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Spotlight on France's 'Ultra-Left'

Text by Gaëlle LE ROUX

Latest update : 2008-11-17

Recent acts of sabotage on the French railway network have brought to light a new 'ultra-left group' so far little known to the public. Former French intelligence boss Jean-Pierre Pochon sheds some light on what is commonly called the Ultra-Left.

 

France 24: What is the ‘Ultra-Left’?  

 

Jean-Pierre Pochon : What intelligence services call the ‘Ultra-Left,’ aka the ‘anarcho-autonomous’ movement, are small groups coming from the most violent wing of the far Left. But it’s essential that we avoid confusing the two. Not all of the Ultra-Left is violent. It is formed of small minorities and their members tend to be young, between 25 and 35 years old.

 

France 24: How are these groups organised?

 

J.-P. P.: Anarcho-autonomous groups refuse any idea of structure whether as a political party or as a union organisation. They have an anarchist-like organisation. We estimate that there are between 200 and 300 of them in the Paris region. But it’s hard to say how many there are in France altogether.

 

France 24: What do they want?

 

J.-P. P.: They are opposed to a capitalist society and to what they call a repressive state. In this respect, they follow the rhetoric of the far Left. However, they have no platform. In fact, they oppose more than they propose: their actions aim at disturbing or even destroying the state. Their objective is therefore to show frontal opposition to everything that symbolises the state: police, justice… 

 

France 24: In this case of sabotage, the suspects are thought to have targeted public transportation rather than the state itself…

 

J.-P. P.: Public transport has always been a favourite target in this kind of action. As we’ve seen here, it has a big media impact. It's easy to set up, it causes a lot of damage and its impact on the functioning of the state is substantial.

To attack transportation networks can hurt a country's economy badly. The anarcho-autonomists see them as a symbol of modern technological society. 

 

France 24: The ten people arrested were already known to police. Why?

 

J.-P. P.: US intelligence services reported that two of them had passed through the US [according to Paris prosecutor Jean-Claude Marin, this group is in contact with similar ones abroad, particularly in Greece, in Italy and in the US.] We realised that they belonged to the same ultra-left group.

For an intelligence service, it is essential to follow high-risk individuals. History has unfortunately shown that, in this kind of group, a spiral effect is at play, pushing towards greater violence and action that is more spectacular and attractive to the media.

 

France 24: Are you referring to ‘Action directe’?

 

J.-P. P.: Indeed. In the few months before the headquarters of the CNPF (the then bosses’ union) was machine-gunned on May 1, 1979 by Action directe, a series of actions was staged against unemployment agencies, banks… These were largely symbolic attacks, that were not designed to lead to any victims. But on May 1, 1979, Action Directe went one step further by adopting the methods of an urban guerilla.

In the latest cases of sabotage, I’m tempted to think that a similar threshold has been crossed. We don’t know what these people – if it is proven that they were involved – wanted to do or what they wanted to achieve. To derail trains? It's up to the inquiry to determine that.

I’m not saying that what happened at the time will happen again but we need to be vigilant. Democracy is fragile.

 

Date created : 2008-11-16

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