We live in a world where democracy is a threat and freedom is a punishment, where you can’t tell a turd from a diamond, where 5G is trumpeted even as it threatens to kill us, where the prevailing ethos is buyer-beware and where anyone against warmongering and eternal war is smeared and painted as a monster.
Who do you believe? All the things you felt certain about Democracy, liberty, the right to free speech, television news, all these things are not only being undermined, in reality, they are being thrown in your face. Democracy in the Nazi-controlled Ukraine, moderate jihadi rebels, no democracy in Russia or Venezuela, despite the fingerprint tests on voters and the voting booth cameras, and this voice saying they’re fair elections and a dozen saying what about France isn’t that democracy and twenty other voices say they’re not and right-wing groups going off in the streets and chemicals in your food and forgetting to turn your wi-fi laden house on before you rush to another meeting or charge your phone, and, and…well…I got lost just writing it.
Keeping you busy, that’s what Neo-Liberalist empire does, and amidst it all, you’re meant to be an active citizen stuffed with social capital, capable of an opinion on any topic at the drop of the hat.
Ontological security, everybody needs it, but right now it’s in short supply especially in big metropolitan cities. No wonder people are confused and afraid, walking backwards into the future, stuck knee-deep in mud dreaming that somehow, through some miracle, everything will – “Please!” – return to normal.
So amidst this Tower of Babble, let’s resolve one conundrum for you.
Here are ten reasons the Gilets Jaunes (unlike US sponsored colour revolutions) are the real deal, by which I mean the direct expression of the people of France.
1. They don’t speak in Abstractions/idealisms: abstraction is the language of power, hierarchy and representation. Abstraction and its use in a political context are what unite all regimes be they communist, Nazi or neo-liberal. The Gilets are not of this school. Their demands are simple, concrete: lower tollway charges, a ban on plastic bottles, a stop to compulsory withdrawals from personal bank accounts, an end to planned obsolescences in consumer goods just to name a few. What these demands enunciate is a world view grounded in people’s immediate lives. The Gilets Jaunes say things like:
I am in the mud of my life, I work 2 hours per day makes me a small salary of 240 month share with a supplement CAF!
And Macron says:
I have always assumed the dimension of verticality, of transcendence, but at the same time it must be anchored in full immanence, materiality.”
2. The mainstream media blackout: It is only necessary to go onto Gilets websites to witness the violence being metered out to the yellow vests. Does any of this appear in the mainstream media? Rumour has it a D notice has been issued in Britain forbidding any positive mention of the Yellow Vests. In France, it’s the same. Huge crowds in almost every main city are barely reported, grievances are never discussed. Many colour revolutions are staged by the MSM especially for audiences in Western Europe and the ‘first world’, as the current case of Venezuela illustrates. Instead of this colour revolution simulacrum, what confronts the Gilets Jaunes is a black-out. Draw your own conclusion.
3. The Red Scarves: in themselves they are of little import, their numbers were exaggerated and being entirely a rent a crowd (pictured), they lack stamina. On a deeper level however, the appearance of the Red Scarfs represents a very dangerous game by Macron. French society has long been susceptible to right-wing movements of violence: The 6th February 1934 crisis , the bloody war of the anti-Nazi resistance with Vichy militias, a conflict which many French view as a civil war and finally, the OAS in the early 1960s are all examples of such maneuverers. Traces of these historical moments are present currently in the rogue cops, the ‘Spéciale Castaner’ the militia recruited by Macron to dispense their special violence towards protestors. These ‘Des flic hors-la-loi’ (rogue cops) have appeared at every recent demonstration. Again, draw your own conclusions. Their presence shows the state’s desperation, the authenticity of the Gilets and their growing social power.
4. The lack of celebrities or leaders. Even after 12 demonstrations and 3 months of agitation, there are still no spokesmen or leaders or celebrities ‘speaking’ for the people. This by itself tells you it’s a genuine grassroots movement.
5. The manner in which the globalisers have no response but violence. What is occurring in France currently is a conflict between two world views that have nothing to say to each other. Something illustrated by the side-lining of both Marine La Pen and the official parliamentary opposition. Unlike colour revolutions, there is no clear officially endorsed alternative. No one in Washington nominated a Gilets for the presidency and if they had, no one would take any notice. Thus the ritualised nature of contemporary parliamentary politics has been starkly revealed; all the French deputies whatever their allegiance, are fully paid up globalising neo-liberals.
It is clear that Macron has no way of speaking to the Gilets. His recent declaration that he too wanted a raise in salary (note the word salary) and that made him a Gilets too, is verging, in its relation to reality, on the clinically insane. Neo-liberalism is the world view of the elite and the powerful; as some have noted it’s a class war against the poor. All they can offer the Gilets Jaunes is the same old, same old. The elite’s incomprehension and isolation from the French people are clear in every word they utter. The Power is trapped in its own symbolic universe rendering them incapable of grasping the demands of lived experience expressed by the Gilets Jaunes. In this, the Macron Government resemble the Syrian Jihadists whose demands were incomprehensible to the vast majority of the Syrian people and as such could only be implemented by violence.
6. The confusion among intellectuals. The western intellectual tradition, particularly the social disciplines, has no idea how to address the economic, political and cultural stagnation currently affecting western countries. The continued prestige of the academy is more down to habit, careerism and State support than any lived engagement. Intellectuals such as Bernard Henri-Levy (pictured) have been co-opted repeatedly to provide a veil of respectability for murderous foreign adventures in Syria, Venezuela and Libya.
Simultaneously, academic opponents of these activities are being quietly silenced by purges and smears in universities in France, Australia and Britain. Moreover the concentration of French ‘intellectuals’, particularly social commentators, in Paris, mirrors exactly the centralisation of political power, indeed they are so entwined one struggles to tell them apart. This is why, like the politicians, French intellectuals are resorting to scatter-gun accusations, chosen as if from some play-book; racism, populism, fascism, anti-Semitism, Russian interference and so on. Anything in truth they can muster at short notice for a two-minute sound bite. Needless to say, the Gilets Jaunes aren’t listening.
There’s an old Sioux Lakota saying: a bird needs two wings to fly. So in globalised 20th-century politics the right-wing argues for economics, the Left speak of morality and in the end we have simultaneously a compassionate-bloodthirsty-anti-racist-anti-sexist-neo-liberal-green-modern and dynamic, latest operational whatever. Articles on the Gilets from a Leftist perspective are invariably varied in prescription and analysis and, equally, invariably miss the point. Something always likely when moribund ideologues and their high priest caste are confronted with lived experience.
7. The disappearance of right-wing groups from the street: it is my contention, utterly unsupported by any concrete evidence I might add, that UKIP, Tommy Robinson, the EDF in Britain as well as One Nation in Australia and even Macon himself, are all creations of, and funded by, deep-state elements among the elite. There are also question marks of this sort over Antifa. The ex-Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott admitted publicly that during his time as a Howard government minister, he was literally the bag-man ferrying money back and forth to One Nation. Some of these groups listed above are violent; some are created with the intention of splitting the Labour vote. In any case, previously highly publicised right-wing groups have all but disappeared from weekly demonstrations, perhaps overwhelmed by the unfunded popular will.
8. The presence of many poor baby boomers and retirees: these sorts of people don’t usually attend demonstrations partially because they’re too busy, too old, don’t care or are driven away by the orchestrated police violence created expressly for that purpose. Yet they constitute the majority of people at the roundabouts, particularly outside Paris. Their presence tells you everything about the veracity of this movement.
9. The nightly MSM news is not crossing live to Washington for expert analysis. This is standard operational practice for colour revolutions in faraway places, mostly because the leaders of such coups often reside in DC on subsidies from the National Endowment for Democracy.
10. There are neither left nor right. This is often commented on adversely as if it was a failing. Nothing answers this better than this Facebook post on a Gilets site:
Look at Jupiter’s (ER: Macron) face! He doesn’t know what to do. He tried racism, immigration, bludgeoning, thugs, injuries, police violence, prison, smoking, repression, lies and we’re still out there!!!!! So we drop nothing and keep going. All together without leaving anyone on the side. It’s not easy. We’re all different with different ideas, but we have a common goal, We’re a lot then in a big family we fight but we meet every week, Saturday, Sunday, night, all when we can and forget our differences.”
Diversity is one of neo-Liberalism’s keywords, yet in thinking about such terms we should also recall Nietzsche’s axiom that things are only spoken about when they are disappearing. Here, however, in the Gilets, we have an example of true diversity, different in every way from the standard Neo-Liberal usage bombarding us every day.
The fundamental reason the Gilets Jaunes differ from any colour revolution or indeed any major revolution of the 20th century is precisely the manner in which this alternative diversity functions. The Gilets are making their own meanings within their own spaces of appearance: ‘where they are seen by others as others are seen by them’ (Arendt 1958). And they are making it through discussion.
Furthermore, these meanings are under their control and are held in common by the Gilets whatever their other differences. As the writer says “We’re all different with different ideas, but we have a common goal, We’re a lot then in a big family we fight but we meet every week”. This sociality creates meanings as an outcome of communal being-ness in common and these meanings remain under the control of the Gilets who made them. Differences, for instance over seeking election to the EU parliament, are simply tolerated.
Diversity of response and opinion is seen as a strength, not a weakness. There is no ideological template applicable to every context. Instead, as an anonymous ex-French Intel guy said last week on Le Media, one roundabout is full of young people, another full of black bloc, another full of older people and they are all talking with each other. Through this sociality and commonality, meaning is produced and then held communally because participants inside varied and infinite contexts (spaces of appearance) and repeated actions of sociality act these meanings in common. Focus is centred on their common interest, i.e. the impossibility of existing in today’s France. Everything else is fluff.
Every week these participant meanings are sustained, built upon and maintained through more actions of sociality, more discussion and more actions. Communal meanings held and actioned in this way produce social power; because actioned meaning in common is precisely what social power is!
Furthermore, this unity in diversity utterly splinters all the demonizing and pathologizing names invented by the media and globalisers over the last thirty years as a means of divide and rule. These devised names applied to groups in society: work-shy; dole-bludgers; terrorists; anti-Semite; Russian Bot; racist; sexist and any of the plethora of names applied by the state and the MSM towards elements threatening the façade of Neo-Liberalism are simply bypassed. As in many other things the Gilets simply refuse to recognise them.
I don’t know what the future holds, but I do know that all these reasons taken together prove the Gilets Jaunes are the real deal for genuine change; not only in France but also in how the rest of the world conceives and practices politics itself.
ER recommends other articles by Off-Guardian
-  For a full understanding of how the liberal state is built upon a Cartesian separation of the interior and the exterior, how mechanistic thinking dominates our politics and the dangers inherent in all of this for ourselves as social creatures constructing our own meaning through our communal sociality, see Arendt 1958 and Studdert 2016. As far as abstractions go well, ‘the march of history’; ‘the dictatorship of the proletariat’; ‘the fatherland’ and the ‘The market’, all serve to illustrate the point, for all regimes.
-  Three days of street demonstration in Paris organized by multiple far-right leagues that almost toppled the government.
-  I’m not the only one drawing this comparison. From a Gilet web site: “In my country France there are 387 deputies petainistes who voted the anti-thugs law. Shame on them”. Petain was of course the president of the Vichy regime.
-  The on-going case of Sydney University professor Tim Anderson suspended for supporting the Syrian and Palestinian people is the latest example.
-  Thanks to Jean-Michel Wizenne for this gold nugget.
-  Standard operational procedure for all empires. See the history of Byzantium for example.
-  This seems like a Google translation to me. I have refrained from correcting anything. Jupiter is French sarcasm for Macron!
-  There’s a lot more that can be said about the fantasy of normativism and its role in ensuring conformity from politicians and modern populations at large, but this is not the place. Again I point the reader towards Arendt 1958 and Studdert Palgrave 2006 and Studdert/ Walkerdine Palgrave 2016.
-  For instance this: https://www.theguardian.com/film/2019/feb/08/how-baftas-are-rewarding-diversity
-  Again a longer explanation of the inter-relational construction of meaning and subjectivity through communal sociality and communal action, is contained in Studdert/Walkerdine Palgrave 2016 where examples derived from field work in a Welsh market are examined.
-  Which of course is precisely what the Marxists find so confusing – what is it they ask? As if somewhere, there had to be an ‘it’, an essence.