Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Minority Rule?

We have no way of knowing, of course, how many students support the blockage of campuses, railway stations, etc., in the movement of protest against the Pécresse Law, but all signs are that it is a minority, even a small minority. There are strikes at only a dozen or so of the 80-odd French universities. At Rennes, where a vote on continuing the strike was held by secret ballot, the anti-strike vote was in the majority (with 62 percent, 3,280 voting out of 17,000 students total), but more radical elements are continuing the strike today anyway and insisting on an open vote in a general assembly. At Nanterre, a general assembly did vote in favor of the strike, but police were called in to remove protesters blocking the building, while other students demonstrated in favor of "freedom to study." The national strike leadership has called for students to block train stations, but the head of CGT-Cheminots advised against this move.

This site presents news from the protesters' side. And here is an anti-strike site. Archaisms are emerging on both sides, as is inevitable in this sort of conflict. For instance, the president of the University of Rennes claims that what is at stake here is nothing less than the viability of democracy in the face of a "totalitarian regime," while the student in the photo is wearing a Che Guevara T-shirt that was probably manufactured in one of the bustling mills of Chinese capitalism.

6 comments:

Anonymous said...

On the Antenne 2 news, a student strike leader (at Rennes?)was interviewed on the demand for a secret ballot to decide whether to continue the strike. His reply: 'A secret ballot is anti-democratic. The students who want it probably weren't even at the AG. They didn't hear the full debate."

Anonymous said...

Being a minority has never been a problem for the "minorités agissantes". They do not operate along the same lines as we do when we insist on majority rule. They consider themselves as the " avant-garde du proletariat". Their objective is not to follow the majority but to manipulate it towards their objectives. A secret ballot is not on their agenda, but they can easily dominate an AG.

How many Russians were bolsheviks in 1917 ?

Quico said...

Hmmm...I love how the guy at Rennes tosses a rhetorical firebomb and then dives for cover behind a "je pese mes mots". How is that supposed to work, exactly? If I say "your mother is a herpes-ridden whore...I weight my words" am I less likely to get punched in the mouth?!

Quico said...

Hmmm...I love how the guy at Rennes tosses a rhetorical firebomb and then dives for cover behind a "je pese mes mots". How is that supposed to work, exactly? If I say "your mother is a herpes-ridden whore...I weight my words" am I less likely to get punched in the mouth?!

Anonymous said...

alain q. is of course correct about the political strategy of "minorites agissantes" - in reporting this example my intention was to imply the naivete of saying such a thing on television, bad for the strikers' public relations - this was a follow-on to an earlier post about how the strikes are considered by public opinion - the significant majority against the strikes and the tentative organization of anti-strike students at some universities is important. It may be part of a long-term decline in reputation of the tradition of "les barricades" and knee-jerk street demonstrations at the announcement of a reform, as opposed to the practice of negotiations now, strikes if necessary, in other countries. Of course, this would imply a policy on the part of French governments of a visible and business-as-usual consultation/lobbying/negotiation/ pratice.

Anonymous said...

I think the discussion around the minorites agissantes is interesting. It seems that what is at issue in these student demonstrations is the question of representation. It shouldn't come as any surprise that those in favour of the reforms balk at idea of being held back by striking students. And so they claim to represent the interests of the majority of the quiet and the unassuming, who are being intimidated by their radical peers. I don't think we can determine who is right in this situtation, we can only see how it evolves. Those organized lefty students are after all only making a claim. If their demands don't chime with what most people want, then that will come across in counter protests, as we're seeing already. In my own experience of trying to win over nominally representative student bodies in Oxford, UK (on the issue of supporting testing on animals for research and drug development), the claim that the bodies are not representative because only a vocal minority were present at votes is often wheeled out to mask the body's own lack of legitimacy (i.e. nobody regularly attends meetings or votes, and so the body isn't confident of commanding its members' will). I think Hannah Arendt was right on this when she said in On Violence: "To claim, as is often done, that a tiny unamred minority has successfully, by means of violence - shouting, kicking up a row etc - disrupted large lecture classes whose overwhelming majority had voted for normal instruction procedures is therefore misleading... What actually happens in such cases is something much more serious: the majority clearly refuses to use its power and overpower the disrupters; the academic processes break down because no one is willing to raise more than a voting finger for the status quo".