In Paris, the global place is no more Saint Germain des prés
Civil society and the French debate
If we can enter the twenty-first century with strong popular organisations it will be a more honourable achievement for our own century. I believe that we will thus find warmer acceptance in the twenty-first century. The future may then, perhaps,
pardon some of the crimes committed in our time.
Yasar Kemal : Civic organisation (Sivil Örgütlenme), 1993 
The concept of « civil society », considered as a political space where "citizens" are self-organised independently from the state, the clanic/family structures and the profitable economy, has always been a matter of controversy in France. It is still the case today even among the activists of the "antiglobalist" movement (or, as they called themselves in France the "altermondialists" of trade unions, non-governmental organisations, left wing political parties,...). Many of these activists are cautious towards a concept that seems to be "imported", "used in the vocabulary of the world bank",... A new movement like "ATTAC" is a good place to witness this debate. ATTAC is a powerful network against international financial institutions, which is promoting demands like the "Tobin Tax." As Pierre Rousset explains "ATTAC is a very pluralistic association, united around the issue of taxation and control of capital by a common democratic will. It considers that economic choices have to be made by the citizens, and not by the "experts" and the "powers that be."  In ATTAC you meet people coming from the different historical streams of the French left.
However, ATTAC itself could be described as an organised form of modern civil society. This association was established at the end of June 1998, as a "campaign," by a number of leftist magazines’ editorial boards, trade unions and associations (such as the main associations of the unemployed in France). It was also open to individual membership and, to the surprise of the founders, tens of thousands of individual activists joined the movement. As early as December 1998 ATTAC-France started to initiate an international network which, five years later (in 2003), has spread to fifty countries, from Germany to the Ivory Coast, from Italy to Chile, Hungary and Japan. The success of ATTAC in France was the result of a process initiated several years before, exemplified by the mobilisation for the "counter-summit" when the G7 met in the French town of Lyon in 1996 (the "Other Voices of the Planet" campaign, the "summit of the 7 civic resistances," etc.) and the successful anti-MAI campaign (Multilateral Agreement on Investment) in 1998. ATTAC is a typical product of this new "global civil society," both local and international, rooted in the new social movement, organised more as a network than a traditional centralised body, and counting among its membership sophisticated experts, rank and file activists and non-politicised citizens. And yet, even in such a group, many of its participants would be reluctant to accept their description as a "civil society." This is probably the consequence of a long-standing tradition of French political philosophy.
The concept of "Civil society" has a long history, since the "koinônia politike" of Aristotle or the "societas civilis" of St Augustin. It reemerged, along with political liberalism, in the XVIIIth century, especially among British philosophers (Locke, Hume, Fergusson), even though the idea was also familiar to French philosophers from Montesquieu to Rousseau. In the XIXth century Alexis de Tocqueville advocated the idea of a civil society building itself against the despotism of the modern state. Tocqueville is often considered as the founder of modern "right wing" liberalism in France, and his ideological influence became stronger in the second half of the XXth century than during his own life-time (in particular through the influential political philosopher, Raymond Aron, in the 1950-60s).
In reaction, leftist intellectuals remained cautious towards such a "bourgeois liberal" concept, referring rather to the idea of "general will" developed by Rousseau and his Republican and Socialist heirs in the tradition of Jacobinism (3) coming from the French Revolution. For the French, freedom was to come through the building of the common State (La République) rather than from the build-up of society against (or independently of) the state. This Jacobin heritage has impregnated French Marxists, who ignored for decades the "libertarian" face of Marx and, later, Gramsci’s "civil society" approach.
It must also be emphasised that the French ruling classes also adhered to the idea of the centrality of the state, implemented by Napoleon. And the 1791 law of Le Chapellier banning "corporation" (supposed to fit with the Rousseauist idea of preventing any intermediary between the Citizen and the State) was used by these ruling classes to ban trade unions up to 1884.
And yet, traditions other than Jacobinism existed within the French left, less "Statist", more open to the idea of the self-organisation of the citizens : the "libertaire" (anarchist) wing of the socialist movement, which, significantly, founded the main trade union (CGT) at the beginning of the XXth century, and the "Christian left", sometimes called the "second left", which played an important role in the 60s and 70s, significantly, also, within the second biggest trade union (CFDT).
The re-emergence of the concept of civil society in political thinking took place through a complex process at the end of the XXth century. Not through philosophical theories but through civic activism in a very pluralistic process, in Central Europe, Latin America and also in Western Europe — notably in France in the follow-up to 1968. Even though the word "civil society" was not used. The notion of "self-management" (autogestion), for example, was not simply a program of workers’ control in factories, but a vision of autonomy of the self-organised citizens. The women’s movement also developed similar perspectives, as did the "autonomist" movements in several regions (Brittany, Corsica...), the pedagogical movement, the new ecologist movement... It was a sort of synthesis of the revolutionary anarchist and "libertaire" traditions and the reformist "second left." It had a strong influence on several post-68 French Marxist-revolutionary groups, driving them far from their original neo-bolshevism. But politically it failed at the end of the 70s and during the 80s (the left-wing socialist party PSU and several other small political parties disappeared, and the CFDT trade union deserted the "self-management" cause). And François Mitterrand, the socialist leader who won the presidential election in 1981, had hardly anything to do with the "self-management" way of thinking.
However, as a positive legacy of that 70-80s period, a kind of broad coalition was outlined around symbolic struggles like those of the workers of Lip (a wristwatch factory) and the peasants of Larzac. The latter being particularly fruitful. The Larzac plateau, in the south of France, had been selected by the authorities to establish the biggest military training camp in Europe. During a decade (1970-1981) the non-violent resistance of the local peasant was both imaginative and resolute. They were able to organise a broad movement, tens of thousands coming regularly to support them, and finally they succeed, and the plateau became both a symbol of peace and of a new agriculture.
To day the « new alliance », seems even stronger and broader, although less "political" (in terms of party politics). And very significantly, José Bové comes from the Larzac solidarity movement, like other leaders of the new activism .
So, when the word "civil society" later became fashionable, it was less among leftist activists than among journalists and traditional politicians. Some members of governments (both conservatives and social democrats) are regularly defined as "coming from civil society" just because they are not officially affiliated to a traditional political party !
Nevertheless, during the 90s, social movements came back into the foreground, and this renewal of civic activism could be described as what the Belgian François Houtart calls "civil society from below" (4) . The traditional "third-worldist" associations, devoted to development in poor countries, have grown up in modern NGOs, even if their development is less impressive in France than in northern Europe. The same phenomenon is true for environmentalist groups like Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth. The humanitarian emergency movements (Médecins sans Frontières, Médecins du Monde) became very visible in the 80s and the "French doctors" popular figures. But other new movements, outside the so-called NGO sphere, became major political and social actors in the 90s : the "Sans" galaxy ("without" : without rights, without housing, without jobs, etc.), including movements of the unemployed (like AC !, Action contre le chômage), of the homeless (DAL, Droit au logement), of the "sans papiers" (illegal immigrants) and asylum-seekers, new feminist groups, and new cultural groups. Traditional trade unionism was also partly affected by this new sprit of self-organisation, with the success of the farmers’ union "Confederation Paysanne", its leader José Bové becoming a star of the world antiglobalists, with the growth of a new form of unionism (the SUD coalition) and even with some change within a traditional trade union like the CGT.
These various forms of organisations and movements do interact, even though their ideological backgrounds, their strengths, and their structures, are very different from one to another.
This new social activism is politically left-oriented (from radical left to social democracy) but is not well represented in the traditional political parties. And this was probably one of the keys to the defeat of Lionel Jospin, the socialist candidate, in the first run of the presidential elections in 2002. A very significant number of left wing voters abstained or voted for « small » presidential candidates rather than Jospin : the trostkyte Besancenot, the green Mamère, the « radical » (sort of feminist liberal-democrat) Taubira, were considered as linked with « new activism » and got 12% of the votes together ! The same phenomenon of social activism is not visible in the right-wing hemisphere of French political society. It is strange to note the weakness of the "mass organisations" of Le Pen’s extreme-right party, Front National, compared to his enormous influence in elections (18% of the votes). But some form of new "self-organisation" can also be noted in spheres far from the left, like religious movements : Islamists, charismatic Catholics (and also the huge youth meetings organised by the Pope), Evangelists, and radical Jews.
The "altermondialiste movement" - to use the French name - is the melting pot of this new left-oriented civil society, even if its members are still discussing whether it is convenient to use that concept. Compared to the "no-global" movement in Italy the French altermondialistes are older (even if there are new youth groups like "Vamos", "Aaarg" and "No Pasaran") and seem less organised. Paradoxically their influence on the mainstream political scene is stronger. The French media coverage of the Porto Alegre world social forum in 2002 and 2003 was as good as it was because prominent French political leaders, including members of the government, participated in the Forum. Not only the left-wing Jospin government in 2002 but also the right-wing Raffarin government in 2003 ! President Jacques Chirac didn’t hesitate to say, during the violent anti-G8 demonstration in Genoa in 2001, that "it was well-advised to listen to the demonstrators" and he keeps in direct contact with major NGOs like ATTAC and others. The different factions of the Socialist Party paid tribute to altermondialists in their congress platforms in spring 2003. In spite of all that, the more radical tendency of the left, like the Greens, the Communists (especially the "refondateur" wing within the party), and the modernist trotskyists of the Ligue Communiste Révolutionnaire (LCR), have a real influence in the movement. From Jacques Chirac to the young Anarchists, everybody thinks that the altermondialists are representative of an important stream within French society, that they are a formalised expression of "civil society."
The recovery of the right to speak
So how do these activists of civil society - whether they like the world or not - imagine their relation with the international movement ? Do they consider the existence of a "World civil society ?" French political philosophy has always been very "universalist." It thus seems easier for these French altermondialistes to imagine themselves as part of a global movement than to really analyse their real effect in their own country ! More seriously, Gustave Massiah, one of the leaders of the French movement, explains that the strength of the new citizens’ movement, at both national and global level, is its capacity of convergence : "the convergence of the resistance from which one can speak of a world-wide civic mobilisation." "Such a movement gives confidence to those movements that take initiatives and make proposals" and he adds, "one can read the convergence in the practices and in the form of mobilisation. It is strong in each country, in each great region, and at the international level"
Yet, "convergence" is not the only keyword of this new spirit within civil society : the other keyword could be, in Gustave Massiah’s eyes "responsibility." Responsibility, because the tendency is to progress "from resistance to propositions," to develop the movement’s capacity of "expertise", thus giving "breath to the idea that a new world is possible. Gustave Massiah is not only one of the vice-presidents of ATTAC and the president of the CRID - a coordination of forty French NGOs  -, he is also a long-time member of CEDETIM, a sort of think-tank of the international solidarity movement founded in the 60s (just after the independence of Algeria). This small international group is a perfect observatory to witness the evolution of the movement, to compare France to other countries, to look at international civil society from Paris viewpoint.
Far from the limelight of the TV screen, Paris is still a place where world activists meet. Or at least some of them. Of course there are now a lot of other places like that, from Porto Alegre to Mumbay, from Chiapas to London... And, of course, even in Paris, things are not as they used to be, no longer in Saint Germain des Prés, around the Café de Flore and the ghost of Jean Paul Sartre. The second European Social Forum (ESF), taking place in November 2003, is gathering tens of thousands of people in the Paris region. But the epicentre of this civic earthquake is not in Saint Germain or the Sorbonne, but in the outskirts of the city, in Saint Denis, in working-class suburbs.
In Saint Denis, it is impossible to look at European civil society only from an Euro-centric point of view. People of the world have invested the place since long ago. Some of the major debates taking place during the preparation of the Forum were on global topics. Like the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and its effect on western society, which are particularly direct in French society and especially so in places like Saint Denis where tens of thousands of Muslims and oriental Jews are living side by side. There were controversies about secularism and religious behaviour. A clash of civilisation ? Not really, rather a particular moment of a universal debate, with, probably, less differences between members of the radical "Présence Musulmane" Muslim association, the Catholic relief organisation CCFD, the secularist Ligue des Droits de l’Homme and the far-left-oriented trade union SUD than between all of them, together, and the vision of the world defended by Tony Blair, not to speak of George W.Bush !
Also involved in the European Social Forum, the Congolese Patrice Yengo, has recently gathered the studies of several Africans about the emergence of a new civil society in the black continent .. It seems that French-speaking African intellectuals do not share the reluctance of their Parisian counterparts to adopt the concept of civil society ! For Patrice Yengo the most important phenomenon in the development of an African civil society is the "recovery of the right to speak," which is not conquered mainly through the development of independent press but through the self-organisation of society. What Ernest Marie Mbonda, from Cameroon describes as "the fifth power." After the three powers of constitutional democracy (legislative, executive, judiciary), and the fourth power (media), comes the fifth : "the empowerment of civil society." .
In North Africa other civic and human rights activists are not far from sharing the same analysis, like the founders of the "Espace Associatif" (Associative Space), organising social, human rights and cultural initiatives. Or involved in the launching of the Moroccan Social Forum in Casablanca at the end of 2002. Of course, in Arabic countries like Morocco, Algeria or Tunisia, the main form of independent social movements is dominated not by these secular and progressive-minded peoples but, unfortunately, by the Islamic Fundamentalists. Nevertheless, indubitably, new forms of organised civil society are also blossoming there.
The organisers of this second ESF are the people we spoke of, members of ATTAC, of CRID, of trade unions, etc. They are trying to build a collective answer to major questions : What will be the influence of civil society on the process of European integration ? Can an integrated Europe be a counterweight to US domination ? Is it possible to imagine a European social model as an alternative to ultra-liberalism ?
It will, certainly, take more than two European forums to answer these questions (the first forum was in Florence in 2002). But Saint Denis seems to be a much more global place than Paris ! And not only because Patrice Yengo friends or the activist of the Moroccan "Espace Associatif" will be present. But, primarily, because the world is living in such a city.
Of course seen from Saint Denis the society seems more chaotic than from the theoretical point of view of the Ecole Politechnique or the Ecole Nationale d’Administration (the high schools where the state elite comes from), or from the Sorbonne. In such places civil society may still be considered as an "unclear" and "non-scientific" concept. Global civil society may even be an illusion. But, undoubtedly, there is something happening, inside societies, which is a global phenomenon. Not a static form of organisation of social structures, but as Samir Amin and Francois Houtart describe it, a movement, "created by the transformation of social relations, characterised by the inequality of the existing powers. In other world, social struggles" 
A "real existing" civil society is on its way somewhere in the Saint Denis housing estates, and elsewhere.
Avrupa Nevede Bityor ? Where does Europe end ? Collective book realised at the occasion of the third assembly of the Helsinki Citizens’ Assembly in Ankara. HCA ed. Istanbul 1993.
Alternatives Sud, Vol V, 1998 : Société civile : enjeu de luttes sociales, ed l’Harmattan, Brussels.
Samir Amin, François Houtart, etc ; : Mondialisation des resistances, l’état des luttes 2002, ed L’Harmattan, Paris 2002
Rupture-Solidarité n°4, edited by Patrice Yengo, Resistance et dissidences, l’Afrique (centrale) des droits de l’homme, ed Karthala, Paris, 2003
Gustave Massiah, Le mouvement citoyen mondial, Cedetim, Oct 2002, www.cedetim.org
Sand in the wheels, ATTAC Weekly newsletter - zip file or pdf file
 Yachar Kemal : contribution to the third assembly of the Helsinki Citizens’ Assembly in Ankara. 1993
 . Pierre Rousset : at the ATTAC international meeting in Paris, December 1998. Pierre Rousset is a member of Attac and the parliamentary assistant of the trotskyte leader Alain Krivine (Member of European Parliament).
 Referring to Jacobinism, we do not mean the historical radical faction of the Jacobins during the French Revolution (Robespierre, Saint Just, etc.) but their political legacy, the Republican or Bonapartist centralism in the XIXth and XXth century, influencing modern political parties, both left wing (Socialist, Communist, Radical) and right wing (Gaullist)
 A less well-known figure, but significant example is Gilles Lemaire, the national secretary of The Greens (the ecological party), also former member of Larzac solidarity movement.
 François Houtart is a member of the Belgian Centre Tricontinental (CETRI).
 The CRID, " Centre d’information et de recherche sur le développement " is a gathering of " international solidarity organisations " from different ideological background, Catholic, independent Marxist, Third-worldist, Ecologist, etc.
 Rupture-Solidarité n°4, edited by Patrice Yengo,
 Ernest Marie Mbonda : in Rupture-Solidarité n°4, op. cit.
 Samir Amin and Francois Houtart are the founders of the World Forum of Alternatives , one of the network acting within World and European social Forums,