The riots in France are not part of the struggle of the working class

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The ICC organises meetings, wherever it can, open to all those who sincerely want to change the world. Our public meetings and open meetings aim to be the place for fraternal debate where participants can pose questions and put arguments and analyses to the test.

So, during October and November the ICC section in France held meetings on the theme ‘Proletarian revolution is the sole perspective for the future of humanity’ in Tours, Marseille, Nantes, Toulouse, Paris and Lyons. Inevitably the burning question of the riots was the central preoccupation: how should we view the desperate violence of the young in the suburbs?

The discussion in Toulouse was particularly significant in showing the questioning going on in the working class on the riots. There was both a feeling of solidarity for the distress of its own children, as well as anger at seeing aggression among neighbours; at cars and neighbourhood schools being destroyed.

At the public meeting in Toulouse we opened the debate, as usual, with a short presentation. This showed how the working class is the only force in society that can change the world by overthrowing capitalism internationally. We integrated the question of the riots into the presentation, strongly underlining the despair expressed in these explosions of violence.

Burning cars, schools, buses, gyms… all this is completely self-destructive. No perspective, no hope, can come from these actions. Not knowing how to struggle, these young people attacked their parents and neighbours… The children of workers, unintentionally, took their anger out on their own class.

The rioters are the children of workers

There was immediately an animated discussion. Several participants criticised our position on the internet [1] which inspired the presentation.

In the first intervention a comrade expressed his profound disagreement: “The ICC leaflet [2] poses me a problem. The riots are shown as a revolt in itself. The leaflet struggles to put forward the stake of the class struggle. The ICC position is not sufficiently militant. There is also something lacking, solidarity for the living conditions of these young people. It is necessary to show the absurdity of capitalism and not to talk of youth in deprived areas. They are part of the working class … The leaflet has left out the question of class identity. As the PCI/Le Proletaire [3] says in its leaflet, conscious or not, these young people belong to the working class. Similarly, in relation to the revolt of youth, where is the proletariat at this time? Faced with the social curfew, it is necessary to link the struggle of these young people to the proletariat.” A young contact, a member of the discussion circle in the town, followed up this intervention in these terms: “… I lived in a suburb and for me the young in the suburb certainly have no class consciousness nor even a notion of class, but these violent actions are against capitalism. It’s a revolt against the system …”. Lastly, a third participant concluded the first round of discussion in the same spirit: “in Mirail nearly 50% of proletarians are unemployed. The young can’t find work or only very little short term … It is necessary to put forward, not the weaknesses, but the proletarian perspective ….

This reaction was not at all surprising. Quite the contrary. The suffering experienced by the children of our class, and the cynical use the bourgeoisie makes of it, explains in part this strong tendency in the meeting express feelings of solidarity towards society’s ‘rejects’. The spectacular explosion of urban violence brought to light the totally unbearable living conditions of a large part of working class youth. Besides, contrary to the criticism of our position, according to which it lacks “solidarity for the living conditions of these young people”, we affirmed unambiguously that: “If the young in the suburbs are rebelling today … it’s because they are sunk in a profound despair … It’s this feeling of ‘No Future’ which hundreds of thousands of young people are feeling today in France, as in many other countries. They feel it in their guts, every day, because of unemployment, because of the discrimination and disdain with which they are treated.

These riots are foreign to the working class struggle

For all that, can we go so far as to say, as these comrades did, that “these violent actions are against capitalism” and that “it’s a revolt against the system”? What would that say to workers? Should we remain silent on the total absurdity of destruction for the sake of destruction? Ignore who are the main victims of these actions?

Evidently not. Workers also feel the effects of the riots in their guts. As one of the participants put it very clearly: “… As for the destruction of cars, some comrades have downplayed this in their interventions. Well, I tell them clearly that I hope that my car will not be burned, for, like other workers, I need it to travel.” The support for the rioters, or at least the underestimation of the nihilist aspect of the events, produced a reaction. Comrades present replied in a dynamic debate. “I disagree with what comrades said on the riots. It’s certainly a revolt against the bourgeois state, but it has no future. We cannot solidarise with those who destroy their neighbours’ cars, workers’ cars. We can understand it, since they are society’s rejects; capitalist society has nothing to offer them. There is anger. But we cannot agree with this violence. They have been going through unemployment and poverty for a number of years. It is a part of the class which is heavily attacked. That’s true. But these actions do not make us feel close to them. This has nothing to do with the class struggle.

This sort of explosion of violence is, in fact, against the interests of the working class. It distils fear, withdrawal and division within its ranks. The bourgeoisie understands all this very well. It has orchestrated its propaganda of fear in order to justify the strengthening of its repressive arsenal. The riots have not increased proletarian consciousness. On the contrary, they are a favourable terrain for bourgeois ideology. The ruling class has used the desperate marginalised young to justify emergency security measures and so increase the policing of workers’ areas. Above all, it has momentarily been able to mask the bankruptcy of its system, calling the rioters “scum” and accusing immigrants of being the cause of all evil.

Consequently, we completely support the first comrade to intervene when he said “conscious or not, these young people belong to the working class”, but we can no longer follow him when he says: “it is necessary to link the struggle of these young people to the proletariat.” In reality the section of youth involved in the riots tends to be distanced from the proletarian struggle. And it is precisely because they are the children of workers that their destructive behaviour weighs so heavily against the working class. Here is a part of our class that has mistaken the road and the struggle. In this sense, if the proletariat has solidarity with victims of capitalism, and so with these desperate young, at the same time that does not mean to say that we must welcome this sort of revolt, because it is opposed to the proletariat’s needs. These riots do not belong to the struggle of the working class in any way.

Only the working class can offer a perspective for the future of humanity

We do not want to encourage such acts of violence, as the PCI/Le Proletaire have done in an ambiguous and erroneous way! In fact, their leaflet has the inflammatory title: ‘The suburban revolts indicate the resurgence in revolutionary proletarian struggle’. And the support for such revolts is clearer still at the end of the text: “long live the revolt against poverty, racism and oppression, of the young proletarians in the suburbs”!!!

How can we believe that these acts of violence directed against workers “indicate the resurgence of the revolutionary proletarian struggle”? The group has quite simply allowed itself to be deceived by the spectacular nature of the revolts and lost sight of what the class struggle is, in both its form and content. The proletariat tends towards unity in its struggle and so develops solidarity. These riots, on the contrary, are the product of individual resentment and have no perspective but destruction and self-destruction.

The PCI/Le Proletaire have turned everything upside down. They claim that the young rioters are injecting a dynamic into the whole working class, which is at present listless. This is the exact opposite of the truth. The proletariat has already started to take up the path of struggle again. Since the strikes in spring 2003 in France, the working class is reaffirming itself everywhere, in an embryonic way certainly, but with both its militancy and natural tendency to solidarity developing. The riots are not an accelerator but on the contrary a brake on this development of class struggle.

Of course the young rioters are victims of the capitalist system. Of course they are a part of the working class that is suffering particularly badly. But how do we express our solidarity with these workers’ children? Certainly not by spreading illusions or following them in their cry of distress. The working class must not follow the young towards self-destruction; on the contrary, it must draw them in behind it. It has the capacity and the responsibility to show the perspective for the future. As we say in our position on the internet: “It’s because, up till now, the working class has not had the strength to affirm this perspective through the development and extension of its struggles, that so many of its children are plunging into despair, expressing their revolt in absurd ways or taking refuge in the mirages of religion, which promises them a paradise after they are dead. The only real solution to the ‘crisis of the disinherited neighbourhoods’ is the development of the proletarian struggle towards the revolution. It is this struggle alone which can give a meaning and a perspective to the whole revolt of the younger generation”!!!

A fraternal debate

Traditionally we end our meetings by allowing everyone who wishes to give their impressions on the conduct and quality of the meeting, to reaffirm agreement or state any remaining disagreement or pose any questions which have not been taken up but need to be debated.

Generally the participants felt a certain satisfaction and showed real interest in this public meeting.

The comrades who had raised their disagreements also welcomed the debate. However, two comrades regretted that the ICC had not intervened in these neighbourhoods, and in the rest of the working class, with a leaflet. This showed that the differences, although limited, still remained at the end of the meeting.

In any case, ICC meetings are not intended to give an exhaustive explanation closing all debate. On the contrary, the richness and the dynamic of the discussion raised many more questions than answers. For example, we only touched on the fundamental difference between the destructive violence of these riots and the creative violence used by the working class, violence necessarily used in its overthrow of capitalist order. The subject is far from exhausted.

We conclude with an extract from a letter from a young contact, who had come to an ICC public meeting for the first time, showing the fraternal spirit which animated the debate:

What I particularly appreciated in the conduct of the debate (and which I have rarely experienced in any other situation whether personal or professional), was the fact that it was possible to really listen to what everyone was saying, to follow closely and respond to the preoccupations raised by those present, without losing sight of the question posed and the necessity to contribute and respond … These events (the urban violence) seem absurd, because of their lack of objective and the means they use, which do not seem to be part of the logic of the class struggle, but they raised lots of questions for those in the meeting and it seems necessary to give them a lot of attention, and the ICC has done this. These events are not part of a revolutionary logic (and even in terms of revolt they are hard to understand, taking account of the targets of the violence). But it seemed necessary to analyse them in order to define and characterise the events and the rioters, in order to be able to look at the growing signs of proletarian activity, and to examine the question of proletarian organisation in a perspective of revolution…”.
Pawel  15.12.05



[1] ‘Riots in the French suburbs: In the face of despair, only the class struggle offers a future’ in WR 290 and on www.internationalism.org.

[2] The ICC position was unfortunately thought to be a leaflet, something we clarified in the meeting.

[3] A Bordigist revolutionary organisation present in France and Italy.