15. "Banlieues" riots, France, 2005

[b]What do you think of the riots in the [ibanlieues[/i] in October and November 2005 ? There've been riots in French banlieues all over the years. Did these reach a new level?

It's doubtful the 2005 riots went further than those that have occurred in France for over twenty years. For instance, their ability to go beyond the causes of their eruption, to get other targets than the police and their immediate environment, to spread outside their own estate, to combine with other social groups, to find "allies", that ability was not bigger in 2005 than in previous riots, and may indeed have been smaller. For example, unlike some previous revolts, this one remained limited to young males, and did not develop into "popular" looting. We certainly don't dismiss those events. But they had no more universal reach than for example a few strikes have had. Let's face it, some comrades keep a much more critical eye (and often, rightly so) when analysing workplace struggles than when analysing estate riots. Clashing with the police does not in itself convey a subversive content. Facts do not simply speak for themselves. Nothing is radical in itself, neither anti-cop violence, nor the fact of arousing media and bourgeois hatred, nor a marginal life on the outskirts of wage labour, nor gratuity, nor an ungovernable country, nor autonomy, nor community when it closes in on the group. Not every chaos is a creative one. Violence exercised by the oppressed is not automatically subversive.

Present wage labour struggles are often militant and yet generally defensive, "reformist" and... often defeated. But far from superseding these limitations, the 2005 banlieue riots completed them by adding their own fragmented separate moment. All these parts do not interplay or intermingle, do not cross-fertilise, do not incite each other to transcend their own origin and to produce some common ground. In the Spring 2006, when large sectors of high school and university youth took to the streets against the Contrat Première Embauche (a step forward in casualisation) and eventually forced the government to withdraw its bill, their action was very loosely connected with the outcasts of the school system who had rioted a few months before, and their action also had very few ties with people at work. All these movements are indeed the effects of a single cause: the casualisation, the downsizing and intensification of work. But resistance takes the form of parallel oppositions with little opportunity or desire to meet up, at least up to now.

Those in a workplace still ask for something positive: a job, a protection, a better (or non-lowered) wage (none of these claims is negligible, and the ability of labour to press them is a sign of healthy militancy). Those outside work act negatively. Nothing wrong with that. Revolution implies negativeness. But there won't be any revolutionary process as long as negative and positive action stay apart. The social pacifism often practised by those wage earners who've got a job and are afraid to lose it, is echoed by a violence which only knows its enemies, not its friends.