

Eric Hazan: We select the books that we publish more and more. I say "we" because the decisions really are collective; they are made by those who edit the books, me, Stella Magliani-Belkacem and Stephane Passadeos, who work with me, and the editorial committee, which is composed of eight people. The majority of these books are weapons. This is what they share in common. When I began, eleven years ago, it was less so; I knew nothing about it. But for the last four or five years, the coherence is the offensive. The most recently published books -- the book by Gideon Levy on Gaza, Jacques Ranciere's Moments politiques, The Comming Insurrection and the next book by Andre Schriffrin, L'Argent et les Mots -- are books that attack.

Question: How did you get from publishing art to publishing essays?

Eric Hazan: I plunged into publishing art because I inherited the paternal publishing house, Editions Hazan, but this frustrated me a little, between the books on Masaccio and Chardin. Deep down, I was relieved at being fired when the house was purchased by Hachette.

Question: This engendered reflections on the economy of the book?

Eric Hazan: Yes. If one wants to continue to be independent -- and independence is truly necessary, given the kind of books we publish -- one must not have any debts. At Editions Hazan, they were more in debt every year. Bankers are nice until they bring out their pocket calculators and strangle you. My father used to say: "The bankers loan you an umbrella but take it back when it starts to rain." At La Labrique, we have a policy of non-growth. We work in a tiny space,[9] but we don't owe anyone money. Growth is an intoxication [un vertige]. We are very sought-after at the moment, and we could publish more, then move [into a bigger space], but that would be the beginning of an infernal cycle. We prefer to limit ourselves to about thirteen titles per year.

Question: Is your model of independent publishing Editions de Minuit?

Eric Hazan: Absolutely. Jerome Lindon had a faultless editorial career. Sixteen books per year. When he got the Goncourt [Prize] with Duras' The Lover, he made a lot of money. While others moved out of la rue Bernard-Palissy and increased their sales, he bought a bookstore. I knew him and liked him very much; he was a magnificent person.

Question: How do you see publishing today?

Eric Hazan: The gap is growing between the small, independent houses, which have quasi-negiglible sales revenues, and the big industrial houses, such as Gallimard, Seuil, Albin Michel, and Hachette, which have stockholders, bankers and cost-effectiveness. The primary problem facing the small houses is their ability to continue to publish. The houses that publish the same kind of books as we do -- Prairies ordinaires, Agone, Amsterdam, and L'Echappe -- are doing rather well.

Question: You have other projects with the Invisible Committee?

Eric Hazan: We're talking about it. The idea would be to respond to everything that has happened [since 2007]. But they have their character and a collective manner of functioning. They really do what they want to do.

Question: How is Julien Coupat?

Eric Hazan: This affair has reinforced his [belief in his] positions. In prison, he was surrounded by concrete. The worst has been the judicial supervision: they cannot speak to each other, see each other; they must remain in places where they do not live, without means of subsistence . . . Recently, the ten people who have been indicted declared publicly that they would no longer submit to this supervision.[10] The criminal-justice system has retreated, and the Court of Appeals have lightened the restrictions to the point that they no longer matter that much.

Question: In hindsight, what is the meaning you give to this whole affair?

Eric Hazan: The State made an experiment to see if it is possible to apply its anti-terrorist legislation to white people. Until then, it had only applied it to the bearded men who preach in cellars and are laughed at by everyone else. This [the Tarnac Affair] was an attempt to intimidate and to demonstrate to subversive white people that they are no longer protected from arbitrary repression.

[1] See Claude Guillon's critique of both Joffrin and Hazan (French only).

[2] A fire ship (un brulot) is a ship filled with combustible material, sent on fire, and aimed at the enemy.

[3] Lionel Jospin (born 1937) is a French politician. He was Prime Minister between 1997 and 2002.

[4] The French word here, salariat, is a neologism that combines salaried workers and the proletariat. It suggests the proletarianization of the so-called middle class.

[5] Europe Ecologie is the name of a Leftist coalition formed for the 2009 elections.

[6] Edith Cresson (born 1934) was and still is France's only female Prime Minister (1991-1992). Her politics were openly racist and xenophobic. Jean-Pierre Chevenement (born 1939) was the French Minister of Defense between 1988 and 1991, and Minister of the Interior between 1997 and 2000.

[7] Note by the interviewers: the law of 9 March 2004 concerning the adaptation of justice to the evolution of criminality.

[8] For more on the surveillance of the Tarnac Ten.

[9] The French here is On est trois dans 40 mètres carrés (literally: "we are three in 40 square meters").

[10] See the declaration published in "Le Monde" on 4 December 2009.

(Written by J.M. Colard, J.M. Durand and Nelly Kaprielian, and published 15 February 2010 by Les Inrocks. Translated by NOT BORED! 21 February 2010. Footnotes by the translator except where noted.)

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