Herrera is a Marxist economist and researcher at France’s Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique (CNRS). He works at the Centre d’Économie de la Sorbonne, Paris, and wrote this sarcastic commentary on April 18 on the response of the French ruling class and government to the burning of Notre-Dame cathedral. Workers World staff translated it.
A cathedral burned down. One of the most beautiful, on the Ile de la Cité, the ancestral heart of Paris; one of the most imposing, built in the Central Middle Ages over the course of nearly two centuries (probably started in 1163, under King Louis VII The Pious, and finished in 1345).
Notre-Dame is one of the most magnificent cathedrals, which was built thanks to the talents of generations of architects of the new Gothic art and the golden hands of a host of craft and traditional workers and then to those of the “compagnons du devoir” (crafts guilds) who restored it in the 19th century after the genius Victor Hugo’s writings were published. This is the same Hugo who celebrated the sans-culottes (revolutionary masses) of the 1789 French Revolution and opened his door to the communards [of 1871] and revived popular appreciation for this masterpiece.
Notre-Dame is the most visited monument in Europe: 20 million people flock to its square and 13 million enter it every year. Its roof ignited and the fire devoured the “forest” — 100 meters long of 1,300 oaks used to build its framework, along with its lead tiles and its large arrow.
Before firefighters extinguished the fire’s last embers, the billionaires, like vermin that had already been flushed and smoked out, had pulled out their bloated wallets. The “leaders” [in charity] elbowed each other aside in order to achieve a nice “publicity coup” — and for those who believe — a ticket to box seats in paradise. Obscenely competitive donations flowed in.
The bids flew about in the spiritual auction house. “Hear, hear, hear, good people, bow down at the feet of your master. Thank them for their kindness and generosity and rally to the banner of national unity!”
Everything is monetized
Repulsive indecency runs rampant in their world where everything is a commodity and publicity for them, and where everything is monetized, bought, sold, redeemed, resold, degraded, corrupted and desecrated. Put up your cash!
To my right, 10 million euros were donated by brothers Martin and Olivier Bouygues, the masters of construction, TF1, telecoms (and even Canadian oil and Ivorian offshore gas), through their family holding company SCDM. Both of them receive more than 100 million euros in dividends per year. They have fallen in love with Château Montrose in the Médoc, which was bought for 130 million euros, and would like to divest themselves of their 62-meter yacht for the “clever price” of 59.95 million euros.The Bouygues empire brings in 33 billion euros in total sales each year and has more than 115,000 employees.
Here 10 million euros come from Marc Ladreit de Lacharrière, owner of the financial company Fimalac, for “the national reconstruction effort” and “the arrow — symbol of the cathedral.”
The important thing in this competition is that the bidders show up, are seen and hold their place. So, the auctioneer continues, with his hammer sealing any transfers of ownership.
The Pinault family donated 100 million euros through the Kering group (formerly Pinault-Printemps-Redoute) of the Artemis holding company. The fortune of François Pinault, who is active in luxury, culture and distribution businesses and owns Château Latour, Yves Saint Laurent and Christie’s, among other companies, exceeds 30 billion euros. His fortune has more than doubled since President Emmanuel Macron came to power; it is 310 times the value of the donation.
Who can do better, asks the auctioneer? On this side, the Bettencourt-Meyers family donates 200 million euros! This represents 0.2 percent of the market capitalization of L’Oréal, the company which is currently the world leader in cosmetics products. Françoise Bettencourt-Meyers is the heir to this corporation, which was founded by a Nazi collaborator during the Occupation in World War II. To your good cheer, ladies and gentlemen!
And another 200 million euros is put in the basket by the Arnault family, which will mobilize its “creative, architectural and financial teams” to “help in the reconstruction!” Bernard Arnault, head of the world’s leading luxury group, LVMH, and also active in mass retail, finance and the press, is the richest person in France. His 200 million euro donation is barely 0.25 percent of his assets, which are estimated at 73.2 billion euros — compared to 46.9 euros only a year ago!
Billionaires even cried!
Reportedly, they were all sincerely moved and affected by the terrible tragedy. Some felt it in their gut. Some may have even cried. These billionaires are such charitable souls!
Let us not forget the moral people who came forward and spontaneously provided help as soon as they learned of the tragedy. A brief advertising screen shows that the CapGemini IT group gave 1 million euros. The recently privatized and already generous La Française des Jeux gave 2 million euros for the Easter lottery! The Crédit Agricole bank contributed 5 million euros, and the pharmaceutical laboratory Sanofi gave 10 million, as well as the Société Générale bank and the insurer Axa. BNP Paribas, with a balance sheet showing 2,000 billion euros — twice the total expenditure of France’s public administrations — donated 20 million euros. The same for the advertising group JCDecaux. The oil company Total, which currently rakes in 209 billion in total sales, but paid no taxes from 2009 to 2014, gave 100 million euros.
Above all, since it is a question of appearing in a beautiful photograph of the “capitalist family,” others have offered “pledges” without specifying the amount. This includes the Vinci public works group, tire manufacturer Michelin and Air Liquide, industrial gas specialist. They are all there! The MEDEF (entrepreneurs’ association) called on all French firms to contribute to the fundraising campaign.
Such touching gestures: The insurance company Groupama will donate oak trees from its private forests as a gift for the new structure — assuming it is made of wood. Steel manufacturer ArcelorMittal will give steel to reinforce the building. The Saint-Gobain group offers construction materials. The airline company Air France will transport without charge official participants in the “reconstruction.” And then there is Château Mouton Rothschild! It will donate the proceeds from the sale of wine boxes!
And there is the French Professional Football League. And also Apple, the American investment fund KKR, French Heritage Society of New York and the University of Notre Dame in Indiana. Certainly, this includes the Walt Disney Company which reaped $300 million in revenue with its “Hunchback of Notre Dame” movie. There was a big ruckus at that gate.
The only thing missing from this picture was Ubisoft, the video game publisher from Morbihan, which announced a donation of (only) half a million euros, intended for reconstruction. The company added a bonus, free download of its iconic game Assassin’s Creed Unity to celebrate Holy Week in èits own way, allowing a virtual and adventuresome visit to Notre-Dame.
A total of 1 billion euros disbursed in 48 hours! Plus a free video game! It’s Christmas at Easter! Don’t throw any more money in! The cup is full! It’s just as well as the Vatican, although rich as Croesus and stingy as Harpagon [lead character in Molierè’s “The Miser”], will apparently keep its purse tightly closed. But it has declared itself ready to offer its “technical advice” and “world-renowned know-how.”
In addition to the exhibitionism of the wealthy and powerful, there has been disgusting hypocrisy and filthy incompetence shown by the government officials they selected for us. Because this charitable orgy is organized in the secret entrails of a state that tolerates the most heinous plunder and incivility from tax evasion — modestly described as “optimization,” which feeds so many experts — to large-scale fraud. Even the lowest estimates of amounts lost through tax evasion — an insult to the population, representing revenues the government lacks — would be sufficient to cover public deficits, including local ones.
As if that were not enough, all the miraculous saviors of Notre-Dame will be able to benefit from tax reductions upon request — at least those who have agreed to pay them in France. Since the “Aillagon Law” was passed in 2003 about financing cultural activities, companies can deduct 60 percent of their patronage expenses, with the possibility of a tax deduction spread over several years. The law was named after Jean-Jacques Aillagon, former minister of culture of the Raffarin government at the time of President Jacques Chirac.
The tax reduction can even reach 90 percent of the donation amount (to the limit of half the tax due) when the donation involves the purchase of cultural property considered “a national treasure” or of “major interest to national heritage.” In other words, the sponsoring company, by investing in the art market, would in reality lose only 10 percent of the amount of its contribution under these conditions.
Super-rich have no shame
In principle, this 90 percent reduction does not apply to the case of the “reconstruction of Notre-Dame.” Yet, while the cathedral was still in flames, loud voices called for an incentive from the state. After all, isn’t Notre-Dame a “national treasure”? This is what Aillagon dared to ask for, as he is now adviser to François Pinault, an art collector, in order to clarify his wise investment. It’s probably just a coincidence!
These people have no shame, but they have scruples. Aillagon withdrew his proposal and Pinault, outraged that he was suspected of wanting to earn money by giving it away, quickly ceded his tax deduction. Which others will imitate him?
Finally, the president of the Republic and his government have shown deplorable incompetence. Knowing nothing about the challenge, without soliciting a bit of technical expertise or reaching out for consultation, Emmanuel Macron, as performer, exclaimed: “We will rebuild the cathedral even more beautiful and I want it to be completed within five years.”
The evaluation of the damage alone, however, will require much time considering that the entire roof covering the nave, choir and transept of Notre-Dame Cathedral has been destroyed, some of the vaults in the ceiling are in danger of collapsing, the overall structure of the building, including the towers, has been weakened by the spillage of tons of water, and the cut stones may have been damaged by the heat of the fire. Why not further destroy the labor law, connives Macron, to make laborers work night and day to “rebuild” it?
Five years from now it will be 2024, the year of the Olympic Games in Paris. Is that the secret goal? How mediocre! What links Notre-Dame to competitive sports, however celebrated the games may be?
The actor-president showed determination, though, in immediately appointing a “Reconstruction Czar.” Would this be an architect? No. What a strange idea! A restorer of historical monuments? What’s the point? An art historian? Don’t be silly! Macron needed a warrior to “rebuild” Notre-Dame, just like the military troops the government used against the Yellow Vests.
That warrior is Jean-Louis Georgelin, an army general, whose “artistic prowess” consists of serving with paratroopers, going through the U.S. Army Command and General Staff College training school in Kansas and participating in the stabilization force occupying Bosnia and Herzegovina in the mid-1990s. This harks back to the alliance of the army and the clergy, just like in the good old days!
Under the gaze of gargoyles
Under the sardonic gaze of the gargoyles giving their blessing and spewing vices outside the church, the mouths of exploiters, fraudsters, polluters and usurers regurgitated their profits. With a snap of the fingers, a handful of private kings, the wealthy of France so fond of tax niches, will have thrown on the banquet table the equivalent of more than three times the amount of money the state spends annually on the restoration of heritage monuments, 300 million euros.
This heritage budget has been lamentably neglected for decades, abandoned to a popular lottery game, and to such good works of billionaire philanthropists. Will the Louvre Museum also have to burn down for the government, which owns Notre-Dame and the works of art inside, to finally remind us that it exists?
And suddenly, as if by an act of the Holy Spirit, the capitalists who are wrecking the country and deepening social inequalities, have metamorphosed into cathedral “builders” and guarantors of “national unity.” All this is likely to end badly. Perhaps even before the monument reopens its Last Judgment Portal to pilgrims and tourists. The Great Jacquerie of 1358 [peasant uprising during the Hundred Years War] broke out soon after the inauguration of Notre-Dame.
In the first century, at the very beginning of the Christian era, as the “pillar of the Nauts” — rediscovered in 1711 within the foundation of the altar of Notre-Dame — seems to indicate that a pagan Gallic-Roman temple of impressive size for the time stood at the exact location of the current cathedral. This temple was dedicated to Jupiter, of whom Emmanuel Macron believes himself to be a direct descendant. By announcing the “rebuilding” of Notre-Dame, this “Jupiterian president” wanted to mark his century. He made this tragedy into a personal affair. Between the two arms of the Seine river [which flows on both sides of Ile de la Cité], Macron thinks he is at home.
No. Notre-Dame will not be “rebuilt.” It will only be restored, the damage repaired. In reality, the most admired of the 93 cathedrals in France, which had resisted the vicissitudes of the last 856 years, was definitively lost under the short reign of Macron. This is what he is still incapable of understanding.