Public meeting in Paris, 11th March: debate on experiences and perspectives of the students' movement

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The text that follows introduced the ICC public meeting of 11th March in Paris, at which students and militants involved in the recent events debated their experience and the best means for spreading the movement.

As you will have heard from the media, yesterday afternoon several hundred students from the universities in the Paris region went to the Sorbonne, occupied for several days by about 50 students from this college in the heart of Paris. At the college of Censier, the general assembly of students decided to send a massive delegation to bring food to their comrades shut in the Sorbonne by a ring of cops.

Severl hundred students forced their way into the Sorbone, getting in through the windows. But the movement of solidarity with their comrades taken hostage in the trap of occupying the Sorbonne was very heterogeneous. Some students, notably those from censier, tried to discuss with the police riot squads. Some raise the slogan “CRS, join us”,[1] while others shouted “Put Sarkozy on the RMI”.[2] The cops didn’t charge, even if the most excitable ones engaged in some pushing and shoving and some discreet truncheon blows. Despite these skirmishes, to our knowledge there were no arrests at this point. The “forces of order” had obviously received the order not to charge, which enabled the students to get into the Sobonne. Several hundred students had thus fallen into a trap.

The situation shifted last night when there were violent confrontations between the students and the police. At 4:00 am, the CRS succeeded in evacuating the Sorbonne, using truncheons and tear gas. Several dozen students were arrested.

The children of the working class had thus gone through the same tragedy as Monsieur Seguin’s goat.[3] They held out till morning and then the wolf ate them.

Faced with this repression, with the arrests and the policing of the universities, now filled with informers and special branch, the ICC denounces loud and clear the attacks launched by the “democratic” state against the children of the working class. The ICC declares its solidarity with the children of the working class, attacked by the CPE,[4] beaten and arrested by the police.

Today “order reigns” at the Sorbonne. The children of the working class have lost a battle, but the proletariat has not lost the class war.

The best solidarity that the working class can give to the younger generation faced with the attacks of capitalism is for all sectors to engage now in the struggle against the CPE, against all the attacks of the bourgeoisie and against repression. The working class must demand the liberation of its children who have been carted off by the police.

To do that, we have to everywhere hold mass meetings, areas for debate and discussion. We must demonstrate massively in the streets.

But before mobilising, we must reflect, discuss together, the perspective and methods of the struggle. Because the end does not justify all means. The clearest, most conscious elements of the working class, the most conscious elements of student youth must play the role of a vanguard so that the response to the CPE does not become an adventure with no perspective. What happened at the Sorbonne last night was only an episode in a much wider movement, a movement which will, sooner or later, spread like wildfire across national frontiers.

We will now go rapidly over the events of the last few weeks.

Despite the black-out of the bourgeois media, especially the TV, despite the dispersal of the holiday period, since the beginning of February, the university[5] and to a lesser extent the high school students have been mobilising in most of the universities in the big towns to protest against the infamous CPE, which has just been adopted at the National Assembly.[6]

As soon as we heard about what was going on in the colleges and notably at Paris 3-Censier, we mobilised our forces right away to find out what was happening, to understand the significance of this movement, and to play out part in it.

Today, we can state clearly that this movement of student youth has nothing to do with an inter-classist agitation. And this is true even if, in the universities, the children of the bourgeoisie and the petty bourgeoisie are largely hostile to the strike and have all kinds of illusions about the future that capitalism offers them. The struggle of the students against the CPE, whatever its outcome, is not a flash in the pan, a revolt with no future. The ICC salutes this movement which is fully part of the combat of the working class.

Why?

First, because the revolt of the students is a legitimate response to a direct, massive and frontal economic attack on the whole working class. With the CPE, the new generations are faced with even more job insecurity and poverty when they finish their studies.

Next, because the students immediately mobilised on class terrain, as they showed masterfully at the 7th March demonstration. They have been able to leave aside their specific demands (such as the reform of the LMD[7]) to put forward demands which the whole working class can take up.

Finally, for the first time since May 68, we have seen students launching slogans appealing for the unity and solidarity of the whole working class: “Workers, unemployed, high school students, university students, the same combat!”

We have seen them going further than the students of May 68: unlike the May 68 generation which was strongly marked by the spirit of contestation and what was called at the time the “generation gap”, the students have put forward the necessity not only for the unity of all sectors of the working class, but also of unity between the generations, between those being attacked by the CPE and the pensioners and future pensioners who are being subjected to an attack on “final earnings” contracts.

If, in some respects, the new generation is a lot more mature than the one at the end of the 60s, it’s precisely because the objective conditions have also matured : the economic crisis has deepened. Today it is openly revealing the irremediable bankruptcy of the capitalist system.     

But a more significant sign of the fact that the students of today have gone further than their predecessors in May 68 is the way they have taken the struggle into their own hands, by appropriating in to an astonishing extent the methods of struggle of the workers’ movement and by making solidarity live in this struggle. And this method has been clearly revealed in the general assemblies held at Censier rather than the occupation of the Sorbonne.

We now want to look at what has happened in recent days at Paris 3-Censier.

Every day the students and wage workers[8] on strike have occupied the lecture halls and held mass general assemblies.

Since we have seen with our own eyes what has been going on in these general assemblies at Censier, we can clearly affirm that they function on the model of the workers’ councils. The richness of the discussion, where everyone can speak and express their point of view, the way the tribune organises the debates, the votes, the creation of different commissions, the nomination of delegates elected and revocable by the general assemblies, this whole dynamic, this method of struggle are those which have arisen in the highest moments of the class struggle: in 1905 and 1917 in Russia, in 1918 in Germany, in Poland during the mass strike of August 1980.

For us it is clear that the lungs of the movment , the epicentre of the earthquake, is not at the Sorbonne where the students were shut up in an occupied faculty and encircled by the CRS. The epicentre is the faculty at Censier. And the bourgeoisie knows it. This is why the  media have imposed a total black-out on the general assemblies at Censier.

The students at Censier succeeded in drawing their teachers and the administrative personnel into the strike. They succeeded in building a united movement of solidarity. To the point where it was decied to hold joint general assemblies between the students and the faculty employees.

How come these young people, some of whose leaders are in their first year of studies, have begun to move so quickly, taking such a decision since the March 7th demonstration?

Quite simply, because the rejection they received from Monsieur de Villepin[9] after the March 7th demo pushed the students to open their general assemblies to the wage workers and to ask them to speak. In 1968, it was precisely the shutting up of the workers in their factories, as advocated by the trade unions, which enabled the bourgeoisie to send the working class to defeat.

The majority of the workers could not go and discuss with their comrades in other enterprises or with the students. They allowed themselves to be imprisoned behind their factory gates. This is an experience that the younger generation must know about if it is to avoid the traps and manoeuvres of the saboteurs who want to send them to be crushed in small packets.

To go back to what has happened at Censier since 7th March.

On the day of the demo, a small minority of workers from other sectors, who are also revolutionary militants and parents of students in struggle, went to see what was going on in the faculties. And what we saw and heard at the general assemblies at Censier led us to see this student agitation against the CPE as  a struggle which is fully part of the combat of the working class. Once again, we declare that the future of human society is in the hands of the young generation. Once again, the old mole of history, as Marx said, has grubbed well. Once again, marxism, the revolutionary theory of the proletariat, has been verified.

Militants of the ICC intervened in the general assemblies as workers and parents of students in struggle. But what in general guided their interventions was the marxist framework of analysis, which alone offers the general perspective that can prevent the students’ struggle from being isolated.

As soon as we understood what was happening at Censier, the ICC decided to fight against the dirty work of the bourgeois media: this is why our leaflet is in the process of being translated into a number of languages (and is already on our website in English and Spanish), which means that the working class and the universities of Europe and the American continent can be informed about what’s happening in France.

In the general assemblies during the last two days, the university teachers at Censier and the administrative personnel have brought a new breath of air to the movement. They have made several interventions declaring that they are going to participate actively in the extension of the strike to other faculties. They have tried to draw in the students who are most hesitant or hostile to the struggle by reassuring them: they committed themselves to ensuring that striking students are not penalised for missing exams and that they continue to receive their student loans.

We cannot summarise the situation better than did a teacher at Paris 3: “the students of Censier have invented something new, something very powerful which is going to draw other universities behind them. And we saw this very clearly ath the March 7th demonstration”.

What actually happened on 7th March?

More than a thousand students met up at the front of the faculty of Censier to go together to the demonstration called by all the unions and the left parties. As soon as they realised that the union contingents, and notably those led by the CGT, had been put at the head of the demo, the students did a quick turn about. They took the metro to put themselves in front of the union contingents, drawing behind them their comrades from other faculties. This is how the student youth in struggle spontaneously put itself at the head of the demo behind a single banner, with unifying slogans, demanding the complete withdrawal of the CPE, whereas the leaflet distributed by the PCF[10] doesn’t say a single word about withdrawing the CPE (we have the leaflet here and comrades can read it).

Thanks to this crafty trick by the Censier students, the old Stalinist dinosaur found itself tail-ending the “children of the mammoth”[11] of national education. The CGT was obliged to attach its rusty wagons to the locomotive of the younger generation, a generation which Rosa Luxemburg rightly called “the fine flower of the of the proletariat”.

As in may 68, the ruling class and its forces of control within the workers’ ranks (ie the unions) were surprised, overtaken by the situation. And we have to recognise as well that the ICC itself was to some extent surprised by the vitality and creativity of the most avant-garde students.

It’s precisely because he hadn’t foreseen this happening that, after the March 7th demo, the leader of the CGT,[12] Bernard Thibault, in an interview on the LCI TV channel, said to the journalists: “it’s true that in this demonstration, there was an unforeseen aspect”.

It’s also because of this “unforeseen aspect”, because they were outflanked by the situation, that the PCF muscle tried to intimidate us at the demonstration, especially at our table of publications. One of them offered us this insult: “I want to spit on your face. Aren’t you ashamed to distribute your pamphlet [“How the PCF went over to the camp of capital”] when there are no longer any Stalinists in the PCF” (sic).

We will stop there with the anecdotes. Comrades, and notably the students who are in the room, can complete, rectify, or make this presentation more precise during the discussion.

We now want to make a short point on the media black-out.

You remember that, last autumn, when the riots swept through the suburbs, the bourgeoisie set up a huge media barrage about it, not only in France, but all over the planet. In every country, the riots in France were front page news and on all the TV channels.

What is happening today in the media? Up until the March 7th demo, dead silence. Day after day, we heard about bird flu, the sordid affair of the “Barbarians” gang[13] and other smokescreens aimed at amusing the gallery and above all to avoid talking about the essential, ie the mobilisation of the students against the CPE.

Why have the capitalist media kept up their silence about the students’ strike when they made so much noise about the riots in the suburbs? Quite simply because, unlike the desperate riots of the young people in the suburbs, the struggle of the students is not a flash in the pan. It bears with it a perspective for the future.

And today, if the media are lifting the black-out, it’s once again to serve the interests of the bourgeoisie. The students are presented as mere rioters. This is the message Mr Tony Blair wants to get across when the British paper the Times carried this headline the day after the demonstration of the 7th March: “RIOTS IN THE FRENCH UNIVERSITIES”.

As for the French media, they are now bringing their own little contribution to sabotaging the class struggle. And not only the right wing papers like Le Figaro or Le Parisien, but also a left wing paper like Libération, edited by the ex-68er Serge July (someone who will never suffer the scourge of unemployment). The 10th March issue of Libération was given out free at the hall of Censier because it had a ridiculous little article on the strike there entitled “An air of May 68”.

The message is, if you will excuse the expression, truly the work of prostitutes. An air of 68, we are told, means that the students have done nothing but sing revolutionary songs by inviting the Jolie Môme theatre group on 3rd March to perform in the faculty. There is not a single word about the dynamic of the general assemblies, on the unity and solidarity of the movement which brought the teachers and admininstrative personel into the strike.

And this silence was certainly not down to the fact that the journalists from “Libé” and from the TV didn’t know what was going on. They occupied the faculty with their cameras and their interviews. The French state should give a medal to its journalists and their highly artistic images.

For the ICC, it is clear that this movement of young people is frightening the ruling class. Monsieur de Villepin and his chums, on the right as well as the left, are afraid quite simply because the creativity of the students of Censier could give bad ideas to the whole of the working class.

The silence of the media, then their falsification of events, their televised interviews mean only one thing: the bourgeoisie is shit-scared. And they are all the more scared because today, the most conscious students are at the forefront of the movement. It is this vanguard that the ruling class, with its cops and special branch, want to reduce to silence.

The children of the working class who have mobilised massively against the CPE are the children of those workers who fought against Prime Minister Raffarin’s “reform” of the pensions system in 2003, only to be told with a rare insolence “The street doesn’t rule”.

The ruling class has only one answer to this protest against insecure jobs and unemployment: repression! The CPE is an illustration of the bankruptcy of the capitalist system. Today, the repression meted out to the students shows the true face of capitalist “democracy”. The social situation today is demonstrating more and more clearly that those in power can no longer rule as they did, while the exploited can no longer accept to go on living as they have.

This is why the French bourgeoisie is throwing all its forces – left and right – into the balance in order to divide the movement, and to shut the students up in the universities so that it can “power cleanse” them,[14] as it did last night at the Sorbonne.

All the TV channels having been broadcasting the images of the cops at the Sorbonne with assorted commentaries like those of Claire Chazal:[15]The movement has reached a turning point: the turning point of violence”. Obviously, she’s not talking about the violence of the police, but of the children of the working class who are presented as wreckers, as “rabble”!

Why has Sarkozy, henchman of our fine democratic French police state, once again unleashed the forces of repression?

Because the students refuse the misery of capitalism, because they don’t want to find themselves unemployed at the end of their studies! Because they went to the Sorbonne to bring food and solidarity comrades, shut up without anything to eat. These students were beaten up and arrested simply because they gave the bad example of solidarity in struggle.

But if they are to stay the course of the class struggle, the most conscious battalions of the working class must remember these words of Marx in the Communist Manifesto of 1848: “the communists (…) have over the great mass of the proletariat the advantage of clearly understanding the lines of march, the conditions, and the ultimate general results of the proletarian movement”. They must never forget that the most powerful weapon of the working class is above all its consciousness, not the blind violence of the young rioters in the suburbs.

We must oppose the violence of Sarkozy’s capitalist militia with the consciousness of the working class in struggle!

And the most conscious elements of the working class must also remember what Marx – and Rosa Luxemburg after him – said: “Unlike the revolutions of the past, the proletarian revolution is the only revolution in history which can achieve victory after a whole series of defeats”. And it is precisely because the proletarian revolution is a struggle in the long term and “draws its poetry from the future”, that revolutionaries can never give in to demoralisation and impatience.

International Communist Current, 11th March 2006



[1] CRS : Compagnie Républicaine de Sécurité (riot police)

[2] RMI : Revenue Minimum d’Insertion (minimum revenue social security payments, currently et €433 per month for a single person, ie less than one month’s rent)

[3] A famous French short story in which a goat seeks its freedom in the mountains knowing that it will have to fight the wolf – which it does all night, only to be eaten in the morning.

[4] Contrat Première Embauche : the new labour contract adopted by the government, which allows young workers to be laid off without notice and without justification during the first two years of the contract. The withdrawal of the CPE is the principal demand of the student movement.

[5] Our readers outside France should be aware of the distinction between the universities and the “grandes écoles". Whereas the students of the “grandes écoles” are for the most part from the bourgeoisie and generally have a good chance of getting a job at the end of their studies, the majority of the university students are destined to become skilled workers.

[6] The French parliament.

[7] Licence-Masters-Doctorat, the new European standard diploma.

[8] The teachers, administrative, and maintenance personnel have also joined the strike movement.

[9] French Prime Minister.

[10] Parti Communiste Français – the French stalinists.

[11] The school system is commonly known as “The Mammoth" by government “reformers” both left and right – a reference to its supposedly outdated and immobile nature.

[12] Confédération Générale du Travail – the main stalinist-controlled union.

[13] Responsible for a particularly vile kidnapping and murder.

[14] A reference to Interior Minister Sarkozy’s declaration that he would “power cleanse" the suburbs of their “rabble”.

[15] A well-known TV presenter on prime-time news.