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

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October 10, two truck drivers from Seine-et-Marne launched an appeal on Facebook for November 17, entitled: "National blockage against the rise in fuel prices". Their message spread very quickly on social media, attracting up to 20,000 "interested" people while initiatives and appeals multiplied. Without trade unions or political parties a whole series of actions, rallies and blockades were spontaneously organised.

The result: November 17, according to the government, 287,710 people spread over 2,034 places, paralysed crossroads, roundabouts, autoroutes, toll-booths, supermarket car parks... These official figures issued by the Interior Ministry (given with admirable precision!) are largely and deliberately underestimated. On the other hand the "gilets jaunes" say that it's twice that number. In the following days some blockades were maintained, others took place here and there, mobilising thousands of people each day. A dozen Total oil refineries were disrupted by a simultaneous action of the CGT and the "gilets jaunes".

A new great day of action was launched for November 24, called: "Act II, all of France to Paris". The objective was to block prestigious networks and the running of the capital: the Champs-Elysées, the Place de la Concorde, the Senate and above all, the Elysée. "We have to deal a decisive blow and make our way to Paris by all means possible (car-pooling, train, bus, etc.). Paris because it's here that the government sits! We await all, lorries, buses, taxis, tractors, tourist vehicles, etc. Everyone!"  said truck driver Eric Drouet from Melun, the co-initiator of the movement and figurehead of the mobilisation. But this great unitary gathering didn't take place, with a number of "gilets jaunes" preferring to demonstrate locally, often because of the cost of transport. Above all the mobilisation was lower in numbers. Only 8,000 protesters appeared in Paris, 106, 301 in all of France and 1600 events. Even if these government figures greatly underestimate the reality of the mobilisation, the tendency is clearly on the decrease. However, many in the movement are claiming a victory. Most important for the "gilets jaunes" are the images of the Champs-Elysées "occupied and held for the whole day" thus showing "the strength of the people against the powerful"[1]. Then, in the evening, an appeal was launched via Facebook for a third day of action for Saturday December 1: "Act III; Macron resign!" and putting forward two claims: "Increase buying power and cancel the fuel taxes".

Journalists, politicians and other "sociologists" warned of the unknown nature of the movement: spontaneous, outside of union and political frameworks, adaptable, organised essentially through social networks, relatively massive, globally disciplined, generally avoiding destruction and confrontations, etc.  On the TV and in newspaper columns the movement is qualified as a "sociological UFO".

Anger against the government's attacks

Initiated by the truck drivers and as written by one of them, Eric Drouet, the movement mobilised "trucks, bus, taxis, tractors and tourist vehicles", but not only them. Numerous small entrepreneurs "devastated by taxes" are equally present. Salaried and precarious workers, unemployed and retired, wear the "gilet jaune" and make up its most important contingent. "The 'gilets jaunes', is rather a France of employees, supermarket cashiers, technicians, infant school assistants who intend to defend the life that they have chosen: live a life apart, peaceful, with neighbours who look like them, with a garden, etc., and the increase in fuel taxes, because of their cars, calls into question their private space", is the analysis of Vincent Tiberi. According to this Professor of Sciences, the "gilets jaunes" "doesn't only represent peripheral France, the forgotten of France. They represent what the sociologist Olivier Schwartz called the people of average means. They work, pay their taxes and earn too much for subsidies "[2].

In reality, 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. Officially, according to the Observatoire français des conjonctures economiques, the annual household disposable income (i.e., what's left after taxes and costs) has been reduced between 2008 and 2016 by 440 euros at least. This is only a small part of the attacks suffered by the working class. Because to this general increase in all kinds of taxes can be added the growth in unemployment, the systemisation of precarious jobs, including in the public sector, inflation particularly hitting essential goods, the unaffordable price of housing, etc. Pauperisation is rising inexorably and with it, the fear of the future. But even more, what feeds this immense anger according to the "gilet jaunes" is "the feeling of being neglected"[3].

It is this dominant feeling of being "neglected", ignored by governments, the hope of being listened to and recognised by "those on high" to use the terminology of the "gilets jaunes", which explains the means of action chosen: wearing the hi-viz yellow fluorescent jackets, blocking roads, going to the Senate or to the Elysée underneath the windows of the grand bourgeoisie, by occupying "the most beautiful avenue in the world".[4]

The media and the government have put the emphasis on violence in order to make it known that any struggle against the high cost of living and the degradation of the life of the exploited can only lead to chaos and anarchy with vandalism and blind acts of violence. Under the reins of the bourgeoisie the media, specialists in making amalgams, want us to think that the "gilets jaunes" are "extremists" who also want "a fight with the police"[5]. Before anyone else, it's the forces of repression which are aggressive and provocative! 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-Elysées. Moreover there were very few windows broken[6], contrary to events around the football World Cup in the same area four months earlier. Even if some excited masked "gilets jaunes" wanted a fight with the forces of order ("black-blocs" or ultra-right thugs), the great majority wasn't interested in fighting or destruction. They didn't want to be "wreckers" but only "citizens", respected and listened to. That's why the appeal to "Act III" stated "this must be done properly. No fighting and 5 million French in the street". And even: "In order to securitise our next meeting, we propose setting up "gilets rouges" who will have the responsibility of throwing the wreckers from our ranks. Above all we don't want the population on our backs. Pay attention to our image friends".

An inter-classist movement of "citizens"

The movement of the "gilets jaunes" has, on the other hand, a common point with the celebration of the world championship French football team: the presence of the tricolore everywhere along with regional flags, regular singing of the national anthem, fierce pride in the "la peuple français", which, united is capable of moving the powerful. The reference in many heads is the French Revolution of 1789 or even the Resistance of 1939-1945[7] .

The inflamed nationalism, the references to "the people", the beseeching pleas addressed to the powerful, reveals the real nature of the movement. The great majority of the "gilet jaunes" are active, retired or pauperised workers, but they appear here as citizens of the "French people" and not as members of the working class. They are acting in an inter-classist movement or are mixed-up in the classes and layers of the non-exploited of society (active, retired, precarious, unemployed) with the petty-bourgeoisie (liberal professionals, artisans, small entrepreneurs, farmers and smallholders). A part of the working class is tagging along with the initiators of the movement (small business people, self-employed drivers of lorries, taxis, ambulances). Despite the legitimate anger of the "gilets jaunes", among who are numerous proletarians who cannot make ends meet, this movement is not a movement of the working class. It is a movement which has been launched by small business people who are angry about the increase in fuel prices. As witnessed by the words of the truck driver who initiated the movement: "We are waiting for everyone, lorries, buses, taxis, tourist vehicles, tractors, etc. Everyone!" That is "Everyone" and all "the French people" behind the self-employed drivers, taxi drivers, farmers, etc. The workers are thus diluted into the "people", atomised and separated one from the other as individual citizens, mixed-up with small businessmen and women (many of whom were part of the electorate of the Rassemblement National - ex-FN - of Marine Le Pen).

The rotten terrain on which a great number of proletarians, including the most pauperised, have situated themselves is not that of the working class! In this "apolitical" and "anti-union" movement, there is no call to strike and for its extension to all sectors! No appeal for sovereign general assemblies in enterprises in order to discuss and reflect together on the actions to be taken to develop and unify the struggle against the attacks of the government! 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". From Marine Le Pen to Olivier Besancenot, with Mélenchon and Laurent Wauqiez, "everyone" is there from the extreme right to the extreme left of capital, supporting an inter-classist movement, with their nationalist poison.

…with the support of all kinds of bourgeois cliques

It's the inter-classist nature of the "gilets jaunes" which explains why Marine Le Pen salutes it as a "legitimate movement" of "the French people"; it's why Nicolas Dupont-Aignan, President of  Debout la France (Stand-up for France), supports this movement: "We should block the whole of France (...) the population should say to the government: enough is enough!"; it's why Laurent Wauquiez,  President of Les Républicains qualifies the "gilets jaunes" as "worthy, determined people who rightly demand that the difficulties of the France that works is listened to"; it's why the Deputy Jean Lassalle, at the head of Résistons, is one of the figureheads of the movement and wears his yellow hi-viz jacket in the National Assembly as well as in the street. The right and extreme right clearly recognise in the "gilets jaunes" a movement which in no way puts the capitalist system in any danger. Above all they see it as a very efficient means of weakening their main opponents in the next elections, i.e., the Macron clique, whose authority and capacity to manage social peace has been severely dented.

As to the left and extreme left, they denounce the recuperation by the right and extreme right, rejecting the "fashos who are polluting the movement" while supporting it more or less openly. After being cold to it at first, Jean-Luc Mélenchon, the head of La France insoumise (Rebellious France) can't find words enough to salute it: "The revolutionary movement in yellow", a "popular" and "mass" movement. He's taken to it like a duck to water and him and his rebellious France, his red-white-and-blue flags, his tricolour scarf worn on every occasion and his will to "unite people against the oligarchy" through the ballot box.

The support from all over the bourgeois political chessboard[8], and above all the right and extreme-right, shows that the "gilets jaunes" movement has no proletarian nature and has nothing to do with the class struggle! If all parts of the political apparatus of the French bourgeoisie are using the "gilets jaunes" in the hope of weakening Macron and gaining some electoral success from it, they know that this movement does nothing to strengthen the struggle of the proletariat against its exploitation and oppression[9]

In this type of inter-classist movement, the proletariat has nothing to gain because it's always the petty-bourgeoisie which gives it its weight (yellow is moreover the colour of strike-breakers!). And among the eight speakers designated for November 26, there's a large majority of small bosses and entrepreneurs.

Thus, these are the objectives of the petty-bourgeoisie: its slogans, its methods of struggle are imposed upon everyone. In appearance, this social layer shows a great deal of radicalism. Because it is crushed, de-classed by capitalism, its anger can explode violently. It can denounce the injustice and even the barbarity of the grand bourgeoisie and its state. But at root, it aspires to be "recognised" and not be "neglected" by the elites and "those on high" or, even better for some of its members, to be raised up into the superior ranks of the bourgeoisie and for that their businesses need to be flourishing. This is what explains its demands through the "gilets jaunes" movement: cheaper fuel, less taxes so that their businesses function and develop, blocking roads dressed in yellow so as to be seen and respected, a focalisation on the person of Macron ("Macron resign") symbolising the hope of being the leader in the place of the leader and a preoccupation with the "most beautiful avenue in the world", a real window on luxury capitalism.

This movement of the "gilets jaunes" is also partially infiltrated by the ideology of populism. An "original", "adaptable" movement which says it's against the political parties, denouncing the inertia of the unions and... supported from the beginning by Marine Le Pen! It was not an unfortunate coincidence or the action of a small group of individuals against the flow of the movement, when, on November 22, some "gilets jaunes", on discovering some migrants hidden in a lorry, denounced them to the gendarmes. Some demonstrators wanted to save these migrants who were at risk of their lives; but other remarks by some "gilets jaunes" filmed at the time were nauseating: "What a fucking smile", "What a load of fuckers", "This is where our taxes are going", etc.

The breadth of the inter-classist movement is explained by the difficulty of the working class in expressing its combativity as a result of all the union manoeuvres sabotaging these struggles (as we've recently seen with the long strike at SNCF). It's for that reason that the discontent with the unions that exists within the working class has been recuperated by those that launched this movement. What many supporters of the "gilets jaunes" want to happen is that the methods of workers' struggles (strikes, sovereign general assemblies, massive demonstrations, strike committees...) lead to nothing. Thus it's necessary to have confidence in the small bosses (who protest against the increases of taxes and costs) in order to find other methods against the high cost of living and come together as the "people of France"!

Many workers in "gilets jaunes" reproach the unions for not "doing their job". And now we are seeing the CGT trying to catch up by calling for a new "day of action" for December 1. You can be sure that the CGT and the other unions will indeed "do their job" of keeping the workers under control in order to prevent any spontaneous movement taking place on a class terrain.

The proletariat must defend its class autonomy and count only on itself!

Numerous workers have been mobilised against poverty, incessant economic attacks, unemployment, and the precariousness of work... But in joining up with the "gilets jaunes" these workers are being momentarily misled and taken in tow by a movement that only leads to an impasse.

The working class has to defend its living conditions on its own grounds, as an autonomous class, against the national unity of all the "anti-Macron" forces manipulating the anger of the "gilets jaunes" in order to corral them into the polling booths. They mustn't delegate or entrust their struggle, neither to reactionary social layers, nor to the parties which pretend to support it, nor to the unions which are its false friends. This entire bunch, each one with their own creed, occupies and carves up the social terrain in order to prevent the autonomous struggle of the proletariat from affirming itself.

When the working class affirms itself as an autonomous class by developing its massive struggle on its own class grounds, it brings behind it a larger and larger part of society, behind its own methods of struggle and its unitary slogans, and finally it own revolutionary project for the transformation of society. In 1980 in Poland, an immense mass movement started from the naval dockyards of Gdansk following increases in prices of basic necessities. In order to confront the government and make it retreat, the workers regrouped themselves, they were organised as a class faced with the red bourgeoisie and its Stalinist state[10]. Other layers of the population largely came behind this massive struggle of the exploited class.

When the proletariat develops its struggle, it's the sovereign, massive general assemblies open to "everyone", which are at the heart of the movement, places where the proletariat can come together and organise, reflect on unifying slogans and watchwords for the future. There's no place here for nationalism, on the contrary the drive here is for international solidarity because "The workers have no country"[11]. The workers must refuse to sing the national anthem and wave the tricolore, the flag of the Versaillais who killed 30,000 workers at the time of the Paris Commune in 1871!

Today the exploited class has difficulty in recognising itself as a class and as the only force in society capable of developing a rapport de force in its favour faced with the bourgeoisie. The working class is the only class able to offer a future for humanity and it can only do this by developing its own struggles on its own grounds beyond all corporate, sectoral and national divisions. Today, proletarians boil over with rage but they don't know how to struggle to defend their living conditions faced with the growing attacks of the bourgeoisie. They have forgotten their own experiences of struggle, their capacity to unite and organise themselves without awaiting the orders of the trade unions.

Despite the difficulties of the proletariat in recovering its class identity, the future still belongs to the class struggle. All those conscious of the necessity for proletarian struggle must try to regroup, discuss, draw the lessons of the latest social movements, rely on the history of the workers' movement and not be lured by the apparently radical sirens of "citizens", "popular" and inter-classist mobilisations of the petty-bourgeoisie!

"The autonomy of the proletariat faced with all other classes and layers of society is the first condition of the spread of its struggle towards a revolutionary aim. All alliances, particularly those with fractions of the bourgeoisie, can only end up with it being disarmed in front of its enemy leading it to abandon the sole terrain where it can solidify its forces: its class terrain" (Platform of the ICC[12]).

Révolution Internationale, ICC section in France, November 25, 2018

Edited on December 17, 2018, for a more precise translation of the original French article.


[1]  Witnessed by militants of the ICC on the Champs-Elysées

[2]  "The gilets jaune, an original movement in French history",  Le Parisien (November 24, 2018).

[3]  This idea is omnipresent on social media.

[4]  The title awarded to the Champs-Elysées.

[5]  We should say that this isn't done in a direct fashion but "subliminally": on BFM-TV, for example, while journalists and "specialists" insisted that it was necessary to distinguish the "real gilets jaunes" from "wreckers", the images focus on the deteriorating situation on the Champs-Elysées.

[6]  These outbursts were above linked to the construction of barricades from street furniture and projectiles fired by the police.

[7]  On the Champs-Elysées, one "gilet jaune" was heard to say that "do to Macron what the Resistance did to the Boches, harass him daily until he goes".

[8]  Including the leftist NPA, (New Anti-capitalist Party) and Lutte Ouvrière

[9]  Only the unions are criticising the "gilets jaunes", while the latter largely rejects the union grip

[10]  See the article in the International Review no. 27, "Notes on the Mass Strike"

[11]  One of the main slogans of the Indignados in 2011, was "From Tahrir Square to the Puerta del sol", thus underlining the feelings of the demonstrators in Spain who wanted to be linked to those who a couple of weeks before had been mobilised in the Arab countries with real risks to their lives.