An open letter from students in the US to French comrades that also spells out lessons and similarities between struggles.
Now more than ever, universities are in a state of crisis.
American students are facing down gruesome levels of debt profiteering and escalating right-wing attacks against public higher ed — and that’s just the tip of the iceberg.
As the nationwide turn towards fascism advances, campus climates have worsened accordingly. The feds have deported DACA-protected Americans, rolled back standards for sexual violence on campuses, and equipped racist college police departments with military weaponry. Campus-contracted pigs pepper-spray demonstrators at point-blank range and harass student organizers, turning campuses into active sites of class warfare. A system of higher-ed that was designed to deserve the elite in the first place has laid bare it sharpest fangs.
While student movements in the U.S. have and will continue to organize against the neoliberal status-quo, their efforts remain a shell of the student revolts seen in France. Evoking the spirit of 1968, university activism there has re-embraced its militant roots in the wake of strongman Emmanuel Macron’s rise to power. Students have resisted the Macronian austerity agenda by blockading entire campuses, battling university-contracted fascist militias, and even initiating disruptive nationwide strikes alongside left-wing trade-unions. As the low cost and open-access principles of French higher education dissolve, so does complacency among the working-class students caught in the crosshairs.
In a serious blow to Macron’s flailing bid to tame the crisis, France’s future — its youth — blockaded up to 300 middle and high schools in a week-long stand-off with riot police. In addition to airing their concerns over Macron’s unpopular changes to Baccalaureate exams, these young militants publicly echoed the tax, wage, and labor-related concerns fueling the larger public’s growing resentment of the Macronian project.
The birth of France’s Yellow Vest struggle has given further lifeblood to militant university activism against state repression. When the self-styled emperor Macron acceded to Yellow Vest tax demands in an attempt to curb wide-scale rioting, he effectively confirmed that large-scale direct action is an effective means of putting the brakes on his maniacal drive to starve and kill off the working class.
Emboldened by this historic capitulation, the Yellow Vests have embraced a revolutionary agenda that rejects the regime’s rotten olive branches. Beginning on December 7th, Parisian students flooded the streets to support what was dubbed the Yellow Vest Movement’s “Act IV” — a new phase of mass mobilization that demands the collapse of both the French state and the entire capitalist oligarchy that underpins it.
The Yellow Vest struggle and its powerful student vanguard have reintroduced both quiet whispers and public howlings of revolution to French public discourse, reifying the souls of the Paris Commune martyrs who were murdered by imperialist foot-soldiers as they fought to save their anti-capitalist social order. 147 years after the Paris Commune massacre and 60 years after the establishment of France’s fifth post-royalist governance system, some Yellow Vests have pledged to remain on the streets until a Sixth Republic is born — one that is truly free from the all-encompassing terror of the neoliberal state.
This renewed revolutionary momentum has had revarbations far beyond France’s borders, giving hope to people around the world in their myriad fights to free themselves from the coercion of work and the oppression of the state. As prominent liberal democracies fall to fascists like dominoes, the illusion of progress is turning to dust. Many no longer hope for their shackles to be loosened through slow-paced reform, aspiring instead for a true “unshackling” that involves the punishment and elimination of their class enemies. Such folks have watched the Yellow Vest struggle with awe as it’s boldly fought to materialize these aspirations in the heart of neoliberal Europe.
If enraged students from Berkeley to Brigham Young were to adopt their French peers’ sense of urgency and strategically adapt Yellow Vest tactics to their national context, the U.S. could gain a revolutionary faction that’s well-prepared to take on the horrors of disaster-capitalism. To achieve this end, American student organizers would have to fully commit to the pursuit of total liberation from domination — admitting that the only place for reformist tactics is in the trashbin of history.
But so long as the cultish reformism that defines most campus organizing spaces persists, the results could be fatal. No “Blue Wave” or protracted negotiations with unaccountable centers of university power such as “Boards of Trustees” will halt the slow march towards totalized fascism. Many self-aware students know this full-well, but nonetheless forge ahead with reformist demands on the flawed premise that there’s no viable alternative for achieving progress.
If you’re an American student seeking release from the suffocating dead-endedness of reformist campus organizing, find inspiration in the strategic tenacity of your French counterparts. The more you join rank-and-file workers in the streets to fight fascism à la the Yellow Vests, the clearer the prospect of a decolonized, post-capitalist Turtle Island will become.
By accepting this historic responsibility, American students could give new life to meaningful struggle in the global center of capital that they’re raised to call “home.” If they do indeed follow this route, France may not be the only country for which a new social order is on the horizon.
—Ithaca, New York (Unceded Haudenosaunee Homelands)
The People’s Organizing Collective (fb.me/POCUSAS | POCUSAS.org), an Upstate New York-based labor solidarity group, has issued both French and English-language letters affirming support for students involved in the ongoing Yellow Vest demonstrations. Here’s the English copy:
To the French students on the frontlines of the Yellow Vest movement,
Students in America are watching. The world is watching. We support your efforts to challenge Macron’s austerity politics, and join in you demanding that his government must fall. Your courage and strength in standing up to the rich and powerful is admirable.
Further, we applaud you for your larger anti-capitalist struggles and proudly consider you comrades in the fight for a better world. From Paris to Pittsburgh to Palestine, fascism shall not pass.
In love and solidarity,
The People’s Organizing Collective, United Students Against Sweatshops #3