The memory of a son: a few corrections, a few comments

Here and there you could read a lot of very nice comments on my mother, but I’m afraid I also have to correct a number of them. Because there is something worse than to speak ill of the dead, and that is to give a false image of their life and ideas.

Let us start with the Nord Littoral issue of september 18th. It explains well enough the political positions of Marie-Noëlle, and who was Zetkin. But then you can read that her activist commitment had occurred in the « logical footsteps of her companion, » himself at the communist party, and that this commitment had been reinforced, « her children growing up. » Two patriarchal cliches in a single paragraph, after just having explained that Zetkin was a feminist communist, I’m impressed.

The truth is completely different, and even, almost the opposite. What pushed my mother to act beyond perpetual demonstrations, was the success of the National Front in the presidential elections of 2002. And it is only with a few vague endorsements from the PCF, that never materialized, that she engaged, for years, alone, in the activism forerunning the copwatching of No Borders, long before No Borders even existed. On the subject of that activism, her famous companion was always ambivalent at best, disdainful at worst, as fines and threats were piling up. And let us not speak of the children, me and my brothers, then barely out of high school, or still there, and far from independence.

My mother did not abide any of the patriarchal dictates when she took her camera to go stand in the way of the CRS. She did not wait for everything at home to be all nice and shiny, for her children to be at work, married, etc. and she did not model herself after a man before getting out there to fight. She was moved by a sense of personal duty, despite all opposition, including sometimes despite opposition from her own family, in her own house.

Another homage that goes wrong is the one initially launched by Jean-Pierre Alaux, from the GISTI, an independent association of lawyers working to help foreigners, with my support after the Nord Littoral atrocity I just mentioned, and that just got refused — modified — by Voix du Nord. This is what it contained:

Marie-Noëlle Gues just left us. We will forget neither her long and brave commitment alongside migrants, nor her relentless will to protect them from institutional violence, nor her political demand of a world community founded on the equality of all human beings. To her family and relatives, we wish to express our sorrow.

That is of course infinitely better than what Nord Littoral churned out. But you can see the reluctance to use the words No Borders, or to speak of freedom of movement. Martine Devries, when I mentioned this to her, explained it had been decided to draft a more consensual text to allow the greatest number of associations to sign. Once again, a betrayal of what my mom was about. She spent years fighting almost alone, and telling some of the same people signing this text to fuck off. She’d have hated to lower her demands so that more people could join her. It was all or nothing with her.

Marie-Noëlle thought humanitarians were helping the state carry on its repressive policies by repairing the broken pots. But even if she did not oppose humanitarian aid in exceptional situations, emergency situations, she thought intervening in this manner was collaboration, in the context of a disaster created by state policies.

She did not demand a world community either, even though she believed in the equal rights of all human beings. My mother repeatedly criticized me for speaking English, when I was in France. She hated fascists because she considered them as unconscious tools of Capital. She certainly did not think it was desirable to have a world government, and she hated neoliberalism, naturally, true communist that she was.

Above all, my mother was completely independent. She wasn’t even in very good terms with the No Borders folks themselves. She wondered if the collective was going to turn into a Salam-type association. She would say « CMS » (Calais Migrant Solidarity) whilst making a disgusted face, and sometimes accompanying that with a « Beuah. » Shortly before she began to give in to cancer, she made a last sharp criticism of the kitchens without borders of this summer, too conservative with their equipment, of activists who were too exhausted, and of the general lack of political agitation.

My mother wanted migrants to take control of their liberty, to associate and multiply acts of revolt, demonstration, and sabotage, until the border regime fell. To have their asylum and free movement rights respected. She considered them as fellow workers, struggling against capital in common with the workers of the country they were in. She always talked of educating them and awakening their class consciousness. This is what my mother thought about everyday. I do not accuse people to have evil intentions, but it really hurts me to see the legacy of my mother falsified by the statements of these last few days.

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