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To understand the phenomenon Gilets Jaunes we may start from some background facts. The background study will show us why this phenomenon is complex.We shall also see how far the opposition of Daniel Cohn-Bendit,one leading person of 1968 rebellion, is correct;and we must see why prof Alain Badiou distanced himself from this movement, because Alain Badiou is one of the very few of French academicians who even recently defended Mao and the Cultural Revolution(readers can find his recent interview here[1] and latest book here[2]) and his points of criticism are very interesting. But, why we cannot agree with Cohn-Bendit at all and why we may request prof Badiou a rethink – for that we shall have to see the ‘whole’, see various colours of the Gilets Jaunes spectrum, which will lead us to some probable inferences.

Background

We all know now that Yellow Vests (Gilets Jaunes) are compulsory for all motorists in France. Now, only one year ago (12-Oct-2017) there was a provocative heading in Le Figaro, though some what exaggerated: In Paris, car is already an endangered species[À Paris, la voitureest déjà uneespèceenvoie de disparition[3]]. According to 2011 figures published by Insee (Institut national de la statistique et des études économiques) Le Figaro showed: among active population in Paris only 12.3% use cars and 4.5% use motor-bikes, whereas 64.8% avail public transport, 4.2% use bicycles and 9.5% walk. There are Metrorail and/or Trams in a dozen or so bigger cities of France. Even dwellers of many banlieues or suburbs of Paris have more or less good Metro connectivity near their neighbourhoods. Using car is more ‘provincial’; in the provinces (lesser towns and etc) the picture is more than reverse: 77.9% use cars, 1.6% use motor-bikes, whereas only 7.6% use public transport, 1.9% use bicycles and 6.1% walk. But 10 bigger cities accommodate only some 10% of the population or less. In provinces a motor vehicle is almost a must. There are places where public transport (bus) is available only twice a day. Before their protest started one of the spokesperson of Gilets Jaunes, Eric Drouet said, ‘The first bakery next to my house is 5 km away, I have to take the road’[4]. Nora Bensaâdoune aptly headlined her piece in The Guardian (12-Dec-2018): ‘If you want to understand the gilets jaunes, get out of Paris’[5].

And this Frane-2018 is much different from France ’68 in many aspects. To note a few: in 1970 about 27% of the active population were in secondary sector (industry/manufacture) plus about 10% in construction jobs, whereas about 12% were in agriculture and about 53% in tertiary sectors (including those in rail/road/marine transports and communication). In 2014 only about 12% of the work forces were in industry, about 7% in construction, only about 2-3% in agriculture; the rest, about 77% were in service sector (including transport and communication) [Le Figaro 1-Mar-2016[6]]. Though persons of these sectors are not geographically equally distributed over the country, we can guess the sectoral composition of provincial populace. And today, a very little part of the workers and employees, only about 8%, are union-members, this figure was nearly 30% in the 1950s – a huge fall in Trade Union Density.

Moreover, as a capitalist society, France is also a very unequal society, though might be a little less unequal than some other rich (or developed) countries. According to 2014 data, bottom half (50%) of the population has only 6.3% of total wealth, averaging €25,500 only per adult, which can buy them a new Toyota Corolla or Volkswagen if they put all their wealth together, but then only about €3-4 thousand will remain with them. This poorest 50% earn less than29% of the total income. Next, higher, 40% of the population has only 38.4% of the total wealth; all their fortune, i.e. €193,000 (per adult) put together can get them at maximum a 300 sq. ft.(yes, three hundred square feet only) apartment at outer Paris. This ‘middle’ 40% population nearly 45% of the total income. The top 10% population has 54.5% of the wealth averaging €1,097,000 per adult, and they also earn 26% of the total income. [Taken from three sources and in case of income, some approximation had to be done: World Inequality Report 2018[7],Index Mundi site[8] and Numbeo[9]] From these data we can guess who can afford car, who can afford housing in large cities, and previously we saw who are compelled to have a car. Statistia website gives car ownership picture[10] of France, 2017:

Table 1: Car ownership in France, 2017

Number of cars per household Number of Households % of total households
No car 5,853,000 11.16
1 car 24,685,000 47.07
2 cars 18,038,000 34.40
3 cars 3,864,000 7.37
Total 52,440,000 100.00

 

Then there is yet another evil aspect of capitalism – unemployment. After the 2008 crisis total unemployment crossed 9% and stayed above 9% since then, sometimes rising above 10% too. But the future of the future generation is bleaker – for young ones, with age 15-24 years, unemployment was ‘lowest’just before the crisis at 18.3% and since then it is always more than 22% sometimes almost touching 25%! Some sources, citing OECD figures, put it at 28%! [Various sources[11]] Therefore, now, at least 1.75 million or so, nearly one in every four young French of age 15-24 are unemployed.

Now, being a colonialist imperialist power France had migrants from ex-colonies, and France also once indirectly received migrants for exploiting them as cheap labour. In his very popular number ‘Lettre à la République’[12] the black rapper Kerry James says, ‘you chose to tie your past with us, now you must take responsibility’. During 1968 uprising we saw how the workers-students action committees translated their publication into several languages for agitation-propaganda among migrant workers, there were leaflets specifically for migrant labourers too. In recent years the Libyan, Syrian, Sudanese etc. crisis caused additional influx. According to international migration portal, in 2017 already 12.2% of the population in France are international migrants, almost one person in every eight, they number 7.9 million, with an influx of additional 337,000 or one-third of a million migrants in 2017. If second generation or older migrants are counted, then their number will be much higher. In early 2018 Calais saw an ugly armed clash between Afghan migrants and African migrants with dozens hospitalised with critical injuries.

Lastly, let us read a rather long quote from the website of Europe Solidaire Sans Frontières,“… this year the price of diesel has increased by 23 percent and petrol by 14 percent due to the jump in the price of a barrel of oil. In addition, the government has recently announced that diesel and petrol prices will increase further — by four and seven cents a litre respectively… … Immediately upon reaching office, Macron abolished the Solidarity Wealth Tax (ISF), giving €4 billion to the richest; and has strengthened the Tax Credit for Solidarity and Employment (CICE), a tax cut and exemption program transferring €41 billion a year to French companies, including multinationals. Shortly afterwards, with the 2018 budget bill, Macron established a flat tax that allowed a lowering of taxation on capital, handing another €10 billion to the richest…. At the same time, the government has increased the General Social Contribution (CSG) income tax to be paid by pensioners, while pensions themselves have ceased to be indexed to inflation (and thus to retirees’ ability to buy consumer goods). It has got rid of the subsidized contracts (which allowed large numbers to work on contracts partly financed by public bodies) and lowered by five euros a month the amount of housing contributions (APL) for the most disadvantaged….”[13] The por-rich character of the present regime, of president Macron, is very clearly visible to the French.

In this situation, if some revolt occurs, how might be the character of that? For this we need to explore the social-political climate of France and also the political climate change during say past 50 years. To stay very brief we may only travel through voting figures of some years. In 1962 National Assembly Elections the Gaullists got 31.9% votes, and in cases where 2nd round happened, they got 40.36% votes. The Communist Party, PCF, got 21.84% in first round and 20.94% in seconds, which were indeed ‘respectable’ figures. But in 1965 Presidential elections PCF did not put its candidate, rather supported Mitterrand, who got 31.72% in first round and 44.80% in second, against de Gaulle who got 44.65% in first and 55.20% in second round to win. In the 1969 Presidential election, after that great 1968 upheaval and after all the PCF had done, had not done, had undone, PCF dared to participate and got 21.27% votes in the first round, slightly missing to get second in the race, which the Democratic Centre candidate got, with 23.31% vote share. In the second round the Democratic Centre candidate Alain Poher got 41.8%, losing to Gaullist candidate Mr Pompidou who scored 58.2%. In the Assembly election of 1968 that happened just after the ’68 May events, PCF got more than 20% votes. Anyway, those days are gone. In the 2017 Presidential race, PCF did not dream of putting a candidate, and supported Mr Mélenchon of La France Insoumise. He got 19.6% votes in first round (and the New Anti-Capitalist Party candidate with Lutte Ouvrière got some 1.7%) lagging behind the Gaullist candidate Mr Fillion (20.20%), Mme Le Pen (21.3%) and President Macron (24.0%) who did not hesitate to label himself openly as more of right than centrist. Therefore, the % votes left got was almost equal to % vote got by Mme Le Pen. (Incidentally, Mme Le Pen came third in the first-round of 2012 Presidential race surprising many observers bagging 17.9% votes. This time she bagged 3.9% more to become second – only 2.7% less than Mr Macron in the first round.)In the second round Mr Macron got 66.1% and Mme Le Pen got 33.9% of valid votes. Parliament or National Assembly election took place on the next month.In the 2017 Assembly election PCF got only 2.72% and 1.20% in first and second round respectively. LFI (La France Insoumise headed by Mr Mélenchon, a European Parliament MP) got 11.43% in first round and where second round needed got 4.86%. Madame Le Pen’s party, well known as a party with ‘fascist’ leaning, got little bit less the combined vote of LFI and PCF in terms of % votes and also a little less in absolute number of votes. So,overall, the parliamentary political spectrum had shifted already to right to far-right/fascist direction. Add with this falling trade union density (i.e. TU members divided by number of workers and employees).Ipsos France – the market research company that worked with detail election stat, gave some more disturbing news: Among Blue collar workers the Anti Capitalists got 4% and LFI got 24%, whereas Mme Le Pen got 37%; among Whitecollar workers, Anti Caps got 4%, LFI 22% whereas Mme Le Pen got 32%[14]. There were indeed several mobilisations and movements, much militant and combative in nature, in the last 25 years.But this militancy is rather a very French thing; barricades, fires here and there, Molotov cocktails, upturned cars set ablaze and so on are not very unnatural to the French.Spontaneous revolt without call of any party is also not new — In recent past there was the famous Nuit Debout movement that cropped up without any call from any political party. And what we saw weresmall compared to May 1968 or perhaps even workers protests in 1990s.(Time magazine once made a headline in 2009: Why the French Love to Strike[15].) But those could not contribute to building up a strong revolutionary political opposition in the long run.For example, Nuit Deboutorganiser François Ruffin formed a ‘party’ named: Picardie Debout (PD). He is now the only PD Deputy in the National Assembly from Somme’s First constituency beating candidate from Macron’s party receiving 55.97% votes in the second round. Mr Ruffin and his party are very much in the Gilets Jaunes, as well as Mélenchon and his LFI.(By the way, total vote cast in the Presidential election was 77.8% in first and 74.6% in second round, and in the second round 11.5% were blank/null votes. Incidentally, as per Mr Žižek’s analysis before that Presidential election, one cannot choose in between Mr Macron and Mme Le Pen, for him both are practically same in danger-level count[16].)While we take a stock of political climate change in a country or region it is customary and also imperative to take into account that political climate change in the global level. But for the sake of brevity let us only list a few vital aspects: (a) post-Wrold-War-2 development of Euro communist parties of west Europe and its stagnation during/before 1970s, rightward opportunist tendencies, setback; (b) soviet losing appeal, rather becoming very much questionable to say the least, after Hungary and Czech episodes to name a few; (c) but still in the late sixties and early seventies there was an anti-imperialist tide, particularly in case of Vietnam liberation war and also ongoing liberation wars in many third world countries; (d) the China – cultural revolution – Mao phenomena had a worldwide appeal to some extent also in west Europe — those days were different: suppose, there was a Sartre openly distributing his political journal in Paris with Mao’s photo on it, the Autonomia movement rocked Italy, there were new MLM parties coming up in many countries; (e) but in the post-Mao period many complexities arose, be that the Vietnam-Kampuchea war, be that change of line in Chinese leadership, and etcetera; (f) fall of the Soviet and east European regimes led to or went hand in hand with dismantling of the welfare state mechanisms in West;(g) ‘feasibility’of ‘socialist states’ and all related things of actually existing socialisms like party, state, centralised control, ‘hierarchy’ and etc. very much questionable, to say the least; (h) the communists groups almost worldwide (except a very few number of smaller countries) failed to become a real alternative in terms of mass support; (i) as a result ‘socialism’, ‘revolution’ lost the aura which was comparatively much stronger 50 years ago; and lastly (j) rise of far right ‘nationalist’ or ‘fascist’ forces in various countries, also in Europe, in the post-liberalisation era.

It is complicated – the grey shades

Therefore, in this political climate and socio-economic settings, can it be imagined what might be the characteristics of a social eruption that was not called or organised by some political party? (We know, from the onset, Gilets Jaunes move was supported by Picarde Debout, France Insoumise as well as by Mme Le Pen’s party Rassemblement national or RN.) Take Somme. There in the First constituency PD candidate won beating Macron’s candidate: 19,329 votes against 15,205 votes. From 1962 onwards, this constituency elected either communist party (PCF) of socialist party (PS) as Deputy. In the Second constituency LFI candidate lost to Macron’s candidate: 11,053 votes against 17,948 votes. Adding up, we get ‘lefts’ got 30,382 votes (almost 48%, combining) and ‘rights’ got 33,153 votes (almost 52%). Here, in Somme, a strange thing happened in the very beginning phase of the Gilets Jaunes movement. On 20-Nov Gilets Jaunes on a road intercepted a container-carriage suspecting some sound coming from inside, and yes, there were six ‘illegal’ migrants clandestinely coming from Belgium end and they had been handed over to police[17]!This shocking event was cited by the leader of the largest Trade Union CGT (pro-PCF) in the first week of the movement as one of the reasons why the CGT was not giving a call of ‘convergence of fight’ with the Gilets Jaunes (leaving aside their other ‘sectarian’ characteristics including ‘suspicion’ to peoples spontaneous movement – even if we forget all what they did in 1968).

Now consider 5 of the 40-42 ‘revendications’ or demands of the Gilets Jaunes, which are mentioned in last subsection of this article, those which were related to migrants —

  1. Same job same salary for everybody working in France (no ‘detached’ work for migrants)
  2. Treat the causes of migration, immigration (otherwise people when much troubled will migrate from their country)
  3. That asylum seekers should be treated well, we owe them housing, security, food and education
  4. The asylum seekers who are rejected may go back
  5. Real integration policy for asylum seekers with French language education, history, civics etc courses

Here, if somebody give more emphasis on 2, 4 and to some extent 5 (asylum seekers must integrate and ‘become’ really French)than on 1 and 3 citing the significance of 4, then Gilets Jaunes charter may be called ‘anti-migrant’. Then consider a provocative heading in the far-right Islamophobic website of Résistance Républicaine, the rassemblementnational.fr (the Le Penists, who are ‘supporters’ of the movement) on 19-Nov: Gilets jaunes: maisoùétaientdonc les musulmans le 17 novembre? meaning Gilet Jaunes: but where were the Muslims on 17-Nov (start date of Gilet Jaunes)?

But these are not all. One national spokesman (out of eight) of the Gilet Jaunes, Mr Christophe Chalençonon 3-Dec in a TV interview reaffirmed the Gilets Jaunes slogan – ‘Macron Resign!’ and declared his support for General Edouard Philippe (the general who resigned following differences with Macron) as the new President[18].

As Alice in the Wonderland thought things are becoming ‘curiouser and curiouser’ we may add another sample incident – a ‘new’ charter of demands of the Gilets Jaunes started circulating in December second week[19] which contained some clauses that would make Mme Le Pen happy —

  1. No 9 FREXIT: sortie de l’UE afin de regagner nos souverainetés politique, monétaire et économique … regagner notre droit de battre monnaie … — That essentiallyMeant — France’s exit fromEurozone to reaginsovereignty, mintingowncurrency (Franc)
  2. No 22 OTAN: sortie immédiate du traité de l’Atlantique Nord et interdiction d’engager l’armée française dans des guerres d’agression — That essentially Meant — immediate exit from NATO and pulling out of wars or aggression (which are US led)
  • No 24 IMMIGRATION: empêcher les flux migratoires impossibles à accueillir ni à intégrer étant donné la profonde crise civilisationnelle que nous vivons. – That essentially Meant — given the ‘profound crisis of civilisation’ in which we are living, stop immigrant inflow.

All these were enough for one of the leaders of the ’68 uprising and now one of the advisers of President Macron, Mr Daniel Cohn-Bendit to label the movement as dangerous, he explained his opposition to The Observer in no hesitant term:

“I hear people from la France Insoumise (hard left), talking about this being a great people’s revolt, but these are the same ordinary people who pushed Trump into power.

“We saw in Germany in 1933 what ‘ordinary’ people did. Not all ordinary people are good… it’s not an accident that this movement has proposed General de Villiers as an alternative leader.”[20]Then, “… “And nobody in ’68 made death threats against those who want to talk. All those on the left thinking this is a leftwing revolution are wrong: it’s veering to the right. To hear that gilets jaunes who want to negotiate are receiving death threats is evidence of this authoritarian right.

“This movement is very different to May ’68. Back then, we wanted to get rid of a general (Charles de Gaulle); today these people want to put a general in power,” ….” Lastly, he added, “To the gilets jaunes I say, if the movement becomes more violent, all that will happen is more capitalism, not less. There comes a moment when violence becomes counter-productive. I realise it’s not all the gilets jaunes, but when we see Macron’s car being banged on and spat at, when we see written on the Arc de Triomphe ‘fuck your old woman, not us’ in this age of #MeToo, we need to stop and think: is this what we want? Just because it’s a social movement doesn’t mean anything is allowed.”Well. But sadly, Mr Cohn-Bendit did not look at many other types of incidents of the same Gilets Jaunes movement and pronounced a verdict based on only very partial info, as we shall see.

We may also note here the criticism of Prof Alain Badou, though we did not get any direct source other than one given by EdicijaJugoslavija on 12 Dec in their Facebook page referring to the event[21] “Alain Badiou – Le nommé“migrant” : un prolétairenomade. Public · Hosted by Maison de la Poésie – Scène littéraire”,EdicijaJugoslavija wrote, “Tonight in the “House of poetry” (Paris), during the lecture
“THE NAMED “MIGRANT”: A NOMADIC PROLETARIAN”, Alain Badiou concluded on what finally makes him taking distance from “yellow vests” movement. It could be resumed in 3 points: 1) Non-alliance with nomadic proletarians named “migrants” 2) Absence of universalistic demands in the movement which, for him, could be resumed the best in the name “communism” 3) Omni -presence of tricolor (national) flag as the generic emblem of the movement.”[22]

But there are other colours in the spectrum

Large section of the French society is feeling ‘fed up’, not just now, but for quite some time. Their pent-up anger is, to some extent, getting expressed through this movement – as we saw in a previous short article on this subject, suppose, how that small poultry farmer Aloïs Gury expressed himself, why and how he ‘joined’ the Yellow Vests(read his story given at endnote [23]). We saw how persons with no experience in movement gave the wake-up call by a petition, by a facebook call to mobilise on a day to protest (read how it all began at endnote [24]). Slowly people with various political leanings came inside the movement – be that a probable supporter ofright (Frank Buhler) whose videoappeal was viewed by 4 million, be that Eco-Socialist MP of Euro Parliament like Mr. Mélenchon. And then things snowballed. Many factory workers conveyed their support in opinion poll. (For instance, see the opinion poll, result published on 23-Nov, at thePSA Valenciennes factoryis given in endnote[25].)

In the country, 70% or people are supporting Gilets Jaunes throughout the span of the movement. Here we shall see more examples of support from various layers and corners of the society.These will also show how different sections of the people are perceiving the movement and are joining the movement.

  1. “Open letter to our fellow citizens, with or without yellow vest”by the National Secretariat of the Peasant Confederation,published on 5-Dec [only a small part is quoted here] “… … We fully share the demands on the purchasing power and fair distribution of the wealth that is expressed throughout the country. On a daily basis, we suffer the unequal sharing of the value produced in the sectors confiscated by the food industry and large retailers. The income of the peasants thus remains dramatically low and the gaps widen further. The peasant Confederation has always fought the unrestrained competition brought by the various free trade agreements that ruin collective solidarities, hinder the transformation of our agricultural and environmental model and prevent the deployment of quality food accessible to all…””Precarisation of small rural communities” … … “Departmental peasant confederations have joined or will join the movement of yellow vests These points of convergence are only growing as the encounters and debates on our territories unfold”. — The National Secretariat of the Peasant Confederation[26]
  2. MODEF [Le Mouvement de Défense des ExploitantsFamiliaux – Movement in defence of Family Farms – mainly small peasants], … demands that “the President of the Republic listens to the people and the distress of the peasants and the rural world”. The union “calls on its members to reach out to the yellow vests and also the events organized in the coming days to work towards the convergence of struggles, in respect of property and dignity of each,” it is clear in his statement.[27]
  3. One week of planned event, 5-Dec: Farmers of FNSEA (national federation of farmers unions) and JA (young agriculturers, which incidentally allow only farmers below 35 years to be members) will express their dissatisfaction all next week, in a distinct movement of “yellow vests”…[28]
  4. SOUTH-RAIL AND RAILLWAYMEN WITH YELLOW VESTS! ALL ON THE STREET ON DECEMBER 8!!! The SUD-Rail federation, its members and its activists take note of the anger and citizen mobilization of the “yellow vests” which is gaining momentum in the country. Even if the trade union movement initially had fears, partly based, on the sometimes ambiguous nature of this movement (presence of the extreme right, support of a certain fringe of the employers, …) it is clear that the movement of yellow vests corresponds above all to a popular movement for another distribution of wealth, against the cost of living, precariousness and for another vision of public services; The increase in taxes on gasoline is only the catalyst of a deep bowl. … The SUD-Rail federation joins and calls the rail workers in the mobilizations to come, in particular that of Saturday, December 8 and makes available its union tool and its renewable national notice in progress to allow those who wish it to join the movement including under this modality. …In order to allow the yellow vests to be able to gather and to demonstrate, in Paris or in region, the SUD-Rail Federation launches a citizen call to the whole of the railwaymen: Let’s give the possibility to all the yellow vests to be able to borrow for free the national rail network that is owned by the people.[29]
  5. Yellows, Greens and Reds… If All The Angers Converge? The Capitalists Costs Us Much!![30]
  6. The Committee – Truth & Justice forAdama[AdamaTraoré (24), a black innocent man of a Paris banlieue,died in police custody in 19-Jul-2016. In protest Le comité«Véritéet Justice pour Adama» was formed, which is active mainly in poorer working class suburbs.]The Adama Committee will join the next Yellow Jackets event on Saturday, December 1st. A gathering under the banner “neighbourhoods in yellow vests”, as the announcement of the event creates on Facebook. … “We, too, live in landlocked areas, even near major urban centres. We too, living in working-class neighbourhoods, work most often in the most precarious sectors for poverty level wages. … We also sometimes have to take several hours to reach our workplaces: in factories, warehouses, industrial cleaning or in the security sector (…) To these social inequalities are added racism, daily humiliation and police violence. Police violence that yellow vests are also facing today in their turn”, said the committee in a statement. …Members also denounce “the ultra-liberal policy of Macron”, against which the protesters will demonstrate again next Saturday. …The Adama committee therefore invites all inhabitants of lower-income neighbourhoods to make common cause with yellow vests. A way also to not leave the ground on the far right. Indeed, several racist excesses have already tainted the movement. …We “reaffirm our positions against racism inside the movement of yellow vests” said the committee, supported by the Action Anti-fascist Paris-banlieue, another organization that will participate in the march.[31]
  7. After the Dec 1 action day, a group of activists belonging to ComitéAdamaand some other organisations opened a FB event page Gilets Jaunes ANTIRACISTES and called people to join the 8 Dec protest. That FB page may be visited to see the ‘discussions’ that took place.[32]
  8. [This is from an ‘Islamic’Portal on 23-Nov] “Yes you have to be yellow vests!” By Elias d’Imzalène #Edito… … This movement does not belong to anyone. Our ghettoized and politically marginalized populations are the first victims of this desire of the elites to perpetuate the situation of the deprived classes in their social and political misery. As such we are the most legitimate to carry in this revolt… So let’s not be afraid to embody our avant-garde function that history imposes on us. Socialism has definitely given up the idea of ​​opposing the rise of the liberalist vision of America and its loyalties. It is therefore up to us Muslim to re-impulse an integral political protest of the American way of life. We have to lie to Fukuyama and prove to the world that the story is not over yet …[33]
  9. A very succinct portrayal of the movement and call came from an anti-racist organisation named Collectif Rosa Parks: “Yellow vests with black gloves, equality, justice, dignity or nothing! 22-Nov. “For yellow vests, the bet is won! This raw and unprecedented mobilization bears witness to the existence of deep discontent among the impoverished popular classes despised by ruling class and the elite. It would be false … to see only a manipulation of the extreme right … This spontaneous movement cannot be understood without the successive defeat of the social movement against the labour law and later strikes by the SNCF [French national railway] and … without the existence of arrogant state executives who are shamelessly … surrendering outrageously to the laws of the market. The mobilization of November 17 … undoubtedly represent a just anger… However, this spontaneity that makes all its originality and freshness carries no less strong contradictions … It is precisely its spontaneity and its porosity that allows the far-right Le Péniste and certain police unions to associate themselves … to give it … a rightist and chauvinistic tinge, … the mobilization has already been tainted by scandalous racist acts, hateful acts against migrants and other… reactionary acts.…“If it is necessary to support the yellow vests for the reasons mentioned here, and vigorously denounce the repression of which they were the object, it calls all the fringes which constitute the social movement to structure and to give a true political content to the claims of yellow vests. …“We call all the inhabitants of the neighbourhoods like rural areas, the populations which undergo the racism and all those who undergo the full whip the neoliberal measures … with: “Walk-out with us on November 30 from social networks, universities and colleges, workplaces… boycott TV and supermarkets and reappear on December 1 in the form of a March for Equality, Justice and Dignity from Nation, a black glove in hand. “We hope that those who call to demonstrate on December 1 for more social justice will join us. This is a historic opportunity…. Failure to seize this opportunity would be a major political mistake. Unions and yellow vests with us! And with black gloves![34]

Lastly, we must read the 42 demands compiled by the Gilets Jaunes by online opinion collection from thousands of citizens. It is given as an addendum at the end of this article. This shows various aspirations of the society as a whole, though this may not be an ‘ideal’ representative opinion. So, we saw thevarious other colours of the Gilets Jaunes movement.

A few probable observations and inferences

Even if the movement (or some vocals parts of it) as such did not call for integration with minorities and migrants, organisations working with the latter are converging to make the movement more complete. This effort will definitely influence a good section of the forces already within the movement or supporting it.

Though as such there are no such demands <<in the movement which could be resumed the best in the name “communism” (quoting Badiou indirectly from EdicijaJugoslavija)>>like, say, “Bread, Land & Peace” of 1917, we can see how the exploited common person is perceiving the movement – purchasing power, distribution of wealth – as pointed by farmers and railwaymen, raising minimum wage, pension linking with inflation, and fixing maximum salary (as per the 42 point charter), or equality-justice-dignity as said by the Collectif Rosa, wrath against WTO or such forced unions as EU (we may recall the criticism of Samir Amin on this point), ‘preacrisation’ … all these point to some essences which might converge with a revolutionary programme had it been actively present within the masses by activity of some strong mass-based revolutionary party.  No party of the ‘left’ gave call to fight on these points – and given the concrete conditions (of parties-masses-historical tendencies), even if one or several of ‘lefts’ gave such a call, it could not generate such a mass passion, leaving aside guesses like ‘what could have happened had the LFI, PD, PCF and all other lefts combined given such a call’. Revolutionaries should certainly try their best from inside the movement and also from outside to ‘give a true political content to the claims of yellow vests’ (quoting Collectif Rosa). It must be mentioned here that some smaller organisations of the revolutionary communists are working within this movement.

Big mass movements always needed some ideology while tending to encompass ‘universal’ demands that want to lead to somebig change, which once was manifested by the red flag, say. Movements of national liberation many a times carried national flags symbolising a unifying nationalist ideology. After the debacle of world communist movement, the national flag was one that was left to act as an ‘unifying’ symbol – and certainly, a bourgeois (‘democratic’) nationalist ideology – omnipresence of national flags with absence of red flags symbolised that. (Compare: ‘La Marseillaise’ in Paris 2018 and L’Internationale in 1968 But well, in pre-revolutionary Russia, suppose in 1905 revolution, La Marseillaise was indeed a revolutionary song[35] and is fitting in a rich-vs-poor ‘war’.) The red flag also lost some revolutionary connotation by its continuous use by non-revolutionary, parliamentary, ‘practical’ ‘lefts’. In 2011 Tahrir square we saw national flag. In 2011 Anna-Hazare event in Delhi we saw national flags and Gandhi topis. In some ‘western’ protests perhaps the ‘Guy Fawkes’ mask came to symbolise almost the same content. In Tien-an-men square in 1989, we saw the ‘Goddess of Democracy’ (zìyóunǚshén) very similar to the Statue-of-Liberty (may see the Hong Kong replica here[36])of course alongside red flags and Mao-posters, which also portrayed their ideological content to some extent. But, as much as revolutionary communist content will get manifested in mass movements, revolutionary communist ‘symbols’ will also appear.

The president had scrapped fuel-price increase and announced €100 rise in minimum wage. But the Yellow Flames could not be doused yet. Peoples anger is still bursting on the roads despite the bitter cold weather.

Experienced and well-versed comrades may explain much better.

Addendum – the 42 Revendications of the Gilets Jaunes

Before we end let us look into the demands of the yellow vests, demands or ‘Peoples Directives’ to the MPs. Those are (as far as this author could understand those, compiled from three sources only, which were published on 28, 29 and 30 Nov respectively[37])

Deputies (MPs)of France,

We inform you of the People’s Directives so that you transpose those into LAWS

 

  1. Zero Homelessness
  2. Change in housing design (insulation?) to save energy
  3. Rent regulation and more low rent housing for needy persons
  4. More progressive income tax with more steps
  5. Taxes: let big ones (Carrefour, Amazon, Mac Donald, Google etc) pay more, smaller ones (craftsmen) less
  6. No withholding tax
  7. End of fuel tax hike
  8. Tax marine and aviation fuels
  9. End CICE for business, use the money for researching French Hydrogen Car, which is more ecological
  10. End deducting fees and taxes while customers pay
  11. Make minimum wage €1300
  12. Pensions should be socialised
  13. Retirement not before/below €1200
  14. Combine salary and pension with inflation index
  15. Limit fix term contracts (contract workers) for large companies, more permanent jobs
  16. Fix maximum salary at €15000
  17. Create jobs for the unemployed
  18. Stop privatisation, end profiteering, gambling with pension funds
  19. Fix retirement age (naturally, with pensions) at 60 in general and 55 for those who are manual workers like masons
  20. Protect French industries, no relocation to other countries
  21. Same job same salary for everybody working in France (no ‘detached’ work for migrants)
  22. Treat the causes of migration, immigration (otherwise people when much troubled will migrate from their country)
  23. That asylum seekers should be treated well, we owe them housing, security, food and education
  24. The asylum seekers who are rejected may go back
  25. Real integration policy for asylum seekers with French language education, history, civics etc courses
  26. Same social security for everyone
  27. Increased allocation for handicapped people
  28. Substantial resources for psychiatry
  29. Favour small business and stop construction of areas of big business in cities
  30. Spend highway toll money for highway maintenance and construction
  31. End closing down of schools, post offices, maternity wards, small route lines of railway, etc
  32. Promote goods transport by railway
  33. MPs and all representatives should only get median salary, TA should be monitored
  34. Go back to 7-year terms for president and deputies’ election 2 years after president election (which would show approval/disapproval of policies followed by the president)
  35. Stop president’s allowances for lifetime
  36. Maximum students per class to be 25
  37. Government assistance for looking after children till age of 10
  38. End Austerity program
  39. Prohibit sales of properties of France (dams, airports, etc)
  40. More grants to judicial system, police and army, whether police persons’ overtime paid or recovered
  41. As electricity, gas etc prices have gone up after privatisation, these should be nationalised
  42. The popular referendum must enter the Constitution. Creating a readable and effective website, supervised by an independent control body where people can make a proposal for a law. If this bill obtains 700,000 signatures then this bill will have to be discussed, completed and amended by the National Assembly, which will have the obligation (one year to the day after the 700,000 signatures have been obtained) to submit it. forreferendum of all the French citizens.

This list is not exhaustive but afterwards, the will of the people will be heard and applied by means of the creation of the popular referendum which will have to be quickly set up.
Members of Parliament, make our voices heard in the House.
Obey the will of the people.
Apply these Guidelines.
Yellow Vests

[Parts of this article first appeared as two separate writings postedonline in Frontier Weekly websiteon 5-Dec and 30-Dec 2018.]

Sandeep Banerjee is an activist who writes on political and socioeconomic issues and also on environmental issues. Some of his articles are published in Frontier Weekly. He lives in West Bengal, India.  Presently he works in a research organisation. He can be reached at sandeepbanerjee00@gmail.com

 

[1]https://www.versobooks.com/blogs/4133-alain-badiou-we-are-at-a-new-beginning-of-marxist-thought

[2]http://lafabrique.fr/petrograd-shanghai/ and some selected parts at http://lafabrique.fr/wp-content/uploads/2018/06/se%CC%81lection-badiou.pdf

[3]http://www.lefigaro.fr/economie/le-scan-eco/dessous-chiffres/2017/10/12/29006-20171012ARTFIG00166–paris-la-voiture-est-deja-une-espece-en-voie-de-disparition.php

[4]https://ripostelaique.com/le-17-resistance-republicaine-sera-dans-la-rue-contre-la-hausse-du-prix-de-lessence.html

[5]https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2018/dec/12/gilets-jaunes-paris-protesters-france

[6]http://www.lefigaro.fr/economie/le-scan-eco/dessous-chiffres/2016/03/01/29006-20160301ARTFIG00273-plus-de-75-des-francais-travaillent-desormais-dans-le-secteur-tertiaire.php

[7]https://wir2018.wid.world/part-4.html

[8]https://www.indexmundi.com/facts/france/income-distribution

[9]https://www.numbeo.com/cost-of-living/in/Paris

[10]https://www.statista.com/statistics/576223/car-ownership-in-france/

[11]https://www.reuters.com/article/uk-france-unemployment-rate/french-unemployment-rises-again-to-highest-since-1999-idUKBRE9260H420130307 ; https://www.statista.com/statistics/460548/youth-unemployment-rate-france/ ; https://tradingeconomics.com/france/unemployment-rate ; http://cepr.net/blogs/beat-the-press/the-myth-of-high-youth-unemployment-in-franceetcétera

[12] Find the English subtitled French Rap at Youtubehttps://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XI-7NKDQKoU

[13]http://www.europe-solidaire.org/spip.php?article47005

[14] Taken from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2017_French_presidential_election

[15]http://content.time.com/time/world/article/0,8599,1891775,00.html

[16]https://www.independent.co.uk/voices/french-elections-marine-le-pen-emmanuel-macron-no-real-choice-a7714911.html and https://subliminalsensibility.wordpress.com/2017/05/07/slavoj-zizek-there-is-no-real-choice-between-le-pen-and-macron/ for instance

[17]https://www.europe1.fr/societe/somme-quand-des-gilets-jaunes-denoncent-des-migrants-caches-dans-un-camion-et-suscitent-lindignation-3805553

[18]https://www.europe1.fr/societe/un-porte-parole-des-gilets-jaunes-reclame-la-demission-du-gouvernement-et-la-nomination-du-general-de-villiers-comme-premier-ministre-3812579

[19]https://www.facebook.com/280639788697374/photos/a.630588037035879/2027166937377975/postedby Collectif des Jeunes d’Ait Amrane (Béni Amrane , Boumerdes) December 10

[20]https://www.theguardian.com/world/2018/dec/08/daniel-cohn-bendit-gilets-jaunes-macron-may-68-paris-student-protest

[21]https://www.facebook.com/events/2216298845276917/

[22]https://www.facebook.com/pg/edicijajugoslavija/posts/?ref=page_internal

[23]Aloïs Gury, whose little poultry at Bresse province supplied chickens that were used for the gala presidential dinner hosted by President Macron for Trump, Putin and Angela Merkel, took up a yellow jacket, wore it, and took a video of himself and posted it in his Facebook page, in what he angrily addressed Macron: you do not deserve my chicken, you do not understand anything of agriculture, I am disgusted. Working 77 hours a week, earning only 700 € a month, getting only one seven-day holiday in last three years… made him appalled enough to show he too is with the Yellow Jackets. (Incidentally bright fluorescent yellow jackets for safety are compulsory there for bikers and drivers.) This showed that in the countryside too there is some sympathy for the yellow vest protesters of town and suburb all across France. (vide 13)

[24] Ms Priscilla Ludosky, a coloured woman 30-year old online sales professional, who started a petition in end-May protesting so high tax on motor fuels (she said she was aghast finding in the fuel bill given from the filling station that taxes were two third of the price) could not imagine that the petition will snowball in October and get well above a million signatures. Two truck drivers, Bruno Lefevre and Eric Drouet, too were smelling the air and had suggested in Facebook for a protest event to be staged in November 17, where everybody would have to display her/his yellow. More than one hundred thousand marked ‘interested’.(vide 13) Detail at https://www.rtl.fr/actu/debats-societe/video-gilets-jaunes-le-cri-de-colere-d-un-agriculteur-contre-monsieur-macron-7795716577 , Pricilla Ludosky’s petition is at https://www.change.org/p/pour-une-baisse-des-prix-à-la-pompe-essence-diesel and some more at https://www.liberation.fr/checknews/2018/10/26/hausse-du-prix-de-l-essence-qui-est-a-l-origine-du-mouvement-du-17-novembre_1688018

[25] One opinion poll result from PSA Peugeot Citröen Valenciennes published in a so-called Trotskyite webzine Révolution Permanente, on Nov 23 showed: (1) do you favour the yellow vest movement – Yes 96.1%, No 3.1%; (2) do you think that union of your factory should call for a strike – Yes 55.3%, No 35.7% … in all cases there was a ‘cannot say’ option. Though the poll suggested that majority workers at that moment were not yet ready to start a strike. Taken from https://www.revolutionpermanente.fr/96-des-ouvriers-de-PSA-Valenciennes-favorable-aux-gilets-jaunes-55-pour-un-appel-a-la-greve

[26]https://www.confederationpaysanne.fr/actu.php?id=8084 and also at https://www.ouest-france.fr/economie/agriculture/la-confederation-paysanne-appelle-rejoindre-les-gilets-jaunes-6111590

[27]http://www.lafranceagricole.fr/actualites/gestion-et-droit/gilets-jaunes-la-gauche-paysanne-rejoint-le-mouvement-1,5,2946124753.html

[28]http://www.lafranceagricole.fr/actualites/fnsea-et-ja-une-semaine-de-manifestation-prevue-1,5,2910154669.html

[29]https://sudrail.fr/SUD-Rail-et-les-cheminots-avec-les-gilets-jaunes

[30]https://sudrail.fr/Jaunes-vertes-ou-rouges-et-si-les-coleres-convergeaient

[31]https://lemuslimpost.com/quartiers-gilets-jaunes-comite-adama-manifester.html

[32]https://www.facebook.com/events/345731706257912/?active_tab=discussion

[33]https://www.islametinfo.fr/2018/11/23/oui-il-faut-etre-des-gilets-jaunes-delias-dimzalene-edito/

[34]http://servirlepeupleservirlepeuple.eklablog.com/collectif-rosa-parks-des-gilets-jaunes-au-x-gants-noirs-egalite-justic-a151897654

[35] For example, in Lenin’s works of 1905 https://www.marxists.org/archive/lenin/works/1905/oct/10i.htm

[36]https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Goddess_of_Democracy_(Hong_Kong)

[37]https://www.lejdd.fr/Politique/verbatim-voici-toutes-les-revendications-des-gilets-jaunes-3809783.amp?fbclid=IwAR20AiOG8v0npD73U8XgDLeKRHBHxVAVhgA7AVJO-r2CRi-0l7g3vGO08-A, then http://www.alterinfo.net/Smic-a-1300–salaire-maximum-impots-des-gilets-jaunes-publient-leur-liste-de-40-revendications_a143247.html  and lastly https://www.nouvelobs.com/politique/20181129.OBS6307/gilets-jaunes-on-a-decortique-chacune-des-42-revendications-du-mouvement.html

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