Statement

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Communiqué on the movement of yellow vests in France – January 27th 2019

The eleventh Saturday of the ’yellow vest’ movement in France, on 26 January 2019, saw the mobilization continue throughout France. According to the police, there were 69,000 demonstrators across the country. It is nevertheless obvious that the figure is largely underestimated: it announced 2500 demonstrators in Paris whereas there were indeed between 8000 and 10,000 when the two main processions met at 4 pm at the Bastille place. The clashes that broke out then allowed the police to disperse the crowd that would gather in the square. But whatever is the exact number, it doesn’t really matter. The fact is that this movement of the yellow vests expresses a rage and a willingness, which the bourgeoisie is unable to extinguish for now, to oppose the growing misery imposed and promised by capitalism and to confront the state. Just as the strikes in Iran in 2018 or the mass strike of tens of thousands of workers in northern Mexico as we speak, to mention but a few [1], the radicality, combativeness, obstinacy of this yellow vest movement signals the present degree of the class antagonisms and the fact that we have entered in a new period of massive confrontations between the classes at the global level. This generalized climate of potential social revolt, and in part already in action, is essentially the result of the effects of the 2008 crisis, which are still being felt and which exacerbate capitalism’s current contradictions of all kinds, political, ecological, imperialist, migratory, social, etc. Today, these contradictions have accumulated and are exploding one after the other. In this international climate of general social revolt in the making, the ’slowdown of world growth’ – to use the words of bourgeois economists – and the risks of financial and stock market crash can only accentuate this atmosphere of end of the world, the end of the capitalist world to be exact, and bring the current generations of proletarians to the necessity, consciousness and willingness to oppose capitalism’s misery as well as the generalized war that it is preparing and, finally, to destroy it. The entire capitalist class, at least its most enlightened fractions, is so concerned of this situation that ’the eminences gathered at the Davos summit believe that it is time to ’moralize again’ globalization (according to Klaus Schwab, founder of the World Economic Forum) and to seek the paths to a ’more inclusive’ world economy’ (French newspaper Liberation, 23 January 2019) and that States are already preparing both politically and in terms of violent and massive repression.

But before going back to the situation in France at this end of January, it is necessary to give a brief summary of the events since the communiqué we issued on 2 December for readers who do not live in France and who have not been able to follow the situation closely. The violent clashes of 2 December around the Arc de Triomphe in Paris but also in the provinces, including in very small towns, and the rage they expressed, surprised, and even partly panicked, the fraction of Macron’s forty-year-olds in power for whom, trained in business schools, the class struggle had disappeared. It took the urgent back-up of other political fractions, Sarkozy’s in particular, and big bosses, to impose on Macron the fact that he had to make ’concessions’ [2]. At that time, the media complained that the yellow vests had no leaders ’to negotiate with’ as well as that the unions were discredited and powerless. It was only on the eve of the demonstration on 8 December that a real first contact was made with the main spokespersons for the yellow vests that were received by the Prime Minister and who, when they left, declared that they were waiting for Macron’s declaration that they had been promised for the following week. So, they left him take the initiative and the State’s counter-offensive could take place. The demonstrations on the 8th were as massive and violent as those on the previous Saturday. On Monday the 10th, Macron announced a 100 euro increase in the minimum wage [the SMIC] – in fact a bonus we found out in the subsequent days – and some other measures. As such, they are only marginal concessions even if they will force the government to present a budget deficit beyond the 3% required by the European Union [3]. Politically, however, they represent the first real significant setback for the State in the face of any massive mobilization since.... 1968. But above all, on the occasion of 1 January, Macron announced the organisation of a major national debate, planned until March 15th!, to respond to the yellow vests’ demand for direct democracy and, more particularly, for a ’referendum of popular initiative’.

Since then, it is this typically petty-bourgeois demand that the entire state apparatus has taken up and imposed as a central issue of the situation that overshadows, if not forgets, the demands for wages and living conditions. At the same time, the management of the weekly demonstrations was limited to the violent repression which, in addition to the thousands of serious victims caused by flash-balls and sting-ball grenades (both banned in most European countries), aimed to reduce the massive popularity of the movement in the ’public opinion’. On this occasion, official speeches by politicians, the media and editorialists competed for the most brutal call for repression and haughtiness for this ’stupid, hateful, factitious, even fascist people’ : Sarkozy’s former Minister of... Education, a philosopher by profession and a delicate and distinguished great bourgeois from the rich Paris neighbourhood, even called the police to use "their weapons once and for all! (...) Enough, these henchmen of the extreme-right and extreme-left or coming from the surburbs that come to beat up police officers. (...) We have the fourth largest army in the world, it’s capable of putting an end to this crap!" (Luc Ferry, Radio Classique, January 8, 2019). The class hatred of the May 1871 Versaillais against the Parisian communards is to reappear very quickly. Although it should be noted that these provocative speeches calling for widespread repression and even murder probably had the effect of helping to revive the mobilization of the yellow vests, the fact remains that since then, the political initiative has remained in the hands of the bourgeoisie. The entire State apparatus then mobilized to focus all political life around the organization of this ’great debate’: the president, ministers, deputies, prefects, mayors of towns and villages, the media, all political parties, to the point of dividing the yellow vests themselves on whether or not to participate. And even those who advocated the non-participation, rightly thinking that it was only a ’trickery’, and in the absence of any other perspective of struggle, locked themselves into this dead-end by arguing for the continuation of demonstrations by the need to put pressure on the... great debate! The circle is complete. It is only necessary to tighten it little by little without breaking the rope by a clumsiness [4].

That is where we are today. The ground is marked out by the bourgeoisie, which holds the timing of the events up to the call of the main union, the CGT, for one day of action and strike on February 5, at which the most radical yellow vests with the help of Trotskyists, the NPA [Nouveau Parti Anti-capitaliste] in particular, are calling for begin an unlimited strike. In the case that the fire resumes, the backfire is already in place. It is done and all the grounds are now occupied by the entire bourgeois state apparatus. Only rage and anger can keep Saturday’s mobilizations going for long or short.

The yellow vest movement is now in a political stalemate with no real prospect, while the Macron government and, behind it, the entire state apparatus have regained control of the events. What was the strength and dynamism of the yellow vest movement in the first instance, until Macron’s statement on December 10 can we say, became its weakness and limitations once the government resumed its political initiative. Its ’interclassist’ character, identifying itself with the French people and not with the proletarian class, has fuelled and maintained illusions about people’s democracy, i.e. de facto bourgeois democracy, and has caused the class demands that tended to emerge to be drowned and suppressed in favour of a referendum on a citizens’ initiative and, finally, in favour of the organisation of the grand débat by the government and the State on the ground of bourgeois democracy. However, even the local yellow vest committees most closely linked to the working class, within the limits of our knowledge, such as those of Commercy and Saint Nazaire, are dragged into the field of this deadlock, the ’self-organization’ and the ideological mystification of democracy in the name of the people:

"Since Commercy, we are now calling for a major national meeting of the local People’s Committees. On the strength of the success of our first call, we propose you that we organise it democratically, in January, here in Commercy, with delegates from all over France, to gather the list of demands and share them. We also propose you that we all discuss together the consequences of our movement. Finally, we propose you that we decide on a collective organisation of the yellow vests, authentically democratic, based on the people and respecting the stages of the delegation. Together, let us create the assembly of the assemblies, the Commune of Municipalities This is the meaning of history, this is our proposal.
The establishment of self-organization structures such as General Assemblies is now a central issue for the Yellow Vest movement. long live the power to the people, by the people, and for the people!’ (Second Call of Commercy’s yellow vests, December 30, 2018 [5]).

In the midst of the general confusion and social heterogeneity that prevailed, and continues to prevail, within the yellow jackets, only the maintenance of the wage demands, an increase in the minimum wage and salaries, the ’indexation’ of the pensions, to name only the main ones, can impose their fight and reject the ground of bourgeois democracy in which the ’great debate’ wants to lock them up and suffocate them. The increase in wages and ’purchasing power’ was, is still at the time of writing, the only political... demand, the one in which the whole proletarian class can identify itself as a class, which can still allow a real immediate resistance to the counter-offensive of the government and the bourgeoisie.

Despite several local conflicts or strikes, sometimes directly or indirectly linked to the yellow vests, the working class as such, from its workplaces and as a class, did not enter into a direct struggle. With the exception of a few, too few, examples such as these days the strike at Arc International in the city of Arques in the North, or those at the Geodis warehouse in Bonneuil in the Paris region, the occupation of Pole emploi offices [unemployed offices] in Vitry, Rennes and Lorient, the yellow vest actions at hospitals (informations taken from the Collectif Agitation et Gilets Jaunes IDF [6]. It would then have provided another perspective to the social revolt that could have broken the framework and timing of the ’great debate’ by imposing class demands as a central issue. That was the only way. This is still the only way, even if it becomes highly improbable with each passing day.

We were not the only ones to put forward the slogan calling for the formation of struggle or workers committees to fight for this perspective that could have displaced the political framework and terms of the confrontation imposed by the government and the bourgeoisie since December 10. It must be said, to the best of our knowledge, that it has not been achieved. And that thus no real class political alternative could be presented and, even less, represented a material factor of the situation.

Nevertheless, this movement of the yellow vests, what ever it can last, marks a before and an after in the very dynamics of the class conflict in France and a reference for the international proletariat. In particular, to the great displeasure of the trade unions and their tactics of Days of action, it showed that an ’uncontrolled’ and unorganized movement – uncontrolled and unorganized from the point of view of the state and bourgeois ideology – could push the bourgeoisie back [7]. It also showed that the refusal to accept the threat and repressive violence of the State, the willingness not to yield to the repression and to continue to demonstrate massively despite the risks, could force the bourgeoisie to give in, under certain conditions and at certain times, to the demands. Finally, this particular episode of the class struggle has brought into the struggle stratas and generations of proletarians who had remained foreign to it up to these days and whose expression in future struggles and consciousness we cannot prejudge. It is too early to deduce that a new generation of revolutionary militants can, directly or indirectly, emerge mechanically from it.

Yet it is also this task that revolutionaries must tackle through propaganda and intervention. The (our) weakness and virtual absence of the communists as a political material force in the demonstrations and roundabouts, as difficult as it was to intervene actively given the political reticence of the yellow vests and their displayed ’interclassism’, is an element of weakness, not in itself of this particular movement which only highlights it, but of the current international and historical balance of power between classes. We do not develop this point further in the context of this communiqué, whose immediate purpose is limited to providing an immediate position on the situation for all those directly concerned and for the entire international revolutionary camp.

The International Group of the Communist Left, January 27th 2019.

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Notes:

[1. From the United States to China, via Africa and all continents, strikes and conflicts tend to increase in these recent months...

[2. As such, if the government and Macron did not understand what was happening until December 10, the state apparatus as a whole, starting with its police, going through the trade unions and up to the other bourgeois political forces (including Sarkozy’s former party but also the Socialist Party) has at no time lost control of the situation. Contrary to what the media suggested, we were far from an insurrectional, even revolutionary, situation, even at the height of the December 2nd clashes. Macron and the government have faltered. Not the state apparatus as a whole, far from it.

[3. Macron had undertaken to respect it... especially to establish his international – imperialist - credit with the German bourgeoisie. From this point of view, the yellow vest movement has weakened Macron’s credit and authority with its European allies, which is supposed to restore French imperialism to a more central position, in particular to drive the strengthening of the German-French imperialist axis.

[4. Yesterday, January 26, one of the very popular and ’pacifist’ spokespersons, Jérôme Rodrigues, received a flashball shot to the eye as he was filming the scene – a live facebook – and calling on the yellow vests to leave the Bastille Square. And while there was no confrontation or danger of any kind to the police at that time. He risks losing his eyes permanently and has been put in an artificial coma according to this morning’s press. Such a police blunder may very well cause a sudden fit of mobilization, or even change the terms and timing of the mobilization such as the government has succeeded to set them up so far.

[5. See the immediate report, today, of the meeting for a national coordination of the yellow vests at the call of Commercy made by Matière et Révolution : https://www.matierevolution.fr/spip.php?article5237.

[6. The distribution of this leaflet Place de la République on 26 January, where the yellow vests were to meet after the demonstration, was banned by some yellow vests: ’no politics within the yellow vests!’. This led to a difficult discussion in which few of us criticized this simplistic ’apolitism’ and argued that it was necessary to take hold of the class political dimension in this struggle as in any struggle...

[7. We ourselves underestimated the potential of this movement and dismissed, too quickly, any possibility of ’gain’ for the proletarians in our communiqué of 2 December: On this ground, the working class individuals who are isolated and drowned as proletarians in a mass with heterogeneous and even often contradictory interests, isolated and drowned in the ’people’, will gain nothing’. The clear-cut statement, probably because we were trapped in a scheme, has been contradicted by reality – at least in part. The fact that we were not the only ones who were wrong on this particular point does not detract from the need to understand where the error lies and what its dimension is. In particular, we do not think that it calls into question the general analysis of this movement and its limits because of its ’interclassism’.