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Is Paris burning? How France has been on fire since the 1950s

Violent protests have erupted in Paris as Emmanuel Macron is declared winner of the final round of the French Presidential election.

Some of the protesters have demanded Macron’s resignation before he has even taken office. But these are not angry Le Pen supporters nor are they from the fan-club of far-left candidate Jean-Luc Mélenchon.

The protesters are a mix of people without a clear message. They are simply angry at everything and seemingly about everything.

In countries that do not have a protest culture or in countries where protests normally erupt over the comparatively straight-forward opposition to specific policies such as the anti-‘austerity’/economic warfare protests in Greece, the French protests are almost metaphysical in their amorphousness.

In many ways, the anxiety that is gripping French society stems from unresolved issues dating back to the French war against Algerian anti-imperialists which raged between 1954 and 1962.

When the war began, most major parties including the then deeply influential Communist Party of France condemned the Algerians. There were of course notable exceptions but on the whole they were in the minority.

While the right and left condemned Algeria’s struggle for independence from different perspectives, the condemnation sowed the seeds of a wider rift in French society.

Even more than France’s literal war in Vietnam, the French Indo-Chinese War which was fought between 1946 and 1954, the Algerian war was metaphorically France’s Vietnam, to put it in an American context.

In the US, opposition to the war in Vietnam grew from a small and disunited group of Paleoconservatives and those on the left into a movement in which where the entire country became exacerbated with the war. Robert Kennedy who was of course no political outsider let alone a ‘common man’ campaigned to be the Democratic candidate for President in 1968 on the basis of opposition to the war before being assassinated.

Richard Nixon who won the 1968 Presidential election knew that he had to draw the war to a close one way or another. He cleverly called it ‘Peace with honour’.

Likewise, by the late 1950s, many in France saw the war in Algeria as a hopeless cause, but many others viewed surrender as treason.

The post-Algerian realities meant that France which was by then no longer an empire had to examine itself

. Many on the left gradually developed a sense of shame for supporting the war. At the same time, many on the right blamed the often less than gung-ho attitude of the left for the ‘betrayal’ of Frenchmen and women in Algeria who were often the target of revolutionaries during the war.

Socialist leader and French Prime Minister between 1956 and 1957 ,Guy Mollet was a perfect example of a French leftist who was too pro-war for the anti-war factions of the left and too ‘soft’ on the war effort to please the right and much of the centre.

Today the ghosts of Algeria continue to haunt France even though they really ought not too.

On the one hand, those on the right see themselves as people who will bring a Nixonian ‘peace with honour’ to France in spite of the war having ended 55 years ago.

Meanwhile, many on the left feel that they must atone for leftist support (however conditional it at times was) of the war. To that end many economically alienated French people have themselves become psychologically Algerian. They have come to associate themselves with the victims of French barbarity even though they themselves are French and have little in common either socially or spiritually with those in France’s immigrant ghettos which are among the most notorious in the western world. Algerians of course make up a large percentage of France’s non-ethnic French population. Many such individuals have in recent years turned to ISIS style Wahhabism as their 21st century style of anti-French protest/war.

Because of all this, many in France continue to fight a war that has long since ended by internalising the various ideological arguments that never got solved during the war nor shortly after its conclusion.

Many had hoped that the May riots which almost brought revolution to France (again) in May of 1968 had put a rest to the turbulent aftermath of the post-war era for France.

The respite proved to be temporary, especially after German re-unification in 1989 challenged France’s role as the leading power of western Europe.

The events of May 2017 are proving otherwise. Rather than a contest between right and left. The election of 2017 was a contest between a re-constructed right in the form of Marine Le Pen versus an unreconstructed incoherent centre in the form of Emmanuel Macron. Marine Le Pen wanted to bring France ‘peace with honour’ in terms of a pragmatic post-colonial foreign policy and also to solve the ‘Algerian problem’, the modern manifestation of which is ghettoised immigrants and foreign descendants.

The ambiguous establishment figure that is Macron will please nobody. He is the modern day, non-socialist/former pseudo-socialist version of Guy Mollet, a man who managed to please none of the people all of the time.

In 1944, Hitler ordered the destruction of Paris and is said to have asked, ‘Is Paris burning’. The answer then was no. The answer now is yes.

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