Robin Goodfellow in the Land of the ‘Yellow Vests’

A critique by the Pantopolis blog (March 15, 2019)

We are happy to [refer to] the latest text from the group Robin Goodfellow (RGF). (1) Coming from the Bordigist camp, it has striven to always be in tune with the class struggle, despite the desperately academic tone of its publications.

This text shows a positive spirit of openness towards the movement of the ‘yellow vests’, in which proletarians predominate. Contrary to some sects falsely laying claim to left-wing communism, Robin Goodfellow did not spit on the movement, quite the contrary. These sects did, by the way, not manifest an “aristocratism” of revolutionary “purists”, but rather the ubuesque (2) holy fear of micro-bureaucrats, ready to hide under their beds at the first signs of serious confrontation with the “forces of order”, shamefully describing the healthy reaction of the yellow vests to the terrible force of the capitalist state (3) as “useless violence.”

The text of Robin Goodfellow is very precise on the classes, or rather the heterogeneous layers that have intervened in the movement of the ‘yellow vests’. It deserves to be welcomed for demonstrating that, in the ‘yellow vests’ movement, the proletariat is very much present (workers, employees), even as a vast majority.

Nevertheless, it sins by its plebeian perspective, by its references to the immortal Jacobin revolution (for RGF we are in Ventôse 227…). Let us recall that the Bordigist International Communist Party (‘Le Prolétaire’), formerly used to praise the uncultivated actions of the plebeian masses of the third world to the skies. (4) Goodfellow’s text also praises Lenin’s positions on the emancipation of “peoples” deprived of a national framework. The bourgeois revolution would still be on the agenda everywhere!

The real question has already been posed by Gorter in 1920, in his Open Letter to comrade Lenin: (5) the proletariat is tragically alone, divided, scattered, having lost its class compass, without a communist perspective, in the impossibility of imagining that internationally it is the TRUE BEARER of a REAL social emancipation of the entire population of the globe.

Today, the proletarians in yellow vests make no reference whatsoever to the proletarian revolutions of a century ago, a period in which the prospect of the annihilation of the capitalist system was clearly posed. The 1791 tricolor flag, the Jacobin guillotine, the PEOPLE and the NATION of the bourgeois revolution are, for the moment, their only references. Forty years of over-simplified history curricula in schools (where one no longer speaks about workers revolutions, Russia, Germany, Hungary, etc., except under the heading “totalitarianism”) and a total control of the capitalist state over the media also explain the sidereal void of any radical political thinking among the ‘yellow vests’.

What about the petty bourgeoisie whose ideology triumphs in this movement? Some petty bourgeois strata are proletarianized (auto-entrepreneurs, part-time work, job “Uberization”, perpetual intermittent unemployment). The ends of the month are painfully difficult for the majority, but it is not yet a situation of the type of 1923 in Germany.

Many of these layers benefit from the system (executives and others living in the interstices of capitalism), which has become completely PARASITICAL; a system based on the production and sale of socially useless goods. The other petty bourgeois layers are slowly proletarianized, but do not realize that for a moment they become part of those without financial reserves. Individualized for decades as “consumers”, they deny themselves as producers. They draw on their memories of republican mythology (the Bastille, the taking of the Tuileries, the sans-culottes) to adorn themselves with the clothes OF THE PEOPLE IN REVOLT, that of Victor Hugo’s LES MISERABLES, those who only receive the crumbs of the system. Like the sans-culottes of republican mythology, they focus all their hatred on the royal person. They turn the arrogant bourgeois parvenu Macron into an almighty king, whom it would simply be a matter of deposing oneself in order to found a “participatory republic”, fairer by less taxes (this was the eternal claim of the popular masses under the monarchy: less taxes). They do not yet see that all politicians, from Le Pen to Mélenchon, are only defending a capitalist system with a different verbiage.

These layers still believe that “democracy” (the ‘Referendum on Citizens’ Initiative’, or R.I.C.) can be relied on in the framework of a bourgeois mechanism where all the dice are loaded in advance. Hence this oscillation of these “insurgent” layers, throwing themselves into more symbolic than real acts of “violence” (destruction of ATMs, the hunt for BMWs, etc.), only to fall back into the bipolar phase of apathy, an apathy that is gaining ever more ground.

Without perspectives given by a proletariat that is RECONSTITUTING itself as a CLASS, the movement can only move resolutely towards the void, while the bourgeoisie is already seasoned and prepared for more serious confrontations with the proletariat. The use of sub-lethal weapons against the ‘yellow vests’ shows what the proletarians can expect when, united by coherent slogans and resolute action against capital, they will set themselves in motion. There will be torrents of blood the bourgeois republic will drink from – as it is said in the Marseillaise – in the streets and in the furrows of the fields of the “French homeland”.

It is strange, to say the least, (but not surprising in the context of a mythical plebeian revolution) that Robin Goodfellow calls for a deepening of “democracy” and outlines a few slogans that could have been drawn from Trotsky’s Transitional Program (6):

the demand for the repeal of laws that limit freedom of expression and obstruct freedom of demonstration”;

the abolition of all indirect taxes; proportional income tax”;

the removal of inheritance beyond a certain threshold.”

And for good measure, Robin Goodfellow has sprinkled his sauce with claims taken from Engels and William Morris, even from bourgeois planning (impossible in the chaotic and disorderly reign of Merchandise), pompously called “territorial planning”:

Reconciliation of the city and the countryside; harmonization of the population on the territory; abolition of large cities, etc.”

Last but not least, one remains dissatisfied with the final slogan launched by Robin Goodfellow, that of “REAL DEMOCRACY”, worthy of the old Stalinist electoral platforms. As for proletarian democracy, the only “democracy” that is an alternative to bourgeois democracy, it is never mentioned: speaking about it clearly would lead to a resolute criticism of the Leninist conceptions that are the negation of this proletarian democracy.

Robin Goodfellow in fact actually calls for the constitution of a TRUE bourgeois democracy, with TRUE communist parliamentarians, TRUE class unions, as in the good old days. For Robin Goodfellow, the return to outdated forms of class struggle is the “deepening of democracy”.

However, we are no longer in 1905, as RGF imagines, but in 2019 when it is very well a question of DESTROYING FROM TOP TO BOTTOM a system, capitalism, and not of making it “acceptable” to the plebeian masses (“deepening”, implying “developing” in the reformist sense).

As for Robin Goodfellow’s “program”, it remains on standby, “in transition”, as it used to be called. It takes up the old slogans from the Comintern era: “conquest of political power, proletarian government, revolutionary dictatorship of the proletariat”. Does this mean that the proletariat will come to power through the miracle of the holy UNITED FRONT between “class parties” and “red” unions? (which Goodfellow particularly likes in Brazil). And if there is “dictatorship of the proletariat”, does that mean that there will be only one (class) party in power and all the others in prison? With the “red terror” as the icing on the cake?

Not for a moment it comes to the mind of these brilliant ramblers of Marxology that the proletarians could organize themselves tomorrow into councils (organizations gathering the working class as a class [for itself]). Believing that they have an answer to everything, they drown the fish in a pile of footnotes, real lianas that suffocate their text itself. Do they seriously believe that they will form the class party, with the aim of establishing the dictatorship of this party, without the armed proletarians, organized in councils, having the slightest say? What is the real subject of tomorrow’s proletarian world revolution? Is it the COMPACT AND POWERFUL CLASS PARTY (i.e. the Bordigist Party)? Or the class of proletarians whose parties are only the most determined PARTS?

Reading the text of Robin Goodfellow, one will notice that there is no mention of any real attempts by proletarians to set up autonomous bodies (assemblies of Commercy, Saint-Nazaire), (7) even if this attempt is marred by populist wording (“by the people, for the people, with the people…”). Even if embryonic, these attempts must be taken seriously. They should have challenged Robin Goodfellow to underline that the process of developing class consciousness is a long and contradictory process, with advances and retreats, before the embryos of political organizations of the proletariat emerge.

Robin Goodfellow seems to believe that the REAL PARTY will come out all armed with the INVARIANT PROGRAM of 1848, embodied FORMALLY today by a few brilliant solitary individuals or sects from the “Bordigist” or other milieu? What does RGF, very mysteriously and with a learned air, calls the “communist movement”? One is left to guess whether this communist movement includes the whole political space from Gilles Dauvé (the initiator of the journal ‘Mouvement Communiste’ in 1972) to the current Trotskyist camp…

Instead of reciting the mantras of the CLASS PARTY, it is first necessary to insert oneself into all the class movements, which Robin Goodfellow seems to do. But that is not enough. We must constantly insist on the need for general class organizations, combat organizations, in order to be able to REALLY put an end to the destructive and bloody reign of capital.

It makes no longer sense to endlessly ramble on the “deepening” of democracy, as it is about working for the destruction of bourgeois democracy and all its parliamentary deceptions, in order to put an end to its robbery by organized capitalist bands of the wealth created by the proletarian class.

Pantopolis, March 15, 2019.

Source: R.G. au pays des Gilets jaunes

Translation: H.C, March 31, 2019.

[Correction of typos, April 3, 2019]



1 Robin Goodfellow, March 12, 2019: La lutte des classes en France – 2018-2019 – Le mouvement des « Gilets jaunes » (“The class struggle in France – 2018-2019 – the movement of the ‘yellow vests’ ”). pdf version free for download. This document is currently available in French language only.

2 “Ubuesque” = worthy of the grotesque character created by Alfred Jarry, “père Ubu”, in the play “Ubu Roi” (1896). See: Ubu the King in Wikipedia.

3 This specifically applies to demonstrators defending themselves against police attacks during the demonstrations on December 1st, 2018. According to the author, acts of pillage and destruction like the burning of cars and the looting of shops constitute excesses that may well have been organized by the state. This question is however not a subject of the present article. (Editor’s note)

4 It suffices to refer to the ICP’s press in the 1970s for its persistent allusion to plebeian movements, specifically in the ‘Third World’.

7 An initiative taken by ‘yellow vests’ to organize in General Assemblies: