On Thursday evening, French police stormed the Sorbonne University in central Paris. The students inside were forcibly dispersed and at least one person was seriously injured. As of this writing, there are reports of ongoing police actions targeting protesters at the nearby Pantheon monument.
It’s part of a wider crackdown on a wave of university occupations across France that began after the first round of presidential elections staged a runoff between right-wing incumbent Emmanuel Macron and neo-fascist candidate Marine Le Pen.
Earlier in the day, a group of students occupied the main building of Sciences Po (the university of political sciences) in Paris. In the afternoon, this group was violently attacked by a group of far-right militiamen.
Around 8 p.m., hundreds of armed police launched a full assault on the Sorbonne. Most of the students surrendered or escaped, but around 40 were trapped inside and not allowed out for more than two hours.
A video posted by one of them on Twitter stated: “We are trapped inside by 200 police and gendarmes, some of us are minors, and one person needs urgent medical attention. We are absolutely peaceful and non-violent. We just want to leave peacefully. We are simply protesting for the planet and against the rise of far-right ideas. We are within our constitutional right to defend our political opinion. We tried to leave peacefully but the police used force against us.
The capture of the Sorbonne was led by heavily armed units of the Brigade for the Suppression of Violent Actions (BRAV). BRAV was a special unit set up by the Paris prefecture amid the “yellow vest” protests. All the streets around the university were surrounded by multiple vehicles of the national police, the Parisian police and the gendarmerie.
Also on Thursday, a group of around 40 Sciences Po students peacefully occupied the university’s main building. Around 3 p.m., this group was attacked by a vigilante group made up of activists from various neo-fascist student groups. The Twitter page of La Cocarde Étudiante, a youth group associated with Marine Le Pen’s National Rally, claimed to have led the action.
The group tweeted a video of its thugs assaulting protesters, writing: “Faced with the inaction of the university administration and the state, we have taken matters into our own hands: the blockade of Sciences Po has just been lifted by U.S.” He also claimed to have carried out the action with Generation Z, the youth movement of fascist candidate Eric Zemmour, and the National Interuniversity Union, a right-wing student group linked to the Gaullists.
The Sorbonne had been occupied by students since Wednesday afternoon, in response to the administration’s attempt to end a meeting organized to oppose Le Pen and Macron. Throughout Thursday morning, hundreds of police surrounded the university.
Police presence in the Latin Quarter, the area immediately around the Sorbonne in central Paris, increased throughout the morning. By noon, the streets surrounding the Sorbonne were completely cordoned off and students inside the university were under siege. Hundreds of police were visible, armed with machine guns, riot shields and body armor.
Throughout the day, multiple attacks were perpetrated against peaceful demonstrators supporting the occupation. At around 1:30 p.m., hundreds of riot police dispersed a crowd gathered in Place de la Sorbonne, just outside the university’s main entrance. The protesters were driven onto Boulevard Saint-Michel, where after a few minutes they were attacked by another group of riot police beating protesters and passers-by with riot shields and batons to clear the road.
Around 6 p.m., new crowds formed simultaneously near the Place de la Sorbonne and on the Place de la Panthéon just a few hundred meters away. The meeting at the Pantheon had been organized as a rally in defense of the refugees, but as it became clear that the police were preparing to storm the Sorbonne, hundreds of participants tried to march towards the Sorbonne in support occupation.
Both crowds were violently dispersed by heavily armed police using tear gas. Police from the BRAV unit also carried out this assault on demonstrators at the Sorbonne where several demonstrators were beaten by police officers. A video shows a protester pinned down by what appear to be plainclothes officers. Another video shows the police charging into a group of protesters.
Two students, Michael and Edgar, who attended the 1:30 p.m. demonstration in support of the Sorbonne occupation, spoke to the WSWS just after police cleared the Sorbonne square.
They both voted for Mélenchon in the first round. When asked if they would vote for Le Pen and Macron, Michael replied: “No, never. It is a false choice. I will abstain. He added: “Le Pen is a fascist and openly racist against Muslims, and we know it. But I won’t vote for Macron either, he’s a hidden fascist posing as a liberal. He also attacked Muslims and made most people’s economy worse.
Asked about the students’ decision to start an occupation, Michael said, “They wanted to make a change, and they don’t know how.
Edgar explained the situation that gave rise to the occupation: “There was a general assembly of students at the Sorbonne yesterday, and the administration then threatened to bring in the police. They threatened to attack students who gathered at their own university, so they responded with occupation.
Asked about the actions of the police during the cleaning of the Place de la Sorbonne, Michael said: “Look at what the police are doing. How is this democracy? We want to show our frustration with Macron and Le Pen, and the police respond with repression. It’s France now; it’s not democracy, it’s repression.
Michael said the students “wanted to fight back and send a message to Macron, Le Pen and the police that they oppose their regime. … We must spread this occupation. Like the students who occupied Sciences Po in Nancy and Sciences Po in Paris this morning. We need to send a message.
State and far-right violence against students peacefully protesting under a Macron government exposes the lie that the incumbent president is a ‘lesser evil’ than openly neo-fascist Marine Le Pen . No matter who comes to power, the French police state will be directed against all young people and working people who oppose the ruling class’ agenda of austerity, mass infection and war.
This underscores the correctness of the Socialist Equality Party’s (PES) call to campaign for an active boycott of the presidential elections and to build a movement in the working class rejecting both Macron and Le Pen. The two candidates, and the entire French ruling class, can only be successfully opposed by a mass movement of the working class based on an internationalist, socialist and revolutionary perspective.
The PES invites workers, young people and socialist-minded intellectuals to participate in its online meeting on Monday, “For a workers’ boycott of the Macron-Le Pen election”.