France is roiled up again. This time spontaneous outburst of rage people has been centred on killing of a 17-year old boy of Algerian descent named Nahel M. The boy was fatally shot from close range by police during a traffic stop in a Paris suburb on 27 June. Footage from several vantage points shows that, despite early claims that two police officers were in grave danger when one of them opened fire, the pair was standing next to the driver’s window, with an officer pointing a gun inside, before the car began to move past them. The first protests took place on the same night in Nanterre, and then outrage boiled over and spread across 99 cities in France. Slogans demanding ‘‘Justice pour Nahel,’’ have gripped big cities. Agitating people have set over 2000 cars and 534 buildings on fire and created road blockades. Nearly 1500 people have been arrested so far. 45,000 police officers have been deployed around the country to contain the protest. ‘‘You get the feeling that our police is becoming like America’s’’, observed one agitator referring to the tragic killing of George Floyd, an African-American lad, by a racial police officer in US. France President Macron and other leaders are pretending to show sympathy for the victim. But they reportedly are not showing an intent to examine whether the problems that led to Nahel’s death run deeper than a single officer’s actions. The guilty police officer has acknowledged firing his gun and was taken into custody. Even the prosecutor lawyer announced a preliminary charge of voluntary homicide against the officer accusing him of flouting law when he fired at Nahel.
Yet, rage of the people have not subsided. Because the present agitation which has surged forth centring around the teenager’s tragic death, actually is outburst of accumulated grievances among the toiling people of France against the persistent anti-people policies of the French Government and growing hardship in their economic-political-social-cultural lives. For example, when Macron called the shooting incident ‘‘inexplicable’’, the agitators retorted by saying that ‘‘the reality is that it is not inexplicable. It’s not rocket science, it’s racism’’. They have long been raising voice against rising police atrocity in the working class areas where a good number of poor immigrants and expatriates also reside. Labelled ‘‘quartiers prioritaires’’, these localities are home to more than 50 lakh impoverished people. About 57% of children living in those communities live in poverty, against 21% for the French population as a whole.
France’s official auditing body, the Court of Accounts, pointed out in 2020 that despite an estimated €10bn spent by the government on banlieues every year, they remain mired in poverty, insecurity and lack of services. Moreover, there has long been complaints of police brutality and discrimination in these areas, especially against lower-income households and racial minorities. Last year, there were 13 people killed by trigger-happy police after being stopped for alleged traffic violations. That figure set a record, according to French media. ‘‘It’s an explosion of general anger directed not just at police oppression, but also at economic and racial inequities, …in spite of international criticism and local struggles, the French state has continually reinforced its police, prisons, and borders (multiplying weapons, laws, and units specialized in ferocity) as well as judicial impunity over the last 30 years’’, said Mathieu Rigouste, the author of La Domination Policière, a book examining how French policing practices are rooted in colonialism.
France, the land of the historic French Revolution that brought the concept of democracy to the mankind, the land of the 1968 massive student movement, that drew in people of different social rungs including the then topmost intellectuals of the country and even shook the world, the land of so many other glorious movements of people, has again come up with people on the streets. They were the people from all sections of life, workers, peasants, office employees, students, even housewives in cities, towns, outskirts and villages in groups, in masses, in hundreds, even in hundreds of thousands. They included workers defying their reluctance to compromise trade union leadership and joining the movements en masse on demands for a rise in the minimum wages to help them make both ends somehow meet. They were the fateful victims of de-industrialization where MNCs had been preferring to move for more profit to other less developed countries with a much lower labour cost and switching over to machines in their own land. The fighting people included youth without jobs, as the French lost 63% employment in seven years between 2000 and 2007 and unemployment since then remained unchecked. They included peasants trapped in debts from the sky-rocketting charges for seeds, labour, or agricultural equipment and meagre price for the crops they produce, as their ‘benevolent’ government kept the price low to compete with the African and South American countries and the poor peasants had to take resort to suicide, one the every other day on an average. High school students protesting reforms to national examinations, responded with blockading roads and observing strike at the call of their National Union even after being made to kneel down on streets by the police and be arrested. Then, the country witnessed eruption of the long sustained ‘Yellow Vest movement’ in 2018 that stirred the entire world. The participants in that movement demanded repeal of the green tax on diesel, minimum wage (about $1,350 per month after taxes) to be raised, resignation of President Macron and dissolution of the National Assembly and hold new elections. 72 percent of French people support the yellow vest movement.
Protests continued to rage across France Macron’s unpopular Pension Bill, which was pushed through using special constitutional powers on 16 March last without giving French lawmakers a chance to vote. The Bill, among other things, raises the retirement age from 62 to 64. Street demonstrations and transport strikes disrupted France again this year against a widely unpopular pension overhaul took place. Demonstrators demanded the authorities to scrap the changes. ‘‘Anger is growing,’’ a 48 year-old striking worker told The Guardian. ‘‘This has gone far beyond pensions, it is about our political system. The president has executive powers that need to be rethought. It’s about protecting France’s whole postwar system of social protection. It’s about hanging on to our welfare state, as Macron tries to unpick it—from housing benefits to the unemployment system. French people are well informed and politicized, they won’t let this pass.’’
From the bitter experiences of their life, it is now dawning upon French people that despite all talks of liberalism, artistry and intellectualism, the ground reality is that their country is a capitalist-imperialist country, whose people are thrown into the putrid quagmire of the crisis-ridden world system, where they had to pass through the ordeals following the prescription of imperialist globalization. Their capitalist-imperialist state may have grown to one of the few nuclear powers of the world, but has failed to give them any respite from the daily sufferings. Instead the capitalist rulers shifted the burden of their crisis-ridden system on to the people; the fuel price hike being the latest one, done on the plea of saving environment and such others. It made the common people gather courage once more to stand united and firm against the brute heartless rulers, the monopolists and their corporate houses. The arrogance yielded to people’s power; people’s movement could unsettle settled facts.
Despite all efforts of the capitalists to allure people with the fantasy of pledges and thereby keep them confined within the limits of the four walls of parliamentary politics, the rulers are not being able to hold the oppressed people back from the movement, which is even leading to the call against the system. The situation demands that, the heroic people of France, seriously probe and ponder over the fact that such movements need leadership of genuine revolutionary party to reach the desired goal of emancipation. So it will be a genuine revolutionary party to lead the movement in each case, on the edifice of the new, developed understanding of the present day problems and their ramifications, an understanding based upon correct revolutionary ideology and culture.