Imagine if the 1,200 hoodlums who rampaged through Paris on May Day had been members of a far-right organisation. Imagine the reaction in the media, the endless cliched references to the 1930s and dire warnings of the rise of a new generation of fascism in Europe. The fascists are here, all right, and on Tuesday they firebombed a McDonald's (the footage below is frightening), torched a car showroom and damaged or destroyed thirty other business premises. But because they vandalised in the name of the far-left, reaction has been muted across Europe. In a few reports, one can even detect a grudging admiration for the perpetrators of the violence.
🔴Le McDonald’s Gare Austerlitz complètement détruit par plusieurs personnes cagoulés. Des employés sont à l’intérieur. De la fumée sur le toit du restaurant. Incendie en cours#1ermai #manifestation #manif #alerte @Infosfra #Mcdo pic.twitter.com/MIFD5FSSNL
— Charles Baudry (@CharlesBaudry) May 1, 2018
In today's Liberation, there is an interview with a member of 'Black Bloc', the group behind the May Day mayhem and which originated in Germany in the 1980s. Johan, a 24-year-old, not brave enough to give his real name (courage isn't a feature of Black Bloc as they go into action masked and hooded), proudly talked of the damage inflicted on capitalist emblems such as McDonald's. He admitted there is no "long-term political strategy" with anarchy their raison d'être.
There is no expression of remorse, neither for the employees of the fast-food restaurant, who now face an uncertain future, nor the owner of the car showroom who, on Tuesday evening, fought back tears in front of the television cameras as he surveyed what remained of his livelihood.
Why doesn't Liberation interview one of the McDonald's staff? It would be interesting to hear their thoughts, the fear they felt as Molotov cocktails were hurled into the restaurant. Perhaps they could find a single mum from an immigrant background who, thanks to her job at McDonald's, has been able to feed and clothe her children. Until a mob of predominantly white middle-class hooligans came calling.
There has been little remorse either from far-left politicians or union leaders. The leader of the far-left France Insoumise party, Jean-Luc Mélenchon, condemned the violence but in a social media message he laid the blame at far-right groups. Even by his standards, it was a tweet of delusion, the intellectual dishonesty of a man who can't accept the fact that the violence emanated from people who to a degree share his ideology. There are parallels between Mélenchon's negation and Jeremy Corbyn's inability to own up fully to the extent of the anti-Semitism that runs like a seam through his followers.
The leader of the hard-left CGT union, Philippe Martinez, who was one of the principal organisers of the traditional May Day parade, also expressed his dismay at the violence but blamed the police for not stepping in. It was a mischievous whine, for the left in France are always looking for an opportunity to accuse the police of heavy-handedness.
Why didn't police do more to stop Tuesday's violence? According to reports they were forewarned of the presence of hundreds of Black Bloc members, yet they only moved in when the violence threatened to spiral out of control, detaining hundreds in the Jardin des Plantes of whom 43 remain in custody, mainly teens and twenty-somethings, including a dozen women.
Initially the police didn't wish to inflame the situation and they showed admirable restraint in the face of provocation from the masked mob, who threw rocks at them as they chanted their desire to see President Macron guillotined and their wish to 'Burn a Cop'.
Macron has been in Australia this week but he's unlikely to have been too disturbed by what he saw. This is what he wants, the left to fracture, the unions to split, people to become so sick of the thuggish far-left that they say: 'you know what, I don't much care for the president but he's right, France has to be reformed to the bitter end'. As one 54-year-old who was attending the parade with his family told a reporter, Black Bloc's violence "overshadows the other [peaceful] marchers...discrediting us all."
Some claim Black Bloc are continuing the struggle of the 1968 generation; they're not, and nor are those students who have been blockading universities in recent weeks, vandalising lecture halls, daubing anti-Semitic graffiti on the walls and preventing other students from studying for their degrees.
Fifty years ago, the students' cause was understandable, a revolt against an authoritarian France personified by the archaic president de Gaulle. Black Bloc's cause is chaos, and they don't care who suffers because anyone who is not with them must be against them. They champion anarchy but as 'Johan' admitted to Liberation when it comes to acts of violence they are well organised and disciplined, which has been a hallmark of fascist groups down the years.