"The 'Yellow Vest' movement: the proletariat must respond to the attacks of capital on its own class terrain!"

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jk1921
"The 'Yellow Vest' movement: the proletariat must respond to the attacks of capital on its own class terrain!"
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I agree with the article that this movement is not entirely on the proletarian terrain, but it seems like the working class doesn't struggle on its own terrain until its own struggles on its terrain. Its not entirely surprising that the proletarian struggle emreges in fits and starts, lacks clarity and puts forth confused demands, even some that may seem "right-wing" at times. But I think we need to avoid the mistake of judging the action strictly by its content. Just because there are certain petty-bourgeois ideas put forward, doesn't mean that the proletariat is not present and expressing a genuine class response to the social conditions of the moment. The idea that this movement is a kind of "trap," seems too Machiavellian, even if in a figurative sense it is true that the bourgeoisie will use it to drown out a more class based response. It seems this struggle, in all its confusion and contradictions, reflects something about the historic moment we are in. But I am not sure that every protest over taxes has a petty bourgeois nature, as taxes hit the working class as well. Moreover, the idea that fossil fuels should be affordable is probably anathema to environmentalists, but the cost of petrol is probably one of the more volatile elements in the everyday budget of the proletariat. Whether it is some machinations of the OPEC cartel or the state raising taxes on fuel consumption, even relatively minor increases in the cost of fuel can have a major impact on the proletariat at the same time it drives self-employed lorry owners into bankruptcy.

baboon
The article makes it clear

The article makes it clear that the working class in all its elements is the vast majority in this mobilisation and it's the working class that's been the most affected by the state's austerity - not just fuel price increases. However, I think that this movement is something more dangerous to the working class than "certain petty-bourgeois ideas being put forward" (jk21 above). Nationalism, democracy and citizenship, even when expressed by the petty-bourgeoisie is no less dangerous for the class particularly when it's being mobilised behind it and its ideology. A point that's attracted some anarchists is the idea that "there are no leaders to the movement" but they are all over the place: various self-employed truckers, businessmen and women, academics and intellectuals, politicians from the right and left, the media, all are driving it, all speaking "on behalf of the movement". Both Marine Le Pen and the boss of the CGT have baptised the movement "legitimate", the latter indicating that the unions are becoming more involved.

There isn't a genuine class response here because in a well-documented drama such as this it would be apparant; but there's no general assemblies which are vital for discussion and direction and there is no centralised and organised expression of an autonomous class, nor anything that looks to be moving towards it. On the contrary, it's dispersal, atomisation within the crowd, "everyone", the French people.

The comparison in the article with the Arab Spring is a good one I think. There, in a great many places throughout the Middle East and North Africa, during that whole upheaval, many workers protested as individuals or were diluted in crowds sometimes led by Mullahs and the elders. But at the same time internationalist slogans and appeals for workers' solidarity appeared here and there, women demonstrated with men and youngsters, demonstrations broke ethnic divides. And there were strikes, very important strikes, some in war zones showing something more than a petty-bourgeois revolt. Turkey, Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Jordan all hit by significant strikes. The depth of that movement, a class difference to the "gilets jaunes", can be estimated by how much blood imperialism subsequently drowned it in.

I don't think that this movement of the "gilets jaunes" is a set-up or a "trap". I don't see where that comes from. It's an example of neither of the two main classes able to seize the reins and it's a further example of how the bourgeoisie turns its decomposition back onto the working class.

 

KT
Trap?

This notion of a trap on these boards probably came from the end of my intervention on an earlier thread: "This may or may not be a "testing moment" for Macron, as the media insists. But it is certainly a trap for the working class..."  I did not mean to imply that the bourgeoisie had deliberately staged the situation to confront the class - far from it! - but that for many militants (the anarchists mainly) this was a situation to be celebrated and lauded, while for the working class as a whole, there was a danger that it's energies and consciousness would be further dissipated into the multiple rivulets of  'the citizenry', struggling under the Tricolour. In fact, the situation was and is a product of the absence of the class as a distinct social force, so far. That said, the notion of a 'trap' in the wider sense is not something I particularly want to defend and the discussion shouldn't be axed around it, in my opinion. 

JK1921 is correct to infer that the proletarian struggle doesn't emerge fully formed, free of the muck of surrounding classes and their ideology, and that we should be vigilant. However I think the article - and Baboon's intervention above - are correct to note the nationalism and absence of specifically proletarian elements in this movement.

One example is the question of leadership: it interests me how much the apparent 'lack of leaders' is vaunted and promotoed by the media and the movement itself (not strictly true in any case, as Baboon points out). Nonetheless, what is strikingly absent from the events in France today is precisely the leadership of the working class, its methods of struggle, its political goals, its historic perspective, its political parties... Without these this movement is a quagmire.

 

KT
Trap 2

The article itself does contain this phrase: "...This movement of "citizens' "revolt is a trap to drown the working class in the "people of France" where bourgeois cliques are found as "supporters of the movement"...

baboon
At first glance the numbers

At first glance the numbers of "gilets jaunes" on the streets of Paris do not seem much greater than last week, if at all. Yesterday on social media there were, I don't know where or what the details were, large numbers of "gilets jaunes" having a punch-up among themselves.

I think that jk21 misread the idea of a "trap" in the sense that the "gilets jaunes" movement wasn't a machivellian plot laid out in advance, but a trap it certainly is in the sense that the working class has been corralled onto grounds that are inimical to its struggle. It is a trap in the sense that the movement is going nowhere positive except into a dead-end, an impasse as far as the working class is concerned.

jk1921
Is it still a "trap," if the

Is it still a "trap," if the proletarian class elements paticipating in this learn from the experience? It seems like everything short of the revolution itself could be called a "trap." I agree that revolutionaries should not be encouraging or promoting this kind of "citizen's movement" as some kind of means to achieving a higher end, but I think Luxemburg was right when she said that the working class movement is unique in history in that it advances not through a series of progressive victories, but through a series of defeats.

I think we have to be careful to understand the context and the direction. Is there any positive direction in the fact that proletarian elements seem to want to struggle, even if misled, or is this a step backwards from the heights (if you can call it that) of the response to the "Great Recession," ca. 2010-2011: Indignados, Wisconsin mobilizations, Occupy. Certainly, there were many problems with these movements, but we saw something positive in their direction at the time. Since then, we have had nearly a decade of intervening events: the Obama years (hard neo-liberalism dressed up as progressivism and a new anti-racist dawn); the entrenchment of identity politics; the emergence of populism; Brexit; Trump; the rise of a newly insurgent "anti-fascism" in response to this, etc.--a period in which class struggle receded to a dim light and there were predictions of an ominous rightward turn globally. Obviously, the Yellow Vests Movement is marked by all of that, but is there any semblance of a break with the more recent trajectory or is this just a throw away, a petty bourgeois, nationalist morass? 

jk1921
baboon wrote:

baboon wrote:

 Both Marine Le Pen and the boss of the CGT have baptised the movement "legitimate", the latter indicating that the unions are becoming more involved.

 

Well, even Trump has tried to claim leadership of the movement. Claimimg that the protestors are chanting, "We want Trump." That is probably fake news, but even if it weren't, what would that show? That participants are confused and disoriented? That hardly seems surprising given the broader global social situation. But just as Trump has claimed ownership of it, so have numerous leftist elements. Very confusing times, indeed. I suppose Fox News will say it is a rebellion against France's "socialism," while Jacobin will see it as a revolt against Macron's phony progressive neo-liberal austerity. Could it be both? Even if there is little proletarian content in the end, is this at least one of those "social revolts," reminiscent of the earlier period of this decade? How do we situate it in a broader context?

baboon
Incidently, there are a

Incidently, there are a couple of images from the protests over the weekend that has stuck with me: one a lone "gilet jaune" waving a large tricolore bent down on one knee in front of a charging squad of the CRS. The latter made their violent intentions known very early on on Saturday and this guy just knelt down in front of them and allowed himself to be trampled over as they made an early charge. Another was lone guy standing in an island of emptiness among the crowd, again waving a large tricolore with a sign saying "vaccination is murder".

More importantly, Jk above raises the question of "leaders" and leadership in this movement and that's indeed very relevant to this discussion. Leaders are everywhere in this movement because this is a movement of "everyone"; in fact "everyone" is the defining element and nature of this movement so there are leaders all over the place. The most obvious point about leadership though is the complete absence of working class leadership or any potential step towards it.

The ICC, the CWO, the Anarchist Communist Group (ACG) and all of the media from left to right all agree that anger is a fundamental of the yellow vest movement. But, legitimate though it is, anger alone is never enough and can be counter-productive if it stays at that level. We've already seen on the world stage how anger can be easily recuperated, manipulated by the bourgeoisie and turned back on the working class as a weapon against class consciousness.

Jk sort of puts the idea forward that something positive might come out of this movement, that options should be kept open just to be on the safe side and that this could be one of Luxemburg's "series of defeats" that, though inevitable in the class struggle, are nevertheless a step forward for it. It's a view shared by the CWO and the anarchist ACG. But this rise from the fall, learn from defeats argument, absolutely valid in the context framed by Marx and Luxemburg doesn't at all apply to this inter-classist melange. If something proletarian was to follow on from this nationalist circus it would be so far divorced from it and against it as to render any possible connection to it pure wishful thinking.

That there's "something" positive in this movement is a common theme of the anarchist ACG and the CWO (and most of leftism). The ACG carefully details its weaknesses but concludes that it's a "real popular movement with an obvious class dimension" and it would be an "admission of weakness" not to see its potential. The weakness of the anarchists here is to take a weakness of the working class for its strength.

The CWO position is even more shocking (I'm talking about the French article, the Russian one is even worse): according to the former the movement is "developing" in a positive sense and you "can't wait for pure struggle" (echoing jk's position) because the yellow vest movement is against the "conquering bourgeoisie" while calling for a "true participatory democracy from the ground up". It refers to the workers "involved" not as atomised citizens but as some kind of apparant force. None, not one of these arguments is an excuse for supporting a movement (just to be on the safe side) that's imbued with petty-bourgeois nationalism.

On the "you can't wait for pure struggle" argument, the French CWO article gives the examples of the Paris Commune and the Russian Revolution. The first according to it came out of a situation where the working class in the National Guard originally supported a patriotic response. This is a lie that was put about by the French bourgeoisie at the time and since and the CWO repeats it here. The National Guard under the proletariat was a confirmation of its existence as class and was a stage in a proletarian movement of a class for itself that was already developing. On the Russian revolution it says, it was "part of a womens' revolt for bread". There's no denying that seemingly innocuous sparks can be catalysts to set off much wider and profound movements; such is the nature of proletarian struggle. But those wider and more profound movements have to be there in the making and they were in 1905 and in the factory committees and soviets, up to 1917. The build-up to both these historic events was marked by the definition of class identity, of class against class, not inter-classist dilution.

The CWO here suggests that the movement of the "gilets jaunes" is stronger than that of the Arab Spring (it is "taking the initiative against the conquering bourgeoisie"), which I think is an inversion of reality. Among leftism there will be celebrations of the "victory against Macron" with his concessions to some of the "gilet's jaunes" demands, but these will result in further spending cuts and further attacks on the working class. This will further increase the present weakness of the working class, an analysis that the CWO however ascribes to elsewhere. There is nothing to be gained by denying this weakness as the CWO implicitly does in my opinion in its contradictory French article. There is nothing positive in the working class being sucked into a nationalist "everyone".

jk1921
baboon wrote:

baboon wrote:

Jk sort of puts the idea forward that something positive might come out of this movement, that options should be kept open just to be on the safe side and that this could be one of Luxemburg's "series of defeats" that, though inevitable in the class struggle, are nevertheless a step forward for it. It's a view shared by the CWO and the anarchist ACG. But this rise from the fall, learn from defeats argument, absolutely valid in the context framed by Marx and Luxemburg doesn't at all apply to this inter-classist melange. If something proletarian was to follow on from this nationalist circus it would be so far divorced from it and against it as to render any possible connection to it pure wishful thinking.

Learning not what to do, is often as important as learning what to do. Let's examine some other recent movements: Occupy, Indignadoes, etc., were these also "inter-classist melanges"? Your argument seems to deny the possibility of the "subterrean maturation of consciousness." Is the working-class leading this movement? No. Is it present? Yes. Is it fighting over material issues regarding its condition of life? Seems so. There is no mistake that this is ultimatel a dead-end as movement itself, but that doesn't mean that it can't be a learning moment in the SMC. Could this also lead to demoralization? It could, but I think that depends on the historical context, which is why I put forward the wave of struggles from 2009-2011, the intervening half a decade plus of populism and political confusion and now this: a social movement that appears to have caught the bourgeoisie off guard, a spontaneous eruption from the remanant of civil society that if not a pure class movement, neverthless reflects a real anger over the conditions of life. This does not appear to have been some orchestrated "trap" or "maneover" by the organs of the state, even if they will ultimately get control of it.

d-man
Like I said on the earlier

Like I said on the earlier thread (on the yellow vests), the ICC's application of standards isn't consistent. In case of the "Arab spring" there was even a greater amount of waving of national flags, but that didn't stop the ICC from giving it enthusiastic support (and this support was one of the reasons for some Turkish comrades in the minority to be critical). Jk1921 brings up the concept of "subterrean maturation of consciousness", which in my view is a flawed concept which can be used to support any kind of movement, but he's right to throw it in the ICC's face (so to speak). As to the petty-bourgeois presence, let's remember that Mohamed Bouazizi, who put himself on fire in Tunisia which started the protests, was himself a street vendor. It is obvious that the petty-bourgeoisie covers a wide range of people, including those close to the living conditions of workers. Macron's speech, which made (pseudo-)concessions on purchasing power, is proof that even the bourgeoisie understands that the yellow vests are now, or at least run the risk to become, driven by the working class. I'm all for ruthless critique of movements, this is the task of communists, but you have to be consistent then.

About the protests being held on each Saturday (which by this point gets to be a repititive), I think it was said that this was perhaps due to the protesters being workers, who cannot afford to miss work (and paycheck) on a week day. If they are to stay independent of unions, they can't rely on their strike funds. Perhaps this is also a practical reason for why workers act as "atomised citizens". To act as a really independent class, it would be basically necessary to go on an indefinite general strike, and to win an insurrection against the forces of power. I don't think the ICC falls into such "immediatism", I think it wants (as always) to see workers committees of action, etc. But in practice, as intervention by militants, this amounts to basically the same "enthusiatic" position of the WSWS (whose position, like Tagore said, it is interesting to contrast with the ICC). So in a sense, it doesn't matter what our differences are (even leaving aside the pseudo-argument about our small numbers).

 

Teivos
Tendencies driving the Yellow Vest Movement

If you think that the Arab Spring was of the same characteristics as the 'Yellow Vests', and that the ICC has treated equivalent movements in different ways, why not direct the discussion activity to clarify these differences and similarities, instead of "throwing things at the face " of the ICC? We should understand the evolution of class struggle since then. In fact, the ICC did not give this kind of general "enthusiastic support" to the Arab spring but it was very critical with the democratic illusions which were carrying it to a dead end.
The working class can learn from all events in society: from bourgeois politics, from movements in which it is absorbed by the bourgeoisie, from war itself. That does not mean 'per se' that the mobilization of the working class is always for the benefit of itself (I am not discarding that the Yellow Vests might have some potential proletarian characteristics in a certain degree -but are these able to overcome the democratic-nationalist tendency? is it showing signs of extension?). Additionally, nowadays, when the working class is living in a decomposing capitalist society it´s much more difficult to find its own means of struggle (which need to show a tendency toward open general assemblies, solidarity and internationalism-which are nothing else than characteristics of the nature of the working class-). Sometimes this tendency appears but is very weak and not the main driver of the movement. Sometimes the working class might spontaneously show rage towards its situation but direct its anger toward scapegoats (evil elite politicians and bussinessman, or even qualitatively worse: immigrants), because burgeois ideology is not just implemented by conscious manipulation. I agree here with 'baboon' in the sense that it might be a trap, even when it was not at the first instance prepared by the burgeoisie, and might be directed toward demoralization, isolation and purely gregarious hooliganlike enlisting. We also have to pay attention to the burgeoisie insistence on its leadersless character while this is not true at all. This apparent "lack of influence of any kind" is totally naïve and spreads the democratic thinking. It could be also positive to compare this to NuitDebout, so we can understand better the machiavellianism of the bourgeoisie in order to not be paranoid but also not naïve. Also, place this events in an international context and analyse the characteristcs of its apparent weak spread to Belgium and perhaps other countries: is it really solidarity and internationalism?

Teivos

d-man
comparison

True, the ICC's reaction to the Arab spring was also critical, how could it not be, when for example there were monarchist flags waved by protestors in Libya: http://en.internationalism.org/forum/1056/d-man/4256/libya-popular-uprising-buried-bourgeois-faction-fights

It spoke of merely social revolts against the state, of intitial popular uprising, where the working class is mixed in, that gets recuperated by bourgeois factions, and the weakness of the proleterat to assert itself, and so on. But I feel this was just token-criticism, as opposed to the general position that was at first adopted with regard to the yellow vests (Tagore even using the term Poujadism).

One of the first articles was titled: Revolts in Egypt and the Arab states: The spectre of the development of the class struggle.

And earlier, on Tunisia in particular Baboon commented: "There is no doubt about the spontaneous nature of this uprising and it's one more expression of the fight back of the working class."

" The present movements of youth affecting Europe, Asia, the Middle East, Africa and the Americas, as far as I can see, have been expressions of a proletarian response, even if they've been mixed up with a democratic idealism that will only deliver more of the same. And while the latter remains the greatest danger in the longer term, these expressions are part of the fight back of the working class and, to some extent, have unsettled the actions of the major imperialisms. "

As for extention to neighbouring countries, well in Bulgaria there were already protests against fuel tax I believe and the French yellow vests are inspiring some protests in other countries. Of course it should expand, there is no difference between the enthusiastic WSWS and the cautious ICC on this score fundamentally.

 

 

baboon
"token criticism"?

Read any of the ICC's reports on the Arab Spring, most of the reports on the class struggle (2016, for example) and you will find anything but "token criticism" on the weaknesses and dangers of that general movement, right up to events in Spain. It would help the discussion, it would be a good starting point, if you were to address the actual texts of the ICC rather than dismissing them as phoney. There's no discussion to be had if your idea is that the ICC's 'real' position is hidden behind a subtefuge of tokenism

 

d-man
Nobody ever endorses

Nobody ever endorses something 100% in blind faith. Any fundamental/"real" support or endorsement always comes also with criticisms, caveats and some hedging of bets. They can be called token-criticisms. You are claiming that the ICC's criticism of the "Arab spring" is of the same degree of sharpness as that of the yellow vests today. I just quoted the title itself of one of the articles on the "Arab spring", which read: "The spectre of the development of the class struggle". Just compare that to the assessment of today's protests in France: proletarians running around like turkeys, no proletarian methods, just inter-classist petty-bourgeois movement, rise of far-right/Le Pen at the next elections. So I think it's clear that the assessments are different, it's another question whether deservedly so or not, but you haven't deigned to address that.

slothjabber
How does the proletariat respond?

Movements (especially at the start) are very confused about their own direction and develop by contradictory jumps. 

Some of the slogans and statements coming from the <<gilets jaunes>> are confused, some genuinely nationlistic, some proletarian. 'Tax petrol profits, not the workers' - 'the real disturbance is injustice' - 'down with caviar! Long live kebabs!' - 'against the state, the cops and the bosses (A)' - 'no Christmas for the bourgeoisie' - 'we want some cash while we wait for communism' - 'XThiersX The Commune High School is angry!' - express anger but not necessarily a way forward for the proletariat. I'm going to mention the decking of a prominent French fascist as well, because there may be fascists trying to take control of the movement but that is not uncontested, and not every blow against fascists is a blow for bourgeois democracy, sometimes it actually is a blow for the working class.

On the other hand there have been calls for mass assemblies to determine the direction of the movement. The protests (or protests inspired by them) have reportedly spread to Belgium, the Netherlands, Serbia and Montenegro. It's inspired high-school and university students to protest against student poverty, and the police repression of the young people has led to more massive protests - state repression in this case is fuelling the protests and the questions of student debt and state repression are becoming linked. Students are being radicalised before our very eyes, learning the hard way about capitalism and the state. The CRS have been, on the one hand, beating workers, students and the elderly, and on the other, have been chased from the streets by angry... workers? Petites-bourgoises? Lumpens? Youths of indeterminate class composition? Sometimes it doesn't matter so much.

It's not a revolution. It's not even a pre-revolutionary situation. But there are lots of angry workers involved. Where can they go next? Strikes seem the obvious next step. Mass assemblies would be marvellous to see. They don't exist at the moment. But the proletariat needs to learn to fight ('we want cash while we wait for communism' might also be understood to mean 'we want struggle while we wait for revolution'). And while it does, what should be the attitude of communists to the movement?

Concretely, how do we apply this to the current situation - "... In the national struggles of the proletarians of the different countries, they point out and bring to the front the common interests of the entire proletariat, independently of all nationality. 2. In the various stages of development which the struggle of the working class against the bourgeoisie has to pass through, they always and everywhere represent the interests of the movement as a whole."?

I'd argue, that we must be involved in the protests and the discussions workers are having, and everywhere we can we warn against letting the unions, the leftists, or the right take control, we warn against trusting the promises of the state, we warn against the traps of nationalism; and we instead put forward solidarity, mass assemblies, class struggle and extension both inside and outside the national framework as being the path to ending capitalism and all nations.

This is not the revolution or anything like it. But it's part of the proletariat's learning process. If we think we have any answers or even insights at all we have to be presenting these to the class. Not on message boards and small periodicals and tiny meetings (not that I have anything against those as forms, in fact I approve of all of them, but they're not appropriate to what is necessary at the moment) but as far as possible where workers and students actually are, out in the streets.

KT
'Victories'?

It’s a lot easier for the proletariat’s political organisations to intervene in the decision-making assemblies of working class expressions when they actually exist! This is possibly the biggest difference between the present events and those of the anti-CPE assembles in 2006 and the four-year long, international and varied phenomena that constituted the inadequately labelled ‘Arab Spring’.

“In 2011, we saw the wave of social revolts in the Middle East and Greece, culminating in the Indignados movement in Spain and “Occupy” in the USA. The proletarian element in these movements varied from country to country, but it was at its strongest in Spain, where we saw in the widespread adoption of the assembly form; a powerful internationalist impulse which welcomed expressions of solidarity by participants from all round the world and where the slogan of “world revolution” was taken seriously, perhaps for the first time since the 1917 revolutionary wave; a recognition that “the system is obsolete” and a strong will to discuss the possibility of a new form of social organisation. … Of course, most of these movements had many weaknesses, which we have analysed elsewhere, not least a tendency for the participants to see themselves as “citizens” rather than proletarians, and thus a real vulnerability to democratic ideology…,”(Fifty years since May 1968: The advances and retreats in the class struggle since 1968, International Review 161, p 13).

Nonetheless it’s indeed necessary to intervene in the manifestations even if their direction has already been decided by forces who shudder at the very idea that “the system is obsolete”. Intervene with articles like the one under discussion, and the leaflet based on it. Precisely because, as the article from the outset asserts the breadth of this movement is above all witness to the immense anger which eats away in the entrails of society and notably within the working class faced with the austerity of the Macron government.”

We all know the quote from Marx’s letter to Ruge: “We shall not say: Abandon your struggles, they are mere folly; let us provide you with true campaign-slogans. Instead, we shall simply show the world why it is struggling, and consciousness of this is a thing it must acquire whether it wishes or not.”  That seems to me the approach of the ICC’s article: to show clearly why the struggle has broken out, who is directing it and what the working class must become conscious of it is to succeed. Above all, it points to the need for the class to act as such – as a class, with its own methods of organisation. As Slothjabber points out, this is not the case at present, thus this is the primary need of the class struggle.

On the question of learning lessons through defeats, this too is harder when the movement appears to have succeeded: succeeded in pushing back the attacks of the state; succeeded in scrapping the fuel-price rises; succeeded in raising the minimum wage; succeeded in forcing the Government into a humiliating climb-down. Hoorah! But what is the lesson of all this? That the working class doesn’t need its own organs! Doesn’t need its assemblies and councils. Doesn’t need to control and extend its own movement. Doesn’t even need to recognise itself as a class… These temporary ‘victories’ (in reality, tactical retreats by the ruling class) have been bought at the price of a further depression of the development of class consciousness within the proletariat, however short-lived.

Re the violence witnessed in the events: again the article is clear: “Before anyone else, it's the forces of repression which are aggressive and provocative! On November 24 in Paris, tear-gas grenades were incessant, as were the charges of the CRS on groups of men and women marching peacefully along the Champs-Élysées.” There were also reports that (as in 2006) French cops donned yellow vests and smashed windows in order to blacken the movement and to provide pretexts for further repression, reports denied by the government as ‘fake news’. The widely circulating videos of police in the French regions encircling and beating schoolchildren are indeed sickening.

jk1921
KT wrote:

KT wrote:

On the question of learning lessons through defeats, this too is harder when the movement appears to have succeeded: succeeded in pushing back the attacks of the state; succeeded in scrapping the fuel-price rises; succeeded in raising the minimum wage; succeeded in forcing the Government into a humiliating climb-down. Hoorah! But what is the lesson of all this? That the working class doesn’t need its own organs! Doesn’t need its assemblies and councils. Doesn’t need to control and extend its own movement. Doesn’t even need to recognise itself as a class… These temporary ‘victories’ (in reality, tactical retreats by the ruling class) have been bought at the price of a further depression of the development of class consciousness within the proletariat, however short-lived.

I have a difficult time seeing this as a necessary conclusion. It could be the case, but I think the moment is more contingent than you suggest. The ICC has always made a distinction between the development of the combativity of the working class and its consciousness. At the very least, these events seem to demonstrate a increase in combativity, which although not enough in itself may be an important development compared to the electorlist expressions of wroking class anfer over the previous years channeld through populism: Trump, Brexit, etc. and even Macron marketed himself in a pseudo-populist way as a departure from the establishment consensus. This, of course, doesn't mean that populism as a kind of electoral recuperation of working class anger is over. The discrediting of Macron could lead the way for Le Pen, but it is also clear that there is a certain willingness to go beyond electoralist expression of anger. Of course, one has to ask compared to what? Compared to the Indignadoes, this movement likely looks more like a set-back, but compared to Occupy, its less clear: Occupy championed the assembly form, but in a highly refied way, and the movement itself was quite isolated, mixed and confused, regrouping only a small minority of the proletariat, along with all kinds of other elements: professional activists, etc.

But as the examples Slotbjabber posts, the consciousness expressed in the yellow vests movement is highly heterogenous, there are obviously certain nationalist elements present, and perhaps even a certain protectionist sentiment emanating from the bottom-up regarding the migrant issue, but there are also expressions of class anger and even calls for communism.

KT
Leaders or led?

Some pertinent issues raised by JK1921 above. The comrade is correct to draw out the distinction - as well as the dynamic, the relationship - between proletarian combativity and consciousness. A working class that can’t defend itself won’t make a revolution. Defensive, ‘economic’ struggles – against prices rises, taxes, etc, etc - are absolutely a precondition and possible fertile soil for the development of revolutionary consciousness within greater layers of the working class and should not be opposed to this potential process.

However, concretely, in the movement under discussion, it appears (to me at least) that other layers of the population – many of them no doubt ‘non-exploiting’ (that is apart, perhaps, from themselves and their families:  ie a certain strata of the petty bourgeoisie) - who are also combative, but whose ‘world view’, whose visions and actions are not those of the proletariat, dominate the ‘Yellow Vest movement to a determinant and detrimental degree.

Working class elements, individuals – who must at some stage have formed a majority of the Yellow Vest movement – were being led onto the streets by the actions and ideas of classes alien to their immediate and historic interests. This was and is not just expressed in the overt racism, nationalism or ‘reformism’ of certain highly influential groupings within the Yellow Vests.

JK asks if the anger and combativity in France is not an antidote to and an improvement upon the electoral populism of issues generated around Trump, Brexit, or Macron himself. But aren’t the major political aims of this Yellow Vest Movement – which has split into at least two if not three factions – precisely the replacement of Macron (through the electoral process) or the creation of some kind of electoral college to better represent ‘the people’, the ‘citizens’ of France? Just France, mind! The combativity exhibited (let’s not forget that of the 30s in France, behind the United Front) is precisely being channelled into ‘populist electoralism', if it wasn’t inspired by it in the first place, and isn’t a step beyond it, in my opinion.

There have been isolated attempts to counter the weight of inter-classism that has characterised this movement: a strike by some ambulance personnel (I know very few details); students denouncing the racism inherent in so much of the apparently non-existing’ leadership … but without its own organisation, without equipping itself with the means to combine both discussion and action, the working class as a class has been suppressed by and drowned in this movement, Wish it weren’t the case. Maybe it isn't in Hungary or Iran at present...

baboon
I agree with KT above. I

I agree with KT above. I support the ICC's position on the fact that nowhere has the working class suffered a profound ideological or physical defeat and its revolutionary potential remains intact, if presently weakened. But for political, historical and geographical reasons, a full mobilisation of the working class in France behind the petty-bourgeoisie would go someways towards being a serious blow to the working class and its revolutionary perspective.

I think that we have to be clear what the stakes are here; anger is never enough. The anger of many proletarians about similar issues in the United States, because it stayed at the level of anger, was easily manipulated by the Trump campaign using the figurehead of Hilary Clinton in much the same way that the personality of Macron is being targeted as the root of all ills.

The "combative", anti-state elements of the petty-bourgeosie today in France will, as the ICC points out elsewhere and as history has shown us, tomorrow become its most subservient and willing executioners of the proletariat..

jk1921
KT wrote:

KT wrote:

JK asks if the anger and combativity in France is not an antidote to and an improvement upon the electoral populism of issues generated around Trump, Brexit, or Macron himself. But aren’t the major political aims of this Yellow Vest Movement – which has split into at least two if not three factions – precisely the replacement of Macron (through the electoral process) or the creation of some kind of electoral college to better represent ‘the people’, the ‘citizens’ of France? Just France, mind! The combativity exhibited (let’s not forget that of the 30s in France, behind the United Front) is precisely being channelled into ‘populist electoralism', if it wasn’t inspired by it in the first place, and isn’t a step beyond it, in my opinion.

There have been isolated attempts to counter the weight of inter-classism that has characterised this movement: a strike by some ambulance personnel (I know very few details); students denouncing the racism inherent in so much of the apparently non-existing’ leadership … but without its own organisation, without equipping itself with the means to combine both discussion and action, the working class as a class has been suppressed by and drowned in this movement, Wish it weren’t the case. Maybe it isn't in Hungary or Iran at present...

 

Many of these same things could be said about the council movement in Germany after WWI. Then, the radicalness of the forms of class combat didn't manifest itself fully in the class's consciousness, which is why despite the proliferation of the council form, the proletariat kept turning power back over to the social democrats. For the last half a decade plus, sectors of the working class have been quiet angry about their declining working and living conditions throughout much of the West, from where there is no place to migrate to (expcet maybe in retirement!), but it has manifested itself almost exclusively in electoralist phenomena. Now, there is an actual social movement, in which elements of the working class are present in the streets. At the very least this is a social revolt, on the order of some of the immediate responses to the outbreak of the Great Recession. But remember Occupy, which was seen imbued with some level of potential by the ICC, was itself recuperated into electoral processes--the second Obama campaign, but more directly in the Bernie Sanders campaign which took over Occupy's language about the 99 percent (could there be a more inter-clascist slogan than that?) and made it part of his Presidential campaign.

That the Yellow Vest Movement expresses some electoral demands to remove Macron and replace him with somebody else does not in and of itself say much about its ultimate dynamic or meaning. But what is the meaning in the fact that there are sectors of the proletariat not willing to wait for the next election to express their growign anger at the trajectory of life under capitalism? 

KT
I don't agree that the

I don't agree that the 'Yellow Vest' movement in France (now being copied and pasted for Germany, or at least that's the plan) has very much in common with the events of 1917-1919 in Germany, in content, context, depth or extent. 

 

d-man
"workerism"?

Whilst looking for the first use of the term "workerism" (found no results in Lenin text archive, so likely a modernist invention, in any case little useful), I stumbled on an ICC passage (from 2013), relevant to my above comments that the ICC's response to the 2011-ish protests was rather uncritical, unlike its sharply negative response to the yellow vests. Read it with a comparison to the yellow vests in mind: http://en.internationalism.org/international-review/201601/13794/appendix-2-workerism-and-economism

But we can also detect these [workerist] influences in certain analyses of the ‘social revolts’ which have been put forward within the left communist milieu (ICT, Devrim, but also within the ICC). The underlying emphasis of these analyses is to see all the movements of the past two years as ‘cross class’ or ‘inter-classist ’movements, and to identify strikes as the only ‘real’ class struggle (cf. the recent headline over an ICT article about the miners’ strikes in South Africa: ‘This is class war’ – as though other expressions of struggle were not). From a more obviously bourgeois standpoint of course there is also the ideological mystification which holds that the revolts in Spain, Brazil, Turkey etc are movements of the ‘middle class’.

In the phase of decomposition the employed sector of the working class certainly remains a crucial element in the development of a radical class movement; resistance, strikes and self-organisation beginning at the workplace will make an indispensable contribution to the growing capacity of the working class to sense its own power in society. But given the enormous weight of precarious working and permanent unemployment, the ‘real movement’ of today’s proletariat has no choice but to draw in those vast masses who are more or less excluded from the workplace: this is already the key to understanding why the principal social revolts of the last two years belong to the proletariat. As we said some time ago in our theses on unemployment, the unemployed may have lost the workplace, but they have gained the street.

There is another aspect to this problem which eludes an analysis limited by workerist spectacles. To a far greater extent than in the period 1968-89, the proletarian character of a movement, and its prospects of evolution, will be shown less in its sociological or economic character and more in its political character, in the extent to which ‘theory has gripped the masses’, in its capacity to locate the immediate struggle in the perspective of the revolution and communism. We can see this reflected in the question of demands. The outbreak of the movement in Turkey, for example, began around the defence of a small area of green in Istanbul, threatened by the insensate urban development projects which characterise a large part of the ‘growth’ of capitalist economies today. This was not at all the only factor in the explosion of the movement – the repression the state doled out to the original protesters was probably a far more potent element. But behind the concern for a small plot of green is the growing awareness of the ecological question, the dawning realisation that capitalism is incompatible with a sustainable interchange between humanity and nature. This kind of reaction is very different from the struggles of the 68-89 period, where there was a much wider divorce between ‘class issues’ (mainly economic demands) and largely petty bourgeois campaigns about the environment. It is a step towards the proletariat becoming what Lenin referred to as a tribune for humanity. We can see a similar development around the problem of violence against women and other ‘social’ questions".

Tagore2
Anyone whose standard of

Anyone whose standard of living is above average has an objective interest in maintaining inequality. Anyone whose standard of living is below average has an objective interest in equality.

Everything else is nonsense.

Ask for the standard of living of a yellow vest, and you'll know if he can be revolutionary or not. People do not make the revolution to shoot themselves in the foot.

Comunero
I'm not sure about that,

I'm not sure about that, Tagore. Surely a good number of excellent revolutionaries through history have lived "above the average standard of living", whatever that means. And surely a good number of lumpen and provocateurs lived well below that average, plus counter-revolutionaries of every possible kind. I don't think the proletariat, the revolutionary class,, can defined as "those who live below the standard of living".

Tagore2
This is the exception that

This is the exception that confirms the rule. Communism will drastically reduce inequalities, and the revolutionary period will reduce the standard of living for several years.

Only people below the average standard of living who really have nothing to lose will be truly revolutionary. There is a substantial minority, perhaps 1 billion people, for whom the revolution would mean a massive decline in their standard of living with no hope of recovery.

It's basic: people do not shoot themselves in the foot.

d-man
"workerism"? (cont.)

To continue my previous inquiry on the origin of term "workerism", it comes from the French 'ouvriérisme'. Judging from a search on GoogleBooks, the term took off in the early 1920s from bourgeois papers (by 1925 there's a mention in a socialist journal), however without a defined meaning. It could refer to a literary theme; in 1953 the communist novelist André Stil used the term in this literary sense. While in a 1953 issue of the PCF's La Nouvelle critique the term is pejoratively used to politically argue against those who stand in the way of forming alliances with the middle class and intellectuals in the fight for peace: "L'ouvriérisme, c'est l'aveu que la classe ouvrière est impuissante à faire alliance avec les classes moyennes et les intellectuels. L'ouvriérisme, c'est la capitulation devant les nécessités de l'union la plus large pour la défense de la paix."

In the early 1950s some (progressive) catholic Père Maydieu called it apparently an extremist ideology similar to nationalism. We find a prominent usage of the term by Ben Bella in 1962 (reported in English in 1965):

Condemning labour particularism, President Ben Bella applied the word ouvrièrisme to this socialist error. Self-interest being by definition anathema in a socialist society, he argued that labour as an associational interest grouping must give up its revendicatif role. This so-called atavistic trait is not unique to Algeria. Tunisian President Bourguiba used the Arabic equivalent of ouvrierisme, for example, when he addressed the UGTT Congress on 31 July 1965. President Nasser has also expressed himself on the subject.

In English the first time it appears in a 1958 newsletter by Brian Pearce:

Prolier than thou

In The Brothers Yershov [looks like an interesting novel btw], which I mentioned last week, we are shown how some fine, hard-headed, disciplined Workers rout some nasty, spineless, tortuous-minded Intellectuals who try to draw too many conclusions from the Twentieth Congress of the Soviet Communist Party.

‘Patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel,’ said Dr Johnson. What the French call ‘ouvrierisme’ – the Cult of the Manual Worker – is always, the first refuge of the bureaucracy in the Labour movement, whether Stalinist or reformist, the Bevin type or the Pollitt type: ‘Out with your spanners, lads, and get bashing those egg-heads.’

This tactic served the leaders of the British Communist Party fairly well in 1956–57.

It has the disadvantage in the long run, however, of stirring up the class consciousness of the workers; in a period like the one we are in now, this means that the Pollitts arnd Gollans are digging a pit for themselves into which those who today are their most loyal supporters may-soon be disgustedly kicking them.

--

^ So here it is defined as "cult of the manual worker", an appeal by bureaucrats to the workers to pit them against the egg-heads (who in this context appear to be Krushchevites, ie more liberal-minded Stalinists), but which at the same time does have a radicalizing effect since it stirs up the class consciousness of the workers.

In 1958 it is still a rare term in English.

It seems that only after 1968 does the term come in wider use, but still with an undefined meaning.

The ICC's use of the term in the passage I quoted above shifts the focus on "humanity in general", issues such as ecology, violence against women, and other social questions, and street actions (not necessarily workplace).

It's a quite a wide-ranging political use, and so I think the term should be used with great care, or preferrably not at all.

This is relevant to the yellow vests, because for example on libcom a text by MC was denounced (by Red Marriott) as workerist because it dismissed the street protests as not occurring in stereotypical industrial bastions. A cheeky person could denounce the ICC's take on the yellow vests as "workerist", just as the ICC did toward the ICT/Devrim for their take on the 2011ish protest wave.

 

 

baboon
I agree that workerism

I agree that workerism represents a limitation on the workers' movement and a break with its revolutionary perspective. But on the last few paragraphs of D-man above I haven't seen the ICC call the yellow vest movement "workerist". Where is that? The 2011 wave of protest, for all its weaknesses, contained many positive elements particularly in the areas of discussion and organisation involving workers from all areas. Aside the demonstrations and protests there were also a number of large-scale and important strikes. Though beaten back, and sections of the working class and the oppressed paid heavily with their lives, this movement had tendencies towards a positive cohesion with internationalist expressions - the "Gilets Jaunes" movement goes in the opposite direction.

The CWO?ICT has just published another text on the "Gilets Jaunes" movement. Despite its formal analysis of the weakness of the working class and in line with its previous publications on the issue, it draws positive conclusions from it that go straight from a disorganised, directionless citizenry to the necessity for the international party; there is nothing about the need for proletarian discussion and organisation - except the Party of course. It's no accident that the text equates the high point of the "Gilets Jaunes" movement so far with the France of 1789.