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French « Citoyennisme » : Fatal Attraction !

jeudi 9 septembre 2004

During the first French Revolution, it became compulsory to call each human being « citoyen » or « citoyenne ». A servant was no more obliged to say « Monsieur » or « Madame » to his or her noble employer. King Louis XVI was called « Citoyen Louis Capet » by his judges and not « Your Majesty ». These words have kept an egalitarian flavour, even if today no worker or elector would dare to call his boss or his MP « citoyen » or « citoyenne ».

Today, most people regret the « good old times » when neighbours talked to eachother, helped eachother, when young men gave their seat to old ladies, pregnant women or old men. The newspapers are full of horrid stories of old people dying alone in tower blocks or big buildings, of women who are harassed or raped in the tube while the passengers look the other way, etc. Modern society presents itself in TV series of news shows as a society based on selfish feelings, individualism, etc.

In such a situation the « citoyennistes » have found a solution : state services should replace faulty solidarity links and human relationships. We should have more social workers, coaches, caretakers, cops, prison wardens, parking guards, etc.

For the « citoyennistes » the relation between each individual and the state can replace the traditional solidarity ties of the workers movement. This ideology pretends that bourgeois democracy can be radically opposed to capitalism (an old marxist idea, by the way) ; that the state has to be re-inforced to empower parliamentary democracy, and that citizens must be mobilized in order to implement this political project. The « citoyennistes » want openly to humanize capitalism, to transform it into a more just system. They replace class struggle by elections and democratic pressures over the elected personnel. Citizens are not allowed to replace the state or to destroy it. They may just from time to time practice what ATTAC calls « civic desobedience », a much more respectable word than « civilian desobedience ». With this ideology everything has to become « citoyen » : political debate, communication, schools, companies, etc.

The « citoyennistes » dont want to get rid of the capitalist system, wage labor, capital and money. They just wish to improve and extend public services. They consider the bourgeois state as a parasite which ruins the good relationships which should reign between the citizens-consumers and capital. They fight for a « civic democracy », a « participative democracy », not for socialism. The « citoyennistes » are even ready to violently confront the state - from time to time - but their aim is to bring cameras and journalists on the spot of the confrontation, in order to rapidly discuss between « responsible » leaders. The bourgeois state loves also to organize « civic conferences », « civic consultations » and to « give the citizens the right to speak ». The « citoyennistes » view themselves as professional intermediaries betwen « civic society » and the state. « Citoyennisme » is the ideology of the petty bourgeoisie and the middle class, and has been, until now, unable to form a real party.

« Citoyennistes » groups generally function as lobbies, they dont need to have a strong social base, they love to appear as experts on all sorts of problems. The internal functioning of ATTAC is very typical : ATTAC provides hundreds of translators, thousands of specialists, tens of thousands of articles and documents on all sorts of problems. The local militants have the impression of belonging to a huge « popular university » but the real power lies in the hands of 30 persons who are not elected and will never be dethroned, because they coopt the new members of the leadership. This « citoyenniste » movement is basically a moral movement : against war, for peace, againt McDonald and for good organic food, againt poverty and for prosperity. Who can be hostile to such a nice programm ?

« Citoyennistes » prefer what they call « solidaric economy » to « liberal economy » ; concretely, they defend small coope-ratives of production against big multinationals. They want to « equally share the wealth », to « tax capital », to « take money in the capitalists’ pockets ». But they seem to ignore that capital and money are not neutral forces or instruments which could be used for other aims. It’s not surprising that such a confused ideology has close ties with multiculturalism, an other ideology which refuses to consider the existence of social classes and of class struggle.

Most of the « citoyennistes » militants are certainly sincere, but the role of revolutionaries is to help them to open their eyes, not to flatter their pseudo-reformist conceptions.

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