The yellow vests’ rebellion and beyond

The yellow vests insurrection revealed the central role of the State in assuring the reproduction of capitalist social relations, a role which as central, is also fragile, sustained only by its increasing militarisation against those whom capital increasingly discards.

From the Temps critiques collective, a further reflection on the yellow vests movement.

The yellow vests and the crisis of State legitimacy

“Why were the yellow vests so badly affected by the police repression and this, in general, with indifference?”

Temps Critiques (published in lundi matin #226, 23/01/2020)

After more than a year of actions and demonstrations, one wonders why the yellow vests were so badly affected by police repression and this, overall, with indifference. To the point of arriving at a trivialisation of this repression, the level of intensity of which all “observers” question, as it has been disproportionate to an uprising devoid of any offensive and even defensive material and which sought only push forward its determination to impose its social and political demands.

The yellow vests, however, did not cease to consider, justly, that they were in their right to meet, speak and fight for a fairer and more fraternal world (they asked neither for the moon nor for the revolution , at least originally). However, they remained misunderstood, rejected, despised, even denied by a whole section of the population, in particular on the left, supposedly sensitive to the social question because they posed the latter in a new and original way.

The question therefore arises of understanding, beyond the alleged populist peril relayed by the media and by networks of the militant left, the reasons for such a rejection.

We can estimate that the height of the movement was reached during acts III and IV which struck the spirits of many by the level street violence. It is mainly this violence, also sometimes present on roundabouts or tolls as in Narbonne, which has concentrated political and media attention, interested in repeated scenes of violence – almost always presented as coming from the demonstrators. It has also shaken the traditional model of ritualised demonstrations, institutionalised and controlled by the unions, transforming the remnants of class struggle into struggles with no subversive aims. In a street that has become a sanitised and pacified space (pedestrian zones, cameras and now the delimitation of zones prohibited for demonstrations), everything that disturbs this beautiful arrangement becomes disorder for public order.

Where the authorities seek to control the slightest swarm of life and to meet what remains the consumption of commodities, union protests do nothing more than produce a form of passage like any others. A “quiet force” is therein deployed … in a time and place planned in advance and the struggle is thereby reduced to the force of numbers and therefore to a competition of communication competition around the figures, which become grotesque when the reading of the differences in size range from 1 to 10, as on January 16, 2020, in the figures found in Paris and Marseille.

The refusal of legal forms of protest and State repression

With the yellow vests, it is a matter of another type of force in action because the movement carries high and everywhere the fierce desire to manifest its refusal to continue to suffer degraded living conditions, too often overlooked. By rejecting, from the start, the deadly trap of authorised routes and by occupying and making themselves visible in symbolic places of power and the commodity order, such as the Champs-Élysées in Paris, they produced an immediate awareness of what was necessary to be heard: a surge of insubordination regarding the State supported by urgent social grievances. It was this real sidestep that generated the systematic confrontation with the police during the demonstrations, just as the roundabout occupations made it physically possible for a community of active struggle to emerge.

In both cases, something new has been created in the diversion [détournement] of the functions specific places: places where power is concentrated, the historical backdrop of class struggles (Courbet, the Commune and the plan to destroy the Vendôme column), suddenly rediscovered while the traditional Bastille-Nation ignored them; and roundabouts, places completely foreign to the history of class struggles since they are of recent date, but very much linked to the history of the capitalist layout of the territory.

This question of places is important because, in capitalised society, the factory and even the company are no longer places that occupied in the struggle, insofar as the production process has largely ceased to be a process of work after the restructuring of large companies which have massively laid off workers and no longer hire. The decisive places today – but not exclusive – are those at the center of the reproduction of social relationships (hospitals, schools, transport, platforms, hypermarket entrances, road nodes, shopping arteries in the hyper-centres of cities), where the struggle directly confronts the State taken as collective capitalism.

But the State, if it grants the right to circulate in the streets, does so on its own terms. Such that if a demonstration circulates in its own way – and this is a right barely conceded – it becomes for it a traffic disorder and, ultimately, a blockage to free consumption requiring cameras and the presence of police and vigilantes.
Merchants in the hypercentres have made this well known to the authorities, but also to their customers with small posters denouncing the obstacle to trade represented by weekly demonstrations, especially during the holidays.

From mid-December 2018, everything crystallised around a State strategy aimed at gradually making it impossible for the yellow vests to demonstrate.

In effect, interventionist police tactics constantly endangered the very possibility of demonstration, which led the demonstrators to seek no compromise with the authorities, with the aim of finding entirely spontaneous routes, which greatly disoriented the law enforcement. From then on, the aim of power was to gain the upper hand and annihilate this capacity for collective initiative (“collective intelligence” say the yellow vests), and this, without any possible stepping back, because instead of negotiation it chose the path of terror. Also, from one thing to another, the obstacles and difficulties encountered in the daily struggle, of what was not yet a generalised revolt, but more the expression of exasperation in the face of particular measures experienced as provocations, produced a questioning of power in the form it took under Macron. For the yellow vests, it was a matter of the most elementary rights, to demonstrate, to meet, to circulate. Suddenly it was as if they had taken hold of the theories of the young Marx on the criticism of formal freedoms in bourgeois democracy. But we have seen that very few understood it like that and some even went so far as to suppose that behind the yellow vests was the action an invisible hand which sought to suppress all freedoms.

The yellow vests have in the course of their struggle traveled anew over the whole history of democracy by covering in record time the distance separating the bourgeois conception of it – “dictatorship means to shut up, democracy means always to talk” –
to its capitalist conception – “democracy is work, consume and shut up”.

However, in theories of the rule of law, demonstrations or group meetings do not have to be subject to prior authorisation which, in fact, limits the conditions for the exercise of a fundamental freedom. However, French law requires an authorisation request from the authorities, who then reserve all latitude to interpret the danger of the march. Thus, we understand that in demonstrations which are more political than strictly social, danger is evaluated by those in power either with caution or in an authoritarian manner; in the end, it does not matter. Thus, the powers of preventive administrative prohibition of demonstrations, conferred on the direct representatives of the State which are the police prefects, clearly reveal their repressive role, purely and simply depriving thousands of people of their right to demonstrate. This is why a struggle that hinders power must be pushed towards illegality, even criminalised from the moment it does not give up, before the interpretation that the power in place has of the law. For its part, the government must try to convince society of the illegitimacy of the action of the protagonists who face it and remind everyone of its own legitimacy to exert violence, over which it has a monopoly.

And as Macron still argued yesterday before finally taking or pretending to take into account the problem today: “In a state of law we cannot talk about police violence” (implied in this is that there are, at most, exceptional moments of police excess).

To impose its “truth”, political power has media and communication relays to win the battle of public opinion. This is what Macron’s authority then attached itself to with the help of continuous news media coverage that, like BFM-TV, certainly provided an initial sounding board for the movement which aroused empathy towards it, but which in the end served to “gun it down”. By sorting out information and images in such a way as to produce that “aura” of violence that attached itself to the yellow vests and those who joined them, they illustrated a discourse of power that would otherwise have remained abstract and purely ideological.

From the 1st of December and especially on the 8th, we were treated to an outburst of televisions (mainly on the part of continuous news channels) around the deterioration of urban furniture or the shower of projectiles thrown at banks, shop windows or at the police forces by “violent rabble [casseurs]”, which called up from memory the 1970s. Most of the time, the whole protest march was prevented from advancing and forced to follow the dead roads traced by the police or dissipate under tear gas and other police tricks, such as the use of weapons of war experimented beforehand in “poor neighbourhoods”, such as “defense” bullet guns (LBD40) or the dispersing grenades (GLIF4), and a diversity of violence against journalists and demonstrators filming the police, etc.

On December 1st, 2018, the French law and order strategy, based on zero contact and a distancing of the demonstrators, collapsed because it assumed the fixing of red lines of defence not to be crossed (the places of power), but with the risk of occupation and violence in neighborhoods close to the event, abandoned by the strategy of the defence of symbolic places chosen by the police (the red zone as was said in Italy at the time of the G8 in Genoa in 2001). This is what happened in the Étoile district of Paris and even finally with the temporary “taking” of the Arc-de-Triomphe by the demonstrators. A culpable immobility on the part of the police which began to be rectified from December 8th on and especially in early January with various preventive regulations, such as administrative measures to prohibit demonstrations, the blocking of buses on motorways, the surveillance of arrivals on trains, the searches of bags and the confiscation of Street Medics first aid equipment, demonstration kettling, etc. At the same time, the criminal sentences could not be appealed (several thousand convictions), something which demonstrates all of the difficulties of a regime so weak that it is reduced to thinking only in terms of a state of emergency. By criminalising social struggles through the extension of anti-terrorist security laws to them, Macron revived, more than a century later, the old “villainous laws” [lois scélérates].

Questioning the State as a legitimate authority

What the yellow vests collided with was the State and those who make it exist. And so it was indeed the “State structure” that so forcefully reminded them of what they confronted. Suddenly the State was no longer the guarantor of a contract in which individuals surrendered absolute liberty by accepting duties and obligations in exchange for rights, for security in the broad sense. By these measures, considered by the majority as unfair (VAT, increase in fuels, increase in the CSG [a social security tax]), the State appeared as an external institution exercising its brute force.

Indeed, by its breadth and the vigor of its insubordination, this movement directly challenged the government in its legitimacy to conduct a politics that benefits the greatest number and therefore, in the language yellow vests, the people. And it is this “illegitimacy trial” which began to appear with lists of grievances [Cahiers de doléances] represented by the some 48 “original demands” and from which a certain number of revolutionary references will arise, such as that to article 35 of the constitution of 1793 on the right to insurrection, a right never applied in fact.(1) They will endeavour to make these demands real by occupying roundabouts, with unauthorised demonstrations and which will find, following the logic of power, repression as the only possible response of the State. This is a repression that the yellow vests ended up “publicising” themselves (for lack of external support and therefore in desperation) during demonstrations against police violence and paradoxically by calling for police action against police excesses, when it was a matter of challenging the legitimacy of State violence! Furthermore, one can question the relevance of laying out the injuries on Facebook groups as a means of “motivation” to come to demonstrations.

The victim-like atmosphere that prevails today in capitalised society is a double-edged sword; it leads to recurrent lament, but on the basis of the suffering atomised individual. However, the protester does not really fall into this category, since s/he is included in the collective of a potentially violent group in fusion, something that the Minister of the Interior contends. S/he cannot therefore be a victim, except in the case of flagrant blunders. S/he must assume her/his situation and her/his commitment. But with those of the movement being taken by the political and media powers for a beggar, it is an additional reason for the “good people” to silence the “nobodies”.(2) What were these “nobodies” trying to get involved in anyway? Questions of representation? The Republic? Democracy? Insufferable. Let them only concern themselves with the price of diesel.

As in any uprising, what scares people is not the demand, it is the disinterestedness, “the sublime side” of the revolution as Michelet said. However, it was not unimaginable that the crisis of the nation-state form with globalisation and its restructuring in networks would produce, apart from the incompetency and scandals related to the condition of elected officials/representatives, a crisis of sovereignty reviving the old constitutional debate between national sovereignty and popular sovereignty.

The Yellow Vests have courageously and determinedly carried out their acts of insubordination including those considered to be the most violent by the authorities,(3) the media and certain elements of “public opinion”, even if obviously it is not they who have decided this level of violence, but rather the State apparatus. The fairness and legitimacy of their uprising was not problematic in their eyes. The immediacy of each initiative taken in the struggle contained its own legitimacy … both in act as well as potentially. But this was out of step with the founding discourse of the peaceful nature of the movement. The disproportion between the actual violence of the yellow vests and State violence was soon no longer posed, from the end of December 2018, as an element in the balance of power (“We will go and get them at home” and the images of a seeming taking of the Bastille on December 1st and 8th), but was rather presented as a sign of particular violence, an illegitimate repressive politics in the face of which they were only poor victims (the exhibition of “broken mouths”).

A brief historical and theoretical review

The question of legitimate violence brings us back, in terms of law, to two very different classical conceptions in which can be defined and in which therefore the use of force can be legitimately exercised.

On the one hand, the authority of the State (from Hobbes to Weber (4)) whose use of law enforcement in a strict framework can only be legitimised by law. At this level of standards, legality and legitimacy merge. In this context and these terms, police violence is, in fact, neither possible nor conceivable, except at the risk of calling into question the State’s powers to use force against its own citizens, unless these citizens break the law and threaten public order, a situation provided for by law. On the other hand, the legitimacy of revolutionary violence driven by a desire for justice, the construction of history made by men. Violence against the legal framework of particularly unfair social norms is, in this regard, an inevitable passage to build a society that can rest on just foundations (communist or anarchist, it would once have been said).

In pre-capitalist societies, it is “traditional legitimacy” (royal, religious, patriarchal) which founds legality and in a secular form, this endures until modern times, with only the era of revolutions putting an end to it. Spartacus-like slave revolts, peasant wars in Germany, Jacqueries in France, the revolt of the Ciompi in Florence, are only exceptional events which momentarily break a course of events which seem immutable. It is only in modern times that a new form of legitimacy is imposed in democratic societies, called “rational-legal” by Max Weber. Legitimacy is no longer a divine or family right, but contractual and rational as trade is supposed to be. But when legitimacy is called into question, the social pact no longer holds and legality loses its meaning (again, the reference by the yellow vests to article 35 of the 1793 constitution).

History has shown that what is legal one day was not yesterday and will not necessarily be so tomorrow. Legality is the fruit of a compromise between social forces that the rulers, in the broad sense (the three powers of Montesquieu), translate into positive law (that is to say all the legal rules in force) which applies to all by consent, persuasion or force where appropriate at a given time and place. The legality of the laws and rules is then supposed to be in adequacy with the legitimacy of the actions of the State, which is itself charged with assuring respect for this law. However, it is this adequacy that is called into question in situations where it becomes legitimate, for one or more factions in struggle (high school students do not have the right to strike, even so, they take it), to oppose the law or the interpretation that is made of the law (the determination of yellow vests in the face of limitations on the right to demonstrate). In the current crisis of the nation-state form and the questioning of political representation in capitalised society, it is the extent of the discrepancy, even the contradiction between this legality which has become external and a legitimacy produced from within by the social body which allows and explains the emergence of a movement of such magnitude as that of the yellow vests and the secondary effects produced in the current demonstrations around the pension reform.

Basically, it was the person of Macron that was put on “trial”, whose model of power represents the obverse of all the setbacks suffered by all of those abandoned by the roadside, the forgotten of the villages, the condemned to the RSA [Revenu de solidarité active: french state welfare benefits], the unemployed in the cities, small artisans and merchants set adrift, villagers without a post office or school; over the course of recent years, the many, and therefore all potentially yellow vests. Macron’s error is the same as that of Sarkozy. Instead of merging like Hollande in the mediocrity of the function within the rather anonymous functioning of parliamentary democracy in a regime of rational/legal legitimacy, he wanted to add a touch of “charismatic legitimacy”. The media, who had seen others, first laughed at his self-satisfied stupidity, but they had no interest in blowing against the wind. Macron wanted to be a “Jupiter” president, and they then enthroned him Sun King, before whom they bowed down. As a result, his person became untouchable and, ultimately, possible criticism from journalists would only be addressed to the government. But this image acted like a red flag for the yellow vests and its “legitimacy” was not charismatic but cataclysmic. His political speeches, his contemptuous attitude, placed him at the forefront of the heads to be removed or made off with. In addition, given the repression of the demonstrations, its bad ratings were cut further and nothing seemed to help. The measures taken in December – however appreciable, compared to what the unions of salaried workers are now getting – did not achieve their objective of quenching the movement; the promise kept, of a great citizens’ debate – where he deigned to dirty his shirt no longer calmed spirits. While he dreamed of being a Hegelian hero, able to complete all the major social reforms that would hold France up to world standards – no longer a great power, but a start-up nation anyway – he was forced to use the most implacable coercive means to impose his realpolitik at the pace of a forced march, constantly recalling the legal framework and his legitimacy to exercise it as the supreme representative of the nation.

The illegitimacy of the yellow vests’ struggle

It is not that the State is unable to host demonstrations and actions, but it prefers to choose those in wadding, like climate demonstrations or traditional union demonstrations. But even these seem unbearable to it from the moment that the tension rises and that they can appear as not being entirely reducible to their ritual. In this case, the State now chooses what appears to it to be the simplest and fastest solution: repressive politics, as we saw on May 1, 2019 in Paris. The context is very different today: it is labor law that is under attack and even “1st of May/Labor Day” appears to be too much, just as is emerging, in circles of power, that the strike itself is illegitimate. There is a reversal of the original principles of law, in which legitimacy made the law.
Henceforth, the State can declare illegal what it decrees illegitimate by playing with the law by means of administrative measures. This is what it has done recently with administrative prohibitions, replacing the judges’ legal decisions for individual bans on demonstrations.

Therein lies the paradox: at a time when capitalised society multiplies rights of all kinds according to the wishes of different categories, thus creating all kinds of legitimacies, like so many particularities exploded and harmless for its power and that of capital, the State tends to reduce if not suppress fundamental rights and particularly those of resistance and revolt, because they target and threaten indirectly or directly these same powers and capital.

It is that the determination of the yellow vests provoked the overflowing of the legal framework, and that, on the part of the two forces in presence. On the one hand, the sociological composition of the movement – a fraction of the population from modest economic backgrounds on the outskirts of cities or in the countryside little used to demonstrating, and a fortiori in the territories of ostentatious wealth – led it to not respect the rules: those of the occupation of space, circulation and demonstration which it did not necessarily know and which quickly appeared to it as arbitrary when it took cognisance of them head-on on the ground. The shock was all the more brutal since its lack of political experience did not unduly push it to limit itself (by the prior declaration of demonstrations and march trajectories, organisation of services of order), something which surprised power because it was not used to managing and stemming spontaneous mass actions that were somehow illegal without knowing it. This same sociological composition of “a-class-that-is-not-one” of the yellow vests made them indefinable and indiscernible. At first, this did not encourage Macron and the government of playing pedagogues. First you had to terrorise and punish. First, the stick; the carrot of the “great debate” was not yet in the cards.

This disqualification of the movement on the part of the authorities was redoubled by that from upper social strata, company executives, intellectuals, media and artistic castes, who on the one hand are in positions of command and responsibility in society, and on the other (teachers and mid-level civil servants) remain very attached to institutions, the State and the form that mobilisations traditionally take and, consequently, to the legal frameworks which regulate the right to demonstrate. So the demonstrations of the yellow vests were quickly considered illegitimate, because they simply did not respect the rules of the game.(5) The “good” mobilisation, the “legitimate” mobilisation will be that which plays the democratic game in which the certified representatives of social protest, which are the various and varied union organisations and militant groups, participate. Even if they don’t have a monopoly on political actions and demonstrations, they offer us the most common model, that of those who respects strike notices, those one who preserve work, those who when they say that a demonstration is over, everyone must disperse, etc.

This idea that one can “come out of nowhere”, without political labels or a patent of allegiance to a recognised organisation, and to defend with panache, supported by a few obscure social groups, highly social demands for justice and solidarity, remained largely unintelligible to the average city dweller of more or less globalised cities and in any case “metropolised” who, indifferent or disdainful at the beginning, then very quickly incredulous and soon frightened, will mobilise all her/his geopolitical skills to discern in the yellow vests the appearance of fascist-becoming hordes. In this spirit, the history of great historical upheavals can only be appreciated in their symbolic forms and social revolutions must remain in books or at least at a good distance from the street. Macron wanted to commemorate May 68, but one of his advisers had to tell him that the stopper should not be pushed too far. Premonitory.

Thus the Yellow Vests found themselves as if caught in a vice that some tried to loosen by calling for a “convergence” which could only prove futile since they conceived it on their own bases (“Tous Gilets Jaunes”/”All Yellow Vests”), justly refused by the vast majority of unionised employees. The government then played the card of citizen diversion via large remote-controlled debates aiming at the reasonable fringe of the yellow vests and more generally at the “citizen”, in the sense that power understands it, that is to say, whoever comports her/himself as a citizen. Indeed, for Macron, it was not a matter of granting them a right of representation, something which would have short-circuited existing and already well weakened political mediations (municipal councils, district councils). It was necessary to respond, but in a staggered and princely manner, to a supposed request for discussion. This operation was a double blow for while giving the impression of giving a direct voice to the people, in fact, it kept trade union organisations on the fringes and in turn degraded their legitimacy as the “first intermediary” vis-à-vis the State.

Everyone played with their own weapons: stick (Castaner and the police) and carrot (the Macron-government-MP debate) on one side; contempt or indifference on the other (unions and left forces), but all together against the yellow vests. At this isolated and infantilised point, the yellow vests’ movement therefore remained displaced and misunderstood. At best, it sometimes served as a back-up force when certain factions of union members in certain sectors called upon them to come and support them in an action. At worst, while it proudly claimed to be the whole people, it only appeared to the cultivated middle classes cultivated as a vulgar, uncontrollable and dangerous populace.

A State that reinforces itself, a power that consolidates itself

From now on, we understand why the undermining of government power, so hoped for by the Yellow Vests in December 2018, when it rocked terribly for Macron and Castaner, did not happen. The State is not a paper tiger and it quickly regained a certain balance and renewed confidence in its prerogatives of maintaining order, finally of maintaining capitalist order.(6)

So instead of hiding this, it shamelessly announced that it had replenished its weapons stocks (banned elsewhere in Europe) and that it would use the same strategy in the future, with not only extensive use of the BAC [Brigade anti-criminalité: a rapid intervention police force working without uniforms], but with the reappearance of the motorcycle-mounted police force [voltigeurs], suppressed since 1986. And no one reacted or almost no one. In any case, not the unions, except the police unions, satisfied … on this one point.

This legitimacy is renewed, all the more so by those who remain silent or those who explicitly support the legitimacy of the democratic State, thereby condoning the latter’s action and therefore repression. One of the most notable supporting forces has been the merchants, and especially those of the city centres, to which the State has provided and reinforced financial aid, following the losses suffered during the protests. The government has skillfully developed t his propagandist line of responseby reporting the consequent economic losses which were likely to cause a slowdown in growth, and in return, an increase in unemployment. In the end, the base of support for Macron was much broader than his electoral base, which the yellow vests took a long time to realise, so much did the image of the “monarch” to be behead seemed to them to be a figure immediately understandable by all.

The problematic attempt by the unions to take matters into their own hands

In the current movement against pension reform, the trade unions demonstrate their inability to overcome what would only be a sham power struggle, if there was not pressure from Parisian RATP [Régie Autonome des Transports Parisiens] employees and railway workers throughout the territory. However, at the base, what some call the “yellow vests’ effect” shows through, which is the taking up, by a number of demonstrators, of certain songs and slogans of struggle which harden the tone of the protests or during blockading actions of warehouses or refineries, joined individually or in small groups by yellow vests, in a solidarity and fraternity that would almost lead one to forget the distance maintained throughout the past year.

Recall that the yellow vests movement has arisen as a mirror of the disappearance of local public services (schools, hospitals, regional trains) and the decline of traditional mediations-representations (unions, local institutions). In this situation, their first feeling could not have been to defend disappeared or never known “achievements”. In fact, their reaction, even if it was done on the pretext of specific government measures which were unfavorable to them, called into question the whole of their living conditions and their former passivity. It is as if, all of a sudden, “the system” (not yet described by them as “capitalist” in the beginnings of the movement) jumped up at them with the fact that it was no longer able to reproduce their social relationships and that they had to take care of them themselves, one way or another. The first way to do so was to break out of isolation by creating places from which the collective could express itself, first in discussions, then in occupation and finally in a community of struggle around the themes of a social emergency.

In the end, this struggle was a true “revelation” of the crisis of reproduction of capitalist social relations, [7] with some catalyzing effects.

Thus in the current movement more centred on pensions, the maintenance of a continuous presence of yellow vests in union demonstrations, certainly a minority compared to the forces engaged last year, and even though it is that part of the movement which accepts political groups in their ranks (LFI, NPA type), demonstrates to those who would still doubt the inability of union forces to promote new forms of action on the ground, and above all, disruptive actions. They remain in their register and are not likely to surprise “their social partners”. The yellow vests, denied and scorned yesterday when they represented a possible empowerment of forms of struggle compared to union strategies of class collaboration, are today invited by these same unions to apply joint pressure, not to change and gain something, but to not lose something.

In inter-struggle GA [general assemblies of joint struggles], for example, which increasingly give way to people who consider themselves in struggle wherever they come from, the yellow vests, union members or not, can intervene without any problem as long as they do so on the bases of the limited content of the pension movement. The “aura” the yellow vests acquired last year therefore only hovers above, without returning with the idea of a more general putting into question, which however alone could allow the extension of the movement to segments of the population that do not do not feel directly concerned (secondary school students, students, the unemployed, uberized workers). The aura of the movement nevertheless spreads in the demonstrations, sometimes creating lively tensions within the protest marches, which must be managed positively for better or worse by traditional workers’ organisations whose marshals have been reduced in strength and determination, and find themselves ineffective.

If we can only note, without blame, that the yellow vests movement has overlooked any assessment, this may have its reasons in the suddenness of the event and the difficulties in considering the different times of the struggle. So that we cannot prevent certain groups of yellow vests (“Assembly of assemblies” type) from thinking that through a “convergence” on pensions, the experience of union activists could allow the yellow vests a critical perspective on their struggle or a better “capitalisation of its achievements”. But, it is clear that in the course of the current movement, this pedagogical intention turns out to be ineffective and it is probably better this way.

What remains, as in the rough, is that despite the decline of the yellow vests’ movement and the discontinuity that we have been able to note from this summer(8), these yellow vests which sustain today in numbers and in force at the head of protest marches, mixing with whoever wishes, bear witness to a force which, in a way, makes them the metronome of insubordination before the State. They will have made it possible to concentrate in a single movement all the revolts of the ZAD, the movement of the occupation of squares and struggle against the proposed El Khomri law (and the militant taking of the lead in the protest marchea). Let us hope that all of the obstinacy to fight and not to yield which has been emerging for a few years and continues today, grounds itself on this new reality as an element in the struggle against capital. It will certainly require a leap forward in the level of determination and struggle, but it first requires taking side steps in relation to what is expected by the authorities. And since civil servants and the like are very present in this struggle, while being the main agents of social reproduction, in addition to the strike, the objective could now be to stop “functioning” by seizing all available opportunities.(9)

Temps critiques, 19/01/2020

  1. – This article is an implicit recognition of the irreducible opposition between the government, the State and citizens. The bourgeoisie, once its power established after Thermidor, can rid itself of the people and the article disappears from the 1795 constitution. It will only reappear in the preamble to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, but only to conjure it away. What in the mind of the revolutionary legislator of the time was conceived of as a right becomes a constraint, a supreme remedy which should be prevented: “It is essential that human rights by protected by the rule of law so that man is not forced, as a last resort, to revolt against tyranny and oppression ”.
  2. – Cf. Henri Guillemin, Silence aux pauvres!, Arléa, 1996. Again, the reference to the French Revolution is obvious and particularly with reference to the “honest people” of which La Fayette spoke, and which grouped together the owners whose fear of the revolution manifested itself at the meeting of the Estates General, a fear not to leave them until Thermidor.
  3. – We are not speaking here of violence from black blocks, but of the basic violence of yellow vests like that deployed at the Narbonne toll booth, in Puy-en-Velay and Bordeaux, to name only the more famous cases.
  4. – For Thomas Hobbes (mid-17th century), political society can emerge and replace the state of nature thanks to the social contract. Reasonable individuals concede to a higher authority, the State, whether absolutist in Hobbes or liberal in John Locke, certain rights in exchange for security (protection of property and the execution of past contracts). For Max Weber (early 20th century), “the state can only be defined sociologically by the specific means which are specific to it, namely legitimate violence”. What in effect is specific to our time is that it only grants groups or individuals the right to resort to violence to the extent that the State tolerates it: the latter then is sole source of the “right” to violence (Le savant et le politique, coll.” 10/18 “, Plon, 1959). “The fact of ordering itself obeys a norm: it is not an arbitrary freedom, neither a grace nor a privilege”.
  5. – See in this respect the news report “Police, au cœur du chaos. L’enquête BFM-TV”, where a divisional commissioner makes it clear how the yellow vests do not play the usual game of negotiated protests.
  6. – The gradual change in attitude of the yellow vests towards the police is clear. Without them necessarily spontaneously intoning the “national police, militia of capital” of the various militant groups, it became increasingly clear to them that the “order” forces of “order” were in fact the forces of “an order”.
  7. – See the article in Temps critiques “Un analyseur de la crise de la reproduction des rapports sociaux capitalistes : Les Gilets jaunes”. (For our english translation of this text, see:
  8. – “Discontinuité ou fin du mouvement des Gilets Jaunes?”:
  9. An action to block the passage to the first stage of continuous evaluation of the BAC demonstrates the first concrete possibility. This is what teachers from Clermont-Ferrand started to do. See html
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