French army shooting striking workers?

In this July 14, 2017 file photo, French Army Chief of Staff, General Pierre de Villiers, and French President Emmanuel Macron stand in the command car during the annual Bastille Day military parade on the Champs Elysees avenue in Paris [Credit: Etienne Laurent/Pool Photo via AP, File]

This photo shows French President Emmanuel Macron and the French Army Chief of Staff, General Pierre de Villiers.

By Alex Lantier in France:

From Cavaignac to Villiers: The class struggle in France and the lessons of history

20 December 2019

Millions of people have participated in demonstrations and public sector strikes this month against French President Macron’s efforts to slash workers’ retirement benefits, shutting down rail and transportation infrastructure in much of the country.

On Monday, the newly retired head of the French general staff, General Pierre de Villiers, demanded harsher repression against the ongoing nationwide strike movement.

These statements must be taken as a warning to workers not only in France, but internationally. With capitalist society torn apart by levels of social inequality incompatible with democratic forms of rule, factions of the ruling elite are pressing for a bloody military dictatorship.

Already, over the last year, Macron has ordered nonstop repression of “yellow vest” protests against social inequality, student protests, and now of strikers. Protesters have faced armored cars, water cannon, and thousands of riot police armed with rifles and rubber-bullet guns. Over 10,000 protesters have been arrested and jailed for questioning, over 4,400 wounded, two dozen have lost an eye to rubber bullets, five have lost hands to police grenades, and one bystander was killed, in the largest wave of state repression in France since the 1940-1944 Nazi Occupation in World War II.

In March, Paris military district commander General Bruno Le Ray reported that he had authorized soldiers to open fire on protesters, the first time such an order had been issued in France since 1948.

Nevertheless, de Villiers insisted that repression of social protest still must be greatly increased. As Macron and Prime Minister Edouard Philippe were preparing confidential meetings with the general staff and with union officials to discuss Tuesday’s million-strong protest march, de Villiers told RTL: “We must reestablish the proper balance between firmness and humanity. … There is not enough firmness in our country.”

De Villiers, who is now being considered as a possible neofascist presidential candidate in 2022, stressed his fear at the conflict emerging between the workers and the state. “A gulf has emerged between those who lead and those who obey. This gulf is profound. The ‘yellow vests’ were already a first sign of this,” de Villiers said. “We must restore order; things cannot continue this way.”

Neither de Villiers nor Macron have said exactly how many more people they would like to kill, maim and jail to crush protests against deep social cuts opposed by two-thirds of French people. But the ruling class is clearly acutely conscious that it is waging a violent struggle against the working class. To understand what de Villiers is advocating, one must recall what happened when de Villiers’ predecessors acted with more “firmness” against the workers.

In 1848, workers across Europe rose up in revolution against the monarchies that had emerged from France’s defeat in the Napoleonic wars. In June, as the capitalist Republic suddenly tried to shut down the National Workshops set up to provide jobs to the unemployed, workers in Paris took to the streets to stop a policy that would mean poverty and starvation. In response, General Eugène Cavaignac led the army and the security forces in the mass slaughter of the June Days, killing over 3,000 workers, arresting 25,000 and condemning 11,000 to prison or deportation to Algeria.

This September 2018 French video with English subtitles is about the mass killing of Paris workers in June 1848 by General Eugène Cavaignac.

In March 1871, when the French Third Republic tried to disarm Paris by stealing cannons the city had bought for self-defense amid France’s war against Prussia, revolution again erupted. The working-class Commune took power in Paris. After buying time, however, and with the complicity of the Prussian general staff, the French army under General Patrice de MacMahon invaded Paris in May and slaughtered the insurgent workers.

Led by liberal historian Adolphe Thiers, the French Third Republic killed an estimated 20,000 workers and arrested 60,000. On May 24, as the infamous Bloody Week of mass slaughter unfolded in Paris, Thiers boasted to the National Assembly: “I have shed torrents of blood.”

From such bitter experiences of the international class struggle, worked over by the greatest revolutionaries of the era, the Marxist theory of the state and revolution emerged that would guide the taking of power by the working class in Russia during the October 1917 revolution.

The state, Karl Marx’s great co-thinker Friedrich Engels wrote in 1884, establishes “a public power which no longer directly coincides with the population organizing itself as an armed force. This special, public power is necessary because a self-acting armed organization of the population has become impossible since the split into classes… This public power exists in every state; it consists not merely of armed men but also of material adjuncts, prisons, and institutions of coercion of all kinds… It grows stronger, however, in proportion as class antagonisms within the state become more acute.”

From this flowed the need for the workers to take state power to suppress the counterrevolutionary violence of the ruling class and, through socialist policies to create social equality, overcome the division of society into classes, out of which the state emerges. Nearly 150 years have elapsed since the Paris Commune, and yet Engels’ analysis still illuminates the decisive questions facing working people in France and around the world today.

The last two years have seen an eruption of struggles, from US autoworkers‘ and teachers‘ strikes to mass protests against inequality and dictatorship in Algeria, Lebanon, Iraq, Chile, Bolivia and beyond. This global resurgence of class struggle is the product of social contradictions that matured over decades of capitalist globalization. The era since the 1991 Stalinist dissolution of the Soviet Union, and especially since the 2008 crash, has seen a relentless transfer of wealth produced by workers to the financial aristocracy, and into imperialist wars from Afghanistan to Syria, Libya and Mali.

The intensity of these class antagonisms underlies the extraordinary buildup of military and police forces across the globe. Macron’s cuts, which would transfer tens of billions of euros from retirees to the banks, exemplify how nominally democratic states are but thinly veiled dictatorships of the capitalist class. To see the reality of the Marxist assertion that the state consists of bodies of armed men, even in countries like France with long bourgeois-democratic traditions, one only needs to take a walk through the streets of Paris on any day protests are called.

The decisive task now is to warn the working class and mobilize it politically against the threat of state repression. … The way forward is the building of committees of action … to coordinate the mobilization of ever-broader layers of the working class into struggle against the financial aristocracy, the Macron government, and the threat of police-state repression and dictatorship.

French strikes to continue over Christmas: here.

3 thoughts on “French army shooting striking workers?

  1. Several musical ensembles including the Notre-Dame cathedral choir and the Opera of Paris are on strike, and the Lyon City Opera strike is getting wide attention on social media. Management tried to impose a concert on the singers on December 18 to punish them for striking the day before. The singers responded by announcing, as the curtain was lifted before a full house on December 18, that they were still on strike and would not sing any more on the 18th than they had on the 17th.

    “Since December 5, millions have marched across France to demand an end of the pension cuts. The movement is not weakening; on the contrary, this week it has found a second wind,” they said to applause and catcalls from the audience. Denouncing Macron’s attacks on culture workers, they said: “Our management, by postponing a concert that was supposed to take place yesterday, is trying to prevent us from contributing visibly to this movement. … Therefore, unfortunately, we workers have decided not to perform tonight.”

    Firefighters are also protesting amid mounting anger at police use of stun grenades to target firefighters who are peacefully demonstrating to defend their pensions. Even though the firefighters technically have the same paramilitary juridical status as the riot police, riot police have savagely attacked them. In October, a firefighter lost an eye to shrapnel from a stun grenade. Now, videos are circulating on social media of the December 17 march, showing police charging and assaulting peaceful firefighters and throwing stun grenades at them.


  2. Pingback: Spanish general wants Franco-style military coup | Dear Kitty. Some blog

  3. Pingback: French workers fight on against Macron | Dear Kitty. Some blog

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