Terre land, earth, soil


Nous nous soulevons, chacun.e depuis notre endroit, chacun.e à notre manière. Le mouvement des Soulèvements de la Terre ne peut pas être dissout car il est multiple et vivant. On ne dissout pas un mouvement, on ne dissout pas une révolte.

We are rising, each from their own place, each in their own way. The Uprisings of the Earth movement cannot be dissolved because it is multiple and alive. One cannot dissolve a movement, one cannot dissolve a revolt.

Les Soulèvements de la Terre (Uprisings of the Earth) is a collective that was founded in 2021 in the zad of Notre-Dame-des Landes (for more on the zad see this entry). Its aim is to build a network of local struggles as part of a movement of resistance at a larger scale in order to tear the land away from the ravages of the industrial capitalist system. The collective calls for reclaiming lands; blocking polluting industries; and targeting institutions that favour the industrialisation of agriculture. Les Soulèvements de la Terre have fought against planning projects known as ‘grands travaux inutiles’ (big useless projects) such as water mega-basins, whose environmental impacts and privatization of water they denounce, and the Turin-Lyon highspeed railway, which has long been the target of protests from the ‘No TAV’ movement. The French Council of Ministers decreed the dissolution of the collective in June 2023, but the dissolution was suspended by the country’s highest administrative court in August of the same year.

In calling themselves and calling for ‘soulèvements de la terre’, the collective posits both a continuum rather than a separation between human beings and the more-than-human world, and that the recognition of this continuum is a political act of revolt. The name of the collective also reclaims a word – ‘terre’ (which depending on the context can be translated variously as land, earth, or soil) – away from its long history of association with conservative ideologies and ecofascist projects as part of an imaginary of the rural as a repository of ‘traditional’ (right-wing and far-right) French values.

This was encapsulated during the Second World War by the Nazi collaborator Vichy Government’s ‘retour à la terre’ (return to the land), which formed the ideological basis of the Révolution Nationale, fetishising the rural and the peasantry with slogans such as ‘la terre, elle, ne ment pas’ (the land does not lie). This idealisation of the land and peasants was already nothing new in the 1940s but took on greater significance during the Occupation and the immediate post-war era, as noted by Margaret Butler in a study of rural cinema.

We can see the continuation of this far-right appropriation of the rural in today’s Rassemblement National’s (National Rally) exploitation of environmentalism in their call for an ‘écologie enracinée’ (rooted ecology). As Antonella Sciancalepore argues, this speaks to an identification of the environment with nation in eco-nationalist ideologies, ‘often [equating] nature preservation with a “nativist sentiment” and a fantasy of ancestral ethnic purity’ and ‘[capitalizing] on the identification between nature preservation and control over a territory enclosed by national frontiers’.

Against this instrumentalization of the land by the far-right that roots its racism in a fantasised rural past, a key contemporary reclaiming of ‘terre’ is found in political scientist and activist Fatima Ouassak’s 2023 Pour une écologie pirate. Et nous serons libres (For a pirate ecology: and we will be free) (click here for the recording of the Récits des vivants seminar with Fatima Ouassak). ‘Terre’ (and associated terms) is a recurrent word Pour une écologie pirate, as part of an ecological project of resistance and for justice that is decolonial, feminist, anti-racist and anti-capitalist. Pirate ecology is, importantly, articulated from the ‘minoritarian’ perspective of working-class suburban popular neighbourhoods, in this way rethinking the quasi-systematic association of ‘terre’ with the rural. Pirate ecology brings to the fore the entanglements of capitalism, colonialism and coloniality in a system of power, domination and profit that exploits bodies and territories and that must be resisted against in an alliance of solidarities, between struggles against different manifestations of colonial-capitalist oppression, and with all other animals and earth others.

As Fatima Ouassak notes, the French left tends to view any political project that foregrounds ‘terre’ as right-wing or far-right, due to the concept’s historical resonance for movements that are rooted in the fetishisation of land as nation and fear being dispossessed of it by an immigration that they demonise. Reclaiming ‘terre’ away from this far-right lineage, Fatima Ouassak inscribes it instead as part of the heritage of anticolonial struggles for liberation and independence. In this way, Fatima Ouassak writes a history of environmental activism that is inherently decolonial and in which ‘reconquête territoriale’ (territorial reconquest) means reappropriating the land by tearing it away from the ecocidal colonial-capitalist system. Importantly, in this call for a truly popular ecology that is neither centred on the dominant class nor populist, freedom of circulation is just as crucial as rootedness and territorial reconquest, and climate action means both breaking walls and making commons. Terre is here not a symptom of entrenchment behind far-right ideologies and strengthened borders, but a key term in an ecology of liberation.

‘Land’ is a word that has multiple connotations and meanings in translation, including within one language as seen here in with French. It has been deployed differently in political projects across cultures and histories, for instance in a colonial nation-state such as a France or, as explored by David Miranda-Barreiro in his entry in this lexicon on ‘terra’, in a minoritized stateless nation such as Galicia.

What the contemporary articulations explored here bring to the fore, is that terre – the land, the earth, the soil – is alive and vibrant, and that it is at once a site for and an actor in the struggle for environmental justice.

Works Cited

Butler, Margaret, ‘Paysan, paysage, patrie: French Films and Rural Life, 1940–1950’, Rural History (2003), 14.2, 219–237.

Ouassak, Fatima, Pour une écologie pirate : et nous serons libres (Paris: La Découverte, 2023).

Soulèvements de la Terre (les), https://lessoulevementsdelaterre.org/ [accessed 28/09/2023].

Sciancalepore, Antonella, ‘Exposing eco-nationalists with premodern ecologies: a medievalist approach to the French far right’, Undisciplined Environments https://undisciplinedenvironments.org/2022/02/17/exposing-eco-nationalists-with-premodern-ecologies-a-medievalist-approach-to-the-french-far-right/ [accessed 28/09/2023].