France: Repressive government vs. environmental struggles

In addition to the strikes and mobilizations of the last weeks, an important environmental movement is developing in France. On October 29 and 30, in Sainte-Soline, there were harsh clashes between the police-gendarmerie and anti-megaculture activists, whom the Macron government accuses of being “eco-terrorists”.

By Pablo Vasco

Sainte-Soline is a small town in the Deux-Sèvres department, in western France, whereas in other regions of the country the government of Emmanuel Macron and private capitalists finance projects to install artificial mega-watersheds with the excuse of “agricultural needs”. Dozens of environmental groups, such as Watersheds, no thank you! and The earth arising, together with the Confederación Campesina and other groups, called last weekend for a direct action to block the construction.

More than 8,000 people participated in the protest, with 15 tractors, organized in a main red column and two lateral columns, green and white. The red column managed to overflow the fences, enter the construction site and dismantle part of the pipeline network. There is a remarkable photo gallery at: The prevailing atmosphere was very combative. For his moderate positions, the former presidential candidate and MEP for the Greens, Yanick Jadot, was booed…

The repressive operation was brutal. ,Fences had been deployed in 12 municipalities to prevent the arrival and prohibit the march beforehand. But farmers in favor of the protest allowed the activists to camp. The government used 1,700 gendarmes and CRS[1], seven helicopters, tear gas bombs, dispersal grenades and LBD[2]. Among the demonstrators there were more than 50 wounded, several arrested and at least four with open criminal cases. As the protesters defended themselves, police officers were injured 61 times. The environmental camp is still active.

Gérald Darmanin, Minister of the Interior, called the activists “ultra-leftists” and “eco-terrorists”[3]. The same was later affirmed by the Paris police prefect, Laurent Nunez, criminalizing the popular protests, which is part of the government’s increasing police and military reinforcement. Among those now being monitored by the French intelligence services are several dozen environmental activists.

The reasons for the conflict

Ecologists consider Sainte-Soline as a ZAD: zone to defend, of which there are 50 or more in France. It means the monopolization of 750,000 cubic meters of water, or the equivalent of 300 Olympic swimming pools. And in the whole area there are 15 other similar projects, totaling 6 million cubic meters.

As announced by Watersheds, no thank you!, “the broad coalition that called for the demonstration ‘not one more watershed’ demands once again the halt of the Sainte-Soline project and a moratorium on all the other mega-basins in the pipeline. If the government persists in pushing, imposing and financing these absolutely unacceptable water grabbing projects, the movement will announce a new date of national mobilization and civil disobedience within 15 days.”[4] The L’L’Oréal movement is also calling for a moratorium on all other mega-basin projects.

As the NPA’s L’Étincelle current explains it well, “The megabasins are large water storage craters, dug up to 8 meters deep, with a plastic bottom, surrounded by a dam almost 10 meters high, covering an area of 8 to 18 hectares. They are filled mainly by pumping groundwater, not by rainwater… With the active support of the State, the FNSEA[5] and its promoters present them as indispensable in the face of climate change. In reality, they will be used to irrigate the intensive monocultures of a minority of large farms destined for methanization plants, to feed speculation on international markets or for surface livestock farming….

“Mega-watersheds hoard public money for a handful of farmers, whose aim is business and who choose to continue with water-intensive crops doped with pesticides (such as corn). In addition to the depletion and contamination of groundwater, this form of irrigation accentuates land grabbing and speculation.”[6]

The Peasant Confederation argues that megadams destroy soils and have a privatizing character, and as an alternative defends “irrigation in connection with ecosystems, which distributes water resources in a fair and sustainable manner, at the service of delocalized peasant agriculture, abundant in jobs and producing quality food accessible to all.”[7]

In its crisis, the capitalist system and its governments deepen their extractivist and destructive character of nature. At the same time, they attack the democratic rights of those who resist their projects. We must continue to support environmental struggles like that of Sainte-Soline and defend persecuted activists, on the revolutionary road to defeat capitalism and achieve a government of the workers and socialism.

[1] Republican Security Companies, a special repressive body of the national police.

[2] Launcher of “defense” bullets, used against the yellow vests and other protests.

[3] In Argentina, for example, the governments of Mauricio Macri and Alberto Fernández use the so-called “anti-terrorist” laws to criminally prosecute environmental assemblies.


[5] Peasant federation dominated by agribusiness.