Some Reflection at the start of the Riots in France

I raise two elements found respectively in a text of a comrade of I.P. in Brussels and in a text on the (French) network signed "Jorge" to define the general framework for an understanding of these riots:

"the French suburbs crystallize the trajectory of declining capitalism"; "people develop their action where they are".

I propose to bring to the discussion some more general questions in connection with these riots, linked to the current period and to the class struggle.

Decadent capitalism is characterized, among other things, by the recomposition of the working class, and by an extremely high level of destructiveness. I refer, with respect to these two points, to our articles on the recomposition of the working class and decadence. This entails the existence of masses who are truly chronically excluded from the system, which is very different from what one called "the reserve army" in speaking of the unemployed cyclically reintegreted into the sphere of production. This mass of excluded is very different from these unemployed because the latter remain connected to work as a reference point, as an organizational form, in terms of social integration and connection between individuals... The chronically excluded, the young people of the suburbs, do not know concretely what work is, either because they have not had the experience themselves, or because they did not even see their parents work. Their class membership is not perceived in terms of the working class but more in terms of an excluded group, of the marginalized, among those who are, in essence even, surplus. This also links up with what the "communisateurs" call "the inessentiality of the working class": they remain necessary to capitalist production but the use of robitisation, of technology, gives the workers the feeling that they are very often replaced by the machine.

For me, when one characterizes these young people from the suburbs, it is of proletarianized elements that one must speak: they, themselves, do not truly relate to a definite social class, nor to the working class in particular. Their feeling of belonging is thus defined by the "negative" (rejected) rather than in the positive (working class).

This raises a first fundamental question for our future discussions: the existence of masses of excluded is a phenomenon which forms an integral part of the trajectory of capitalism and thus has to generalize and to develop. How to appreciate their existence, their movements of revolt, how to propose a perspective for them while managing to connect their feeling of "no future" to a historical perspective, without falling into general, abstract speeches -- and thus useless -- on communism, the working class, etc?

Indeed, one can wonder how these young people can develop a political consiousness and means of struggle, where they are - ideologically and concretely.

In the past, at the beginning of the riots which set the tone for the anti-globalization movement (among others in Seattle), or at the beginning of the movements of precarious workers, I.P. had already raised the question of "new forms of struggle". We must indeed understand that capitalism, through the transformations which it undergoes in the forms of work and organization of production, modifies both the form of regroupment and the labor of workers. For example, one sees developing today a fringe of workers sometimes well trained, who only work alone, under contract. They are at the same time integreted but completely insolated and "shifting". We are no longer in a period of a working class gathered in massive factories as we knew it in the past. We saw developing, with these precarious workers, a form of specific action, coming together very quickly (via cell phone and Internet) around transitory actions, actions which seem to contest commodity relations: breaking into commercial facilities, taking commodities which are immediately redistributed on the street, etc. It is not my aim here to make an analysis or to provide a political appreciation of this type of action, my goal being simply to indicate that these movements exist, beside the more traditional strike actions.

It is necessary, to return to the young people of the suburbs, to emphasize the fundamental difference between the class struggle and the struggle of these youth: the class struggle, for me, is inscribed in a break with the established order and is an attempt at the collective organization of resistance to the conditions of exploitation ; it is further inscribed in a perspective for change. Whereas the riots also mark a break, a refusal and a confrontation, they do not offer any perspective.

In both cases, there is a feeling that something is "unacceptable" to human life (to be excessively exploited, to be treated as an object of scorn) which is at the origin of this feeling of revolt. There is also a subjective element – a fundamental element in the development of consciousness and the action of the class. But these young people express, by their exclusive reliance on destructiveness, both that subjectivity, but also their absence of perspective. They do not want « something different », they simply "do not want to take it any more", and that’s all!

In my opinion, we find in these riots a mixture between a targeted violence (symbols of the State, such as the schools... all that oppresses them and rejects them) and a blind violence.

Another characteristic that I would like to point to is the age of these young people: young, sometimes very young, since one finds a significant fringe of teenagers between 11 and 14. In that respect, I do not think that one can speak about struggles of "unemployed young people": we are well short of problems of unemployment: they are unintegrated kids, lost, without perspectives, without points of reference, without a future. It should besides be stressed that, if the bourgeoisie points to the problem of the "French suburbs", these riots are not limited to them; movements occurred in other countries: Belgium, Holland, Germany. It is clear that there is a basic problem, an absence of perspectives, of despair, which these youth face. One of the forms of expression of this desperate violence is individual and is addressed to the individual himself: it is suicide (the second cause of death among young people), the riots being a collective violence directed against society.

That makes this an important development which should provoke serious reflexion on the part of the working class, even if it can disassociate itself from this type of riot. Such upheavals are an echo of a vision of a world which is falling apart. In recent years, we have heard of workers taking part in demonstrations or class actions to say "one does not fight solely for us, but for our children". It is clear that there is today a profound questioning concerning the global functioning of society and the perspectives offered by capitalism: between wars, unemployment, ecological problems... there are questions about our human future and this questioning exists with a vengeance!

Finally, a last question: that of violence. It characterizes the riots but one finds it in other places lately. Let us remember, for example, strikes like that at Celatex where the plant was threatened with destruction, or the violent strike of the Corsican sailors recently. One can evoke, on another level, the regular confrontations during economic summits. In the developed countries, where the ruling class has at its disposal a whole arsenal of social means to temper its violence, cogs within which to ensnare workers, multiple negotiations, sophisticated mechanisms within the social grid, "the welfare state", etc., the bourgeoisie now has recourse to more and more direct violence. The violence wielded in the French upheavals are thus partly the direct response to this growing violence.

Here, then, are some reflections in connection with these riots. I think that they are an important struggle which deserves our close attention, carried out by proletarianized elements and which poses, even if it is not within a class perspective, a fundamental social question.

November 2005

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