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(en) Analysis of the Victory in France by Jonas Bals - www.frihetlig.org*

Date Mon, 10 Apr 2006 20:50:09 +0300

In last week's edition of the British magazine The Economist,
much attention was paid to the movement in France. The liberalist
paper was deeply concerned whether the French ruling class would
bow for the street protests and thereby duck «its ‘Thatcher
moment'» or not – and thereby escape «the point when the country
might have tested the union-led resistance and imposed liberal economics
on a fearful public.» Today, it became clear that they have.
Although it remains to be seen how the French government will try
to modify its defeat, the victory is as clear as it can get. But how
significant is this victory, however partial it may turn out to be once
the ‘social dialogue' is re-established? The Economist can
give us a hint, as they have been among the most important
intellectual infantrists in the neo-liberal assault on Europe's
entrenched working classes. Their 1st of April edition, which dealt
extensively with the situation in France, included a special report on
how ‘France faces the future.' In an extended editorial,
titled after Charles Dicken's famous account of the French
revolution, his novel A tale of two cities, the magazine explains the
ongoing turmoil as the result of a divided society. On the one hand,
it says, France is future-oriented, business friendly, «dynamic and
highly trained» – a fact reflected in the soaring profits of the top
40 companies, which rose by 50 % from 2004 to 2005. And on the
other: The backward-looking, static and reality-denying part of
France, the «1m-3m people that took to the streets» and the
thousands of «troublemakers» that have opposed the
government's labour market reforms.

It is this scared and old-fashioned part of French society that the
prime minister, Dominique de Villepin, so desperately wanted to
help, The Economist explains. By introducing the law of the first job
contract, the CPE, he tried by way of decree «to combat mass
unemployment in France, which touches 23 % of young people, and
one in two of those living on the rough housing projects.» Strange
enough, his generosity was not appreciated by the ungrateful French
protestors, who showed a complete lack of concern both for
themselves and the suburban proletariat the government claimed it
was fighting for. And now, with today's victory, they have
presumably denied the reality principle and fought a reform that
would have brought France back on track. The track laid out by the
Reagan and Thatcher revolutions of the 80's, that is, which The
Economist promoted with much eager in its time. Not as a result of
‘ideology,' of course, but by their capability to grasp the
Real, and understand in what direction the Reason of history was

But, as The Economist laments, the whole affair in France
developed into a «pre-emptive protectionist strike,» which, if it
succeeded – as it now indeed has – would undermine «the
need for France to face up to, and accept, global capitalism.» Only
in France's business schools, which were left untouched by the
protests, sit-ins and occupations, could the Prime Minister find a
species of students more gifted than the average high-school or
university ‘denying conservative': Only «students at such
places, taught the latest in finance and economics, understand the
price France will pay if it refuses to change,» The Economist
complained – in a revolution-ridden country which «has never
been properly déMarxisé.»

Which brings us back to the impact of this victory. With today's
withdrawal of the CPE, France has at least not been
‘de-marxised' – meaning, if translated from the
language of political economy to ordinary English, that the French
working class has not been beaten into submission and defeat, as the
British miners and printers once were. The movement against the
CPE proved that struggle is wortwile – and that the
‘reality' represented by neo-liberal capitalism can be
defeated. But, we should all take care to remember, neither The
Economist or the ruling class whose views it expresses, will give up.

«A war may be neeeded to bring the two [Frances] together, but
this is not the right battle,» it warned its readers – because the
reforms were not «genuinely radical,» as opposed to the
«rupture with France's social model» preached by de
Villepin's colleague and rival for next year's presidential
election, Nicolas Sarkozy. Again, in plain English: Let the next
election run its course, and the politicians pretend. Then, when the
obligatory lip service has been paid to parliamentary democracy,
launch the assault on the workers and students – but fight them
hard, so they never get back up on their feet! And fight them more
intelligently, as the government did last August, when it introduced
its CNE-law in the middle of the summer holiday.


The student-dominated movement that won its victory today,
mobilised its forces only against aspects of what is; as such, its
impact should not be over-rated by self-confessed revolutionaries.
The only way it could have been generalised, would have been from
the bottom and from without, outside the reach of the bureaucracies
of the official unions and student organisations. That, however, was
not what was at the agenda. The world that was being fought for,
from February to April, was not the ‘another world' we
claim is possible, beyond wage slavery and the state. But it was a
fight against the ‘other world' they try to dictate on us, a
world that is always described with the quasi-objective language of
political-economic realism – and in this, we succeeded.

The British miners' historic defeat has, since 1985, been
interpreted as inevitable – and their fight been portrayed as a
fight against history and necessity. But they only were in so far as we
see their struggle as isolated to the question of coal in the British
economy. Not if seen as something more than a desperate defense of
their own turf, as an attempt to point beyond what-is, and the logic
of capitalist development – towards a world where our choices
would be wider than ‘Submission and Slavery, or
Unemployment and Despair.'

Capitalism can't exist without most of us suffering its
consequences. In that respect, there is a certain reality to the
opposed interests of French students and the banlieu youth, which
the government will continue to try and pit against each other.
Common interests doesn't exist in a capitalist world: It is only
when viewed from the point of a different world, that we can speak
of our interests being mutually dependent, – our interests in
having both dignity and safety, freedom and a guarantee that
tomorrow won't be a struggle for survival.

The main unions in France are now busy finding solutions to the
crisis of ‘French society'; a crisis which is both real and
experienced as such. What they call ‘professional social
security' is, in large part, inspired by a model commonly referred
to as the ‘Danish flexicurity model' – combining
unemployment insurance schemes and a highly flexible,
hire-and-fire labour market. This is also the banner under which the
EU Commision is drafting its proposals for a ‘more flexible,
more competitive Europe.' All the wrongs and inequalities of
this system notwithstanding – myself living in the daily reality of
its logic – it is also worth reminding that this system is a result of
class struggle and class compromises, not a plan designed from
above. It relies on a highly unionised working class, and one of the
world's highest tax levels. Without these factors included, all
that would remain is flexibility – not security. And no-one should
be convinced that this is a price the ruling class of Europe would be
willing to pay for a more elastic work force – never. What they
want is the ‘rupture' Sarkozy has talked of, and which
Thatcher once represented. We have won today, but will have to
fight them again tomorrow.
* antiauthoritarian anticapitalist
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