Since Thursday, students and youth in Paris, Rennes, Nantes, Toulouse and other cities across France have held rallies and marched through the city streets. The protests were against the right wing nationalist Marine Le Pen and the liberal Emmanuel Macron who are facing off in the in the second round of the presidential election.
In total, more than 3,000 high school students took to the streets carrying signs exclaiming: “Neither the banker, nor the racist!” and “The real anti-establishment, that is us!” Political slogans could be heard through the streets as students chanted “It is not the immigrants who should be expelled, it is Marine Le Pen!”, "Macron, Le Pen, we do not want them!”, “Their elections, our future!"
During many of the protests, the youth were met by armoured police blocking the marches and dispersing tear gas canisters into the crowds, while surveillance helicopters could be seen in the sky above. One police officer in Rennes even resorted to drawing his pistol and for a brief moment aiming it at the protesters.
In Paris, gathering at Place de la Republique the protest moved towards Boulevard Beaumarchais, where the tension rose between police and students. Anouk, a 16 year-old Parisian student from Lycée Buffon explains how the protests were organised as a peaceful sit-in by high school students from all over Paris. She said: "We disagree with the values put forward by the National Front, and since we do not have the right to vote, we have to express ourselves differently”.
In Lyons the protests escalated as well. Students hung banners on the gates of the town hall, where one read: "By my acts I vote 365 days a year. You who come out only 2 Sundays every 5 years, just vote as you see fit.” At the end of the rally, demonstrators left the Place des Terreaux shouting “down with capitalism”. A group of youths then wanted to cross one of the city-bridges to join the protest on the other side of the river, but were arrested by the police who fired tear gas at them.
The protests across France come after years of political frustration among youths and workers. Current president François Hollande and the French Socialist Party have, despite their promises, implemented countless austerity policies and allowed companies to cut workers' salaries. Meanwhile, youth unemployment still stands at 24.6%. For this, Hollande and the Socialist Party have paid the price, with the party in a deep crisis and their candidate, Benoît Hamon, securing only 6.4% of the votes in Sunday’s first round election. As the last part of the presidential race now pits a racist right-winger against an ex-banker, the frustration among those who face tough conditions continues to increase.
With left-wing candidate Jean-Luc Mélenchon out of the presidential race, the workers and youth of France only have more capitalist policies of austerity and attacks on living conditions to look forward to. The crisis of French capitalism has, like in many other European countries, expressed itself through a massive political polarisation to the left and to the right. The traditional parties of the establishment, which the ruling class have relied upon for decades, are all in deep crises of legitimacy. The rise of Le Pen to the right and Melenchon to the left is an indication of this process. But the recent protests indicate that a layer amongst the youth are drawing even more radical conclusions. Many of these young people see the crises facing society not only as a result of poor political decision-making, but as a result of the capitalist system. They see no future within the confines of this system and correctly distrust all representatives of the ruling class.
Protests like the ones across France this week show just how fed up many students and workers are with austerity, lies upon lies from politicians and the capitalist system in general. Mélenchon’s massive success, where 30% of voters aged 18 to 24 voted in favor of his movement, is a sign of the potential for radical movements in the next period. The youth who took to the streets this week are reflecting the brewing mood under the surface, and anticipating future developments within the wider youth and the working class. There are undoubtedly more protests on the way and for the workers and youth of France it will only become clearer that the problems facing France, Europe and the entire world cannot be solved within the limits of capitalism. The only solution, as many young people are realising, is “Neither the banker, nor the racist!” but to break with the capitalist system and expropriate the means of production to create a truly fair society.