On the one hand, the upheavals in France are an explosion of the collective laborer, of that component of the working class that is condemned by the trajectory of decadent capitalism to permanent unemployment. In that sense, the social actors in these upheavals are an integral part of the working class, an expression of its rage and anger at capitalist social relations. Indeed, this may well be the first social movement, the first social revolt, of that most modern of capitalist phenomena: variable capital for which capital has no use; not a reserve army of the unemployed, which holds down wages, but an ever-growing mass of workers for whom capital has no use in its cycle of production, but the subjugation of which is an imperative for the capitalist state and its complex network of controls. This segment of the working class is a social fact, and its revolt is a harbinger of things to come. Whether this revolt can escape the control of capital depends on whether or not it can forge links with the other segments of the working class, without which its revolt will be contained.
On the other hand, the upheavals in France, localized in the suburban cites, where the immigrant grandparents of the youth who are in the streets each night were concentrated in the 1950’s and ‘60’s, are overdetermined by the fact that it is an explosion of Muslim youth, still seen after three generations as immigrants, as not really French. That too is a social fact, one no less than the other (the upheavals as an explosion of a segment of the working class) that is a product of capitalist social relations. This social fact is a product of the way in which a determinate part of the population has been subjectified by capital and its social relations. It pertains to the identity of that segment of the working class in the “eyes” of the majority of the population, and in its own “eyes.” In speaking of its Muslim identity, I am not saying that this upheaval is Islamist. It is not! The role of Islamism, and its institutional and ideological core in Salafism, has played virtually no role in the upheavals thus far. Indeed, the Salafists have sought to contain the rage and anger that has exploded in the suburban cites, and where Salafism is strongest, the action in the streets has been weakest. However, ritualistically repeating that this is just a revolt of les proletaires, ignores the social fact that it is also a revolt of those who are seen and who see themselves as Muslims; of those who are the victims of a racism no less endemic to capital and its social relations than is that other social fact: that these youth have nothing but their labor power to sell, and that under the conditions of decadent capitalism there are no buyers.
To the extent that this revolt is contained, that is does not broaden to encompass other segments of the working class, that capital gains the upper hand, what perspectives emerge. For the French ruling class, two possibilities seem to emerge. One, the perspective of the right (Sakorzy, the National Front) will be to insist that France is in peril from the “scum,” from the immigrant hordes, from the new Arab invasion (who will be the new Charles Martel?). The other, the perspective of the left (the SP, the CP, the gauchistes) will be to insist that France is a multi-cultural society, that it must integrate all of its citoyens in the Republic, including its Franco-Muslim “brothers and sisters.” (Ironically, this is the response à l’Américaine.) Both these responses seek to perpetuate the identity of this segment of the working class as Muslim. For this segment of the working class, the recourse to a Muslim identity as opposed to a working class identity, will mean not just barriers to its participation in class struggles, but will provide a basis for xenophobia within its own ranks (as a response to the xenophobia within the majority population), and as frustration and anger seethes, this population may indeed be swayed by the siren song of Islamism – an outcome that can only strengthen the control of capital and its complex mechanisms of subjectification.
The first social fact is a harbinger of class struggles to come. The second social fact consolidates the sway of capital. The issue hangs in the balance, and the clarity of revolutionaries – at least over the medium term – becomes a factor in the outcome.
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