Radical Reflections on France on Fire
and Five Cs: Capitalism, Constitutions, Catastrophe, Climate, and Communism
“The Temptation of Violence”
The spoiled capitalist brat and French president Emanuel “Hot for Teacher” Macron insists that the French must work two more years before they can retire. How’s that working out?
In a beautiful outburst of mass sanity and fury, masses in France have stopped work, taken to the streets, set up barricades, lit fires, battled police and once again demonstrated a hint of what the beginnings of a popular revolution might look like in one of the world’s wealthiest nations.
Paris, the “city of light” – the light of fires set by the people in a nation with unusually stubborn surviving revolutionary and proletarian traditions.
It’s the whole country, not just the capital city. France 24 reported last week that “security forces” had to “fight running battles with protesters late into the night even as firefighters race to extinguish hundreds of blazes…Exhaustion and overstretch are compounding difficulties…as they contend with multiple challenges at once. Over the past week, the interior minister has counted around 400 daily ‘protest actions’ across the country, ranging from spontaneous marches to the occupation of motorways, fuel depots and train stations.”
“I’m warning the president, he must withdraw this reform before the catastrophe unfolds,” Laurent Berger, the head of the moderate CFDT union, France’s largest labor federation, said last week. “We’ve been scrupulously legit so far, but the temptation of violence is there.”
The “temptation of violence” has not been resisted by the so-called security forces. France’s gendarmes have fed the cycle of protest with violent repression that Macron has endorsed in the name of stemming “anarchy.” France24 reports that “Amnesty International, France’s human rights ombudswoman, and even the UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Association…each voice[d] concerns about…heavy-handed policing as well as restrictions on people’s right to protest. On Friday, the Council of Europe became the latest body to condemn the French police’s ‘excessive use of force.’”
“The President is Playing with Fire”
France’s noxious, widely loathed neoliberal president, Macron, had to cancel this week’s previously scheduled visit from the symbolic British monarch King Charles, leading a BBC commentator last night to accuse the French of indulging “their regicidal instincts.”
How absurd. It’s not about kings, whose absolute power ended in England and France in 1649 (the year Charles I lost his head) and 1793 (when Louis XVI got his final haircut), respectively. It’s about the savage regressive agenda of “neoliberalism,” a fancy word for late 20 and 21st Century finance-dominated global capitalism.
“Regicide”? Charles I and Louis XVI were killed by bourgeois revolutions dedicated to the replacement of feudal by capitalist governance (more on that kind of rule below.)
“Reform” is a funny word for Macron’s effort to raise the French retirement age by two years. A better term would be “regression,” demanded by those to whom Macron’s holds allegiance in the land of "Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité": the financial aristocracy, the lords of capital.
France 24 reports as follows:
“The warning from the violence-averse CFDT leader was indicative of how much the mood has soured three months into a bitter dispute pitting Macron against a large majority of the French – a dispute many police officers are reluctant to end up on the wrong side of…’We’re on the eve of an insurrection,’ a senior riot police officer was quoted as saying on Tuesday, flagging the risk of casualties as exhausted and overstretched forces face mounting levels of anger and violence. ‘The president is playing with fire,’ the officer added, speaking on condition of anonymity.”
The Catastrophe is Capitalism
Let the fire become a giant flame of socialist revolution. Is that what the “moderate” labor bureaucrat Laurent Berger means by “the catastrophe” that could unfold if Macron doesn’t relent on the demand that the French spend two more years toiling for their bosses?
“Catastrophe”? Capitalism is now committing a crime far bigger than the decapitation of a monarch or two. It is inflicting Eco-cide, with the capitalogenic climate catastrophe in the exterminist lead. Capitalism, the system behind Macron’s “reform,” is setting the whole world on fire – the kind of conflagration that threatens to burn humanity off the planet. Without mentioning the underlying bourgeois socioeconomic regime, the United Nations’ latest big and horrifying climate report makes it clear that we must either transcend the inherent systemic anarchy of the growth and fossil fuel-addicted profits system or watch prospects for a decent future go up in, well, flames (and floods, and mudslides, and epic storms, drought, famine, hunger, and more terrible to contemplate).
An equally apocalyptic caveat is that the world capitalist system could pre-empt extinction via overheating with Nuclear Winter courtesy of the military competition between its leading imperial rivals Russia, China, and the United States, who are equipped and ever on-alert to blow the world up many times over. The US-Russia proxy war Ukraine is the most obvious proximate flash point for this potential “end of history” though US-led Asian war scenarios with China and North Korea are not far behind. The deadly Ukraine standoff has pushed hopes for positive action on the ever-deepening climate crisis further to the eco-exterminist curb.
The anarchy of capitalism-imperialism has brought the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists’ legendary Doomsday Clock closer to the Midnight than it has ever been.
It’s not just the so-called pension reform that has enflamed French masses. It’s Macron’s decision to ram the massively unpopular policy regression through without a parliamentary vote by employing the French constitution’s ridiculous and authoritarian Article 49.3, which is described as follows by Le Monde:
“When a bill as controversial as the pension reform is debated in the Assemblée Nationale, opposition MPs tend to drastically increase the number of amendments and prolong the back and forth with the Sénat. The government has the option of using Article 49.3 of the Constitution, which allows the bill to pass the Assemblée without a vote. Paragraph 3 of Article 49 allows the prime minister, ‘after deliberation by the Council of Ministers,’ to force a bill through the Assemblée Nationale with no vote. The only alternative to prevent the bill from passing is then to overthrow the government…When the prime minister triggers this procedure, MPs have the option of tabling a motion of no confidence within 24 hours. If a majority vote is obtained, the law is rejected and the government collapses. The next logical move would be for the president to dissolve the Assemblée and call early elections. If the motion of no confidence is rejected, the government wins its gamble: the law is passed” (emphasis added).
What an absurd “democratic” constitution that would permit such a blatantly anti-democratic action by its chief executive! A new charter seems very much in order. I write from the United States, where the denizens of the world’s self-described homeland and headquarters of liberty and democracy are stuck in the ditch with an archaic 18th Century slaveowners’ constitution (ratified for and by the early American republic’s propertied oligarchy when the Bourbons still reigned in France) that defies popular majority rule in multiple and overlapping ways: the ridiculous anti-democratic Electoral College, the absurdly mal-apportioned and powerful upper legislative chamber (the US Senate), extreme states’ rights, rampant gerrymandering (at both state and national levels), and excessive powers of judicial review granted to a lifetime-appointed and undemocratically selected Supreme Court.
Likening True Popular Rebellion to Fascist Thuggery
The arrogant chutzpah of the nauseating scumbag Macron is almost beyond belief. Adding yet more insult to injury, this pampered teacher’s pet has had the cynical gall to liken the millions of working- and middle-class French citizens who have come out against his authoritarian pension “reform” to the racist, sexist, and fascist thugs who attacked the United States Capitol in the name of Donald Trump on January 6, 2021, and to the Brazilian mobs that assaulted their nation’s governmental offices (in the name of the fascist “Trump of the tropics” Jair Bolsonaro) in January of this year.
This is Macron working as usual to neoliberally triangulate, presenting himself to the petty bourgeois center as the sensible alternative to the extremism of the left, absurdly likened to the fascist right.
“Overthrow the Government”
Notice what “overthrow the government” means in Le Monde’s language: the momentary dissolution of the representative branch and the holding of new parliamentary elections. It only entails a re-shuffling of ruling class personnel within the killing confines of the existing bourgeois government, which is sworn and designed to defend a system that oppresses billions the world over while ending life on Earth. The capitalist-imperialist government in Paris does not in fact “collapse” under this constitutional fail-safe: it simply reconfigures. It puts new faces in the same bourgeois places. By most accounts, moreover, the party system of France is so regressively mangled and distorted by decades of neoliberal strangulation and “left” surrender that such a “collapse” would mean the ascendancy of Marine Le Pen’s neofascist National Rally party – capitalism with a more explicitly racist, nativist, sexist, and arch-authoritarian face. That grotesque political reality is no small part of how the neoliberal reptile Macron has been able to be elected twice. It allows him to run as “the lesser evil.” Sound familiar, USAers?
Common Ruin on the Current Capitalist Trajectory
The real change required within and beyond France goes beyond the different policy and political regimes that have been constructed to defend and advance capitalist rule in specific countries. Real revolutions, like what France undertook between 1789 and 1795, and like what the Communards of Paris undertook this very month 152 years ago, smash and transcend the previously existing state system and replace it with another one more aligned with the desires and needs of the popular majority. They undertake what Karl Marx and Frederick Engels called the real and necessary task of a “radical Left” worthy of its label: “the revolutionary reconstitution of society at large” all the way down to its material base. For the two young German philosophers (who came to many of their “scientific socialist” conclusions in Paris), such a revolution against capitalism was the only alternative to “the common ruin of all the contending classes.”
“Common ruin”: is this not where the Anarchy of Capital has brought us in 2023, as Macron’s much older ideological brother Joe Biden betrays a supposedly solemn campaign pledge by signing off on a giant oil drilling project in the Arctic Circle – a project that involves the lethal planet-cooking corporation ConocoPhillips mounting special mechanisms to protect their deep-drilling technology from the melting of the permafrost that their catastrophic mass extraction of fossil fuels feeds? As The New York Times reports:
"ConocoPhillips plans to install devices called thermosyphons in the thawing permafrost to keep it solid enough to support the heavy equipment needed to drill for oil — the burning of which will release carbon dioxide emissions that scientists say will worsen the ice melt."
Read that again. They know they are melting the planet’s permafrost, which rings a death knell for life on Earth. They will not cease and desist from this catastrophe but will instead be installing special devices to keep their drilling equipment working as previously frozen ice cover melts and hyper carbon-intensive methane is released.
Sixteen years ago, Le Monde’s then environmental editor Herve Kempf wrote a book titled How the Rich Are Destroying the Earth. As his text showed he knew, a better title would have been How Capitalism is Destroying Livable Ecology. The planet will outlive homo sapiens. “The rich” – by which Kempf meant capitalists – are collapsing a livable environment thanks to the soulless and ecocidal imperatives of what Kempf called “the social system that presently governs human society – capitalism,” That system, Kempf noted, “blindly sticks to its guns against the changes that are indispensable” – fully renewable energy for one – “if we want to preserve the dignity and promise of human existence.”
There’s no decent retirement, no social justice, no democracy, no free time worth having on a dead planet.
Beyond Retirement and “More” for the Rich Nations
The environmental destruction is being most powerfully felt in the Global South, feeding northward non-white migration streams that help fuel the European and US white nationalist neofascism that neoliberal shitheads like Macron, Joe Biden, and Justin Trudeau get to use as a foil for claiming democratic legitimacy even as they serve the unelected and interrelated dictatorships of capital and empire. The initial concentration of the capitalogenic climate crisis’s most clearly catastrophic consequences in the predominantly nonwhite periphery of the world capitalist system tends to blind masses in the rich/core nations to the existential danger facing all of humanity under the exterminist rule of capital.
Myself on the verge of Social Security and Medicare enrollment here in Capitalist Ecocide Central, the world’s leading carbon polluter and imperialist aggressor, the United States, I am sympathetic to the French people’s struggle to retain something like a humane retirement age. Who doesn’t want to escape the daily supervision and insults of the nickel-and diming bastards who oversee our captured, degraded, and exploited human capacity for creative work as soon as one can in one’s lifetime? What kind of idiot wants to spend the lion’s share of their adult life toiling for bourgeois and bureaucratic despots in a perverse, money-grubbing rat race that — as Marx and his financial planner Engels noted in their 1848 prose poem The Communist Manifesto — “le[aves] no other bond between [people] than naked self-interest, than callous ‘cash payment”? As the young and brilliant Germans elaborated, capitalism:
“has drowned the most heavenly ecstasies of religious fervour, of chivalrous enthusiasm, of philistine sentimentalism, in the icy water of egotistical calculation. It has resolved personal worth into exchange value, and in place of the numberless indefeasible chartered freedoms, has set up that single, unconscionable freedom — Free Trade. In one word, for exploitation, veiled by religious and political illusions, it has substituted naked, shameless, direct, brutal exploitation…[It] has stripped of its halo every occupation hitherto honoured and looked up to with reverent awe. It has converted the physician, the lawyer, the priest, the poet, the man of science, into its paid wage labourers.”
Still, my fellow seniors, there is no retirement from the fight for a real revolution. Let us not forget the fate of younger people and future generations facing life and death on a planet poisoned, cooked, bombed, and despoiled by the system of capitalism-imperialism. Our and previous generations should have overthrown it long ago. Let us not engage in the imperial, parasitic, and chauvinist arrogance of being satisfied by “more” (the famous Oliver Twist request taken up the conservative American trade unionist and nationalist-imperialist Samuel Gompers to describe what he thought the US working class wanted under capitalism) – be it more money, more free time, more entertainment more travel, more recreational drugs, more sex, more garden allotments, more lifespan, or more whatever – within the rich nations of a parasitic world system that turns small Congolese children into hand-miners of cobalt, that covers a fourth of Pakistan in water, that subjects tens of millions of Asian women to super-exploited sweatshop labor, that produces a human trafficking sex-industry worth $200 billion a year, that makes war a wildly lucrative enterprise for high-tech military corporations, and that puts the very prospects of a decent human future – of livable ecology – at ever graver risk.
The term-limited Macron and his bourgeois supporters should be fearing not just for his and their neoliberal agenda but for their whole damn system, meaning not just a constitution that preposterously (in a so-called advanced “democracy”) permits him to coldly defy super-majority public opinion but the entire underlying material system and superstructure of capitalist class rule – the de facto dictatorship of the bourgeoisie that always lurks behind and trumps so-called popular self-rule in the West and elsewhere.
As much as I enjoy and (to be honest) love a good riot, the alternative to the authoritarian and eco-cidal Anarchy of Capital[ism] is not blind rage and anarchism in the streets – the kind of rebellion that will inevitably and quite literally burn out like the Gilets Jaunes some years back but organized vanguard-directed revolutionary socialism lighting a durable flame of popular rule embodied in a radical workers’ state built and determined to suppress counter-revolution and to inspire sisterly proletarian revolutions in other nations with the goal of moving all humanity beyond class rule, the alternative to which is candidly the common ruin of all.
Rebellion Won’t Do It
The reports from France speak of black and yellow. Black for the demonized “Black bloc” anarchists and yellow for the possible return of the Gilets Jaunes – the “lower middle-class” Yellow Jackets who wore yellow traffic vests while engaging in militant protests that forced Macron to repeal a regressive French fuel tax during his first administration. What is required to help and inspire humanity to climb out of the capitalist-imperialist catastrophe are not only the rebel colors black and yellow but also a bright red, the shade of a revolutionary eco-communism that fights for the radical reconstitution of humanity’s relationships with itself and the broader web of life. There’s no decent retirement, no popular sovereignty, no social justice, no free time worth enjoying on a dead planet. We must soon proceed beyond the rule of a catastrophic and anarchic capitalist-imperialism system that is burning down and blowing up life on Earth. Rebellions against and for reforms won’t do it. It will take revolution, nothing less.
At 87 with a wonky heart I would make a piss poor revolutionary, but I can at least share the gospel according to Street with others. 🙏
Nuclear weapons are chemical weapons. Is capitalism a weapon?