In France recently, there has been a huge amount of media publicity about the ‘anniversary’ of last year’s riots in the banlieues(1) There’s been a lot of speculation about whether it’s all going to kick off again, and TV coverage of tough police raids in various tower blocks – often showing that the police have come to the wrong door and ended up terrorising innocent mums and kids.
Why so much noise about the ‘banlieues’ when there has been virtual radio silence about the struggle of the young generation against the CPE last spring? Where is the real danger for the bourgeoisie?
The riots are an alibi for strengthening the police apparatus…
All the politicians have been promising all sorts of solutions to the problem of the ‘difficult neighbourhoods’. A year after the riots, you don’t need to be a genius to work out what’s been done to ‘get to the roots’ of the violence: nothing. Poverty and unemployment still reign in the suburbs. The new teachers they were going to get? Funds have if anything dropped and young people are more than ever left to their own devises. 8500 teaching jobs are to be cut in the 2007 budget. On the other hand, the bourgeoisie has made an effort where it really counts. In Clichy-sous-Bois, the starting point of last year’s riots, a whole new police commissariat has been set up!
It’s not hard to see that thousands of young people, whether at work, unemployed, or at school are ready to hit the streets again, to give vent to their rage, even if burning buses or your neighbour’s car can only really express impotence and despair. At the same time, this kind of violence provides the state with a pretext to strengthen its own repressive arsenal in order to protect the ‘decent people’ who it is quite happy to leave to rot for the rest of the time. The government, with Sarkozy to the fore, has put repression at the heart of its policies, reinforcing the BAC intervention brigades and the battalions of the CRS in reserve. In the 2007 budget, all expenditure is being cut, except for funds for the police and the courts which will go up by 5%! The blind rioting of last year tends to create an atmosphere of fear and distrust in the working class. This gives the bourgeoisie the perfect alibi to strengthen a repressive apparatus whose main role is not to protect anyone but to keep control over the entire working class. Let’s remember that during the fight against the CPE it was the CRS which was used to terrorise the students who had barricaded themselves in the Sorbonne.
…and an opportunity to pull young people into the trap of elections
The Minister of the Interior Sarkozy has become the bete noire of the suburbs. The top graffiti on the walls is T.S.S: Toit sauf Sarkozy – anyone but Sarkozy. It’s a whole election programme! We have to use the ballot box to get rid of Sarkozy – that’s the clamour from the entire left. And any number of ‘cultural’ figures, preferably ones more credible to immigrant youth, people like Joe Starr or Djamel Debouzze, are being used to get the message across: “Vote and get rid of Sarkozy, make your voice heard through the ballot box!”. “Eight out of ten rappers call on young people to register and vote” says J Claude Tchikaya, a member of the Devoirs de Memoire group. One of the more political rappers, Axiom First, even tells us that “the vote is a weapon!”. And it has to be said that this kind of thing is having an impact: there has been an increase in people registering on the electoral lists: “The rise in registrations on the electoral lists has gone up by between 7 and 32% in comparison to 2004. In two thirds of cases, this involves people between 18 and 35” (the Banlieues Respect collective). The most striking increases have been in the banlieues: 25% in Nanterre, 26% in Bobigny.
Anyone but Sarkozy? But who are the other choices for transforming the suburbs and changing life? The parties of the left, the Socialists and Communists in particular, are the first to criticise Sarkozy’s security policy and the government’s inertia about the problems of the banlieues. Did they do any better when they were in power? Did they find work for young people and the not-so young, invest in social benefits, housing and education in order to ‘get to the roots’ of urban violence? Like hell they did!
Segolene Royal, the Socialists’ ‘good’ counter-part to the evil Sarkozy, has been trying to show that her party is different. “The failure of the current security policy is flagrant…we need a much firmer policy” (Bondy June 2006). Concretely, “we must find a massive response to a massive problem of delinquency”. That means “obligatory courses in parenthood…paid for by family allocations in an educational logic….systems of military training for the over 16s instead of prison”. In Sarkozy’s dreams! Segolene and the left will give us even more police and policing!
In the suburbs, and among all young people and not-so young people, everyone who is asking questions about the future this society has in store for us, it has to be clear that we can expect nothing either from the right or the left. When it comes to managing the crisis or administering repression, the left has nothing to learn from the right. From the creation of the CRS by Jules Moch, a Socialist minister after the war, to colonial massacres in Madagascar or Algeria, to the repression of workers’ struggles, as in 1984 when the ‘Communist’ transport minister Fiterman sent the police to beat up striking railway workers at Saint-Lazare station, the examples are legion.
The left has always defended the interests of the state, of capitalist exploitation, against the workers, whether young or old, immigrant or ‘native’. Yesterday, today, and tomorrow.
The struggle is our only weapon
The new generations who live in the deprived suburbs are caught in a vice between poverty and police repression. It is intolerable and unacceptable. But to face up to this situation, it is essential to avoid the traps laid by the bourgeoisie, the false choice between desperate violence and electoral illusions.
The only way forward is to struggle on the terrain of the working class. The way shown by the students in the anti-CPE movement in the spring. Taking charge of the struggle through general assemblies, unifying demands, solidarity between the workers. The students called for an amnesty for the rioters and many ‘banlieusards’ rallied to their struggle, which offered a real alternative, a real perspective. The more the bourgeoisie highlights the ‘horrors’ of the banlieues, the more we must call to mind the lessons of the struggle against the CPE, of the class struggle – the true oxygen against doubt and despair. Ross 22.10.06 (From Revolution Internationale publication of the ICC in France)
(1) Literally ‘suburbs’, but with very different connotations to the English word.