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It takes an uprising

Published Nov 17, 2005 2:30 AM

French president Jacques Chirac, shaken to the core by the massive rebellion of immigrant youth, has proposed to extend emergency law for three months. He is trying to belatedly demonstrate his “law and order” position. But he has also declared, reluctantly, that “we can build nothing lasting if we allow racism, intolerance and abuse.”

That was Jacques Chirac on Nov. 15, after a virtual insurrection swept through 300 cities. But in June 1991, as mayor of Paris, Chirac stated that France suffered from an “overdose” of immigrants, and he expressed sympathy for the “French worker” who suffered from the “noise and smell” from immigrants. In those days he was competing with Valery Giscard d’Estaing to stir up anti-immigrant racism. And both ruling class politicians were vying with the fascist National Front to cultivate and capture the racist anti-immigrant vote.

Today Chirac and the French ruling class are being burned in the flames of a rebellion that they created by perpetuating oppression, masked by the myth of “equality” of all under the “color-blind” constitution of the “social republic.” They have been basking in the slogans of the French Revolution of 1789 while enforcing poverty, unemployment and exclusion on millions of immigrants from North and sub-Saharan Africa.

Buried in a New York Times story of Nov. 11 was a passage confirming that the French government does not permit statistics to be kept on discrimination. But the piece cited a study carried out by a former soccer player turned political adviser, Karim Zeribi, in which “resumes sent out with traditionally French names got responses 50 times higher than those with North African or African names.” Candidates for jobs are regularly asked if they are practicing Muslims.

So while the constitution and the law are sightless, the bosses are not. That is “legal,” institutionalized racism.

Frederick Engels, the co-founder of Marxism, wrote about the French Revolution in his book “Socialism: Utopian and Scientific.” He showed how the great bourgeois revolution declared that “henceforth superstition, injustice, privilege, oppression were to be superseded by eternal truth, eternal Right, equality based on Nature and the inalienable rights of man.”

“We know today,” wrote Engels, “that this kingdom of reason was nothing more than the idealized kingdom of the bourgeoisie; that this eternal Right found its realization in bourgeois justice; that this equality reduced itself to bourgeois equality before the law; that bourgeois property was proclaimed as one of the essential rights of man.”

What soon emerged was the realization that a new, modern form of exploitation, capitalist wage slavery, was the result of the bourgeois revolution, even as it carried out the progressive task of destroying feudalism, serfdom and hereditary privilege of the great landed aristocracy.

Today, when capitalism has entered the thoroughly decadent and reactionary stage of imperialism, the slogan of “equality” under the law and the constitution in France and other imperialist countries masks not only wage slavery and exploitation but internal colonialism and the super-exploitation of millions of immigrants from former colonies and present-day neocolonies.

In this era when the world capitalist economy is in a permanent crisis of slow growth, stagnation, punctuated by periodic recessions and depressions, racism and national oppression has become a fundamental instrument, not only of the French ruling class, but of all the ruling classes of Europe and of the U.S.

What the French rebellion did was to destroy this fiction and reveal the true colonial relationship that forms a good part of the foundation of French imperialism. For the first time in French history the rulers are going to have to consider affirmative action—a concept that was forbidden under the ideology of the so-called “social republic.” Those who are concerned about supporting the rebellion should remember this. Without this righteous uprising, nothing would be done.

It is worth while remembering also that after the great mass civil right movement in the United States destroyed legal segregation, the African-American masses in the inner cities, the equivalent of the suburbs of France, discovered that dismantling legal segregation was not enough. The automatic, institutionalized racism of imperialist society was still in place, with its racist discrimination in jobs and education, its police brutality and judicial repression.

It took rebellions in over 100 cities in 1968, after the assassination of Martin Luther King, to force U.S. imperialism to officially acknowledge the institutional racism that permeated society. This was recorded in the Kerner Commission report, which declared that the U.S. was “moving toward two societies, one Black, one white—separate and unequal.” It was soon after that, in 1972, that President Richard Nixon had to reluctantly sign affirmative action into law.

Many of the gains won from the rebellions of the 1960s in the U.S. have since been pushed back, just as the immigrant population in France is rising up to tell the world about its intolerable conditions.

The failure of the labor movement in 1968 to join in solidarity with the African-American struggle for liberation from oppressive social conditions is being reproduced in France at the present moment. But the inability of world capitalism to bring anything but increasing hardship to workers, organized and unorganized, is going to force the entire working class to take a new path—a path of solidarity and class struggle—which will shake the foundations of the system and is the only road to social and economic progress.