Saturday, May 19, 2018

French Students Protest Macron's Attacks on Education. Occupy Campuses

Richard Mellor
Afscme Local 444, retired

Students throughout France have been occupying their campuses to protest attacks on education.  This video is interesting for those that are not familiar with the events of 1968 when the largest general strike in history took place in France.

The French General Strike did not take place in a vacuum of course. The colonial revolution was in full swing as they fought to expel direct control by the British French and colonial regimes. In the US we had the Civil Rights movement that shocked US capitalism to its core. Two of the greatest leaders on the 20th century Malcolm X and Martin Luther King were assassinated by the US state machine in this decade.

In Northern Ireland as well, the movement was in full swing as students and workers fought against the discrimination against Catholics and for unity. Ireland's events were very much influenced by the Civil Rights movement in the US and its most militant sections by the Black Panthers, Malcolm X and other socialist and left elements of the black revolt.

But in France the student movement ignited a General Strike that threatened to topple the state and capitalism itself. Some of the gains under attack today were won in 1968 as the video explains.

In 1968 the state was brought in and viciously attacked the students. Clare Doyle in her pamphlet on the French General Strike* describes it: "At the beginning of May some students from Nanterre including Daniel Cohn Bendit were to be tried in the university courts for 'disruptive behavior'. A battle between students and fascists loomed. On May 2nd  Roche, the Director, closed Nanterre University" 

"The next day students gathering peacefully with those fo the Sorbonne, were viciously attacked by the hated riot police----the CRS---and hundreds of students were arrested..."

As the state increased its repression the University teachers' union called a strike. The government banned demonstrations but the strikes spread to the secondary schools. The more repression, the more anger resulted and the working class, particularly young workers began to join the fray. There were mass demonstrations in Paris of more than one million and at its height ten million workers struck and occupied their workplaces.

The movement shocked not only the French ruling class and French President Charles De Gaulle but the ruling classes throughout the world including the Stalinist regimes that were also facing revolt in Czechoslovakia in 1968 12 years after a revolt in Hungary. In the US the student movement was fighting against the Vietnam war as were many French students. The post World War Two economic boom was coming to an end.

Contrary to the views expressed in the video, the 1968 French General Strike which was "detonated" by the student movement to be joined by the heavy battalions of the working class, threatened to overthrow capitalism itself. It was not, as the commentator in the video says, a battle between liberalism and conservatism. It became a movement to eliminate capitalism, to change the economic and political nature of society.  The workers and youth were betrayed by both the Communist and Socialist leadership that headed the French workers'' movement and things eventually returned to normal with some reforms.

That the strike was kicked off by the student demonstrations and the violent response from the state is to be expected. Workers are more conservative when it comes to moving in to struggle in a major way, have a lot more to lose. The bosses' and their politicians are aware of these dangers which is why movements are nipped in the bud using both the carrot and the stick. In the US during the Civil Rights movement they had to get the movement off the streets and in to the courts that they control introducing what we know now as Affirmative Action measures that have failed the US black population as a whole miserably. These measures were part of a conscious effort to build up a black petit bourgeois, a buffer against the revolutionary potential of the black working class holding them back, telling them that change can only come from limiting protests to within the confines of accepted norms, "look at us. The system works" .

This is just a short commentary to accompany this video but I am certain with some research the reader will see that the rise of the black middle class after the Civil Rights movement runs counter to the deepening crisis and violence affecting black working class communities. There are more black millionaires, and a few billionaires and more black politicians that has not resulted in significant changes in the conditions of life for the black working class.

The teachers strikes in the US have so far been dealt with mildly in the hope they will subside. The Democratic Party representing the liberal wing of the ruling class and the "official" trade union leadership will do their best to ensure the movement doesn't get out of hand as things did in France in 1969 and the movement of teachers doesn't spread to other protest movements that have arisen over the past period against racism, sexism, the environmental crisis etc. It took a month in France 1968 for a protest movement that was dominated by student and education reform that involved 10 million workers and a real threat to capitalism itself.

* France 1968: Month of Revolution: Lessons of the General Strike by  Clare Doyle

Note: I think Ms Doyle's brief account of the events of 1968 is an excellent introduction to this issue for workers. It is well written and easy to read giving a real feel of the explosive nature and mood in France at the time as well as the world situation as a whole. It is also available in Spanish at the Committee for a Workers International (CWI) website.   Correction: A previous posting mistakenly said that Ms Doyle was an expelled member of the CWI.

I am  a former expelled member of the CWI. One regrettable but all too common trait of  the author of this pamphlet and the self styled revolutionary groups like the CWI, is the claim that they and only they predicted any of these events and only they have the answers. Richard Mellor

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