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Search words: Workers Solidarity
The centre collapses - the Yellow Vests emerge
On the apolitical labelling of the movement
Many of us have been following the Yellow Vest clashes on the streets of France with great interest and trying to understand this movement that appeared to come from nowhere. It is another story of the pressures of late stage capitalism collapsing the center of politics, a center no longer able to fool more of the people most of the time. A movement made possible by social media but which also reflects the often chaotic ‘apolitics’ of such movements. And worrying in the context of the millions being poured into far right propaganda a movement in which the far-right have made some progress in infiltrating, even if our comrades in France are physically driving them out of the protests.
There is no such thing as an apolitical movement, all there can be is a movement with internal contradictions as well as internal struggles to resolve those contradictions.
There is no way for a movement to be both anti-capitalist and in favour of capitalism, anti-authoritarian and authoritarian, against borders and anti-immigration, anti-racist, anti-sexist and ‘’anti-SJW’’, anti-state and statist, anti-Europe and pro-Europe or neither. Saying that none of this matters is still an ideological statement because it suggests the economic insecurity we face is not related to any of the above.
Whether we hold one of these positions outside of any party affiliation doesn’t make these opinions less political. Politics and party politics are different things, and some political ideologies are fundamentally opposed to party politics as a strategy.
The implication for the Yellow Vest movement is that different ideological tendencies will inevitably try to influence the movement one way or the other. A better way to put it is that the collision of ideologies within the movement defines the course of the movement, it is the movement.. In this context, the claim that the movement is apolitical is simply an opportunity for different ideologies to wear a mask while trying to influence the movement.
This is why we will not shy away from labels. We also want to argue that influencing a movement is not the same thing as co-opting a movement (to co-opt is to influence, but to influence is not necessarily to co-opt). Co-optation is when the control of a movement is taken away from the original grassroots organisers and into the hands of party/group. Instead what we want to do is insist that the yellow vest movement push its core beliefs to their ultimate conclusions.
Yellow Vests and Anarchism
While we recognize the diverse nature of the French Yellow Vest movement, it is worth mentioning that the core realisations which gave rise to the yellow vest movement are very much aligned with anarchism in the broadest sense:
1) Anarchism rejects party politics. The blanket rejection of parties and electoral strategies is something that the French yellow vest movement shares with anarchism and with anarchism alone. No other political ideology on the spectrum rejects party politics as definitively as anarchism does.
2) Anarchism is anti-authoritarian. This term is admittedly rarely used by Yellow Vests to describe the movement. Yet the refusal to have spokespersons endowed with the power to make decisions or to negotiate with the state on behalf of the movement as well as the widespread critique of the French State as a violent top-down institution concentrating power and wealth in the hands of a few reveals a strong anti-authoritarian current within the movement. In the same vein, Anarchists argue that the worker-boss, the landlord-tenant and the lender-borrower relationships are also authoritarian. These authoritarian relationship are made possible because the State and its police force historically emerged as a means to violently enforce property rights (that is to allow concentration of wealth and limit redistribution to what is strictly necessary to avoid insurrection).
Perhaps the Yellow Vest movement, like Occupy before it, lacks an authoritarian center for reasons of tactics and spontaneity, there are no leaders to arrest and no need to wait for a founding conference before acting. But for anarchists such structures are not just tactical ways to act quickly and avoid repression. They are principles meant to defeat by design the corruption that comes when the authorities can buy off the leaders of a movement, or jail or assassinate the few who don’t have a price.
Anarchists also believe States and the authoritarian relationships they make possible could not have emerged without the creation of sexist, racist and ableist hierarchies, backed by law, which serve as divide and conquer strategies. These mutually reinforcing and intersecting hierarchies prevent Workers from forming Solidarity ties and from politically organising against the State and the capitalist system that initially was and still is imposed onto them by force. In other words, the social contract is a myth but some people like to believe in it because they don’t have the worst deal.
Knowing where to draw the line
It must be said that if anti-authoritarianism and the rejection of hierarchical top-down structures are a core principle of the yellow vest movement, then the far-right’s role in the movement can only ever be to try to co-opt it and drag it away from this core principle. The far right, everywhere and since ever has reinforced violent hierarchical authoritarian structures rather than dismantling them. This is what they do and this is where the movement should draw the line. This is all the more urgent that we have seen, in the last few years how the far right’s absolute disregard for truth (for the purpose of gaining power) has allowed them to win over social movements through mass fake news campaigns. If we do not want to follow the trajectory of Ukraine, Brazil and the United States, we need to have no tolerance for the far-right within the Yellow Vest movement.
The end of centrism
The influence of the far right is being bought with the millions of dollars a few super rich white men and pumping into personalities and social media channels. But while this is why they have now become an organised threat it does not explain all. Late stage capitalism is faced with crisis it cannot solve, in particular that of Climate Change which at its worst threatens life on the planet. Automation and the huge reductions being imposed on Workers living standards through greatly inflating housing costs is another. For 50 years politics in the advanced economics has been dominated by technocratic centrist parties whose policy differences were not so much about the organisation of the economy but pace and the extent to which the liberation of oppressed groups should be allowed.
As capitalism proves unable to continue to deliver modest improvements to the many the hold of the centerists is collapsing. Unfortunately this polarisation is not simply pushing people to a genuine left alternative. As with the huge crisis of legitimacy capitalism faced after WWI a entirely false and reactionary ‘revolution’ is being promoted in the rebirth of fascist movements that, as before, seek to protect capitalist rule by instead directing anger at marginalised scapegoats. The false unity they seek to build is that of ‘the people’ rather than ‘the class’ - a people defined in opposition to those who are targeted for being different. A people that includes the billionaires who are the cause of climate and economic disaster facing us. Indeed it is the money from those billionares that funds fascist organising and outreach, all to protect their wealth and ability to pollute for a few more years.
As was the case in the 1920s fascism is a disastrous band-aid for billionaires to preserve their wealth and power that lasts only a brief while before it brings death and destruction down on all. Those who fell for the scapegoating lies of Hitler & Mussolini lived to see their children conscripted and slaughtered in the snows around Stalingrad, their cities levelled and their choice remembered, perhaps for ever as the most criminal moment in human history. The victims of their scapegoating were murdered in vast numbers. 80 million died in the slaughter that choice resulted in. This time the threat is such that there may be no history to remember, we cannot afford to allow the mistakes of the past be repeated in a new form, when it comes to the far right presence the Yellow Jackets must make a choice and drive them and their bigoted scapegoating out.
As the center collapses all of us face the choices outlined at the beginning - for or against capitalism, for or against social justice, for or against the authoritarian state. Which choice we feed will determine the future of the planet, indeed will determine whether humanity as we have come to know it has any future on this planet. The hour is late and the pressures become more intense as the months pass, we cannot afford to allow the rule of the wealthy few to continue much longer. Will the Yellow Jackets prove to be a moment of contradictory rioting in the twilight of a dying planet or a moment when contradictions are resolved and we set out on a global path to liberation?
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YELLOW FEVER: LONG LIVE THE REVOLUTIONARY MOB!
What would an anti-capitalist revolution actually look like, if it happened?
That is the question that must be going through many an anarchist’s mind as current events unfold in France.
The Gilets Jaunes or Yellow Vest movement has staged four successive Saturdays of startling and energetic mass mobilisations across France against the neoliberal Macron regime, turning a protest against the cost of living into an attempted insurrection.
On Saturday December 8 there were more than a thousand arrests as crowds occupied central Paris and caused general havoc from Toulouse to Bordeaux, Nantes to Marseilles. The protests even spread to Brussels in Belgium.
Another huge day of action is planned for Saturday December 15, which is being billed as Act V of the show, in which neoliberal President Macron finally resigns!
Meanwhile, France’s capitalists are complaining that the protests have already cost them a billion euros of lost consumer profits in the run-up to Christmas.
On the face of it, this is every radical’s dream. Thousands of people are taking to the streets, blocking roads, setting up burning barricades, resisting the state’s robocops with their tear gas, water cannon and armoured cars.
The movement has so far bypassed all the usual organised structures of trade unions and political parties, which is no doubt why it has been able to maintain its momentum.
All sorts of people have jumped aboard, of all ages, and although they don’t necessarily speak a finely-honed ideological language, the mood is clearly anti-capitalist and anti-hierarchical.
This is an anti-capitalism which has been learned from real life, from being constantly trampled under the boot of exploitation, rather than from the pages of a left-wing textbook.
Blocking their way to actually bringing down the system is, of course, the huge power of the system itself.
This can be seen physically, in the enormous numbers of police on the streets and the violence which they have obviously been authorised to inflict on protesters.
French “democracy” is just as much a sham as UK or US “democracy” and those in power will do anything necessary to keep hold of it.
The French authorities have already threatened to shoot live rounds at protesters, if need be, and you would have to be very naive to think they do not mean it.
Having said that, the state knows it could not hold down the whole population across the country if they rose up with sufficient energy at the same time.
The system also has an enormous power of propaganda, of controlling the narrative. The French public are constantly told that the rebellion is petering out, that it has been hijacked by extremists (far-right or far-left, depending on the target audience), that it has descended into sheer vandalism.
The international public are told that the movement is just about fuel prices, or that it is dangerously “populist”, or that, absurdly, it has all been staged by the Russians!
Happily, more and more people in France are seeing through all this and understanding their Fifth Republic for what it is – yet another scowling capitalist tyranny hiding behind a smiley mask of “democracy”.
There has also been a heartening response from radicals in France and beyond. After an initial scepticism about the nature of the Gilets Jaunes (which we shared), the vast majority on the revolutionary left have decided that the protest movement needs to be actively supported and its reactionary elements challenged from within.
This makes a refreshing change from the buckets of cold ideological sick all too often thrown over anyone whose revolt does not conform with a very specific set of principles and speaks of a new maturity and determination which bodes well for the future of anti-capitalist struggles.
There will, we suppose, still be those on the liberal fringes of anarchism and leftism who treat the popular uprising in France with disdain.
Maybe it is time for these pseudo-leftists to come clean and admit that they are not actually in favour of revolution at all, but are simply using the rhetoric of resistance to bring about some small liberalising tweaks to the status quo?
Maybe it is time for them to slink silently back indoors into the soul-sapping sterility of their politically-pure “safe spaces” and let the filthy, raucous, uncontrollable mob in the streets storm and burn down the corrupt citadels of power?
Caption: Video Id: EXVziRJXPNE Type: Youtube Video
Yellow Vest insurrection in France. The people are rising once again! 1789 1793 1830 1848 1871 1936 1968 1995