Police violence in France

For an organized workers’ fightback!

25 August 2023

Mehdi, Abdelkarim, Jalil, Virgil, Nathaniel each lost an eye. Hedi’s skull was smashed. Aimène is in a coma. Mohamed is dead. More than a month after Nahel’s death, French police are still killing and lynching in the service of oppression.

Hedi’s recent testimony about events on the night of 1–2 July in Marseille—during an uprising in poor neighborhoods following Nahel’s murder—highlights the role of cops in the bourgeois state and exposes the political and media establishment’s propaganda aimed at making the most brutal oppression acceptable in France. Hedi recounts how, having been hit by an LBD (blast ball) in the temple, he was then violently set upon by police officers without the slightest pretext:

“When I tried to get up, they grabbed me and dragged me into a little corner where it was all dark. Then they started beating me. There was one that was lying on top of me, so I couldn’t move. Some of them hit me with their fists, others hit me with batons. They broke my jaw. At no time was I asked for my papers, at no time was I asked what I was doing there. While I was on the ground, I tried to tell them that they could search me, that I wasn’t dangerous. But they weren’t interested.”
—France Inter, 27 July 2023 [our translation]

Since then, several hundred police officers across France have gone on sick leave or invoked code “562” (allowing them to refuse certain duties) to demand the release of the cop detained for attacking Hedi. Just like for the police officer who murdered Nahel, a fundraiser has been set up to “support” the four cops involved, currently amounting to more than 50,000 euros. What kind of sick society rewards lynch mobs and murderers with hard cash, while a segment of the population represents them as the victims?

Police Violence is Bourgeois Violence

Members of the government have left no doubt about which side they are on. Some, including Minister of the Interior Gérald Darmanin, have supported the lynch mob and practically spat in Hedi’s face by demanding the release of the cop in pre-trial detention. Meanwhile, police “trade union” Alliance is calling for the creation of a “special status” for cops to make it easier for them to beat and kill with impunity.

The truth is that the police already enjoy a kind of special status as the armed wing of the bourgeoisie. Marx and Lenin noted that in a capitalist society the police are a fundamental instrument for maintaining bourgeois order, guaranteeing perpetuation of the ruling class’s exploitation and domination of the workers. Their role of repression and protection of private property is a powerful tool in the service of capitalist interests. This becomes increasingly important as the multiple crises of rotting capitalism corrode its veneer of ideological legitimacy. We are witnessing a police revolt that the government is compelled to support, even though its demands go beyond the framework of bourgeois justice. In the run-up to the Paris Olympics and in a context of unrest, revolt, impoverishment, in the wake of the Gilets Jaunes (yellow vest) movement and the struggle against the pension reform, the government cannot afford to lose the backing of the cops, who are the sworn enemies of the workers and the oppressed. As Trotsky explained almost a century ago: “The worker who becomes a policeman in the service of the capitalist state is a bourgeois cop, not a worker.”

Racism, inherited from the colonial past, remains intrinsic to French society and finds violent expression in the maintenance of order in the suburban ghettos. The fact that Hedi is Arab is no coincidence, no more than Malik or Fouad, or Zina, Bouna, Babacar, Adama, Redouane or Nahel. The deeply racist French state ghettoizes Arab and black populations, deprives them of jobs and oppresses them because of their ethnic origin. This is most clearly seen in the prison sentences imposed after the riots, in regular raids and killings by cops in poor neighborhoods, and in the rape of Theo Luhaka, the murder of Malik Oussékine and so many others passed over in silence.

The police, their “unions” and the fascist movements that support them have declared themselves “at war” against the “vermin.” The oppressed, the poor and protesters are all targets. The militarization of the police and its mob attacks, horrific violence and repression have been developed for years in France’s poor neighborhoods and ghettos. But the police are only the transmission belt of oppression against those exploited under capitalism, and the state has expanded this violence to movements of workers and the oppressed outside of these neighborhoods. This is evidenced by the heavy toll on the Gilets Jaunes protests, where four people were killed and dozens suffered serious injuries, including 30 lost eyes, six hands torn off and 353 head injuries, not to mention more than 300 formal complaints of beatings.

Take the case of Angelina, aged 19, returning home on 8 December 2018 during the Gilets Jaunes movement, who was hit in the knee with a flash-ball and beaten by several police officers in civilian clothes. An article in Mediapart recounts many similarities with the attack on Hedi, like how the cops and their managers covered up evidence and delayed the investigation to protect the culprits. But the link is even closer: the police officer currently in custody for the attack on Hedi is the alleged perpetrator of both beatings.

There is no fundamental difference between repression in the poor neighborhoods and repression of the workers’ movement. The same institution is responsible for repressing, provoking and beating: the police, the armed wing of the bourgeois state and the primary weapon used against racial minorities, the oppressed and the working class—all of whom have every interest in overthrowing this system and freeing themselves from violence, exploitation and misery.

Oppose the Bourgeois State, for Workers’ Power!

Revolutionaries call for the release of all those detained during the police attacks, the revolts and social movements such as the Gilets Jaunes and pension reform protests. We must be prepared for police repression and violent abuses to become more and more common and less and less punished by the bourgeois state. Working-class youth, trade unions and organizations of the oppressed must be defended against ever-increasing state violence, and the workers’ movement and the oppressed must organize so that their struggles, whether revolutionary or not, do not fall victim to freelancing cops and fascist thugs.

During the movement against the pension reform, we called for the creation of “workers’ defense guards to protect strikes and protests from the cops and fascists“ (“French Pension Strikes Rattle Bourgeoisie,” 25 March 2023). In the face of police violence, this perspective remains essential, as does the need to fight against sabotage by trade-union bureaucrats and their allies in the reformist parties, who have the power to initiate such defense guards but prefer to cower under the threats of their bourgeois masters.

Jean-Luc Mélenchon wants a police force conceived as “guardians of the peace.” Material from his current electoral campaign argues that: “We want a republican police force, under the control of the people and in respect of the common rules.” In 2020, he similarly declared: “A society in which the population hates its police and the police distrust the population: we must stop this” (Le Parisien, 14 December). On the contrary, the working class and the poor neighborhoods understand very well that the police are our enemy, the armed force of the bourgeois state. Cops are not part of the working class—they must be expelled from the trade-union movement!

We fight for a socialist future, a society free from the chains of class exploitation. We call to put an end to the class ghettos in the suburbs and to break with so-called “republican” bourgeois democracy to establish a classless society free of oppression. Revolutionaries attempt to build a programmatic bridge between the current resistance in the working-class suburbs and a broader struggle against the bourgeoisie. We put forward a program that includes granting full citizenship rights to all inhabitants of the country; reduction of the working week (no more than 30 hours) with no loss of pay and the elimination of unemployment; massive wage increases and wage growth outpacing price inflation; planning of major public works, including improvement of suburban infrastructure and its integration with Paris through a modern, free public transport system; expansion of social services, under workers’ control; expropriation of big capital; dissolution of the police, armed forces and border guards and their replacement by forces of proletarian order; and the overthrow of the entire bourgeois state and the establishment of a workers’ government that defends an egalitarian and democratic system at the service of the entire population.

To do this, it is necessary to build a revolutionary party that advances a program of class struggle in the workers’ movement and wherever the oppressed fight for their interests. Only a truly Marxist leadership can expose and overcome the class betrayal of the trade-union bureaucrats and reformist party leaders to help the working class and oppressed free themselves from the capitalist system.

In French:
Violence policière en France
Pour une riposte ouvrière !