France: Report on a recent WR Public Forum on the events

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In March the ICC held a public meeting in London to discuss the recent student revolts in France. We started with a translation of a text entitled “Greetings to the new generation of workers!” This is now available on our website in English with other texts on the French events which we haven’t got the space to put in the pages of WR.

The initial part of the discussion revolved around why the ICC think this movement is of significance, what are its defining characteristics. One young participant asked about the relationship between France and South America, where there have also been struggles recently. The present movement in France is indeed part of a wider resurgence of struggle internationally. One central theme in the struggles has been the search for solidarity within the working class as a whole. There has been a development of political questioning, shown in the appearance of new groups, circles and individuals asking questions about capitalism and the future.

Sharp contrasts were made with the position which sees the building of barricades and violent confrontations with the police as positive in themselves – the position held by some anarchists – and our position, which sees these ritual confrontations as a trap. The real needs of the struggle at this time revolve around the holding of open and fraternal discussion and its extension by the sending of delegates to workers in their workplaces and elsewhere. Those glorifying the burning of cars etc, have generally (so far) made little or no reference to the development of the assemblies. For example on the Spanish language web discussion forum http://www.alasbarricadas.org/ the ICC were the first to post about what was really happening in France. In Britain the ICC intervenes in the web forum http://www.libcom.org where we have tried to move the focus away from running battles with the police etc, something which has little perspective, to try and draw out the political lessons.

We drew some contrasts between May ’68 and today. In ’68 the French bourgeoisie was taken by surprise at the explosion. There were divisions within the ruling class, with some leading figures wanting to send in the tanks against the striking workers. At the time students and workers had illusions in capitalism as it was only at the beginning of the period of open crisis. There was also a youthful hostility and lack of trust in older workers. Finally, political organisations such as the ICC were only just beginning emerge.

Today, in contrast, while the bourgeoisie is prepared for some explosions of unrest, the open economic crisis has been going on for nearly 40 years unabated and it is becoming increasingly difficult for the bourgeoisie to peddle illusions in a peaceful and prosperous future. Today the ICC has been able to intervene effectively within the assemblies, to use its collective experience and theoretical understanding to see the wider political significance of these events. Finally, the students are actively searching out workers to fraternise and discuss with.

This last point can’t be stressed enough. The importance of fraternisation and discussion to the process of passing on the lessons of struggle – for instance, that the unions sabotage the movement – shouldn’t be underestimated.

The discussion then moved on to the forthcoming local government strike and the role of the unions today. One participant, who works for a union as a shop steward, defended the role of the unions as organs for workers struggle and raised the question ‘yes, I agree the unions don’t always defend the workers, but what alternative is there?’

First, it must be reiterated that the unions were first created by the working class in the nineteenth century as defensive organs. This has a particular resonance and depth in Britain as they developed first here alongside the development of capitalism. Today they are no longer working class organs, but are the first line of defence for the state, derailing workers’ struggle. They have played this role for capital ever since unions recruited workers for the imperialist slaughter of the First World War

The unions are part of the state, helping to implement new work regimes, new attacks, redundancies etc but still present themselves as the sole protection for workers, .

It’s not a matter of distinguishing between unions that ‘fight against’ austerity and those that don’t, but of understanding the period we’re living in, the decadence of capitalism, a period in which any lasting gains or reforms are impossible. From the slogans which they have put forward, the students in France have understood this at some level.

A final point to note was that one participant said she was an anarchist, along with several of her friends. Anarchism has many different strands, some of which are outright leftist currents indistinguishable from Trotskyism. However, there are other anarchist currents which, despite rejecting aspects of marxism, defend internationalist positions. She said that most of her friends thought the ICC was a ‘sect’ and told her not to bother with our meeting. However, she thought, having sat through a 3 hour meeting, that we were open to fraternal discussion.   Graham 31/03/06