by Richard Greeman
Thanks to a technologically inexplicable process, the Future Historians’ International Study Group has received a New Year’s Greeting from our colleagues in the year 2119. We find it reassuring to learn that there still will be historians practicing their craft a century from now. They inform us that they are preparing a centenary celebration of the year 2019 on the theme: “The Yellow Vests and the origins of today’s egalitarian society.” Here is their text, which is addressed “To the Youth.”
“…. How many of you have living grandparents or great grandparents who were active in 2019? Not many left after all struggles the world has been through in the past century. Our elders memories of those turbulant times are precious, and their tales should be heard while they are still with us. But to understand their extraordinary times, a little history may be useful.
Growing up today in relatively egalitarian societies based on cooperation and caring it may be difficult for you to conceive how much power over the lives of billions of people was held by a few thousand billionnaires; and it may be hard to believe the lengths of violence, cruelty and wanton destruction to which they were willing to go in order to hold onto and increase their immense wealth by repressing their workers and waring with their rivals.
If the reign of the super-rich had not been broken in time, there would be no air to breathe today. And we are still struggling hard to survive and to build a vibrant culture on the ruins of a planet which a century ago the carbon capitalists willfully ravaged with no regard for their own children, much less future generations of humans and other living creatures.
So let us study and celebrate the daring thoughts and actions of these self-organized mass movements of ordinary people of the last century; “common” people who, beginning in France in November 2018, finally got mad enough to raise their heads, defy their ‘betters,’ think for themselves, dismiss their ‘representatives’ and, gropingly at first, struggle transform the system itself from below: the so-called Yellow Vests. From France, their initiative soon spread through Europe, opening a breach in the seemingly impregnable capitalist world system through which, after much travail, emerged a new global system – our federation of peaceful, democratic, cooperative, sustainable societies.
It is not so surprising that the insurrection broke out first in France, with its long tradition of popular revolutions studied in high schools and ensconsed in the memory of the French people. What strikes the historian as original is that this revolutionary transformation was initiated and ultimately achieved – not by forseeing political leaders, not by crusading journalists and intellectuals, not by political parties and structured trade unions, not by an armed vanguard, but by a largely anonymous mass of long ignored and frequently dispised average hardworking folk from the periferal areas, people considered ignorant and “apolitical” by France’s highly-educated political and intellectual elite.
Like so many revolts in the history of France, the Yellow Vest insurrection was originally provoked in 2018 by the Macron regime’s imposition of a tax on Diesel fuel (which previous governments had promoted as ‘ecological’) that sharply affected poor working people in the provinces dependant on their cars to get to work and was seen as both excessive and unfair. But the protesters’ demands soon went far beyond the petroleum tax to include inequal taxation favoring the rich, increasing inequality, and their own sufference at working hard and not being able to make ends meet while the rich and the political classes flaunted their luxury on the Right Bank in Paris and the Riviera.
Like all the spontaneous mass uprisings that dot French history going back to Feudal times, the Yellow Vest revolt was initially provoked by unfair taxes. Spurning all established political parties, and unions, the Yellow Vests got organized on social media and acted locally. The broadcast media, although highly critical, spread the news nationally, and the movement spread across France, blocking intersections, filtering motorists, allowing free passage at highway tollbooths, and gathering to demonstrate, more and more numerous and militant, on successive Saturdays.
Why on Saturdays? “I can’t go on strike,” one woman answered. “I’m raising three kids alone. My job, that’s all I have left. Coming on Saturdays is the only way for me to show my anger.” Women – receptionists, hostesses, nurses-aids, teachers – were present in unusually large numbers in these crowds, and they were angry about a lot more than the tax on Diesel. Like Trump in the US, Macron had showered corporations and millionaires with huge tax cuts, creating a hole in the budget which planned to compensate by cuts in public services (hospitals, schools, transit, police) and by regressive consumer tax increases for ordinary people (up to 40% of their income), large numbers of whom are struggling hard to make ends meet and going into debt.
The choice of yellow vests (which the French government had recently obliged all motorists to carry in their cars in case of emergencies) as the symbol and rallying flag of this unlikely insurrection was a stroke of collective genius. For the protesters occupying highway roundabouts, liberating tollgates, flourescent emergency vests were a practical safety protection. But they soon give the movement a visible identity which spread like an idea-virus, as motorists began displaying them on their dashboards. The symbolic message the display of Yellow Vest sent to the rest of France was: “Stop! Emergency! The system is disfunctional and dangerous! It’s up to us to change it or croak under it.”
Their yellow vests also symbolised the basic class division between the elite of “Suits” who ran everything from Paris and the faceless provincial people wearing yellow vests working out of doors in construction or repairing the roads. Clothing had a similar role during the great French Revoltion of 1789. The popular masses in the streets wore trousers, while the aristocrats and bourgeois wore silk stockings, bucked shoes, and knee-breaches (culottes). So the revolutionary rabble were known as “Sans-Culottes.”
Why France’s ‘Silent Majority’ Was Mad as Hell
Anger had been building since the Spring of 2018, which coincided with the 50th anniversary of the historic May-June 1968 worker-student uprising and general strike. This revolutionary event was being commemorated all over France with TV documentaries, books and interviews, most of them surprisingly favorable. Meanwhile, the nation’s labor unions and students were preparing for strikes against the neo-liberal, pro-business counter-reforms that President Macron was planning to impose from above, through decrees, eliminating intermediate bodies.
Union members were raring to struggle and felt public opinion behind them. Especially as they were fighting not only for salaries but for the restoration of public services like transportation, hospitals, health, education, employee rights and retirements, that Macron was planning to cut in order to pay for the huge tax breaks he had given to the rich and the corporations.
Expectations of a major confrontation were running high, but they were soon frustrated. Instead of leading a nationwide movement, the leadership of the CGT and other French unions imposed tactics which in practice divided the different sections of the working class, all the time calling for their “convergence.” Unlike in 1968 and in 2006, when spontaneous strikes and popular demonstrations forced the government to compromise, the resistance never got organized. The self-confident Macron, perceived as “the president of the rich,” continued fast-tracking a full menu of cuts in education, public services, retirement and worker benefits, while the union leaders – all the while carrying on semi-secret talks with government officials – kept the strikes local, fragmented by sector, limited and prolonged.
Meanwhile, the government and media continued to scapegoat the railroad workers, considered “privileged” by the media because they still benefited from early retirement provisions won at the end of WWII – as if the real “privileged” groups were not the bosses and bankers! The railway workers had indeed been fighting to preserve an essential public service, which the government clearly had plans to privatise once the struggle was over.
However, the CGT kept a firm grip on tactics. Instead of bringing the struggle to by crisis by a general strike, the union leadership imposed an endless, totally ineffective stop-and-go strike (grève perlée) annoying commuters and exhausting the workers economically. For example, up to 80% of the engine-drivers were striking on any given day (and losing their pay), but thanks to an arrangement with the CGT, the SNCF railroad management was able to keep most of the trains running using managers as scab drivers and saving money on salaries.
This was a demoralizing lose-lose situation for both workers and commuters, and it dragged on for months. The only “winners” were Macron and the union bureaucrats, who by prolonging their members agony managed to wangle back their coveted places at the masters’ table as official intermediaries licenced to negotiate worker give-backs.
To the French working people, Macron’s victory seemed like an historic defeat – the loss of the benefits of the “social republic” they had gained at the end of WWII, when the employing class were disgraced by their collaboration with the Nazi occupiers, the Resistance was still armed, and the Gaullists were obliged to grant broad concessions to the Socialists and Communists in order to prevent revolution. Thus in September 2018 (after enjoying the paid vacations their grand-parents had won through a general strike in 1936) when the French grudgingly returned to work and school it was with their tails between their legs.
No one suspected that less than three months later, the Yellow Vests would burst angrily onto the scene, pick up the struggle, and demonstrate the hollowness of Macron’s “victory.”
The time was ripe. 2018 had been a terrible year for everyone but the super-rich. Inequality, economic instability, political turmoil, and highly visible ecological catastrophes (like raging wildfires, calving polar ice, unprecedented storms and heatwives) were reaching critical levels. Wars, civil wars and proxy wars had proliferated (as had nuclear weapons) involving shifting alliances of regional and global imperialist rivals.
By 2018, the post-1989 “New World Order” of capitalist globalization had degenerated into a new world dis-order of rival “crony-capitalist” nationalist regimes and right-wing authoritarian leaders, beginning with Vladimir Putin and Donald Trump and extending from China to Turkey, Syria, Egypt, Iran, Israel, Saudi Arabia, the Philipines, Brazil among others.
As peoples lives got worse and the causes of their misery became more and more clear, the legitimacy of the system was in question and revolts against it became inevitable. A new level of international class consciousness had already emerged in 2011 with the Arab Spring, the movement of the squares, and the Occupy Wall St. slogan “We are the 99%.” By 2018, the “1%-ers,” duly warned, felt obliged to rule through increasingly authoritarian forms state power, including vast surveillance systems, firmer control of the media, and militarized police forces (with France’s the most militarized in Europe).
Historians of revolution are fond of the metaphor of the chain breaking at its weakest link, as exemplified by the 1917 Soviet revolution overthrowing the backward, bankrupt, crumbling Russian Empire during WWI. Never mind that the expected international spread of the Soviets was thwarted by the victorious Allied powers and that world capitalism, already decadant, lived on to give birth to an even more destructive Second World War and a half-century of nuclear-stalemated Cold War. By 2018, the capitalist world-system, having flourished and expanded for 500 years, had become more and more destructive and unstable; that it was increasingly resorting to violence and repression to reinforce its fading hegemony indicated that entered its terminal phase.
But why did the chain first break in 2019 in prosperous, stable, modern France, the second oldest republic in the world? To answer this question, we must consider two factors – one subjective (the French revolutionary tradition) and the other objective (the fragility of France’s Vth Republic).
The French popular classes have long historical memories, and seemed to have remained unaffected by the postmodern scholarly denigration of the 1789 French Revolution and its successors as useless explosions of popular violence which inevitable led to bloody dictatorships. Concepts like Democracy, Liberty, Equality and Fraternity, learned in the anti-religious French public schools, were still taken seriously by the common people, as are historical romances like Victor Hugo’s Les Misérables (vastly popular as a 1980 musical comedy and 2012 film). “Whoever sows misery will harvest hate” was a common slogan on home-made Yellow Vest signs. “Marie-Antoinette was living high off the hog just before the Revolution also. And they cut off her head” was a phrase reportedly heard all over France from the beginning of the movement.
“The Yellow Vests who block highways and refuse to be coopted by political parties have taken up, in confused form, the tradition of the Sans-culottes of 1792-93, the citizen-combatants of February 1848, the Communards of 1870-71 and the anarcho-syndicalists of the Banquet Years” observed a contemporary, Gérard Noiriel, author a history of France ‘from below.’ Indeed, these rebel traditions go back much earlier, to the Feudal period, with its periodic uprisings of peasants burning landlord’s chateaux and urban rioters taking over towns.
Like Yellow Vest rebellion, all these historical uprisings were initially about excessive and unfair taxes, like the Tithe of 10% (imposed by the wealthy Catholic Church on the poor), the royalGabelle tax on salt (necessary for life and preserving foodstuffs) and the Corvée (days of free labor owed to the noble landlord, the Church and the government.) Although violent, these spontaneous, self-organized risings eventually led to the democratic republic, the Rights of Man, free secular education, etc. – all again under threat again in 2018 when the Yellow Vests burst on the scene.
Popular Risings, Elite Contempt
The other common denominator between the Yellow Vests and historical popular movements is the near-universal contempt with which they were treated by France’s elite classes: the royalty, the nobility, the upper clergy, under the Old Regime and in the 21st century the elites of the “political” class – public officials, administrators, and politicians, including the bureaucracies of the unions and Left parties along with the establishment intellectuals and media pundits.
Apparently not so much had changed since the Old Regime. Then, the nobles derisively referred to any peasant as “Jacques Bonhomme” (Goodfellow Jack), and to their violent uprisings as “Jacqueries.” Similarly, in 2018, the government, the media, and the official Left (parties and unions) presented the Yellow Vests as uncooth red-necks, fascists, anti-semites, or violent vandals, while reducing their generalized anger at the system to the issue of fuel taxes.
Even the Left showed little sympathy for this self-organized, autonomous uprising of desperate and angry lower middle class people who, out of long experience, had openly rejected being represented by union and party leaders and insisted on speaking for themselves – rendering the Left, their “natural representatives,” un-necessary. Plus, the Yellow Vests lived in “places no one had ever heard of” and sang the Marseillaise while demonstrating. So the unions and Left parties, as usual embroiled in infighting among themselves, instead of supporting the Yellow Vests’ struggle against Macron and offering leadership by example, snubbed them and left the field open to the Right. LePen’s people (also embroiled in internal squabbles) attempted to manipulate the movement, but made little headway, as did belatedly Melanchon with slightly more success. Meanwhile, the Yellow Vests’ insistance on their autonomy, their rejection of “representation,” and their suspicion of parties and leaders, Right or Left, only hardened as they began to develop their own forms of self-organized networks and assemblies. Some of these, like the public compilation Cahiers de Doléances (Notebooks of complaints and demands) and the call for a new Constitutional Convention, were literally borrowed from the 18th century French Revolution.
Macron was also hated for his truly monarchical arrogance, ruling alone like Louis XIV, imposing his will by decrees, ignoring his opponents and patronizing the common people in a pedantic style that humiliated and enraged them. By dismissing the Yellow Vests as “a hate-filled mob”, haughtily refusing to address their issues, and then violently repressing them despite their popularity, Macron revealed the vast gap between his authoritarian, neo-liberal regime and the mass of the French population. The French had elected him in 2017, in the run-off following the first round collapse of the traditional parties of the Left and the Right. Macron, who had never run for public office before, was a whiz-kid graduate of the National School of Administration, former Rothchild bank executive and later Minister of Economy, Industry and Internet Technology in François Hollande’s unpopular, neo-liberal Socialist Party government. His independent first-round candidature won only 18%, but on the second round Macron was elected President as a stop-gap to prevent the victory of Marine LePen of the extreme-right, openly racist National Front. He had no real mandate and no structured political party behind him, despite his parlementary majority. But it took the Yellow Vests insurrection, coming “out of nowhere,” to reveal the hollowness of his regime.
France in Crisis? Hegemonic Balance Sheet: An autocratic President without a party or a mandate. Crowds calling for him to resign. A desperate lower class population angry over growing economic inequality in a rich country and government indifference to their plight. A class of organized civil servants and unionized workers still licking their wounds and paying their bills after failing to block the President’s counter-reforms last Spring. Traditional parties — Left (Socialists, etc.) and Right (Gaullists etc.) — that have alternated in power since the end of WWII diminished and eclipsed. The parties of the far Left (Melanchon, various Trotskyists, etc.) and the far Right (the former National Front) are too preoccupied with internal fights to play any significant role.. Powerful, effective mass media dominated by the interests of big business but viewed with suspicion by more and more of the population. A brand-new “leaderless” spontaneous mass movement connected by social media, “finding its way by walking,” more or less consciously embedded in a long history of rebellions and struggle, finding its natural leaders (“good thinkers, good talkers” like old Guillaume Carle), putting forth its own ideas for the reorganization of society. Here are the two latest proposals coming from the Yellow Vests and borrowed from the history the 18th Century French revolution. First, a call for a kind of democratic constituent assembly. Second, the creation of Cahiers de doléances(Grievance Notebooks) like the ones in 1788 listing all the people’s complaints and proposed remedies. Both great ideas. Given the hollowness of the hegemony of the French political class, the convenience of social media for self-organization, and the desperate desire for dignity and participatory democracy incarnated in this latest historical uprising, it was off to a great start at the end of 2018. Allready by January 2019 its achievements are impressive and permanent. The Yellow Vests had succeeded in unmasking and discrediting Macron, the neo-liberal wunderkind who was supposed to have Thatcherized France and was now so hated that the remaining years of his mandate were in question.
The Yellow Vests had also unmasked and discredited the mass media, particularly television networks, which had supposedly hypnotized the ignorant masses who now were seen as corrupt, overpaid propagandists for the billionaire class.
The Yellow Vests had also succeeded – wonder of wonders! – in unmasking and discrediting the hegemonic myth of representative “democracy” with its unrepresentative “political class” of professional politicians of right left and center.
The Yellow Vests had also succeeded in discreding the union leaders, who attempted to monopolize the “representation” of labor in order to sit at the table with the bosses government and sell out the workers.
These genies could never again be put back in the bottle.
These were amazing achievements for a movement that came out of nowhere and was only seven weeks old and still growing. The hegemony of the French ruling classes was hanging by slender threads of increasingly counter-productive violence and lies. The French popular masses, already famous for their anger and cynicism, were furious at being taken for fools by their betters and joyful at feeling their own strength and solidarity. No one knew where all this would end.
In any case, one thing was certain. The French establishment, non-plussed by an incomprehensible leaderless movement which refuses to be coopted back into the system, reacted crudely with an onslaught of violence and lies. Although partly successful, these repressive tactic also backfired in a serious way, depriving the French political class, already weak and divided, of its legitimacy and threatening its hegemony. Let’s take a closer look at this campaign of state repression and establishment propaganda.
The unprecedented violence unleashed by the “forces of order” over the previous five Saturday gatherings, invisible in the mainstream media, had been taking its toll on activists, as videos of police brutality and hideous injuries circulated on YouTube, on alternative new sites like Médiapart, and through the Yellow Vest Facebook pages.
These new tactics, officially named PROJECT FEAR, were explicitly designed to intimidate. So are the harsh sentences imposed on Yellow Vest demonstrators arrested as casseurs (vandals) for as little as possessing bike helmets, gas masks, and ski goggles considered “evidence” of “conspiracy” and “intention to attack the forces of order.” These items are now so common, that the local Bricorama (“Home Depot”) strategically displays ski goggles right next to yellow emergency vests, yet such demonstrators are routinely herded straight from the street into Room 24, a 24-hour emergency courtroom where they are sent to jail after summary trials.
From the very beginning of the movement on Nov. 17, Yellow Vests had been systematically repressed by the government through massive use of tear gas, flash bombs, pepper spray, water canons and police truncheons. In a report published on Friday, Human Rights Watch said that France’s “crowd-control methods maim people,” pointing to cases where protesters were wounded by rubber projectiles and tear gas grenades.
At the same time, the mainstream media systematically played up vandalism against property (windows broken, cars burned) during demonstrations – while failing to expose indiscriminate police brutality and the many serious injuries including the murder of an 80 year old Arab woman hit in the head with a flashball while attempting to shutter her balcony windows. Here are some gruesome videos which you may not want to look at showing what happens when police are licensed to deliberately aim their flashball and gas grenades at people’s faces.
Given the demographics of the more than 5,000 people arrested in 2018, few fit the stereotype of young, black-clad casseurs (vandals) and fascists, whom the government and media blame for the violence. Many of them, provincials, had in fact come out to protest (and gone to Paris) for the first time in their lives. The Yellow Vests I have seen here in Montpellier appeared mostly middle-aged. They, and their Parisian counterparts, didn’t look a bit like the typical black block “anarchists” who were visible on countless videos and who somehow never seemed to get arrested – although some had been filmed climbing aboard police vehicles.
This contradiction might be one explanation for why, despite all attempts to castigate them as “perpetrators of unacceptable violence,” the government’s and media’s ongoing rhetoric about security has been quite ineffective. Indeed, it had mainly succeeded in de-legitimizing their authors. The contrast between official reports and those of eyewitnesses and videos on Facebook was too glaring. The narrative was always about demonstrators violently “attacking police,” however not a single injured policeman had been seen on T.V. in 2018
Moreover, Macron’s militarized state over-reaction to a mass political demonstration broke with a long tradition of tolerance for muscled demonstrations by rowdy angry farmers and militant labor unions. A tolerance Macron, in speeches, had blamed for the failure of previous governments to pass needed pro-business counter-reforms.
Not only had this rebellion persisted despite unprecedented police brutality, media misrepresentation, and rejection by labor union officials, it had retained its grass-roots popularity and deepened its goals – from an initial rejection of a tax increase on Diesel fuel to explicit rejection of the established political/economic system and to near-unanimous call for the resignation of Macron and the creation of a new kind of democracy via referendum or constitutional convention.
Moreover, French students had joined the uprising, protesting Macron’s introduction of anti-democratic selection in college admissions, with 170 high schools disrupted in answer to the “Black Tuesday” appeal by their union. There has also been a revival of strikes and protests among civil servants, nurses and educators, all inspired by the Yellow Vests’ success in wringing concessions from Macron, whose onslaught of pro-business, neo-liberal counter-reforms organized labor, hamstrung by its collaborationist leaders, failed to stop the previous Spring. The apparent rift with the ecological movement had also been breached as demonstrations from the two movements combined in action under the slogan “End of the Month/End of the World: Same Cause/Same Enemy.” Likewise, marchers from the feminist “End Violence Against Women” had been honored and welcome by the Yellow Vests.
Meanwhile, the epidemic of Yellow Vest had inspired revolts has spread to Belgium, Great Britain, Portugal, Holland, Hungary, Iraq, Lebanon, Egypt and beyond, recalling the Internet-propagated contagion of the 2011 Arab Spring and “Occupy” movements and even provoking the Egyptian military government to ban the sale of yellow emergency vests. But German Amazon workers were shown wearing yellow vests during their annual Christmas attempt to strike and disrupt the company’s profits during the busiest time of the year in an international effort that includes Polish Amazon workers.
Armed with social media on which to coordinate mass actions and to debate goals and methods from the local to the national and international levels, there is no technical reason why this self-organized insurrection cannot surpass the uncoordinated movements of 2011 and take root everywhere. So far in 2018, as far as France was concerned, the missing political elements remained the full participation of the industrial working class and of the North African and African immigrant population, which have not yet showed up en masse.
Role of Internet and social media.
What technological changes in late 18th Century France made it possible for scattered, short-lived anti-feudal risings to grow into a national democratic revolution? The communications revolution of the period was marked by the development of roads and mail service that enabled revolutionary Committees of Correspondence to coordinate and organize discontent on a national level. Likewise, the development of cheap printing enabled the flourishing of revolutionary papers like The Peoples’ Friend of J-P Marat, who warned the Sans Culottes of reactionary plots against them. The same advances in communication helped activate the 1776 Revolution in the American colonies, with Franklin’s post office, Committees of Correspondance and Thomas Paine’s radical Common Sense.
In the late 19th and 20th centuries, on the contrary, the development of a mass press owned by commercial interests and later the development of radio/tv broadcasting mainly served as instruments of top-down commercial (advertizing) and political propaganda exploited by big business and powerful leaders from Hitler and Stalin to Churchill, Roosevelt and De Gaulle. However, in the 21st century, the developent of Internet technology including social networks, Youtube, independent news sites and blogs returned the advantage to the revolutionary mass movements, from the Zapatistas (dates) through XXXX to the Yellow Vests.
French protest movements had been frequent in the 20th century, but this one, organized on the internet, was different. Welling up rapidly from rural and forgotten France, this broad-based, citizen-driven movement was among the most serious challenges. “This is the first time we’re seeing a mobilization that’s coming from the social networks, and not led by the political parties or the unions,” said Jean-Yves Camus, a political scientist who headed the Observatory on Political Radicalism…. “We’re hungry and we’re fed up,” said Jessica Monnier, 28, who worked in a watch factory in the French Alps. She earns €970 a month, and said: “Once I pay my bills, I don’t have enough to eat. We’re just hungry, that’s all.”
TRANSPARENCY The power of transparancy was made clear 40 years ago in Poland, when the Solidarnosc representatives of striking workers at the Gdansk shipyard insisted on carrying out their negotiations with management over an open mike. The Yellow Vests accomplished the same transparency with their cell-phones Theoretical implication: the Boétie paradox.
La Boétie, the 17th Century gentleman best known among scholars as the inspiration for the philosopher Montaigne’s oft-quoted Essay on “Friendship” and among anarchists as the author of Voluntary Servitude, in which he proves that the masters and tyrants who dominate our lives are totally dependant on our cooperation and acquiescence since, to paraphrase the romantic poet Shelley “We are many, they are few. The Boétie paradox has always reminded me of the fable about the mice who realize that if they put a bell on the cat they will all be safe from his predations. The Boétie problem is “Who will bell the cat?”
Historically, Anarchist individualists, who scorn the passivity of the sheeplike masses, have often assume that vanguard role personally through “propaganda of the deed,” assasinating tyrants, bombing institutions, smashing bank windows and fighting cops in order as an example to awaken the masses. Revolutionary party leaders had often claimed the vanguard role for their organizations, only to end up tyranizing over the masses after having overthrown the former tyrants. The Yellow Vests, taking advantages of the potential of Internet social media for horizontal self-organization, seemed to have figured out the trick of solving the Boétie problem.
After discussing tactics and goals on-line and at local meetings, the Yellow Vests could coordinate a national strategy and then all rise up at once, with no vanguard ringleaders for masters to either repress or coopt. Hence their stated aversion to the leadership of the established union federations and to the political parties of both the Right and Left. They knew their strength is that of numbers and that their autonomy depended, paradoxically, on their anonymity as individuals who refused to be identified as “spokespersons” susceptible to being dragged into the bourgeois comedy of “representation.”
The Yellow Vests could also exchange information, free of the lies of officials and the distortions of the mainstream media, for example about the reality of unbrideled police violence and the fiscal scams in the fine print of Macron’s concessions. They had shown themselves capable of converging from every corner of France at the very seat power and wealth, the Champs Elysées and Napoléon’s Triumphal Arch. And then coming back again and again despite being subject to militarized police violence on the streets while being projected as “vandals” in the media. They had also continuously slowed traffic all over France, making tolls free, filtering cars at roundabouts and shopping centers, talking with people and amongst themselves, often over coffee or other beverages and comestibles. From the Internet, they came out of their houses, got to know each other, formed trust and descended into the streets.
After ignoring them, they government actually granted unprecedented public concessions (however cheezy the terms) which they slowly digested and found too little too late. This snack gave the taste of blood to these angry French small-town folk, civil servents, small business and farmer, hard-pressed working families, around whom other angry French people wre grouping.
So today we celebrate the 100th anniversary of the popular risings in France that spread throughout Europe and opened the door to planetary consciousness, the overcoming of capital’s strangle-hold on human activity, and the emergence of today’s global federation of sustainable, democratic, egalitarian societies.
The main achievements of the GJs in 2018 was their total rupture with the past tactics and the awakening of possibility. The first among peoples stopped the 50 year old neo-liberal world-wide offensive and turned the tide of social struggle on the eve of the impending market crash.