France: A new stage for the Yellow Vests Revolution
“Smile a bit, you are not in Athens”, Stéphane tells me while preparing to take a photo of me in the hall where 300 Yellow Vests’ representatives from all over France, divided into “sub-groups”, are examining the various questions their movement has to address. They are the delegates (or “observers” in some cases) sent here from one hundred Citizens’ Assemblies, created by the Yellow Vests from Lorraine to the Atlantic and from Lille to Toulouse, to participate in the first attempt of national coordination and “federation” by an “Assembly of the Assemblies” of the Yellow Vests movement, which, 12 weeks since it begun, continues to scare to death not only Paris authorities but all European capitals and the unelected EU authorities in Brussels.
The woman next to me comes from Saint-Nazaire in Loire-Atlantique. “In 1968” she tells me, “they betrayed us and they stopped us. But this time they will not succeed. No one will stop us. We will get to the end!”
She shows me on her mobile phone a video of her son-in-law lying on the ground with his head injured and police officers around him forming a barrier preventing his transfer to the hospital. “In the end,” she tells me, “my father rushed and grabbed a policeman by the neck so that they would let us take him. He suffered a brain hemorrhage and he is still in hospital facing serious vision problems and other issues.”
A few minutes later, when she takes the floor to report about developments in her region, she steals the show. Her speech is straight, clear and determined like a sharp knife, and she gets a big applause. A large number of women from the French popular classes are at the forefront of the Yellow Vests’ movement. And as we know from the history of revolts, women are often more determined than men in such situations.
“We really believed we are living a new August 10th, 1792”, told the Journal de Dimanche a close associate of President Macron. (On August 10th, 1792, the storming of the Tuileries Palace by the National Guard of the Paris Commune and fédérés from Marseille and Brittany caused the fall of the French monarchy. King Louis XVI and the royal family took shelter with the suspended Legislative Assembly).
This first national Assembly of the Yellow Vests was convoked here in the village of Sorcy-Saint-Martin near the small city of Commercy (see map) in Lorraine. It was the Assembly of the Citizens of Commercy which took the initiative to invite all the Assemblies of France to their first “Assembly of the Assemblies, during the week-end of 26th and 27th of January.
Here, we are not far away from Verdun, the place where millions of young French and Germans lost their lives for nothing, in one of the biggest carnages of the 20th century, WWI. We speak a lot nowadays about Auschwitz and Gulags, but much less about Verdun, where all that had begun in reality. The source of all the 20th Century tragedies was WWI, and WWI was not the work of Hitler or of Stalin. It was the legal child of European liberal Capitalism.
As I see my friends waiting for me in the railway station of Commercy, I am joking, but wishing also to test their mood a little bit: “What ‘s happening here? Is this the first congress of Soviets?”
They look quite astonished. They don’t know what to answer to such a question. On the one hand they are flattered by the comparison with huge historical events shaping History, like the 1905 and 1917 Russian Revolutions, where the Councils (the Soviets) first appeared. They obviously want the movement they support to also be able to write History. But the secret hope they’ve invested in is so great: it’s taken so many years or decades before suddenly appearing probably realistic that they don’t even want to spell it. They don’t want to appear too optimistic and too confident. Besides, they don’t seem at all sure if they want to identify themselves with the Soviet Revolution and the dramatic, sometimes tragic adventures it led to.
Anyway. People have not come here from all over France to theorise about historical analogies. They are here trying to make for themselves their own history, struggling to make the people they represent capable of determining its destiny and the destiny of their country.
Recent police violence in France has broken all records of the last fifty years. Twelve people have died since the start of the Yellow Vests’ mobilizations on the 17th of November (one of them got run over by angry truck drivers; one was killed by a police officer shooting him in the back; an 80 year old lady was killed when she got a teargas bomb in her face while looking down on the street from the 4th floor of her building, etc.), thousands of people have been injured, with many seriously so and some even being left disabled, while thousands of other people have been arrested and prosecuted. The tactic of the CRS (the special anti-riot units of the French police) is to shoot in a way to provoke mutilations. They don’t want simply to disperse demonstrators: they want to terrify and discourage the population. They fire teargas and smoke grenades of high velocity and density, maiming and intimidating people, destroying eyes and hands.
“Macron is terrified. He wants to prove to his bosses that he is determined to use any form of violence needed to suppress the movement,” said a friend to me with access to government sources.
Thank God, that is, given that Luc Ferry, former Minister of Education (!) in Chirac’s government called for the Macron government to order the army to intervene and the police to use “shoot-to-kill” tactics against the protesters.
The government has already passed a bill that will effectively ban demonstrations, raising a storm of protest, even within the ruling majority. One deputy of the majority, the son of a famous resistance fighter during the German-Nazi occupation of France, compared it to Vichy rules, denouncing the transformation of France into a “dictatorship”. The Vichy regime was the product of the capitulation of the French bourgeoisie (with the exception of De Gaulle) to the Third Reich. It was established by an overwhelming majority of the elected French National Assembly in Vichy back in 1940. Now, we don’t have WWII, we have WWIII (Finance vs. People). As for the French bourgeoisie, it seems now to have completely subordinated itself, through Macron, to the Empire of Finance, that is the dictatorship of international (not even the French) Financial Capital.
The joy of the Revolt
All these repressive measures, however, may increase the feelings of anger and resentment, but do nothing to reduce, on the contrary, the determination of the people around me or the joy they feel for the people’s feast in which they participate. “I concurred [sic] my loneliness” tells me a young seasonal worker from Commercy, who helps in the preparation of the meeting room. “These people are my family. I don’t dare to say they are my friends but I call them my family. We spent Christmas together”.
The French revolt began from the declining rural areas of “Deep France” because here is where people need to use their cars daily to serve even their most basic needs and could hardly afford a rise in the price of fuel. Part of the countryside has been completely abandoned as a result of the neo-liberal “reforms”. Hospitals, schools and other infrastructure facilities have closed down because, as they say, they are not “efficient” according to the “market” criterion of the number of people using them. Some villages don’t even have a coffee shop. People have to travel tens of kilometres every day for the essentials and in some cases they don’t even have Internet access because service provider companies decided that the service in their areas is unprofitable; despite the fact that Internet access and a credit card is required almost everywhere, even for getting on the train.
The movement spread to the suburbs later and is gradually reaching the urban areas of the country, while its programme has developed to address an overarching questioning of the social policies and the political regime, with demands which are supported by the majority of the French people, potentially unifying most social classes and strata of the country. But also coming into direct, frontal opposition to the neoliberal regime that has prevailed over France and Europe. (The only significant lower social stratum that we haven’t seen represented in Commercy is that of the workers and unemployed French citizens of African origin, the sons of immigration, “the world of Banlieux” – of the suburban communities, who are now more isolated than ever, even from the left which was once present in their neighbourhoods).
Those people in remote rural areas and other parts of “deep France” are not just forgotten. They are also despised by a France in love with “success”, which believes that those defeated by the crisis have only themselves to blame for their misery. Both losers and suckers, that is. They are those who have no money to fix their teeth, the “outsiders”, the “illiterates”, the “lazy”, the “uneducated”, the “savages” as they have been repeatedly called by representatives of Macron’s new political elite or, in other words, by the charlatans Macron collected to form his own “party” out of nothing, after having destroyed all traditional parties when he won the presidential elections. One third of Macron’s government is composed of millionaires. Their assistants earn 10,000 euro per month. They regard the poor as badly raised animals.
The right-wing President Chirac was still talking about the growing “social divide” (la fracture sociale), even if he did nothing significant to bridge it. With Sarkozy and Hollande neoliberalism dominated. But with Macron the neoliberal social impassiveness was complemented by the political elites’ overt and flagrant contempt for the “plebeians”.
When the Plebeians, all of a sudden, wake up
However, all these people awoke suddenly on the 17th of November 2018. Here at Commercy, the Yellow Vests took the song of the partisans, of the anti-Nazi resistance, and paraphrased it. Now the song calls for the “toothless”, the “lazy” and “illiterates” to rise against the Money Elite, sparing not their own tears and blood, just as the French patriots did when they fought against the Germans. You can watch them singing http://www.defenddemocracy.press/commercy-le-chant-des-partisans-version-lyrique-revu-par-les-gilets-jaunes/ (below) or here http://www.defenddemocracy.press/chant-des-partisans-version-gilets-jaunes-de-commercy/
Take a careful look at each one of the Yellow Vests singing… These are the people who the French press and television channels en masse, concentrated now more than ever before in the hands of the Financial Elite, are shouting them down, characterising them as “Fascists”, “anti-Semites”, “extreme right”, “populists,” “homophobes,” “sexists,” “racists,” “champions of violence” and everything else imaginable. Do the maths, compare propaganda and truth to get an accurate measure of the degree of dominating totalitarianism in which we now live.
As for the main international media, they are doing everything possible to hide from their readers and viewers what is happening now in the very centre of Europe! With quite a success! It is an unprecedented situation for Europe after WWII!
The privileged Moment. History calls simple people to fulfil its mission
As I enter the meeting hall, which is being prepared for the attendees, I see the people who work turning their heads and looking at me with curiosity. I soon find that they somehow knew that I was coming and they already call me the “Monsieur from Greece”. They are just regular people who know nothing of journalists, news-reports and press conferences and, most likely, are not interested in knowing anything about such things. For them the imperative now is to communicate, to coordinate their action and to try to give a form to the variety of demands arising from all over France.
Throughout my lifetime, I have watched closely and participated myself in hundreds, perhaps even thousands, of meetings of all kinds, in trade unions, political parties or other organisations. In most of these cases, I have also observed the clearly visible expressions of “double” motives, undercover selfishness, pathological overwhelming egotism, of intrigues unfolding behind supposedly courteous causes, “smart” concepts and strategies of the various leaders and politicasters, opportunists and adventurists and “executives” of any sort who were often the protagonists in such meetings, usually taking advantage of the sincere motives of the people participating at grassroots level.
Such were also the main patterns, which, along with a marked lack of soberness and knowledge, led in my country to the corruption of PASOK  and of the Left, undermined the “anti-memorandum” movement and many other “patriotic” initiatives, drove working people away from the trade unions and resulted in the current, extremely degrading version of SYRIZA 
But nothing of the like seems to be present here, in this room that is feverishly being prepared by Yellow Vest representatives, and nothing of the sort can be heard later during the speeches and conversations. It seems that here everyone respects each other and they didn’t come here, to Commercy from all over France, just to serve their political career aspirations. Here politics meets again with the original moral precept of the revolted human being, where the “Me” diffuses into the “We” and what drives people is not to show each other how clever they are, but to join their wills and minds to achieve their common goals.
I surely don’t know what is going to happen in the future, what attributes may come to surface in any given period of “decline” of the movement, but right now I feel that I am witnessing a privileged and rare moment of History, in which the Plebeians, the People, the physical, so to say, incarnation of the Nation, rise above their misery to implement a Historical necessity, a necessity which all of a sudden became obvious to many people simultaneously. And at the same time, they also came to the conclusion they have nobody else other than themselves to fulfil it. This is the moment of delivery, if I can call it this, the moment that can give birth, under certain conditions, to a Miracle. It is impossible to predict through which stages this river will flow or where it may end. But what I know with certainty, however, is that it will change definitely France and Europe for better or worse.
A woman is sending curious looks in the direction of the “Monsieur from Greece” who turned up out of nowhere in her otherwise inconspicuous little town. We start talking. “I am a painter” she tells me when I ask her what she does, but when I try to find out the political preferences of the people who live in the region of Commercy, what they tend to vote for, she refuses to give me an answer. “But” I say, “I just want to understand the region’s background; I am not interested in putting any labels on people”. “I understand” she said, “but, I want nothing dividing the people here. By starting a conversation on party affiliations now, we will do harm, we will cause divide. And I want to unite people, not to divide them”.
 PASOK: Panhellenic Socialist Movement, founded in 1974 by Andreas Papandreou as a democratic socialist and left-wing nationalist party, following the collapse of the military junta of 1967–1974. Won the majority in the Hellenic Parliament in 1981 and remained in government for around 23 years throughout the period from 1974-todate.
 SYRIZA (Coalition of Radical Left), the party currently leading the government in Greece.
[to be continued]
ER recommends other articles by United World