French Leaders Declare War After Charlie Hebdo Massacre
Defend Muslims in Europe Against
Racist “War on Terror” Backlash!
Imperialist Mass Murderers Seek to Exploit Indignation
French army special forces comb through northern France during manhunt for Charlie Hebdo killers, January 8. (Photo: AFP)
No to Equating Muslims with Terrorists!
Drive French and U.S. Imperialism Out of the Middle East and Africa!
On January 7, the offices of the French weekly Charlie Hebdo in Paris were subjected to a horrific massacre. In all 12 people were shot to death, including the top editor and caricaturists of the satirical magazine, and another 11 wounded. The attackers were of North African descent. As they carried out their assault, the gunmen are said to have cried out “Allahu akbar” (god is great). Afterwards on the street, an amateur video showed the attackers shouting as they killed a policeman (of Algerian descent), “We have avenged the Prophet Muhammad. We have killed Charlie Hebdo!” In response to this grotesque terror attack, France’s imperialist rulers have launched a war against the “enemy within.” While they claim to be only targeting jihadis (holy warriors), the Muslim and immigrant population as a whole is under siege.
Immediately after the shooting, a massive manhunt was launched. Some 88,000 police and gendarmes (paramilitary police) were mobilized, as military helicopters flew overhead. Hundreds of soldiers were posted around the French capital. Two days later, a police woman was shot to death in a southern suburb by a gunman, who shortly afterwards attacked a kosher supermarket near the Porte de Vincennes, killing four Jewish customers and holding others hostage. Within a few hours police had surrounded the Hyper Casher market and the printing plant where two of the Charlie Hebdo killers had holed up, and in a coordinated assault killed the assailants. The gunmen, who “synchronized” their actions, proclaimed their allegiance to rival Islamist1 jihadi groups, Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula and the Islamic State.
The shock of the killing spree deeply shook France, and the rulers rushed to assert control. Social-democratic president François Hollande and the conservative opposition called for “national unity” against terrorism. The liberal daily Le Monde (9 January) published a somber front page headlined, “The French September 11,” recalling the 2001 attack on the World Trade Center and Pentagon. The lights on the Eiffel Tower were dimmed, the bells of Notre Dame cathedral rang. Tens of thousands went into the streets with signs saying, “Je suis Charlie” (I am Charlie). Then on Sunday, January 11, over four million people marched throughout the country in the largest demonstrations in French history, “against terrorism” and for “republican values.” The French national anthem, La Marseillaise, was repeatedly sung. What a travesty!
The “values” of the bourgeois French republic, what might those be? Mass deportations of tens of thousands of Roma (Gypsy) people, begun by the previous conservative government and then escalated by the present “Socialist” administration? “Freedom of expression”? Like banning pro-Palestinian protests when Israel attacked Gaza last June-July? Or the police murder of 21-year-old environmental activist Rémi Fraisse protesting construction of the Sivens Dam last November? “Secularism”? Like when the Catholic church, fascists and conservatives mobilized against gay marriage, including a homophobic mass march of 800,000 in Paris? And “national unity”? When marchers in the January 11 parades for “national unity” sang (in the words of the Marseillaise) of “hordes of slaves” who are coming to “cut the throats of our sons and our women,” and whose “impure blood” should “irrigate our fields,” whose blood were they baying for? That of our colleagues and neighbors.
And how grotesque to demonstrate “against terrorism” by marching together with – in fact, behind – blood-soaked imperialist terrorists, their allies and puppets! Heading up the January 11 Paris march were 44 heads of state and government, various of whom are guilty of terrorist killing on an immensely larger scale than the Charlie Hebdo and Hyper Casher killers. There was Israeli prime minister Netanyahu, the mass murderer of Gaza. Also the ambassador of Saudi Arabia, which two days earlier began the flogging of liberal blogger Raif Badawi with the first 100 of 1,000 lashes on charges of insulting Islam. Let’s not forget Ukrainian president Petro Poroshenko, who ordered the “anti-terrorist operation” that is killing thousands of Russian-speakers in the east. Also present was his handler, U.S. “diplomat” Victoria Nuland.
Grotesque! Demonstrating “against terrorism” marching behind blood-soaked imperialist terrorists and their puppets, Paris, January 11. French president Hollande (center) flanked on left by Israeli prime minister Netanyahu and Malian president Boubacar Keïta, and on right by German chancellor Angela Merkel (Photo: Philippe Wojazer/AFP)
French president Hollande is himself a certified warmonger, sending troops to kill Muslims from Mali and the Central African Republic to Iraq. Without a doubt, the massacre at Charlie Hebdo was an attempt to impose censorship through the barrel of a gun, while the attack on the supermarket was anti-Semitic terror – and at the same time these acts of Islamist jihadis were the predictable result of years of wanton slaughter by U.S., French and lesser NATO imperialists in the Middle East and elsewhere.
- In “one short year,” defense minister Jean-Yves Le Drian recently boasted, the nearly 4,000 French troops in West Africa in Operation Barkhane have killed over 200 jihadists. This was after killing 700-800 in Mali in 2013-14. Now the French army wants to cross over into southern Libya. The Hyper Casher gunman was of Malian descent, as was the Muslim supermarket worker who hid a number of the Jewish customers.
- Currently France has 900 military personnel and 15 fighter planes in the Middle East, plus another hundred officers at American command posts, in Operation Chammal. It is the second-largest component of the U.S. war against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS). In response to a French air strike, a French tourist was executed by ISIS allies in Algeria.
- For the last 13 years, the U.S. imperialists and their NATO junior partners have waged a vicious war and occupation that has annihilated an estimated 600,000 people in Iraq (after an estimated 1 million were killed by imperialist sanctions in the previous decade) and 80,000 in Afghanistan, overwhelmingly non-combatants. Photos of sadistic torture of Iraqi prisoners in Abu Ghraib reportedly enraged the brothers who murdered the journalists at Charlie Hebdo.
Yet in the days after the Paris killings there was hardly a mention in the media of these wars and mass murder by the imperialists that set the stage for the murders at Charlie Hebdo. Nor was it noted that France and the U.S. had sent tons of arms to Saudi Arabia and the Gulf monarchies, which in turn financed and armed jihadists seeking to overthrow the Assad regime in Syria. Then on January 13, the National Assembly voted 488 to 1 to continue the war in Iraq and Syria. The next day President Hollande strode onto the deck of the aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle to declare that the Paris attacks justified its dispatch to the region to help “carry out operations in Iraq with greater intensity.” So the killing of cartoonists at Charlie Hebdo is used to escalate the butchery in the Middle East! This is the meaning of “national unity” with imperialist terrorists.
Muslims and Immigrants Targeted
One must ask, why in this period of continuing global capitalist economic crisis, massacres and never-ending war is there a major political crisis over some cartoons? It is all part of the “new world disorder” following counterrevolution in the Soviet Union and East European deformed workers states at the beginning of the 1990s. Ever since, the imperialists (particularly U.S. imperialism) have sought to assert world hegemony in a “war of civilization.” The war is also directed at the working class in the imperialist countries in a frantic drive to shore up the decaying capitalist system. Rampant union-busting, religious reaction and racist repression exemplify Leon Trotsky’s observation in the Transitional Program (1938): “The objective prerequisites for the proletarian revolution have not only ‘ripened’; they have begun to get somewhat rotten.”
Today Muslims and people of North African and Arab origins or appearance in particular are in the crosshairs of the “anti-terrorist” backlash. Racist forces are already beating the drums for stepping up the war on immigrants. Tens of thousands of police and troops are in the streets of French cities. The League for the Fourth International calls for U.S., French and all imperialist forces to be defeated and driven out of the Middle East. And while fighting to defend democratic rights for all, including freedom of the press which is constantly threatened by the capitalist rulers now posing as its champions, we urgently call on the workers movement to come to the defense of the embattled immigrant and Muslim populations in France, Germany, Britain and elsewhere in Europe.
The threat is hardly abstract. January 7: shots fired at a Muslim prayer room in Port-La-Nouvelle; car of a Muslim family hit by gunfire in the Vaucluse; “death to Arabs” spray-painted on the gate of a mosque in Poitiers. January 8: grenades thrown and bullets fired at a mosque in Le Mans; an explosive device set off at a kebab restaurant near a mosque in Villefranche-sur-Saône; gunshots fired toward a mosque in Saint-Juéry; a mosque in Aix-les-Bains caught fire in a suspected arson. January 9: graffiti outside a mosque in Bayonne saying “assassins” and “dirty Arabs”; a 17-year-old of North African origin attacked by a gang near Isère; a pig’s head and entrails left outside a prayer room in Corte, Corsica with a note, “next time it will be one of your heads.” By January 11, 50 anti-Muslim actions were reported (see map).
The racist backlash is already being exploited politically by the racist right. Marine Le Pen, the leader of the fascist National Front (FN), has kept it relatively low key, preferring to play the victim for being excluded from the January 11 “national unity” demonstration. But she is demanding reinstitution of the death penalty, has reiterated the FN’s opposition to “massive immigration” and called for tougher measures against “radical Islam.” Immediately after the massacre, smaller more explicitly Muslim-hating far right groups vituperated against the “Islamization” of France. The fascists are seeking to garner votes in coming elections with their anti-immigrant, Islamophobic appeals. But their sinister action won’t stop at the ballot box.
This is also true internationally. The anti-immigrant UKIP (United Kingdom Independence Party) denounced a “Fifth Column” undermining Britain. The demented Zionist media mogul Rupert Murdoch tweeted that “Maybe most Moslems peaceful,” but until they denounce jihadists “they must be held responsible.” A self-proclaimed “terrorism expert” for Murdoch’s Fox News wrote that areas of France, London and the entire city of Birmingham were “no-go areas” that “are totally Muslim where non-Muslims just simply don’t go in.” But while the media made fun of the Murdochian nightmares of British cities under the sway of sharia police and courts, the call to hold all Muslims “responsible” for the Paris killings is a deadly serious threat.
In Italy, the immigrant-bashing Lega Nord (Northern League), which has led violent demonstrations attempting to block the construction of mosques, and leftovers of the fascist Alleanza Nazionale (AN) infest many local administrations. In the Venice region, the AN head of educational policy sent a threatening letterto school principals to pressure parents to “request a condemnation of these acts, because if they have decided to come to live in Europe, in Italy, in the Venice region, they must know that they are being received in a civilization with principles and values, rules and customs to which they must adapt.” In the Netherlands, Geert Wilders of the ultra-rightist, anti-Muslim PVV is calling to close the borders.
In particular, anti-immigrant hysteria has reached a fever pitch in Germany, where since last October weekly Monday demonstrations by Pegida (European Patriots Against the Islamization of the West) in Dresden have steadily escalated. On January 12, police said 25,000 joined a Pegida march claiming to mourn the dead in Paris. But while 30,000 marched against Pegida in nearby Leipzig and 100,000 throughout Germany that night (Berliner Zeitung, 13 January), blocking demos of a few hundred anti-immigrant fanatics, government-sponsored assemblies will be no match for the Islamophobic marches shot through with Nazi thugs. What’s needed is mobilization of the workers movement to crush the racist hate-mongers.
But the most immediate threat actually comes not from the fascists and other anti-immigrant rightists, but from the mainstream bourgeois parties and the capitalist state. In France, ex-president Sarkozy thundered against the “enemy within” the day after the “national unity” march. Jihadis should not be allowed back into the country, anyone with a French identity card who wants to “destroy France” should be expelled, more prisons built and surveillance of the Internet increased, he said. Yet the government can already put in preventive detention, ban from leaving the country and seize the passport and national identity card of anyone it can convince a special “anti-terrorist” magistrate might “disturb public order” by “intimidation” or is part of a “criminal conspiracy,” even if the “conspiracy” has done nothing and consists of a single person.
Adopting the language of the fascist FN, in a January 13 speech to the National Assembly that was applauded by the entire body, Prime Minister Valls declared that “France is at war with terrorism, with jihadism, with radical Islamism.” To wage this war he called for “exceptional measures,” including “improving” surveillance, “expanding” monitoring of Internet and social media, “reinforcing” measures against propagating radical Islam, a new law for spy agencies (already in the works), more money and hundreds more intelligence agents, a national “anti-terrorist” index of individuals like that of sexual predators, special cells and solitary confinement of jihadi prisoners, and data on all airline passengers. No need for “special laws” like the U.S.A. PATRIOT Act, rammed through Congress in the wake of 9/11, says Valls, they’ve got plenty.
Already the machinery of internal repression is being ratcheted up. Some 100 people have reportedly been jailed in France for “glorifying terrorism.” Not only the anti-Semite and fascist stooge Dieudonné M’bala, who identified with the gunman at the kosher supermarket, but also someone who joked about the attacks (sentenced to six months), another who supposedly referred to the Charlie Hebdo killers when he was arrested drunk after an auto accident (he got four years), and quite a few for Facebook postings. Elsewhere in Europe, at least two dozen “suspected radicals” and “potential terrorists” have been picked up on the same sort of flimsy pretexts. So much for “freedom of expression”! All those arrested under such anti-democratic speech laws should be freed.
So now France is under siege – not by terrorists, but by its government. Under the “anti-terror” plan Vigipirate, 10,000 army troops are being posted at “sensitive locations” around the country, in addition to the almost 90,000 police and gendarmes already mobilized. Some 4,700 of those forces will be protecting Jewish schools and synagogues, although dozens of Islamic mosques and prayer rooms have been defaced, firebombed or shot at in the last few days. In addition to harassing people of Arab and African appearance in the Paris metro, no doubt many of those military and paramilitary forces will be stationed in the heavily immigrant banlieues (suburbs) of major cities. Not to “protect” the Muslim population but occupy theirquartiers, to back up police raids and suppress manifestations of discontent, particularly by minority youth.
After all the feel-good media coverage of the January 11 “national unity” march, it was noted that one sector of the French population was conspicuously absent – young people from the banlieues. Hash-tags appear on social media proclaiming #jenesuispascharlie, “I’m not Charlie.” The Ministry of National Education reports that in 70 schools (out of 64,000), some students contested the January 8 minute of silence for victims at Charlie Hebdo. Horrors! The minister demands that educators carry out a “great mobilization of the schools for the values of the Republic.” Teachers unions are called upon to assume a special responsibility in imparting these “values,” including to turn in to the police students who object to praise ofCharlie Hebdo. But as a teacher in Seine-Saint-Denis told Le Figaro (14 January):
“Everyone’s talking about the unrest. The pressure cooker is about to explode. If you throw in the amalgam that’s being made between Islam and the murders, plus some attacks on mosques, the mixture becomes even more potent than that which provoked the riots of 2005. Get ready for it to explode.”
Meanwhile, spy agencies everywhere are trying to use the crisis to legalize indiscriminate data sweeps, give them unlimited access to everyone’s electronic devices and override encryption introduced after the Edward Snowden revelations about the U.S. National Security Agency’s massive, illegal spying on the general population. The idea of British prime minister David Cameron marching in the January 11 Paris demo in defense of freedom of the press is grotesque: not so long ago his government ordered computers at the London Guardian with encrypted Snowden files pulverized. Of course, it’s all beside the point as it turns out that U.S. and French spy services had been monitoring all of the Charlie Hebdo “malefactors” for years, had jailed two of them, and one even starred in a documentary about home-grown jihadis.
Left Tail of the “Sacred Union”
Immediately after the Charlie Hebdo massacre, French media and political circles began talking of an “union sacrée,” the political truce during World War I when the bulk of the French left and labor movement agreed to support the imperialist war effort. This shameful capitulation took place only days after the veteran socialist leader and opponent of imperialist war Jean Jaurès was assassinated by an ultra-rightist French nationalist. The reformist French left today is treading the same path of betrayal of the working class, immigrants and oppressed. With the Socialist Party in office and calling the shots, the French Communist Party (PCF) has taken up the call for national unity while smaller left parties tag along behind with a transparent pretense of “independence.”
The PCF, the allied Parti de Gauche (PG – Left Party) and its leader Jean-Luc Mélenchon (the joint PG-PCF presidential candidate) built and marched in the January 11 demonstration, portraying it as a “republican response against obscurantism and religious fundamentalism of all sorts” and proclaiming “We are Charlie.” In the National Assembly two days later, the entire body rose to sing the Marseillaise, for the first time since 1918. The spokesman for the PCF, Olivier Dartigolles, praised Prime Minister Valls for having “found the right words” on the issue of security, and congratulated the deputies on the “beautiful image of national unity” (Le Monde, 15 January). On the motion to continue French participation in the Iraq-Syria war, the PCF and PG deputies abstained, their sole criticism being that it was under NATO.
But this is par for the course for these inveterate reformists. Back in 1935, the PCF dropped the last vestige of Lenin’s communism and on Stalin’s orders voted for the French war budget. Soon they were supporting the popular front coalition of Socialist Léon Blum and the bourgeois Radical Party which in short order capitulated to Marshal Pétain’s pro-Nazi regime without a fight. After World War II, the PCF played a key role heading off workers revolution and reestablishing the bourgeois republic under General de Gaulle. And after supporting the French colonial war against Algerian independence, on 17 October 1961 as thousands of Algerian demonstrators were arrested – literally under the windows of L’Humanité – and hundreds killed, their bodies thrown into the Seine, the PCF did nothing to mobilize the workers in their defense.2
So what of the parties that claim to stand to the left of the PCF? The reformist New Anti-Capitalist Party (NPA), into which the pseudo-Trotskyist Ligue Communiste Révolutionnaire dissolved a few years back, issued a joint statement with other left groups distancing themselves from calls for national unity and criticizing French military intervention. But the NPA’s formal differences with the government are a mere fig leaf to hide its actual pro-imperialist policies. In fact, the NPA called on France to arm NATO-backed Syrian (and before that Libyan) Islamists, and although a September 22 NPA resolution said “no to all forms of imperialist intervention,” at an October 11 Kurdish solidarity demo NPA spokesman Olivier Besancenot reportedly “call[ed] on the French government to protect the Kurdish people against the jihadis of the I.S.” (AFP).
There are several tendencies inside the social-democratic NPA which strike a more militant posture (Tendance CLAIR, Courant Communiste Révolutionnaire, Anticapitalisme & Révolution) which last September put forward a joint resolution against the leadership’s overtly pro-imperialist line . Yet as is typical of centrists who play their opportunist games in shadow of larger reformist formations, after bickering among themselves they then dropped any criticism of the NPA’s call for French arms and “protection” for the Kurds. But in any case, neither they nor any other leftists dared to go against the government’s use of the Charlie Hebdo massacre to justify escalating its military intervention in the Near East. Was there any protest outside the National Assembly against the renewal of the mandate for the war in Iraq and Syria? We have seen no mention of any.
Lutte Ouvrière (LO), the largest ostensibly Trotskyist organization left in France, issued statements criticizing the government’s call for “national unity” and cynical claim to defend freedom of the press. But despite its pious appeals saying, “Don’t Let Our Class Enemies Set Workers Against Each Other” (Lutte Ouvrière, 16 January), its calls are limited to more jobs, education, services, nothing about defense against racist attacks. Moreover, LO teachers set off the racist ban on wearing the Islamic head scarf (hijab) in schools by campaigning to expel two secondary school girls of immigrant origin in Aubervilliers! And in the 2005 revolt by youth in the banlieues, LO echoed Sarkozy’s racist insults of “thugs,” denouncing “traffickers” and “two-bit neighborhood caïds” (capos) who “today [have] the support of a large part of the youth.”3
It is notable that while much of the left was tight-lipped about the mounting racist threats, and while the union tops have gone along with the calls for “national unity,” a local union section, the CGT at the Saint-Gobain research center in Aubervilliers, didn’t mince words:
“We denounce the racist and xenophobic theses of all stripes, whether they are anti-Arab, anti-Muslim or anti-immigrant and their theory of a supposed Islamization of Europe.
“We say: NO, the Muslims of France and elsewhere do not have to feel more concerned than anyone over these despicable murders and thus don’t have to justify themselves or take a position….
“We will not be found in the National Union, under the banner of the reactionaries. Progressive union forces must not stand united with those whose political aim is to silence every dissident voice, every opposition in order to ensure our total submission but must instead fight them anywhere and everywhere. Moreover, we will not march hand in hand with our exploiters, who know so well how to profit from the current confusion.”
–statement reproduced on the web site of the Tendance CLAIR
As Revolutionary Internationalists, We Are Not Charlie
What is urgently needed in France today is an authentically Trotskyist, communist vanguard that fights tooth and nail against all the imperialists and seeks to mobilize the working class against the racist repression coming down on Muslims, immigrants and people of Arab and North African heritage. At the same time as we denounce the murders of the journalists and Jews, we state frankly our disgust at those Charlie Hebdocartoons which were deliberately insulting to oppressed sectors of the population. Since the murdered cartoonists included well-known figures such as Stéphane Charbonnier (“Charb”), Jean Cabut (“Cabu”), Bernard Verlhac (“Tignous”), Georges Wolinski and Philippe Honoré beloved by many on the left, and had drawn cartoons for l’Humanité and other left papers, our views will not be popular in certain circles.
The original Charlie Hebdo (1969-1981) was a leftist, “anti-establishment” publication satirizing Charles de Gaulle and other ruling figures. Its reincarnation (it was relaunched in 1992), however, has stayed well within the bounds of bourgeois journalism. Moreover, in recent years it has had a provocative anti-Muslim and anti-Arab bent. In 2006, it reprinted the vulgar cartoons of the prophet Muhammad published by the racist right-wing Danish paper Jyllands-Posten.4 In 2011 these supposed leftists did their own version with a special issue titled Charia Hebdo in reference to Islamic law (sharia), which led to its offices being firebombed. Its depictions of Muhammad have sometimes been downright racist, a caricature of a “swarthy” Arab figure. A similar cartoon about Jews would immediately be denounced, rightly, as anti-Semitic, recalling posters for Nazi films like Der ewige Jude (The Eternal Jew) and Jud Süss.
It was notable that while portraying the uproar over Charlie Hebdo’s anti-Muhammad cartoons as oversensitiveness by religious fanatics who can’t take a joke, the New York Times (8 January) announced that it “has chosen not to reprint examples of the magazine’s most controversial work because of its intentionally offensive content.” Which is putting it mildly. And behind the depictions there is real animus. In 2000 a Charlie Hebdo writer was purged for objecting to an editorial by then editor Philippe Val which labeled Palestinians “uncivilized.” In 2003, another was “pushed out the door” for objecting to the magazine’s joining a “crusade of (‘European’) Civilization against (‘Muslim’) Barbarism” (“The Opinion of the Boss: Freedom of Expression According to Charlie Hebdo” [in French], March 2006). Val has gone on to a powerful position as head of Radio France Internationale.
Offensive cartoons in Charlie Hebdo fixated on, but were by no means limited to, portrayals of Muhammad. In its series on “The Life of Muhammad,” Charlie Hebdo went out of its way to insult Muslims, with one cover showing a cleric exclaiming “The Koran is s—t.” Last fall a cover caricatured pregnant veiled Muslim young women yelling “Don’t touch our welfare checks.” This was allegedly referring to the kidnapped female students made pregnant by Boko Haram in Nigeria – as if Nigerian school girls received welfare checks! This racist and sexist content was also seen in a cover showing the cabinet minister Christiane Taubira, a black woman, as a monkey. This was supposedly caricaturing a right-wing publication which had labeled her “as malignant as a monkey” and carried the symbol of the fascist NF, but the vile caricature was so hateful that it could well have been published by the National Front.
Charlie Hebdo was addicted to la provoc (provocation), which the New York Times (13 January) called being an iconoclastic “equal-opportunity offender,” supposedly going after all religions and ethnic groups. There is a long tradition in French literature and humor going back to Baudelaire, Rimbaud and Flaubert summed up as “épater le bourgeois,” to shock the prudish middle classes or bourgeoisie with crudeness. But, beyond singling out Islam and Muslims for disdain, Charlie Hebdo was not so much going after the high and mighty as scorning the downtrodden and discriminated. Even had it given offense “equally,” which it didn’t, in a viciously unequal capitalist society this would victimize the poorest and weakest where those with resources could shrug it off. The satirical weekly all too often seemed to groove on taunting the oppressed. It’s de facto guideline was “épater l’opprimé.”
A good summary of how Charlie Hebdo was perceived as part of the “everyday humiliation of Muslims in France” came from a young transit worker in Paris quoted by the Washington Post (14 January): “'You go to a nightclub, and they don’t let you in. You go to a party, they look at your beard, and say, ‘Oh, when are you going to Syria to join the jihad?’ Charlie Hebdo is a part of that, too. Those who are stronger than us are mocking us. We have high unemployment, high poverty. Religion is all we have left. This is sacred to us. And yes, we have a hard time laughing about it.” The fact is that Charlie Hebdo had long since joined the bourgeois “establishment,” which is why the virtual entirety of the French ruling class and well-to-do petty bourgeoisie could proclaim, “Je suis Charlie.” But the wretched of the earth resented its derisive insults.
The caricaturists and journalists of Charlie Hebdo reflect a strain of bourgeois radicalism with a long (and not so illustrious) pedigree in French political life. Today some supposed left-wingers in the Socialist Party, notably former leaders of SOS-Racisme, including the likes of ex-pseudo-Trotskyist Julien Dray, have taken to lecturing Muslims and youth of the impoverished suburbs on the value of laïcité (secularism). Marxists are staunch defenders of secularism, a heritage going back to the French Revolution and the 1789 Declaration of the Rights of Man, and the 1905 law on the separation of religion and the state, ferociously opposed by the clerical right. Nevertheless, bourgeois
This ideology is particularly strong in the French educational system, which traces its roots to Jules Ferry. Celebrated today as a preeminent republican and father of the secular school (école laïque), including by some supposed “socialists,” Ferry was the mayor of Paris in 1870-71 under the government of national defense, who made a fortune out of imposing hunger rations on the city’s poor (the “Ferry-famine”), who was a co-conspirator of the attempted coup of 18 March 1871 led by Auguste Thiers and had to flee to Versailles to escape the proletarian insurrectionists who founded the Paris Commune. He was also a notorious racist, an advocate of the expansion of French colonialism which he justified as a “right” of the “superior races” who had a “duty to civilize the inferior races.” As two-time prime minister he presided over colonial rule from Africa to Vietnam.
Smash Religious Reaction and Imperialism
Through International Socialist Revolution
As communists, we are opponents of all religions, whether Christianity, Judaism, Islamism, Buddhism or others, which all serve as the “opium of the people” in Karl Marx’s famous phrase, serving to divert the masses from class struggle. But Marx also stressed, “Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions.”5 In seeking to raise up the exploited and oppressed against the exploiters and oppressors, Marxists must take into account both sides of this dialectical formula. As Leninists and Trotskyists, we are opponents of Islamist theocracy and all theocratic regimes, including the self-proclaimed “Jewish state” of Israel or Pétain’s Christian French State or Franco’s dictatorship in Spain. At the same time, we must vigilantly defend the democratic rights of Muslims and oppose the bigoted delirium of Islamophobes.
Revolutionary Marxists oppose discriminatory and exclusionary measures such as the 2004 law banning the hijab and the 2010 French law banning the full-length burka or niqab
Authentic Trotskyists fought against Islamist jihadis in the 1980s, proclaiming “Hail the Red Army” in Afghanistan, when the government of Socialist president François Mitterrand was making common cause with the CIA-backed mujahedin (warriors of god). At the time, much of the French “far left” was demonstrating together with fascists and royalists denouncing Soviet “aggression” for backing an Afghan regime that promoted women’s rights to education, freedom from religious dictates and full participation in social life. In fact, violent Islamic fundamentalists represented a tiny minority until the Western powers imported them from their Saudi allies to serve as mercenaries in the anti-Soviet imperialist crusade. But then the jihadists slipped the leash, as happened once again in Libya and is now happening in Syria.
We defended Salman Rushdie against the fatwa (religious edict) by Ayatollah Khomeini, the supreme leader of the Islamic Republic of Iran, ordering the assassination of the Indian author for supposedly insulting the prophet in his book Satanic Verses. Most of the pseudo-Trotskyist left actually supported the 1979 “Islamic Revolution” in Iran – which soon began murdering leftists, Kurds, gays and women who refused to wear the veil – where we proclaimed “Down with the shah, no to Khomeini.” We have defended Bangladeshi author and women’s rights activist Taslima Nasrin, threatened with death charged for “vilifying Islam” in her novel Shame (1993) portraying the persecution of a Hindu family by Islamist fanatics.6
But consistent defense of freedom of expression and secularism, and the rights of women, immigrants and the poor, along with opposition to “holy war,” requires an intransigent policy of class struggle against the capitalist system and its imperialist wars which have spawned the mass murderers of Charlie Hebdo and Hyper Casher. The bourgeois government of the “Socialists” Hollande and Valls and their imperialist partners in crime are the far greater threat to the working people of France and the entire world. As the Marxist revolutionary Rosa Luxemburg noted in her polemic against the first case of socialist “ministerialism” (joining the government) at the turn of the 20th century, every time the French bourgeoisie is in trouble, it cries out “The Republic is in danger!” and expects the workers to line up in its defense.
At that time Jean Jaurès cited the on-going Dreyfus Affair7 to justify the participation of socialist Alexandre Millerand in the bourgeois cabinet of Pierre Waldeck-Rousseau alongside the butchers of the Commune. Luxemburg, like Lenin, praised Jaurès for defending the Jewish officer Dreyfus, falsely accused of treason by an anti-Semitic military officer corps, at a time when a number of socialists dismissed this as a dispute between bourgeois rivals. But Luxemburg wrote:
“Already in the Dreyfus campaign, the Jaurès socialists failed to understand the line of demarcation between the bourgeois and the proletarian camps: If the question presented itself to the friends of Dreyfus as an attack upon the by-products of militarism – as the cleansing of the army and the suppression of corruption – a socialist had to view it as a struggle against the root of the evil – against the standing army itself…. With the entry of Millerand into the Radical cabinet, the socialists stood entirely upon the same ground as their bourgeois allies.
“The circumstance which divides socialist politics from bourgeois politics is that the socialists are opponents of the entire existing order….”
–Rosa Luxemburg, “The Socialist Crisis in France, Part II” (1901)
Today we must defeat the imperialists’ war and occupation that first armed and financed the jihadis only to see the monster they created escape their control. To defend freedom of the press and freedom of speech, one must oppose all the laws restricting these basic rights along with the new crop of “anti-terrorist” laws opening the door to a police state. The bourgeoisie has nothing to offer a generation of youth without jobs (youth unemployment in the ghettoized Paris suburbs is 40% or more), without hope and who are subjected to unrelenting police harassment. Instead, class-struggle militants in the workers movement must fight to mobilize active defense of the besieged Muslim population, while putting forward a transitional program to combat the exclusion of youth of immigrant origin.
As we called for at the time of the 2006 battle over youth jobs, on the heels of the 2005 revolt of thebanlieues, it is necessary to:
“Sweep Away: Capitalism, Precariousness [lack of secure jobs], Exploitation
“Workers action to stop layoffs! Convert contract jobs into permanent jobs! For workers control of hiring!
“Jobs for all – For a sliding scale of wages and hours!
“Union training and employment programs for youth subject to discrimination! Full citizenship for all immigrants!
–“France: Workers Mobilize to Beat Back Attack on the Youth,” The Internationalist No. 23, April-May 2006
We also called for “workers mobilizations in defense of the ghetto population,” and to forge the nucleus of a revolutionary workers party to fight for a workers government. The attraction of religious delirium for some sectors of this disinherited population can only be overcome by a workers movement with a revolutionary, internationalist leadership that mobilizes all its forces to fight for jobs for all, full citizenship for all immigrants, an end to racist repression and liberation of women through socialist revolution.
This is the program of the League for the Fourth International. ■
- 1. Islamism, or political Islam, is a doctrine holding that Islamic law (sharia) should govern society. Thus for Islamists there is no separation of mosque and state. While there are different Islamist currents, and sharp differences between Islamists of the Sunni and Shia branches of Islam, all call for a theocratic regime in which religious doctrine and authority are supreme, and thus are inherently anti-democratic. Jihadis or jihadists seek to impose Islamic rule through holy war (jihad) against infidels, apostates and all non-believers.
- 2. See “France: Racist State Terror From World War II to Today,” The Internationalist No. 5, April-May 1998.
- 3. See “France Turns Hard to the Right,” The Internationalist No. 26, July 2007.
- 4. See “Racist Anti-Muslim Provocations Trigger Storm of Islamic Reaction,” The Internationalist No. 23 (April-May 2006).
- 5. Marx goes on to say, “The abolition of religion as the illusory happiness of the people is the demand for their real happiness. To call on them to give up their illusions about their condition is to call on them to give up a condition that requires illusions. The criticism of religion is, therefore, in embryo, the criticism of that vale of tears of which religion is the halo.” From the 1843 introduction to his anticipated work, A Contribution to the Critique of Hegel's Philosophy of Right.
- 6. See “Defend Taslima Nasrin,” The Internationalist No. 6 (November-December 1998).
- 7. In 1894, the Jewish captain Alfred Dreyfus was framed on charges of supplying French military secrets to the German embassy and imprisoned on the infamous Devil’s Island in French Guiana, South America. The high command continued the frame-up by suppressing documents showing that the real spy was an army major. The affair dragged on for a decade, splitting French politics into the camp of anti-clerical Republican dreyfusards and anti-Semitic clerical-militarist antidreyfu