By Frank Arango
(CV #37, Feb. 2006)
Big struggles periodically sweep France
The response of the French bourgeoisie
The big fist of the Gaullist UMP
"Islamic war against the West"
"Crime lords and gangsters"
"Scum", "Gangrene", and "Karcharizing"
The UMP speaking out of another side of its mouth
The Socialist Party (PS)--the other main bourgeois party
What about the Communist Party of France (PCF)?
. For nearly three weeks of late October and November France was the scene of street battles and
militant protests against the racist realities of French capitalism. Government and police
buildings, schools, warehouses, shopping malls and about 9,000 vehicles were torched, 2,900
people arrested, and 126 police injured. The French government responded by declaring a 12-day
"state of emergency", and then extending it by three months. While the capitalist news media
constantly referred to the fall events as "riots", they also admitted there was very little looting,
and that setting abandoned cars afire has been a form of protest in the country for years. As a
matter of fact, the rebellion was part of the longstanding just and courageous struggle of the
doubly-oppressed sons and daughters of national minority and immigrant workers and other poor
people. And bound up in it were demands against racial discrimination and segregation,
anti-immigrant hysteria, police-state laws, and police harassment and repression. It's therefore in
the vital interests of all the workers of France and the world to reach out to and support as their
own the struggles of this super-exploited, racially-discriminated- against and oppressed section of
. The spark that lit the prairie fire was the electrocution of three young people in a power station they had fled into to avoid an "identity check" by the police. Two of the youths, ages 13 and 15, died. Such police-state checks are legal in France, and they're disproportionately applied to racial minorities, and sometimes several times a day. Moreover, during them the police often insult or threaten the persons stopped, and not infrequently they degenerate into police violence. So it's entirely understandable why these youths, who were of North and West African heritage, tried to avoid being subjected to this fascistic law and possible abuse by the cops. (1) After all, they were only innocently going home for supper from a soccer game. But the French police and the Minister of the Interior Nicolas Sarkozy, immediately began attacking the victims as probable thieves, and claimed the police hadn't chased them anyway. Both stories proved to be lies meant to defend racist police policies and the entire racist system of the French bourgeoisie that stands behind them.
. The dead boys lived in Clichy-sous-Bois, a suburb north of Paris. Youths of the area
immediately took to the streets. Perhaps their protests would have been pacified were it not for
the fact that the police marched into Clichy in swaggering military formation, called out racist
insults, challenged the youths to fight, etc., and a few days later further provoked things by
lobbing tear gas into a Muslim prayer room. Meanwhile the government politicians lied and
resorted to virulent racist and anti-immigrant demagoguery on TV and in the press. These
arrogant provocations were too much, and militant protests soon spread to every corner of the
country, as well as into Belgium and Germany. This response reflected not only a just anger at
the deaths of the youths, but also rebellion against the worsening conditions the national
minorities and immigrants of France (and all of Europe) are forced to live under. These include:
. Most of France's Arabic and black national-minority population is today segregated in suburban ghettos called estates, or cités around its major industrial centers. (Clichy-sous-Bois is but one of 750 of these that rose in rebellion in October-November.) During the "30 glorious years" of post-WWII economic expansion the French capitalists were faced with both a labor shortage and militant trade unionism, so they recruited workers from their colonial empire to solve both "problems". These workers were slated either for unorganized so-called menial jobs at slave-labor wages, or for unskilled industrial jobs. And sometimes literacy was a disqualification for an industrial job because immigrant workers who could read might educate themselves about politics and be more likely to join unions. (2) Thus, importation of immigrant labor was a tool with which the capitalists reaped immediate profits by paying it low wages as well as by using it as a wedge for attacking the wages of all French workers. (3) (This had its limits. For example, between the fall of 1981 and 1984, workers in several large automobile plants went on strike, with over half of the blue collar workers in some of the plants being immigrants, many of whom were promoted to leadership positions by the unions. The bourgeoisie counterattacked by trying to paint this movement as the work of Islamic fundamentalists!) As far as housing was concerned, these workers were channeled into the suburban estates that were being built 30, 40 or more years ago all over the country, and where often the only public transportation was to the burgeoning factories being built on the peripheries of the cities.
. At the time this was low-income housing, and was called such, but it was new and integrated.
This changed over time. Because they were not discriminated against in jobs and private housing
the same way that the North and sub-Saharan Africans were, the European French residents (as
well as European immigrants) were able to begin moving out in the 1970s. This increasingly left
the estates as segregated high-rise human warehouses that are now getting old and deteriorating.
And, today, the second and third generation French youths reared in them (the "rioters") are
eloquently denouncing to the world press the fact that they're forced to live in "block houses"
with these conditions, denouncing the fact that they can not conveniently go into the cities,
denouncing the fact that an entire estate may not have a library or a cinema, and pointing out that
if you can afford a car then you are subject to being constantly stopped and humiliated if the
license plate shows that you have entered a "wrong" department.
. Like their counterparts in the U.S. and other imperialist countries, the French capitalists want to
super-exploit national-minority and immigrant labor. To do this they not only like to keep this
labor force isolated from the rest of the working class and intimidated by the threat of
deportation, but they normally force these workers into the worst and lowest-paying jobs. (The
average yearly income in the estates is 10,500 euros compared to a national average of 17,180
euros.) And their methods often aren't sophisticated, i.e., employers just strike out the names of
applicants whose names do not sound "French" enough, or they may delete the names of all
applicants whose address shows they live in the estates. The result is that unemployment and
underemployment among minorities and immigrants is about twice as high, i.e., 20%, as it is
among European French, and even higher among the young people. (The French bourgeoisie is
so "color-blind" that it refuses to take statistics based on race or ethnicity. Thus this figure is only
approximate.) This "reserve" of unemployed national minority or immigrant workers is the last
hired in times of economic boom, and first fired when there is a bust. Then it's scape-goated as
. For years the French workers and students have been suffering the blows of a capitalist offensive that is slashing wages, lengthening the work week, cutting the budget for education and other needs of the masses, and privatizing. This capitalist offensive has also included new reactionary laws intended to take revenge on and intimidate militant mass resistance by the national-minority communities, and the entire working class. Thus, in the name of fighting "terrorism" in 1995 it established the Vigipirate security plan, which allowed putting tens of thousands of heavily armed police, paramilitary units and soldiers into the streets under a centralized command at a moments notice, as well as arbitrary I.D. checks and detentions, etc. Vigipirate was activated with a vengeance beginning September 12, 2001, the day after the terrorist atrocities in the U.S. This was followed by passage of the "law for security in everyday life" (LSQ) in late October, 2001. This law allowed house searches at the pre-investigative stage, extensive measures to spy on telecommunications, e-mail and Internet traffic, harsher immigration procedures, plus giving greater search and seizure powers to private security companies.
. Thus, during the past decade and more, the national minority and immigrant youths who were
already being constantly subjected to racist abuse and brutality at the hands of the police, and
who were arrested for "outrage and public rebellion" when they protested, have had to live under
an increasingly reactionary system. But, rather than stopping their rebellion, the increasing
police-state measures only helped fuel it.
Big struggles periodically sweep France
. But, although sabotaged and repeatedly betrayed by their sham communist and socialist leaders, the workers and youth have for years been resisting the reactionary offensive of French capitalism with many strikes, demonstrations and other mass actions. Some examples follow:
. Meanwhile, people from the ghetto estates have participated in many of these events, as well as repeatedly developing their own struggles for services, equality, and against police harassment and brutality.
. One side of these have been struggles against reactionary anti-immigrant laws, the first being 1960s marches demanding that state restrictions on the right of immigrants to even form associations be overturned. This right to freely form such associations was won in 1981, and first hundreds, and then thousands were formed. In 1983 was the famous Marche des Beurs (march of the Arabs), also called la Marche pour l'égalité et contre le racisme (the march against racism and for equality), from Lyon's Les Minguettes estate to Paris, where they were met by 100,000 cheering supporters. The marchers denounced racist violence, and the central demand was to be recognized as French "comme les autres"--like everyone else. An important concession was won from the government (a single ten-year residency and work permit for foreigners, alleviating a chronic source of insecurity), but the movement couldn't keep the momentum necessary to prevent later passage of the anti-immigrant Pasqua Laws. (These laws had many reactionary features, the most notorious being that children of immigrants were no longer considered French citizens. Moreover, youths that had previously been citizens on this basis had their citizenship taken away. ) In October 1989 thousands of Muslims and others staged a demonstration in Paris in support of Muslim girls who were expelled from their school for wearing the headscarf. Meanwhile, by 1996 the movement against the 1994 Pasqua Laws had taken off, including the movement of those sans-papiers (without documents). That year, nearly three hundred people of the latter trend occupied a Parisian catholic church for 5 months, with 1500 police eventually breaking down the doors and arresting them. This caused a large public outcry, with the government reversing itself on the question of citizenship for children in 1998, and making other concessions. (1998 also saw large demonstrations against the fascist National Front in Paris and many other French cities. )
. A second side of these struggles have been continuous fights over housing conditions in the estates themselves. And, since all of the estates are run by the HLM (Habitation à Loyer Modéré, "low-income housing") administration, there have been many efforts to connect up these struggles against the common enemy.
. A third side has been struggles against police harassment, brutality, and murder. (Regarding the latter, in the summer of 1983 almost twenty young national minorities were wounded or killed by the police). In the estates around Marseilles and Lyon during 1981 youths firebombed police stations and shopping centers, and resisted police attacks with stones and bottles in response to police brutality. Two years later, another rebellion against police brutality and arrogance erupted in a different estate near Lyon, with a regiment of 4000 police officers ending up occupying the project for a week. In the subsequent years such upsurges of protest have been regularly occurring--almost yearly in the '90s--but they've remained localized. Yet the police attacks only continued, and with them, a justified anger grew among the youth. This exploded into the 2005 nationwide rebellion.
. So, although they've often been disorganized, a storm of mass struggle has been brewing among
the oppressed people of the suburban ghettos for many years. (4) A measure of the deep
dissatisfaction existing among these most impoverished masses is that on any "normal" French
evening, i.e., before the October protests even started, 98 automobiles were being torched!
Another is the stoning of police cars, with Sarkozy claiming that 9000 police cars were stoned
during the first ten months of 2005.
THE RESPONSE OF THE FRENCH BOURGEOISIE
The big fist of the Gaullist UMP
. The French government is led by the Gaullist UMP (Union for a Popular Movement), a
"center-right" party. Chirac is president, de Villepin Prime Minister, and Sarkozy the Minister of
the Interior. In the 2002 election runoff, people voted for the UMP in order to bar the way to the
neo-fascist National Front of Jean-Marie Le Pen. But, as we shall see, the UMP also has a lot in
common with Le Pen--it too is a party of virulent racist and anti-immigrant demagoguery, martial
law, and laws against "foreigners".
"Islamic war against the West"
. The right-wing journalists and politicians of France and globally quickly declared the protests to be the work of immigrant Muslim fundamentalists at war with the West. It was allegedly a "French intifada" led by bearded imams and so on. All this flew in the face of reality. The people protesting in the streets were overwhelmingly French citizens: children and grandchildren of people who had been brought from North and West Africa to slave in French factories, construction sites, kitchens, laundries, as janitors, etc. , and between 10% and 40% of them were European French! (In this regard, the person who was sentenced to the longest prison term, 4 years, was white. ) Journalist Gwynn Dyer in the Philadelphia Inquirer even claimed that half were "white, working-class, post-Christian French"(5), and he went on to write, "No Islamic-based grievance was evident in the crowd Tuesday. There were no imams, no beards, no chants about the Koran. A cluster of wiry boys scoffed at the notion of a radical Islamic plot to destabilize France. "
. Meanwhile, a young woman in another part of the country was quoted in the international press
saying, "Every time something like this happens they build a new mosque. That's not what all of
us want."(6) This raises the issue of the two-faced nature of the French government's policy
toward Islam, and the actual role of the imams. Under the guise of secularism the government
bans women wearing a head-covering from going to public school and thereby forces many into
Muslim schools . . . while at the same time it spends great effort to pull the imams under the
government's wing and turn them into an organized arm of the state to control immigrant
communities. (7) What this looked like in late October was that mosque leaders immediately
lined up beside the government authorities and police to call for order. When this failed the
Union of French Islamic Organizations got into motion by issuing a fatwa saying that rioting was
"strictly forbidden". This exposed the bourgeois class standpoint of the religious leaders and their
alliance with the state, but it too failed.
"Crime lords and gangsters"
. Besides pointing the finger at mythical Islamic terrorists waging war on the West, the
government officials turned around to tell the contradictory lie that the protesters were all thugs
working for crime lords. Sarkozy said that "What we have seen in Seine-Sainte-Denis is in no
way spontaneous, it is perfectly organized. We are working to find out by who and how." He
repeatedly claimed that "75-80%" of those arrested were already known to the authorities. And
de Villepin declared that "We face determined individuals, structured gangs, organized
criminality, which will not shrink from any means of making disorder and violence reign." It
turned out that most of those arrested were young French citizens who had never been arrested
. The UMP left no stone unturned in its racist and bigoted crusade to isolate the just uprising
from the rest of the population, and to justify imposing a state of emergency. To give a further
flavor of its absurdities we can't refrain from mentioning that the chairman of the UMP group in
the National Assembly said on the radio that polygamy among African immigrant families was
"certainly one of the causes" of the militant protests! Further, the junior minister for youth
employment elaborated more on this theme in an interview, saying that polygamy sometimes
caused anti-social behavior and concluding, "As some of society manifests this anti-social
behavior, it is no surprise that some of them have difficulty finding work. " (It's hard to see how
even Le Pen could have topped this fascist rubbish.)
"Scum", "Gangrene", and "Karcharizing"
. As noted above, the people of the estates have long been resisting their worsening conditions, with the youth in particular up in arms against outrageous treatment by the police. But the French bourgeoisie doesn't want to make reforms or spend money to improve the conditions of the masses, and it's angry at any resistance. Therefore, the UMP has been challenged to crush this rebelliousness through police methods, and to justify this it has been working to stir up and capitalize on a racist and anti-immigrant hysteria. Moreover, Sarkozy and de Villepin, who are vying to be the UMP 2007 presidential candidate, have been fighting to "one up" each other in demagoguery.
. Thus, two days before the youths were killed in Clichy-sous-Bois Sarkozy marched into the
poor Parisian suburb of Argenteuil only to be pelted with rocks, bottles and catcalls. He
responded on national TV by slurring his attackers as racaille, which roughly translates as
"riff-raff", or "scum". (8) (This remark no doubt helped fuel the rebellion that broke out in the
following days.) He's also notorious for blustering that he would "eradicate the gangrene" from
the estates. And, when the rebellions started, he yelled that he would karcharize the ghettos,
"Karcher" being the brand name of a water or sand-blasting system used to peal dirt or pigeon
droppings from the streets. Militant youths responded to this by declaring they would karcharize
The UMP speaking out of another side of its mouth
. Sarkozy and de Villepin's above remarks show their utter contempt for the ghettoized youth of France. To them and the bourgeoisie that they represent these youth are indeed "scum" or "riff-raff", as are all working people. More, they systematically told lies like those above in order to drive a wedge between the rebelling youth and the rest of the working class, as well as progressive people in general. But on the French Government websites and in the international press these "civilized" gentlemen, in unison, reversed themselves on all points. The following quotes are from a special fact sheet put out by the French Embassy in the U.S. (9), but all the government officials are now, almost word by word, saying the same thing:
. First, "What France experienced was social unrest, not riots." Secondly, "It had nothing to do
with a 'clash of religions' or civilizations or cultures . . . The leaders of the Muslim community in
France did their best to quell the unrest, but their calls went unheeded." Thirdly, "No information
has indicated that this was any sort of organized movement or that there was any sort of
leadership." Fourthly, rather than portraying the youth as "scum", amidst much hemming and
hawing it's admitted that they had legitimate demands, and that "They are demanding more
'liberty, equality, fraternity', not less."
The Socialist Party (PS)--the other main bourgeois party
. This is the other big bourgeois party of France. Under Mitterrand, it was in power from 1981 to 1995. Then, under Lionel Jospin, it was back in power from 1997 to 2002. Although it talked a lot about helping the poor and oppressed communities, its actual reforms were under-funded band-aids. Moreover, in the early '90s it began a program of cutbacks, and then a large-scale program of privatizations. Thus, from the economic angle, it was already embarked on the reactionary program which the Gaullists have taken farther. But this is not all. In the early '90s many of its politicians began to scapegoat immigrants as the cause of high unemployment by calling for a "Zero Immigration" policy, and at its Villepinte Congress in 1997 it agreed to make "law and order" a priority for the "left".
. With its cries of "order!" during the 2005 rebellion of oppressed youth the PS again showed its bourgeois class nature. Its differences with the right were never over whether repression should be used, but only over whether it should be accompanied by restoration of some of the programs the UMP has cut back. Hence, its leaders attacked the UMP for being "far less interested in prevention than repression, whereas both are needed." A leader of the "left" wing of the party declared "If we want the republican state to be respected, whatever I think of Nicolas Sarkozy . . . the minister of the interior does not have to resign because people who are burning cars are demanding that he do so . . ."!! When the UMP imposed the bourgeoisie's 1955 police-state law, rather than denouncing this move, the PS leaders confined themselves to murmuring that the state should be "vigilant" in applying it while shouting "above all, it is imperative to re-establish order and security"! At an "emergency congress" held November 18-20 party leader François Hollande declared in his closing speech: "We must show that the left is more credible for public order and tranquility than the right. And on November 29 it "abstained" from voting against Sarkozy's latest police-state "anti-terrorist" bill. (10)
. The UMP has pared down the community police forces built up under the social-democrat Mitterand as well as previous Gaullist administrations in favor of regular police backed up by paramilitary gendarmes controlled by the defense ministry. The PS opposes this, but from the angle of strengthening the police forces by making them more sophisticated. Thus, in the middle of the militant protests one of its former ministers complained "There are less police in the suburbs, there is no more community policing, prevention programs have been dismantled." We should add that the great community police were also brutal, and several times killed youths in the 1990s.
What about the Communist Party of France (PCF)?
. Long ago this Stalinist-revisionist party cast its fate with the French ruling class. It can see no farther than seeking reforms within the capitalist framework. Moreover, it has been part of the Socialist Party governing coalitions that undertook austerity measures that exacerbated poverty in poorer suburbs. Today, although it's in crisis and a shadow of its former self, it still has some power in the trade unions. (Also, some of the suburbs that rose up in October were actually presided over by so-called communist mayors. ) But the PCF did not use its positions in the unions to call the workers into the streets to support the rebellions of the oppressed working-class youth. Instead it was another bourgeois voice calling for police order: "Calm should be restored as quickly as possible and everyone should learn what they can from this"(11); and it initially refused to call for removal of the riot police from the estates. Further, sections of it have even supported Sarkozy's three-month State of Emergency.
. Unlike the PS, the PCF did vote against Sarkozy's new "anti-terror" bill. But, defenders of
capitalist order that they are, they did not work to call the masses into the streets against it.
Further, they simply echoed the PS regarding strengthening the police forces in the estates:
"Community policing had allowed us to make important progress, but it was scrapped."(12)
. The 20-day rebellion of national-minority, immigrant, and other French working-class youth shook the political establishment. On the one hand it answered with repression, including imposing a "state of emergency" law that it didn't even use during the famous student rebellion of May 1968. This law was originally written for use against the Algerian liberation movement, and was only used again (under Mitterand) in crushing a 1985 rebellion in New Caledonia. It allows the state-appointed prefects in the localities to order curfews, lets the police raid homes without warrants, prohibit meetings, control what's said in the press and media, etc. (As of this writing, this law is still in effect. )
. Also, in late November a new law was passed with the following features (among others): a great increase of the state's powers of electronic surveillance through closed-circuit cameras in public places and the recording and monitoring of Internet activity; for the vague "crime" of "association with miscreants," or conspiracy, the sentence is raised from 10 to 20 years in prison while "leaders and organizers of the association" will have their sentences raised to 30 years from the present 20; increase in the time one can be held without trial from 4 to 6 days; lengthening from 10 to 15 years of the period in which a naturalized French citizen can be stripped of their citizenship. But why would a person be stripped of their citizenship? Well, the introduction of the law says that, besides terrorism, any "act clearly prejudicial to the interests of the Nation . . . acts incompatible with the quality of being a French person and prejudicial to the interests of France" is reason enough. Clear? It seems that the only real thing clear about it is that it's a loophole under which political opponents can be summarily kicked out of the country.
. Further, Sarkozy has begun implementing deportation of some of the 120 "foreigners" (4% of
those arrested) convicted of crimes during the rebellions. This brings back the widely-hated
double punishment policies of previous French governments: first a person is sent to jail, then
they're (and their family) is punished again with deportation.
. But the movement had such power that it also forced the politicians to talk out of both sides of their mouths about making reforms, and actually make some. Thus, Prime Minister de Villepin went on CNN to say "it is important also to understand the real nature of this movement. There is no ethnic or religious basis of this movement as we can see in some of the parts of the world. . . . But it is true that the feeling of discrimination, the feeling of maybe not having the same equal chance. But what is interesting is that most of these young people, they want to be 100 percent French. They want to have equal chances. So, it is really our goal now to answer their demand. " (Only "feelings" of discrimination or of not having an equal chance!)
. Previously, according to de Villepin and the rest of the political establishment, all French people were allegedly equal no matter what their race or national origin, and they took no statistics that might prove otherwise. Furthermore, affirmative action was not part of their vocabulary, and de Villepin still bitterly opposes the very idea! But his chief UMP rival, "Karcharizer" Sarkozy, has now told the Senate that "some positive discrimination is needed to provide opportunities to France's young", and in an interview said "I challenge the idea that we all start life on the same line. Some people start further back because they have a handicap -- color, culture or the district they come from. We have to help them."
. But talk is cheap, what are the actual reforms? This is not an easy question to answer because of the deceptive way the politicians are answering. For example, they often put 30 billion euros (or sometimes 37 billion) for renovating the estates at the top of the list, but they fail to mention that this is a project that was budgeted long before the protests, with the work now well under way. Or they proudly point to the "High Authority against Discrimination and for Equality" while also failing to mention that it also was set up before the rebellions. (They're also silent on the fact that it has done very little, and that they're not promising to give it more money.) Or sometimes already-existing programs are merely consolidated and renamed, with no new money to be spent. Writing on Znet, Doug Ireland says that this is what President Chirac's new "youth volunteer service corps" is. The aim of this corps is to help prepare youths for army careers (half of the program), the police, or health services, with a paltry goal of 50,000 such minimum-wage posts within three years! (13) Other reforms seem to be two-edged swords, i.e., lowering the legal age for apprenticeships in manual technical trades to 14 may help some youths but by lowering the legal age one can leave school from 16 it may trap others into a quick job fix that doesn't work out while their training for higher-paying or professional jobs is sacrificed.
. Nevertheless, the bourgeoisie has been forced to make some clear concessions: increasing funding for the "Agency for Urban Renovation" by 25 percent; tripling the number of scholarships for "the deserving"; tripling the number of boarding-school programs; giving unemployed workers 1,000 euros plus a monthly supplement to go back to jobs; 15 more tax-free zones around the estates designed to attract businesses back; giving local associations such as civic and religious groups 100 million euros for outreach programs; interviewing at an unemployment office every person under 25, whether seeking a job or not, living in one of the 750 "sensitive" estates, with "a specific solution" being offered to them in three months: training, work experience, contracts.
. Now a lot of these concessions have come from restoring previously made budget cuts, others
don't nearly meet the need (tripling the number of scholarships means raising the number from
3,000 to 10,000 when there are several million people living in the estates), and others seem to
remain two-edged (for example, there's no mention of dropping legislation that penalizes those
who do not accept the low-wage jobs by cutting off their welfare benefits).
. Thus, despite its extent and duration, the movement was not powerful enough to win serious reforms. Moreover, new police-state laws are now in place while, with their rhetoric, not just fascist Le Pen, but the government officials themselves have been working to isolate and stir up a reactionary movement of revenge against the oppressed national minorities and immigrants: a fascist mass movement. Thus new and more powerful rounds of struggle are necessary. Yet for these to be really go farther they cannot simply be bigger and longer-lasting repetitions of the October-November events. No, the fall rebellion had problems--most of them historic, i. e. , in no way the fault of the rebelling youth--that ways must be found to overcome. A few of these follow:
. Isolation in the suburbs. This was widely recognized, but getting into the cities was made difficult by both the lack of transportation and the police. Later, when an action was called for Paris, the "state of emergency" measures were used to keep out young people of the wrong skin-color.
. Lack of organization. This was a spontaneous upsurge of the doubly oppressed youth that had a real mass character, and any spontaneously developing movement that gets so large so quickly will suffer from lack of organization even if there is a consolidated revolutionary trend active in it. But the French youth didn't have the latter. The revisionist PCF and the social-democratic PS have been a long-standing part of the problem. Other trends on the left either had little organization among the rebelling youth, or little enthusiasm for their struggle.
. Consciousness. Courageous and self-sacrificing things were done, and the talk among the youth was very often not about spreading "riots", but of building a movement. So a real potential exists for transforming the present consciousness into revolutionary class consciousness. The problem is that neither the national-minority and immigrant youth nor the French working class as a whole has an organizational vehicle that can help this process along (or, if they do, it's small and unknown to us, at least). In fact the working class is generally led by social democrats and revisionists who objectively work to deepen the gulf between the European-French workers and the specially oppressed national-minority and immigrant French workers. For example, by supporting police repression they cast suspicion on the just grievances of the rebelling youth, and even gave credence to the UMP lies about why the militant protests should be suppressed, i. e. , the rebelling youth were led by drug-dealing criminals, etc.
. But this gulf must be overcome if the workers are to put up a more powerful resistance to the neo-liberal privatizing, work-week-lengthening, budget-cutting, police-state-organizing offensive of the bourgeoisie, much less reverse it, much less overthrow the capitalist system of production causing it. And (as we would hope) if the fall rebellion of working class youth has posed this issue more sharply in the entire class, then this is a great development that every militant worker should struggle to take advantage of. In defiance of the PS, PCF and other bourgeois forces in the workers movement, they should organize to defend and forward the struggles of the national minority and immigrant communities. (Here again there seems to be a lot of potential. For example, during the street-fighting quite a few adults - -national minority and European-French -- said to reporters that they "should be out there too", or "it's wrong for the young people to have to fight alone", etc.) Each reform wrested from the bourgeoisie that brings the specially oppressed and exploited members of the working class closer to full equality not only lightens their burdens, but clears the way for increasing numbers of them to more sharply focus on fighting and eventually overthrowing the class exploitation and oppression that all French workers suffer from. This is a victory for the European-French workers too, and the workers of all countries.
. During the rebellion a popular t-shirt featured images of the two killed youths with the slogan "Dead for Nothing!" written beneath. But the tragic deaths of Bouna Traore and Zyed Benna have inspired a movement that has shaken up France.
. Down with the French "state of emergency" and the new police-state laws!
Support the struggles of the French youth against racial discrimination and police repression!
. Full rights for immigrants!
. Workers of all countries, unite!
(1) In 2001 Amnesty International released a study of France entitled "The effective impunity of law enforcement officers in cases of shootings, deaths in custody or torture and ill-treatment." It said that "Almost the entirety of cases which have come to Amnesty International's attention have involved persons of non-European ethnic origin and are often of North African or sub-Saharan extraction, or from France's overseas departments or territories. . . .", and "The lack of public confidence in even-handed policing is seen particularly in the "sensitive areas" ("quartiers sensibles") from which many of the victims of police ill-treatment and excessive use of force originate"--quartiers sensibles being 750 housing projects that the government has singled out for special policing and other programs. (Return to text)
(2) See "Arab Workers in French Factories" by Chris Kutschera, paragraph 6 http://www.chris-kutschera.com/A/French%20Immigrants.htm. Also, "Why is France burning" by Doug Ireland, paragraph four http://direland.typepad.com/direland/2005/11/why_is_france_b.html. (Text)
(3) French law gave the capitalists the right to directly recruit workers in Algeria, Morocco, and elsewhere in the French empire. Kutschera's article (http://www.chris-kutschera.com/A/French%20Immigrants.htm) details how Arab workers were forced to join a company union in the auto industry under threat of firing and deportation. (Text)
(4) For a general overview of some of the struggles of this period see http://ceris.metropolis.net/oldvl/other/wayland1f.html (under the section titled "Mobilization"). Also see the article by Samir Amin and Rémy Herrera at http://www.workers.org/2005/world/france-full-1222/. (Text)
(5) www.philly.com/mld/inquirer/news/editorial/13108216.htm. (Text)
(7) According to the 1905 Law of Separation of Churches and State the government "neither recognizes nor funds" any religious organization. But it has supported the Moroccan and Algerian governments' (and Saudi royalty) financing the big new French mosques, and it does fund schools set up by the major religions. Moreover, for several years major government officials--including Sarkozy--have been speaking in favor of overturning the 1905 law so that financing mosque construction will be legal. Meanwhile, in 2003 Sarkozy initiated the French Council of the Muslim Faith (CFCM), which brought together many of the signatories of the Union of French Islamic Organizations fatwa against "rioting". Then, in June 2005 the government set up the "Foundation for Islam" to "oversee the financing of the religion in France", particularly building and renovating mosques as well as training imams. This institution is funded by private money, but maintained in a state-owned bank with government oversight. (Sarkozy originally proposed it be government-financed, but backed off in face of pressure from other politicians.) (Text)
(8) http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/main.jhtml?xml=/news/2005/11/10/wfran210.xml. (Text)
(9) http://www.consulfrance-sanfrancisco.org/article.php3?id_article=596. (Text)
(10) http://www.wsws.org/articles/2005/nov2005/spfr-n28.shtml and http://www.wsws.org/articles/2005/dec2005/fran-d05.shtml. (Text)
(11) For a further flavor of the PCF's stand see http://www.cpgb.org.uk/worker/600/france%20-%20left.htm. (Text)
(12) A PCF leader defends this position at http://www.cpgb.org.uk/worker/601/europe%20pcf.htm. She's silent about "community police" murders, such as the one discussed at http://www.muslimedia.com/archives/world00/fren-police.htm. (Text)
(13) http://www.zmag.org/content/showarticle.cfm?SectionID=74&ItemID=9157. (Text)
March 9, 2006.