On the Recent Riots in France and the Proletarianisation of the Banlieues

Three days after the death of Nahel Merzouk, 17, who was shot dead on Tuesday 27 June in Nanterre by a police officer who stopped his vehicle, riots have reached a rare level of violence in banlieues across France, in overseas territories and even in smaller cities usually less affected by these kinds of uprisings. The rioters have set fire to various sites of State power: town halls, prefectures, high schools, police commissariats… the list goes on. What we’re witnessing is a total rejection of power, an expression of immense anger against everyone with a modicum of authority and, ultimately, against the life that the youths of the banlieues are forced to live.(1)

The rioters have also targeted and looted various shopping malls, a more recent phenomenon compared to previous urban riots. Such a phenomenon is obviously indicative of the difficulties people are facing when trying to satisfy their most basic need for food. But moreover, do these shopping malls, with their clothes, shoes, electronic devices and all the rest, not symbolise individual victory, in a society that has fetishised the commodity? These attacks, with such feeble material gain in view of the risks involved, also represent a certain revenge on society, albeit an entirely illusory one.

All the “official” media, the interminable experts and politicians of all stripes, are all learnedly or furiously studying the phenomenon of the banlieues, which they have cynically seemed to discover again now that the situation there has got worse since the 2005 riots.(2)

For some, the riots are about the fight against racism, in particular the racism of the police; for others, it’s about the arrogance and blunders of the forces of law and order; for others still, it’s about the neglect of public services in the banlieues; or rather ridiculously, if you’re Emmanuel Macron, it’s about social networks and video games which supposedly enable and spread the riots over more towns and cities.(3)

The ghettoisation of the banlieues is inextricable from the wider functioning of capitalist society as a whole and the tensions it generates. The themes touted by the groups of the left and centre of capital only deal with the secondary characteristics of this reality, with the obvious aim of safeguarding public order in the immediate term. Let’s leave them to their nonsense and all it’s good for – “suburban planning” and other “estates-general”!(4) The real response by the bourgeoisie is plain: repression remains, for the moment, the only option for extinguishing the fire. Then, they will try to erase these events from public memory until the next flare up, while fundamentally doing nothing to address the problem.

On the more radical side of the right and far-right, the matter is simple. Republican order must be re-established by repression. “Only a firm hand can restore order and peace. As of this evening, I declare a state of public emergency,” proclaimed Éric Zemmour on the morning of Thursday 28 June on Twitter. The same goes for the right wing Republicans.(5) The government mobilised 40,000 police officers and gendarmes with 14 armoured vehicles and some helicopters for the night of 30 June. Added to this arsenal were elite units of the RAID, the BRI, etc.(6) During the night from Thursday to Friday, 875 people were arrested across France. This is war! The police are pushing in the same direction, and even taking it a step further. “The police are fighting,” they write, “because we are at war” with the “harmful” and “savage hordes”.(7) This is the perspective of the organisations implanted most firmly in the police of this ever so democratic Republic.

The extreme left, for its part, continues as ever to push for confrontation, which in and of itself would be more understandable if there were any semblance of a clear perspective. But these are struggles of desperation. Sending unorganised youths to their deaths at the hands of a police force armed for civil war is criminal. There have already been two deaths(8) and one person critically injured and on life support in Mont-Saint-Martin (Meurthe-et-Moselle) by a rubber bullet shot by RAID agents.

As far as we’re concerned, we know all too well that there can be no solution to these riots tomorrow or the day after. The banlieues are doomed to further and further proletarianisation. Indeed, we can only condemn capitalism, globalised and financialised as it has become, which needs ever more liquidity to survive and realise its profits or speculate on the stock market. For this, it must proletarianise an ever-growing section of society, to drain its blood. In this way, the conflagration of the banlieues is the perfect counterpart of the gilets jaunes (yellow vests) revolt in the countryside.(9) Misery is spreading further and further everywhere. The State and capital are no longer materially capable of satisfying the basic needs of these populations which are left by the wayside without decent education, with crumbling social and public services and hospitals under threat.

Unfortunately, these new strata and classes currently being proletarianised – as well as the working class as a whole – lack a clear vision of what is going on. The anger and resentment that drives them is an undeniable reality, but consciousness of the important social and economic phenomena in progress is more difficult to grasp. A political organisation genuinely rooted in these new proletarian classes and to the proletariat as a whole is desperately lacking today. Only such political organisations could allow the social revolt to transform and adopt a positive direction, an alternative way out of despair, that is, towards a truly human, communist society.

Bilan et Perspectives
30 June 2023


Image: Toufik-de-Planoise (CC BY-SA 4.0), commons.wikimedia.org

(1) Banlieues are the suburbs of large cities in France. They have a reputation for poverty and crime. They are home to many workers, migrants, and the unemployed.

(2) For our coverage of the 2005 riots, see: On the Events in France, France - From Riots to Revolt and The Revolt of the Parisian Suburbs.

(3) latribune.fr

(4) The Estates General of 1789 was the general assembly representing the French estates (clergy, nobility, commoners), summoned to address the problems facing the nation. Politicians of the left and right in France still harken back to the idea.

(5) Éric Zemmour is a far-right journalist and leader of the nationalist Reconquête party. Les Républicains is a right wing party founded in 2015 by the former President of France, Nicolas Sarkozy.

(6) RAID ("Research, Assistance, Intervention, Deterrence”) and BRI (“Research and Intervention Brigade”) are tactical units of the French police.

(7) lemonde.fr

(8) The first, on the night of Thursday 29 to Friday 30 June, was in Guyana, in the Stanislas estate, next to the popular neighbourhood of Mont-Lucas, in Cayenne. The second fell five metres from a shop window while looting it.

(9) For our coverage of the gilets jaunes protests, see: The Yellow Vests Movement: the Crisis is Deepening and Some Further Thoughts on the Yellow Vests Movement.

Thursday, July 6, 2023