Archive for the ‘Marxism’ Category

2.5 Million Protest Government Response To Global Economic Crisis In France On ‘Black Thursday’

January 31, 2009

2.5 Million Protest Government Response To Global Economic Crisis In France On ‘Black Thursday’

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Old Things New Things, Part 2: Capitalism

January 29, 2009

Americanization as a controversial subject in the francophone world, granted, is not new.  Jean-Luc Godard was obsessed with the subject treating it heavily in his films in the 1960s.  The film ‘Two or Three Things I Know About Her,’ for example, revolves around criticism of the American capitalist invasion and its effect on the speed and color of life.  More directly, ‘Made in the U.S.A.,’ an early imitation of the American conspiratorial thriller that took off most notably after Watergate, creatively blurs the boundaries between the two societies showing an Americanized world in France where car horns, planes and gun shots interrupt actors; money, blood and politics are equated; American corporate labels and consumerist images are rife, relative to the period; and the death of liberty and the left are represented side by side with the hunting and killing of communists.  For Godard this was a combat against an imperialism waged by foreign corporations intending to spread their advertisements everywhere in the public space, denegrate ideas and access to them, box people up in cars on big highways, and separate the political from the everyday.

Nevertheless, he would be even more disappointed today.  Not that any such invasion is complete, far from it; rather, it has just made more headway.  Looking around today, one sees suburban-American ‘banlieus residentielles’ sprouting up just beyond the tower blocks of the communist influenced ‘banlieus rouges’ of the 1950s and 60s.  Even in militantly anti-assimilationist Corsica, the concept of the modern American suburb has taken hold as communities 15 minutes from the sea have turned to the to-each-his-own-pool model.  This being a structure fully at odds with public transport, cars have taken over.  In turn, highways expand, take over new fields and farms, and necessarily produce cultural and gastronomic monstrosities alongside them like the seemingly omnipresent chain of Buffalo Grills.


Outback à la française - Boo-fah-lo Gah-reel

Yet, changes to the landscape are only the beginning as new anglicisms are constantly entering the vocabulary.  A short list after jotting words down for the last few months or so would be: fun, timing, speed, fast-food, cool, shit (meaning hash), spliff, weed, trip (in the acid sense of the term), low-cost, discount, business, leader, meeting, merchandising, (stock) trader, planning, marketing, lobbying, jogging, gym, footing, shopping, parking, star, designer, people (but only used for the rich and famous ones), fashion, hype and look.  English is considered, in a bourgeois sense, what is modern, efficient, and fashionable; in other words, everything having to do with Hollywood fashion magazines, drugs, business school, or exercise routines in which you wear a special outfit and run through parks in urban areas and/or on treadmills. 

While there are certain strains of criticism that go back to critiques of America during the McCarthy period etc., the most searing reactions nonetheless stem from the political changes in the 1980s.  Two books on the political history of France from this period answered a lot of my questions as to why France doesn’t just seem more to the left but actually is more of a socialist – if not even communist in rare instances – society.  Coming out of the two oil crises in the early and late 1970s, the world was – as the story goes – in crisis.  America and Britain, both fearing the idea of society living or dying as a whole, voted for a new politics in the form of Margaret Thatcher (1979) and Ronald Reagan (1980).  The story is well-known now: the neoliberalization of the markets, increasing inequality of wealth, and not only an end to social services (with a decrease in funding of said departments by 80% in the US) but the death of the social: the idea that people live together in a society, that politics and philosophy have meaning, and that everyone can and should have a say in the direction of our collective destiny.*

However, on the other side of the Channel the French elected François Mitterrand, a socialist, in 1981.  To say that there were clashes between the three governments would be an understatement.  Mitterrand once stated that the only reason he even dealt with America was due to its undeniable geopolitical prowess.  Relations were tense.  One of the books shows dialogue from three meetings between Reagan and Mitterrand in 1981 and 1982 in which the two are at each other’s throats.  In 1982, Reagan even tried to force France to break relations with the USSR as he considered Mitterrand to be an agent for international communism during the beginning of his presidency.  While Mitterrand maintained relatively close relations with the Soviets, visiting Moscow often during the 15 years he was in power, he did not consider himself a Marxist.  He does however talk at one point about appreciating Marx, thus the inspiration for his campaign theme ‘socialisme à la française.’

Consider this profound difference though: during 15 years of socialist governance, France largely saved itself from the enormous physical, social, and economic destruction that the US underwent, and forced on large parts of the world.  Though the pressure on Mitterrand to crumble under the weight of immense neoliberal international forces, he largely held his ground.   The effects of this are palpable as people commonly use words like solidarity, the collectivity, strikes, unions, the left, anticapitalism, antiglobalization, Marxism, and even communism (in a positive light). 

Today this was all put into action as an estimated 2.5 million French people took to the streets in a national general strike demonstrating their disdain for the government’s reaction to the economic crisis, giving 360 billion euros to banks and large corporations, and pursuing their ‘reforms’ in the pillage of social services, most notably health and education.  In Toulouse there was an estimated 80,000 strikers – or a tenth of the population – filing together around the city for most of the afternoon and evening, carrying banners, shooting fire-crackers, distributing flyers, chanting, talking, and graffiti-ing the windows of the multi-nationals.  It was not only a day of action in which people confronted the right-wing Sarkozy government’s policies, but one in which people showed that solidarity with one another is more important than another day of pursuing one’s career and personal goals, and that our collective reaction to this crisis can affect the future course of the world.  If only more around the world would take notice of the French example, stop their daily routine, and take action against neoliberal government bail-outs giving billions in public funds to the prime capitalist offenders, we would actually be able to construct a new and better world in the ruins of an unjust and imperialist capitalist one.

*Ronald Reagan however did not give a shit as evidenced by such famous quotations as ‘There is no such thing as society, only individuals and their families’ and ‘Government cannot solve our problems, government is the problem.’

On a tract distributed at the strike: “Two centuries of capitalism and business nihilism have left us at the extreme of absurdity, for oneself, for others, for the world.  The individual, this fiction, has decomposed at the same speed that he has come to be realized as such.”