[Marxism] On a Ridgeline: Notes on the “Yellow Vests” Movement - Viewpoint Magazine

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Mon Dec 10 06:28:05 MST 2018

First of all, the social composition of the movement. This novel 
uprising is characterized by the downwardly mobile middle classes and 
social strata undergoing proletarianization. Certainly, the familiar 
strata of public and civil servants, service workers, wage earners from 
the industrial basins, and students are present. But a whole host of 
other social segments struggling to make ends meet seem to be at the the 
forefront of the dynamic: employees of small and medium enterprises, 
shopkeepers, artisans, and the growing plethora of new forms of 
independent and precarious labor. The unity of this social diversity, 
beyond the rejection of Macron and his centrist politics (right or left, 
it doesn’t really matter), lies in a generalized feeling of having had 
enough [ras-le-bol], anchored in the materiality of living conditions. 
The violence of falling class mobility for some, the harshness of work 
for others; those who see their social rights crumbling or those who 
never really had these rights; those for whom the future suddenly 
appears to be much darker than they had expected, and those who grew up 
with a receding horizon of expectations.2 This social dimension of the 
protest, made up of wage difficulties and economic insecurity, has fed 
into the anti-politician dégagisme.3 And while there have been many 
women in the ranks of the yellow vests, it is surely because they 
experience in the first instance the double violence of having to 
support the degraded reality and seeing the all the practical aspects of 
this degradation rendered invisible.4 Seeing one’s life, and that of 
their family, friends, and neighbors becoming more and more unbearable – 
this is what pushes people to not only take their distance vis-à-vis 
representatives of the “general interest,” but to also actively commit 
themselves. And they have done so in a squarely oppositional manner, 
even through there are many political newcomers among the yellow vests.

This social composition explains in part the geographical, generational, 
and political make-up of the movement. From a territorial perspective, 
it is neither the metropolitan centers nor the low-income neighborhoods 
that are at the center of the mobilization, but rather the peri-urban 
zones, the inner suburbs, the diffuse periphery. Neither city or 
countryside, these semi-rural and semi-urban spaces constitute an 
in-between space, from both a socio-economic and political viewpoint. 
Although housing here is less expensive than elsewhere, these sites have 
the most glaring lack of public transportation. The use of a car, far 
from being a choice for a more comfortable lifestyle, stems from pure 
necessity: in order to get to work in the morning, drop off the kids at 
school, to go to classes, and head back home to sleep in the evening, 
you are forced to lock yourself up in a car and drive several dozens of 
kilometers each day, very often stuck in traffic jams. If in addition to 
all that, you have to spend thousands of euros to buy and maintain a 
vehicle, and when you already have a hard time making it to the end of 
the month…one can well understand why an iniquitous increase in the 
price fuel might represent the straw that breaks the camel’s back. 
Especially since this measure is being presented as a necessary step to 
finance the ecological transition – which adds to the economic stakes a 
clear air of blatant hypocrisy.5 As has been said many times: the 
increase in fuel prices is ecologically ineffective and socially unjust!


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