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France: whereís the alternative?

HAVING READ Karl Debbautís excellent article in Socialism Today No. 97 (France: riots, repression and more neo-liberalism) I would like to contribute a couple of small points.

At the height of the riots the French president, Jacques Chirac, appeared on television and scornfully dismissed the idea that the rioting neighbourhoods and their inhabitants should receive any special treatment. It was unnecessary, he said, because the rioters, mostly second and third generation North Africans known as Beurs, are French citizens and all French citizens are equal. This statement shows how removed the French political class are from reality. The government has no understanding of or points of contact with these modern day ghettos, a trait that worries the capitalist class in France who can no longer trust their political representatives to deal with such problems.

Chiracís statement also revealed the limited scope for economic aid given the state of the French economy and government finances, though some money has now been found under the pressure of events.

Those participating in the riots repeatedly threw back in Chiracís face his assertion about their status as French citizens. Beurs, they said, were constantly discriminated against and were denied decent housing and education. Without exception they said they did not feel French, did not have equality, and were not treated with respect.

Time and again, during the riots, it became apparent that apart from the generalized feelings of discrimination and deprivation there was no specific set of demands and no recognized leadership. In the absence of an intervention from left political and trade union leaderships, who are probably as perplexed as Chirac and the government about how to deal with the issues, the action was bound to peter out in a mixture of exhaustion, frustration and disillusionment.

The issues highlighted by the riots have not been resolved, however, and will not go away. There is, ticking away, a time bomb which will go off without warning. The question is whether there is a political force in France capable of linking up the grievances of the Beurs and the French working class generally, whose conditions are under attack. On current evidence the answer in the immediate future is no. As in Britain there is need for developing a new mass party of the working class. The riots on the one hand and the size of Le Penís party following on the other, emphasises the importance and urgency of this question for the French working class.

Terry Adams,

Tarn, France

 


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