Events in France

French Workers Lead the Way

By Nat Weinstein

The French working-class is once again leading the way forward for the masses of France—indeed of Europe and the world—just as they did in the French revolution of 1789 and the Paris Commune of 1871. Both the French capitalists, and anti-capitalists alike, are calling what is happening there today “the democracy of the streets.” What this means is that the working class and its allies among the exploited and oppressed are acting in their own class interests, against all the institutions of the ruling class (the police, the military, the media) and all other institutions that stand in the way of progress to a better world without social, economic and political injustice.

Think about that. The two French Revolutions, and, the First and Second American Revolutions accompanied by revolutions everywhere including the Russian Revolution of 1917, and many other socialist revolutions; all of these were also manifestations of the democracy of the streets; and most importantly, in the factories and countryside of nations as well. Moreover, when the conflict between classes takes the form of armed struggle—and it always does in the end—that too, is a manifestation of the democracy of the streets. The overthrow of the old order, the revolutionary transformation of society, and the willingness of the workers to defend their revolution by any means necessary, is the highest level of class solidarity.

But we shouldn’t forget that capitalists also are bound together by class solidarity. And under ordinary conditions it’s far easier for capitalists to keep their class interests at least equal to the capitalist’s individual interests. They have another important advantage over workers in that as the rulers of nations, they use the forces of law and order in the world’s capitalist states’ to make and enforce capitalism’s laws—with the help of their wholly owned and controlled lawful bodies of armed men and women, i.e., the cops and the military.

And if that’s not enough to keep the great majority of exploited and oppressed under strict control, they have another powerful weapon that they regularly wield against the latter. It’s known as the strategy of divide, conquer and rule by any means necessary including capitalism’s ability to wage war, to “Hire one half of the working class to kill the other half.”1

Thus their power is formidable. But the brief outline cited above proves that the class solidarity of the great majority is the mightiest force in human society. Moreover, the highest form of democracy in action is manifested when the masses are forced to defend their class interests by all necessary means, including class solidarity, mass demonstrations combined with general strikes, and in the last analysis with armed self-defense.

Long ago it was explained that the general strike is a political strike directed at the capitalist government and its ruling class. And that it poses the question of which of the two main contending classes in society—workers or capitalists—shall rule.

History also proves that when capitalists are driven by major social, economic and political crises such as they face today, in order to save themselves and their private wealth, the only way it can be done is by squeezing an ever greater rate of profit from the exploited and oppressed masses.

Karl Marx, a student of the history of capitalist exploitation and oppression, proved long ago that over time, the built-in mechanism of the profit-driven capitalist economy inexorably forces the rate of profit ever lower. (Capital, volume III, Part III, The Law of the Tendency of the Rate of Profit to Fall.)

But history also proves that when the living standards of the great majority are being driven too far down toward pauperization, one of nature’s most fundamental laws, self-preservation, tends to lead the mass of exploited and oppressed to rise up in revolutionary class struggle.

As a matter of fact the most recent wave of strikes in France actually began elsewhere, in southern Europe where living standards tend to be among the lowest. It began last February 24 in Greece when more than two million Greek workers carried out the first of Europe’s recent one-day general strikes that were against world capitalism’s campaign to make workers pay for the trillion-dollar taxpayer-financed rescue of banks and corporations. Since then, many more millions of workers in Spain, Portugal, Hungary, Italy, Romania, Poland, Belgium and France have conducted at least one such strike and some more than one.

When account is taken of the depths already being reached of today’s Great Depression, it has already begun to look like the greatest of all global crises of over-production is leading to another global working-class-led rebellion by the great majority of capitalism’s victims. And this rebellion promises to be broader and deeper than the one in the 1930s.

The only thing missing, is a mass, socialist, revolutionary, political party, but not for very long. Mass rebellions such as in southern Europe and France in particular, are catching. Leaps forward and victories by workers anywhere, inspire victories by workers everywhere. And it must be added, that class solidarity, too, is catching. The actions of the French masses will spread across Europe as well as throughout the globalized world of capitalism.

1 Jay Gould, 19th century “Robber Baron” and capitalist.