The gilets jaunes: A question of time

A reflection on the re-appropriation of time as the revolution within the yellow vests insurrection.

Words from a yellow vests newspaper.

And images and words of a movement, now in its “Act XVI”.

Act XVI, Paris, 02/03/2019 – from Taranis News …

From the point of view that interests us, namely anti-capitalist criticism, the yellow vests movement is an event in the strongest sense: its emergence has taken everyone, from quidam to specialist of thought, by surprise. We can always explain the factual causes – a history of tax on fuels – draw more or less convincing a historical genealogy, investigate and argue about its social composition, but it will be a work of interpretation a posteriori, and no one can claim to have predicted it. This event has a strong significance, therefore; but what? To answer, we will first try to place it in a longer temporality, that of social struggles against French (and therefore global) capitalism since 1968.

The yellow vests and the need to take back time

Serge Quadruppani

(lundimatin #181 04/03/2019)

Macronism is an attempt to complete a forced march by French society to ultra-liberal standards, whose Thatcherisation has been ceaselessly slowed in France by the ghost of May 68. This movement of insubordination of society had, despite the fact that its mourners can see in it nothing but the opening new markets of consumption, some beneficial effects with the Grenelle agreements and the departure, a year later, of De Gaulle. Even if the concrete benefits of the agreements were subsequently lost, and if the general has been replaced by politicians who are just as harmful, the consciousness remains, both on the side of the people and on the side of the rulers, that by descending into the street, the State could be shaken and its plans countered.

Against the Devaquet law in 86, against the CIP in 1994, against the reform of the special pension plans in 1995, against the CFDT-employers agreement on the abolition of Assedic in 1997-98, against the CPE in 2006: many movements led successive governments to retreat. But in 2008, the movement against pension reform, despite massive demonstrations and blockades involving students, the precarious and workers, ended in defeat. Sarkozy’s “May 68, it’s over” was supposed to record the evaporation of the ghost. The renewed fighting spirit shown in the fight against the labor law did not prevent an orchestrated defeat with the trade unions. Only the fight of the Zad of Notre-Dame-des-Landes ended in a victory (bitter, certainly, but a victory): if there is no airport today, it has escaped nobody that it was thanks, on the one hand, to the alliance of heterogeneous opponents, and on the other hand, to a direct and courageous confrontation with the forces of the order. As far removed as they are from the immediate concerns of the yellow vests, the different episodes of this fight offered a lesson that was not lost.

If, today, 40 years after the irruption of the Reagan-Thatcher model, the neo-liberal counterrevolution is not quite complete, despite the fanatical attachment to it of the editorialists and the dominant media. This “French delay” is due to a “strike culture”, such that Macron is intervening at a time when the situation, worldwide, has changed: after the crisis of 2008 and its aftermath, and in an era of geo-strategic chaos, it does not can rely, unlike Thatcher, on the promises of popular shareholding, nor hope for, given the stagnation of sub-Saharan military operations, a patriotic impetus like that of the Falklands war. Even the fight against terrorism or against anti-Semitism function as vectors of a sacred union only for an ephemeral and specific segment of the population.

To grasp the meaning of the event of the yellow vests implies divesting oneself from grids of analysis which have already for some decades proven to be inconvenient to seize reality and which are here completely inoperative.

For me, who comes from this older family, going to see what groups and individuals of the ultra-left, who originated in the the Marxist critique of Leninism, were saying about this movement was an interesting and depressing experience: with a few exceptions (Temps Critiques, in particular), the impression was of visiting a retirement home for thought, now disturbed in its habits. For someone who has spent her/his life counting the slightest Patagonian strike to prove that in the world there is only one class in struggle, but who can only say, after three months of a movement that has reached to all of France, which has lastingly marked the country’s economic and social life and which for the first time since the Commune has carried rage into the comfortable neighbourhoods of the powerful, that not much has happened. Another one decided very early: this is not the proletariat, therefore, it can not prevail against Capital – and then to invent an analysis of the social composition of the movement: it would be an exercise in “fixing the movement”. Another group decided that this movement could only be an attempt to constitute a people in an exclusive dialogue with the State, thus foreign to the only way forward: universal emancipation, workers’ autonomy. In the end is the disturbing social composition of the movement, much too heterogeneous.

It will be necessary to make do, my friends, we have entered the era of impure uprisings. Instead of regretting that “the working class as a class” does not affirm itself, you might have a lot to gain from asking yourself how there are so many workers, and more and more, on the roundabouts and in the demonstrations, and why they chose to fight there rather than at their place of work. And continue by asking what has become of this notion of “place of work” – and if by chance, the trip to the factory was not part of it. Why do workers who see establishments shut down overnight as a result of the fluctuations of the accelerated circulation of capital tend to leave what you still call “places of production” to fight elsewhere? Perhaps because “production” now extends to the whole of society and it is very risky to give it an exclusive “place”?

To understand all the potentialities of this impure ebullience also requires taking into account the presence of nationalist, racist and anti-Semitic elements within the movement. Without ignoring them, or overestimating them, we must be aware of the real danger they represent for the future, that of a retreat of part of its troops to regressive, populist-electoral forms. For if the disgusting, xenophobic and anti-Semitic phenomena have remained isolated, very largely marginalized by innumerable anti-racist collective declarations, if the organized fascist groups have never, in the words of the DGSI, succeeded in taking a dominant position, it is true that the soul of the movement, this will to constitute a people which would raise the immense majority against the bad governors, is ambiguous. That we sang the Marseillaise at the beginning and we still sing it, according to the occasions and places (but the movement also knew how to create its own songs), can be easily understood. As a yellow vest said: “When we face the cop, our only strength is to be together and to feel together, we need to sing, and the only song that everyone knows is that one”. The reference to the French Revolution is indeed the universal reference. But which republic? The Marseillaise can be the song of the Universal Republic of Anarchasis Cloots, which Temps Critiques has called for in a poster: the republic of all those who want to be members, whatever their nationality. It can also be what it has been in history: the song of executioners spilling unclean blood. The trap of the RIC [Le référendum d’initiative citoyenne] can be narrowed to one question: “who is a citizen? “. As TL says: “We must also remember that it seems difficult to be on a roadblock or a roundabout with a “foreigner” who is fighting against tax injustice beside you and to then tell her/him that the RIC this is not for him!”

This kind of involution can only be fought by deepening and radicalizing the most positive tendencies. It is here that the confrontation with the last sequence of struggles is proving fruitful (territorial struggles against the Big Projects, the fight against the labor law with its cortèges de tête [the taking over the front of marches]). The yellow vests are distinguished from these struggles in that, unlike them, they question neither the modes of production of wealth, nor the very nature of wealth, but fight almost exclusively on the ground of their distribution. Yellow vests yellow, zadistes and those opposed to the law of “Work!”, have one thing in common: the refusal of exploitation. As shown by the struggle against the Big Projects and their expressions (of slogans, participants, imagination), with the cortèges de tête, the exploitation of man by man, the exploitation of woman by man and the exploitation of nature, they all proceed from the same approach. It consists in dominating the other to appropriate what s/he produces, by leaving her/him with only enough to survive in the norms set by the dominant. These norms were manufactured by centuries of battles and expropriations: the nature-culture separation, the sophistication of male domination, the imposition of working time as a measure of value.

The sociality born on the roundabouts, which escapes the time of the economy and social roles (especially gendered), is already in itself a path to fight these norms and it also promotes the exchanges of experience which make it possible to overcome the opposition between the question of the end of the world and the end of the month. For us to have the time to move along these paths, we must hold on to the strong points of the movement: its magnificent solidarity in the face of repression, and the stubborn refusal of representation (despite the spokespersons manufactured by the media). Rather than yield to the temptation of the Great National Blabla [Macron’s grand national debate], a mandatory dialogue with the authorities, as if it were self-evident that they were delegated the task of deciding everything in the end, it is up to us to continue to move forward at our pace. To continue to take time. It is in the nature of the event to force us to rethink both our tools of thought and our priorities of action and, in a very general way, at the level of groups, as well as of society as a whole, to rethink our way of using time.

From “Jaune: A newspaper to win” …

(translation published with libcom.org 23/01/2019)

The newspaper

“Jaune” is a state of mind. That of determination. After two months of struggle, we felt the need to clearly present the positions of victory within a movement that does not lack traveling salesmen [“VRP”] of all kinds to sell us the turnkey solutions of defeat. These people have forces, they have cash, they have means of propaganda, and we sometimes find ourselves seduced by their mirage, often suffocated in their proposal. This observation concerns several cities in France and it is from the sharing of experiences that the newspaper was launched. We wanted to bring into being the positions of victory, to assume them and to allow them to be discussed. In addition to the paper journal, whose publication depends on our logically meagre financial capacities, we created an online journal jaune.noblogs.org in which we will publish various contributions that go in the direction of extending and deepening the movement. We will then publish them in the next edition. To send us your impressions, stories, analyses, to support us financially, to order newspapers, you can write to lisezjaune@riseup.net

Editorial of “Jaune” N°1:

To win. This may seem ambitious for those who have not participated in the Yellow Vests movement. Cars run on gasoline, we are driven by ambition. Since November 17th, hundreds of thousands of us have been taking action. We meet at roundabouts, we get organized to shut down the economy, and we present a united front against the police in demonstrations. We have not seen such a determination of “people out of nothing” for ages. And we don’t intend to stop there. That’s why we are issuing this journal. It’s for continuing the struggle. And above all, it’s about winning. But winning what? Or rather how far? No one is able to answer, but we take the attitude not to hold back our ambitions. We are in favour of extending and deepening the movement, against a life too expensive to be lived. May it become a part of the daily life of all the people who are suffering in this country. May it grow across the borders of France without any moderation, as it is already the case in Belgium, Germany, Spain, Iraq, Sudan, etc.

For this, the movement does not need a leadership. On the contrary, what politicians call “orientation”, whether nationalist, confusionist, citizenist or racist, is a way to channel the revolt, to crush some before crushing everyone, so that the bourgeois continue to line their pockets. In this journal, we are trying to find out how we can make this movement less controllable and stronger than it already is. How do we develop solidarity with all the proles without exception to stand together against this miserable life? Strategies of struggle are discussed in this paper, such as strikes or blockades, but also enemy manoeuvres, in particular the repression that targets us and the practical response we must provide so that nobody is left out in the cold.

We see the press, the political class and the bosses huffing and puffing to divide the movement. They shout “thugs”, “violence”, and “terrorists”. That’s all they ever talk about in order to dissuade us from struggling, and one of the great thing is the fact that their trick doesn’t work. However, we have to say that what we have been going through for the past two months was no walk in the park. The commitment is demanding, the vultures are lying in wait, our end-of-month difficulties are still there and the horizon we are promised looks like an apocalyptic film. We refuse this future and that’s why we are tinkering with means to put an end to all this. Some of them are proposed in the following pages. “Jaune”, the newspaper to win.

You can download the paper version we distribute by clicking here: Jaune#1 (web)

We have laid out an A4 version so that everyone can print, photocopy and distribute it on their own, it’s here: Jaune A4

Source in French: https://jaune.noblogs.org/

We fight for everyone

“But what are your demands?” It is always the first thing that the media and people opposed to the movement spit in our faces. Through this boring question, they don’t ask us how we landed up [and got together] in the street but how we could leave it. And that’s why we’re in so much trouble. We don’t want to leave these streets we reclaimed, these roundabouts we adorned, and this collective force we found. We know that our situation will not improve with a few crumbs, what makes things completely unmanageable for all power. In addition, we have this wonderful reflex to refuse to be represented, which means that they have no head to buy or to cut to damage the movement. They tell us: “You are asking too much”. Facing this accusation of political amateurism, we could simply say them “fuck off”. Negotiating kills and politicians are our gravediggers.

Who wants to lose?

Except that not everyone within the movement agrees with this. Because maybe we’re not all in the same suffering situation. We, workers, unemployed, pensioners, we live on wages (including disguised as turnover for self-employed entrepreneurs) and on social welfare. This salary and social welfare are obtained by selling our labour force to a boss. And that’s how he manages to make money, that’s how the economy runs, at our expense. We can understand calls for unity within the yellow vests. But when this unity means walking with those who exploit us on a daily basis and with their political representatives, it is no longer unity, it is domestication. In reality, our interests are irreconcilable and this is also expressed at the level of demands. If there is superficial reconciliation as it stands, it will simply mean that we have lost, that we have gone back to the grind and that they have got preferential treatments and restricted intakes in global economic competition by worsening the situation of some of us. It is this faction of the movement that most politicians come from. Just look at groups like the “Gilets Jaunes Libres” or “La France en Colère”. These are the platforms that regularly put forward so-called official demands where traditional political parties’ lobbying attempts are rampant.

42 demands for restoring order

Let’s mention the first list of demands of the Yellow Vests: it’s a piece of abstract artwork, a patchwork of interests. It is asking for anything and everything, from retiring at the age of 60 to increasing the resources for the police and promoting small businesses. And a minimum wage [“SMIC”] at 1,300 euros and jobs for the unemployed, Great Lords!

But this list is also a clear expression of a nationalist tendency, with four measures against foreigners, far from our problems and much further from their solution. You must be stubborn to believe that the problems in France come from elsewhere. That leaving Europe would allow us to live well or that hunting for undocumented migrants will increase our salary. It is precisely the opposite that would happen. We are told: the borders must be closed and it will get better. Look at the United States, Brazil, Hungary, Burma, and Israel: everywhere the different powers are trying to promote the war between the poor to avoid war against the rich while they knowingly continue their war against us. The fascists just want to make a bigger place for themselves at the exploiters’ table while doing like Trump. And we have absolutely no reason to help them do that.

In reality, no one cares about this list of demands. Only politicians can hope to get anything out of it, and of course the media and the government, which will not miss the opportunity to make us look like far-right thugs. But, as when someone is called by a first name that is not his own, we don’t pay attention.

RIC? RIP! RIP-off!

Some politicians have left, particularly from the traditional far right such as Marine Le Pen, but another initiative, supported by many political organisations from the far left to the far right, was soon to give us a hard time: the RIC [Citizens’ initiative referendum] in the name of the people and democracy. As stated above, our political system is based on an illusion, that of the absence of social and economic inequality. We are being told about nations, free and equal citizens in a world where the only real rule is that of exploitation of one class by another. It is bourgeois propaganda that makes us believe that before we are proles, we are citizens; that the life of ideas comes before that of material conditions. Yet the Republic does not fill up the fridge. And the RIC has surfed on this illusion. It must be said that at first sight, the proposal was attractive. We were told that with this, we would finally be able to be heard directly, that we could regain power over our lives. We would decide everything. And even without struggling, without risking our lives on the roundabouts and in demonstrations, just by voting, on our computers in our living rooms, with slippers near a cosy crackling fireplace! But in business, when you have a product to sell, you lie: “Yes, once you have the RIC, it’s possible to get everything through!” That’s wrong. How the hell to ask the bourgeois for their opinion on whether they agree to increase our wages! A vote against the interest of the capitalists, for example the increase in the SMIC hourly rate, would be quite simply rejected. Just remember the 2005 referendum. And this is not to mention the intense propaganda we would suffer to vote against it, alone in front of our screens.

Macron resign

Because that’s the strength of yellow vests. It’s that we’re not alone. We have escaped from the individualism which the social order locks us up into, especially in the polling booth. The reality is that in two months of struggle, the government has never given us so much without being asked for anything. And glasses of water which it used to put out a fire didn’t change anything. The president’s national debate is like a moral lesson. Now Macron makes the choice to throw oil. We are ready.

To counter the RIC, some of us have said: no need for RIC to win, we quite simply want Macron to resign. This demand has the good idea to highlight our action, to refocus the debate on our collective force. Indeed, it’s the street that will make Macron to leave, not the polls. But, right after saying that, everyone is asking the question: who will replace him? That’s precisely where the problem lies. Macron, as arrogant as he may be, is replaceable and his successor will do exactly the same to defend profit. The baby must clearly be thrown out with the bath water. The institutions that exist are there to defend the logic of money and exploitation.

Towards infinity and beyond

To continue, we must strengthen the movement, extend it in accordance with our principles of solidarity, and deepen it so that our common logic, that of rejecting current living conditions, really upsets this world. There’s no need to have a plan for that. It is often by feel that the first steps are being taken, as it has been demonstrated over the past two months. We will have to assume the conflict with everything that stands in our way. Work prevents us from struggling; we respond with a strike. Repression is trying to terrorize us; we are organizing ourselves so that none of us fall into their clutches. Money is tight now; we are setting up solidarity networks with agricultural producers. We can’t pay the rent and bills anymore; we don’t pay them anymore. They shut our electricity off; some yellow vests who work at EDF [French electric utility company] turn it back on. We are hungry; we are going to take the goods from the stores and we are organizing large free distributions for everyone. These are examples among many others, but they all tend towards a single goal: to turn our movement into a rallying point, which everyone can hold on tight to, in order to find in it the strength, mutual aid and ways to live in spite of the crisis, thus in complete contrast with our daily life of suffering. The yellow vests will upset this world. No one can anticipate this upheaval. This is what is called a Revolution.

Video, music, poetry … a movement comes to exist when it begins to imagine itself.

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1 Response to The gilets jaunes: A question of time

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