Blog post

Terrorism and Politics: Walking the Tight-Rope

Houria Bouteldja on the current situation in France.

Houria Bouteldja24 October 2020

Terrorism and Politics: Walking the Tight-Rope


(1) The unleashing of liberal forces on a French, European, and global scale and the recolonization of the world in a competitive context that puts Western hegemony in peril while amplifying its imperialist hostility
(2) The absence of utopian alternatives at each of these different scales, despite the rise of popular protests around the world
(3) A global health crisis with devastating economic effects, whose bill is becoming steep for the government
(4) The coming presidential election, which will play out most probably, barring a miracle, on the terrain of the far-right
(5) The uprising of the Gilets Jaunes, which targeted the state and its police and whose tendency to move left made those in power tremble
(6) The evolution of the France Insoumise (FI) party toward a more radical left position and toward the decolonial movement:
-Support for the Gilets Jaunes and support for the railway worker strikes
-Support for the families victimized by police violence; participation in the march against Islamophobia on November 10, 2019; Mélenchon’s declaration on the “creolization” of France, breaking—timidly, for sure, but significantly—with the universalist and national Republican tradition of which he is a champion
(7) The anti-racist wave that unfurled over the great liberal democracies after the death of George Floyd, targeting at once their police and their symbols of colonialism and slavery
(8) The terrifying threat that a convergence of so-called “hicks” and “savages” could pose to power
(9) The threat of diffuse and organized “jihadist terrorism,” which hangs over Western societies and France in particular

…the equation for Macronism to solve is the following:

How to maintain power while methodically continuing to challenge the historic compromise between capital and labor in favor of the former, in a climate where social anger aimed primarily at the government’s liberal politics intensifies?

What Macron fears the most is the breakdown of the racial contract. For the more the pressure of liberal forces dismantles the social contract, the more the rulers count on the solidity of the racial contract to continue to link the fate of the white working-class to the bourgeois state. And when the racial contract weakens (i.e. the convergence of postcolonial subjects, the Gilets Jaunes, and other social movements against the police; the Left’s greater understanding of Islamophobia and structural racism; etc.), power panics and is left with only one choice: reinforce the racial contract. This is one of the cardinal functions of the notion of “laïcité,” or secularism, whose meaning shifts according to the ideological needs of the colonial counter-revolution. Effectively, it is a matter of replacing the principle of “justice,” a foremost demand of any social movement, with that of “laïcité”—which is anything but innocent. It is one of the greatest ideological frauds produced by the ruling classes for rebuilding objective solidarity between white people and the grand interests of the state, to the detriment of a social and political bloc opposed to the one in power (is it any wonder the ease with which the “progressive” camp allowed itself to be dispossessed of the word “justice?”).

But resistance exists. One need only look to the Muslim organizations threated with dissolution (e.g. the Collective Against Islamophobia in France, BarakaCity, etc.) to understand that it is their autonomy and independence vis-à-vis state institutions and their lack of allegiance to power, rather than their phantasmatic danger, that poses a problem.

But more crucial, given the weakness of postcolonial autonomy, is the case of the FI party and Mélenchon. This is the junction point of white liberal and anti-liberal forces. It is also the junction point of white republican forces (all those to the right of the French Communist Party), whose project rests entirely on the reproduction of the racial contract, and those who are tossed between their racial and class interests. From this point of view, Mélenchon occupies both a strategic and hyper-vulnerable position. It is at the FI that all of the headwinds meet. It is why the terrible assassination of Samuel Paty is the occasion for power and the far-right to make Mélenchon and his party pay. He must be made to regret his participation in the march against Islamophobia on November 10 and his decolonial turn. In other words, he must be made to renounce undoing the knot of race, the knot uniting state and capital, the knot uniting the white working-class and the Western bourgeoisie against the people of the global South (or against their domestic “South”). In short, he must return to the lap of “national identity” at all costs.

Faced with the possibility of Mélenchon—one of the most serious presidential candidates on the Left who, far from being a revolutionary possibility nonetheless draws the lines of a political recomposition on the basis of a civic and moderately anti-racist solidarity—the threat of terrorism serves as a national republican instrument for reinstating the racist consensus to the detriment of class solidarity. It is a guarantee that the white political forces of the Left will fall back on their (immediate) racial interest. This is what the calls for national unity serve, which the political forces of the radical Left struggle to resist—with certain exceptions like the New Anticapitalist Party, who will be gone with the wind if the FI does not make the historic and decisive choice to break with the deadly logic of the racial contract.

Thus, in the current situation—and, I add, despite the stupidities proffered by its leader vis-à-vis the Chechen community and despite the stupidities he may still repeat in the coming days, weeks, months—it seems to me more urgent to consider the objective role of the FI and of Mélenchon rather than become buried in critiques that are justified but miss the stakes of the moment. A truly revolutionary and materialist approach must endeavor to measure the gravity of the situation and evaluate power relations in an accurate and pragmatic manner. In other words, anti-racist and anti-fascist forces must work to prevent the swing of the FI into the opposing camp without falling into an adventurist, idealist, and romantic revolutionary politics.

That having been said, it goes without saying that I will always plead primarily for an autonomous movement of postcolonial subjects capable of intervening in power relations and also for the popularization of materialist analyses in order to arm ourselves politically against the phenomenon called “jihadist terrorism” and its instrumentalization. It goes without saying therefore that I will always plead first to reinforce the camp of the decolonial alternative, but beggars can’t be choosers, eh?