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25/05/2022 thesaker.is  25 min 🇬🇧 #208871

Yellow Vests: At worst, the most important French movement for 100 years

by Ramin Mazaheri for the Saker blog

At the very worst they will be as forgotten as the sit-ins, factory occupations, strikes and marches of 1936 have been: 1936 was, however, the most important political movement in a century - between 1871 (The Paris Commune) and 1968.

This is no small achievement.

(This is the twelfth chapter in a new book, France's Yellow Vests: Western Repression of the West's Best Values.  Please click here for the article which announces this book and explains its goals.)

If nothing comes of the Yellow Vests and France sleeps for several decades they will be looked to by that next generation of Frenchmen who have recovered their spirit. If in the next 50 years France's elite avoids provoking another uprising and Western Liberal Democracy successfully deflects away from its endless recurrence of discrediting failures, then in 2072 that powerful new French movement fighting for equality, freedom and sovereignty will say, "The Yellow Vests were the most important movement between us and 1968."

So the Yellow Vests are definitely worthy of your attention and analysis.

At the very best the Yellow Vests - their methods, demands and recovery of a class-based and inspirational esprit de corps - have redefined and revitalised Western progressive politics, which will hopefully lead to the permanent discrediting of ever-oligarchic Western Liberal Democracy.

The Yellow Vests may not have realised they were up against something which non-Westerners fighting imperialism did realise: Western Liberal Autocracy. The first, historical, part of this book proves that "Western Liberal Democracy" is a misnomer.

What Vietnam, Iraq and all the other unjust wars proved, no matter how many imperialist wars the West fights the final discrediting will only ever come from within. The Yellow Vests did not set out to do this, but in the failure of their earnest desire to interject some public opinion into public policy our living generation must inevitably conclude what their ancestors did: that Western Liberal Democracy will never accede to this point - democracy.

It is facile to say - and I have heard many international leftists I respect say it - that France's Yellow Vests are spoiled; that they are just fighting for a 6th week of paid vacation; that other countries, especially ones subjected to French neo-imperial rule, are more genuine leftists and have more necessary struggles. I don't agree, and I will relate my personal experience to explain why:

Very few Westerners have ever understood the Iranian Revolution, and most did not even want to. This caused me to realise that Iran is actually not that important to most people, despite its importance to me. If I removed my egotism I realised: It is a very big world, and Iran is just one of almost 200 countries. Most people are not interested in politics, anyway, and remain disinterested even no matter how exciting a country's successful revolution is. Most people are mainly interested in their own country, region, community, etc., and my epiphany fully arrived when I realised they actually have plenty of good reasons to consider such things more worthy of their time and attention than Iran. My point is: We cannot blame French people for being in France and for being preoccupied with the unique problems of their own unique country.

The fundamental achievement of the internationally vital Yellow Vest movement is that they have put a contemporary human face - and a politically revolutionary one - on the Western working poor and their issues. They have also put a face, crucially, on the long-faceless White Western working poor.

The Yellow Vests demand the respectability and influence which the working poor should have. The Yellow Vests are not people in social housing and on the dole - they are the people who make just enough so that the French system can exclude them from social services which they deserve and need. The Age of Austerity swelled these ranks to bursting. Thanks to the Yellow Vests the working poor could no longer be falsely portrayed as only recent immigrants, criminals and the lazy. This was a major, much-needed and long-awaited reformulation of the social question in France, but also with obvious parallels to other Western nations.

I have constantly written that all popular revolutions are - to the elite and their enablers - essentially "trash revolutions". The Iranian revolution was derided, by the autocratic monarchists and their bourgeois sycophants, as a "revolution of the barefooted" because it was primarily staffed not by even the few college communists but by poor "Iranian trash" who couldn't even afford shoes. This idea was actually embraced in Iran, not rejected, because it showed the egalitarianism, morality and progressive change at the heart of the Iranian Islamic Revolutionary project. The French, Russian, Chinese and all other leftist, progressive revolutions were also lower-class revolutions, and how long they endured seems directly proportional to how many righteous lower class cadres were allowed to endurably rise to positions of policy influence.

"Trash" refers to the American phrase "White trash", and this is the most common description - behind closed doors - which Americans use to describe people like the supporters of Donald Trump, but it's a centuries-old epithet. "White trash" is as potent a term to a White American as "nigger" is towards an African-American - using either can start an immediate fight.

The bourgeois bloc in France undoubtedly views the Yellow Vests as "French Trash", and they have attacked them with all the same insults contemporary White Americans use for their White working poor: racist, misogynist, stupid, lazy, incorrigible, untrustworthy, unfit for office, impossible to work with, easily manipulated and even traitorous. In a Western society which has been "politically-correct" for three decades such epithets can only be publicly used to describe only one bloc: the White working and lower classes. African-Americans have embraced "nigger" so effectively that only they can use it publicly, but there has been no such proud reclaiming of "White trash".

The reason why the war on "White trash" is so enduring is history and simple math: In White countries the biggest and longest historical enemy of White elite culture is the White working class, and not non-White slaves/colonial subjects. That simple fact is easily forgotten in a Western culture whose view of history is incredibly short: the class war has been national and not international for most of human history. Horrendous Iranian monarchs have been the Iranian working poor's antagonist for millennia - the British were annoying but far more easily removed, and this is an almost an absurd comparison.

White Western elite may have waged imperialist wars since 1492 but they have oppressed the White working poor for millennia longer than that. Their hated of this class is total and embedded far deeper than their hatred for their relatively recent non-White acquaintances.

The West has few who are willing to say this but its truth remains: Removing the hatred and contempt for the White lower classes in White countries is only possible if one progresses to championing Socialist Democracy. When the 21st century arrived the West suffered from a lack of people willing to stand up for both Socialist Democracy and the White lower classes, and thus their domestic politics are now as catastrophic as their foreign politics.

France, the US and the UK: the three biggest contemporary colonialist empires were until recently essentially inseparable in the Third World mind, like New York and California. But are these three Western Liberal Democracies now separable?

The difference between the French and the American struggle can be easily pinpointed: race, and all the useless baggage that implies. Only a simple-minded person would interject with "but French Muslims": Muslim immigration is recent, was politically exploited only since Nicolas Sarkozy and the Yellow Vests upended this phony attempt to say that Muslim welfare and not banker welfare is France's problem.

The difference between the French and the British struggle, however, sharply diverged after Brexit in 2016: France separated into a different continental struggle - against the pan-European project of which the UK was no longer a part. The UK, having kept their pound currency, was always only a partial part anyway.

Thus the Yellow Vests are a group in which race plays a tiny part but which the failure of the pan-European project is by far the most important factor in their rise.

The economic, democratic and cultural disasters wrought by the rise of the pan-European project: this is the ultimate contemporary cause of the rise of the Yellow Vests, even if many of them choose to blame Emmanuel Macron. The British are not going to revolt over being a junior partner in an alliance with the Americans, but the French are indeed revolting at being a colonial subject of the pan-European project. There has been a major historical divergence recently, and the Yellow Vests mark this - few seem to understand that.

This is a book about France, and the Yellow Vests are a French phenomenon, so we need to also understand the historical causes of their rise. The elite Western class wanted to portray Trumpers, Brexit Leavers and Yellow Vests as all the same but that is a spectacularly inadequate analysis. Where they coincide with their Anglophone Western counterparts is in how they reveal the oppression of the working poor class, which is one dominated by Whites in these countries. This class-based parallel is hugely important, but the solutions offered by these three groups are entirely different.

By July 2019 the average Frenchman had become too fearful to attend the Yellow Vests, even though the last polls permitted showed massive support by French standards. The hard-core Yellow Vests were all that was left - what were they like?

They often had faded tattoos, poor teeth, weathered faces - at first glance some might call them French White trash. That's a term people don't like - "Barefooted" is much less abrasive. Upon talking to them it became clear: they had big smiles, large laughs, open eyes and infinitely more courage and fortitude than the preening riot cops covered in armour who surrounded them. The core of the movement was revealed - the working poor. I also discovered that they had just as much political intelligence as I had (even though I am paid to learn), and certainly far more intelligence about the subject of France. They were older, around 50, and at that age in life where one does not fear consequences or disapproval but only to live a life of indignity. They are the rightful and righteous cadres of French politics - though they would never presume any such authority - and they wait every Saturday for new comrades.

Indignity for the working poor is what the pan-European project seeks to permanently install - it is a resolutely Liberalist project ("neoliberal" to some) which is hell-bent on rolling back the modest advances of a merely three-decade era of Social Democracy. Slight changes to the pan-European project, if they ever even arrive, will be no panacea; changing the president from Macron will not be one either. Forcing indignity on the working poor is the very hallmark of Western Liberal Democracy since the first of the Seven European Wars Against the French Revolution, and indignity is what the Yellow Vests refuse to accept.

And so they marched, and still keep marching.

A structural look - a totally different mass movement

The book Dans la tête des gilets jaunes (In The Head of the Yellow Vests) begins with an impressive list of all the things the Yellow Vests are "outside of" in order to illustrate how radically different the movement is to France.

"Outside of:

  • institutions
  • any hierarchy, including one for themselves
  • Paris
  • the normal capacities of political mobilisation
  • the normal capacity of the mainstream media comprehension (thus their vilification)
  • the normal codes of demonstrations: from how they demonstrate to the fact that they don't presume an air of speaking for the masses, as most in politics do
  • the norm of a specific demand, trying to salvage/reclaim/prevent something
  • the normal intellectual and political rhetoric
  • the law: they are not easily intimidated nor cowed by threats, paperwork, etc.
  • politics, or rather, politics as currently allowed to be grouped in 'proper' French society
  • usually monitored areas (as the most hard-core are from small town petit-bourgeois/their workers)
  • political classes, though this is acceptable to those with the most inflexible and rudimental ideas of what class struggle is
  • outside of any specific roots and yet they are deeply rooted in France"

This stunning list isn't even exhaustive. Taken from the book La victoire des vaincus (The Victory of the Defeated) by Edwy Plenel, the publisher of Mediapart, which since 2008 has become the best written journalism media in France:

"Innovative use of social media, the refusal of parties, the refusal of unions, the mass filming of interactions with authorities, bringing back 'lists of grievances' to politics, the return of citizen assemblies and, most of all, the demands for referendums, coordination at all levels, open deliberation and discussion and the return to the idea that political life is not just the vote."

The Yellow Vests implemented all these radical changes in the country which was already the most politically active in the West, and which had long-established codes of vigorous political involvement.

They were routinely supported by 75% of the country, which is to say everyone but the 25% of France which supported Macron, i.e the "bourgeois bloc". The Yellow Vests achieved such massive support precisely because they are a completely different type of movement.

What is the fundamental basis of this different movement?

When we condense the two above lists we see that the Yellow Vests are not "normal". What needs to be understood is that since World War II "normal" in the West has been synonymous with a positive support for Western Liberal Democracy. However, the Yellow Vests are a revolution against Western Liberal Democracy; they are so supported because they are a revolution against Western Liberal Democracy. This conclusion is not widely understood, and certainly not allowed to be discussed in the mainstream media, but it is a correct conclusion.

When we look at these two lists with just a bit of comment we will see how anti-Western Liberal Democracy and progressively revolutionary the Yellow Vests truly are:

  • institutions

A broad word indeed. I tried to encompass everything that word means in a November 2021 column which reshuffled my papers into order for the coming election, titled, Catastrophe since 2017: How to cover France's presidential election? I listed how every major French institution had been discredited in recent years:

"Emmanuel Macron: Marketed as Prince Charming but who quickly became Evil King Manu I of the neoliberal empire of the European Union.

The Yellow Vests: It's as if France has spectacularly grown a fifth limb, no? Yet there it is - muscled and grasping. By now the followers of France should know what it is and what it wants, but what we can't say for certain is what it can do to a presidential election because this is its very first.

Eric Zemmour: And you thought Marine Le Pen was repugnant? If the 1% can fabricate a Macron out of nothing and in mere weeks, of course they can create a Zemmour to divert attention/split the right-wing vote/divert attention again.

Marine Le Pen: Joan of Arc was not just another ineffectual leader (hereditary, even) of a discredited system - Marine has been totally unmasked by the Yellow Vests. After all the authoritarian beat-downs, mosque closures and states of emergency since 2017 - do you still believe Macron was the better choice?

Traditional political parties: Routed. They're down to their last party-machine fiefdoms, such as the mayorship of Paris.

France's left: Routed. Always a paper tiger - now barely there on paper.

Unions: Routed by the Yellow Vests. Only the media cares what they have to say anymore, and also the tiny percent of France (8%) which is still unionised.

Mainstream media: Routed by the Yellow Vests. If in Western Liberal Democracies politicians are the new aristocracy then media are the new clerical class. The miracle of transubstantiation which they insist on, and which few outside of their class actually believe, is that the universal value of Western relativism means that impiety can be the same thing as piety.

Catholic Church: France, long-known as the 'daughter of the Roman Catholic Church', has just been embroiled (seemingly rather tardily) in a massive pedophile cover-up scandal.

Notre Dame Cathedral: Europe's most famous house of worship is still closed and will be until 2024. Recall that the fire began just an hour before Macron was due to give an exceptionally rare speech - to finally discuss the then 5-month long Yellow Vest crisis.

France's polling agencies: They are so discredited that the most popular newspaper, Ouest-France, has already refused to run any polls ahead of the election. They are perceived as being tremendously biased in large part because they are now staffed at the top by the mainstream politicians who recently lost their public posts.

The armed forces: The failed, shamefully hurried withdrawal from Afghanistan coincides with the declaration of abject failure in Mali, where withdrawal is also being forced by the locals.

France has been in a state of emergency for most of Macron's tenure.

The longest labor movement in French history - the general strike of late 2019/early 2020 - failed, and for too many reasons to list here.

In short, it's a total catastrophe.

I don't mean to be negative, nihilistic or to sow despair, but who can look back at France since 2017 and see otherwise?

Did you notice that I haven't even mentioned the coronavirus? Now do you see how bad it is?"

  • any hierarchy, including one for themselves

Simply look at how the hierarchies of every major French institution have been discredited. The Yellow Vests always steadfastly insisted that if they had created a hierarchy or joined another one, then they could have never mushroomed in popularity - France simply doesn't know who can be trusted anymore. The success of the Yellow Vests is based on the fact that they actually trust each other, and their mass approval is an expression that the average Frenchmen sees them as worthy of trust.

  • Paris

In the chapter on the Paris Commune I discussed how the Anglo-Irishman Edmund Burke, the father of modern Western conservatism and his generation's leading reactionary voice against the French Revolution, correctly foresaw that Western Liberal Democracy would be eternally centred around the city. The urban-rural divide is something which cannot be solved by Western Liberal Democracy - only socialism has reconciled the two. It has become the most pernicious divide in Western society, and the Yellow Vests are the French illustration of this vital fact.

  • the normal capacities of political mobilisation

The simplest way to describe this is: The Yellow Vests were the first French political movement which refused to take Christmas or summer vacation off: No matter how much momentum union-led political movements had during the Age of Austerity there was this guaranteed semiannual pause, apparently under the assumption that urgent political mobilisations are not more urgent than vacation from them. The Yellow Vests also marched as though they never had done it before and as if their lives depended on it - both were true. A Yellow Vest demonstration in the first six months of the movement was to speed into tear gas for 15 kilometres around Paris while being chased by cops. They had no personal security to rope them off from the public and police, like the unions do, and they apparently didn't think giant balloons were absolutely necessary.

  • the normal capacity of the mainstream media comprehension (thus their vilification) 

As a media member (though not mainstream) all I can say is: One cannot comprehend a movement without actually talking to the members of that movement, and from a point which begins with the journalistic ideal of objectivity. This issue will be discussed in greater detail in the chapter Yellow Vests: Ending the West's slandering of all popular movements as right-wing xenophobes.

  • the normal codes of demonstrations: from how they demonstrate to the fact that they don't presume an air of speaking for the masses, as most in politics do

The Yellow Vest killed the idea of the French protest as the height of "militancy". Protests, if they are to be taken seriously, cannot be seen merely as, as one French politician put it, "the city-centre middle class out for a walk". Compared to what the Yellow Vests faced such protests seem like mere virtue-signalling by tribesmen to others in their tribe.

  • the norm of a specific demand, trying to salvage/reclaim/prevent something

In revolutionary periods political demands explode, as Trotsky pointed out. Their primary demands will be listed in the next chapter.

  • the normal intellectual and political rhetoric 

Such rhetoric is one which approves of, works within and insists There Is No Alternative to Western Liberal Democracy and neo-imperialism. This is the "radical centrism" of the post-1991 West, which leaves no room for dissenters to the pan-European project, permanent economic austerity and for any accusations regarding the possible failures of the West's elite-led democracy.

  • the law: they are not easily intimidated nor cowed by threats, paperwork, etc. 

One has to be familiar with France to understand how one can be "cowed" by mere paperwork. I have always found France's complaints about excessive paperwork to be uninteresting and mundane - merely a way to break the conversational ice by finding common ground, like complaining about the weather. Of far more importance is the way the Yellow Vests defied the law. The forces of the law were actually the ones in violation of the law, namely they violated the Yellow Vests' Liberalist rights to freedom of speech, press, assembly, petition, illegal search and seizure, self-defence, cruel punishment, resistance to oppression, being innocent until proven guilty and especially the right to hold accountable every public agent of the administration. These are all the Franco-Anglo-American rights which Western Liberal Democracy is based upon - such rights have always only been for the elite, as the Yellow Vests remind us.

  • politics, or rather, politics as currently allowed to be grouped in "proper" French society

"'Proper' French society" is a euphemism of course: it means "bourgeois", "royalist", "upper-class", "elite", and evincing the aspiration for approval from these classes - i.e. the modern bourgeois bloc. The Yellow Vests show that Western Liberal Democracy is a tool of this "proper" class to perpetuate keep the working poor poor but working.

  • usually monitored areas (as the most hard-core are from small town petit-bourgeois/their workers)

The idea - and significant misperception - of the Yellow Vests as all having country mud on their boots will be dispersed in the next chapter, Who are they? Ask a reporter whose seen a million Yellow Vest faces. Simply ask: How can a country which is more than 80% urbanised support at levels close to 80% a movement which is supposedly based around rural life? The truth is simpler: the "usually monitored areas" in Western Liberal Democracy means the centre of the capital.

  • political classes, though this is acceptable to those with the most inflexible and rudimental ideas of what class struggle is

The concept of class struggle is indeed inflexible and rudimentary - at least the concept of the upper, dominating, appropriating class is. Thus the Yellow Vests are not really "outside" of the class struggle at all - to assert so is either to have ignorance about the movement or is fake-leftist nonsense. The concept of the "lower class", "middle class", "proletariat" - I agree that the Yellow Vests have forced the politician from every part of the spectrum and the ivory-tower academic to reassess what "class struggle" in the 21st century means in France, mainly because such groups rarely care about the working poor, or the White working poor in the contemporary West.

  • outside of any specific roots and yet they are deeply rooted in France

They are a truly grassroots movement, with the vital democratic imprimatur that implies. They are new, but after three and a half years of marching their roots are growing.

The upcoming chapters will describe some of the components of these lists, in order to delineate the biggest achievements of the Yellow Vests.

What the Yellow Vests did is something very common in cliquish French culture but not in grandstanding French political/media culture: the Yellow Vests talked only among themselves. They were joyously thrilled to the marrow to find that - in an increasingly atomised and lonely Western society - there are other people like themselves, socioeconomically and politically. This charge produced the explosion of demonstrations which soldered them together permanently in a life-changing political experience that may culminate in something greater, but which has already been a once-in-a-century occurrence.

What they have done was to succeed in changing the media and political agenda from that of the rich to the agenda of the people, of Yellow Vest agenda.

What they have done is not just rejuvenate the proletariat but to finally redefine it in modern terms: the office drone working on an unstable month-to-month contract, the 50-year old who never had a job with great earnings potential but with two kids, the most ignored class in society - the middle aged woman -, the worthy pensioner who still can't get by, the student too broke for anything, the shopkeeper barely getting by - all of these can be the vanguard of a revolution.

What they have done is to replace the agenda of the ecologists, which is totally devoid of class struggle, with a human-centred agenda. The ecologists apocalyptic cry of "fin du monde" (end of the world) was replaced in France with the Yellow Vests' cry of "fin du mois" (end of the month). What ecologists fail to realise is that unless the end of the world happens before the end of the month bills still have to be paid, or the repo men arrive to inflict a personal apocalypse.

What they have done is rout the Western obsession with identity politics - which is the diametric opposite of broadly-inclusive class struggle and which was first fashioned by fascism - by making identity economic, social and intellectual and not one chosen by your parents (religion) or birth (ethnicity or sex). The Yellow Vests are also the incredibly rare modern political movement which is completely devoid of what has been referred to as divisive "gonadal politics" - there is no role for sexuality, but plenty for feminist equality. Simply put on a Yellow Vest and your identity is that of one who supports the people. This is perhaps the most important "outside" of the Yellow Vests.

What they have done is to end the insults of the Western working poor - you simply cannot ignore them in the same way anymore.

Trotsky wrote: "When historical development poses before society an unpostponable revolutionary task as a question of life or death, when there exists a progressive class whose victory is linked to the salvation of society - then the development itself of the political struggle opens up before the revolutionary class the most varied possibilities...."

That is what the Yellow Vests have done: Their bravery in the face of guaranteed state repression proved to France that there is an unpostponable revolutionary task which is a question of life or death. The Yellow Vests are that progressive class who willingly linked their victory to the salvation of French society.

Once-in-a-century....

Upcoming chapter list of the brand-new content in France's Yellow Vests: Western Repression of the West's Best Values. The book will also include previous writings from 2018 through the 2022 election in order to provide the most complete historical record of the Yellow Vests anywhere. What value!

Publication date: July 1, 2022.

Pre-orders of the paperback version will be available immediately.

Pre-orders of  the Kindle version may be made here.

Pre-orders of the French paperback version will be available immediately.

Pre-orders of the  French Kindle version may be made here.

Chapter List of the new content

Ramin Mazaheri is the chief correspondent in Paris for PressTV and has lived in France since 2009. He has been a daily newspaper reporter in the US, and has reported from Iran, Cuba, Egypt, Tunisia, South Korea and elsewhere. He is the author of '  Socialism's Ignored Success: Iranian Islamic Socialism' as well as '  I'll Ruin Everything You Are: Ending Western Propaganda on Red China', which is also available in  simplified and  traditional Chinese.

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