Sunday, January 2, 2011

Toward a durable, peaceful people's struggle ...

Back in the heady days of October, when the French high school students were joining older students and workers in the streets and a wave of protest was spreading across most of western Europe, a tract appeared, calling for "une guérilla sociale durable et pacifique." Now that wave of protest has evaporated like the bubbles in last night's champagne--just as the tract's author, a sociologist and activist named Philippe Corcuff, had predicted. In fact the whole premise of his manifesto was that the movement, rather than grow into the general strike that some were calling for, would dissipate as the Toussaint vacation intervened and the pension reform inevitably became law.

But although the issue of France's retirement age is settled for the moment, and the students are back in school, the larger questions that engaged protestors not just in France but in London and Athens, Barcelona, Dublin, Lisbon, and everywhere else where austerity policies are in the works, those questions are still very much with us. Here in the US as well, as a retrograde Congress takes office tomorrow, the politics of social regression are occupying center stage. In that context it was interesting to see that Corcuff renewed his call in an interview published just last week, long after all the chants and marches had faded away.

What is this "peaceful guerilla" that Corcuff proposes in lieu of a general strike? It is not one movement but many, protean, serial but persistent. It implies a climate of resistance that would maintain the momentum of the mass marches without imagining that such large-scale mobilizations can be sustained indefinitely, or that they are ready to grow into something more confrontational, e.g. the general strike. Local strikes, political theater, even civil disobedience--a checkerwork of such actions is what Corcuff imagines that will maintain the spirit of resistance to Sarkozy's politics of retrenchment and the gradual wearing away of the social security systems.

And why just in France? As the problem of increasing inequality and diminished resources for ordinary citizens manifests itself variously in all the advanced economies, might not the varied forms of resistance reinforce one another to produce a global "guérilla durable et pacifique"? After all, the financial class at the root of the problem has long since globalized itself. So even here in the reactionary hub of the Empire, resistance of any sort might add to the greater momentum sustained by countries such as France, Greece, even the UK. Such a perspective could be heartening to an American left that feels increasingly constrained by its rear-guard action against Mr. Yes-We-Can, the bankers' friend. Gestures of solidarity with the foreclosed, the unemployed, with immigrants and retirees without pensions--these ongoing, small, hardly visible but persistent efforts may be our national contribution to that larger struggle.


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