The idealistic hope that mass protests and civil disobedience could trigger real social change met with some success in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries but looked to have died after the USA’s 1960s civil rights movement and anti – war protests. The recent mass demonstrations of Frane’s gilets jaunes (yellow vests) movement in 2018, a movement which has spread to Netherlands, Belgium, Austria, Britain, Italy, Sweden and Canada looks to have resurrected this style of political activism.
The yellow vest movement is not idologically fuelled as protests from the 1920s to 1960s were; it’s fueled by desperation and what Francis Fukuyama in a recent essay (Against Identity Politics (Foreign Affairs, Sept/Oct. 2018),termed the working classes’ “perception of invisibility” a view echoed by French geographer / author Christophe Guilluy who said that “the French people are using the gilets jaunes to say we exist.” Unstoppable”: Christophe Guilluy on the cultural divide driving the yellow vests (via Arshad A.)
“Not only does peripheral France fare badly in the modern economy, it is also culturally misunderstood by the elite. The yellow-vest movement is a truly 21st-century movement in that it is cultural as well as political. Cultural validation is extremely important in our era.
One illustration of this cultural divide is that most modern, progressive social movements and protests are quickly endorsed by celebrities, actors, the media and the intellectuals. But none of them approve of the gilets jaunes. Their emergence has caused a kind of psychological shock to the cultural establishment. It is exactly the same shock that the British elites experienced with the Brexit vote and that they are still experiencing now, three years later.”
The author expands on how the working-classes have come to be excluded?
“All the growth and dynamism is in the major cities, but people cannot just move there. The cities are inaccessible, particularly thanks to mounting housing costs. The big cities today are like medieval citadels. It is like we are going back to the city-states of the Middle Ages. Funnily enough, Paris is going to start charging people for entry, just like the excise duties you used to have to pay to enter a town in the Middle Ages.
The cities themselves have become very unequal, too. The Parisian economy needs executives and qualified professionals. It also needs workers, predominantly immigrants, for the construction industry and catering et cetera. Business relies on this very specific demographic mix. The problem is that ‘the people’ outside of this still exist. In fact, ‘Peripheral France’ actually encompasses the majority of French people.”
And the role the liberal metropolitan elite played in this?
We have a new bourgeoisie, but because they are very cool and progressive, it creates the impression that there is no class conflict anymore. It is really difficult to oppose the hipsters when they say they care about the poor and about minorities.
But actually, they are very much complicit in relegating the working classes to the sidelines. Not only do they benefit enormously from the globalised economy, but they have also produced a dominant cultural discourse which ostracises working-class people.
The middle-class reaction to the yellow vests has been telling. Immediately, the protesters were denounced as xenophobes, anti-Semites and homophobes. The elites present themselves as anti-fascist and anti-racist but this is merely a way of defending their class interests. It is the only argument they can muster to defend their status, but it is not working anymore.
Now the elites are afraid. For the first time, there is a movement which cannot be controlled through the normal political mechanisms. The gilets jaunes didn’t emerge from the trade unions or the political parties. It cannot be stopped. There is no ‘off’ button. Either the intelligentsia will be forced to properly acknowledge the existence of these people, or they will have to opt for a kind of soft totalitarianism.”
By mobilizing 80,000 heavily armed “security forces” in an unsuccessful attempt to suppress dissent, as President Macron has, looks more like hard authoritarianism than soft totalitarianism. The boy Macron has of course tried to justify his heavy handed response by a fatuously claiming he has a duty to defend “the social order,” i.e. to maintain the domination of the ruling elite.
But the French elites are discovering the unsettling reality that it’s impossible to defend every traffic-speed camera, every bank, etc. from sabotage and that their working class challengers are smart enough to know this. I’ve often finished article calling for civil action against authoritarianism with the line, “THEY CAN’T PUT US ALL IN PRISON.” It is intended as a warning to those who would control society, rather than an exhortation to those who challenge authority.
The class analysis of the current crisis shows a reversal of polarity from the 1968 general strike of elite students and labor unions. Fifty years ago, the students of the elite universities, in an orgy of virtue signalling (the left never changes though they scream for change,) lent their support to the trade unions and this combination nearly toppled the government with a general strike.
Now, students of the elite Paris universities, brainwashed with politically correct ideology on gay and trans rights, the desirability of mass immigration and the duty of nanny state to micromanage our private lives, are supporters of the technocrat elite, as the most fervent hope of most of these students is to nail down a position in a government department or QANGO, jobs which are threatened by the yellow vest dissenters.
The labor unions are also missing in action, as they are now adjuncts of the ruling elites, feeding at the same trough of tax revenues and corporate globalization-financialization profits and promoting the same policies that are damaging to working class living standards and social mobility: mass immigration, globasisation (which the working class recognise as exporting jobs,) Islamification of society, erosion of national sovereignty and cultural values and so on.
The gilets jaunes / yellow vests are a working class revolt against the elites, who like medieval aristocrats, regard the “lower orders” as stupid, infantile and in need of paternalistic guidance, and those among the working and lower middle class who identify with the elites: the pseudo-progressive hipsters, the aspiring technocrats and the comfortably secure state employees, all of whom are now on the elite side of the barricades.
The Paris elites and their enablers may find that the next general strike won’t immobilize Paris, it will strangle Paris from the periphery. The unions which were on the democratic side of the barricades 50 years ago may find their identification with the ruling elite challenged, and they’ll be forced to either remember their roots and side with the authentic working class (yellow vests) in a general strike or throw their support behind the undemocratic technocrats like Marcon and those in his administration, who planned to run France for the benefit of their own caste, the university educated, progressive liberal, globalist, soft left.
The quasi-progressives claim to be anti-fascist but are themselves the anti-working class fascists (Beniot Mussolini defined fascism as the collaboration of state and corporate business to exercise absolute power,) and are not appreciating the fact that the ‘stupid working class oiks’ of the Yellow Vest movement are exposing their self-serving hypocrisy. Like the US liberals of the early twentieth century, they are all for civil rights “so long as the niggers don’t leave the plantation.”
Here”s a news snippet that encapsulates exactly what is wrong with the way Marcon and his elitist cronies are trying to handle the crisis. “On Tuesday, the person picked to lead the country’s planned “great debate” on the issues resigned over her €14,666 monthly salary (£13,200; $16,800)” which is $200,000 annually, roughly seven or eight times the average worker’s salary.
Now what kind of plonker would put an academic who already has a well paid position in charge of establishing dialogue with truck drivers, factory workers and labourers who, thanks to elitist policies, are stuggling to make ends meet. That’s the kind of insensitivity responsible for triggering the anger that drives the protests, an illustration of class division in a nutshell. The fake-progressive technocrats are skimming $200,000 a year to defend an indefensible undemocratic neofeudal system of exploitation that handsomely benefits the few at the expense of the many. And the hypocrites call Marcon’s opponent Marine Le Pen “far right.” Bollocks.
Democracy mid life crisis (comment)