Perspectives on the Yellow Vests

An insurrection can erupt at any time, for any reason, and lead anywhere.

- The Invisible Committee

Emerging from a petition and a Facebook event opposing a proposed ‘eco-tax’ on diesel, the Gilets Jaunes (Yellow Vest) movement has seen over a month of insurrection rage across France and has thrown the Macron government and the broader establishment into crisis. This insurrection has included the blocking of infrastructure, roads, ports and petrol stations, the destruction of tolls, ongoing confrontations with the police, and the looting of rich urban areas.  As we write, the Macron government has had to stage a humiliating backdown, offering to suspend the introduction of the tax, raise the minimum wage and introduce tax relief for pensioners – thus potentially breaking EU’s Stability and Growth Pact. Yet this doesn’t seem to have made much difference. The movement continues to develop, and calls are circulating for the formation of popular assemblies to allow people to collectively solve the problems confronting them. The Yellow Vest as a symbol of rebellion and popular anger is spreading around the world – from Belgium to Basra. Egypt has pre-emptively restricted the selling of yellow vests.  The Yellow Vests movement seems to be encountering other struggles and movements, and the lines between them are becoming porous. By the time we publish this collection of links, they will have been overtaken by events

However, the Yellow Vest movement has also produced a fair amount of concern and confusion amongst friends and comrades. It is important to reject the ridiculous practice of much of the Australian Left that sees one of its roles as sitting in adjudication of international struggles and offering scorecard-like assessments based on aging dogma. Is there anything more pathetic? Whether it is uncritical cheerleading or dour pedantic criticism, both options fail to do what is really important – trying to understand what these revolts are actually all about and seeing how they may or may not resonate with our own experiences and struggles.

But it must be noted that the Yellow Vests provide a host of concerns and challenges, which block many comrades’ engagement with the movement.

Firstly there is the question of Macron. For those who see the threat to humanity as crystallising in the figure of Trump, then Macron offered the hope of the anti-Trump, the well-dressed slayer of populism. The fact that his policy agenda was solely dedicated to further grinding people under the wheel of capital was less important than his symbolic role as a cultured leader of Global Centrism. Such attachments to Macron deserve contempt.

But there are more serious stumbling blocks.

Firstly, there is the political ambiguity of the Yellow Vests. This insurrection has emerged seemingly separate to the language, traditions and organisations of the Left and trade unions and contains within it fascists and monarchists as well as radicals. And its opposition to an ‘eco-tax’ can be spun into a popular rejection of ecological concerns. You can find online photos of some participants with hammers and sickles on their vests and others with references to #QAnon scrawled on theirs (and, famously, the demand to ‘Buy Bitcoin’). You can see red flags and flags of regions such as Occitan, as well as flags supporting Trump or that of the Donetsk People’s Republic.

Secondly, there is the question of the composition of the movement. Both in that it can be seen as both ‘middle-class’ and White. Is this a movement of the White masses to defend their share of the social order against migrants? How do the structural divisions that exist within the people, within the working class, in relation to race, play out in the movement? And in what ways does the movement challenge these divisions?

These two concerns then crystallise in concern over the pervasive presence of symbols of French nationalism – especially the use of the French flag and the singing of the La Marseillaise. Is this the smoking gun of the reactionary tendency of the movement, or is it the reactivation of French revolutionary symbolism for the challenges of the present?

This also reveals that here in Australia our relationship to this movement is, to use an older French radical language, ‘spectacular’. We watch the movement in a mediated fashion. We lack a dense net of capillary connections that join friends and comrades here with friends and comrades in France in a way that would facilitate the circulation of experiences there with our experiences here.

Thus we remain stuck obsessively observing and reading from a distance – knowing that we are inescapably misunderstanding what is happening – trying to see where this is going; which roads it opens and which it closes. The direction of the insurrection seems open and the future unclear: however it is essential that we are always on the side of the rebels.

So here are some of the links that we are reading.

What’s going on?

You can find a good intro to the struggle at Hard Crackers.

Self-organized Yellow Vest Protest Movement Exposes Inequality and Hollowness of French Regime

The movement has exploded with particular intensity in La Réunion, a neo-colony in the Indian Ocean.

A Historical Awakening: Gilets Jaunes mov’t dispatch from the island of La Réunion

Plateforme d'Enquêtes Militantes carry out some militant research into the composition and the dynamics of the movement.

On a Ridgeline: Notes on the “Yellow Vests” Movement

Novelist Édouard Louis takes on the snobbery of the political class to give air to the grievances, anger and justice of the movement.

Can the Yellow Vests Speak?

Crimethinc gets in the thick of it to tell us what’s going on.

The Yellow Vest Movement: Showdown with the State

A comrade from the Beyond Europe tells us what’s happening, who is involved, what the fascists are doing, what the government is doing and where it seems like things are going.

The Yellow Vests (‘Gilets Jaunes’)

What are the tensions in the movement?

Crimethinc analyses the movement within the movement.

The Movement as Battleground

Félix Boggio Éwanjé-Épée looks at significance of the movement, its open and undefined character and the internal struggle over its direction.

The Yellow Vest: A Floating Signifier

Ediciones Ineditos has compiled a number of translations from within the communisation perspective about the movement – this includes an important statement from the Adama Committee.

On the Gilets Jaunes: Dispatches from France

The Vests Are Always Yellower On The Other Side — An Italian Dispatch Editorial

Dec. 1st – Pushing the Disorder Further & Response by Alerta Comunista (Greece)

Aurélie Dianara looks squarely in the face of the contradictions of politics and composition within the movement and argues that it’s necessary to be involved in the thick of it.

We’re With the Rebels

Hot takes on the movement

There has been a plethora of ‘in the moment’ theorisations of what’s going on. Here are some of the better ones (mainly taken from Verso).

Cédric Durand - There’s Yellow in the Air

Joshua Clover - The Roundabout Riots

Eric Hazan  - “Paris is not an actor, but a battlefield”: Interview with Eric Hazan

Antonio Negri – French Insurrection

Chantal Mouffe - The ‘gilets jaunes’: ‘A reaction to the explosion of inequalities between the super-rich and the middle classes’

David Graeber - The “Yellow Vests” Show How Much the Ground Moves Under Our Feet

Signs of the future

Comrades from lundimatin who seem broadly on the same page as Tiqqun and The Invisible Committee analyse the movement and its context, and make an argument for turning up the volume.

France On The Brink: “Either We Topple The System Or It Will Crush Us”

Contribution to the Rupture in Progress

The Yellow Vests of Commercy make a call for the formation of popular assemblies.

Call from the Yellow Vests of Commercy to set up popular assemblies