Saturday, January 12, 2019

Right minded lot (1984)

From the April 1984 issue of the Socialist Standard

At this very moment there must be many young people, in universities and trade unions nurturing ambitions, and they had better realise that climbing to the top of the greasy pole is more than a simple matter of putting forward a reasoned, effective policy in the expectation that voters will respond. Voters — for the present, at any rate — don’t operate like that: they are more easily impressed by a seductive, instantly recognisable personality, packaged and presented. This means that aspiring occupants of Number Ten must spend some time identifying their supporters. They must ask themselves, for example, if their appeal is stronger with younger voters? Will family women and men crowd into the polling booths for them? Are they acceptable to foaming patriots or to what is known as ethnic minorities? There is a great deal of lucrative work here for opinion pollsters, speech writers, camera operators and other artists in deception. If they get it right the candidate identifies a sort of constituency of support, scattered among the entire electorate. Work can then begin on appeasing and enlarging this constituency.

This is by no means a recent trend in politics. In the twenties, Stanley Baldwin was at pains to present the image of a plain, simple man of goodwill, which presumably appealed to voters who thought of themselves in the same way. Here is a typically reticent self-portrait by Baldwin, in October 1923:
  I am not a man to play with a pledge . . . I am not a clever man. I know nothing of political tactics . . .
These modest words were in a speech in which Baldwin announced that he was about to go back on a pledge given by his predecessor, Bonar Law, not to impose protective import duties. He fought the next election on the issue, except that the result was a Labour government under Ramsay Macdonald, who would never have denied that he was a clever man.

Forty years later another plain and simple man who, like Baldwin, carefully cultivated a reassuring media manner (and who also distracted his audiences with clouds of pipe smoke) was in the business of playing with pledges while posing as a leader of unshakeable principle. Harold Wilson came to power after nurturing a constituency rather different from Baldwin’s. Some time before his victory in the 1964 election, he had outlined its boundaries to his henchman Richard Crossman. They were discussing Labour’s apparent failure to hold the votes of "young scientists, technologists and specialists’’:
  . . .  the only way to win them back is to make Labour the party of science. At present we are treating science as a gimmick . . . At our next conference we have got to take them seriously.
Labour’s argument was simple enough to have come from a Baldwin. The Tories had shamefully neglected the development of the latest productive technology; it was too modern a concept for them to grasp, as they tramped the grouse moors among the enfeebling mesh of the old boy network. So we had stop-go production, crisis, wage restraint. a lack of many of the good things in life. As a Labour government remedied this through investment in advanced technology productivity would soar and there would be prosperity and security for everyone — as well as an exalted place in history for Harold Wilson. It was all set out in their 1964 manifesto:
  If we are to get a dynamic and expanding economy, it is essential that new and effective ways are found for injecting modern technology into our industries.
What actually happened was that the realities of capitalism, which take no account of election promises, were too much for the Wilson government. Caught in the inevitable tangle of financial and economic crises, they were soon reduced to looking for excuses for their failure to organise the promised abundance through the white hot technological revolution. Poverty, slums, class conflict, wars, all remained; Wilson’s fine words became an historical embarrassment.

Since then — and in particular since their defeats in 1979 and 1983 — the Labour Party have been wondering what happened to the constituency of scientists and technologists which Wilson thought he had captured for a lifetime. One opinion is that a lot of the people known to psephologists, sociologists and market researchers as "skilled workers” have switched their votes to the Tories, on the grounds that they have some stake in capitalism which is worth defending and that this is best left to a Conservative government. If this is true, it may indicate a certain change in mood among working-class voters. This change is nothing too dramatic; the working class are not about to discard all the parties of capitalism and think in terms of a radical social revolution. But it could mean the replacement of the aggressive, expansive propaganda of Wilson’s white-hot technological revolution by defensive, retractive, in-turned preferences. In 1929. during that other slump. Baldwin appealed to the voters with the slogan of Safety First. In 1984, with over 3 million out of work, successful politicians may have stopped courting the constituency of youthful scientists and turned instead to that of the Right Minded People.

Of course this cultivation of a constituency is uncomplicated by any concern for political principles. The object is to garner votes, whatever the opinions and desires of the voters. This sordid, sterile business is described in Carol Thatcher’s Diary of an Election (a book of stupefying banality and irrelevance). Hoping for a best-seller, Carol faithfully accompanied Mum and Dad and Mark around the country during the last election. One morning, perhaps in an analytical mood, she took breakfast with Chris Lawson, the Conservative Party’s director of marketing, who instrueted her in the subtleties of marketing a discredited capitalist party:
 Target groups are, of course, the first-time voters, the young housewives, C1s, C2s, skilled technicians, and the older people — they’ve always been very strongly Conservative — but the other groups have moved with us too.
Not a word about political principle, or human interests. Like Carol Thatcher herself. Lawson’s words are insulated from the real world of suffering and repression, about which so much needs to be done so urgently. It seems inevitable that out of the Tory victory the constituency of Right Minded People should emerge, with a clutch of university-bred gurus to draw its theoretical geography — like Roger Scruton, Maurice Cowling and the deranged ex-lefty Paul Johnson. In the Sunday Times Magazine of 4 March 1984 Scruton mapped out his theories:
  I think of conservatism as growing out of the rootedness of a man's history. Man is a fragile being whose happiness depends on finding his home. Attempts to find long-term strategic solutions are doomed: one needs the family, and private property.
In other words, a Right Minded Person believes in patriotism, law and order, and keeping your place. What kind of challenge do these beliefs present?

To begin with, patriotism is a demonstrably one-way affair, which insists that the interests of the British capitalist class should be dominant but does not allow the same belief to patriots in, say, Russia and Argentina about the interests of their capitalist class because they are obviously Wrong Minded People. This prejudice extends into the field of economic rivalry. The recent embarrassing episode of Mark Thatcher (failed accountant, racing driver and rally competitor — would you buy a building from this man?) and the University of Oman was dismissed by the Prime Minister with the assertion that she “bats for Britain”. To all Right Minded People, this recourse to patriotism was enough to stifle all the criticism and to clear the matter up beyond further argument.

Similar mental juggling must be performed on the issue of Law and Order, which are accepted by all Right Minded People as essential in any civilised society. But there are varying definitions, and degrees, of law and order; in the case of the theft of the Falkland Islands, and their eventual ownership by the Coalite Group, the law can be refashioned to suit the interests of the owners and the wildest of disorder can be created to protect those interests. Right Minded People subdue any doubts about this in their confidence that nobody has anything to fear from the law provided they accept one or two minor restraints such as the class structure of capitalism and the privileged standing which this gives a small, parasitic minority.

This compliance can otherwise be called Knowing Your Place, which is strongly advocated by the Right Minded People. For example, people like miners, lorry drivers and car industry workers should work very hard indeed because that is their lot under capitalism and in any case it is good for the country that they should do so. But they think differently about the ruling class, whose indolence and uselessness is enviably glamorous and proves their inborn superiority. Workers who dare to strike are excoriated because strikes interrupt production. which is not good for the country, but it is quite acceptable for the capitalist class to shut coal mines and factories which are unprofitable because this is the sort of interruption of production which is. mysteriously. good for the country.

It should not be assumed that, because the constituency of the Right Minded People has come into its own under the Thatcher governments, it is always linked to the Tories. Of course Thatcher is a splendid model for it. with her voice, her hair-dos and dresses which even the Grantham Women’s Institute might find too conventional. In her infamous speech in 1978, about immigrants “swamping" the people in this country, she claimed that ". . . the British character has done so much for democracy, for law. and done so much throughout the world . . .". which must have struck just the right chord in the minds of the Right Minded People. But Labour leaders have also done a great deal to make a similar appeal to these political neurotics. They have crushed strikes, urged workers to break picket lines, set up the super-coercive Special Patrol Group, devotedly prosecuted British capitalism's wars, paid ardent respects to the royal and aristocratic figureheads of the ruling classes.

How do we free ourselves of this sordid hypocrisy, where do we find some optimism about human society? Socialists do not cultivate a constituency: we make no appeal for votes. We do not fashion a policy to fit ignorance and prejudice. The movement for a new society must be one of understanding and participation. It has no appeal for the Right Minded People but works to put people in their right mind.

Socialism or Reformism? (1984)

From the April 1984 issue of the Socialist Standard

When it comes down to it there is no real choice between reform and revolution. These are not two alternative ways of reaching the same goal. Certainly people can try to reform capitalism to make it work in the interest of all, but they can never succeed. All their efforts are wasted. The only way forward is social revolution, in the sense of rapidly abolishing present-day society by a political act and establishing a new and different society in its place.

The reason for this is clear. Capitalism is an economic system which operates according to economic laws which cannot be changed by human action, and which human beings have to accept and submit to in the same way as they do to natural forces like the weather and the tides. But there is a difference between the economic forces of capitalism and the tides in that the former only operate because humans chose to keep in being the system of production for sale on a market with a view to profit. If people decided to end this system, then these forces would cease to operate. But, as we have explained, there is no point in accepting to work within this system and then trying to stop these economic forces operating. It can't be done. As long as capitalism remains its economic laws will continue to function roughly like the tides.

Essentially we are talking about people being in charge of the production of the wealth they must have to survive. This is what socialism is about: subjecting production to conscious human control so that it can be directed to the single purpose of turning out goods and services to satisfy human needs. Why should this not be possible? After all, production for use — production to satisfy human needs — is the logical purpose of producing wealth.

Production to satisfy human needs is possible, but it requires a fundamental social change to make it a reality. Basically, all that is in and on the earth must become the common property of everyone. In other words, there must no longer be any territorial rights or any private property rights over any part of the globe. The farms, factories, mines and all other places where wealth is produced will not belong to anybody. This means that a section only of society would no longer stand between the rest of society and the means of production. Social classes would cease to exist and all men and women would stand in equal relationship to the means of production as free and equal members of a classless community.

Naturally, in order to use the commonly owned means of wealth production, people would have to organise themselves and devise procedures for allowing them to be put in motion. This brings us to the second basic feature of production: democratic control. A certain degree of democratic control exists in some capitalist countries today, but it is very limited and only applies to the operation of certain political institutions at local and national level. In a socialist society democratic control will extend to all aspects of social life, including — and in fact in particular — decisions about the production of wealth. This is what production is about: bringing the production and distribution of wealth under conscious human control which, in a classless community of free and equal men and women, can only be democratic control. Otherwise society would no longer be classless: access to. and control over, the means of production would then remain in the hands of the minority. This is why democracy and socialism are inseparable. There is no choice about the matter. An undemocratic socialism is a contradiction in terms. Socialism is democratic or it is not socialism.

The third feature of socialism is production for use, and in a sense follows from the other two. If the means of production are commonly owned and democratically controlled, there is only one end for which they can and will be used: to produce wealth to satisfy the needs, individual and collective, of the classless community. But another way, common ownership and democratic control is the only framework in which this natural, logical object of production satisfying human needs can be achieved.

When we say production for use we mean production solely for use. In socialism wealth no longer will be produced for sale; buying and selling and all that goes with it money, prices, wages, profits, banks, and so on — will have no place; they will, in fact, have no sense in socialism. Since the means of production will be commonly owned, it follows that what is produced will also be commonly owned — that is, by the classless community of free men and women who will have produced it. In these circumstances the question of selling what has been produced just would not — could not — arise. For how can what is commonly owned be sold to those who commonly own it?

The problem (if that is the right word) that will arise will be of a quite different nature. It will be how to distribute what has been produced among members of the community. Advocates of common ownership have argued about this from ancient times but until the end of the last century this argument was always — and inevitably — conducted in terms of sharing out a limited amount. The suggestions for doing this were many and various. Some suggested equal sharing, others a points system based on a hierarchy of needs; others wanted to link what people received to what they had contributed to production in terms of hours of work. Any of these systems would have been immensely more equal than what happens under capitalism, but nowadays we need no longer think in terms of having to share out fairly a limited amount. Since the turn of the century, we have left the Age of Scarcity and entered the Age of Abundance — potential abundance. that is. To the extent that scarcity survives today, as of course it very much does, this is an artificial scarcity maintained by the economic laws of capitalism, and particularly its basic principle of "No Profit, No Production".

On the basis of common ownership and democratic control, the artificial barrier to the production of abundance (that is, the profit motive) will be removed and we shall be able to produce an abundance of the basic things — food, clothing, shelter — which people need to enjoy life. Material wants and poverty can be banished for ever. Technologically speaking, there is no reason why any man, woman or child in any part of the world should starve or go without proper shelter. Socialism will allow this technological possibility to be realised, which will no doubt have to be one of the first priorities of socialism when it is established.

How to distribute this abundance of basic necessities? The answer is simple. Let people come and take what they need. Wealth could be produced in such abundance today that there is no need to ration access to it. The free access to consumer goods and services which was always the long-term aim of the nineteenth century socialists and communists can now be instituted with the establishment of socialism. Free access — which we can list as the fourth basic feature of socialism after common ownership, democratic control and production solely for use — means exactly what it says. People will be able to come to the places where the basic necessities of life will be stored and freely take away what they consider they need. They themselves will judge what they need; individuals will determine their own needs. In conditions of permanent abundance people will have no reason to take more than they need. To do so would be pointless. People won’t hoard basic necessities in a socialist society any more than they hoard the water which they draw freely from their taps today. They will simply take what they need from the stores as and when they need it. Ensuring that these stores are always stocked with what people need will be no problem given the technological possibility of producing in abundance. This will essentially be a question of stock control.

So common ownership, democratic control, production for use. free access; these are the essential features of the society which must replace capitalism if the problems facing people today are to be solved. Clearly it is not the sort of society that can be introduced gradually within capitalism. We either have common ownership or some sort of class ownership, private or state. We either have production for use or production for sale. In both cases the one excludes the other.

Certainly, claims have been made to introduce elements of “socialism” into capitalism as a way of gradually transforming society, but they have never worked. In the early days of the Labour Party nationalisation was seen as a step towards common ownership. In fact, nationalisation never even superseded private ownership. In Britain the private owners were merely transformed from shareholders into government bondholders and continued to receive a property income as interest on their bonds rather than dividends on their shares, and the nationalised industries have always been profit-seeking enterprises. In fact, it was a Labour government — under Harold Wilson in 1967 — which laid down that nationalised industries should seek to achieve the same rate of profit on their new investment projects as any equivalent private enterprise. Nationalisation, far from being a step towards socialism, has merely meant state capitalism. Similarly, “planning” was originally seen as an attempt to impose production for use instead of for profit. In practice however planning has either been a complete failure because capitalism is an anarchic, unplannable system, or else has been the planned exploitation of the wage and salary earning class in countries like Russia and China.

So once again we arrive at the same conclusion. Reformism cannot succeed in making capitalism work in the interest of the workers, the majority. Neither can it succeed in gradually transforming capitalism into socialism. The only way forward is social revolution — not in the sense of barricades, street battles and executions, but of a rapid change in the basis of society.

This is what socialists are working for, but it is not we who are going to establish socialism. We could not do it. No minority can. By its very nature as a democratic, responsible society, socialism can only be established by a majority who understand and want it. After all, how could a minority force people to establish a society based on voluntary co-operation and democratic decision-making?

This is why all the efforts of socialists are directed towards helping to spread the idea that there is an alternative to capitalism with its artificial scarcity, organised waste, wars and threats of war. insecurity and anxiety. Our role is to inform people about this and get people to want to change society and to organise to do this.
Adam Buick

Letters: Socialists against religion (1984)

Letters to the Editors from the April 1984 issue of the Socialist Standard

Socialists against religion
Dear Editors.

In the January edition of your journal (p.9) you talk of religious indoctrination and "tedious and absurd fairy stories". Is this view on religion universally representative of the Socialist Party or is it simply the personal prejudice of one of its members? (Which is presumably acceptable to an elected editorial board.)

In the Declaration of Principles there is no mention of atheism or agnosticism as being a prerequisite for membership of the party. Does this mean that someone having a religious faith and also desiring to help solve the problems of the world can join the party? Or is it the ease that anyone who believes in supernatural powers; and who, in other words, rejects the rigid historical materialism of Engels (and to a lesser extent Marx) will be prevented from furthering the cause of socialism?

If the Socialist Party regards the fundamental message of Christianity and many other religions, namely, "love your neighbour", as being incompatible with their aims because it is not founded on materialistic and scientific argument, then I believe that this proviso should be included in the Declaration of Principles.
S P Hayhurst 

The Socialist Standard is the official journal of the Socialist Party of Great Britain and states the socialist attitude on current issues as well as theoretical matters. The piece in the January number put the socialist ease about religion, although of course the manner in which it was put would vary from member to member, so that the wording might not suit all socialists. Our opposition to religion is not a prejudice, it is not a judgement made before having any facts or evidence. We argue that religion is opposed to working class interests, hampers the spread of socialist consciousness and with all this has no scientific evidence to support it. On no grounds can it be justified.

While this is not explicitly stated in our Declaration of Principles, the policy is there by clear implication (as is the case with other issues, such as our opposition to racism and our support for trade unionism) in the materialistic interpretation of human history. This is an essential part of the socialist case; we therefore reject any applicant for membership who holds religious views, or who believes in the supernatural, because these attitudes are not compatible with a vital part of our case. Of course there are people who hold such views and who also have a genuine desire to do something about the problems of capitalism. Such people are sincere but also confused on matters which are vital to socialism and cannot therefore be accepted into our party. Ideas like "loving your neighbour" sound constructive but in themselves they are not useful; the words have been on the lips of many a Christian who saw no difficulty in supporting the wars of capitalism, in which neighbours were emphatically not to be loved. The case for socialism does not rest on such abstract idealism but on scientific materialism and that is why we are opposed to all religion and belief in a supernatural.

The End of Feudalism
Dear Editors.

In his excellent survey "England as Marx's Model" in your January 1984 issue, ALB rightly describes Marx's section on primitive accumulation in Volume 1 of Capital as “virtually a short history of the economic and social development of England from the middle of the sixteenth century”. In my view, however, it is far more than this since it is also here that Marx unerringly places the destruction of the English peasantry in Tudor England, linking this event dialectically with the termination of feudal social and economic arrangements.

This is in direct contradistinction to bourgeois historiography which continues to treat Tudor land enclosure as a movement localised both in time and space, i.e. as merely a reaction by landowners to an advance in wool prices and affecting only limited areas of England. Bourgeois economic historians continue to ascribe the disappearance of the English peasant to the activities of the Commissioners of Enclosure in the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries—an interpretation which effectively isolates the movement from its real roots in the revolution in the mode of production occurring two centuries earlier.

This is all the more remarkable since it is now fifty-seven years since the (non-Marxist) economic historian, Ms E. Davies, in a brilliant study of the Land-Tax Assessments, discovered to her own surprise that, by the time the Commissioners came round, the English peasant had been gone from time immemorial. Marx was thus confirmed.

The question arises, are (at least some) bourgeois scholars unconscious Marxists?
Joseph Beckman

Dear Editors.

Most socialists are understandably reluctant to set out a detailed blueprint of the kind of society they ultimately envisage. But clearly both activists and sympathisers must have, without falling into utopianism, a realistic vision of the outlines of a socialist society. To help with research I am doing in this area, I'd like to hear from readers what their vision is.
James Parris
c/o Flat 1
6 Oakden Street
London SE11

The Guardian—An Important Correction (1984)

From the April 1984 issue of the Socialist Standard

The Guardian is famous for its misprints, some of which are hilarious, but a mistake which has recently recurred in our regular announcement in the paper’s small ads columns is by no means funny.

The socialist case is, and always has been, that socialism can come about only through democratic action by a working class majority, throughout the world, but for some reason the Guardian's misprint operative keeps inserting the word “minority” for “majority”, regardless of the fact that to talk about democratic action by a minority is nonsense. More importantly, it is directly opposite to our case and to what we are trying to say in the ad.

We apologise for their mistake. We hope no worker has been put off by it. We also hope that no worker has read it and come to the conclusion that the SPGB is just another bunch of crazy, undemocratic elitists. The socialist revolution will be a majority, democratic act—the first social revolution in human history in the interests of the majority.

Priorities (1984)

From the April 1984 issue of the Socialist Standard

Torvill and Dean were cheered by MPs in the House of Commons last night. Winding up a debate on housing benefits, the Social Security Minister of State, Dr Rhodes Boyson said to cheers: "I do think even housing benefits are put into perspective on occasions like this". (Guardian, 15 February, 1984.)

Merde in France (2005)

From the December 2005 issue of the Socialist Standard

Wednesday 16 November was a quiet day in France. Only 163 cars were burnt by urban rioters in the whole of France and the state of emergency was lifted in some places and re-imposed in others. The urban unrest of the last two weeks is fading away, leaving some dead – the guy attacked for trying to defend his area from arsonists; some injured – the disabled woman set on fire in a bus by thugs, the 18- month-old baby who received a rock on the head and a whole lot of mindless vandalism: cars burnt, schools burnt, buses burnt, kindergartens burnt, shops smashed and so on.
The death of the two young lads who were accidentally electrocuted when they ran into an electricity sub-station in Clichy-sous-bois north of Paris following an all too routine police identity check in the area was not in itself the trigger to these events. The trigger was the reaction of the Interior Minister, Sarkozy, (France’s answer to Blunkett, marital problems included) who called the unruly young people in the suburbs “riff-raff”, thus confirming a tendency towards the blanket stigmatization of the population who live there.

The equation suburbs = immigrants = delinquents, is, of course, the kind of brainless reasoning favoured by members of the National Front, and by some police officers, particularly those who “know” the immigrant population largely through their experience of the dirty Algerian war of independence. But the “immigrant” population in the suburbs have been there for three generations and as such they walk around with French identity papers.  Unfortunately for them, they have Arab names and/or black faces and thus face discrimination in employment.
Their problems are a concentration of those faced by French workers as a whole and have nothing to do with their level of “integration” into the French nation. After all, those Arabs who fought for the French during the Algerian war of independence (the so called “harkis”) have themselves vegetated in ghettoes, the victims of post-colonial benign neglect. Even these Arabs haven’t been allowed to integrate.

Can of worms
The background to this can of worms is not the state of the housing in the sink estates (“cités”) in the suburbs of the major towns in France. Some of the housing, admittedly not all, is of fairly good quality having been built in the mid-1970s. British sink estates are a lot worse. Nor is the problem that of the absence of public services, education, health care, public transport and all the rest. These public services are present in these areas to an extent which could only be dreamt of in an equivalent American or British ghetto. Let’s not get things mixed up. No, the main problem of these sink estates is precisely the social and ethnic homogeneity of these areas or the concentration of people with  profound social problems there. Family breakdown, sole parenting, low self-esteem, educational  difficulties, problems of employment co-exist with an often violent social environment where young people grow up surrounded by delinquent gangs.

To make matters worse, the French police force is mainly installed in the quiet small towns, the spatial deployment of the flics having stayed largely unchanged since the Vichy epoch. The police trade unions have resisted all attempts at redeployment. As a rule then the cops only come to thump people they don’t know in areas they get lost in. Calm “middle-class” areas have a plethora of police stations. Earlier experiments with community policing  (“police de proximité”) undertaken by the “socialist government” of Jospin succeeded in calming the suburbs but were abandoned by the super-cop Sarko on the ground that this allowed the proliferation of a parallel drug economy (true). In these terms, the more testosterone-propelled policing of the current administration is believed to be more effective (not true). As a result policing in the suburbs has taken on the “wham bang and thank you mam” style with lots of media attention.

Funds going to the associations in the suburbs have been cut and job-creation schemes suspended. This is guaranteed to worsen community relations with little payoff in terms of the fight against thugs whose activities do, after all, provide some cash-flow in these areas where youth unemployment often hits 45 percent – the highest rate in Europe. No wonder then that the government has decided to park the riot police (CRS) on a semi-permanent basis in these estates. Although country bumpkins with a well-deserved reputation for brutality, they do at least know how to react  when they get lost in an area they don’t know.

“Arab work”
  In strictly capitalist terms nothing can nor perhaps will be done to change this sorry state of affairs. The current population of the suburbs largely consists of the sons and daughters of black Africans and Arabs brought over in the 1960s and 1970s to do the shit jobs in the factories that the French didn’t want to do. (A reality which was brought home to me when I saw an entire train full of exhausted workers returning from a night shift at the Peugeot works in Poissy. They were all Arabs.) Whilst this earlier generation now subsists on microscopic pensions and social benefits, the new kids on the block are showing a distinct tendency towards underemployment and delinquency. When mass unemployment hit these areas in the 1980s what complacent sociology calls the “visible immigrants” found themselves trapped and underemployed in the suburbs as the earlier (“invisible”?) immigrants of Spanish, Italian, Polish or Portuguese origin had succeeded in getting the hell out. Integration after all is not so much a question of religion as it is a question of timing.

  Then came the trendy do-gooders who in  the mid-1980s launched the windy humanistic movement “Touche pas à mon pôte” (“don’t touch my mate”) with the help of heavy public subsidies from the Mitterrand government, “the Sphinx” having abandoned all pretence to defend working class interests sometime early in the 1980s. Ostensibly a worthy movement aimed at overcoming the problems faced by those French citizens who were unfortunate enough to have Arab or black parents, this current of thought succeeding in convincing gullible people that the real problem faced by people in the sink estates was the entrenched racism of the French and not simply shit jobs, unemployment and a brutal and ignorant police force: problems faced by workers everywhere.

The other side of the political rainbow has seen the development of a far-right extremist party, the National Front, from out of the moribund Poujadist organisation of the 1950s. Led by Jean Marie Le Pen, an ex-paratrooper involved in dirty business during the Algerian war of independence, this outfit provides a convenient bogey-man for lefties who have got lost in the banality of left/right capitalist politics. The party, generously staffed by disaffected former colonists from Algeria (the so-called “pieds noirs”), has heavily underlined the failure of integration of the French citizens of Arab origin many of whom, incredibly, still don’t know how to conjugate the subjunctive of the imperfect in French and this after so many grammar lessons. The party even has a radio station called, curiously, “Radio Courtoisie” (Right wing French thugs have always had impeccable manners) to beam out its Christian message of hatred and prejudice. Fortunately, only bored housewives and retired colonels listen to this drivel. Ordinary French workers have proved over and over again that they are not on the whole racist bigots, though they can be a bit xenophobic.  Nonetheless the party continues to garner votes in constituencies where it doesn’t even have a local branch or even any kind of grass-roots existence. For the party exists in fact, as a convenient way for workers to express their disaffection with the French political establishment which is all too clearly in cahoots with capitalist interests. It’s a kind of gigantic publicly-subsidized vomitorium into which people spew their bile with Le Pen’s ugly mug providing a convenient emetic. In doing this, however, French workers have clearly been playing with fire Now they’re getting burnt.

Urban pariahs
Thus doubly confirmed in their status as urban pariahs, many of the young people in the suburbs have continued to study quietly and find work despite an ill-adapted educational system, material difficulties, postcode discrimination, the useless condescension of the politicians and crap jobs. The educational priority areas (“zone éducation prioritaire”), modelled on the earlier British fiasco, have been starved of resources and have thus done little to erode the inequalities of an overtly elitist educational system. They receive a piddling 8 percent more than the mainstream schools, hardly enough to compensate for the learning difficulties encountered by people from poor backgrounds, not to mention those from non-French speaking backgrounds in a country where national arrogance places on premium on speaking proper.

Despite the difficulties there are some fine, dedicated teachers in these areas whose efforts have been
hampered by a sordid social environment and poor logistic support. In the final analysis then, 62 percent of French working-class people find their offspring back in the working-class background which they came from (the highest proportion in Europe) in a country which presents itself as secular and meritocratic. And that’s before we put the peculiar problems faced by the denizens of the ghetto into the balance.

So the real problem is the inability of people in these areas to escape from a highly stigmatizing spatial set-up. The association suburb = immigrants = delinquency is criminal stupidity. The Arab and black populations who live in areas in close proximity to mainstream French life do not riot. Nor did the Arabs who live in the centre of Marseilles. (In the same way quiet Alsatian villages with no Arabs vote National Front.) Where the sink estates did not riot is more important than where they did but no television cameras go to these areas. In fact, the vast majority of the third generation immigrants in the suburbs took no part in the disorders and many were as terrified by what went on as the French population in general.

The problem should not be thought of simply in terms of spatially delimited sink estates. The wider trends of the whole of French society should be taken into account. To a significant extent, the troubles should be seen as a reflection of the growing geographical segregation of the French population partly due to the booming housing market and the continuous rise in rents in the private sector.  And the doings of the affluent in France should also be mentioned. The rich are beginning to privatize the French republic for their own ends. Rich ghettoes, like Sarko’s own constituency of Neuilly to the west of Paris has only 2 percent of council housing when the legal obligation is for 20 percent. The same is true of neighbouring Levallois and the pattern is repeated all over France. Clearly the rich are having some difficulty integrating into the Republic, perhaps they don’t want to.

After all, they send their kids to private, often catholic schools, where they learn how different they are from everyone else. Thereafter they take advantage of higher education facilities to propel their horrendous offspring into the better jobs. A short sojourn in the States completes the picture. More importantly, recent events have allowed the government to sneak through controversial tax breaks for the super-rich whilst introducing more tax free enterprises into the sink estates – but then again, perhaps, this was what was really at stake in the first place.
MM (Paris)

Report from Paris (2005)

From the December 2005 issue of the Socialist Standard
We have received the following report on the recent riots in France as seen by a migrant worker there.
At the end of October there was a heavy riot in the suburbs of Paris as a result of a police identity card control. Three African immigrants, one from the west coast and the other two from North Africa were controlled by police around Seine Saint Denis in one of suburbs of Paris. There was a disagreement between the immigrants and the police on duty. So, the three immigrants raced for safety but, unfortunately, two ran into a high tension compound and were electrocuted. Another one ran in a different direction and alerted his friends to what happened. Before they could trace the two boys and call the fire service to rescue them, it was too late.

   These suburbs have been neglected, segregated for people of the same ethnic and religious background, for the past thirty years. Some of those living there who acquired good skills in one trade or the other were denied a job opportunity because of their colour, location of their residence or Islamic names. An English adage says that an idle man is the devil’s workshop. Since these immigrants were denied social and economic integration into French society, they devised what means of livelihood they could in order to keep the body and soul together. For many years French society has regarded them as outcasts and vagabonds who have no value just because of their colour and fate.

   When this incident happened the Interior Minister of France, Nicolas Sarkozy, a hardliner and the son of an Hungarian immigrant, supported the action of the police and said that they were on a drive to control criminals and drugs in those suburbs instead of showing compassion and regret over the death of the two African immigrants. After his television broadcast, these immigrants, comprising black Africans and the North Africans, plus their sympathetic friends from Asia, Latinos, West Indies and other Europeans, joined hands in the riots.

   On the second day of the riots, the Interior Minister bragged that he would beef up the police to one thousand to control the situation. And that night about eight hundred cars were burnt excluding houses. The riots started from Seine Saint Denis around Paris and spread all over France. These cities are Bordeaux, Nantes, Toulouse, Tours, Belfort, Essonne, Roubaix, Strasbourg, Lyon, Vaucluse, Besancon, Aulnay, Marseille, Amiens, and many more cities in France.

 The cost of the damage in the three weeks of riots in France amounted to 200 million, just because of racism, xenophobia, and segregation that was imposed on immigrants by capitalism. And this is the country that propagated a disguised colonisation to third world countries under the pretence of a policy of association and assimilation. And today their fake paradigm programme is exposed to the world for us to know the danger in capitalism.

   On 11 November, BBC radio reported that the European Union Justice Commissioner, Franco Frattini, told France to integrate its ethnic minorities in other to avoid further such occurrences. On 13 November, the same EU gave 50 million to France to rebuild their country. They had forgotten to pass the message across to other EU member states that prevention is better than cure.

  To my greatest surprise, on the streets of Paris and other cities that I visited in France many French people confessed in front of the television cameras that they had never seen riots like this in their life. And these were just riots with petrol bombs and stones thrown by few boys! And I asked myself, what if they had seen the genocides from Biafra to Rwanda that imperialism caused, because of its egocentric intent, at the expense of poor Africans in particular and the third world countries at large.What is happening in France today should be a lesson to nations like Belgium, Holland, Germany, Switzerland, Austria, Denmark, Norway and Sweden.

  As a socialist propagandist, I hate vandalism, I believe in peaceful social and political dialogue. But, when people take the law into their hands, that means that they have been oppressed beyond bounds and they are prone to explode. And their explosion can result to rioting, rebellion, terrorism and
sometimes total anarchy.

  At this juncture, EU should use its tongue to count its teeth and know that the Fortress Europe has brought severe damage to France and that many more riots are on the way to other EU member states that have refused to open up their immigration policy that encourages marginalised ‘illegal’ immigrants. Immigration policy in the West is based on corrupt western politicians conniving with the third world politicians; as a result, immigrants continue to cross borders and seas no matter what the risk ahead.

  Sarkozy is a man who believes that he can become the President of France in 2007 by fighting immigration. Capitalism has blindfolded the world that our level of forgetting things is quite enormous. If not, how can some political riff-raff like Nicolas Sarkozy of France and the Belgium Interior Minister Patrick Dawael be propagating what their forefathers could not achieve  ears ago? These two sycophants are looking for cheap popularity in their political party because they live in the land of the blind that have eyes but cannot see. They will bring woes to the entire population of these two nations.

   Lastly, I am advocating that the only solution that will enable people of different race to live in peace is socialism. And capitalism should be eradicated without further delay to enable us to enjoy the beautiful things of the world without fear.
Dele C. Iloanya, 

Editorial: The Unemployed Riots in France (2005)

Editorial from the December 2005 issue of the Socialist Standard

Following the death in the last week of October of two teenagers electrocuted while trying to avoid a police identity card check, riots broke out in the suburb of Paris where they lived. These soon spread to other suburbs of Paris and then to those in other cities of France. Police were stoned, cars set alight  and fire engines attacked, night after night,for three weeks.
Most of the rioters were the children or grandchildren of workers who had come to work in France from its former colonies in North and West Africa. This led some to see the riots as another aspect of some Islamic attack on “Western civilisation”. Predictably, the notorious French racist politician, Jean-Marie Le Pen, said it was all due to immigration.

Actually, in a sense, it was a revolt against “Western civilisation”, but not by Islamists. It was a revolt by unemployed youth, living in rundown estates with the worst amenities, against the fate capitalism has imposed on them. Certainly, most of the rioters were nominally Muslims and the children of recent economic migrants, but essentially they were workers who had been thrown on to the scrap heap even before they had had a job.

Insult was added to injury by the French interior minister talking about people on the estates as “riff-raff” and about “cutting out the gangrene” and “cleaning by pressure hose”. He maintained he was only referring to drug dealers and petty criminals but this was not how it was perceived on the estates.

Capitalism needs a reserve army of  unemployed, to exert a downward pressure on wages as well as a source of readily-available extra labour-power that can be called upon during the expansion phase of the capitalist economic cycle. In addition, there is always a surplus population who, for various reasons, are never going to be employed. The level of state “benefits” paid to these non-working sections of the working class is fixed more by political than economic considerations, basically by what the state can get away with without provoking riots.

In France the state has evidently pushed a section of these workers too far. The result has been a revolt against the state as represented by the police, the fire brigade and public buildings. The French state has replied in kind. Sending in more police, declaring a state of emergency, imposing curfews, handing down severe sentences including deportation to countries convicted rioters are supposed to have “come from” but have never been to.

Of course, in the end, the state will win and the riots will be put down. After the repression, however, the state will spend a little more money to improve amenities and job prospects on the estates, the price of avoiding further costly and damaging unemployed riots.

But what a comment on capitalist civilisation! In a world which has the potential to provide a decent life for everybody, a section of the population is driven to riot just to get a slightly less small pittance to live on. Rioting, though perhaps understandable, is not the answer. What is required is not blind rage but that the quite legitimate rage of these victims of capitalism should be accompanied by an understanding of the situation capitalism has put them in. Capitalism causes – in fact, requires – some workers to be surplus to requirements and suffer above average social exclusion.

Once this is understood, then it will be realised that the constructive thing to do is to work for a new society in which having to obtain money, by hook or by crook, to acquire what you need to live will be a thing of the past. A society based on the common ownership and democratic control of the means of life where enough for all will be produced since satisfying people’s needs will be the sole aim of production. A society where everyone will be “socially included” because we’re all fellow human beings.