Gilets Jaunes on the streets for social justice

Nîmes, December 29

Despite the French national flags being waved by the protesters, local libertarian communist Riton said he had no worries about the political direction the Gilets Jaunes were taking.

Submitted by Shoal Collective on December 31, 2018

"The extreme right is finding it harder and harder to identify with the movement," he declared.

"It rejects the idea of leaders and is against all kinds of division. Racist arguments just don't wash."

I had been warned not to say anything to anyone about the meet-up
point for the Gilets Jaunes protest in Nîmes on the afternoon of Saturday December 29.

People were going to be heading there in dribs and drabs. Some had been spending the morning together on private land, out of sight of the police. This was to be a surprise.

Half an hour after the wildcat march set off from outside the
football stadium, the reason for the caution became clear.

Hundreds of protesters in their now-iconical hi-vis yellow jackets streamed on to the concourse of the city's police HQ, the Hôtel de Police.

As helmeted riot cops emerged from the building to protect it from the intruders, a large banner was unfurled, condemning police violence.

"France isn't the country of liberté any more," remarked Lionel, standing at the edge of the crowd. "Most of the police brutality is hidden. By the media, yes, but also everything that people put on the internet is erased."

Nîmes is a good-sized city, the 19th biggest in France, but it hardly has a tradition of political unrest.

It is better known for its Roman architecture, its bull-fighting culture, its celebratory 'ferias' and the cloth that originally came "de Nîmes" and is now globally known as denim.

It is a sign of how far the roots of the Gilets Jaunes reach into deepest France, that the nîmois have been pouring out on to the streets in huge numbers, blocking the motorway, torching toll booths, closing down the main railway line.

From the police HQ, we headed into the centre of the Occitanian city. Outside the 1st century Roman amphitheatre we were joined by a squadron of motorcycling Gilets Jaunes, revving their engines furiously in support.

Then it was into the maze of narrow pedestrianised streets, where the police escort was repeatedly shaken off and their reappearance greeted with boos.

"Police everywhere, justice nowhere!" went the chants. "Macron resign!" "Everyone together!"

Social justice lies at the heart of the Gilets Jaunes' cause - it is the first thing all of them want to talk about.

Martine is a retired company boss who describes herself as middle class. She said: "I could stay at home if I wanted to, but I can't. I can't stand seeing people not having enough to eat at the end of the day. And these are working people!

"France is the most envied country in the world for our culture, our know-how and our economy, but we are turning into a country in need".

Those running the country were completely out of touch, she said, and had no idea of the everyday reality that people were living.

Lionel, who is also retired, likewise named poverty as the main reason why he was on the protest.

"People are living in misery. There are shanty towns, even here in Nîmes. People are badly paid and live in abominable conditions, but they are not necessarily on the street. We don't see them."

Lionel stressed it was not his own personal situation he was complaining about: "You have to protest for other people as well, not just yourself".

Corporate media in France and beyond have made much of the involvement of some far-right elements on the fringes of the Gilets Jaunes, suggesting that the protest movement represents a slippery slope towards populist fascism.

I raised this issue with Riton, a libertarian communist from nearby Alès who had made the 25-mile trip to join the protest.

He assured me that the far right was very much a marginalised minority in the Gilets Jaunes movement.

"The movement is really about the class question, although it is not expressed in that way.

"There is also the criticism of the police and the calls for self-government. The extreme right is finding it harder and harder to identify with the movement."

The "inter-class" flavour of the revolt had also faded after commercial traders whose businesses had been affected by the Gilets Jaunes realised the protests conflicted with their own personal interests and dropped their support, he said.

Riton said it was true that Gilets Jaunes often talked about "the people" and about being French.

"But you have to see what they mean by that. For them, being French is about being in revolt, about solidarity".

As the Gilets Jaunes waved their tricolours and sang La Marseillaise, I realised he was right, in a way British people find it hard to grasp.

There is, after all, a world of difference between national anthems and flags that sing the stale praises of monarchies and empires and those that are the fruit of a living revolutionary tradition.

See also:

The heartbeat of the yellow jacket revolt is rural

Christmas with the gilets jaunes

Gilets Jaunes: unfiltered anti-capitalism

Yellow fever: long live the revolutionary mob!



5 years 5 months ago

In reply to by

Submitted by baboon on January 2, 2019

I want to first of all to respond to one of Slothjabber's points about this movement on another thread: Sloth made the point about the action of youngsters, students and schoolchildren, etc., being a high point of the movement, or words to that effect. I thought that Sloth overestimated the strength of this movement overall but the point he made about the kids was correct. The poignant anti-police demonstration by some children and the more inclusive actions and discussions of young students as a whole were indeed the high points of this movement (a couple of weeks later, Socialist Worker was applauding the fact that some students had taken to wearing the yellow jackets, something they appeared reluctant to do at first).

The text above,in my opinion, represents another low point in this movement. This is not a fascist movement - that's a red herring; it's a movement of the petty-bourgeoisie and workers as atomised French citizens. While the former are showing their anger at their margins and perceived potential being squeezed by the state, effectively making this an anti-Macron movement, this same class will tomorrow be the most abject supporters of the "strong state". Behind a proletarian vanguard the naturally negative tendencies of this class can be subdued or turned into positives. But, given its present weaknesses, there's no proletarian movement of any strength here, in fact just the opposite.

For the workers, there doesn't seem much of use in this movement and they are drowned out as a distinct force with a distinct method of struggle into the albeit angry citizenry .This movement is not only going nowhere as far as any proletarian perspective is concerned - it's dangerous for it. I don't know much about the Shoal Collective above. But its exultation of flag-waving, anthem-singing, French civilisation, French culture, the French people puts forward nationalism as class struggle, whereas it's its living counter-revolutionary tradition.


5 years 4 months ago

In reply to by

Submitted by baboon on January 28, 2019

This movement has been characterised by many of its supporters as "a re-invention of politics" and "apolitical with no leaders". It is neither. It goes along the same populist lines of Brexit and "take back control" and similar movements elsewhere where nationalism, walls, barriers and outright anti-immigrant sentiments are the main forces at work from both a combination of the right and left wings of capital. The roundabout occupations for example, said by some on here to be proletarian, have waved French drivers through but stopped, harassed and abused "foreigners". This is just one element of the "apolitical" nature of the actions of the citizens of France dominated by the right and the left.

A couple of the leaders of the movement - and don't tell me there are no leaders when the "citizenry" are following them - Maxime Nicolle and Eric Drouet have recently been singing the praises of the "Ukrainian Revolution", another event that brought together elements of anarchism and the far-right. Another "apolitical" initiative that's re-emerged and has some traction is the "Citizen's Initiative Referendum" (RIC), a movement dear to the far-right that's existed since the Lisbon Treaty ratification ten years ago. Not so much the "reinvention of politics" as its regurgitation.

Alongside "Act XI" last weekend, Drouet and others have proposed boycotting multinationals (not Facebook of course) and blocking shopping centres and refineries. And Drouet and others have proposed the regurgitation of another "apolitical" and "re-invented" movement: "Nuit Debout". "Rise in the night" set up by the left and extreme left of capital about 3 years ago as an "anti-elitist" movement with its theoretical base, like so many supporters of the "gilets jaunes" today, firmly within the "French people" of 1789.