[Marxism] “The Gilets Jaunes have blown up the old political categories”

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Thu Dec 13 06:43:07 MST 2018

Given its inherent complexity, the international media have so far 
largely failed to make sense of the puzzling yellow vest phenomenon, 
with many reports lapsing into an uncritical regurgitation of the 
disdaining moralism proffered by the French bourgeoisie. One columnist 
for The Guardian even wrote that they had “never seen the kind of wanton 
destruction that surrounded me on some of the smartest streets of Paris 
on Saturday — such random, hysterical hatred, directed not just towards 
the riot police but at shrines to the French republic itself such as the 
Arc de Triomphe.” For good measure, the author added that “an extreme 
wing of the gilets jaunes has turned towards the nihilist detestation of 
democratic institutions and symbols of success and wealth.”

On Monday, the unreconstructed soixante-huitard class traitor Daniel 
Cohn-Bendit decided to chime in as well, condemning the gilets jaunes — 
true to style as a classical Bourbon reactionary — for their “extreme” 
and “frightening” violence, while saying nothing of the notorious 
brutality of the French riot police. Some of the most horrific injuries 
inflicted by the CRS and the BAC on Saturday included a young woman in 
Paris who lost an eyeball after being shot in the head with a rubber 
bullet, and a man in Nantes who lost a hand after he accidentally picked 
up a stun grenade thinking it was a teargas canister. The gilets jaunes, 
of course, have yet to deploy armored vehicles, fire any weapons or 
dismember a policeman. Their “violence”, as Pamela Anderson — of all 
people! — has so cogently argued, has been almost entirely symbolic.

For all his bourgeois hallucinations, however, it should be clear that 
Cohn-Bendit’s derision of the gilets jaunes is far from an isolated 
occurrence; indeed, it neatly reflects the intense contempt in which the 
French ruling class have historically held the uneducated jacques 
bonhommes, the insolent frondeurs, the ill-mannered sans-culottes — in 
short, all the uncultured peasants and lumpen who somehow mustered the 
conceit to insubordinate the divine authority of the king. The 
widespread use of the term casseurs is a testament to this, as is the 
statement by Interior Minister Christophe Castaner last week that “the 
movement has given birth to a monster.” It was a choice of words that 
would not have stood out among the litany of dehumanizing abuse the 
Versaillais once hurled at the communards, before proceeding to 
indiscriminately massacre over 20,000 working-class Parisians accused of 
having participated in the revolt of 1871. As the celebrated young 
French author Édouard Louis astutely put it, the gilets jaunes, just 
like their predecessors, “represent a sort of Rorschach test for a large 
part of the bourgeoisie, [forcing] them to express their class contempt 
and the violence that they usually only express in an indirect way.”

The reality of the matter is that it is not the movement itself, but the 
neoliberal restructuring of French society that has given birth to a 
monster — the monster of a resurgent nationalist far-right. It should 
not come as a surprise, then, that the gilet jaune phenomenon started 
out on the wrong foot, as an anti-tax protest initiated by a number of 
people with known anti-immigrant views and prior association with 
far-right groups. In the first weeks of the roadblocks, the media widely 
reported a number of disturbing incidents of racist, sexist and 
homophobic abuse, especially in some of the more peripheral areas of 
France. It is also undeniable that several ultra-nationalist, 
monarchist, fascist and neo-Nazi elements have actively participated in 
the clashes in Paris in recent weeks.

Nevertheless, despite this problematic start and the continued reference 
to symbols of national unity like the tricolor and the Marseillaise, the 
yellow vest uprising quickly overflowed the capacity of far-right 
elements or Le Pen’s Rassemblement National to claim the movement as 
their own. As the protests spread like a wildfire and spilled over into 
a generalized popular insurrection against the child-king Macron and his 
neoliberal stooges, hundreds of thousands of self-declared “apolitical” 
citizens — most of them first-time protesters with no prior street 
fighting experience — were drawn into the roadblocks and mass 
demonstrations. As a result, the social composition and ideological 
orientation of the movement has become increasingly diverse with every 
passing act of the revolt, opening up to a greatly expanded constituency 
between the relatively conservative Act I and the near-insurrectionary 
Acts III and IV.


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