On 23 March, after nine days of protests against pension reform in France, when the “black bloc” protesters reached Place de l'Opéra, in the heart of a wealthy district of the capital, clashes broke out between them and the police. Throughout the evening, the 24-hour television channels continually relayed scenes of smashed windows, vandalised shops and burning rubbish bins.
The next day, the same media broadcast the comments and pictures of frightened local residents and shopkeepers: "Everything was set on fire, my goods are destroyed... It's the first time I've experienced anything like this. Demonstrations don't usually happen here, so we didn't expect it", said the frightened manager of a newsagent’s shop. By deciding to end the demonstration in such a confined space in the heart of Paris, in the midst of building work, the Prefecture de Police and the government were setting the stage for violence to erupt. And they did so with the total approval of the unions, who at no point opposed this arrangement!
Macron and his clique revive the "party of fear" image
A week earlier, on March 16, the pension reform had been forcefully adopted using a constitutional device, Article 49.3. In the words of the opposition parties and the unions this was an "abuse of power" and "denial of democracy" and it did nothing to dampen anger and protest. On the contrary, demonstrations were taking place just about everywhere that evening. Orders were issued in Paris to brutally disperse the 5,000 people gathered on the Place de la Concorde who had posed no possible threat to "public order".
Every evening during the days that followed, demonstrations broke out in many towns, especially in the streets of Paris, without the endorsement of the unions. The gatherings had been calm until the situation degenerated into clashes between some of the demonstrators and the police. Videos and photos of burnt-out rubbish bins and public buildings were broadcast around the world, portraying the struggle being waged by the working class in France as nothing more than riots giving rise to chaos and anarchy. For his part, Macron and his ministers, far from wanting to calm things down, constantly added fuel to the fire by condemning demonstrators as "illegitimate mobs, spreading chaos and divisiveness”.
In spite of the risk of things getting out of control, this situation was broadly encouraged and exploited by the government and the forces of law and order so as to legitimise State terror, in the image of the famous Brigades de répression de l'action violente motorisée (BRAV-M), assaulting anyone who got in their way, even riding motorbikes over demonstrators who had been pushed to the ground. As usual, all the guardians of capitalist order (the media, commentators and intellectuals) tried to make people believe that it was a few bad cops out of control and that there were some "cock-ups". But the simultaneous repression throughout France was no accident. It was a totally deliberate policy on the part of the government and all the flag-bearers of the police state. The aim was simple and even classic:
- to draw the angriest young people into a sterile confrontation with the police;
- to frighten the majority of demonstrators and discourage them from taking to the streets;
- to prevent any possibility for discussion, by systematically disrupting the end of demonstrations, a time that is usually conducive to gatherings and debate;
- to make the movement unpopular by making people believe that any social struggle will automatically degenerate into blind violence and chaos, whereas the authorities would be the guarantors of order and peace.
So the state and its government played the "escalation of violence" card to the hilt. Confirmation of this strategy came straight from the mouth of a former grand servant of the bourgeois order, Jean-Louis Debré: "Why, for example, did they agree to let a demonstration end at Opéra, very close to the ministries and the Élysée Palace, knowing that the district is full of small streets? Why didn't they clean up and take away all the rubbish that day? It was as if they wanted things to get a bit out of hand. [...] To what extent is this government trying to have a repeat 1968, to make itself the embodiment public order in the face of disorder?”
These falsely naïve questions from someone who was Minister of the Interior at the time of the strike movement against pension reform in 1995 lift the rather thin veil covering the provocation fomented by the authorities. By organising disorder, Macron and his henchmen were banking on a shift in public opinion towards supporting social order and control.
The parallel drawn by Jean-Louis Debré with the May 68 movement also shows that this government has invented nothing new. Police provocations are normal and the "party of order" has a long history! During the May 68 movement, Gaullist militias or plainclothes police deliberately infiltrated demonstrations to "fan the flames" and scare the population. Agents provocateurs incited students to commit violent acts. The shocking images of cars set on fire, shop windows smashed and paving stones thrown at the CRS helped to stir up fear among the population and turn the tide of public opinion. The barricades and the violence were to become one of the elements in the recovery of the situation by the various forces of the bourgeoisie, the government and the unions, undermining the great sympathy that the students had initially won from the population as a whole and from the working class in particular.
In 2006, during the movement against the CPE, the French bourgeoisie used the same perfidious methods to sabotage the struggle. On several occasions, the state deliberately allowed gangs of "thugs" from the suburbs to come and "attack cops and smash windows". During the demonstration on 23 March 2006, it was even with the blessing of the police that the "thugs" attacked the demonstrators themselves, robbing and beating them senseless. But the students did manage to counter this trap by appointing delegations in several places to go and talk to young people from disadvantaged neighbourhoods, in particular to explain to them that the students' struggle was also on behalf of these young people plunged into the despair of widespread unemployment and exclusion.
Already, throughout the nineteenth century, the working class had experienced these vile and underhand methods of torpedoing and subduing the struggles. As Marx demonstrated in The 18 Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte, the terrible repression of the Parisian proletariat by Cavaignac's troops during the days of June 1848 had also contributed to frightening the bourgeois, the priest and the grocer, all of whom were ardently hoping for a return to order by any means necessary!
In the industrial areas of the United States at the end of the 19th century, employers set up private companies specialising in supplying strikebreakers, spies, provocateurs and even killers. The massacres that the latter perpetrated against the working class also made it possible to turn "opinion" in favour of a return to order. All this with the backing of the federal state.
The spectre of the "ultra-left" prepares the repression of revolutionaries
The environmentalist protest against the mega-basin (giant reservoirs) project in Sainte-Soline on Saturday 25 March was another opportunity to use the strategy of escalating violence. On that day, several thousand people gathered in the open countryside, in the middle of large open fields, to protest against the installation of mega-basins intended to serve as water reserves for intensive agriculture. The situation quickly degenerated into a pitched battle between cops and demonstrators, with daylong filming by the 24-hour news channels. Two people were badly injured. But things could have turned out quite differently. What was the point of the gendarmes and police coming to confront thousands of people gathered in a field strewn with large swimming pools? No point at all! Except to light a new fuse so that the flame of violence could spread. Once again, the bourgeois grandee, Jean-Louis Debré, thought differently: "Why weren't the people searched beforehand? Was there a desire to allow a certain amount of disorder to take place, so as to better maintain order afterwards?”
That same evening, Darmanin was able to denounce the "extreme violence" and "terrorism" of the "ultra-left" for "attacking the cops". Just as he had done a few days earlier on the evening of the 23 March demonstration. Once again, there's nothing accidental about this campaign. The “ultra-left” is a concept foreign to the proletarian and revolutionary camp. On the contrary, it's a catch-all term, coined by the bourgeoisie, allowing it to lump together the genuine revolutionary organisations of the Communist Left with modernist intellectuals, radical anarchists and, above all, "anti-State" groupings who advocate indiscriminate violence. The latter are infiltrated and manipulated by the cops. As a result, the “black blocs” and "zadistes” are the useful idiots of the police state, enabling it to justify the strengthening of its legal and repressive armoury. This has happened quite recently with the approval of a decree authorising the use of camera-equipped drones during demonstrations.
But beyond that, the waving of the ultra-left rag serves above all to prepare the ground for the criminalisation of revolutionary organisations in the future. The bourgeoisie is more or less using the same methods used in the 1970s in the gigantic anti-terrorist campaigns following the Schleyer affair in Germany and the Aldo Moro affair in Italy, which served as a pretext for the state to strengthen its apparatus of control and repression against the working class. It was subsequently shown that the Baader gang and the Red Brigades had been infiltrated by the East German secret service, the Stasi, and the Italian state secret service respectively. In reality, these terrorist groups were nothing more than instruments of rivalry between bourgeois cliques.
Back in the 19th century, the bourgeoisie used the terrorist actions of the anarchists to reinforce its state terror against the working class. Take, for example, the "Lois Scélérate " passed by the French bourgeoisie following the terrorist attack by the anarchist Auguste Vaillant, who threw a bomb into the Chamber of Deputies on 9 December 1893, injuring around forty people. This attack had been manipulated by the state itself. Vaillant had been contacted by an agent of the Ministry of the Interior who, posing as an anarchist, had lent him money and explained how to make a home-made bomb (with a pot and nails) that would be both loud and not too deadly. It was also by the same means that the Prussian government succeeded in passing the anti-socialist laws in 1878, that drove Social Democracy in Germany underground.
In 1925, Victor Serge published What Every Revolutionary Should Know About Repression. This booklet, based on the archives of the Tsarist police (the Okhrana) which had fallen into the hands of the working class in the aftermath of the October Revolution, made it possible to inform the entire working class of the police methods and procedures that were used against revolutionaries for years. Serge also highlighted the close cooperation of all the police forces in Europe in spying on, provoking, slandering and repressing the revolutionary movement of the time. A century on, it would be naïve to think that these methods have been tucked away somewhere and forgotten about. On the contrary, the terror of the bourgeois state is going to be reproduced and perfected unceasingly and extended to all existing relationships within society.
The proletariat must learn from all its experiences of repression. It will have to remember that behind the democratic mask that the bourgeois state assumes on a daily basis hides the true face of a bloodthirsty executioner that is rudely awakened every time its order is threatened by all those exploited by it.
Vincent, 16 June 202
 See: "Theses on the spring 2006 students' movement in France", International Review n° 125 (2006).
A propos du livre de Bourseiller "Histoire générale de l’ultra-gauche" : Révolution internationale n° 344 (2004).
Nouvelles attaques contre la Gauche communiste: Bourseiller réinvente “la complexe histoire des Gauches communistes” (Partie 1) Révolution Internationale n° 488 ;
 Zadistes: groups who advocate the creation of “autonomous zones” (zone à défendre)
 Bernard Thomas, op.cit..