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France on the Brink: A Pre-Revolutionary State?

In his compelling article on Sidecar "The French Uprising," Frédéric Lordon examines the current political and social unrest in France, suggesting that the nation may be on the brink of a revolutionary transformation. In this post I explore some of his ideas.

France could be on the brink of a revolution. The country is facing a number of serious problems, including high unemployment, poverty, and inequality. The government has been unable to address these problems, and the people are starting to lose faith in the system. There have been a number of protests and demonstrations in recent months, and the situation is becoming increasingly volatile. It is possible that France could experience a revolution in the near future.

The Fifth Republic is 64 years old- time for it to retire!’

The Fifth Republic is 64 years old- time for it to retire!’

Analysing the Pre-Revolutionary State of France

In Frédéric Lordon’s article “The French Uprising,” the author talks about the current political and social situation in France, which he calls “pre-revolutionary.” Lordon highlights the collapse of the legitimacy of the power structure, the deteriorating relationship between the police and the people, and the growing dissatisfaction with President Macron’s administration.

Collapsing Legitimacy and Widespread Unrest

Citing various instances of unrest, such as “unannounced walkouts, road blockages, riotous outbursts, and demonstrations.” Lordon points to the increasing hatred towards the police, stating that “antipathy towards the police promises to attain hitherto unknown breadths and depths.”

Frédéric Lordon presents a number of persuasive points that significantly enhance the overall effectiveness of the article. He discusses the role of the media in perpetuating the existing order, the economic inequality in France, and the need for systemic change. He argues that small changes are not enough, and that a more significant shift in the economic and political systems is necessary for meaningful social progress.

Historical Context and the Evolution of the French Political Landscape

To better understand the current pre-revolutionary state in France, it is crucial to examine the historical context and the evolution of the French political landscape. France has a long history of political and social upheaval, with notable examples being the French Revolution of 1789 and the Paris Commune of 1871. In more recent times, the political climate has been characterised by the rise of populist movements and the fragmentation of traditional political parties. The decline of the traditional left-right political spectrum has created an environment in which new political forces, such as the far right National Rally and the liberal centrist Renaissance (En Marche!) party, have gained prominence. This transformation has led to a growing disconnect between the so called political elite and the general population, further contributing to the current climate of unrest.

Comparing the Current Situation to Other Periods of Social Unrest

Drawing comparisons between the current situation in France and other periods of social unrest or revolution can offer valuable insights into the potential implications and consequences of the current pre-revolutionary state. For example, the 1968 student protests and general strike in France led to significant social and political changes, such as improved workers’ rights and educational reforms. Similarly, the Arab Spring that began in 2010 resulted in widespread political change and the toppling of long-standing regimes in several countries; however, the aftermath of these revolutions often led to instability and power vacuums, which in some cases resulted in conditions that were not necessarily preferable for the people. While the outcome of the current unrest in France remains uncertain, these historical examples illustrate the transformative power of social movements and the potential for revolutionary change. By examining these past events, we can gain a better understanding of the possible trajectories that France may take in the coming months and years.

Rising Antipathy and the Call for Systemic Change

Lordon argues that the French government has lost its legitimacy because it can’t meet the needs and address the concerns of its people. Stating that this crisis is clear from the fact that many people are unhappy with traditional political parties and the rise of grassroots movements like the Yellow Vests. Many readers can relate to the author’s focus on the loss of trust in democratic institutions because they may feel the same way about their own political systems.

The role of the media: Lordon criticises the mainstream media for keeping things the same and serving the interests of the elite. He says that the media often misrepresents or ignores popular discontent, which can make protests and social movements seem less important. By showing how the media affects public opinion, Lordon encourages his readers to question the stories told by mainstream news sources and look for other points of view.

Economic inequality: Drawing attention to the growing economic divide in France, which has led to increased frustration and resentment among the working and middle classes, Lordon argues that taking away worker protections, having unfair tax policies, and putting most of the money in the hands of a few people have made social tensions worse. This argument resonates with people who have seen similar economic disparities in their own lives, and it highlights the importance of addressing these problems without delay.

The need for systemic change: Lordon claims that small changes aren’t enough to solve the big problems that French society faces. He calls for a substantial change in the way the economic and political systems work, asserting that workers and citizens need to be in charge of production and decision-making. By presenting a bold vision for change, he inspires readers to imagine alternative futures and consider the potential for collective action to bring about meaningful social progress.

Signs of a Pre-Revolutionary State: Key Observations and Arguments

Lordon also presents several observations and arguments that can be used to make a case for France being in a pre-revolutionary state. Here are some key points:

Legitimacy collapse: Lordon notes that the legitimacy of the power structure in France has collapsed, leaving a coercive bloc that is separated from the people only by a police line. This suggests a deep divide between the government and the public, which could potentially lead to a revolutionary situation.

Spontaneous events: The author highlights various spontaneous events, including unannounced walkouts, road blockages, riotous outbursts, and demonstrations. This widespread unrest indicates a heightened level of social and political tension, which could evolve into a pre-revolutionary state.

Lordon notes that the legitimacy of the power structure in France has collapsed, leaving a coercive bloc that is separated from the people only by a police line.

Antipathy towards the police and government: Lordon points out that antipathy towards the police has reached new heights, with hatred of the police being converted into hatred for President Macron. This growing animosity towards both the government and its enforcers, may signal a tipping point (see section below on Sainte-Soline) towards a revolutionary situation.

Sainte-Soline Protest: Police Brutality Mars Demonstration (another tipping point)

On March 25, 30,000 people gathered in Sainte-Soline to protest the privatisation of water and the construction of France’s largest industrial “mega-basin.” This demonstration followed a successful previous protest in which 7,000 people managed to breach police lines. Initially, the atmosphere was upbeat and determined, with protesters having tripled in number and farmer tractors evading police lines. However, the police sought revenge and resorted to extreme force, causing over 200 injuries and leaving two people in critical condition. As a result, the day cannot be considered a success, and it has become evident that the state is prepared to use lethal force to maintain control and protect the interests of the capitalists dominating the agro-industry.

The police in Sainte-Soline on March 25, 2023.

Communiqué from the Parents of Serge (S.) on March 29, 2023

This is a translation of a statement from the parents of an activist who remains in a coma five days after the police violence at Sainte-Soline.

Following the injury caused by a GM2L grenade, during the demonstration of March 25, 2023 organized in Sainte-Soline against the irrigation basin projects, our son Serge is currently in a hospital fighting for his life.

We filed a complaint for attempted murder and voluntary obstruction of the arrival of the emergency services; and for violation of professional secrecy within the framework of a police investigation, and misappropriation of information contained in a file for that purpose.

Following the various articles published in the press, many of which are inaccurate or misleading, we would like to make it known that:

  • Yes, Serge is on the “S” list (“State Security” watch list)—like thousands of activists in today’s France.
  • Yes, Serge has had legal problems—like most people who fight against the established order.
  • Yes, Serge has participated in many anti-capitalist demonstrations—like millions of young people around the world who think that a good revolution would not be too much, and like the millions of workers currently struggling against the pension reform in France.

We believe that these are not criminal acts that would sully our son, but on the contrary that these acts are to his credit.

Serge’s parents
March 29, 2023

Graffiti reading “Vengeance for S. [Serge]—49.3° of rage!” “Beneath the BRAV-M, the beach” [a reference to the famous graffiti from May 1968, “Beneath the concrete, the beach”] and “Bring us the head of the henchmen.”

Graffiti reading “Vengeance for S. [Serge]—49.3° of rage!” “Beneath the BRAV-M, the beach” [a reference to the famous graffiti from May 1968, “Beneath the concrete, the beach”] and “Bring us the head of the henchmen.”

As the police become increasingly militarised, it is inevitable that the people will push back against this excessive use of force. The militarisation of police forces has historically led to public backlash and resistance in various contexts around the world. In 2014, the fatal shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, sparked widespread protests, with the police’s use of military-grade equipment and tactics fueling public outrage. Similarly, in 2019, both Chile and Hong Kong experienced massive protests, which intensified due to the heavy-handed, militarised responses from their respective governments. In Nigeria, the #EndSARS movement in 2020 also exemplified how a militarised police force can galvanise the public to resist and demand change. These examples demonstrate that the people are likely to push back against militarised policing, as it is perceived as a violation of the fundamental principle of policing with consent.

The growing appeal of workers’ sovereignty: The article argues that the idea of workers’ sovereignty over production is becoming more appealing, especially as the country’s social model has been brought to its knees.

In France, workers’ sovereignty is becoming more popular as a reaction to the long history of centralised state power in the country. The French Revolution of 1789 was a turning point in history because it led to the founding of a republic based on the ideas of freedom, equality, and brotherhood. But the French government has always kept a strong central authority, which has often put the government and the working class at odds.

In recent years, there have been a number of protests and strikes by French workers, who have been demanding better wages, working conditions, and benefits. The government’s response to these protests has been harsh. Riot police and tear gas have been used to get people to leave the streets. This has only served to further alienate workers from the state and has led to a growing sense of distrust and resentment.

So, the fact that workers’ sovereignty is appealing shows that there are deep problems in the French political system. The state has failed to address the needs of its working class, and this has led to a growing sense of alienation and distrust. Workers’ sovereignty is seen as a way to give workers more control over their own lives and work and to break free from the oppressive control of the state.

It is important to note, however, that workers’ sovereignty is not a panacea. It is a complex issue with a variety of potential challenges. For example, it is not clear how workers’ sovereignty would be implemented in practise or how it would be regulated. It is also possible that workers’ sovereignty could lead to conflict between different groups of workers or between workers and employers.

This shift in public sentiment towards a more egalitarian and democratic form of governance may indicate a pre-revolutionary state.

Exhaustion of the police: Lordon suggests that the police are becoming fatigued due to the constant protests and unrest happening all over France. This exhaustion may weaken the government’s ability to maintain order, potentially leading to a revolutionary situation.

The Lessons of 1968 for Today’s Struggle

As contemporary activists and leaders in France navigate the current pre-revolutionary state, it is crucial to reflect on the lessons from the 1968 student protests and general strike. These lessons can provide valuable insights into building a more effective movement and achieving the desired systemic change.

Unified leadership and clear objectives: To avoid the pitfalls of 1968, today’s leaders should work towards establishing a unified leadership structure and setting clear, achievable objectives. This will help create a cohesive movement with a shared vision, increasing the likelihood of sustained momentum and substantial change.

Engaging with diverse stakeholders: To build a robust and inclusive movement, it is essential to engage with various stakeholders, including students, workers, intellectuals, and marginalised communities. By fostering open dialogue and collaboration among these groups, the movement can develop comprehensive solutions that address a wide range of societal issues.

Anticipating government responses: Activists should be prepared for potential government responses, including repression, concessions, or attempts to divide the movement. Developing strategies to counter these responses will help maintain the movement’s momentum and prevent it from being co-opted or suppressed.

The regime is only held together by the police.

Building public support: To ensure long-term success, it is crucial to cultivate broad public support for the movement. This can be achieved through effective communication, addressing the concerns of various segments of society, and demonstrating the benefits of systemic change for all citizens.

Learning from global experiences: The current struggle in France can also benefit from examining other periods of social unrest and revolution, both within the country and abroad. Analysing these historical events can provide valuable insights into potential challenges, opportunities, and strategies for achieving meaningful change.

Balancing short-term gains with long-term objectives: While it may be necessary to accept some compromises and reforms in the short term, leaders should remain focused on their long-term objectives of systemic change. By carefully balancing these short-term gains with the pursuit of broader goals, the movement can maintain its momentum.

Conclusion: Assessing the Pre-Revolutionary Landscape

While these points from the article provide some evidence for France being in a pre-revolutionary state, it is important to note that such a conclusion would require a more comprehensive analysis of the country’s social, political, and economic context and a lot of wishful thinking! Only through a deeper understanding of these factors, as well as the lessons learned from historical events like the 1968 student protests, can one determine whether France is truly on the brink of a revolutionary transformation. By incorporating these insights into their strategies and actions, activists and leaders can maximise their chances of achieving meaningful social, political, and economic change in France. Vive la révolution.


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