Pre-Revolutionary rumblings in France

According to sociologist Jurgen Habermas, emancipation takes place whenever people are able to overcome past restrictions that resulted from distorted communication. It’s a useful framework to use when looking at the growing anti-system sentiment that has spread from Greece to Spain and now to France. Here are some of the markers in the chronology:

In 2007, a book called “The Coming Insurrection” came out, authored by “The Invisisble Committee”. This book was rumoured to be linked to a group which carried out synchronized and sophisticated attacks on high-speed rail lines between Paris, London, Brussels and the French regions in 2008 by jamming steel rods across overhead power cables, halting trains and damaging power lines. No one was hurt.  The book was translated into Spanish and English (MIT press) in 2009. Sales in France estimated at over 40,000 copies.

Last year’s unexpected success of a pamphlet written by a 93-year-old man called Stephane Hessel who issued the call “Indignez-vous” (roughly translated as “get outraged”) to protest their exasperation at income inquality, poor treatment of immigrants etc.

In late May, around 1,000 people took to the streets of Paris one weekend to call for a popular uprising to mirror a Spanish campaign where demonstrators have denounced mainstream politics, corruption and unemployment for several weeks.

The French protestors unfurled banners reading “Real democracy now” and “Paris wake up”. Protestors in Bayonne and Toulouse also joined them, holding banners that read: “We all have reasons to be indignant…join us”.

In the latest issue of the magazine “Usbek & Rica”, former advisor to French Socialist President François Mitterrand said: “We are clearly in a pre-revolutionary period.”

“This populism is justified by a very simple fact: since 10 years, 80% of growth has benefitted 1 % of the world’s population.”

“Yesterday evening I was in a country which I won’t name…and the Prime Minister said ‘If a populist and seductive leader comes on the scene, he can take power in three months.”

Attali is hardly an anarchist or a revolutionary. In 2007, he was named to head a Commission known as ‘The Commission for the Liberation of French Economic Growth’

From Usbek & Rica – interview with Paul Jorion, a Belgian anthropologist who blogs about finance and economics.

On capitalism:

“Until now, the system was tolerated by the masses, who, without directly profiting, were beneficiaries of the social advantages. However, today, we are being told that the Welfare State was a luxury. But it wasn’t a luxury! Its existence was the thing that prevented people from revolting.”

Qu: You have often referred to the potential for rebellion among those who are living under austerity measures. Will they be tempted by violence?

PJ: The strength, and also the weakness of capitalism, is that those who possess capital lend with interest to those who need money. Consequently, the fortune of those who are already rich tends to increase. Then comes a moment when the concentration is too strong: money is blocked in one place and there is no more for others. Until it is redistributed, we converge towards a blockage which arises from concentration. After 1929, money was restributed in very big proportions throughout the 1930’s. Now in 2007, we took measures which went in the same direction: to protect those who have money. Three years later, the situation has deteriorated. All the measures taken were upside down. We came back very quickly to the starting point of the crisis. The people did not create the situation, they are its victims.

A Manifesto for a European Revolution from blogger Stanislas Jourdan.

“Protest movements in Spain and Greece and even Portugal are doomed because they don’t propose any alternative social project. The slogans simply reflect a deep desire for change, a return to certain non-commercial values, more social justice. However, as they are filtered through the prism of mass media and the obsolete political discourse, people are finding it hard to come up with anything fresh. Which means lack of imagination, lack of ambition, lack of solutions. Add to this that France hasn’t really felt the full brunt of the crisis. Thanks to the safety net – crumbling but still in existence – many people still think they have something “to lose” in the event of a revolution.

So right now we are – at best – in a pre-revolutionary stage where indigation is rising, but where there is no communal ideology which is strong enough to set forth.”

In an op-ed which ran in Le Monde on 8th June, 2011, two university professors (one from Paris, the other from Jaen in Spain) talk about the pauperization of the middle classes in their two countries. They note that real estate prices have increased 140% and 288% respectively for Paris and Madrid in the past decade. “For less than 800 euros you can’t find a studio in Paris or a one bedroom flat in Madrid, while the average after-tax salary is 1,500 euros here and 900 euros in Madrid!”


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