Written on November 23, 2018
It’s been a week now that a movement against the unbearable living costs is shaping up nationwide in France, but also in several other European countries. This movement doesn’t look like anything we have encountered before. If the first observations were not uplifting, the materialization of the movement should allow us to reevaluate our position towards it.
In a world trapped under capitalism, in which the working class identity has been repressed for so long, it is logical that the traditional political landmarks of the working class movement are not represented anymore in the social uprisings of our period. Still, we all observed the subversive force of movements such as the LKP (Liyannaj Kont Pwofitasyon or Stand up against exploitation) in Guadeloupe or the recent Guyanese turmoil against the living costs. In this yellow vest movement, there are two very distinct steps: appearance and materialization.
The majority of the comrades hostile to the yellow vest movement are in such a position because they chose not to make the distinction between what is said (the much mediatized legitimacy discourse) and what is done (the blockages and the kind of actions they announce). This is, especially nowadays, a mistake. We cannot criticize the apathy of the traditional social movements and at the same time reject the new contestation spaces that, despite lacking clear political landmarks, are tackling the unbearable living costs of the proletarians. The objective of this article is to offer an alternative point of view concerning these events and to show why, if the movement orients itself towards the issue of the living costs, the presence of the leftist revolutionaries in this movement is logical.
The petition that led to the mobilization was written in May 2018. The petition didn’t went viral until the new increase in fuel prices. After that, the petition took a massive proportion and became the starting point of a concrete mobilization, in the streets and on the roads, against the increase in fuel prices. It is true that in a year, diesel oil prices rose up by 24% and gas prices by 14%. Of all French citizens, it is the proletarians that felt the most this increase in prices and saw their living standard lower. Confronted to the fatality of the fluctuating fuel market, the people quickly turned to the state that can use its taxes as a lever on prices, to try and reduce the fuel prices, specifically diesel oil prices. A fight against a new tax offers two major initial determinants: we address the state and we address the state in the most legitimate form possible for said state: the citizen. That’s where all this logorrhea about France, the French people, the French citizens, the police, the taxes, the state, those who pay everything and get nothing, those who get everything when they do nothing, comes from. This is typically a situation that far-right activists will try to use to claim political power, only possible outcome of their program. This is also the case of the France Insoumise party led by Mélenchon. The France Insoumise militants are the ones insisting on the person of Macron. They want to kill the King, but not the Kings. So we couldn’t be anything else than suspicious in front of such an explosive cocktail mixing borderline fascism, nationalism, populism and of course interclassism, in the not very appealing form of virtual actions on social networks. This feeling was reinforced by the benevolent treatment given by the government, the state and the medias to the movement. On the other hand, we cannot reject everything about something that has no finitude, no unity. We had to wait. Where others saw a vulgar power display of car lobbies, we analyzed fuel prices as a measure of the daily struggle of the proletarians. We already had hints that the yellow vest movement was opening a breach around a simple complaint: we are dying here. From the denunciation of the tax, we moved to the causes of the denunciation: the lowering of our living conditions. That’s when the 17th of November occurred.
Materialization: November 17
This day, thousands of people left their computer keyboards to meet up. There is no doubt that numerous far-right militants were there, notably Debout La France, but in reality most were undercover, as their solutions to the increase of the fuel prices could only appear as far-fetched. In pubs, parks, parking lots of mall, yellow vests started to gather. Not to discuss their program, but to discuss how they were going to block the roads. This self-organized “citizen” movement was already structurally different than Nuit Debout. At Nuit Debout, people were discussing. The yellow vests, they act. They block. More than 2,000 blockages, 280,000 people holding them, that’s something, despite what some commenters would tell you (all of that without the union apparatus nor the help of professional militants). We are not talking about a syndicalist march, we are talking about actions. Of course the benevolence of the police greatly improved the efficiency of the blockages, and the yellow vests only stopped to applaud the police when it started beating them. Blockage locations were meticulously chosen to paralyze traffic, to force the population to pick a side. On blockage locations, tolls stations and malls, permanent assemblies were set up to decide what actions to put in practice next to maintain the movement. No spokesman appeared, no centralization shaped up. At this point, the government and the medias abruptly changed their attitude. Benevolence was abandoned and replaced by threats. Fascist actions became heavily mediatized. Countless images of “unrest” at different blockage points were exposed and a necessary responsibility was asked of the yellow vests. But unlike at the direction board of the union CGT (Confédération Général du Travail), nobody is there to say “Mister Philippe (the prime minister), this is not the yellow vest movement”. If we go on the blockage points, we systematically heard a critique going much deeper than just the fuel prices. Everything is too expensive when you earn 1,000 euros per month. The yellow vest movement is not uniform, there are a lot of concrete disparities due to different areas, presence of far-right activists and social composition. But the determination is indisputable. To increase their strength and numbers, they waited for the truckers and the farmers, corporations deemed legitimate by the government, to join them. People were looking for support where they believe it to be, all the while calling for everyone to join the blockages.
Materialization: the follow-up
Blockages were maintained around the highways but a fraction of the yellow vests chose to throttle the economy on more concentrated points. Oil depots, logistical centers, food depots were blocked by protesters. And with a formidable efficiency compared to the repeated failures of the protests against the first anti-social policies of Macron. The police was ordered to temporize the situation the following Sunday and Monday, but the truckers bosses’ announce changed the perspective of the movement. The bosses promised to the government that they will not get involved in the yellow vest movement. “We want the truckers, not theirs bosses”. The movement, confronted to the rejection of the interclassist alliance, leaned more and more towards a proletariat-based movement. The yellow vests looked for ways to allow the truckers to join the movement, with the bosses’ trucks, by blocking the trucks on a common agreement. The FO (Force Ouvrière) transport union called for a strike against the decreasing purchasing power. At the same time, the CGT called for supporting the movement on the 1st of December, but without calling for a strike and the union carefully kept its distance from the movement (nevertheless, some local CGT sections fully embraced the movement: St Nazaire, Le Havre, Meuse). Calls to gather at Paris the 24th of November were multiplying and the panicking government hastily rounded up 90% of the CRS units (riot police) in the capital. In the meantime, the blockages were still holding strong. Policemen intervened, arrested, harassed. Convictions were applied. And people kept coming back. The government tried to divide the people by creating deterrent representations of the movement, but it didn’t hold up. A self-proclaimed Belgian yellow vest spokesman even called “freedom fighters” the very persons that a journalist described as thugs. On the Réunion Island, where the living costs are the highest, the blockages were followed by looting and large-scale redistribution. And the announce of the government that no more fuel taxes would be set up for the next three years has little impact of the mobilization.
A breach is opened
We are undoubtedly at a high time of the class struggle. But we can already see the signs of resorption here and there: centralization of the Parisian protest, calls to target local power centers, march on the Elysée, blockages of state buildings. The movement tries to maintain at all cost the figure of the citizen against the state because that’s the only form deemed legitimate. It’s a step back for a movement so full of potential. The following period will most likely see the appearance of counter-revolutionary political forms, interclassist compositions and far-right incursion. But it is certainly the burden of our time and it doesn’t make any sense to contemplate it whining. As supporters of the revolution, our duty is to fight these right-wing divergences and propose new orientation lines to expand the movement. Make this movement a movement against the too high living costs. But it doesn’t consists in simply joining the blockage picket lines. The social protest must be spread to other areas of daily life, with political slogans against the living costs, the degrading living conditions of the proletariat. Seeking high school and university students, unemployed, workers but not for their immediate individual interests. To extend the movement to fight the increasing living costs, not just as “yellow vest”. The panel of possible actions is large and it would be wrong to limit ourselves. Occupation, autoreduction, demonstrations, blockages, free transportations, and always towards the final push. The week following November 24th will be decisive for the pursuit and the quality of the movement.
So, yellow vest or not?