Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Don't Be Misled By Populist Appeals!

Faced with weeks of rebellion in the suburbs and poor neighbourhoods, the government is trying to cover up the fact that this situation is the result of growing inequality and discrimination caused by several decades of disastrous policies.


Far from putting an end to the intolerable and devalorizing discourse that stigmatizes those who live in these neighbourhoods, over the past few days we have witnessed populist appeals on the part of several political authorities, who have been spreading lies and misinformation in an attempt to make scapegoats of foreigners.

Following the Minister of the Interior’s statement that most of those responsible for the past several weeks’ violence were foreigners, and his call for the deportation of all foreigners arrested for participating in the events, now we have the Minister of Employment Gérard Larcher and the UMP president of the National Assembly Bernard Accoyer, who are claiming that polygamy and family reunification policies lead to urban violence.

And yet the official figures are available to show that all but 6 to 8% of those who have been arrested over the past weeks are French. As for polygamy, which victimizes women first and foremost, and the right of every person, regardless of their nationality, to their family life (an inalienable right according to Article 8 of the European Human Rights Convention), these are in no way related to this social crisis.

Such statements are intended to cover up the social issues that have been raised over the past few weeks, switching the focus to the question of immigration.

The multiplication of these statements is a clear sign that immigration is now being exploited as demagogically as is possible, as an important part of the strategy of the current parliamentary majority - which hopes to win votes from the racist and xenophobic far right - in view of the 2007 elections.

Such an attitude is scandalous and irresponsible: it makes life harder and harder every day for entire sections of the population (whether or not of regularized status); it gives rise to abuse; it encourages the rise of xenophobia, racism, exclusion and, in return, communalism* within our country.

The Solidaires Trade Union refuses to see entire populations sacrificed on the alter of nauseating political ambitions, simply because of where they were born.  We refuse to blame the victims of discrimination and exclusion for their misfortune.

French citizens, foreigners living in France who have regularized status, as well as the undocumented, all deserve better than to be afraid of each other, than these attempts to divide, and in the end this xenophobia is directed against the very people who already suffer more daily discrimination, poverty and unemployment than the rest of society.

For the Solidaires Trade Union, the answer to the crisis in the popular neighbourhoods should involve neither repression nor provocation nor demagogical and electoral exploitation of these social problems. What our country needs more than ever is the elaboration of a national policy to eradicate discrimination and establish equal rights.
Paris, November 21st 2005

* translators note: i have translated “communautairisme” as “communalism”; this term is akin to “multiculturalism”, but is almost universally understood to have a negative connotation (more similar to how North Americans now view “identity politics”). An interesting and (i think) useful point was made in In The Fray (an online magazine): "To really understand why the Islamic headscarf has become so controversial in France, one must try to understand two words that are often bandied about in this debate and are not easy to translate into English: laïcité and communautarisme. The first term is often translated in the American press as ‘secularism,’ as if it simply designated the separation of church and state, a familiar issue to Americans. In reality, laïcité implies a set of political and cultural values, that, in a way, have become a pseudo-religion of the state... Communautarisme, on the other hand, roughly means ‘multiculturalism,’ although its connotations are almost entirely negative. Communautarisme, to the French, is what happens when you let immigrants form their own communities, speak their own languages, and practice their own religions. Consequently, France becomes less ‘French’ and more open to foreign values and cultural practices. "

(i would like to thank the smart folk at Infinite Thought blog for pointing me towards this text)

In other words, “secularism” in France is similar to “freedom” in the United States – it is both a value (which we can all agree with) and a kind of nationalistic slogan, with potentially racist overtones (like “freedom fries”).


Please note that the above text comes from the Soldiaires Trade Union – and was translated by yours truly. I translated it because it is one of the few pieces i have seen over the past week or so about the rebellion in France, and ongoing clampdown. I have a “fast and loose” translation philosophy, meaning that when there is a choice between readability and the original phraseology i tend to favour the former, provided that the meaning stays the same. The original document can be seen in French here.

Please also note that i am translating this as i have not been able to find any radical accounts of the riots or the police racism that provoked them in English… i do not necessarily agree with the author’s point of view, nor do they necessarily agree with mine. Si quelqu’un a un meilleur texte à suggérer, svp envoyez-moi le!

For background to the riots, including a timeline, check out the Wikipedia entry.

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Did Rap Cause the Rebellion?

Following the events of the past few weeks [translator: meaning the riots that swept France earlier in November], over 200 members of parliament have called upon the Minister of Justice to prosecute rap musicians who they accuse of inciting hatred and violence amongst young people.


SUD Culture is outraged at such an approach, which is just a populist escalation meant to cover up the social issues that have been raised over the past weeks, replacing them with the far-right’s favourite issues in view of the next elections.

After the immigrants, now it’s the artists – who at no point over the past few weeks did anything to encourage acts of violence -  who are accused of “burning down our suburbs.”

Like other cultural producers, French songwriters did not wait for hip-hop culture and rap to come along in order to produce many works which have incited violence, sedition, and contempt for the police and the army… and many of these songs are now a part of our cultural heritage.

Do these members of parliament intend to ban certain songs by Ferré, Brassens, or Renaud…? Will “Le deserteur”* once again be banned, as it was when it first appeared during a sad period of our history, when censorship reigned… as did the State of Emergency?

For the time being, we doubt it!

Right now isn’t the main problem with these rappers the fact that they have faces which aren’t white enough, just like the young people whose frustrations and hopes they carry with them?

It is certainly about time that our country’s political authorities put an end to the nauseating escalation taking place, and that they finally get to work creating a national policy that can resolve the crisis of the popular neighbourhoods. A policy that should involve neither repression nor provocation nor demagogical and electoral exploitation of these social problems.

Paris, November 25th 2005
SUD Culture (Solidaires Trade Union)
12 rue de Louvois - 75 002 Paris
Tel : 01 40 15 82 68
sud@culture.fr http://www.sud-culture.org

*translators note: “Le deserteur” was a song written by Boris Vian in 1954, just after the French were kicked out of Indochina and just as the Algerian War was beginning. It takes the form of an open letter to the president explaining why the singer is dodging the draft; the song was banned and Vian’s concerts that summer were plagued by violent attacks. Today it is considered a classic, and Vian is considered an important mid-twentieth century French artist.

Please note that the above text comes from the SUD – a trade union of workers in France’s cultural industries  – and was translated by yours truly. I translated it because i think that the issue of censorship, and the scapegoating of rap, are important questions – best viewed as assaults on immigrant and working class culture. I certainly disagree with the SUD’s appeal that the government “get to work creating a national policy that can resolve the crisis of the popular neighbourhoods” – indeed, all of the evidence seems to point to the fact that the government has such a “national policy”, and this is not a good thing! Neverthess, i felt it useful to make this text available, especially as there seems to be less and less written about the rebellion or its after-effects…

I have a “fast and loose” translation philosophy, meaning that when there is a choice between readability and the original phraseology i tend to favour the former, provided that the meaning stays the same. Please note that the title of this translation – “Did Rap Cause the Rebellion?” – is mine and not the SUD’s. The original document can be seen in French here.

Please also note that i am translating this as i have not been able to find any radical accounts of the riots or the police racism that provoked them in English… i do not necessarily agree with the author’s point of view, nor do they necessarily agree with mine. Si quelqu’un a un meilleur texte à suggérer, svp envoyez-moi le!

For background to the riots, including a timeline, check out the Wikipedia entry.

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Friday, November 25, 2005

Three Important Essays About Iraq

“In the late twentieth century, the greater number of the casualties and victims of war are not the military but ‘civilians’ – that is, overwhelmingly, women and children. In the late twentieth century, the greater number of casualties and victims of the market are not the workers but the “economically inactive” – that is, overwhelmingly, women and children.”
- Marilyn Waring

Gender, gender, gender… increasingly prominent in both imperialist and anti-imperialist politics… who is a woman, who is a man, and what that means you can or cannot do (and what happens to you if you disobey), these are questions that are stretching us, that we are being pushed to grapple with – ready or not!

For that reason, i would like to encourage you all to check out these three essays, dealing with the relationship between imperialism and patriarchy, between male violence against women and the war in Iraq:

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Funny Folks in All Kinds of Places

“Former” Klan leader David Duke in Syria, far-right conspiracy theorist and spook Lyndon Larouche in the People’s Daily

It’s really not so much surprising, as noteworthy, don’t you think?


It should not be seen as proof, but rather a simple reminder, that there is no firewall between the left and right, between “our side” and “theirs”; we are not only fighting on a political terrain, we ourselves constitute that terrain. Any reassuring assumptions about how anti-imperialism, or state communism, or even “mass support” will somehow automatically play to the left and not the right, increasing human liberation and not misery, is… well… just a reassuring assumption. Unproven, unproveable, because ultimately untrue.

That is not to say that anti-imperialism (like anti-capitalist and anti-patriarchal politics) are not necessary components of a movement for human liberation, but that – in and of themselves – they are not enough. On each and every level of struggle, additional struggle is necessary to realize the liberatory potential that you may have already been tempted to take for granted. And so on and so forth.

It’s a process, and i assume it to be a never-ending one. I imagine such struggle will take place in post-revolutionary, in Stateless societies, in classless societies, just with different stakes. Historical progress is thus translated into giving human beings better and better odds, grater and greater guarantees against defeat and reaction.

At this sorry point in human history, of course, the odds are bad and there is little guarantee against either defeat or reaction. David Duke in Damascus, Lyndon Larouche being interviewed by the “most influential and authoritative newspaper in China”- not anomalies, but signs of things to come.

In this regard, I find it useful to quote from Don Hammerquist’s essay “Fascism and Anti-Fascism”:

Fascism in my opinion, is not a paper tiger or a symbolic target but a real and immediate danger both in this country [the United States] and around the world. However, the nature of this danger is not self-evident. It requires clear explanation and it requires the rejection of some conventional wisdom. Fascism is not a danger because it is ruling class policy or is about to be adopted as policy. Not even because it could have major influences on this policy. Nor is it a danger because of the “rahowa”, racial holy war, that is advocated by some fascist factions. The policies of official capitalism carried out through the schools and the criminal justice and welfare systems are both a far greater and a more immediate threat to the health and welfare of people of color than fascist instigated racial attacks and their promotion of racialist genocide. The real danger presented by the emerging fascist movements and organizations is that they might gain a mass following among potentially insurgent workers and declassed strata through an historic default of the left. This default is more than a possibility, it is a probability, and if it happens it will cause massive damage to the potential for a liberatory anti-capitalist insurgency.
“Fascism and Anti-Fascism,” by Don Hammerquist, in Confronting Fascism: Discussion Documents for a Militant Movement, Kersplebedeb Publishing 2002

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Sunday, November 20, 2005

No Prison, No Repression: Free Our Loves Ones!

Press Release from the Clos d'Emery Support Committee (Emerainville)
Tuesday, November 19th 2005

The facts:
On Tuesday November 8th, around noon, the Meaux criminal police carried out a raid in the Clos d’Emery neighbourhood in Emerainville. This raid was a police provocation. The thirty “agents of the peace” ripped apart two apartments, they handcuffed two mothers and a father, seized 1000 euros which have still not been returned, as well as two resident’s permits. And then they forced their way into all of the neighbourhood boxes. [translators note: could someone tell me what a “box du quartier” is?]


At this point, a man and his wife were bringing their children home from school, when they saw their garage being searched. The man didn’t understand what was happening and he demanded an explanation. So the police took him and began abusing him in front of his children. Four people who saw this situation deteriorating tried to intervene, and they were also arrested. A video-camera that was being used to film these events was also seized.

Those who were arrested were brought to the Noisiel police headquarters, where one of them was beaten by five police officers and then brought to the Meaux clinic. The next day, the five people who were arrested appeared in the Meaux criminal court, facing charges of outrage and rebellion.

The youngest one (a minor) was released while awaiting his verdict, while the others received sentences of 18 months, 15 months, and 12 months (twice) of jail time. While the neighbourhood had been relatively calm until now, thanks to the efforts of parents who patrolled the Clos at night, the prefect (with the support of the mayor) has imposed a curfew. Why do the authorities want to throw gasoline on the fire?

We reject these sentences

These heavy sentences are unacceptable and revolting. They are proof of a quick justice system that violates human rights. With the declaration of the State of Emergency, the courts are following the calls for strict sentences that have been made by Mr Sarkozy and Mr de Villepin, and this leads us to wonder whether the courts are in fact independent from the government.

We are family, friends, parents and neighbours of those who were arrested, as well as workers at the Van Gogh College, trade unionists, community activists and also simply outraged citizen – and we have formed a support committee.

The Committee demands and will act to obtain:

  • that the sentences be overturned on appeal

  • that action be taken against the police officers who violently attacked one of those arrested at the police headquarters

  • an end to police provocations

The Clos d’Emery Support Committee

Please note that the above text, giving yet another example of police abuse in a “sensitive” neighbourhood, comes from the website of the Mouvement de l'Immigration et des Banlieues

Please also note that i am translating this as i have not been able to find any radical accounts of the riots or the police racism that provoked them in English… i do not necessarily agree with the author’s point of view, nor do they necessarily agree with mine. Si quelqu’un a un meilleur texte à suggérer, svp envoyez-moi le!

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My Neighbourhood in the Days of the Field-Marshal

What follows was written on May 18th, 2005 – over five months before the rebellion was sparked in Clichy-sous-Bois, a similar “at risk” neighbourhood where the police act as an occupying troop. In my opinion, it provides some necessary context to the 2005 Fall Rebellion. - translator

It all started about a month before Ramadan. A troop of CRS [riot police] in full battle regalia raided a low-income family home to arrest a young man. It was a Wednesday, in the middle of the afternoon. It was nice outside. All of the kids from the Reynerie neighbourhood (in Toulouse-le-Mirail) were outside. They were there when the building was surrounded and closed off, they saw the invasion by an army of police. They saw the arrested man’s mother and young sister (4 feet tall) violently taken to the police station, and they knew that all of this was for some tiny infraction… It almost turned into a riot, the whole neighbourhood was deeply disturbed, and it had been relatively calm up until then. For once, even the adults felt threatened by this uncalled for police aggression. There was a collective and largely spontaneous reaction. The next day, between 150 and 200 of us gathered at Abbal Place, to publicly protest and denounce the police violence. And a few dozen of us met together over the next weeks, to talk about the problems in our neighbourhood and to try and bring about some solidarity between the generations, and between residents who come from very different places.


Although we wanted to live together in peace, the police provocations did not stop, and this provoked a cycle of revolt (cars set on fire, vandalism…) and repression (counter-productive police ID checks, arrests, riot police…)

In this matter, there was the highly symbolic charge of the riot police, preceded by tear gas grenades – on Christmas day. It was around 5pm and the target was a group of children aged 12 and 13, who were playing on Kiev Street.

But this was just the beginning. A kind of taste of things to come. For two months, in Mirail and also in twenty four other neighbourhoods throughout France that are “to be tamed,” we are living as if we were under Field-Marshal Petain [translators note: Petain was the man who set up a pro-Nazi government in France after the German invasion in World War II]. This is the spontaneous description that the oldest one of us said. It is true that he is wafting through the neighbourhood like the stink of occupation. This is how the police create lawless areas.

For the pretext for this abuse of power was largely the creation of the media : there are apparently “lawless areas” where the police “cannot set foot” and within which “criminal activities” take place.

In Mirail – as is certainly the case in the other neighbourhoods concerned – this pretext is completely ridiculous.

How can they say that the police “cannot set foot” here, when there is a big brand new police headquarters right in the middle of Mirail, between Reynerie and Bellefontaine, and police stations all over the place? The police does not need to come into the area: it is already here all the time! In passing, please note that in order to justify this police headquarters (which was built following the murder of a young man, Habib, at the hands of the police, with the support of all of the political parties), they said that once it was built there would be “no more violence” and life would be peaceful again. Now we have the headquarters, the problems that come with the headquarters, and less peace than ever.

As for “lawlessness,” let’s talk about it. But let’s talk about it properly: one of the most basic rights [translators note: in French the word for a right is also the word for the law: “le droit”; thus “lawlessness” and “without rights” are both covered by the same phrase – I have translated “zone de non-droit” consistently as “lawless area” but it could also be translated as “a place where people have no rights”] is the right to come and go - as one pleases. When we go out or come back from work, we have to pass through two, sometimes three, police checkpoints. The neighbourhood is surrounded, closed off. All of the roads going in and out are blocked. Day and night. There are groups of police who are also set up within the neighbourhood. They are so close together that from one checkpoint you can see the next. Sometimes there are less than 200 meters between them.

Of course, as my neighbour said (he changed his mind after the fourth body search) “Why worry if you have nothing to hide?” Why worry? Because, to pass through one of these checkpoints means to risk being arrested, having to show your papers (you had better not have forgotten anything!), having your vehicle searched, having to get out of your car and have hands all over your body, hands which are not exactly gentle. It means being viewed with suspicion, having to listen to them laughing at you and making their little comments… It means wasting a lot of time and being truly humiliated.

When you cannot leave your home without being subjected to this treatment several times a week, you do in effect live in a lawless area [translator: or “a place where people have no rights” – see above]. A lawlessness that has been built from scratch by the police and the justice system.

And as for the famous “criminal activity,” we can be just as clear: by searching through our vehicles and our pockets, yes, the CRS [riot police] have certainly found some marijuana, some stolen cell phones and car radios, and other things like that. Perhaps they even found some stolen cars. But they can search the neighbourhood from top to bottom and they will not be able to find a single person who traffics in 600 square meter apartments, or people who abuse social assets, or people who loot public moneys, nor will they find anyone who makes use of the “services” of Patrice Alègre. Those types live elsewhere, far from police searches. They are protected by the police.

Startegy of Tension

We realized that what those in power were doing was carrying out a veritable strategy of tension which, as in other such cases, has two results.

The first is that people are trapped in their neighbourhood, on their block, in a true ghetto. You hesitate before going to see a movie, because you know that you will have to go through two CRS checkpoints at night in order to get back to your home. And so you stay at home. Your friends hesitate before coming to visit you. You understand: they don’t want to have to go through a body search at one of the police checkpoints. You have less and less contact with the outside world.

Within the neighbourhood, people are getting more stressed. That’s the point. One example, that occurred on Saturday March 26th, during the Easter weekend. Everything was calm, and one of us took the car to go into town. He was not out of the neighbourhood before a CRS police car sped past him, turned around and stopped in front of him, while two others came up behind him, and three or four others closed off each of the side streets. So he was surrounded by ten police cars. What had he done? Was this a war? No, and in fact they were not even interested in him; he made his way through as the cops were jumping out of their cars with their shields and guns, charging into a building. A few minutes later when he came back, there was nothing to see. What happened? Why such a show of force? We will never know. But, even if one is not particularly sensitive, the risk of suddenly finding oneself at any moment caught in the middle of a western, is quite stressful, to say the least. Many residents cannot deal with it, most notably the many elderly people who still live here.

Being shut up in a closed space, rising tensions anxiety, this is a recipe for the rise of fundamentalisms. We already had some little girls who wore the veil. Thanks to de Villepin’s policies, within the past two months we have seen the first boys in the neighbourhood going to school in djellaba [translators note: a long, loose, hooded garment with full sleeves, worn especially in Muslim countries]. And within just the past few days, there have been school students who, when their teacher tries to teach them a song, take out notes explaining that Muslims do not sing. These are definitely the results of policies carried out in the name of “Republican values,” and they will only grow unless something changes.

The second result is that the repressive machine gets bigger. The permanent surveillance of even the tiniest detail, the shows of force on a background of poverty, are just so many provocations that lead to reactions, of individuals or groups “taking action.” Sometimes, when he is pulled over for the umpteenth time that day, a resident will crack and “tlk back to” a cop. Sometimes the anger sets fire to garbage cans or cars (sometimes just a few meters away from the police checkpoint)… And all of this serves as an excuse for the next police searches, a greater police presence, more arrests… and then it starts all over again. The State would like to provoke more riots in Mirail, that’s why it continues to act this way. This is becoming more obvious every day.

What Is The Cost? What Is The Goal?

Another thing that should not be forgotten: all of this is very expensive. But those in power, those who count every penny they can save at the expense of workers, they make sure not to ever put a number on it. Hundreds of CRS, officers with the Anti-Criminal Brigade, the Intelligence Services, police of all sorts are permanently set up in the neighbourhood. Apart from their fat salaries (take a look at the propaganda leaflets at the Bellefontaine headquarters), they all get bonuses for working at night, on the weekends, danger pay… without counting the maintenance costs for all of their equipment. The total must be out of this world.

And what does it get them? In regards to the official objective (to have a peaceful neighbourhood) it is useless. We are living in one of the most tense periods within the past ten years. The money spent makes no sense. Unless of course the official objective is not the true objective.

Be Clear About Who The Real enemy Is
Caught between the State’s strategy of tension, the falling back onto one’s identity and the some people’s idiocy (those whose latest national incarnation is the campaign ‘against anti-white racism”), people don’t have a lot of space left. But, as in the past, anarcho-syndicalist neighbourhood activists insist that we must be clear about who the real enemy is.

We are saying and we will continue to say that our enemy is not our neighbour, whose misery is also our own. Our real enemies are those who humiliate us. Those who exploit us when it’s worth their while, and who fire us when it becomes convenient. Those who raise our rents and utility bills. Those who evict us when we can no longer pay. Those who cut back on social spending. Those who leave us with no future apart from being warehoused in a ghetto. So let’s be clear. Even if it is more difficult than ever, we should respect each other, support each other and continue to work to build a different future.

The CNT-AIT residents in Mirail

Please note that the above text life in a “sensitive” neighbourhood comes from the website of the CNT-AIT

Please also note that i am translating this as i have not been able to find any radical accounts of the riots or the police racism that provoked them in English… i do not necessarily agree with the author’s point of view, nor do they necessarily agree with mine. Si quelqu’un a un meilleur texte à suggérer, svp envoyez-moi le!

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The State Is Learning From Fascism – Sarkozy is Using Du Maurras

We have always disagreed with those who say that Sarkozy is like a little Napoleon.
For history is not made by great men, but by the masses.

Thinking in terms of individuals means staying at the level of Matthieu Kassovitz, who sees Sarkozy as a new Bush, as an “incompetent” person who does not know what he is doing:


“The Minister of the Interior, and possible future president, says things that not only reveal his lack of experience in politics and human relations (which are closely related), but which also reveal the purely demagogic and egocentric side of a little Napoleon in training.” (Matthieu Kassovitz’s blog)

This is not true.

Sarkozy is extremely competent. He carries with him the best, which is to say the worst, traditions of the bourgeiosie.

Those who still doubt this can look at his most recent statements. He makes clear references to the French fascist tradition.

For instance, he says : “Never before have I felt there was such a deep chasm between the virtual country as it is described in one article after another, and the real country (…) I wanted to base myself on the real country, which understood perfectly well that we were at the moment of truth.”

The concept of the “real country” is one that was developed by the royalist theoretician and anti-Semite Charles Maurras.

The “real country” is the French families, who carry with them a moral and material legacy which must be preserved.

The “real country” is the political world, which occasionally must be put back in its place.

Sarkozy takes up this concept which has been used by the bourgeoisie to justify its reactionary policies, to justify fascism, that puts aside all those aspects that are still “democratic.”

Fascism puts aside electoral questions, instead finding its justification in the streets, by the violence of the middle classes who are victims of the crisis, with their fascist culture and their militias.

Sarkozy is using the same approach. He is calling on the “profound France.”

“All throughout these three weeks, I have been able to stand my ground because I have felt the support of millions of people like you.”

“What is going on in our neighbourhoods is absolutely critical to the future of our country.”

“We have to make profound changes to our country, we have to break with a political, social and economic system that for thirty years has produced little but unemployment, debt, and paralysis. This is why I am calling for change.”

Sakozy is not the cause, but rather is the consequence of a class struggle so intense that it has forced the bourgeoisie to drop its “democratic” mask to protect its interests, and to demand that the middle classes take action against the people.

Those who still had illusions about the nature of the State should give them up now and join the struggle!

Another “politics” is not possible – the clash is one of class against class!

Communist Party (Marxist-Leninist Maoist), November 2005

Please note that the above text about the past week’s riots in Clichy-Sous-Bois come from the website of the Communist Party (Marxist-Leninist Maoist) in France and translated by yours truly. I have a “fast and loose” translation philosophy, meaning that when there is a choice between readability and the original phraseology i tend to favour the former, provided that the meaning stays the same. The original document can be seen in French.

Please also note that i am translating this as i have not been able to find any radical accounts of the riots or the police racism that provoked them in English… i do not necessarily agree with the PCMLM’s point of view, nor do they necessarily agree with mine. Si quelqu’un a un meilleur texte à suggérer, svp envoyez-moi le!

For background to the riots, including a timeline, check out the Wikipedia entry.

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Saturday, November 19, 2005

The Rage of the Projects, in the Feminine

At the heart of the poor neighbourhoods, many young women support the riots
In Montfermeil, they talk about their daily ordeal
by Marie-Joëlle GROSLiberation, Friday November 11th 2005
“When the riot cops were in the projects, I really wanted to go down, to go there myself. But my mother did not want me to. I was by the window, I saw everything without being able to do anything. How I was angry!” Sabrina, “seventeen and a half years old,” lives in Bosquets in Montfermeil (Seine-Saint-Denis), a housing estate right by Clichy-sous-Bois. The student occasionally played soccer with one of the two youths who died of electrical burns in that neighbouring area on October 27th. Their deaths set off riots, and there have been violent clashes between young people and police here. Though things seem to have calmed down now, the youths are still on edge.

Hardly anyone has listened to them so far, and the girls from the Bosquets project talk quickly, like someone with a lot to say. And none of what they say is against those who “set the fires, as they say.” Quite the contrary: today, nobody is talking about problems between boys and girls, the young people in the housing estates are all on the same side. “It was like a bomb, we knew it was going to explode,” explains one of the girls who we met at the social center. “And you see, things are happening now. It goes to show that it had to explode.” The teachers, who are encouraging them to speak up these days, observe that “The girls have the same feelings of revolt as the boys. But they are not acting on them.”

Counterproductive I.D. Checks

Within the projects, the girls are less visible than the boys who “hang out along the walls.” They are not afraid to live here, and they sleep “with both eyes closed,” they say defiantly. But they too complain of daily police checks. “The police are not there to protect us,” says Sabrina. “They provoke us all of the time. They call as bastards and bougnoules [a derogatory term for Africans, originally used by white settlers in Senegal]. It is normal that the young people hate them. The girls and the boys.” One student in her class suggested they do a project about the events. “The teacher said no, but she did agree that we should talk about how we felt. So I said everything I felt, and it was the same as what the boys felt.”

Cecile, 26 years old, who “nevertheless has a French name,” explains: “The other day, we were celebrating a friend’s kid’s birthday. We were going through the housing estate with them when the cops came across us. They spent their time watching us. They circled with their cars, stopped, started again. It’s intolerable.”

She lives with her three-year old son in his mother’s apartment: “There are six of us in an F3. I asked for an apartment. I have a job at the psychiatric hospital, I am a receptionist. But they told me that, because there are so many apartments being squatted, there are none for me.” She has no plans to leave the Bosquets housing project where she has already lived for twenty years. “I like where I live, it is just that there is not a lot in the area. If I do leave one day, it will be for my son’s education.”

The little boy is twirling around her. “I left school when I was fourteen,” Cecile continues. « Everyone leaves school early here. The parents have no money, we want to get out there and make money. Especially when we see others who can go out and buy clothes or go on outings.”

Sanaa, twenty years old, has not gone to school for a long time. She wanted to take classes to be an esthetician, but the teachers discouraged her. “They told me: ‘You live on a bad housing estate, you speak like trash, you should be a secretary.’ I never understood why. In any case, I always had problems at school.” She looks after her young niece. “I would like her to go to school far from here,” says Sanaa. “I mean, far from this neighbourhood. Here, all of the programmes are dated. They’re just teaching the alphabet. The kids need to read and write and that’s all.”

Sahra, 24 years old, jumps in : “I promised my younger cousin that I would pay for her to go to a private school. There are 26 kids in her class, 23 who don’t speak French. In other places the kids learn English and other things. Here, it’s just the bare minimum. We have to send out kids outside of the neighbourhood.”

But contacts on the outside are not obvious. After looking for three years, Sanaa only managed to find a temporary job for one month, preparing airplane meals at Roissy airport. Sahra quit before finishing her BTS in sales. A nice girl with a fiery temperament, she describes herself as a “young entrepreneur.” Born in Algeria, her mother is raising her three children on her own. “I have major respect for her. She has two jobs [one in a cafeteria and one as a maintenance worker], all of that for 8 000 francs a month.”

Sahra tried to open a clothing store in the city, but it didn’t work out. She is trying the markets. “People are often uncomfortable with us, with how we speak, how we dress. But we have to stop acting like victims. We also have to make an effort.”

“We Stand Out”

But she doesn’t accept the “insult” she suffers “often, in restaurants.” When she goes out in Paris, “they bring us the bill almost right after we order! As if we would leave without paying! Or else the waiters pretend they don’t see us, they act like we’re not there. I tell them: ‘I have the same money as the people at the other tables, so you had better take my order!’” Cecile laughs at this, “It is true that we stand out. We talk loud. There are people next to us, they’re eating with their children, they don’t even speak to each other, or at least we don’t hear them!” At work too, Cecile gets reactions, “I speak a bit like someone from the projects. Whenever I say something, they ask me what about the cars that are being set on fire in the projects.”

She is a young mother, but she is not bothered about the daycares that have been burnt down. “Perhaps this is a chance to build some nicer ones,” she says.

They do not condemn the fires or the property damage : “They are only material belongings, that doesn’t mater, they have insurance. Physical assaults are where I draw the line. That, no way,” says Sahra. She adds: “If I were the leader, I wouldn’t set things on fire in the housing projects. I would go to Neuilly or Raincy [the most well-to-do city in Seine-Saint-Denis, where the mayor Eric Raoult nevertheless imposed a curfew].”

They hate Nicolas Sarkozy and Dominique de Vilelpin: The government takes no responsibility for its actions. Why doesn’t he say ‘It is our fault, we’re sorry.’ We can understand human error, things like that happen. But no, whenever there are problems with the police, they always say: ‘After finishing our investigation, we have found it is your fault.’”

Please note that the above text about young women in France’s housing projects comes from the Liberation, a mainstream newspaper. I normally don’t bother translating stuff from the mainstream press, butit was one of the onkl pieces I have seen to discuss how women in France’s immigrant communities feel about the riots. I have a “fast and loose” translation philosophy, meaning that when there is a choice between readability and the original phraseology i tend to favour the former, provided that the meaning stays the same. The original document can be seen in French.

Please also note that i am translating this as i have not been able to find any radical accounts of the riots or the police racism that provoked them in English… i do not necessarily agree with the author’s point of view, nor do they necessarily agree with mine. Si quelqu’un a un meilleur texte à suggérer, svp envoyez-moi le!

For background to the riots, including a timeline, check out the Wikipedia entry.

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Wednesday, November 16, 2005

The Context and Rebellion Behind The Headlines

I have a few friends who don’t have access to the internet, and I was thinking of writing something for them about the rebellion in France, a kind of synopsis of what I have been reading and translating. Having written it, I am not sure how coherent it is, but I figure if that’s not an example of something Sketchy then I don’t know what is…… and so here it is uploaded – please let me know how you think I can improve it!

Race & Class
Racism and class oppression form the obvious – and easy to guess at – backdrop to the riots in France. The rebellion started when three young people from immigrant families were electrocuted as they hid from police in an electrical substation. They had not been involved in any criminal activities – they had been playing soccer, and were on their way home to have their evening meal (this occurred during Ramadan) when the police started asking people for their i.d. papers. They ran.

Such “identity checks” are legal in France, and very common, especially if you are in a working class area or if you don’t look like white. They often involve being insulted and threatened by the police, and not infrequently degenerate into police violence, with the unlucky victim then accused out “outrage and public rebellion.” (which seems to be he French equivalent of “disturbing the peace.”)

So already there is good reason for kids to flee from such i.d. checks. Add to this the fact that one of the three youths - Muhttin Altun, age 17, the only one to survive the electrocution – is a Turkish Kurd who did not have the necessary papers with him. So quite literally, these teenagers were electrocuted running from the racist and repressive policies of the French State. While Altun remains hospitalized, kept in a sterile plastic bubble to keep his wounds from getting infected, his two friends Zyed Benna (a 17 year old of Tunisian descent) and Bouna Traore (a 15 year old of Malian decent) were both killed.

As the news came out that three kids had been running from police, and two were dead as a result, Minister of the Interior Nicolas Sarkozy made a public statement that (1) the teenagers were thieves who had been caught stealing and (2) that the police were not in fact chasing them. Both of these assertions have since been revealed to be lies, obviously so as they tended to contradict each other (if the teenagers were thieves, wouldn’t the police chase them? If the police were not chasing them, isn’t that a sign that they were not known to be thieves?) Before long the local authorities had to admit that there was in fact no theft and the teenagers were not suspected of any wrongdoing.

While there was no immediate response from any kind of left-wing, or Muslim, or immigrant association or organization (as there rarely is in France or in North America within mere hours of an incident), and while the media and politicians were still spreading their disinformation, neighbourhood youths almost immediately started setting fire to cars and garbage cans. This unrest spread, ans soon police stations, shopping centres, schools, buses, stores and government buildings were being burnt dwn. Night after night the rebellion spread from one immigrant area to another, all the while becoming more and more intense.

Consistently, those rioting have mainly been teenagers from the working class housing projects. These projects are concentrated on the outskirts of large cities, so that in France the equivalent of the stereotypical U.S. inner city – non-white, working class, “dangerous” – is the French suburb.

These suburbs are officially designated “sensitive urban zones” by the government. There are 751 such zones; within them unemployment stands at 19.6 percent - double the national average - and at more than 30 percent among 21- to 29- year-olds, according to official figures. Incomes are 75 percent below the average. [Deep Roots of Paris Riots, Christian Science Monitor Nov. 4 2005]. More, precisely, in regards to immigrants from Northern Africa, one study on “juvenile delinquency” has found that:

“According to the 1990 census, 66,5% of foreigners from the Maghreb are labourers, 15,8% are employees an 4,2% are unemployed and have never had a job (INSEE, 1994). The total of these three categories is 86,5%, to which can be added 5,2% who are small businesspeople (grocery store or restaurant owners) who are rarely well-to-do. In sum, we can estimate that roughly 90% of them belong to the popular classes (as opposed to 60% to 65% in the total French population). Furthermore, foreigners are overrepresented in the worst and most unskilled jobs. They are overrepresented amongst temporary workers and fixed contract workers. They are much more likely to be unemployed. In INSEE’s ‘Emploi’ inquiry in 1992, the unemployment rate amongst French citizens was 9,5%, amongst foreigners it was 18,6%, and amongst those from North Africa it was 29,6%; amongst hose from North Africa between the ages of 15 and 24 it was 50,6% (INSEE,1994). The same inquiry made in March 2000 showed that these ratios had not changed. The unemployment rate of foreigners (20%) is double the global rate (10%) and triple (30%) if immigrants from the European Union are not taken into account. […]

“As for the inquiry into fiscal revenue carried out by the INSEE (1997), it showed that 7% of households in France live below the poverty rate, but this figure grows to 25% for households whose head has Algerian, Moroccan or Tunisian citizenship (Hourriez et al., 2001). Furthermore, this situation is only getting worst. In the Paris region (Île-de-France), were roughly 12% of foreigners live, they accounted for 18% of the poorest households in 1978. In 1996 this proportion had grown to 32% (Observatoire national
de la pauvreté et de l’exclusion sociale, 2002 : 80-81).

“Logically, this poor population is concentrated in neighbourhoods which are touched by city policies (Castellan et al., 1992). In 1992, slightly more than 500 neighbourhoods with slightly more than 3 million residents were the object of city contracts. Their main demographic characteristics were the overrepresentation of foreigners (18%, that is to say three times more that on the entire metropolitan territory), young people under 20 years of age (7,5%, as opposed to 3,2% on he entire metropolitan territory). More noteworthy, in these neighbourhoods 21,6% of young people under the age of 15 were foreigners (as opposed t 7% in the entire metropolitan territory). Almost 4.5 million people live in the “sensitive urban zones” created by the Urban Renewal Pact (1996), with basically similar characteristics, with the notable exception of youth unemployment, which has grown significantly in the 1990s (Le Toqueux et Moreau, 2002).”

[source: Délinquance et immigration en France: un regard sociologique, Laurent Mucchielli, Criminologie vol. 36 #2 (2003)]

Following World War II, France encouraged permanent immigration as a way to import cheap labour on terms favorable to capitalists. In 1973, as a result of the oil crisis, the government changed tack and adopted measures to discourage immigration, and make life more miserable for those who had already immigrated, in the hopes that they might leave. So according to the right-wing American Brookings Institute “one quarter of the foreigners who have entered France since 1990 have since left the country (220,000 out of 850,000 entries since 1990).”

All of this is to give the details as to how – as in the United States and Canada – when the newspapers talk about things having a “racial” dimension, or being the work of “foreigners,” this implies a certain class make-up. The riots were a rebellion against the structural racism of French society - they were a class rebellion, representing that section of the working class that suffers exploitation intensified by racism.

Political Background
A significant and disastrous phenomenon in French government politics over the past twenty years has been to use the National Front – indeed, to use the whole “fascist threat” – as something of a political football. Former Socialist Prime Minister Francois Mitterand is blamed by many for the success of Jean-Marie Le Pen and his National Front, for the existence of a far-right siphoned off voted from the RPR, long the Socialists’ prime rivals. Keeping the National Front alive was a way of splitting the right-wing vote.

Meanwhile, on the right as well as the left, there has been a long-term process of trying to “win back” or “win over” voters from the far-right by aping the “law and order” and anti-immigrant discourses of Le Pen. Throughout the early 1990s, for example, both left and right-wing politicians called for a “Zero Immigration” policy. This has been referred to by anti-fascists as the “lepenization of the mind,” meaning that racist and authoritarian ideas initially confined to the far-right become accepted and then championed by the “more mainstream” political parties.

Both of these ways in which the threat of fascism is exploited instead of being fought account for the fierce hostility that many militant anti-fascists in France feel not only for the right but also for the electoral left, as well as for “anti-racist” and “anti-fascist” groups associated with the Socialist Party.

In April 2002 most people were surprised when Le Pen came in second place in the “First Round” of the presidential elections, beating the Socialist Party candidate [and acting president] Lionel Jospin. France has a run-off election system, with two votes taking place: in the “First Round” all kinds of parties from the far-left to the far-right present themselves, and then the two front-runners square off in the “Second Round”. This was the first time that a far-right candidate like Le Pen managed to be the runner-up for president; his only opponent was Jacques Chirac (from the right-wing Rally for the Republic, or RPR political party).

The fact that the second round was now between Chirac and Le Pen caused most of the left to freak out, for fascism was suddenly just an election away.

On April 24th 2002 – 3 days after the First Round - 60,000 people took to the streets in anti-fascist demonstrations. On April 25th 250,000 people did so, and on April 27th 200,000 demonstrated against Le Pen (40,000 in Paris alone). Finally, on May 1st 1,300,000 people took part in Mayday demonstrations which were organized as anti-Le Pen protests.

When it came time to vote in the second round on May 5th, even the vast majority of leftists ended up voting for Chirac. Not without reservations – [according to Wikipedia] some people suggested going to the urns with a clothespin on the nose, to express disgust for the vote they were casting. A poster become popular, showing Chirac with the slogan "Vote for a Crook, not a Fascist." Anything – even a right-wing government with a corrupt president – was felt by many to be better than the National Front. This went not only for social-democrats and socialists, but also for members of the Communist Party, Trotskyists, and many anarchists.

In this way, although the vast majority of the French left did vote for Chirac in 2002, this did not stop the RPR candidate from campaigning on a “get tough on crime” (especially “immigrant crime”) platform. Support from the center-right and left being guaranteed, the RPR candidate had nothing to lose by fishing for votes from Le Pen’s ranks. Further compounding the rightwards rift, the electoral left chose to join the right in this repressive discourse.

Minister of the Interior Nicolas Sarkozy
The single demand that almost everybody – from rioters to concerned community members to the Socialist Party and community groups – has made is that Minister of the Interior Nicolas Sarkozy should resign. This is not a very radical demand, but it should be understood as being symbolic, for Sarkozy has made himself the champion of “law abiding France.”

Described by many as an “American-style” politician, Sarkozy is a slick sloganeer and clever opportunist. A right-wing personal rival to Chirac (he is expected to run in the 2007 presidential elections), he can be counted on to play to the crowd. Since becoming Minister of the Interior he has made one outrageous statement after another – calling young people from the suburbs “trash” and claiming that he would clean them out of their neighbourhoods “with Karcher” (a pressurized water machine used for removing dirt from the pavements). Since the rioting started Sarkozy has repeatedly stated that he would not back down, that the rioters were all thugs working for crime lords, that “75-80%” of them were already known to the authorities (out of roughly 2,000 arrested!), that the police were doing a wonderful job, etc.

More ominously, he has also announced that he intends to deport “foreigners” – even those with residency papers – who are convicted of participating in the riots. This would be purely vengeful repression, especially when one considers that most of those arrested seem to have been randomly swept up by police for being at the wrong place at the wrong time.

These statements have been condemned as “irresponsible” and “foolish” – at one point a police union even complained that Sarkozy was putting them in danger by fanning the flames in the suburbs (imagine: the cops complaining that a politician was too right wing!) – and Chirac is widely understood to have allowed the rebellion to continue unchecked for so long in the hopes that Sarkozy would suffer the political consequences. However, in my opinion Sarkozy’s statements have to be seen as more populist opportunism, for while they may do nothing to endear him to the rioters or their communities, they have made him ever more popular amongst the population at large. So much so that a poll printed in the Journal du Dimanche (November 13 2005) revealed that 53% of people surveyed thought Sarkozy was able to “deal with he problems in the suburbs,” as opposed to 29% who felt this way about Chirac (24% felt this way about Jean-Marie Le Pen). Three days later an Ipsos-Le Point poll found that an incredible 68% of those surveyed approved of how Nicolas Sarkozy had handled the riots well.

Chirac and Sarkozy have played political football with the riots. This is not to say that the riots were not a salutary rebellion, that we should not support them, but regardless of how widespread they were – with over 7,000 cars set on fire, sixteen nights of street-fighting, police stations and schools burnt down, etc. – they did not pose a military or political threat to France itself, or to capitalism. The different political players felt they could afford to try and manipulate them to their own ends, and Sarkozy clearly has come out ahead.

This said, the Communist Party (Marxist-Leninist-Maoist) has correctly observed that the focus on Sarkozy can easily become an alibi for the system, as the entire question of racism and class oppression gets replaced by opposing “this bad man.”

As the CP(MLM) correctly point out: “People’s power is not a matter of getting rid of Sarkozy the Minister of the Interior, but rather of getting rid of the entire State.”

A Rebellion To Clear a Path
The rebellion of immigrant youth throughout France must be understood in this way: a population of very young people who realistically cannot expect anything good in their future have risen up against an intolerable existence. In their case, democracy’s trump card of offering some kind of mediation or way out, just was not played. Already, as teenagers from immigrant communities, they experience regular and blatantly unfair police harassment and violence. The State does not even pretend to offer them any realistic way to a better life. The left has little or nothing to offer them, indeed the electoral (or “realistic”) left has long been openly complicit in the worst racism. Furthermore, one has the impression that the radical white left is stymied in its attempts to set down roots amongst these most oppressed sections of the population, in part because of an incoherent approach to the entire question of integration/assimilation.

At the same time that there is no way out, the actual situation is getting worst, for the racist and authoritarian attitudes and policies of government and French electorate seem to become more and more pronounced all the time.

Furthermore, despite ridiculous assertions in the media about Al Qaeda and “immigrant cultures,” neither the religious authorities nor the rioters’ parents have encouraged or participated in this rebellion. There have been many reports – certainly exaggerated, it is true – of parents holding vigils and patrolling trying to keep their children from participating in the rebellion. And within a few days of the first clashes, the Union of Islamic Organizations of France issued a religious decree (a fatwa) formally forbidding Moslems “from taking part in an action that blindly strikes at private or public property or could harm others.”

So, clichéd as it may sound, this rebellion has no leaders, nor even any superstars.

The State of Emergency
For the first two weeks, every night brought with it more intense attacks in more and more cities. While the violence was always mainly confined to the heavily-immigrant and working class suburbs, other areas were also effected, and certainly other people joined in the rioting. Rioting spread not only outside of the Paris suburban ring, but even outside of France: in Belgium, Portugal, Germany and Denmark there were reports of cars being set on fire at night, and Molotov cocktails were thrown at some particularly detestable institutions.

Finally, on November 9th, after being widely criticized for “allowing” things to go on so long, president Chirac declared a State of Emergency, based on a law from 1954. As the militant anti-fascist No Pasaran network writes, the State of Emergency is “part of a process of racializing social relationships. A process that has been playing out on a global level for many years now, and which in France is basing itself on colonial ideas that some wish to bring back. This decree has only been used twice before: in Algeria and New Caledonia. Using it now is a way of presenting the present situation as one of warfare, of cultural and ethnic minorities breaking up the country (like the ‘lost territories of the Republic’ that all kinds of patriots moan about). This is a clear message: if not legally so, then the suburbs are at least de facto colonies, due to their ‘ethnic makeup’ which supposedly makes them unable to be integrated into French society.”

As the Federation Anarchiste notes, the State of Emergency is a “fundamental threat to public freedoms. The law allows prefects to simply decide whether or not to impose a curfew; it sanctions police raids by night or by day, forbids people deemed threatening from visiting the area or forbids them to leave their home, allows them to ban public assemblies, close cinemas, theatres, coffeehouses, meeting places, and also control the media – including the press, the radio, television or the internet.”

(France is divided into 100 “Departments,” each of which has its own prefect in charge of applying the government’s decisions, maintaining public order, holding elections, managing drivers permits, etc. Prefects can be dismissed and replaced by the president at any time.)

Once the State of Emergency came into effect prefects in several departments imposed curfews of minors, as well as banned the sale of gasoline in containers. In Paris on the weekend of h 12th-13th the prefect banned all public demonstrations deemed likely to trouble the peace.

The 1954 law allowed the State of Emergency to be imposed for three days, but on November 16th the senate approved an amendment extending it for three months. This despite the fact that the government and police were insisting that the violence had largely abated.

The State of Emergency is something of a lightning rod for all manner of progressive organizations, not only revolutionaries. It is widely felt that this is a decisive infringement on political freedoms. It has been pointed out, though, that young working class kids in the suburbs were already having their “political freedoms” violated to such an extent that in and of itself this is not going to mean a big change for them.

Nevertheless, three months is a long time, and what the State of Emergency will mean, and how it will be applied, will depend on many different factors.

The Revolutionary Left
While some stupid hypocrites on the left (sorry, some might prefer words like “reformist” or “revisionist” which i think are too inexact) claimed that the rioting was “apolitical” or “irrational,” it was in fact selective (symbols of the State, businesses, and cars being the main things set on fire) and understood by everyone who cared to open their eyes to be a rebellion against the miserable living conditions in the suburbs.

This does not mean that every act that anybody committed during the first two weeks of November should automatically be granted a revolutionary seal of approval. There is nothing laudatory about the case of the disabled woman who was severely burnt when she could not escape a bus that rioters had set on fire, or the retired autoworker who was killed when he tried to put out fires rioters had set. Such attacks have no progressive content, but to condemn them without noting that horrible anti-social violence like that also occurs when nobody is rioting is to risk seriously distorting their meaning. That only a handful of violent attacks against bystanders have made the news during almost three weeks of violent rebellion involving tens if not hundreds of thousands of people is what is actually remarkable.

Yet even when it was sympathetic, the left was slow to respond to events. From what I have seen, the two main Trotskyist organizations (Ligue Communiste Revolutionnaire and Lutte Ouvriere) were not only slow to respond, but also failed to appreciate that the riots might be something more than a random and dumb revolt.

Not that many anarchists or socialists seemed to know what to make of the largest rebellion in decades either. Notable exceptions were the CNT-AIT, CNT-F and Alternative Libertaire (amongst the anarchists) and the tiny Communist Party (Marxist-Leninist-Maoist). But even amongst these, only the CP(MLM) seemed to initially grasp the import of the events as they transpired. And apart from issuing communiqués, there is no news of practical solidarity being extended on anything but an ad hoc or personal basis. People who have shown up at courthouses to extend solidarity to the rioters have noted that most of the “regulars” at such solidarity appearances are nowhere to be seen.

Anarchist responses seem to run the gamut from “Long live riots!” (many individual postings on the Indymedia sites) to a circle-a echo of the social democrats, decrying the irrationality of the riots while acknowledging that they are the byproduct of real suffering.

With the exception of the CP(MLM), i have not read anything by an groups in France that actually consider the rioters to be the vanguard or the most important agent of revolutionary change in the current context. Most merely suggest that the rioters should ally with or join up with radical trade unionists or other established (and predominantly “French”!) left-wing sectors.

Future Perspective
The Communist Party (Marxist-Leninist-Maoist), a small group with fairly good politics, has stated that the riots represent “the beginning of the long march to revolution.”

This is great news if true, and one does not want to piss on anyone’s parade – especially given the recent spectacle of the entire left being caught completely off guard – but this “first step to revolution” seems unlikely, except perhaps in a symbolic sense. (In which case any major offensive of the part of the oppressed can be described as such a “first step.”)

At the same time the CP(MLM) claim that the State of Emergency represents a decisive “step towards fascism.” Again, certainly an exaggeration – fascism is more than martial law, and the State of Emergency is definitely less than that – but taken together, these predictions mean that they see the riots as polarizing the country.

In this I believe they are definitely correct.

On the side of the State, there are already a number of worrisome developments, apart from the State of Emergency. As already noted, the Minister of the Interior has already announced that “foreigners” will face deportation if they are found to have participated in the riots. He has also announced that there will be a much heavier police presence in the suburbs. President Chirac has announced that a “voluntary” period of national service will be established, and there are already calls to make it mandatory. There have also been several calls to cut welfare payments to parents whose children are convicted of participating in the riots.

“On the side of the State” should be understood as widely as possible. Almost seven out of ten people in France fully approve of their cowboy Minister of the Interior. A majority approve of the State of Emergency. Barely reported, since the riots began there have been a number of attacks against mosques throughout France. Support for the far-right, represented electorally by Jean-Marie Le Pen’s National Front and Philippe de Villiers’ Movement for France, has grown, and this in a context where Le Pen had already pierced the Second Round in the 2002 elections. What we are really talking about is a lurch to the right.

If the right is capitalizing on this situation, it can be assumed that on the radical left the riots will lead some people to deepen their commitment and the level of their struggle. So a degree of polarization is likely, and this could be a good thing, though barring some new surprise it could also be a very bad thing.

Seeing as the left was taken completely by surprise, and has only the most unsatisfactory of relationships to the young people who set off this rebellion, there is some hesitation in maintaining my characteristic pessimism. One cannot deny the possibility of being caught off guard again – though one should also remember that not all surprises are good ones.

Nevertheless, it is undeniable that the decisive factor will certainly not be found in either the ranks of the left nor on the side of the State, but rather amongst the people who participated in the riots, and those who like them live and struggle in the suburbs.

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The Rape of Inuit Women in the mainstream media

The following article from the Journal de Montreal – the trashiest daily paper in Montreal – nevertheless deals with the very important subject of sexual violence against First Nations women. Of course, they wouldn’t mention colonialism, residential schools, racism, or anything like that… but then, y’know, i looked around and none of the other papers newspapers were even covering this, nor could i find (though i imagine there must be some) links to left-wing or feminist reporting about the rise of sexual assaults reported to police in Nunavik.
So, with the feeling one gets when quoting the right-wing press, here i have translated the article… please send feedback and better sources of information!
(i actually did find a few links, though none specifically dealing with the increase in sexual violence complaints in Nunavik – i listed these links at the end of this posting.)


Unheard of Levels of Rape!

By Jean-Philippe Pineault, Sunday November 13th 2005

The has been a explosion in the number of sexual assaults in the Inuit villages of Nunavik, in Quebec’s Great North, where 36 times as many rapes have been reported than in the rest of Quebec. This is unheard of!

The flood has reached dangerous levels this year. The Regional Police of Kativik has noted a dramatic rise in the number of sexual assaults.

Whereas the police registered 61 complaints in 2003 and 91 last year, over 130 assaults have taken place in this area where just 7,500 Native people live. So in just three years the number of assaults has more than doubled.

Given that these figures only take into account the first eight months of 2005, it is not unreasonable to expect that the total number of assaults may top the 160 mark, thinks Lucien Brassard, co-director of the police.

In comparison, in the province of Quebec there are roughly 70 rapes for every 100,000 people. In the Great North it is over 2,600 assaults per 100,000 people.

The Tip of the Iceberg

“It is really crazy!” says the only crown prosecutor in Nunavik, Suzanne Ricard.

“Sexual assaults here have become like public drunkenness in Montreal,” she says. “It accounts for 80% of my criminal cases.”

And this is just the tip of the iceberg. With the rule of silence that reigns in Inuit communities, very few women denounce their aggressor.

“The true numbers are unbelievable,” says Carole Tremblay, of the Centre de l’Aide et de Lutte aux Aggressions à Caractère Sexuel (CALACAS).

“These are small villages and everyone knows each other,” she says. “There is family pressure for the women to not say anything.”

In comparison, only one in ten women who are sexually assaulted in Quebec file a complaint. The numbers are much lower amongst the Inuit.

A Cycle of Violence

Zoe Brabant, who has worked for five years as a nurse in Nunavik, claims that women are taking big risks if they choose to denounce their aggressor.

“These communities are very tightly woven, and a woman who filed a complaint would sort of be obliged to leave,” she explained. “But where can she go?”

“The worst part of it, is that people there don’t even see it as a problem” according to Liliane Archambault, a nurse a Kuujjuaq. “It is trialized, and so the cycle of violence continues.”

And when a victim does file a complaint, it is not rare for her to withdraw it the next day, complains a police officer who spoke on condition of anonymity.

“We are offering a guard service,” he said. “We lock him up for the night, but the next day he is released.”

  • 95% of sexual assault victims in Nunavik are Inuit. Almost half are minors.

Other Resources
(compiled by Kersplebedeb, NOT the
Journal de Montreal!)

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The three-month extension of the State of emergency is proof that the long march to people’s power has begun

The three-month extension of the State of emergency is proof that the long march to people’s power has begun.

It is also proof that those who did not dare open their mouths prior to the State of Emergency do not want a protracted people’s rebellion, a revolutionary long march.


Three months more. That which was supposed to be temporary has become permanent. That which was supposed to be an exceptional situation had become the norm.

The nightmare of the petit bourgeoisie has become reality. The capitalist crisis has is at the point of no return, the point where the clash of class against class begins.

The State, which was overwhelmed from the very start, takes on class the class struggle in the same way that it always has in the past: with greater and more militarized violence.

This in does not bother the French bourgeoisie in the least, for it has been used to popular uprisings since the Paris Commune of 1871.

But for those parties which represent the interests of the petit bourgeoisie, this represents a complete break down.

An initial proof of this break down was that these parties did not open their mouths until the curfew was imposed.

From the Greens to the Trotskyist and anarchist paper revolutionaries [please see translators note below], nobody dared to say a thing so long as the rebellion looked like it was still growing.

This shows the class nature of this position – like Alain Krivine of the LCR [translators note : Ligue Revolutionnaire Communiste  - Revolutionary Communist League – an important Trotskyist organization] who talks to the social-chauvinist Marianne magazine; he does not talk about fighting the police or the necessity of one day moving towards an insurrection, but rather how he went on “rounds” with his neighbours to protect his building from the violence in Saint-Denis.

For in any case, as he said, “no political organization can be seen amongst these young people.”

The second proof of this break down is that these parties all threw themselves into a big movement against the State of Emergency, trying to bring about another holy union, just like for the “No” vote against the constitution.

Not only was nobody fooled into following their lead, but the State even extended the State of Emergency, showing that what they represented socially did not even exist.

All of the illusions of the petit bourgeoisie about reforming “neo-liberalism,” about “another world,” etc. have all flown out the window.

At a time when the popular rebellion is at the point of confronting the State :

  • should we carry out more agitation and propaganda to overthrow capitalism, or else should we criticize a State of Emergency that aims to “camouflage the social blight caused by years of neo-liberal policies in the service of the MEDEF” (LCR) [translator’s note: the MEDEF is an important French employers’ association]

  • should we explain the nature of the state, its COMPLETE submission to the bourgeoisie, or else should we organize “a big demonstration during the coming days against the escalation of security and repression by Chirac/de Villepin/Sarkozy.” (LCR)?

The truth is that the petit bourgeoisie sees its dreams of having some role going up in smoke. From now on, in order to exist it will have to ally with the bourgeoisie, tilting towards fascism. The rebellion has swept aside any “conciliatory” or “reformist” option to deflate the class struggle.

They hoped to manipulate the masses by leading them into a “citizen’s” “republican” initiative against the State of Emergency, all trade union demands.

This deception was met with indifference, showing the high level of mass consciousness in regards to these miserable proposals that would betray the people’s rebellion.

A people’s rebellion that has been welcomed by the most conscious elements in all of the capitalist countries, from Athens to Montreal, and even in Africa, Asia and Latin America.

A people’s rebellion that has made the European Union tremble, the head of the commission José Manuel Barroso proposing that the EU immediately donate “50 million Euros right away” to France, a sum which could eventually be increased to as much as one billion Euros, to show how concerned it is.

A people’s rebellion that is set to last, because the quiet that is descending is merely the calm before tomorrow’s storm.

The masses are doing a good job of applying the principal of people’s struggle: “the enemy advances, we withdraw; the enemy stops, we harass him; he retreats, we pursue him.”

The rebellion has drawn a clear line of demarcation.
There are those like Lutte Ouvrier [translators note: a Trotskyist organization] who believe that “This explosion of violence is sterile. Setting fire to cars that belong to your parents or neighbours, setting fire to buses which serve the people’s neighbourhoods, looting schools, these just show that those who are carry out these acts are lacking a social conscience and sense of solidarity.” (Arlette Laguiller).
And there are those who believe that this is the long-awaited start of the long march to destroy the State – for communism!
Communist Party (Marxist-Leninist Maoist) November 2005

Translator’s note: When the CP(MLM) refer to “Trotskyist and anarchist paper revolutionaries,” the wording makes it unclear if they mean “those Trotskyists and anarchists who are paper revolutionaries” or that all anarchists and Trotskyists are “paper revolutionaries.” One can only note, in this regard, that different anarchist organizations have held different points of view, some more similar to those describes as petit bourgeois, and some more similar to the very perspective put forward by the CP(MLM). To give just one example: the Montreal demonstration in support of the rioters alluded to later in this text was in fact organized by anarchists.

Please note that the above text about the past weeks’ riots in France comes from the website of the Communist Party (Marxist-Leninist Maoist) in France and translated by yours truly. I have a “fast and loose” translation philosophy, meaning that when there is a choice between readability and the original phraseology i tend to favour the former, provided that the meaning stays the same. The original document can be seen in French.

Please also note that i am translating this as i have not been able to find any radical accounts of the riots or the police racism that provoked them in English… i do not necessarily agree with the PCMLM’s point of view, nor do they necessarily agree with mine. Si quelqu’un a un meilleur texte à suggérer, svp envoyez-moi le!

For background to the riots, including a timeline, check out the Wikipedia entry.

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The revolt of France’s “low-class scum” lights up the sky

A World to Win News Service, 7 November 2005
The rulers of France are facing their worst crisis in decades. Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin has invoked a half-century old law that has not been used since France’s colonial war in Algeria, allowing local authorities to declare a state of emergency and impose a curfew forbidding anyone to be on the streets at certain hours. Although de Villepin ruled out turning to the army at this point, his critics point out that once such measures are imposed, they can be taken as a challenge, and if sufficient force is not used to enforce them, the government could find its situation deteriorating still further. The problem, for them, is a revolt by the people France’s Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy called not human beings at all but racaille, rabble or low-class scum. The once-voiceless youth from the cités (housing estates or projects) have put themselves at the centre of events, and forced everyone else to define themselves in relation to them.

Shortly after he took his present job, Sarkozy declared “war without mercy” against the “riffraff” in France’s suburbs. He said he would take a Karcher, a high-pressure water hose most famously used to wash dog excrement off sidewalks and streets, to “clean out” the cités, home to much of the immigrant population and the lower section of the working class of all nationalities. This was not just talk. He unleashed his police to harass and humiliate youth even more than usual. It is common for young men walking down the street alone at night to be suddenly jumped by a carload of cops for an “identity check” that often means getting thrown on the ground, handcuffed if they open their mouth to protest, and slapped around. In recent weeks, the police have sharply stepped up this persecution. From time to time youths responded by burning cars at random, something that has become a common act of rebellion in France in recent years.

Their smouldering anger first burst into flames on 27 October in Clichy-sous-Bois, a suburb to the east of Paris formerly considered a quiet town. A group of young teenagers were coming home after an afternoon spent playing football. Later the police claimed that someone had tried to break into a construction site office in a vacant lot that lay in their path, although there are no offices on the lot, or anything of value. A carload of police showed up – the BAC, a special brigade whose job is to brutalise cité youth. The kids ran. Three of them tried to escape by climbing over a metre and a half-high wall. Several youth who had been arrested earlier and were being held in other police cars overheard the cops’ communications. One cop radioed in a report, saying they had seen some teenagers climbing over the wall into an electrical power substation. “They’re in mortal danger,” he said. “Well,” came the response, “they won’t get far.” Almost an hour later, the firemen’s rescue squad showed up and finally had the current cut off. They found two boys dead, and a third severely hurt.

Small groups of youth burned rubbish bins and cars and threw rocks and bottles at police that night. The next afternoon there was a silent march in solidarity with the families of the two dead youth, Bouna Traore and Zyed Benna. The media described them as 15 and 17 years old, although some local people say both were younger than reported. Bouna, whose family came from Mauritania, was known as a good soccer player. Zyed, of Tunisian origin, was considered a nice kid by older neighbours because he offered to run errands for them. The next night saw more local outbreaks on about the same level as the previous one.
In the following days, Sarkozy helicoptered into a nearby town – local youth say he didn’t dare come to Clichy. Striking his most macho pose, he ranted about “hoodlums” and racaille in what his critics and supporters alike took as a deliberate provocation. On 31 October, the police fired a tear gas grenade into a mosque crowded with worshippers celebrating an important night of Ramadan, the Muslim holy month. The effects lingered for the rest of the week. The authorities refused to apologize for anything. The parents of the two dead boys stood firm in the face of government efforts to conciliate them.

Instead of dying out after the weekend, the flames grew higher and spread. Hundreds of cars were burned and scores of people detained every night. A week later, as the fighting died down here, an even bigger clash between youth and police took place in nearby Aulnay-sous-Bois. Small groups of very young teenagers set cars on fire in some 20 towns around Paris, many of them in department 93, east and north of the capital. A police station, an unemployment office, big and little stores, two schools and a bus depot were burned down. By Friday 5 November, 900 cars had been burned in the Paris region; the next night flames consumed 500 cars in the Paris region and nearly 800 more in half a dozen cities across France from north to south.
With one possible exception, a retired autoworker killed in his parking lot in murky circumstances, there have been very few reports of the youth deliberately attacking ordinary people of any nationality in the cités or anywhere else, although a handful of bystanders have been hurt. In fact, there seems to be much less fighting between youth of different neighbourhoods than usual. The targets of the youth are very clear and not at all random in the broad sense: the police, the government and anything seen as its representatives, and the prevailing social order. Burning cars is a form of disorder and challenge to authority that the forces of order, as they call themselves in France, cannot tolerate.

The police answered with water cannons – Sarkozy’s Karcher, and especially rubber bullets, along with tear gas and clubs. Youth say the “flash ball” bullets really hurt, especially in the face or neck. On 4 November, for the first time in France, helicopters hovered just over the rooftops of massive public housing complexes in Paris and at least one other city. They shined searchlights onto walkways and into apartment windows, filming everything and coordinating mobile squads of police. But the tactics of the authorities have gone through stages. At first there were not many arrests. The police would sweep up everyone they could catch at a given scene, and later release most of them. The authorities seemed to be hoping the youth would lose heart, and worried about further inflaming them. Almost a week and a half later, with the youth becoming bolder than ever, Sarkozy proclaimed, “Arrests – that’s the key.” After that, hundreds were taken into custody every night. By 7 November about 20 had already been sentenced to prison and 30 more were awaiting trial for what the government threatens will be very serious charges. According to official figures, half of those in jail at that point were under 18, and almost all under 25.
The authorities are howling that the youth are “using real guns”, which would be unusual in France. In the only such incident reported, police in Grigny, south of Paris, said they were “ambushed” by groups of young men with baseball bats and guns. It turned out that two officers were slightly wounded by non-lethal birdshot. The police claimed they had found an empty real rifle shell on the ground afterward. This may be a way for the state to justify the use on their part of far more deadly force.
An editorial in the so-called leftist daily Libération claimed that the fighting is being “organised” by “gang kingpins eager to clear out the police so they can deal drugs, and by imams seeking cannon fodder for their jihad.” As far as the first charge is concerned, the press itself has quoted cité residents pointing out that serious dealers are not going to organise anything that disturbs business. As a man from Aulnay said, “It’s the state that’s very happy to see drugs flood into the ghettos.” The underground economy in all forms thrives in the cités, but that’s not what lies behind this outbreak.

Some politicians claim to see the hand of Al-Qaeda behind it all, which is a coded way of saying that the proper response to these youth’s actions is a bloodbath. But even the charge that it is a consciously Islamic upsurge or that imams are leading it is totally wrong. Muslim leaders in the cités have been sending out their followers to try and pour water on the outbreaks since the beginning. Even if they sympathise with the youth against the government, they are against what they consider unruly behaviour. The Union of French Islamic Organisations issued a fatwa (religious ruling) forbidding all Muslims to participate in or contribute to “any action that blindly hits private or public property or could constitute an attack on someone’s life.”
The French government’s attitude toward Islam is two-faced. It attacks the rights of Muslims under the guise of secularism. It banned women wearing a head covering from entering a school – as if depriving observant young Muslim women of an education is anything but racism and more oppression of women. At the same time, Sarkozy has spent great efforts to pull the imams under the government’s wing, so that the government presides over their appointment and financing, and in some ways turn them into an organised arm of the state to be used to control immigrant communities. In Aulnay, a woman remarked, “Every time something like this happens they build a new mosque. That’s not what all of us want.”
The basic problem with this revolt, as far as the powers that be are concerned, is not who is behind it, but that no one is. No one started it, so there is no one to call it off. The foreign media have exaggerated certain aspects of the fighting. There have been few full-scale pitched battles, and even the hit-and-run actions have left very few police seriously injured. Most youth most of the time seem to be avoiding head-on confrontations they feel they can’t win. The reason for the French government’s crisis is that whatever Sarkozy thought he was doing, the situation has gotten out of his or anyone else’s control. It has turned out to be not proof of the power of the state’s steel hand, as Sarkozy may have hoped, but of its limits and of the power of the streets. The state has been unable to stop these disturbances so far. Not only have their efforts failed; they have just fanned the flames, and worse, spread burning oil to every part of the country. Their state itself is not in danger, but the youth are contesting their authority.
The Minister of the Interior’s CRS, the national riot police, are said to be stretched thin and tiring. Significantly, an emergency meeting of ministers on 4 November included not only Sarkozy and the various ministers responsible for aspects of life in France’s ghettos, but also the Defence Minister. Calling out the army, however, may not be a solution either, especially in the longer run. In one town in department 93, a shopkeeper who was critical of the youths for destroying property explained why he thought the government was hesitant to bring in the regular armed forces. “If the army comes it, that’s it. I’m shutting down and so will every other shopkeeper in 93. No one will stand for that.” In fact, extreme hostility to such a government action would extend far more broadly than the department and its shopkeepers. It might create a polarisation in which many people who do not stand with the youth now would consider the government unacceptable. For historical reasons that have to do with the French state’s collaboration with the Nazi occupation and with the French colonial war in Algeria and the May 1968 revolt that rocked the country, dislike of the forces of order runs particularly broad and deep in France.

This crisis has had contradictory effects on the ruling classes and what in France is called “the political class”, those who take turns running the government. It has set them against one another at some moments, and pulled them apart at others. At first Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin tried to distance himself from his Interior Minister, Sarkozy, a political rival whom he criticised for using intemperate language. For the first few days and to some extent afterward, President Jacques Chirac distanced himself from both of them with his silence. Criticism of Sarkozy’s language even came from one of Sarkozy’s fellow cabinet members, the token Arab junior minister for “Equal Opportunities”. One of the several police unions called for Sarkozy to shut up because he was endangering cops. But a week or ten days later, very few establishment figures had anything bad to say about Sarkozy in public – his big mouth had become the least of their worries.

The youth are demanding Sarkozy’s resignation. That demand is almost universally repeated by people from immigrant backgrounds and very widely supported by people of all nationalities in the cités and far more broadly, including a large part of the middle class. Sarkozy is the most open face of repression, a man who styles himself as an “American”-style politician in the sense of a boastfully reactionary bully who doesn’t try to hide it. That suits his position as Interior Minister, which is probably why his rivals gave him that office. His job is to represent the hard edge of the state against the people, using force against not only immigrants and their children but also strikers, and imposing repression in general. Maybe at first de Villepin and Chirac were hoping that Sarkozy’s arrogance would be his downfall. But no one in the political class could accept a situation in which the racaille drove the country’s chief cop from office.
The Socialist Party doesn’t dare try to take political advantage of the situation to reverse their own decline, at least right now, even though their rank and file would welcome going after Sarkozy. Their leaders argue that “restoring calm” is a precondition for even talking about anything else and explicitly refused to join the call for his resignation.

The revisionist Communist Party is no less unhappy with the situation. They try to heap all the blame on Sarkozy and the right, as if when they were in power the so-called “left” parliamentary parties didn’t take the same stance toward the cité youth (a Socialist education minister called them “savages”) – and more importantly, as if during their many years in office these parties didn’t help make French society what it is today. The party does call for Sarkozy’s resignation, but at the same time it has distanced itself far away from the cité youth. Asked on radio if youth who burn cars are “victims or offenders,” party head Marie-Georges Buffet quickly answered, “Offenders.” Her party’s press called the rebellion “the disastrous result of disastrous policies.” They clamour for an “investigation” of the death of the two boys, as if the facts weren’t clear enough – as if this were not clearly a case of right and wrong and the people had not already reached a verdict. While CP elected officials held a “peace” demonstration in front of the Prime Minister’s offices, their local forces tried to organise “peace” demonstrations in working class neighbourhoods. In the last weeks youth have risen up in towns run by Socialist, Communist and rightwing mayors without distinction because which party is in power makes no difference in their lives.
The truth is that France has seen far too many years of “calm” in the face of oppression and the kind of “peace” that comes from the downtrodden accepting their fate. What’s so good about quietly accepting the kind of life imposed not only on these youth but on the great majority of people in France? Violence within the ranks of the people seems to be at a low point right now and the spirits of the youth are soaring. Their rebellion is not a “disaster”. It is very good. It represents fresh air amid political and social suffocation – something positive amid a pervasive atmosphere of cynicism and just putting-your-head-down-and-trying-to-get-by that has prevailed for far too long since the defeat of the May 1968 rebellion and the betrayal of people’s hopes represented by the Socialist-led and revisionist-supported Mitterrand government. These youth want to fight, not vote – and they are going up against the predominant idea that nothing can be changed in a country where the electorate united against the openly fascist candidate Jean-Marie Le Pen a few years ago, only to elect Chirac and get Sarkozy. Whatever mistakes the youth may be making, this rebellion represents the best hope that France has seen in decades for a different kind of society.
Is important to note that one of the main carrots offered by Prime Minister Villepin, who plays the “good cop” to Sarkozy’s stick, is a programme that would allow youth to leave school at age 14, instead of 16, so that they can start working as “apprentices” in below-minimum wage jobs of the dead-end kind reserved for school dropouts. In other words, the best that is being promised them is more or less what their parents endured, when their parents endured that in the hopes that their children would get something better. What the phoney socialists and revisionists refuse to admit is that even if the capitalists and their government wanted to, they couldn’t offer these youth decent jobs and still employ them profitably. That’s why the ruling classes consider the unemployed and especially the immigrants and their children “useless” people to be suppressed and gotten rid of to the extent possible. Sarkozy’s policies are an expression of this underlying economic reality.

The often-heard complaint among mainstream and even many “far left” “political people” that these youth are “apolitical” is one-sided and mainly nonsense, although these youth have not gained the conscious understanding that would be necessary for them to go further, even in the limited sense of having a clear understanding of the nature of their enemies and seeking allies against them. It is not “apolitical” to reject the only life the system can offer them – it is breaking with the bourgeois definition of what politics are allowed and whether the starting point of politics is, as another article in Libération said, the “recognition” that the present system is the only possible one. In fact, not only have the youth refused to accept the circumstances in which they themselves are imprisoned, they pay more real attention to key world affairs such as in Iraq and Palestine, or at least feel them more deeply, than many of their elders who have let their opposition to imperialist crimes go soft because “their” government tries to appear uninvolved.

These youth are neither “victims” nor “offenders”. They have become makers of history, taking action on a scale that no one else has in a country where the majority feel ground down at best. They have stormed onto the stage of political life that has been forbidden to them. There is a consensus among mainstream political parties and the tolerated opposition that this outbreak should be stifled and/or crushed, but above all ended – quickly. These youth are struggling to awaken, in a country full of sleepers, and it’s about time.

“A World To Win News Service” is run by the Committee of the Revolutionary Internationalist Movement. Although I have mainly focused on making English translations of French texts available on my blog, this article is a good synopsis, so I have decided to include it. It can be viewed online here.

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