Proletarian Youth Erupt
following is based on a report by a supporter of the Revolutionary
Communist Party, Canada (Organising Committee) who carried out
political work among proletarian youth in the Paris region last
November along with a few other comrades.
twenty nights of fighting from 27 October to 15 November 2005,
thousands of French proletarian youth mounted the most important
challenge to the status quo since the May 1968 revolt. Like all
crises, as Lenin wrote, this one revealed a great deal about the
nature of French society, the interests of its social classes
and those represented by organised political forces, and the fault
lines along which this society could break apart and be reorganised
in a whole new way through revolution.
to the Revolt
cités, huge public housing complexes surrounding the suburbs of
Paris, and most of France’s large and medium-sized metropolises
and even some small towns, were built during the post-Second World
War economic boom. In addition to many workers from Spain and
Portugal, company recruiters brought in whole villages of immigrants
from French-dominated North Africa to work in factories, the construction
industry and other jobs.
of the complexes are very large, some with thousands of families
and as many as 20,000 inhabitants. Further, especially in Paris,
Lyon and other large cities, vast urban areas are made up of cité
after cité, with row after row of sets of enormous blocks of concrete
extending for many kilometres, as far as the eye can see. The
French government calls poor neighbourhoods (which are often but
not always synonymous with cités), “Sensitive Urban Areas”. According
to official data, 5 million people live in 751 of these areas,
1.4 million of them in Île-de-France, the region formed by the
departments adjacent to Paris.
buildings represented a big change for the better in the living
conditions of many of their original inhabitants, who often came
from rural areas. Until the 1970s, thousands of Arab immigrant
workers, especially those with unskilled jobs in construction
and other unstable employment, lived in shantytowns on the outskirts
of Paris and other urban agglomerations. The quality of the public
(and some private) apartment complexes in the cités was never
good in the first place, since they were built as cheaply as possible.
For instance, soundproofing and other amenities were virtually
ignored. Over the decades, their elevators, plumbing and other
facilities have gone from bad to horrible, especially in those
inhabited by the poorest people.
in neighbourhoods inhabited by tens of thousands, non-residential
buildings are kept to a minimum, and the people have no place
to go, not even a library or a cinema. The situation is the same
for the younger kids, who “entertain themselves by fighting, since
no activities are planned for them”, a girl from Seine-Saint-Denis
said. Also, as was written in AWTW News Service, “A major complaint,
heard everywhere in the suburbs, is that these housing complexes
were deliberately located far from everything, from any place
people might want to go, with public transportation only to where
they’re supposed to work and practically no good way to get around
at night – certainly not to Paris…. They call the cité a ghetto,
not in the American sense of being inhabited almost exclusively
by one or two nationalities but in the original sense of a place
where certain people are forced to live and barely allowed to
leave.” This situation, and also the high cost of public transportation,
has created a feeling of frustration towards the transportation
system; it’s no wonder that trains and buses were prime targets
during the uprising.
housing estates were multi-national and in some cases majority
French, but with the passing years most of the native white workers
moved out of many of them. The character of some of the larger
ones changed sharply with the collapse of France’s auto industry
in the mid-1970s and the decline of French big industry in general,
which led to changes in the configuration of the proletariat.
In the Paris region and many other (but far from all) cités, the
majority of families today are of Algerian, Moroccan and Tunisian
as well as black African and sometimes Turkish backgrounds. There
are still families of French and other European origin and more
recent Third World immigrants. But the youth involved in the November
uprising were overwhelmingly second and sometimes third-generation
French, part of the French proletariat, not only in terms of their
primary language and their legal status as citizens, but also
in terms of their position in French society and their outlook
and aspirations. In many ways they are different, for instance,
from the worst-off workers in France, the recent immigrants, mainly
from central and West Africa, who are confined to cleaning and
other very menial jobs and live in far more precarious and often
dangerous conditions than exist in most public housing areas.
youth are French, but they have never been treated as other French
people. Whereas unlike recent immigrants it is French society
that has shaped them, it shaped them in a very particular way.
This has forged a large part of their identity and outlook. Much
of France’s working-class population came from Poland, Italy and
Portugal; today their descendents are generally integrated into
French society, distinguishable only by their last names. Most
of the children of immigrants from France’s colonies have not
been offered that option. By and large they don’t identify with
the French system, the “Republic”, the way many other French do,
and even if some of them would want to, they are always treated
as foreigners by the rest of the population. As one young woman
in a cité near Paris said, “It doesn’t matter if my friends and
I were born in France; for most people, we’re blacks and Arabs.”
The exclusion and segregation within French society the youth
feel are not separate from the humiliation and domination at the
international level that people of their various countries of
origin are also subjected to by the big imperialist powers. This
factor certainly played a role in the subjective factors that
incited them to massively rise up.
among youth in general in France is a huge problem. In the suburbs,
about 20 percent of the people are unemployed, twice the national
average, and in some neighbourhoods, as many as 40 percent don’t
have jobs. Employers often select candidates according to skin
colour, ethnic origin (revealed by the family name) and address,
as well as the other, more universal criteria. There is a double
frustration: it is very hard for cité youth to get any job, and
if they do, it is likely to be one they don’t want. Their parents
endured terrible hardships in the hopes that their children would
have a better life. Their children have little hope for any life
they consider acceptable.
10 or 12 years old, many children want to flee from school as
a place of oppression. They feel that school is useless and think,
“Educated or not, we will end up in the same misery; so why bother
studying?” Indeed, the young students can see proof all around
them of how diplomas won’t necessarily give them a better life.
There are many people with university degrees in the cités who
are unable to find a job in their chosen profession. Middle school
(ages 12-15), in particular, in France, serves the purpose of
tracking people into their future lives – higher education, technical
programmes, jobs, or nothing at all. A lot of kids drop out when
they reach 16 or even earlier, because there is no point in trying
to go on. As a result, the average education level in the cités
is low. Although there is some illiteracy among adults, there
is almost none among youth.
Identity in the Cités
attitude of these youth toward religion is complex and layered,
a question most are not willing to discuss with outsiders and
seem to have contradictory feelings about. A great many youth
identify with Islam, which is no surprise since they are stigmatised
as Muslims no matter what their beliefs are. Yet as an Islamic
official complained to Le Monde newspaper, “These youth are drop-outs,
who have a really weak link with religion. When we tell them Salam
aleykum, they answer bon soir.”
are clearly very influenced by the beliefs and values rooted in
the social relations in the societies their parents came from.
(In some cases, including people from the Caribbean, these societies
are predominantly Christian.) This is particularly clear in the
position of women. We found it very difficult to have discussions
with women from the cités because they aren’t allowed to hang
out and talk to strangers. There is a general phenomenon of “big
brothers” dictating the limits of acceptable social behaviour
to their sisters (even older ones) and other women. Since it’s
a little less difficult for women to find a job, girls tend to
be more assiduous in school than boys, and they don’t usually
have the same personal confrontations with the police. The situation
is especially complicated for many women who feel an obligation
to be what they consider loyal to their own community in the face
of the racism and hypocritical concerns about the rights of women
from official French society and yet are not at all happy with
the role they are expected to play.
has been suppressed by the French state in many ways until recently.
Nowhere is this more obvious than in the fact that the authorities
have permitted the construction of only a couple of mosques in
a country with millions of practicing Muslims and more churches
than congregations. But even if French politicians use anti-Islam
rhetoric in their speeches and adopt racist politics under the
guise of secularism, the government isn’t really opposed to the
propagation of religion; quite the contrary. It is seeking to
maintain its control on the population by teaching imams to preach
governmental Islam. Morocco, Tunisia and Algeria used to provide
most of the suburbs’ imams, but now quite a few are French, since
the Ministry of the Interior created a school for Muslim clerics.
In response to upheaval among the youth in recent years and especially
now, the authorities are anxious to build more mosques as a way
to both control and encourage Islamic institutions.
does, however, seem very clear that these youth are not willing
to submit to religious authority. During the November rebellion,
the cité youth didn’t listen at all when imams demanded the restoration
youth have developed a sense of belonging to their cité and department.
For the media, the cités are places filled with animals, not people;
for politicians, the cités and their inhabitants are a problem.
For many youth, living in the proletarian suburbs is a matter
of pride. Some youth have tattoos showing the number of their
department, and you can often see the name of a particular cité
spray-painted on a wall. Many areas have their own slang, often
a badge of honour, although often a fatal flaw to the ears of
a potential boss.
Hatred between Youth and
many youth, the sharpest expression of this situation is the police,
who don’t even try to pretend that cité youth have any rights.
The police consider any young male in a proletarian neighbourhood
or with the “wrong” facial features fair game, but the youth are
their special target. They constantly stop youth for identity
checks, even if they’ve already seen the particular kids’ papers
many times before. This is a way to assert their authority and
harass the youth. Often they humiliate them and worse, slap them
around and occasionally seriously beat them. While the police
make no secret of their racism, openly singling out Arabs and
Africans for ID checks in central Paris, for instance, they tend
to consider all youth from certain areas as the enemy. A group
of any combination of young males in a car with department 93
plates stands a good chance of having the police ruin their evening.
The police make life hard for them even in their own buildings.
Often youth hang out in the lobbies or on the steps because there
isn’t anywhere else to go. It has recently been made illegal for
three or more people to assemble in public areas of buildings.
If the police do show up, they will have batons out, ready to
punish the youth on the spot and maybe arrest them as well.
and youth do agree on one thing: the police do whatever they want
in these suburbs. For example, in the middle of November the police
beat a young man in La Courneuve in department 93 because he allegedly
insulted them. Two cops beat and kicked him; two others watched
without saying anything and a fifth helped write a fake arrest
report. The only thing special about this event was that a camera
captured the scene and it was broadcast on television. However,
even with this solid evidence against the police, all charges
were dropped after a few days.
all these reasons, the youth really hate the police, and that
can be seen on the walls of the cités, where anti-police graffiti
is very popular.
Unfolding of the November Rebellion
immediate background to the rebellion came with the intensified
police harassment of youth signalled by the provocative declarations
of Nicolas Sarkozy, the Interior Minister (and thus chief cop)
who declared “war without mercy” against the racaille (“riffraff”
or “low-class scum”) in the suburbs. He told the press he would
take a Kärcher, a high-pressure water hose most often used to
wash dog excrement off sidewalks and streets, to “clean out” the
spark was the death of two teenagers in Clichy-sous-Bois, a usually
quiet proletarian suburb north of Paris. On 27 October, the police
chased Zyed Benna (17) and Bouna Traore (15) into a power substation
where they were electrocuted. Only a few hours after the tragedy,
dozens of angry youth burned 23 cars, a tank truck and a post
office, and fought with the police.
an attempt to calm the situation, the French authorities publicised
their own version of the events. Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin
assured the press that Zyed and Bouna were delinquents well known
to the police and that they were trying to steal material from
a construction site. These declarations had – in the end – the
opposite effect, since they turned out to be false and were later
withdrawn, fuelling popular mistrust of the government.
30 October, the police put the icing on the cake when they threw
a canister of teargas in front of the crowded improvised Clichy
mosque on what practicing Muslims consider the holiest night of
Ramadan. Once again, the reaction of police officials was provocative
and insolent: they refused to apologise for anything and claimed
that even if the teargas grenade was the same type used by riot
police, nothing proved it was fired by the police.
France, there are often small-scale somewhat violent disturbances,
often involving burning cars, on Friday and Saturday night. However
this time the daily fighting didn’t stop after the weekend. In
fact, it started to spread on Monday, 31 October, with the riots
in nearby Montfermeil, also in department 93, where the municipal
police garage was set on fire.
from this point, the rebellion expanded to other departments for
almost three weeks. More than 50 of metropolitan France’s 96 departments
were affected, nearly every urban area with the exception of Marseille.
At the uprising’s peak (the night of 6 November), 1,408 vehicles
were burned (982 outside the Paris region), in 274 different towns.
After 20 nights, about 9,000 vehicles had been set ablaze, hundreds
of buildings destroyed and 126 policemen injured, although few
overwhelming majority of the buildings attacked were governmental
(police stations, town halls, law courts, fire stations, schools,
post offices, public revenue offices, tax offices, social security
offices, youth and leisure centres, deputies’ offices, etc.) and
relatively bigger businesses and property (factories, warehouses,
car showrooms, shopping centres, banks, stores, supermarkets,
fast food chains, media properties, etc.). As the French domestic
intelligence service (Renseignements Généraux) wrote in its report,
“Everything went as if confidence has been lost in institutions
but also in the private sector as sources of desires, jobs and
if the rebellion was spontaneous, it doesn’t mean that the fighters
were totally unorganised. The daring execution of some attacks
– several small police stations destroyed, groups of police ambushed,
cars set on fire in the centre of Paris, stores torched in downtown
Lyon, etc. – suggest the existence to some degree of small organised
groups of fighters. Although the youth mostly avoided frontal
battles with the police that they could not win, they waged what
the authorities called “guerrilla warfare”, ambushing police with
Molotov cocktails, rocks and bottles filled with acid.
State’s repressive answer was quite naked. Thousands of policemen
were called in as reinforcements in the “sensitive areas”. In
total, 2,888 rebels were arrested. A state of emergency was proclaimed
on 8 November, when the government reactivated a law originally
passed in 1955 to repress the anti-colonial insurrection in Algeria
and then used in France itself in 1961 to stop a pro-independence
demonstration of Algerian immigrants in Paris. At that time it
was a pretext for a police riot against Arabs in which hundreds
were chased down and murdered in the streets.
time the state of emergency lasted three months and mainly three
of its measures went into effect: the imposition of curfews in
some areas, at the discretion of the local authorities, the permission
for the police to raid residences at all hours, and the banning
of gatherings that could create “social disorder”.
8 November, Sarkozy also ordered the expulsion of all arrested
foreigners, documented or not. This was part of an effort to politically
and socially encircle the youth and portray them as a hostile
foreign body to be cut out by radical measures.
few cités were literally surrounded by police and residents forcibly
confined to their apartments. In Evreux, north of Paris, police
locked down an entire apartment complex of 18,000 people. Coming
downstairs to walk a dog or even going out onto an apartment balcony
to smoke a cigarette was forbidden from 10 pm to 5 am. In some
urban areas, youth were officially banned from the streets, but
unofficial curfews were far more widespread. Helicopters were
sent to hover over apartment buildings and intimidate residents.
12 November, to further this policy of isolating the suburban
youth, all demonstrations and public political meetings were banned
in Paris. That weekend police set up battle lines at suburban
and Paris train stations, ready to use whatever means necessary
to keep youth from pouring into the city centre, as had happened
in Lyon. Despite the ban and the hordes of police everywhere,
there were at least three illegal and necessarily brief demonstrations
in crowded areas of the capital. They were initiated by the anti-AIDS
civil disobedience organisation Act-Up and involved housing rights
organisers, anti-racist campaigners, supporters of Palestine,
and other political movement activists.The
repressive forces closely monitored internet and mobile phone
communications, which played an important role for cité youth
in contacting each other and the wider world. On 7 November, three
internet bloggers were arrested for “inciting violent acts”. Popular
media-sponsored blog sites were censored and others shut down.
It’s also no surprise the French government supported the 2 December
European Union bill, which makes it compulsory for phone and internet
providers to keep a six-month record of every phone and e-mail
communication for possible police consultation.
vehicles were burned in the whole country on that night, which
is in line with the daily average before 27 October, according
to senior police officials. Just for the Île-de-France region,
the average of burned cars in “normal times” is 100 during the
week-end and 40 to 50 during weekdays, said Michel Gaudin, head
of the National Police.
Stock of the Rebellion
records and eyewitness accounts concur in emphasising the young
age of those involved. In the main courtroom in department 93
to the east of Paris, 42 percent of those arrested were under
18 and most of the others under 22. In the adjoining department
94, 63 percent were minors. Many of those seen on the streets
were as young as 12. We were told that in general, few young men
over 25 took part. Some said these older youth were too worn down
or cynical; others that they felt the movement was not serious
and organised enough. Another explanation offered is that, although
both groups have lost any hope in the future, the older ones are
more or less resigned to their fate, while the younger ones have
not yet accepted the situation and have more energy to fight against
of those involved in the uprising were secondary school students,
apprentices, temporary workers and others with no job security,
and the unemployed. Very few girls and women took part in the
fighting, although they played a prominent role in courthouse
demonstrations and other support activities. While the rebellion
was definitely centred on Arab and black youth, many white youth
were involved. In areas where poverty affects more of the traditional
French working class, such as in northern France, many of those
arrested were of French origin.
is very important to note that very few incidents of youth attacking
ordinary people were reported, and from the media attention given
to those few cases, it seems very unlikely that there were many
more. Many youth say that during those three weeks there was very
little of the fighting between youth of rival cites, too often
seen in ordinary times, or between people of different national
learned a few things about the relationship between these youth
and other people in the cités, including their parents. Although
there are different classes and social strata in the cités, including
public service employees, shopkeepers, professionals, small and
especially would-be entrepreneurs, etc., the government’s repeated
calls for “responsible citizens” to come forward against the rebellion
produced few takers. It seems very likely that more people in
the cités opposed it than the handful shown on television, but
during the heat of things the prevailing mood of support kept
that minority silent. Among the many people we talked to in the
Paris suburbs, most supported the rebellion, but some criticised
the tactic of burning cars, while many parents were worried about
the danger to their children in fighting the state; the use of
violence against the police and state institutions and symbols
was not really a major source of controversy.
important point is that most youth we talked to did not see the
end of the uprising as a defeat; they mostly considered it a truce.
A young man in La Courneuve commented with humour, “We had to
stop because there were no more cars left to burn. But we’ll just
wait some time until the insurance companies buy more cars, and
then we’ll start again.”
rebellion sparked similar actions on a much smaller scale in other
European cities, including in Belgium and Germany, and also in
French overseas departments like Guadeloupe. In fact, there were
hundreds of thousands all around the world watching the rebel
youth in France, happy to see cracks appearing in the too-peaceful
the Crisis Revealed
unity of France’s ruling classes in the face of this rebellion
was remarkable, especially in light of the bickering and electoral
conflicts that break out among them again and again. The opposition
Socialist Party rallied to defend the Interior Minister Sarkozy,
and the revisionist Communist Party (PCF) refused to call for
his removal, even though Sarkozy is the most widely hated politician
in France, especially among many of the people that vote for these
two parties. (In 2002, the vast majority of French voters felt
obliged to “hold their nose” and vote for the Gaullist President
Jacques Chirac to block the candidacy of the neo-fascist Le Pen
– and as a result, they ended up with an Interior Minister who,
as Le Pen complained, adopted his programme.) It also has to be
admitted that for many people thoroughly taken with reactionary
positions, Sarkozy is their favourite political figure, for his
aggressive style in contrast to the more consensual posture of
most other politicians. The position of the entire “political
class” was that the first priority was the restoration of “calm”;
until then, politics as usual had to be suspended. The Socialist
Party voted to support the state of emergency when it was first
brought before parliament, and then voted against extending it
only after the fighting was over.
PCF declared that the youth were playing into the hands of Sarkozy,
and even called for more police to be recruited and deployed.
Asked if the rioters were “victims or criminals”, the PCF answered
unequivocally: criminals. “Bad manners and violence are the work
of a minority and are spoiling life in popular neighbourhoods”,
a PCF youth organisation statement said. “Police and judicial
answers are necessary. But since 2002 [when the Right came back
into office] the government has dismantled community police forces
and reduced the number of police in the neighbourhoods. Sarkozy
provokes violence because it serves his plans.” Since many cités
are in municipalities run by CP mayors, the revisionist party
felt itself a target of the rebellion. The most daring CP figures,
those to the left of the official position, condemned “all violence”,
of the people and the police alike. The youth revolted in areas
governed by the PCF, Socialists and rightist parties alike because
none of the official parties make any difference in their lives.
relatively influential “far left” Trotkyist parties were no better.
They also saw the rebellion as a disaster. Arlette Laguiller,
the perennial presidential candidate of Lutte Ouvrière, said,
“The workers have nothing to be happy about with this explosion,
and not only because they are the main ones to suffer from it.
Youth is the future. But what kind of future can be built by a
“leftist” activists claimed that the rebels should not be supported
because they hit “wrong targets”, and burned down schools. It’s
no surprise that youth burn down schools when you hear stories
like this one, from a young Algerian woman: “Right now, I’m looking
for a school training programme. I went to see a guidance counsellor.
She suggested that I become a maid. I’m 17 and she tells me to
become a maid – that’s ridiculous!” In fact, even a union bureaucrat
realised that “these actions are symbolic. A lot of trust is put
in the school system, which is supposed to be a social elevator.
To burn it down means that it doesn’t work. [Youth] turn against
it because it deceived them.”
more progressive leftists who should have known better were reluctant
to support the movement because of its spontaneity and its lack
of organisation. But there was a basic question of right and wrong
involved, one side mainly right and the other all wrong. As the
Provisional Organising Committee (Europe) of the World People’s
Resistance Movement (WPRM) wrote in a statement issued during
the events: “It serves no purpose and is beside the point to dwell
on the ‘imperfections’ of their rebellion. This is a spontaneous
revolt of those at the very bottom who have taken the stage of
history even though they have not yet had the opportunity to fully
develop their political understanding, establish their political
leadership and define a strategic course. Of course they are making
some mistakes and of course the cars parked on the streets of
the cités are not the true enemy. But… it is their way – for now
– of showing this system, and those who run it, that they do not
intend to abide by the rules nor allow their voices to be silenced.”
about the street fighting, a young girl from Beaudottes said,
“The youth found a good excuse to do this; they were waiting just
for this. It’s normal, they are seething with rage.” Another youth
in Garges put it this way: “Whenever we have a chance to screw
up the police, we screw them up, because whenever they have a
chance, they screw us up.” Even if specific events sparked the
uprising, the rebellion was much more than just an answer to them.
It took only a week for the movement to spread from Clichy to
every corner of France because it was based on dissatisfactions
shared throughout the whole country by a lower section of the
proletariat. Once again, even the Renseignements Généraux had
to admit, “The cité youth have a strong sense of identity based
not only on ethnic or geographic origin, but on their condition
of social exclusion from French society.” Further, the movement
had a clear target: Interior Minister Sarkozy, the police, the
state and the whole life and future capitalism offers these youth.
The revolt wasn’t directed at white people but mostly at symbols
of the system and the state.
fact, the youth’s rebellion created a very tough situation for
the French rulers. Contrary to what usually happens when social
or labour movements are giving them trouble, this time the rulers
were not in a position to play the “bargaining game”. There were
no leftist or revisionist parties, no submissive union, and no
social services professionals that the State could use to control
the rebels, precisely because of their status as social outcasts.
Right to Rebel!
events like these happen, Maoists’ starting point and basic stand
is that “It’s right to rebel”.
point is not that communists should tail these youth and support
everything they think, but that they should learn from them and
combine what is correct in their thinking with the scientific
outlook of Marxism-Leninism-Maoism and its understanding of the
broader society and the world.
perspective of building a new society where the oppressed will
no longer be squashed but will be allowed to become masters of
their own future requires an all-round change – a genuine revolution
involving all those who have nothing to lose in the current society
and who have the capacity to lead such an epic transformation.
writing about the even more violent and chaotic peasant movement
in China, Mao stressed that the question it posed for every political
force was what attitude to take toward it: to oppose it; to mainly
criticise it for its errors; or to support it, lead it and try
to transform it by bringing out the relationship between this
movement and revolutionary goals that could unite the people.
Most of the “far left” in France failed this test miserably, since
their political vision prevents them from seeing any revolutionary
seeds in this upsurge.
revisionists and Trotskyists base themselves on the traditional
French working class and especially those better-off workers (even
if only relatively) who have found or at least feel they can realistically
aspire to a more secure way of life. But their greatest loyalty
is to the system itself – to some hope for an improved version
of the status quo (no matter how hopeless that may be these days),
but basically nothing radically different from today’s organisation
of society in which an elite thinking class and its interests
command society and the vast majority are condemned to work blindly
and be ruled.
fact is that these youth are no less part of the working class
than the unionised workers in the public services and French industry.
As the November events powerfully demonstrated to anyone who will
not shut their eyes, no real revolution is conceivable in France
and countries like it that does not have these proletarians and
people like them at its core, with the potentially enormous power
of their rage against the way things are. At the same time, such
a revolution is also impossible if they cannot unite broad sections
of the working class and the middle classes behind them in a revolutionary
project aimed at a different kind of society. It is a fact that
there is little hope for a tolerable life for these youth of the
lower proletariat in France, and to some degree and in some ways,
they know that. It is also a fact that the kind of life and future
that French society and the capitalist system offer many more
tens of millions of people is not what they would choose if they
had a choice. The current feelings and ideas of these proletarian
cité youth are contradictory, but many of them are correct. Their
interests lie in a radical destruction of the prevailing social
order and its replacement by a system that would do away not only
with the current state, and the ruling class behind it, but the
whole social order on a world scale. But it requires combining
what Lenin called their raw elementary destructive force with
a scientific outlook.
this poses questions about how the revolution can accumulate forces
and succeed militarily against an enemy whose armed might is far
greater than was deployed in November and whose social and ideological
strength is based on the existing divisions in society and generations
of tradition and habit. Underlying this are even more strategic
questions: What are the goals of the revolution? On whom must
the revolutionary movement rely to be successful? Who are its
friends and potential allies? How to challenge a bourgeois system
that has such a powerful state apparatus as France’s? How to conquer
political power and organise the new proletarian rule without
it being destroyed by a new bourgeoisie?
extremely serious problem in the November events was the relationship
between this section of the proletariat and other strata and classes.
On the one hand, these youth saw themselves as fighting for themselves
and their families and to some extent for all those who feel themselves
to be (and are, in many ways) excluded from mainstream French
society – even though France could not function without them.
On the other hand, the ruling classes united against them and
tried to isolate them from the middle class and other sections
of the proletariat. This blockade had to be broken from both sides.
Because there was no powerful effort to do that, it’s impossible
to tell how well it might have succeeded.
the government was not able, during these three weeks, to unite
broad ranks of middle-class and better-off white workers against
the rebellion, and not for lack of trying. It’s hard to know what
percentage of the middle strata of workers were supportive of
these youth and how many were not hostile, but there were some
positive indications. Certainly Sarkozy’s attitude did not win
him increased support among other French workers or much of the
middle class. In fact, the uncompromising stand of these youth
against the government seemed to have the potential to mobilise
and unite the extremely widespread hatred for Sarkozy and the
no less broad feelings of dissatisfaction and even revolt against
what he represents – a system that offers increasingly little
hope of meeting the broadest aspirations of the masses of people
for a different life than what they endure today.
few but very dramatic lightning demonstrations defying the state
of emergency in November gave a glimpse of some possibilities.
This is not to say that the movement should have switched over
from fighting to demonstrating – such a switch would have blunted
the power of the movement and therefore would not have been supported
by the youth. But if the movement had taken up more overt forms
of political expression, that might have helped challenge and
narrow the political gap between these potentially revolutionary
strata opposed to the system and the rest of their potential allies
in society, thus contributing to changing the thinking and action
of the most active young proletarian male fighters. Other forms
of struggle could have developed alongside the fighting in the
cités and in support of that fighting, mobilising in particular
youth from other strata and classes and more broadly, and including
women of the cités who were locked out of an active role. Some
potentially very important forces, such as proletarian youth in
the universities, who could have both helped bring a broader understanding
to their class and helped call forth support from other quarters,
were never brought to play any real role at all.
Maoist communist party with the understanding we are talking about
and some roots and organisational strength based on that is needed.
We hope that a righteous frustration born of this rebellion, together
with the understanding and help of the international communist
movement, can make a difference in what happens next time. These
events are unlikely to repeat themselves in the same way, but
the underlying factors that produced this explosion are still
gathering pressure. Indeed, only a few months later, a massive
student and youth movement exploded against a new French labour
law seen as intensifying social exclusion.
then a massive student rebellion in March 2006
a few months after the rage of France’s banlieues burst into flames,
another wave of protests by millions of university and secondary
school students thrust the country’s rulers into even deeper trouble.
The target of this movement, which started in mid-January, was
the proposed First Job Contract (CPE) law that would have allowed
the firing of workers under 26 without cause or much notice during
their first two years at any job. The government claimed this
would help solve the crisis revealed by the November events by
encourage hiring of ghetto youth.
were outraged that this law would officialize and worsen conditions
many of them already find unacceptable. Already they often spend
many months as ill-paid interns doing work regular employees used
to perform, and years as temporary workers with minimal benefits.
The average age at which French young people now get their first
long-term job is 32. Rather than “equalizing opportunity”, this
law would have further widened the gap between different categories
of workers and employees. It was also seen as part of a broader
trend of reinforcing precariousness, the elimination of relative
job security (never absolute) and other minimal requirements of
life such as health care and subsidized housing. Like all European
countries, France is shedding the “European social model”, the
social contract that bought the acquiescence of much of the working
class since World War 2, no matter how difficult their lives have
were repeated demonstrations involving multinational crowds of
many hundreds of thousands of people in many French cities, along
with mass civil disobedience and
some clashes with police. The atmosphere of great ferment and
general craving for an alternative to the future offered by capitalism
was reflected in the slogan “rêve général” (general dream, a play
on the words grêve générale, general strike). The movement’s greatest
strength was its broadness in two senses. It combined widespread
support among much of French society with increasingly confrontational
actions, and drew in youth of all sections of the working class
as well as the middle classes.
November, it was inconceivable that the government would back
down at the hands of “the rabble”, as Interior Minister Sarkozy
called them. In the face of the spring movement, the unity of
the political class cracked. First President Chirac approved the
law, then he was forced to essentially abandon it.
from World People’s Resistance Movement (France)
courageous and necessary battle
rebels of the cités are waking millions throughout France
is addressed to you, youth of the cités, all of you whom Sarkozy
calls racaille, and to others in France as well, especially those
who are listening to you.
people say you are going “too far”. How far is “too far” in responding
to the state’s top cop when he announces his intention to “clean
out with a power hose” a whole section of the people?
is addressed to you the children of immigrant workers and lower
section of workers of all nationalities, especially the people
of the cités whose fathers carried concrete sacks to build the
France we know today and whose mothers’ tireless mops and brooms
kept this country clean. This is addressed to you who are called
“hoodlums” no matter what you do, whether working or kept out
of work, and either way condemned to a life not much better than
that of your parents, who endured so much hardship and humiliation
in the hope that you would have it better.
salute you who will never be content with the best the system
has to offer you – like (Prime Minister Dominique) de Villepin’s
plan to allow you to leave school at 14 and work as “apprentices”
for practically nothing in jobs no one wants. That would only
officialise what exists today, when middle school, for most kids,
is not a place for advancement but a place of selection where
14-year-olds are told their dreams are over?
How far is “too far” in demanding that people be treated
like human beings and allowed to develop all that they are capable
of, individually and collectively?
truth is that France has seen far too many years of “calm” in
the face of injustice and the kind of “peace” that comes from
the oppressed accepting their fate. What’s so good about quietly
accepting the kind of life imposed on the great majority of people
in France? The whole “political class” (ruling class and politicians)
breathes easily when youth fight one another or take drugs and
sink into hopelessness. In this rebellion the youth for the most
part have not deliberately targeted ordinary people in the cités
or anywhere else. Right now violence among the people is at a
low point and the spirit of the youth is soaring. Youth are in
revolt – not mindlessly or aimlessly, as official society charges,
but against a very clear target – Sarkozy and the state he represents,
the police and anything seen as representative of the prevailing
social order. They are punching holes in the ghetto walls, bringing
the whole country fresh air.
youth deserve the support of all those who are crushed by the
system and its republic, all those who tolerate the life they
are given only because they see no alternative. This government
has launched attack after attack on many sections of the people,
including immigrants, the unemployed, strikers and others. There
has been opposition, but not strong and bold enough. By standing
up against the way things are and those who enforce this order,
the youth show their potential as a revolutionary force in society
if they stand together with all the people who hate that order
– all the exploited, those determined to end the oppression of
women, those who truly hate the Iraq war and other imperialist
crimes in the world and who really want to save the earth from
the profit system. The youth are creating the conditions for a
different kind of thinking, where people don’t accept things as
they are, in France and the world, and a different kind of social
movement than we have seen here in a long time. People all over
the world are watching and finding encouragement for their own
struggles to liberate themselves.
only Sarkozy, and not only the government, but the whole state
and political class considers what the youth are doing a “disaster”
and an intolerable challenge. They have declared curfews in a
few places and imposed undeclared curfews against men young and
not so young in whole towns and departments. They are issuing
all kinds of threats against the people while hoping that flash
balls (a kind of rubber bullet), CRS (riot police) clubs and the
threat of mass deportations will be enough to make the youth lose
heart. At the same time, they are educating the youth and everyone
with eyes to see in a basic truth: the French republic is, in
the end, a dictatorship that rests on the clubs of the police
and ultimately, if necessary, the guns of the army. France is
run by those who own everything, the big capitalist class. They
have the final say about everything, and in the end none of the
people have any rights that can’t be taken away.
all of you others who share so much of what these youth feel,
the working people of all nationalities and people of all walks
of life, right now is the time to stand up for them and stop the
government’s attempts to encircle these kids with a reactionary
consensus. Speak out for the youth and the justice of their cause
– stop the government’s attempts to crush them. Further, many
millions of people in France will not tolerate mass deportations
of people to punish them for rebelling. The government must not
be allowed to carry through on this threat.
youth’s fury is righteous and needs to be channeled to building
a revolutionary movement that can turn the power hose of the people’s
anger towards cleaning out Sarkozy, the state and all that is
rotten in this society.
of the world support wholeheartedly the rebellion in the cités.
It’s time the young rebels of France take their place in the ranks
of the international revolutionary movement!
South, East, West, unite the people’s struggles!
Europe: firstname.lastname@example.org www.wprm.org
in France, email: mprm_France@yahoo.fr