European crime fiction in the crosshair
n°4 February-March-april 2006


Struggle and Class


Titus Engelschall, The Return of the Living Dead: Class and Struggle

Dominique Manotti, Class conflict


The Return of the Living Dead:
Class and Struggle

Titus Engelschall, Political Scientist, Berlin
Translation: Claire Gorrara

It's in the nature of the ghost: the more we try to exorcise it and to ward off its power, the more surprising it appears. A good number of death notices have proclaimed the end of the class struggle and social struggles generally, but when we lift our glasses to honour those recently departed, the dead have already risen. Today, people come together to protest and oppose the claims of the neo-liberal consensus, whether these are the rising numbers of those on temporary contracts who refuse to be exploited further or the youth from the suburbs who fight to retain their hopes for the future. The poor of the world have had enough of submitting apathetically to their fate and are waking up from their socio-political coma. The result of the rigid contradictions of capitalist society, this phenomenon of resistance has brought back to life a political actor who is supposed to have disappeared but who aspires to a better future above and beyond present constraints. If our terror at the zombie is justified to some extent by our fear at the commercialised images of the living dead who devour the other in a mindless blood feast, his postmodern successor, the clone, symbolises our fears when faced with the indifference of the global marketplace, in a world that appears incomprehensible. The clone is both object and subject. It is an identical copy, an empty copy that conforms to market expectations. The rebel hero of the roman noir refers, in contrast, to the subject, the political actor who, despite the many letters of condolences, has not given up the struggle and campaigns still for the civil promises of justice and freedom. In the roman noir, the sad memory of such lost worlds is dimly perceived; a time when men rebelled against capitalist demands. This melancholy contains within itself a dream that the course of history might have taken another path so suggesting a possible future emancipation.

Class conflict

Dominique Manotti
Translation: Claire Gorrara

Class struggle is a theme that has been tackled at quite some length (it seems to me) in the pages of the roman noir, a genre well known for its ‘social critique'. It just so happens that my first and last novels are set during strikes, right in the middle of ‘class conflict', the first in 1980 and the last in 1996, and in both cases they were very much rooted in actual conflicts. It seems therefore a good opportunity to reflect on the extent of the changes that have intervened over this time in France.

In the first novel, Sombre Sentier, workers in the rag trade in the Sentier district of Paris, illegal immigrants, go on strike to demand identity papers and work contracts. At first sight, it does not seem to bode well: they are workers spread over a huge number of tiny workshops and, being illegal workers, they have no rights and of course no experience of union activism. They have no access to their real bosses, the big companies that put in the orders. Any yet these workers find the means to organise themselves, to create alliances with French organizations, to engage in a strong and concerted struggle over a number of months and finally to win. In fact to win everything they asked for: all the workers are eventually employed legally. Their solidarity never waivers; it could even be called class consciousness.

My last novel, which will be out in September, has as yet no definitive title. It is set in the Lorraine region in 1996 in one of the ‘kit-build factories' that sprang up after the collapse of the steel industry and that swallowed up EU grants before moving elsewhere in search of new sources of money. It concerns a violent movement that almost tears itself apart and ends in defeat and disintegration. The Lorraine region has still not recovered from the destruction of the steel industry and neither have the trade union movements there.

The transformation from one novel to the next, in such a short time scale, frightens me. Of course, these novels not do explain things, but they reveal things, and what I see is a sort of programmed social death. I hope that Europolar will have some more optimistic contributions.


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