On the movement of the “Yellow Vests” in France

The following communiqué by the International Group of the Communist Left has been released after the demonstrations on Saturday December 1st, which  appear to have been the apogee of the “yellow vests” mobilizations in France so far. Beyond a characterization of this movement as “inter-class” it provides some important reflections and an orientation that tries to overcome the impasse of this kind of movement.

IGCL: Communiqué on the Social Revolt in France (2 December 2018)

» On the third Saturday of the “yellow vests” movement, the pictures of riots on the Champs Élysées and the chic bourgeois Paris neighborhood surrounding it makes the headlines of the news. But on this 1st December, after two weeks of blockades of roads and roundabouts, it is a genuine social revolt mixing workers, unemployed, pensioners, artisans, peasants, small and self-employed entrepreneurs that has exploded throughout the country as a whole. The clashes with the police have multiplied in the cities of Toulouse, Marseilles, but also in Tours, Avignon, Dijon, and various more or less big cities… up till Puy en Velay where the prefecture has been burned by the demonstrators. « (1

Exacerbation and generalization of the popular anger to the whole country

If some extreme right-wing groups (2) and “extreme left” ones (of the Black Block type), have certainly been active at the beginning of the clashes in Paris, (3) it is seriously doubtful that this has been the case as well in Puy en Velay (a rural town with 18,000 inhabitants in central France) or in Charleville-Mézières (with 48,000 inhabitants in the Ardennes). Faced with the state repression by the CRS [anti-riot police] and the gendarmes, many “yellow vests” have decided to respond either by assuming their own defense or by (directly or passively) associating themselves with the various more or less informal groups that are presented as “extremist”. This physical refusal to yield to the violence of the state police had already been expressed during the 2016 workers’ demonstrations against the “Labor Law” that have been violently repressed, and in the course of which thousands of workers nevertheless have expressed solidarity with the “black blocks” and others confronting the police. This “radicalisation” of the demonstrators in the course of the social mobilizations responds to the daily violence imposed by capitalism and to the dictatorship of its state. In a larger sense it responds to the capitalist crisis and the all about misery that it imposes on billions of human beings. Beyond the increasing disarray of the government, incapable of dealing with the immediate situation and that only seems able to pour oil on the fire, its refusal to withdraw if only the increase in gasoline taxes (which could have calmed down the general explosion of anger) illustrates both the urgency for French and international capitalism to impose ever more misery and exploitation, and the inevitable explosion of massive social confrontations at the world level, of which we only see the beginnings. Similarly, the fact that, until yesterday, the polls indicated that 85% of the French population support the movement despite the violent confrontations on November 17 and 24 – with hundreds of wounded and two deceased – expresses this radicalization and this generalization of anger… and the contradictions and limits of this “inter-class” movement as well, in which small entrepreneurs, artisans, peasants, salaried and waged laborers, and pensioners mix up.

At the time of writing, the impasse seems total. On the one hand, without withdrawing any of the taxes and other increases in energy prices it has decreed, the government is focusing all its communication on the rioters, the media evoke an atmosphere of insurrection and the police unions are calling for the intervention of the army and for a new declaration of the state of emergency. As of today, the government seems to be incapable to advance whatever political response. On the other hand, the “yellow vests” movement, by virtue of its characteristics, its diverse and contradictory social composition; its equally diverse and contradictory demands, is unable to organize itself at a minimal level and is still less able to offer a genuine perspective of struggle against the state and capitalism.

Limits and impasse of an “inter-class” movement

The photo of about thirty “yellow vests” kneeling in front of the tomb of the Unknown Soldier at the Arc de Triomphe in Paris, singing the Marseillaise at the top of their voices, with their arms raised towards the sky, amid of the confrontations (whether its authors were right-wing extremists or not), illustrates the limits and contradictions of this movement very well.

Apart from the calls for President Macron to resign and for the dissolution of the National Assembly, typical petty bourgeois and right-wing extremist demands, the demand for lower general and fuel taxes permits “everyone” to identify with them and to rally behind them. The increase of the tax on gasoline has been [widely] experienced as yet another attack on living conditions, as “the straw that broke the camel’s back”, because a large majority of workers, especially those in the province, driven away from the cities and workplaces by high rents and property prices, is forced to commute by car. It is exactly on these petty bourgeois demands and characteristics that the left-wing party La France Insoumise of Jean-Luc Mélenchon claims the privilege of defending the French people, the national flag and the most crass nationalism against the right-wing extremists and the Rassemblement National of Marine Le Pen.

On this terrain, the workers who find themselves isolated and drowned as proletarians in a mass of “people” with heterogeneous and often contradictory interests, will win nothing. And they have everything to lose by letting themselves be drawn into methods and objectives of struggle that can only harm the defense of their interests and lead them to the impasse of nationalism and xenophobia, even racism.

It is up to the proletarians to take the lead in the struggle against capitalism

On the other hand, the individual participation of many workers, pensioners and unemployed has had the effect of some demands emerging from the “yellow vests’” cocktail, that can be taken up by the working class as a whole, by the proletariat as an exploited and revolutionary class. Apart from the cancellation of the increase of gasoline prices, an increase of the official minimum salary, the SMIC – many “proletarian” yellow vests set the latter at 1,800 euros per month – as well as a general increase in wages and pensions should be taken up at the work places in order to mobilize and engage resolutely and collectively in the struggle. In this way the working class could offer a real outlet opening the road, not only for these demands to be realized (and for French capitalism to be driven back for the first time since long) but towards the destruction of capitalism itself, which inexorably leads the whole of humanity into misery, ecological catastrophe – for which the bourgeoisie wants to make the proletarians and the populations pay – and, more generally, to the generalized imperialist war.

However, we cannot count on the so-called “workers” trade unions to call for the struggle and for strikes in today’s situation. This is what the workers’ components of the “yellow vests” have well understood after the successive defeats of the past massive mobilizations, those of 2013 to 2016 against the ‘Labor Law’, and this year’s railway workers’ mobilization. In the absence of any workers’ perspective, this “anti-syndicalist” sentiment among the less experienced sectors of the proletariat in France wrongly identified with petty-bourgeois “anti-syndicalism”, which is nothing but the expression of its pathological fear of the workers’ struggle and the perspective of communism. The unions will carefully avoid to do so, unless some workers’ sectors force them by their own mobilization, because the emergence of workers’ struggles (strikes and demonstrations) would risk to rapidly and genuinely become a real danger for the French bourgeoisie and French capitalism – unlike the ’yellow vests’ movement. Given the circumstances and the appearance of radicalism of the “yellow vests”, and the generalized atmosphere of revolt in the country, a dynamic of proletarian mobilization in France would immediately provide a different character to the social revolt behind the demands on wages; a class character in which the tricolor flag would quickly give way to the red flag, and the Marseillaise to the International anthem. In passing, this would burst asunder the inter-class “unity” of the yellow vests. Above all, it would rapidly challenge the existing power, the current government, and would provoke a political crisis affecting the state power. (4)

For this perspective of workers’ struggle to open up, it is still necessary that the proletarians, the most militant workers, engage themselves in and mobilize as soon as possible for the unleashing of workers’ fights, to intervene towards the ‘yellow vests’ workers in particular and to show them the genuine terrain and way of confronting capital. To this end, they will have to politically confront… the trades unions and the left-wing parties both at the workplaces and in street demonstrations. But for this perspective to open up, the most conscious workers’ militants and the revolutionaries have to regroup, to organize, in struggle committees or other forms, and address themselves to all proletarians, both at the work places and, as “yellow vests”, at the road blockages.

The IGCL – Revolution or War, December 2nd 2018.

Source: http://igcl.org/Communique-du-GIGC-sur-la-revolte

Translator’s note: This translation has been verified with its French source. Redundancies have been reduced and some phrases have been simplified. Emphasis by the editor.

Translation: H.C., December 8, 2018.


1 Since November 17th, another movement of the ’yellow vests’ has developed, to a lesser degree, in Belgium [and in the Netherlands].

2 It matters that the initial attempts of the extreme-right to drive the ’yellow vests’ movement to the racist and xenophobic terrain were not successful and the latter, in their majority, turned away of it. The danger of fascism to power is not on the agenda.

3 Without mentioning the police provocations of all kinds, including the common practices of police infiltration within the very street demonstrations.

4 This does not mean that the questions of the working class insurrection and of the workers councils’ power, the ’soviets’, are posed. The proletariat is far from being at the level of confrontation to capitalism and the bourgeois state.