French uprising : William Bowles : analysis


Richard Moore


Is Paris burning or Watt? 

by William Bowles * Wednesday, 10 November 2005 

    We must leave our dreams and abandon our old beliefs and
    friendships of the time before life began. Let us waste no
    time in sterile litanies and nauseating mimicry. Leave
    this Europe where they are never done talking of Man, yet
    murder men everywhere they find them, at the corner of
    every one of their own streets, in all the corners of the
    globe. For centuries they have stifled almost the whole of
    humanity in the name of a so-called spiritual experience.
    Look at them today swaying between atomic and spiritual
    - Frantz Fanon, The Wretched of the Earth

Or Soweto, or Bolton, or Brixton, or Petrograd? In 1976,
the young people of Soweto had finally had enough, people
can only take so much before they revolt no matter what
the cost.

And the experts in their droves, come out of the woodwork
like cockroaches and produce their 'learned' analyses of
what ails our broke down capitalisms, even, as the
Independent the other day advanced the theory that the
youths of France used their cellphones and the Internet to
co-ordinate their uprising in order to explain the sheer
scale of it (I kid you not), it seems a fundamental truth
escapes them.[1]

Spontaneous uprisings are as old as class societies as any
reading of history teaches us from Watt Tyler's Peasants'
Revolt in the 13th century through to the dispossessed of
the 'barrios' of Paris or Caracas.

What distinguishes the revolt currently taking place in
France is not only the scale of it, sweeping across France
from one ghetto to the next but that it reflects the fact
that the legacy of colonialism and its benighted
descendent, the 'neo-liberal' agenda of the IMF and the
World Bank has finally come back to haunt the Western

The importation of cheap, colonial labour whether from
Puerto Rico to New York in the 1940s, from the Caribbean
to London in the 1950s or those from Bangla Desh and
Pakistan in the 1960s, all reflect the stark reality of a
divided world, that sooner or later, given the
fundamentally racist nature of capitalist society was
bound to blow up in our faces.

Some on the left even argue that a major cause of the
current unrest is, as Frank Furedi argues one of
"political exhaustion" of the ruling elites, that
following the end of the Cold War

    Š the European political elites lack a project. They no
    longer have a mission to perform, and do not possess a
    distinct outlook that can inform their policies and
    day-to-day actions.[2]

Lack a project? Is it any wonder that we on the left face
our own crisis when this kind of analysis is all we have
to offer as an explanation for what is an on-going
phenomenon, a phenomenon that Furedi acknowledges as his
references to the riots of Oldham and elsewhere testifies,
that of an global 'underclass', the descendents of a
post-colonial policy that has come home to haunt us in the
'belly of the beast'.

What Furedi fails to mention is the role of racism as a
fundamental aspect of capitalism. Indeed, Furedi's article
fails to mention the 'r' word at all except in the final
paragraph, where his own failure of imagination is summed

    Š the Anglo-American media have been quick to preach to
    the French about the enlightened ways of doing race
    relations, and call on them to learn from America and
    Britain. Maybe this learning should be the other way
    around. The problems that afflict France are not the
    result of unimaginative Gallic policymaking. They are
    ultimately the product of a political exhaustion that is
    no less prevalent in Britain or Belgium than it is in
    France. The solution lies not in dreaming up clever ways
    of managing community conflict, but in demanding that
    societies stop evading the fundamental questions posed in
    our times: what is the purpose of politics; who are we as
    a society; and what defines our humanity? [3]

Ultimately, it is the failure to recognise that the
fundamental contradictions of capitalism that has seen
firstly, the importation of cheap labour to do the jobs
considered too demeaning by the white working classes of
the capitalist world to perform and secondly, the export
of industrial capitalism to the un-unionised working
people of our former colonies. Add to this the assault by
the IMF and the World Bank on the poor of the planet which
has displaced millions who have in turn 'invaded' the
metropolitan centres of capital in search of a living.

Failure of the imagination? "Political exhaustion" on the
part of the ruling elites? I despair if this is what
passes for a 'left' analysis when we have for decades
experienced the results of the imperial mindset that
affects all sections of capitalist society. Until we face
the reality that we are the privileged of the world,
living on borrowed time and on stolen labour, there can be
no solution.

    'More Africans Enter U.S. Than in Days of Slavery', New
    York Times , February 21, 2005

Although Frantz Fanon focused on the effects of
colonialism on the 'native', the following description
could just as easily describe the banlieues of France as
those of Algeria

The zone where the natives live is not complementary to
the zone inhabited by the settlers. The two zones are
opposed, but not in the service of a higher unity.
Obedient to the rule of Aristotelian logic, they both
follow the principle of reciprocal exclusivity. No
conciliation is possible, for of the two terms, one is
superfluous. The settlers' town is a strongly built town,
all made of stone and steel. It is a brightly lit town;
the streets are covered with asphalt, and the garbage cans
swallow all the leavings, unseen, unknown and hardly
thought about. - The Wretched of the Earth, p. 38

A suffocating myopia has descended on the West, one that
ignores the reality of a world that outside the
metropolitan centres is based on sheer brute force of arms
and repression whether in Colombia, Iraq, or Palestine,
where the uniting factor is an imperialism increasingly
desperate in its attempts not only to hold onto what it
has stolen but to absorb the fact that the policies of
centuries has finally come to a head.

That it explodes in the face of a smug and comfortable
intelligentsia, whether of the 'left' or the right should
come as no surprise to us, it is but our just desserts for
the centuries of oppression we have inflicted on Fanon's
Wretched of the Earth and for ignoring the reality of life
in our own 'backyard', even as we speed off up the M-25 to
some cathedral of consumption to get our fix of fixtures.

Wake up Frank Furedi and tell it like is, you have nothing
to lose but your illusions.


[1] 'It is reasonable to presume rioters have been using
their mobile phones and internet access to maximise the
impact of their demonstrations.' The Independent , 7
November, 2005.

[2] 'French lessons for us all The riots reveal the
political exhaustion of Europe' by Frank Furedi, 8
November 2005.

[3] ibid


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