Friday, October 15, 2010

A Republic in the Streets?

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Are the French people governing from the streets yet? Well, not quite. Sarkozy's government is holding firm on its intention to push back the age of retirement, and despite the millions massed in street protests, he will no doubt get his way. Indeed, Rational People (RPs) throughout the capitalist world accept as fact the necessity to lengthen the duration of the working life, if only to maintain some golden proportion to the natural lifespan--as if this were some sort of natural law. "Ah, the French," say the RPs, and roll their eyes at the latest antics of this most wayward of Capital's adolescents. "If the French are not careful, they'll turn into ... Greeks."

And certainly by the numbers they win the argument, these RPs. Budgets must be balanced, debts repaid, we mustn't live beyond our means (those Greeks again). If these last two years of burst bubbles, soaring unemployment, and the specter of financial collapse have taught us anything, it is that we must tighten our belts--all of us, that is, but the financial upper class, the ones who preside over the reduction of everything but their personal incomes.

And yet, if you examine the photo (above), it may strike you that it has a certain verisimilitude. Workers really are shutting down transport systems and refineries; students, most recently a throng of high schoolers as well as university students, have taken en masse to the streets. And while they are not likely to govern France any time soon, they may well render France ungovernable. If that should happen, it may be a clarifying moment, and a rejoinder to all those in the 'anglo-saxon' discursive circuitry who enjoy ridiculing the radical tendencies of le Peuple fran├žais.

For even in this romanticized and helter-skelter fashion, the insurgent unions and students and partisans of the far left who have seized the momentum in France's ongoing political struggle have made themselves significant. Like the Greeks, perhaps, but with far more conviction, the French protesters are making clear that their progressive vision of human history will not go gentle into that good night. In the tradition of '89 and '48, 0f the Commune and the Popular Front and May '68, the French left will contest the exhausted retreat of Capital. And when the workers and students and partisans succeed in making clear that there is no 'reform' solution, no acceptable accommodation within Capital's diminishing precincts, then le Peuple fran├žais may be ready to consider a solution more radical still.