France: Millions march for solidarity

Unity against racism and capitalism!

Nearly four million people marched in the streets of France this weekend to express their disgust and their grief against the attacks in Paris which killed seventeen people last week. This is an unprecedented mobilisation on this kind of issue. It is clear that a large majority wanted to be united in the face of the violence of terrorism, to reaffirm the right to freedom of speech and expression, but equally, to a large extent, their rejection of racism and division.

The manoeuvres of the right and the extreme right to benefit from the emotion and the anger have failed. The FN was unable to muster more than a thousand demonstrators in Beaucaire dans le Gard. What was most impressive in the huge demonstrations of the weekend was the refusal to fall into the trap set by the terrorists and racists.

The Valls Hollande scheme

When we hear talk of "national unity", there is always a danger. On the one hand government figures use it to cut across the opposition of workers and the population to their policies; on the other hand, journalists and politicians outbid each other with nationalism as if the country was going to war. This was the complete opposite of the feeling that dominated the marches in all the cities, often calm and silent but above all fraternal.

Some preferred, in view of the world leaders who were participating, to boycott the Paris demonstration. The presence of the king of Jordan, or the Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu, whose army has caused the deaths of thousands of Palestinians, or the Turkish Prime Minister, Erdogan, who is a leading supporter of ISIS in Syria, and many others who are the worst war-mongers and gravediggers of freedom in their own countries, repelled a large part of the demonstrators. This is understandable, but for our part we did not want to give up the street to the gestures of Valls and we preferred to be with the millions who were expressing their rejection of hatred and terrorism. We participated in the marches wherever we were, distributing our special supplement and not encountering any hostility, on the contrary.

Unity against racism and capitalism!

A significant proportion of the population in France chose this unity but certainly without many illusions in those who were at the head of it. It is certain that a large majority continues to have as main worry for 2015 the risk of unemployment as indicated in the polls on 3 January.

We have to fight against racism in all its forms from anti-Semitism to Islamophobia. And some politicians are stirring up hatred particularly against Muslims. According to a poll taken on Saturday, 10 January, 66% reject the amalgam between "Muslims who live peacefully in France" and Islamists.

After the dramatic events of 7 and 9 January, the mass mobilization of this weekend, its massive and fraternal nature, things mustn’t be allowed to fall back. Meanwhile, Valls along with politicians of the UMP and the FN will continue to raise the specter of terrorism to hide their inability to solve social and economic problems of the majority of the population and continue to justify wars in Africa and the Middle East are yet precisely the cause of the emergence of these terrorist groups which produced these three madmen who murdered 17 innocent people.

Workers, young people must be united to fight against racism, whatever their origin. For this, we cannot count on Valls, Holland and Sarkozy! We must organize together to attack the root of the problem, the capitalist system, exploitation and impoverishment of the majority for the benefit of a small minority on which the system rests.

Statement distributed by Gauche Revolutionnaire (CWI in France) on weekend demonstrations throughout France

No restriction on freedom of expression !

We must not let ourselves be divided ! No to racism !

No unity with Valls-Merkel-Rajoy-Sarkozy or Le Pen !

The attack on the offices of Charlie Hebdo by heavily armed men on Wednesday 7th January, and the murder of twelve people, is a shocking event which we condemn as a cowardly and barbaric act.

Our thoughts and our solidarity are with those close to the victims : Frédéric Boisseau, cleaning worker; Bernard Maris, economist ; Michel Renaud ; Elsa Cayat, psychoanalyst; Mustapha Ourrad, sub-editor; Franck Brinsolaro, police officer ; Ahmed Merabet, police officer ; Wolinski, Charb’, Tignous, Cabu, Honoré, cartoonists, and with the other victims and injured.

The attack on Charlie Hebdo and individuals such as Wolinski and Cabu is no random act. For many people these were journalists known for their long-standing commitment. In many different ways they fought intolerance, racism and censorship. We are outraged that they should die from bullets fired by crazed and intolerant terrorists. By attacking ordinary workers, those committing this atrocious murder demonstrate that they have nothing to do with the fight against racism, that they are not acting in defence of Muslims and that they have no desire to live in a society which is tolerant and shows respect for all.

There is no way that French Muslims will feel any sense of relief from this act, quite the contrary. Moreover they will be the ones who suffer the consequences on the streets, since this is what happens every time one of these blind, reactionary acts is committed. Those terrorists who claim to defend a ‘religion’ are no better than the reactionary Islamophobes who will now be rubbing their hands and planning violent acts against Muslims. Both groups work hand in hand to breed intolerance and obscurantism. This hateful and cowardly act of terrorism reinforces all those reactionary trends which seek to divide workers and young people on the basis of religion or ethnicity.

No restriction on freedom of expression or the right to satirise

Charlie Hebdo is the product of a long struggle against censorship, racism and the far right, although it doesn’t spare the Left either. They use provocation and extreme sarcasm as a way of undercutting political correctness and media manipulation. We defend Charlie because we believe there should be no obstacles to freedom of expression. We know that the ruling classes are very quick to attack this right. We took the same position over Dieudonné although we disagreed with what he said, some aspects of which may be considered racist, especially his many anti-semitic references. When Charlie Hebdo published the cartoons of Mohammed it was in response to the death threats against the Danish journalist, to say, in effect, that we do have the right not to believe in God and to criticise religions. The problem is that to approach the issue in such a provocative and sometimes insulting way, in the context of an escalation of anti-Muslim racism, especially after 9/11, is no answer, and may even play into the hands of the racists. This was particularly the case during the lengthy – too lengthy – period when Charlie was managed by the opportunist Philipe Val who moved from the far left in his younger years to adopt a position close to Sarkozy more recently. While defending the right to the fullest freedom of expression, it is for this reason that we would wish to distance ourselves from some of the observations and drawings published in Charlie.

Cartoons may be disturbing, but no-one is killed by them, unlike the real world which cartoonists such as Cabu or Wolinski denounced in the course of their artistic work. Their cartoons may have sometimes seemed ‘stupid’ or ‘nasty’, but their aim was to attack stupidity and oppression. From early on in their careers they confronted the forces which pressed down on society : the Church, the army, supporters of colonialism, the far right. What the terrorists targeted in their cowardly attack was not the real Islamophobes of the far right but the defenders of freedom of expression, and those struggling against oppression and totalitarianism. Often in their work it was not faith itself which was the target but the use made of it by the powers-that-be and by racists.

No unity with those who promote racism !

Seeing all those politicans who were criticised and caricatured by Charlie defending the magazine defies belief. The cartoonists would have laughed out loud if they had been told that the bells of Notre Dame cathedral would toll for 15 minutes in tribute to them… quite an achievement for these dyed-in-the-wool anti-clericalists! It will be their final joke, and it’s only a shame they can’t enjoy it.

But there is something laughable in the limitless hypocrisy of the ruling classes and their servants in the media, and we must not forget what they are each responsible for. We are uncompromising defenders of freedom of expression, but when we know that 90% of the press is in the hands of the major capitalist media groups, who do not hesitate to apply censorship in their pursuit of profit, we will take no lessons in ‘freedom of expression’ from them.

Sarkozy, Le Pen etc have no place in the commemorations !

At a time when a new ‘anti-terrorist’ law restricting our freedoms was passed in November, under the pretext of combatting jihadi networks, in fact a convenient excuse to spy on people, now the politicians are suddenly worried about our freedom. Two months ago the police intervened violently to stop peaceful protests in memory of Rémi Fraisse, an environmental activist murdered by police. A government that attacks trade unionists is supposedly concerned about freedom of thought ? Mass media who are only interested in conflict and fashion, and are open to the likes of Zemmour, pouring out insults and smears against Muslims and immigrants, are re-discovering the defence of freedom of thought and tolerance ?

Even the FN wants to join in ‘national unity’ and claims to defend a magazine which was opposed to what is the FN stock-in-trade ; racism and Islamophobia in particular. There can be no room for the FN in the commemorations of the deaths at Charlie Hebdo. All the more so since Marine Le Pen is using this oportunity to call for the reintroduction of the death penalty, something which the cartoonists at Charlie always opposed.

Nor are the right interested in paying tribute to those who died at Charlie. Sarkozy speaks of a ‘war of civilisation’ just as he previously talked about ‘riffraff’. Some right-wing MPs such as the UMP’s Mariani claim to defend freedom of expression yet attempted to ban certain public events and even rap songs. There can be no unity with these politicians who attempt to use the current mood to promote their racist ideas.

And certainly not with those heads of state who have been invited by Valls : Rajoy, the Spanish prime minister and heir to Franco, and Cameron, the British prime minister who in his younger years led the conservative youth and their ‘hang Mandela’ campaign.

Freedom of expression : a weapon against reaction and the ruling class

We will demonstrate and pay tribute to the victims, in defence of freedom of expression and thought, and against socially regressive policies which provide fertile soil for fanatics and reactionaries of all stripes. We need the maximum turnout to stop them from using these deaths to make themselves look squeaky clean. Yes, we need unity, but not a spurious unity which is no guarantee of our freedoms.

The finest tribute we can pay to these victims is to step up the struggle against racism, obscurantism and all those policies which aim to divide workers and young people. What we desperately need, and have done for years, is a political force which will defend the victims of capitalism, which is open to all, and which has as its goal the unity of workers, young people, the unemployed, pensioners, whatever their origin or ethnicity. A political force which is just as serious about fighting the attacks by the government and the employers as it is about fighting racism and intolerance. The ‘Left’ has let us down in many ways these last few years, by agreeing to operate within a capitalist framework, by abandoning the fight against racism, and by supporting wars, for example in the Middle East, and Mali. This same government talks about the ‘jihadist danger’ here while it supports Turkey which is assisting IS in Syria, and while it is in alliance with Qatar and Saudi Arabia whose ultra-reactionary regimes also support terrorist groups.

The present government, led by the PS, also bears some responsibility for the poisonous atmosphere in recent months. Without batting an eyelid they are following their predecessor Sarkozy down the road of undermining the welfare state and democratic rights. In the wake of recent events we must not forget the statements by finance minister, Macron, according to which the only aim of a young person must be to become a millionaire, which means getting rich on the backs of workers and the majority of the population. Neither should we lose sight of the thousands of redundancies, the ultra-liberal policies in favour of the rich and unemployment which affect us wherever we come from. While mobilising to pay tribute to the dead we must not leave aside the vital task of a generalised struggle against the policies of this government which serves the rich and the bankers.

For unity of the workers and the people against racism, Islamophobia and anti-semitism!

On Thursday 8th January le Monde carried the headline : ‘France’s 11th September’, demonstrating their continued commitment to the sensationalism characteristic of the media. But the fact that they dare to make this comparison gives an ominous indication of the atmosphere which we will encounter in the weeks to come. We can expect that a larger space will open up for the forces of the right and the far right. It is up to us to organise a rank and file struggle against racism and capitalism to counter that. We can expect that this murderous attack will be used by the ruling class (and not only in France) to impose draconian measures on immigrants (or those who look like immigrants), activists and all of us, under the pretext of national unity and the fight against terrorism. The Vigipirate plan has already been raised to the highest level in the Paris region, which allows for the imposition of bans on large demonstrations, and will encourage stop-and-search by armed personnel based on racial profiling especially among the population of North African origin.

The climate of Islamophobia is getting stronger. This makes some Muslims feel, quite understandably, that they are under attack. We oppose all forms of racism, Islamophobia, anti-semitism, sexism, and we fight for a world of solidarity, fraternity and tolerance. We have nothing in common with these luminaries who think they can dispense justice, yet are apparently frightened of people armed with a mere pencil. The terrorists, just like the warlords who rape and pillage among defenceless populations in Africa and the Middle East, have no interest in the struggles of peoples in these regions, whether in Palestine, Syria, Iraq, at the time of the revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt, or the mass movements in Burkina-Faso and Senegal, any more than they are concerned with the struggles of ordinary people, Muslim or non-Muslim, in France. The ‘religion’ of these terrorists consists of highly lucrative deals, for example, in the arms trade, or in human trafficking, which is big business for groups like Boko Haram or IS, who are in any case responsible for murdering Muslims by the thousands in Nigeria, Cameroon, Iraq or Syria.

At the same time, if young people in Europe are radicalised along reactionary religious lines to the extent that they lose any sense of humanity and become terrorists, this is not unconnected to the policies of the imperialists who have been bombing some countries for years now, and who have sown chaos and war for hundreds of millions of people all over the world. But confronted with all this, it is not terrorism which will bring change, quite the contrary, it strengthens the position of the ruling class and traps entire populations in a state of fear. The answer is not to turn in on oneself, to remain confined within communities, which is what both the traditional French far right and some religious groups want. On the contrary, what we need is a mass movement which is tolerant, militant and democratic !

Trade unions, and other labour movement organisations and associations should put out a call to rally and pay tribute to the victims of Charlie Hebdo on their own platform: for the unity of workers, youth and the great majority of the population regardless of their origin or beliefs, for freedom of expression, against all reactionary and fundamentalist terrorists, against the racist and imperialist policies of French governments that increase sectarian divisions, intolerance and obscurantism.

A mass, unified, movement against racism, and against the policies that force millions into insecurity, must be built. It is on that basis that we must show support for the journalists and employees of Charlie Hebdo and that we will continue to struggle against the government’s austerity policies in the coming weeks and months.

We are in favour of a tolerant and democratic society where everyone can live as they wish, according to the culture, the philosophy or the religion they choose. A democratic society such as this is possible but it requires us all to fight to destroy the roots of oppression and division : capitalism, the law of profit, and the exploitation of workers and natural resources for the benefit of a tiny minority of super rich. By taking the principal means of production and exchange out of the hands of the capitalists, and by organising society democratically, on the basis of public ownership and under the control and management of the working class and the population as a whole, we can put an end to inequality, war and injustice. This is what we defend, this vision of a democratic and socialist society, in total opposition to the endless barbarism which capitalism forces on us.

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January 2015