France: Cheerful and quarrelsome 1st-of-May Days?

Some findings on the present

state of emergency

“This May 1st, 2020 is like no other. Today, no gathering in our cities to celebrate, as we have done for so many years, International Workers’ Day (…). And yet, the spirit of May Day, this spirit of solidarity among workers, has perhaps never been so powerful, so alive. For it is indeed thanks to the work, celebrated on this day, that the Nation holds.”

“Deprived of the rituals (sic) of this day, we feel today all the value, all the meaning. With this strong will: to rediscover as soon as possible the cheerful, sometimes quarrelsome, first of May Days, which makes our Nation. My dear compatriots, we will find them again, these cheerful first of May Days!” (i) [Little red book of President M. .., to be published?] (ii)

i Tweets section, La Croix, May 1st, 2020.

ii With a little imagination, one can easily give meaning to this mysterious M… The reading of “La P… respectueuse” (The Respectful Prostitute) by Jean-Paul Sartre can be a clue. This play is very contemporary since it is about a dominant class which acts in the name of the “common good” and finds a majority only concerned about its survival, without questioning the acts that are imposed on it.

Demonstration Bans and Repression on May 1st in France

For the first time since the ban on demonstrations during the colonial wars in Indochina and Algeria (1954-1968), the promised “Cheerful 1st-of-May Day” has been banned by the government, in the name of the fight against the spread of the corona-virus. During these fourteen years – Mitterrand was Minister of the Interior in the Mendès France government (1954-1955); Attorney General, Minister of Justice (sic) in the government of the “socialist” Guy Mollet, until June 1957 – the aim was to fight against the spread of various political viruses: “subversion and terrorism”. It wasn’t until 1 May 1968 that the government – which had sensed the coming storm since the strikes of 1967 – stopped outlawing it, in the hope that the unions would succeed in defusing the rising anger of the workers with simple marches.

A President’s first May Days

Just before the cheerful enthronement of President M…, in front of the pyramid of the Louvre, to the tune of the Hymn to Joy (7 May 2017), we could witness on May 1 a cheerful ‘squabble’: the CRS used Flash-Ball against the demonstrators, including an 18-year-old boy, and the journalists – who belonged neither to BFM TV nor to CNews nor to LCI, etc. – who were not members of the French media – such as this Line Press reporter “who was shot at close range by Flash-Ball while she was clearly identified with her camera, her armband, and her ‘TV’ markings on her helmet”. (1)

In these “happy days” of cheerful quarrel, under President M…, the first of May 2018 began with the affair of Alexandre Benalla, (2) that very special presidential ear, who also played Mr. Muscle at the Place de la Contrescarpe (5th arrondissement), outdoing everyone in banging presumed demonstrators (preferably when they were lying on the ground).

On 1 May 2019, in sunny Paris and in an electric atmosphere, the CRS had charged violently, even before the parade began. Frightened demonstrators had had to enter the Pitié-Salpêtrière hospital, supposed to be a sanctuary for them, to escape the fatal trap. For the Minister of the Interior, they were not cheerful squabblers”, but “people who attacked a hospital”, in short assassins: “nurses had to protect the intensive care unit”.

The factual prohibition of the demonstration during this May 1, 2020 allowed the police to fine the naive few, who believed that the wearing of a mask and the respect of the so-called “social distancing” (that of the proletarians from the bourgeoisie?) would offer a “democratic”, “republican” protection, with a fine of 135 euros.

Of old wine and new bottles

It is said that Mr. Valls, France’s former socialist prime cop, embraces the portrait of Georges Clemenceau, nicknamed “The Strikebreaker”, like an icon. For the former socialist Castaner, it is an absolute must. Addressing the new police prefect of Paris, Didier Lallement, nicknamed “The Ayatollah” or “The Psychopath”, the current minister sang the praises in honor of this “true republican”: “Your model is Georges Clemenceau. Clemenceau’s hand never trembled when it came to fighting for France, nor should yours tremble before the reforms you will have to carry out.” (3) A general lack of education? M. Castaner forgot to sing the praises in honor of Joseph Stalin who always said that “his hand would never tremble”.

It is therefore necessary to “boost” the failing memory of these “socialists” and other “sincere republicans” whose main function is to chloroform the workers with fine speeches, and if that is not enough, to beat them to the ground until they bleed.

Mr. Castagner’s distant ancestor, the “radical republican” Clemenceau, appointed Minister of the Interior, brought 45,000 troops to Paris on the 1st of May 1906, while preventively arresting many leaders of the then revolutionary trade unionist GGT (860 arrests). There were no deaths among the demonstrators, but a very large number of wounded (perhaps 100).

The icon of France’s current prime cops did not tremble before the bodies of the worker victims. In July 1907, two demonstrators were killed at Raon-l’Etape. In June 1908, in Vigneux, the gendarmes opened fire on strikers, confined to the quarters of their meeting, killing two of them and wounding ten. On 30 July 1908, in Villeneuve-Saint-Georges, the dragoons charged 400 demonstrators, killing four and wounding a hundred. In the aftermath, Clemenceau had the entire CGT staff, including Victor Griffuelhes, arrested.

Anticipating the May Day bans (1954-1967; 2020), there was the 1919 ban: Clemenceau, who became president of the Council and Minister of War, banned the demonstration. A young 18-year-old electrician worker and member of the energy producers’ union, Charles Lorne, fell victim to the police on this 1st of May in Paris. His funeral at Père-Lachaise was attended by tens of thousands of workers. Was this not an exemplary expression of “the spirit of May 1st, this spirit of solidarity between the workers”, celebrated by President M…?

Good examples make good followers

This President, with his cheerful verve and full of his majestic plural, also likes to celebrate – in his own way, since 2018 – the international workers’ day”. Since he is venturing onto the terrain of the International and not that of the NATION – that of his ruling class – it is an opportunity to recall that, in many countries, this cheerful and quarrelsome celebration” means for many workers to be shot like rabbits by the police – and by the army, if need be.

In a country like Germany, in 1929, when Social Democracy (the “socialism” of the French Socialist Party’s (PSF) that the cadres of the present “République en Marche” came from) was in power, May 1st was a deliberate bloodbath. As in France, in 2020, the demonstration in the capital had been banned. Reich Interior Minister Carl Severing, who had demonstrated his talents during the repression of insurgent workers in the Ruhr in March 1920, reigned, as did Berlin Police Commissioner Karl Zörgiebel and Prussian Interior Minister Albert Grzesinski. All these worthy representatives of the bourgeois order were “socialists”.

Only the SPD and the “socialist” trade unions had submitted to the ban on demonstrations and therefore held their gatherings confined to rooms. They were sometimes treated badly. Max Gmeinhardt, a member of the SPD and the Reichsbanner, was shot by a policeman because he had not immediately complied with the request to close the window of his apartment: “Zu Hause bleiben!” (“Stay at home!”). Faced with the erection of barricades, the police – many of whom had their SPD cards – used armored vehicles equipped with machine guns. The police did not want to subside to removing the red flags, which were very numerous on the apartment buildings, but simply fired without warning.

On 2 May 1929, the KPD called for mass strikes to protest against police violence, but these were poorly attended. The violence of the then Social Democratic state was a cause for joy: on May 2 and 3, the police laid siege to all working class neighborhoods, searched apartments and made numerous arbitrary arrests. Armored vehicles equipped with machine guns, a jewel of technology, were used again and several workers were coldly murdered. The Rote Fahne, the central organ of the now Stalinist KPD, was banned for seven weeks. A New Zealand journalist, Charles Mackay, was shot dead by the police on 3 May 1929 for not respecting the confinement, formerly known as the curfew, when he confronted the police. A total of 33 civilians were killed on that bloody first of May, 198 were wounded. The police worked wonders: they used about 11,000 rounds of ammunition.

A brave new world in style

But all that is in the past! will say all these “socialists” reconverted to the business of the liberal right (La République en marche’). We are now “the new world” that leaves far behind the “old world” of the past. This kind of discourse is not a brilliant invention of the presidential party, it found a place of choice in the rhetoric of Mussolini who trumpeted in 1936, at the end of the Ethiopian war: “It is up to us to bury the past by embalming it, it is up to us to anticipate the future.” (4)

Will May 1st in 2021 therefore be “cheerful and quarrelsome”, with the lifting of the state of emergency euphemistically called “confinement”? It is doubtful. The State power shows itself to be totally uncomplicated in the repression, through generalized surveillance, resulting in the establishment of arbitrary lists of suspects.

We learn fromLe Monde of May 2nd that a bill should extend the state of sanitary emergency by two months, until July 23. Provisions are planned for the creation of a register of the sick, and even of people “likely to be infected by the virus” (?). Suspects. It is indeed about creating a law of suspects, in the wake of the orders of 27 March noting the extension of pre-trial detention, for any arbitrary reason, without going before a judge and without the support of lawyers made redundant by the closure of the courts, all this by means of circulars (ukase in Tsarist Russia) and emails. (5)

The “new world” of the ruling and possessing class (French or other, it doesn’t matter to us) is indeed that of a state despotism, armored and without unnecessary shades. As the Italian philosopher Giorgio Agamben points out on his blog:

“From all sides we hear today the hypothesis that, in reality, we are experiencing the end of a world, that of bourgeois democracies, based on rights, parliaments and the separation of powers, giving way to a new despotism, which, in terms of the omnipresence of controls and the cessation of all political activity, will be worse than the totalitarianisms we have known until now. American political scientists call it the Security State, i.e. a state in which, for “security reasons”… any limits can be imposed on individual freedoms.” (6)

From capitalist China to the U.S.A., from Russia to France and Italy, through Great Britain, absolute control is put in place, targeting the only enemy the possessing classes can have: the proletariat. And this control by tracking or video surveillance, more “scientific” than ever, fulfills the wildest dreams of the ferocious capitalist dictatorships of the past:

“And the control that comes to be exercised by means of video surveillance cameras and now, as has been proposed, with mobile phones, far exceeds any form of control exercised under totalitarian regimes such as fascism and Nazism.” (7)

In the land of the “Gauls” of the “cheerful and quarrelsome” first-of-May Days, the slightest social challenge to the regime in place, even from the balconies of a building, can bring them to justice:

“The deployment of banners exceeding the freedom of political and social expression will be noted by the police and, if necessary, transmitted to the public prosecutor’s office, which will decide on the action to be taken.” (8)

The press at the service of Capital makes a face in front of the emergency fuse, the internet, where virtual protest is expressed:

“Internet replaces the street. Since the beginning of the epidemic, physical activity has given way to a multiplication of digital and dematerialized actions.” (9)

The government, through the voice of its police, now encourages people to denounce on the Interior Ministry’s Pharos platform “criminal content detected while surfing on the networks.” In the absence of the Olympic Games in Tokyo, postponed because of corona-virus, should we suggest to the Olympic authorities that they organize the Olympics of Snitching, where it would perhaps not be China and Russia, “psycho-rigid” capitalists, who would win the gold and silver medals?

In a year’s time, at the cheerful and sometimes squabbling” May Day meeting, the powers-that-be, after the return to the “normalcy” of capitalism, made up of massive unemployment, attacks on wages, massive increases in productivity, reinforced police control of society – will happily announce:

“Life has gotten better… life has got happier. And when there’s joy in life, work goes briskly. Hence the elevated performance standards.” (10)

It is necessary to keep hope that the proletarians, in this country as elsewhere, will find the answers which are necessary in front of this arrogance of the capitalist class, which crushes, without useless ado, all those who are underneath, exploited and treated like dogs, the “invisible” troglodytes of the system.

Karlchen, May 2nd, 2020.

Source: Pantopolis, Des premiers mai joyeux et chamailleurs ?

Translation and subtitles: H.C., May 3, 2020.



1 Le Monde, 2 May 2017.

3 Marianne, 21 March 2019.

4 Speech by Benito Mussolini, delivered in Milan, November 10, 1936.

5 Raphaël Kempf, “Et le gouvernement décida de confiner les libertés”, Le Monde diplomatique, May 2020 (“And the government decided to confine the liberties”).

6 Giorgio Agamben, April 22: “New reflections” Nuove riflessioni.

7 Ibid.

8 “Banners in the windows for May 1st, be careful what you write”, La Voix du Nord, May 2nd, 2020.

9 Le Figaro, 29 April 2020.

10 Joseph Stalin, Speech to the First Conference of Stakhanovists of the USSR, November 17, 1935.