haven't the French risen up as one and massacred their political and
economic elites?” The first thought that comes to mind after
spending just a couple of days in that once lovely country. (Well,
hell, it is still lovely, but getting a little frayed around the
give me a number of answers; Good old fashioned French individualism
has been perverted by consumerism into narcissism. The Red Zones that
once surrounded the major cities composed of industrial workers, the
back bone of the trade unions and the left parties have been
devastated by neoliberalism. Millions of jobs lost and with it the
loss of sociopolitical focus. (Some 7 million unemployed) The
political parties – with the exception of the dreaded Front
National – all suffer from the totalitarianism of the center –
they have no answers for anything, no vision, no hope. They exist
only for taking power for its own sake and pandering to the corporate
oligarchs. Worst of all is the Socialist Party. Would you like a
Sarko served up with Hollandaise sauce or prefer to be Marine-ated?
And the parties of the real left – Front de Gauche and the
Verts made the mistake of collaborating with the Socialist
Party and got eaten alive for it.
FN has kept its racist hard core by scapegoating immigrants, but at
the same time stealing much of the left's platform. This is why it is
doing so well in the polls. Hollandaise accuses the FN of being far
right and Sarko claims it is far left. If the Socialist Party
attacked austerity, challenged the bankers and sought to restore
French industry, Marine Le Pen would be toast. But the SP has to do
the bidding of its masters.
country has definitely gone down hill since my last visit a decade
ago. I was hardly here an hour and I saw a Starbucks. The country
that invented the cafe imperialized by these swine! I felt like
picking up a rock and hurling it through the window. Ten years ago it
might have been molotoved.
is being Americanized. The same criminality that destroyed
every small city in North America is wrecking the villages. Big Box
stores and shopping malls are built on the outskirts, the local
commerce is destroyed and the villages hollow out. You can buy a 200
year old house in a village for E40,000. Agribusiness swallows the
small farm and the official Peasant's Union supports chemicals and
Saint Denis, where we stayed in the Paris region, it is dangerous to
go out at night. There are even streets where a woman or old person
might get robbed during the day, as happened to a friend of ours.
Think high unemployment and drug addiction.
and Charlie Hebdo. The French are being ground between two
fascisms, that of the FN and that of the Islamist clerical fascists.
They both play off of each other so nicely a paranoid would think
they were working together. Many North American leftists have no idea
of the reality of the Charlie Hebdo massacre, naively, but also
understandably given US conditions, reducing the whole thing to
racism and to hell with the victims.
situation is more complicated than our Yanqui reductionists would
have us believe. Charlie Hebdo is a left wing paper and three
of those murdered were anarchists who also worked for the French
Anarchist Federation's weekly, Monde Libertaire! Furthermore,
some of the most vocal critics of Islamist extremism are themselves
of Maghrebian or Middle Eastern origin.
the people who love to hate will use Islamism as a means to
rationalize their distaste for people with brown skins. But the
libertarian left fights racism like no other force in society, and is
very careful in keeping separate in word and deed, the immigrants
from the clerical fascist minority.
all is bad news. The anarchist movement is growing and the
revolutionary syndicalists while divided (as usual) may well be more
influential than they have been in years. When I was in France in
2005, the French Anarchist Federation (FAF) had about 50 or so
branches, it now has 68. It's only real “rival” federation,
Alternative Libertaire, is also a great deal larger than it was
revolutionary syndicalist union, the CNT-F, suffered a split last
year losing close to half its membership to a new formation now
called CNT-Solidaire. The latter broke away as its members wanted
their officials to be paid a salary, while the CNT-F stuck with the
time-honored revolutionary syndicalist policy of volunteerism.
Solidaire still considers itself within the syndicalist camp, but as
a somewhat more reformist variety. In spite of this split, the CNT-F
still has several thousand dedicated militants. Separate from each
other, the two former factions may both be in a better position to
expand their influence.
are probably as many syndicalists and anarchists in the more regular
unions as in the revolutionary ones. The Comites
Syndicalists Revolutionares (CSR) engages
many if not most of these. Unlike in the USA, the history, political
culture and labour laws in France make it possible for a
revolutionary minority to have at least some influence within
non-revolutionary unions. Anarchists and revolutionary syndicalists
are found within the Communist CGT, the apolitical Force Ouvrier,
and the base unions of SUD. (Indeed, operation within the
revolutionary and non-revolutionary unions is a priority for both the
FAF and Alternative Libertaire.) The weakness of the politics within
the regular unions gives the hope that the anarchists and
syndicalists will be able to expand their influence as they have with
the social movements.
personal recollections – While the villages are dying, some are
also being revitalized by anarchists and other radicals. Then there
is the phenomenon of the Book Village. There are 9 of these in
France, each with an area with a number of book shops attracting
bibliophiles from all over. The Book Village of Cuisery even has an
anarchist book shop, Les Chats Noirs, allied to the FAF. The book shops have
definitely helped the villages survive.
Dijon, there is a famous cafe operating since 1907 just off the
market, (ideal location) It went out of business and was sold to some
anarchists who will eventually turn it into a worker coop. It is also
used as headquarters for a number of organizations (large space) such
as the CNT and La Mistoufle, the group and eponymous publication of
the Dijon FAF. I went there twice and the place was packed. Lots of
cultural stuff happening in the evening. The food looked good, but
didn't try it, just had my morning espresso. But hey, this is France
right? The food HAD to be good, or else no one would be crowding
the canal was an enormous old canal barge called La Cancale.
This has been converted into a combination resto-bar and night club.
It is run as a cooperative. We went twice and had local craft beers,
ate sausages and listened to 1920s German music, mixed with techno.
The place was jammed, all ages and even families, but mainly 20
somethings. The land beside the canal is a park and at least 60
people were sitting on benches eating food and drinking beer from the
resto-bar. (Something unthinkable in puritan North America) Some
nights the local campus radio station broadcasts from the boat as
ages and even families – something I noticed in Holland as well
and within the anarchist movement. A healthy inter-generational mix,
everyone having fun, no hassles and no authorities around.
looked for the Hotel des Associations in Dijon, but found it
had been taken over by the right-wing social democratic union, the
CFTD. Seems a dispute broke out with the other members and the CFTD
got control some how. Now the Hotel des Associations is a
wonderful idea. You see in France small groups are respected, they
aren't treated with contempt like they are in North America. Cities
provide a building with small offices, mail boxes, and a large
meeting room at minimal cost to groups like Theosophists, hiking
clubs, anarchists, enviro groups etc. It is part of the rights of
being a citizen, and of course, if you add up all those little
groups nation-wide, you get millions of people, and why should they
be ignored like in Canada?
news! When I got back to Canada I found the city had provided a new
and larger building, now called the Maison des Associations.
in the Paris Region we visited my old friend Penelope, who used to
own a book shop in Paris – and were so involved in chatting while
in her adorable little apartment, we forgot to take a photo. She then
took us around the 5th, down past St. Germain de Pres –
shades of Sartre and Beauvoir – on a tour we will never forget.
Denis has a rue Proudhon and a rue Ferrer, undoubtedly
the influence of the CGT when it was still revolutionary syndicalist.
about two hours in the Librarie Publico, hdq and chief book
shop of the FAF. Had a good talk with Laurent, the man running the
shop, about the situation in France. Bought as much as I could carry
in my luggage without crippling myself. He told us that if we wanted
to do a good walking tour to follow the Canal St Martin, to metro
station Jaures, which we did, and enjoyed very much.