Archive for the ‘Neoliberalism’ Category

The Worst of the Occupation: Collective Punishment and Humiliation

August 11, 2009

Checkpoints

Palestinians have wasted millions of hours of their lives waiting in line at checkpoints like Qalandia to enter Jerusalem from Ramallah.  On this day the line was short, but young giggly Israeli soldiers decided to take 1.5 hours for 50 people to pass through.Fences like the one at this checkpoint near Bethlehem are often busted up.  Fires burn below them to melt the metal.

Imprisonment and Torture

Ismail runs a cafe in Hebron since 2.5 years ago.  He has been imprisoned 7 times for political activism, spending over 5 years of his life in Israeli jails.  Tortured, mistreated and beaten on many occasions, he will live the rest of his live with chronic headaches, ticks, and irreparable broken bones.

Water

Israel/Palestine is a dry place.  Yet, when the water runs low only the Palestinians get turned off.  While Beit Ommar has around two days a week with NO running water, Israeli Dead Sea desert resorts like this one remain green.

Olive Trees

The Israeli army often cuts Palestinian olive trees for reasons of "security."  Thousands and thousands of trees have been cut or replanted in and around settlements

Land Confiscation and Poverty

Forced away from their traditional lifestyle by the Israeli state, many Bedouins in the Judean desert live in shanties on the outskirts of Israeli settlements

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Putting An End To ‘Stale Debates’: Obama And The CIA In The Americas

May 4, 2009

Putting An End To ‘Stale Debates’: Obama And The CIA In The Americas

Also published at: http://buzzflash.net/story.php?id=1013521

En Français: Le 18 avril, Barack Obama a participé au Sommet des Amériques à Trinidad-et-Tobago, où il a annoncé que les États-Unis cherchent un “partenariat égalitaire” avec toutes les nations des Amériques. En dépit de ce grand geste, il a précisé que le continent ne peut pas être un prisonnier des désaccords du passé, ou de la “culpabilité pour les paramilitaires de l’extrême-droite et insurgés de l’extrême gauche”, rajoutant également que l’Amérique latine ne devrait pas blâmer tous leurs problèmes sur les États-Unis. Dans ce contexte, malgré les études critiques sur les crimes de guerre figurant dans le passé récent des États-Unis, le ton modéré d’Obama sur la problématique de l’histoire de l’hémisphère semble une tentative de balayer ce passé sous le tapis. En d’autres termes, comment pourraient-ils avancer ensemble les peuples des Amériques sans la reconnaissance des crimes du passé et leurs racines dans l’idéologie colonialiste et réactionnaire?

Un livre publié récemment en France, intitulé “L’Ennemi Intérieur” par Mathieu Rigouste s’intéresse à l’origine de la stratégie anti-insurrectionnelle au 20ème siècle, retraçant son histoire dans l’organisation militaire des “démocraties” occidentales. A partir des guerres coloniales à la fin de l’empire français en Indochine (1947-1954) et de l’Algérie (1954-1962), Rigouste examine le développement de certaines pratiques d’une violence extrême de l’État, qui sont devenues de plus en plus utilisées après la Seconde Guerre Mondiale, notamment la stratégie de l’armée française connue sous le nom «guerre contre-révolutionnaire” pour contenir et réprimer brutalement les mouvements de résistance anti-coloniaux.  Avec l’usage des escadrons de la mort, de la torture systématique, de l’internement des «suspects» dans des camps de concentration, des enlèvements, des disparitions, de la manipulation de la violence des opposants, de la désinformation et la guerre psychologique, ces tactiques sont en cours d’utilisation par les puissances occidentales dans le contexte de la “guerre non-conventionnelle” de la seconde guerre et occupation de l’Irak au présent (et donc la projection au Pentagone en 2003 du film de Gillo Pontecorvo, La Bataille d’Alger, dont ils l’appellent une “illustration utile des problèmes rencontrés en Irak”).  Bien que cette politique ait existé sur les marges de la politique officielle au début, l’utilisation de ces tactiques en Indochine et en Algérie a systèmatiquement augmenté en proportion à la nécessité de contrecarrer la résistance croissante contre le pouvoir colonial dans ses territoires.  À la fin de la guerre en Indochine, les Français ont commencé à exporter ces tactiques aux États-Unis, en Israël, ainsi qu’en Amérique latine.

‘”L’ennemi existe au sein de la population comme un poisson dans l’eau.” Ces paroles de Mao Zedong décrit le combattant de la résistance au « tiers monde » à la suite de la Seconde Guerre Mondiale. Bien que les armées occidentales rayonnent leur présence officieuse où qu’ils aillent, la résistance se camoufle parmi la population locale, constituant une partie de l’ensemble, un fait qui a conduit leurs oppresseurs coloniaux à situer des peuples entiers dans la catégorie des “combattants insurgés.”  Ce nouveau paradigme dans lequel des populations entières ont été classées comme des « combattants ennemis » a nécessité un nouveau type de guerre prolongée en fonction de la capacité de l’agresseur à démanteler les réseaux des «insurgés» ou des «terroristes», avec l’utilisation de tactiques illégales et une présence militaire dans les zones civiles. Une stratégie contre-insurrectionnelle était donc la politique étrangère du «monde libre» pendant la guerre froide à cause du fait que les peuples colonisés – qui représentaient plus de 3/4 de la population mondiale – ont été considérés comme le point de prolifération de la menace communiste dont il était nécessaire de neutraliser. En d’autres termes, tous les citoyens non-blancs, non-chrétiens de l’empire colonial français ont été jugées sensibles à l’infiltration par la résistance anti-coloniale et communiste ; cette menace de «l’encerclement soviétique» du «monde libre» était donc un prétexte pour utiliser “tous les moyens nécessaires.”

En développement au même moment de cette théorie de la lutte anti-coloniale contre la «menace communiste» était le concept de “l’équipe de choc” anti-insurrectionnelle dont la CIA a créé sa première au début des années 1950 sur l’intelligence acquise par les Français. Cette organisation secrète au sein d’une organisation secrète a eu sa première occasion de tester ses compétences sur le président démocratiquement élu du Guatemala, Jacobo Arbenz.  Un pays extrêmement pauvre à cause d’une répartition inégale des richesses et des ressources surtout parmi la majorité indienne, Arbenz a entrepris un projet de réforme agraire qui visait à priver ‘United Fruit’ de 84.000 hectares, soit environ 1/3 de ses terres au Guatemala. En conséquence, «l’équipe de choc» de la CIA, sous la direction de John Foster Dulles – un actionnaire de l’United Fruit – a organisé une armée mercenaire sous le nom de code PB / Success qui a envahi le pays du Nicaragua et du Honduras pour renverser Arbenz en Juin 1954.  Arbenz a affirmé bientôt après que, “notre seul délit a été de nous donner nos propres lois, notre crime a été de les appliquer à l’United Fruit.” Après le renversement du président iranien Mohammed Mossadegh suite à sa décision de nationaliser les ressources pétrolières iraniennes, PB/Success a acquis une réputation d’invincibilité dans la CIA, alors le président Dwight D. Eisenhower leur a donné le feu vert pour attaquer Cuba. Toutefois, la tentative de la baie des Cochons en avril 1961 a échoué et la démission de Dulles a suivi. Néanmoins, Miami est devenu l’épicentre de la plus grande opération de paramilitaires dans le monde peu de temps après avec l’aide du général Edward Lansdale, qui a travaillé avec les services secrets français pendant la guerre coloniale en Indochine.  Un autre acteur dans ce groupe fut Porter Goss, le futur chef de la CIA suite à la “Loi sur la prévention du terrorisme” en 2004, co-fondateur de la Patriot Act, et co-président de la Commission d’Enquête sur l’Intelligence du 11 septembre.

 A la suite de la crise des missiles de Cuba en Octobre 1962, la stratégie anti-insurrectionnelle a commencé à prendre une forme plus officielle avec la création de l’École des Amériques dans la zone du canal de Panama, et la formation de 300 membres de l’attaque échouée de la baie des Cochons dans la “guerre contre-révolutionnaire” dans les installations militaires à Fort Benning, GA, Fort Mayers, FL, et Fort Peary, VA.  Ce groupe a par conséquent été expédié au Congo Belge où ils ont fourni des armes au futur dictateur Joseph-Désiré Mobutu, et ont tenté de chasser Che Guevara et son groupe de révolutionnaires en utilisant des avions d’Air America, une société de la CIA.  Deux ans plus tard, en Mars 1964, la CIA a été impliquée dans le renversement du gouvernement démocratiquement élu du Brésil, avec l’aide d’experts français de la guerre d’Algérie, déclenchant une série de coups d’états dans la région.  Ces gouvernements autoritaires et fascistes ont systématiquement utilisé de la torture, des enlèvements, et des disparitions pour réprimer l’opposition politique.

Les liens entre l’école française et l’école américaine ont toutefois été mis au point durant la guerre du Vietnam pendant laquelle les États-Unis ont développé ses tactiques de “guerre contre-révolutionnaire” à travers le financement du trafic de l’opium au Laos et en Birmanie (de nouveau avec l’utilisation des avions d’Air America). Et là encore, on trouve souvent les mêmes personnages qu’à la baie des Cochons, dont John Negroponte, futur ambassadeur au Honduras, sous-secrétaire d’État, premier directeur du renseignement national, et ambassadeur à l’Irak à partir de Juin 2004 jusqu’en avril 2005 ; et Oliver North, qui fut ensuite impliqué dans le scandale “Iran-Contras.”

En 1970, avec l’élection de Salvador Allende au Chili, Nixon a donné l’ordre à la CIA d’empêcher sa prise de fonctions. L’attaque a échoué mais a tué le général René Schneider, fidèle à Allende, en laissant Augusto Pinochet à diriger l’armée. Le reste de cette histoire est bien connue, et les États-Unis sont devenus de plus en plus impétueux dans l’hémisphère après ces grands succès. «En effet, la CIA est devenue la main droite de l’Amérique impérialiste, les intérêts économiques, qui sert à créer des situations de violence dans lesquelles les États-Unis pourraient plus facilement forcer ses désirs néo-coloniaux sur la population de la région (une idée illustrée par “La Doctrine de Choc” de Naomi Klein). De plus, la CIA, à la suite de la tentative de renversement d’Allende en 1973, cible des avions civils cubains au Venezuela, ainsi que d’anciens membres du cabinet d’Allende.  D’autres activités contre-insurrectionnelles de la CIA comprennent la guerre des paramilitaires en Amérique centrale dans les années 1980 qui a tué des dizaines de milliers de Nicaraguayens et El Salvadoriens dans un combat contre les “insurgés de gauche” – comme il les appelle Obama – qui a duré presque toute la décennie des années 1980. Après que le Congrès a déclaré illégal la totalité de l’aide aux contras en 1984, l’administration Reagan (George HW Bush étant Vice President) a continué à canaliser l’argent aux Contras par la vente d’armes à l’Iran. Toutes les parties concernées ont donc été absous de leurs crimes, lorsque Bush 1er occupe la présidence en 1989.

Grâce à cette trajectoire historique en arrière-plan, il est facile de comprendre comment les gens de l’hémisphère occidentale ont du mal à croire les États-Unis sur parole. Les commentaires d’Obama sur la nécessité d’aller en avant et d’oublier le passé et ses “débats gâtés” obscurcissent l’injustice historique imposée sur les pays les «plus faibles», et légitiment la politique étrangère américaine du “droit de la force” qui a gracié des criminels de guerre et a laissé l’hémisphère dans son état désastreux actuel.

French Colonial Wars and the CIA in the Americas

April 29, 2009
On April 18th, Barack Obama attended the Summit of the Americas in Trinidad and Tobago where he announced that the US seeks an ‘equal partnership’ with all the nations of the Americas.  In spite of this grand gesture, he specified that the hemisphere cannot be kept prisoner of past disagreements or ‘blame for right-wing paramilitaries and left-wing insurgents,’ also adding that Latin America shouldn’t blame all of their problems on the US.  In this context, despite critical studies of US war crimes in the recent past appearing in increasing number, Obama’s moderate tone on the problematic history in the hemisphere seems to try to sweep this past under the rug.  In other words, how can the Americas move forward together without fully acknowledging the crimes of the past and their roots in colonialist and reactionary ideology?

A recently published book in France titled ‘L’Ennemi Intérieur’ by Mathieu Rigouste looks at the origin of counter-insurgency strategy and warfare in the 20th century, tracing its history in governmental and extra-governmental bodies of Western ‘democracies.’  Starting with the colonialist wars at the end of the French empire in Indochina (1947-1954) and Algeria (1954-1962), Rigouste looks at the development of certain practices of extreme state violence which increasingly gained currency in post-World War II French military strategy known as ‘counter-revolutionary war’ to brutally repress and contain anti-colonial resistance movements.  Employing death squads, systematic torture, internment of ‘suspects’ in concentration camps, kidnapping, disappearances, manipulation of the violence of opponents, disinformation and psychological warfare, these tactics are in use by Western imperial powers in ‘non-conventional war settings’ up through the second war on and occupation of Iraq, in the present (thus the Pentagon’s 2003 screening of Gillo Pontecorvo’s The Battle of Algiers which they termed a ‘useful illustration of the problems faced in Iraq’).  While originally existing on the margins of official policy, the use of these tactics in Indochina and Algeria continually increased in proportion with the need to counter the growing resistance, and maintain French colonial control over its territories.  By the end of the war in Indochina, the French began to export these tactics to the United States, Israel as well as Latin America.

‘The enemy exists among the populace like a fish in water.’  These words of Mao Zedong describe the ‘Third World’ resistance fighter, following the Second World War.  While the Western armies radiate their officious presence wherever they go, the resistance fighter not only uses the local population as a cover but forms a part of the whole, thus leading their colonial oppressors to situate entire peoples in the category of ‘insurgent fighters.’  This new paradigm in which entire populations were categorized as ‘enemy combatants’ necessitated a new type of protracted warfare based on the ability of the aggressor to dismantle ‘insurgent’ or ‘terrorist’ networks with the use of underhanded tactics such as torture and military presence in civilian zones.  A colonialist counter-insurgency strategy was thus the foreign policy of the ‘free world’ during the Cold War due to the fact that colonized peoples – making up more than 3/4 of the global population – were considered to be the point of proliferation of the communist menace that was necessary to neutralize.  In other words, all non-white, non-Christian citizens of the French colonial empire were considered susceptible to anti-colonial communist infiltration; this threat of ‘Soviet encirclement’ of the ‘free world’ was thus a pretext to use ‘whatever means necessary.’

Developing at the same time as this theory of the anti-colonial ‘communist menace’ was the concept of the counter-insurgency ‘shock team,’ of which the CIA created its first in the early 1950s upon intelligence gained from the French.  This secret organization within a secretive organization had its first chance to test its skills on the democratically elected president of Guatemala, Jacobo Arbenz.  An extremely poor country due to unequally distributed land resources among a largely Indian population, Arbenz undertook a land reform project that aimed to deprive United Fruit of 84,000 acres, roughly 1/3 of its land in Guatemala.  As a result the CIA ‘shock team’ under the leadership of John Foster Dulles – a United Fruit stockholder – organized a mercenary army under the code name PB/Success that invaded from Nicaragua and Honduras to overthrow Arbenz in June 1954.  Arbenz later claimed that, ‘Our only offense was to create our own laws, our crime was to apply them to United Fruit.’  Following the overthrow of the Iranian president Mohammed Mossadegh after his decision to nationalize Iranian oil resources, PB/Success gained a reputation of invincibility in the CIA, and president Dwight D. Eisenhower gave them the green light to attack Cuba.  However, the attempt at the Bay of Pigs in April 1961 failed with Dulles’ resignation soon to follow.  Nevertheless, Miami became the epicenter of the largest paramilitary operation in the world shortly after with the help of Gen. Edward Lansdale, who worked with the French secret service in the colonial war in Indochina.  Also part of this group was Porter Goss, future head of the CIA following the 2004 ‘Terrorism Prevention Act,’ co-sponsor of the Patriot Act, and co-chair of the Joint 9/11 Intelligence Inquiry. 

Following the Cuban Missile Crisis in October 1962, counter-insurgency strategy began to take on a more official form with the creation of the School of the Americas in the Panama Canal Zone and the training of 300 members of the failed Bay of Pigs invasion in counter-insurgency military installations at Fort Benning, GA, Fort Mayers, FL, and Fort Peary, VA.  This group consequently was shipped off to Belgian Congo where they supplied arms to the future dictator Joseph-Désiré Mobutu, and attempted to track down Che Guevara and his group of Latino revolutionaries using the planes and supplies of Air America, a company owned by the CIA.  Two years later, in March 1964, the CIA was involved in the overthrow of the democratically elected Brazilian leader with the help of French experts from the Algerian war, sparking a series of coups d’états in the region in which newly installed dictatorships systematically used torture, kidnapping and disappearances to quell political opposition.

The links between the French and the American Schools however were most profoundly developed in the Vietnam War in which the US reused and further developed counter-insurgency tactics through financing from the opium traffic in Laos and Burma (again with the documented use of Air America planes to such ends).  And here again we find many of the same characters from the Bay of Pigs including John Negroponte, future ambassador to Honduras, Deputy Secretary of State, first ever Director of National Intelligence, and ambassador to Iraq from June 2004 to April 2005, and Oliver North who was later implicated in the Iran-contra scandal.

In 1970 with the election of Salvador Allende in Chile, Nixon gave the order for the CIA to prevent him from taking office.  The attack failed to harm Allende yet killed General René Schneider, loyal to Allende, leaving Augusto Pinochet to lead the army.  The rest of the story is well known, and the US became increasingly brash in the hemisphere following these large ‘successes.’  The CIA, in effect, became the right hand of imperialist American economic interests, used to create violent situations in which the US could more easily enact its neo-colonial desires on the people of the region (an idea exemplified in Naomi Klein’s ‘The Shock Doctrine’).  Further CIA attacks just after Allende’s overthrow in 1973 targeted Cuban passenger airplanes in Venezuela, as well as former members of Allende’s cabinet.  Other well known CIA violent counter-insurgency activity includes the US proxy war in Central America in the 1980s which killed tens of thousands of Nicaraguans and El Salvadorians in another war against ‘left-wing insurgents’ – as Obama calls them – that lasted throughout the decade of the 1980s.  After Congress declared all aid to the contras illegal in 1984, the Reagan Administration (with George H. W. Bush as Vice President) continued to funnel money to the contras by illegally selling weapons to Iran.  All involved were consequently absolved of their crimes when Bush occupied the presidency in 1989.

With this historical trajectory as a background, it is easy to understand how the people of the Western hemisphere find it difficult to take the United States for its word.  Obama’s commentary on the need to move forward and leave behind the past’s ‘stale debates’ obfuscates the dire historical injustice exacted on the ‘weaker’ countries, and legitimizes the ‘might makes right’ foreign policy that pardoned American war criminals and left the hemisphere in its current disastrous state.

 

Works Cited

Marie-Monique Robin’s ‘Les Escadrons de la mort: L’école française’

Mathieu Rigouste’s ‘L’Ennemi Intérieur’

Le Monde Diplomatique’s ‘Plus de Cinquante ans de “coups tordus”: L’équipe de choc de la CIA’ from January 2009

http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/americas/8004798.stm

Protest In France By Michael Galvin

March 22, 2009

Protest In France By Michael Galvin

Also published at: http://shiftshapers.gnn.tv/headlines/19939/French_Universities_Occupied_Against_Neo_Liberal_Reforms

French Universities Occupied Against Neo-Liberal Reforms

March 14, 2009

French Universities Occupied Against Neo-Liberal Reforms

Also posted at: http://www.guerrillanews.com/headlines/19939/French_Universities_Occupied_Against_Neo_Liberal_Reforms

The Money is the Matter – published Fall 2007

March 11, 2009

Note: This article was written shortly after a strike led by Students for a Democratic Society that attempted to shut down Macalester College for the Iraq War Moratorium.

Following the strike a couple Fridays ago, I was listening to WMCN [the college radio] and a kid was talking about what a success the strike was but simultaneously how he just didn’t understand why students at Macalester would strike.  He used the analogy of having an expensive magazine subscription and then just throwing out one of the issues in protest, to make the point that not going to a(n expensive) class at Macalester for the strike is just like throwing money away.  There we find a deeply rooted problem.  Time and education are seen in an apolitical light, in terms of the cents per moment, hundreds of dollars per hour, thousands of dollars per week that we pay for the privilege of educating ourselves at an elite private American college.  We are not here to make demands, we are not here to think about what things are done or how they are done, but rather, we are here to be grateful that we are granted private access – one of the select few to have a guaranteed future as a certified “global citizen-leader.”

Shift to France: In the last few weeks thousands of students have taken to the streets, shutting down classes, occupying buildings, massively resisting recent reforms by the newly elected right-wing government to begin privatization of the university system there.  Currently, the higher education system is almost fully funded by the state, open to all and almost universally free.  Students, teachers, and the supporters around the country have come out en masse to resist the new threats toward education as a public space – the educational commons.  Direct democracy, they claim, is a central tenet of the system that allows people to maintain their capacity to make demands, raise complaints, and demand educational justice to their government.

The new Pécresse laws which will massively reduce government funding to universities thereby encouraging private corporations to fill the gap (à la the American system), threaten this openness.  By allowing private corporations to pay for education instead of the public, universities will begin large scale competition with one another to attract the most lucrative offers.  Consequences include the institution of tuition fees, a significant decrease in access to all who seek education, a downsizing of departments considered less marketable, and a large gap emerging between funding for select Parisian schools and universities elsewhere in France.  In effect, there would be a fracturing effect in which access would emerge for a select few while leaving the rest of the population behind.

Yet, this system is not yet in place and thousands are mobilizing against it.  During the peak period of strike activity, a majority of France’s 84 universities were striking with students occupying and blockading more than two dozen.  High school students around the country are also mobilizing to resist measures rendering their futures more precarious.  In one of the hundreds of videos posted on the internet, thousands of high school and university students march and occupy the streets of Toulouse chanting “Students, Workers, Solidarity!” referring to the rail union strikes taking place around the country; however, through the American gaze, it seems as if they are highlighting their very possibility of solidarity with workers throughout the country.  This explicitly stated solidarity – and its tangible scale – is something unimaginable between students and workers in this country.  The ubiquitous democracy in the social and political resistance movements in France are obvious to anyone who cares to look.

Back in America, our education system is already fully and pervasively privatized and we are currently waging a disastrous war and occupation on a foreign country for the 5th year.  Yet, opposing the latter (or the former) seems an entirely overwhelming task – who do we talk to?  What do we do without a democratic means to express our discontent?  It is at this point that we begin to see the intersection of all of our problems.  If the French system facilitates democratic intervention on a mass scale against the beginning of privatizations, while our system allows an illegal war to begin and continue with ne’er a peep, how can we begin to sort out where one problem starts and another ends?  For one, realizing that STRIKING and stopping business as usual by disrupting your daily life in solidarity with millions of others around the country on the day of the Moratorium is more important than “wasting a couple hundred dollars,” is a start.

French Universities Occupied Against Neo-Liberal Reforms – Photos of Protests

March 11, 2009

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My friend Pierrick calls me Tuesday afternoon with the news that the general assembly of students at his university voted for an occupation and blockade of academic buildings in reaction to the recent application of the Pécresse Law.  When we got to the auditorium of IEP (Institute of Political Studies, in Toulouse), students were mulling about, talking, chain-smoking and preparing the chains and barricades of tables and chairs for when the last classes of the day let out.  As soon as that happens, everything gets thrown up against the exits closing the institution off from the outside world while politicized students rule the halls of the interior, debating, holding meetings, eating and drinking as life goes on as normal on the outside.  According to Pierrick, this is only the third time that his university has ever been occupied – as it is adjacent to the right-wing law school – the previous time being in reaction to the passage of the Pécresse law last year when half of the universities in France were occupied and shut down by mobilized students for a period ranging from weeks to months.  Therefore, this is a movement that effectively began last year when the law was voted, went into a brief hibernation, and is now being revived in conjunction with the law’s application by the right-wing Sarkozy government’s minister of higher education Valéry Pécresse.  

Generally speaking, French universities are meticulously organized and highly democratic places.  For example, during mobilizations last year in only a two week period, there were over 48 general assemblies organized around the country with the vast majority having over 500 students in attendance.  Such massive organization of young people and ideas toward political ends is something that is unparalled in “public” institutions in the United States for example.  While the realization of such mobilization is largely due to the very open and militantly public and popular – in the literal sense – nature of French institutions of higher learning (in fact an often heard chant in protests is “For a critical and popular university”), many denigrate the fact that some French universities risk being blockaded for several months out of the year by certain ‘leftists’ preventing others from being able to attend their classes and actually get an education in the formal sense.  Yet the fact is that these occupations are organized and enacted democratically giving French students the possibility to understand how democracy works, take part in their system, and feel like they have a say in not only the democratic process that is higher education, but in the application of government policy as well; in other words, the experience is very educational.

This all may change however as the French government’s application of the Pécresse Law threatens the very root of these ideas.  In fact, the most amazing and scary thing is how strikingly American the changes appear.  Under the rubric of “Autonomy” and “Professionalization,” the Sarkozy government intends to liberalize the functioning of university administration and funding.  In terms of “Autonomy” the law calls for less funding from the state while pushing universities to take ownership of their own individual properties, and create foundations through which private money can fund or develop programs, which essentially means that the hand of the private sector will firmly take control of the current public system of education; and of course, these private funders could not go unrewarded.  By restructuring the university administration, diminishing the power of professors in choosing administrators and replacing these decision-making bodies with corporate board-like entities, the private sector interests will easily gain their foot in the door to affect not only the functioning of the institution but also curriculum.  This moves perfectly into the government’s “Professionalization” theme which strives to provide students with “orientation and professional insertion;” in other words, an education that will provide them with direct professional insertion into the marketplace, and preventing them from studying “unproductive” subjects like history or the humanities.  In fact, not only will there be large budget cuts in which less “useful” department and faculty will be axed, but there will be an increase in inscription fees, tuition, as well as increased competition between universities to create the best educational brand in order to attract the most desirable students.  All of this seems to foreshadow leaving the French in precisely the same predicament in which the American university exists today as even so-called public American universities are, on average, only 30% financed by the state with the rest coming from quintuple digit tuition for students, and “investments” from private corporations pushing their own research goals and profit interests, killing all possibility for an education that takes into account the situation of the society, its history and the collective interests that its individual citizens within it represent.  For me, the last few years has made this more and more clear.

Two years ago, while in the throes of the Bush administration and some of the worst moments of the war on and occupation of Iraq I wrote an article for an independent publication on the differences between American and French university protest movements entitled, “The Money is the Matter” (you can read the whole article up there ^), I was intensely frustrated by the insane discrepancy between the massive movement in France concerning the passage of a law that would begin privatizing the higher education system there, and the total lack of any movement within the already fully privatized higher education system in the United States after seven years of a bloody, imperialist and illegal war in Iraq.  However, the point of the article not only connected those two dots but argued that it was precisely this privatization and the social deformations that it engendered that allowed such exhorbatantly absurd atrocities to be committed without the slightest reaction.  The two went hand in hand; and in fact, no American universities were occupied due to the war. 

Nevertheless, the French seem to understand the American model and fortunately can learn from it – or rather, to avoid it.  The head of the prestigious Sorbonne in Paris recently wrote that “professionalizing higher education would be devastating.  Adapting to the needs of private corporations is not a good solution, because in a world of perpetual change, the needs of corporations are always changing thus leading to an education that after only a short time is outdated and useless.”  A major French newspaper Libération also recently ran an article in which four French professors with experience working in America commented on the neo-liberal American model and its application in France.  They write that such a system “claims to have confidence in the market but instead only serves to reinforce hierarchy.  The current reform, in reality, impoverishes the forms of solidarity that are effective in our societies.”  Thus, while the left is holding firm on the claim that the government should revoke the new law without any conditions, Sarkozy and his ministers are working to split the movement by seducing professors with compromises in an attempt to isolate the student movement.  While such backhanded efforts have succeeded in forcing past legislation and repressing popular dissent, the current atmosphere appears positive as more and more universities are erecting the barricades against the imported neo-liberal policies that strive to kill the very possibility to collectively organize to express dissent.

 

 

Original Quotations:

 

http://lafauteadiderot.net/spip.php?article143 ; The President of the Sorbonne:
« professionnaliser les études initiales serait dévastateur. S’adapter aux besoins des entreprises en travaillant à leur fournir une main-d’oeuvre hyperspécialisée n’est pas la bonne solution, parce que dans notre monde en perpétuel changement, les besoins des entreprises évoluent très vite, vouant à très court terme toute formation hypertechnique à être périmée. »

http://sciences.blogs.liberation.fr/home/2009/02/universits-le-v.html
Quatre enseignants-chercheurs français travaillant en Amérique proposent leur regard sur le « modèle libéral »; « il prétend faire confiance au marché alors qu’il ne fait que renforcer la hiérarchie. La réforme actuelle entérine en réalité la paupérisation générale des formes de solidarité qui affectent nos sociétés. »
 

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’

Also posted at: http://guerrillanews.com/forum/thread.php?id=34097 and http://dprogram.net/2009/01/30/25-million-protest-government-response-to-global-economic-crisis-in-france-on-black-thursday/

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.”