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Hollande’s declaration of  “war” threatens the French working class

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“France is at war,” declared President François Hollande after the barbaric massacre in the centre of Paris – adding that it will be pitiless. War - but against whom? For sure, in Paris alone, 16,000 police are on the streets. Reinforced military squads patrol the airports, train stations and other focal points. But, of course, this is not enough to characterise the situation as a war.
 
In a sense, however, there is some truth in Hollande’s statement. As in any imperialist war, truth, democracy and elementary civil rights are the first victims. By declaring the State of Emergency in the whole country, Hollande has used for the first time since 1961 another weapon out of the formidable reactionary toolbox of the Fifth Republic. In 1961, it was aimed against Algerian FLN activists, and led to a barbaric massacre of between 40 and 200 demonstrators in the centre of Paris, deliberately perpetrated by police. A State of Emergency was also declared in 1995, but only for the banlieues, the immigrant and working class areas around Paris and other cities.
 
By declaring “war”, Hollande, whose popularity reached a record low, under 20 per cent, in polls before the events, is trying to build a sentiment of national unity behind his leadership. Confronted with the economic crisis, the growing unemployment, and the lack of perspective for any improvement in the situation of million of workers, he is trying to play the card of nationalism to regain some credibility. However, he not only appeals to the sense of patriotism, but also borrows vocabulary and measures from both the conservative party, the Republicans (ex-UMP, Sarkozy’s party) and from the Front National.

For example, he proclaimed the “closure of the borders” in his speech, odd since the majority of the perpetrators of the Paris attacks were French citizens and the rest Belgians. “National frontier control” is a demand of Front National, for whom all the evil comes from outside. Another measure that Hollande has proposed is to “strip ” French nationality from bi-national citizens involved in terrorist acts. Of course, the practical impact of this measure is not only of doubtful constitutional legality but probably has close to zero effect. But this is not the point. This measure has been previously proposed by FN and later picked up by Sarkozy. Its real meaning is to paint the millions of French Muslims and immigrants from Northern Africa and other countries of the former French colonial empire as potential terrorists. Whilst these communities already face racism from the state, the bosses and racist parties, they will have to endure even more oppression and reactionary state attacks from now on.
 
After the events, a wave of islamophobia has indeed been unleashed. Muslims have been insulted, even attacked, just because they were wearing traditional costumes. Muslim-owned shop and mosques have been attacked. None of this made it into the official media which has subjected itself to self-imposed censorship and propagates a fake image of national unity.
 
What does it all mean?
 
The State of Emergency gives exceptional powers to the police. These include the possibility to forbid demonstrations and to forbid movement of persons in certain zones. The police can search private homes without judicial control, day or night, and confine citizens to their homes with the obligation to go several times per day to a police station.
 
Indeed, with a simple letter to the Council of Europe, the French government has stated that it will no longer observe the European Convention of Human Rights and its basic tenets like: the right to a fair trial, the respect of privacy, freedom of expression, freedom of meeting and association. All this in the country that glorifies itself by pretending to be the very home of human rights!
 
Since this measure came into force, more than 2,000 searches have been made. In many instances, violations of elementary rights have been reported. Doors, including those of a mosque, have been destroyed by the police for no reason, furniture and other objects have been vandalised, residents have been cuffed, some have been injured. In many cases, they have been terrorised and subjected to humiliating treatment, to the point that the interior minister has reminded prefects that “rights” do need to be respected.
 
These measures can be applied to “every person against whom there are serious reasons to think that his behaviour constitutes a threat to public security and order”. As no justification is required, practically everybody in the country could be involved. These searches have targeted very broad layers: simply observant Muslims, under suspicion just for their religious beliefs and, more recently, anyone opposing the government and its anti-environment projects.
 
In an immigrant area in Sens, a town in Burgundy, the prefect has declared a curfew: for a few days, nobody could circulate between 22:00 and 6:00. The reason? The prefect alleged possible threats to public order during police searches. In reality, the point is again to intimidate and oppress the immigrant community by showing that the state will be merciless. The upcoming regional elections and the weight of FN in the region explain this measure.
 
The government intends to use the increased power of the State of Emergency to target all those who oppose its policies. In the days before the international climate change conference, COP21, the police used their special powers against radical green activists, most notably those involved in the struggle against an airport close to Nantes, Notre Dame des Landes, including violent searches, and confinement to their homes. Little do they care that all of the people involved, like a leader of the Climate 21 alliance, or a couple of organic fruit and vegetable producers in the countryside are a million miles from being sympathisers of the IS or likely to bomb anybody.
 
In Lyon, the prefect has recently forbidden “all demonstrations with a protest character”. “Sport, recreation and cultural manifestations are not included”, he adds. In clearer language, Christmas shopping is OK, politics is not.
 
The climax of this wave of police repression was reached with the attack on the November 29 demonstration in Paris. In the morning, a human chain by green activists was tolerated in Paris. In the afternoon, a few organisations, including the New Anticapitalist Party, NPA, called for a demo “for the right to demonstrate”. Several thousands assembled in the Place de la République. Soon the police closed every access to the square and started using tear gas and detonating stun grenades. Having blocked every way out, they then started arresting everyone and taking them to police stations. More than 300 activists were taken into police custody. This only stopped after several hours, and only because the police ran out of buses to transport the activists.  We express here our solidarity with all these activists and condemn police violence. Similarly, in Nantes, a demo was violently attacked by police who used tear gas and truncheons on a massive scale, including against people already lying injured on the ground.
 
How have the political forces reacted?
 
Among the parties, only the far left, Lutte Ouvriere  and the NPA unequivocally opposed the State of Emergency. All the deputies of Front de Gauche (the French Communist Party and the Left Party) voted for it. In a declaration, the PCF continued with the same line of national unity that it has espoused since the 1930s:
 
“ The true and lasting response to the terrorist aggression of Daesh is the resistance of the French people in its unity and diversity.... We have approved the proclamation of the State of Emergency in the first hours after the killings of November 13, but PCF will pronounce on the question of its prolongation taking into account the principles of the protection of the population, of the Republic and fundamental freedoms.”
 
The leader of the Left Party (PdG) Jean-Luc Mélenchon, in a speech to the European Parliament, also revealed his taste for the heady wine of bourgeois nationalism declaring “France always won against its aggressors and it will do this once again”, and then attacked those who “have weakened the State in its sovereign functions, this includes, among other things, the state monopoly of violence”. He adds, “In my country, there are 12,000 less policemen, 20 per cent less soldiers in the army. All this is a contributory cause to the lack of means to ward off the blows that we were going to receive. We have to finish with these politics of weakening public services.”  
 
By thus conflating the defence of public services like health and schools with the defence of the reactionary repressive core of the state, Melénchon reveals his fundamental social patriotic nature. He does not intend to build a new working class democracy, simply to take power and take control of the old bourgeois state machine.
 
Despite later statements criticising the State of Emergency, the Front de Gauche miserably capitulated to the national unity in a similar way as it had previously capitulated to French imperialism. Indeed, while France is today intervening in at least three countries (Mali, Syria, the Central African Republic) it also operates in practically the whole French-dominated sub-Sahel region, from Niger to Chad. No opposition to this was ever raised by Front de Gauche and Mélenchon’s Left  Party openly supported the intervention in Mali.
 
The NPA declaration in sharp contrast correctly links the barbaric killings with imperialism : “Imperialist barbarism and Islamic barbarism foster each other.”
 
It continues, “To put an end to terrorism, we should put an end to imperialist wars which aim to perpetuate the pillage of the wealth of the peoples dominated by the corporations; impose the withdrawal of French troops from all the countries where they are present, in particular from Syria, Iraq and Africa.”  It states that the NPA also clearly stands against the whole climate of racism and islamophobia.
 
 
The result
 
Having criticised Bush’s Patriot Act and his trampling over elementary freedoms in Guantanamo, the Socialist Party is now ready go even further along the selfsame  road. Some of its MPs have even proposed the creation of a centre in which to incarcerate all terrorist suspects, without trial. Others would like to restore censorship of the press and Internet. Hollande has said he would like to include the State of Emergency in the constitution.
 
The police are trying to profit from this climate to obtain almost unlimited powers. This wave of repression will not help the PS to remain in power. Quite the contrary, as the regional elections have shown. The FN led the field in the first round and the SP had to hand over its votes to Sarkozy in some of its old strongholds. The wave of fear, anger, xenophobia and racism did not profit the PS but in the first place the FN. FN scores are highest in the ex industrial region in the North, where Marine Le Pen's score is above 40 percent, as well as the east (Alsace, Lorraine, Franche Comté etc.). The disarray of impoverished workers, the despair of the unemployed found fake justifications for racism and islamophobia in their lies and solutions. All this forms a terrible threat for the working class as a whole.
 
The French working class faces today an imminent danger. Failure to oppose the imperialist wars, to solidarise with the migrants, to oppose bourgeois national unity and the State of Emergency, and to stand clearly against racism and the FN can lead to major divisions and debilitating defeat. To avert this, the revolutionary left have not only to sound the alarm but also, and above all, must promote the politics of revolutionary hope to combat those of reactionary despair.
 

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