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French riots could now fuse with a wider sense of fightback

Denis Godard, a revolutionary socialist in A2C—the French sister organisation of the Socialist Workers Party—analyses the current situation
Issue 2862
Remains from the riots

Remains of a building set on fire by rioters is in Roubaix, north France (Picture: Alamy/Sebastien Courdji)

The significance of what’s happening in France is not just a question for French people. We are in the age of catastrophe—and the age of revolutionary opportunities.  These revolutionary ­opportunities are the solution to catastrophe. It’s possible to make a catastrophe for the many into a catastrophe for the few, the capitalist class. 

For many nights France has been burning. Police stations, libraries, schools and more are on fire. My partner is a teacher. She rejoiced that the schools were burning as well. These institutions are in working class areas, but are institutions of discrimination. Even public transport burns, from buses to tramways and more. 

We’re in a situation in France that we can compare to Black Lives Matter in the United States. The difference is this takes place in the context of massive social unrest. It follows four months of a working class fight against the bosses and the ruling class around the question of pensions. 

Let’s be clear, we are not ­talking about separate, uncoordinated, successive battles. We’ve seen four months fighting over pensions, then just weeks later this fight against the police, the state and racism. We are talking about a process of class ­confrontation against capitalism, the ruling class and the forces and the ­structures of the state. 

President Emmanuel Macron was not just attacking pensions, he was attacking our rights and he wanted more attacks over other issues. What he wanted to do was to beat any resistance. It was a provocation. We must celebrate the riots, but disgracefully that’s not what the much of left has been doing. We should champion the bravery and determination of young, mainly black and Arab working class people.  

These are youth from our class who are fighting the police every night. We should beware Marine Le Pen. Her fascists are strong, they are on the offensive right now and could benefit from this situation. Two weeks ago in a poll, some 41 percent of people wanted Marine Le Pen to win the next elections. That’s after four months of strikes. And the fascists are launching an offensive against the riots. We have to give hope and ­perspective in the fight against the ­fascists as well. Trade union ­leaders do not want to do it, but the youth is ready. 

Every night there are 45,000 police officers with armed cars on the streets to try to prove that they are controlling the situation.  Yet everyone knows they are not. When Macron enacted the pensions law, days later he went on television and said now the law has been enacted, the issue is all finished and closed. But our ­movement is not broken. 

 Build solidarity between the workers’ movement and rioters   

We have to decide what our intervention is. To work out what has to be done, we must look to what the Polish-German revolutionary Rosa Luxemburg said more than 100 years ago about mass strikes. She said it’s not a process planned or decided from above. And there is nothing gradual in this process. The reformists want gradual change—that’s why they’re against what’s happening now.  

What the youth are doing provides a difficult task for the working class. The rioters have decided to directly confront the state and army apparatus. The working class is not automatically at a place where it is able to rise to this level. The question now is whether we can build connections between the working class and the struggle against the police and state. 

Revolution is not just strikes—it’s strikes and insurrection. Revolution is the self-organisation of our class everywhere, using this power to smash the state. What has to be done to give hope to the youth? We can speak and speak, but we want to give hope and to show we will all struggle. On 14 July there’s a national day of celebration in France.

It is the anniversary of the storming of the Bastille in 1789 that France’s rulers hypocritically celebrate. We’re organising an anti-racist march on 14 July. On one side of Paris will be Macron with his French flags. On our side people will raise flags from different countries of migrants. And we’ll be joined by undocumented migrants from our class, many who are building the Olympic Games stadiums. 

Our comrades in France are involved in the strikes and riots. We must take any initiative to show solidarity with the youth and show we’re 100 percent with them. It’s important for them and the future. We do not have the strength to directly change the situation right now, but we have to build to the next steps.

 The Communist Party leader scabs on rioters 

Some sections of the French left have utterly failed the test of the riots. French Communist Party leader Fabien Roussel has produced a disgusting series of attacks on the rioters. He announced on Twitter on Friday last week his “absolute condemnation of the violence that took place that night”—and he didn’t mean the cops. He added, “When you are on the left, you defend public services, not their looting”.  

The government uses the defence of “public services”—police stations—as a way to try to justify its repression. Roussel then called for “greater means to ensure public safety”. He declared, “There are many young people who stay at home, parents who are careful that their children stay at home. There is a minority today who will attack public buildings, loot.” And he added that access to social media should be restricted during the unrest. 

“We will need to study the role of social networks. At some point they will have to be cut off when the situation in the country gets too tense,” he said. Roussel has a long record of calling for more restrictions on migrants. As a social crisis sweeps France, he is a scab. 

Charlie Kimber

Beware the fascists’ violence 

A 2017 report found that young men in France perceived to be Arab or black were 20 times more likely to be stopped for an identity check. The crackdown has worsened as Marine Le Pen’s fascist party has risen to new heights and the government has intensified its own racist laws. Some sections of the far right have taken to the streets during the riots to physically assault those rising up against the cops. 

It’s a sign of how the Nazis’ electoral push gives a boost to those who want to create a fascist force that can attack its enemies in the streets. But it is puny compared to the number of rioters, let alone the strength that workers’ organisations could raise. 

In Lyon some dozens of far right thugs marched last Sunday night chanting, “Blue, white, red, France for the French”. They would have beaten any black person or left winger they encountered. 

But if they had met the mass of rioters they would themselves have been repulsed. The fascists will try to mobilise alongside the worst elements of the police. But they can be beaten by militant action from black and white youth and workers. 

Charlie Kimber

The right calls for spanking 

The right wing politician Hugues Moutouh expressed most clearly the widespread mainstream argument that it’s a lack of parental control that is causing riots. “When we give birth to children, we take care of them from birth,” he said on Monday. 

“If in their early years these children are brought up like wild grass, we should not be surprised to see them, at 12 to 13 years old, stone police vehicles or loot shops”. He regretted the ban on spanking passed in 2019 and said “If tomorrow you catch your kid going down the street to burn police vehicles what is the right method? It’s two slaps and off to bed.” 

Charlie Kimber

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