The youth of the Paris banlieue

We regularly hear the same tall tale about the youth of the Paris banlieue: the teenagers out demonstrating and “burning bins” supposedly don’t even know why they’re even doing it, other than for the fun of wreaking havoc… because they’re supposedly “depoliticised”.

During the 2005 banlieue revolts, we already heard the same old tune of “depoliticisation”, chanted by practically all the political and union “leaders”, by all the televised “experts” and other licensed (and, above all, subsidised) imbeciles, from the far right to the far left (including certain “libertaires”, for instance those of Alternative Libertaire).

Those who, today as in the past, in all their great “wisdom”, give such disdainful and peremptory speeches, would do well to take a long hard look at the truth rather than gaze down at their own navel.

The truth is that many banlieue teenagers, many of those who protest, have seen, often from birth, their parents slave away to make it the next paycheck. They know (because it’s a fact of daily life for them and those around them) what “employment” means in our society. They know that it means mothers forced to work nights “cleaning offices” for three quid six pence, that it means fathers going off to the temp agencies, for nothing of for insecure, dangerous, underpaid jobs. They know that it means brothers, sisters forced to humiliate themselves to “prove” they applied for jobs when everyone knows full well that there aren’t any. They know all that. They know that there’s a huge amount of children living in poverty in France (2.4 million in 2011, probably many more in 2016!), [1] because many of them do too. They know, first hand, that hundreds of thousands of children and teenagers can’t eat their fill every day, [2] to quasi-general indifference. And the poorest among them live (and have sometimes done so for years now) in “social hotels” and other dumps… And all these young people supposedly have no reason to revolt? Do you think that when their hear all the El-Khomry-esque gibberish, that they don’t understand, one might say “instinctively”, that things are going to get worse? Not just for their “future”, but even for their day-to-day existence!

Yes, their perception of society’s is confused. Yes, they’re caught up in contradictions (but they’re hardly alone to be). Yes, they dream the dreams that they’re fed by the media (earn lots of money, fast). Yes, they’re laboured by reactionary ideologies, by conspiracy-theory beliefs… Yes, but there are also many “political” things that they experience every day and that they understand, sometimes “in depth”, even if they don’t have the “right words” to put on them. “It is monstrous to pretend that those who haven’t spoken have nothing to say”, argued André Gide in an antifascist meeting in 1933. [3] Because just as our banlieue teenagers, those who don’t “speak up” are often those who would have the most to say, even if they don’t have the “means” to do so.

Besides, among all the “negative” things we can find in the banlieue youths, they’re perhaps not so different from the the town-centre ones (who are also brimming with conspiracy theories and reactionary ideologies…). However the dominant discourse doesn’t accuse the latter of being “depoliticised and lost”. Such a difference in characterisation between them raises questions. There is, of course, several reasons for this. The most important is probably that those in power don’t want a junction to form between these two worlds, that the youth of the banlieue “descend upon” Paris. The denigrating treatment they receive is meant to keep them in place, to keep them far from the capital city.

CNT-AIT Paris-Banlieue

Translation notes: Banlieue : suburban area (here specifically, low-income housing projects). Libertaire : libertarian, but in the original sense, that means left-libertarian (unlike the way the word libertarian is sometimes used in the US, “libertaire” cannot be used to described so-called ancaps).


[1] Figures from the 2011-2012 report of the Observatoire National de la Pauvreté et de l’Exclusion Sociale

[2] Before accusing us of miserabilism, take a moment to think over these words from someone in charge of the Secours populaire : “Each year, we enable children from families experiencing financial difficulties to go on holiday. Upon their return, we ask them what they liked best… The colour of the Mediterranean Sea or the heights of the Eiffel tower that they had never seen before? No, many among them tell us that what marked them most was the fact that they received three meals a day! This lack of food in their daily lives is alarming!”  (Reference:

[3] André Gide, Littérature engagée, texts collected by Yvonne Davet, NRF Gallimard, 1950.


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