PARIS, FRANCE, December 8, 2018 — As the December 8 Washington Post calmly explains:
“The movement — whose name is taken from the trademark high-visibility yellow vests that protesters wear — has since come to represent a deeply rooted social anger that has more to do with the personality of Macron than it does with any particular policy.
With Emmanuel Macron doing his best impression of Czar Nicholas II, the Post would like this all to be the hard times of just another bad politician. But something is happening here, even if what it is ain’t exactly clear.
Politico Europe (also a bastion of the neo-con, neoliberal establishment) has a somewhat different take:
“The Yellow Vests are the next stage of a broader populist challenge to Western democracies, bringing together a disparate, leaderless and grassroots coalition calling for economic and social protection. As the country braces to violence this week end, many fear for the stability of democratic institutions.”
Okay, we know a few things. Macron raised the tax on gasoline, cleverly disguising his further looting of the poor under the banner of Environmentalism. (Driving up the price of people getting to work would reduce driving and lead to fewer carbon emissions, and all that.)
Macron’s compassion for the environment led to protests, with 300,000 French people taking to the streets on November 17, blocking roads and raising general hell. Nothing new here. The French are like that, the pundits reminded us. The protesters were called the “Gilets Jaunes” (Yellow Vests), so named for their wearing fluorescent yellow hazard vests.
In the subsequent three weeks, there have been more protests, with open clashes with the police. featuring burning cars, tear gas and water cannons. Today, 120,000 police and military were deployed and 1,700 were arrested. Paris was largely locked down, streets around the Champs-Elysées closed off and shops boarded up or closed. Ten museums — including the Louvre, the Eiffel Tower and department stores — were closed. Protests spread to the Netherlands, Hungary and neighboring Belgium.
It began with jacking up the fuel tax. But it quickly evolved into something more. Forces on both the Left and Right (Marine Le Pen) have joined in. Anger at uncontrolled immigration smolders. But there seems to be some vague consensus that the faltering French economy is the driving factor. People simply can’t afford their necessities, and the fuel tax (now put on hold) was an injustice too far.
At this point, about 73% of the French People, to some degree or another, support the Yellow Vests. They have gone from hiking the fuel tax to a full array of demands — both economic and political. Various manifestoes are starting to pop up. Events are moving so fast that you can only find their demands in the original French. I have done my best with my Rosetta French to translate one such list of People’s Directives.
From the 42 demands, including raising pensions, handicapped benefits, and minimum wage, rent control and shifting taxes to the rich, along with:
- Zero homeless: URGENT.
- Stop the rise in fuel taxes.
- Protect French industry and prohibit relocations. Protecting our industry is to protect our know-how and our jobs.
- End corporate tax credits. Use that money for launching the Hydrogen car industry, which is ecologically sound compared to electric care.
- End the policy of austerity. Stop paying interest on debt that is declared illegitimate and continue to pay off debt without taking advantage of the poor. Go after tax evasion.
- Treat the causes of mass migrations.
- Take care of asylum seekers well. We have a responsibility to provide security, education and education for their children. Work with the UN to ensure that reception centers are open in the meantime, in the expectation of the result of the asylum break.
- Implement a real policy of integration. Living in France implies becoming French. Teach French language, French history and French civic education, with certification at the end of the course.
- Create jobs for the unemployed.
- Return to the public realm the energy and electricity companies that have been privatized, and their prices be reduced accordingly.
- Immediately end the closure of post offices, schools and daycare centers.
- Bring well being to our elderly. Stop making money off the elderly. “Gray gold?” It is finished. The era of gray well-being begins.
- Substantial funds for psychiatric care.
- Retirement at age 60. For all those who have worked in a heavy industry (such as construction or a slaughterhouse) set the right to retirement to 55.
- No payroll tax.
- End of presidential allowances for life.
Two political demands stand out:
- Return to a seven-year term of office for President of the Republic. Hold the election of deputies two years after the election of the President of the Republic in order to send a positive or negative signal to the President of the Republic concerning his policy (so he can hear the voice of the people).
- The popular referendum must be added to the Constitution, to create a legible and effective site, supervised by an independent control body where people can make a proposal for a law. If this bill obtains 700,000 signatures, then this bill will have to be discussed, completed and amended by the National Assembly, which will have the obligation, one year to the day after obtaining the 700,000 signatures, to submit it to a vote of all the French people.
Afterwards, the will of the people will be heard and applied to the creation of the Regional Referendum (which will have to be implemented quickly).
Members of Parliament, make our voices heard. / Obey the will of the people.
Apply these Guidelines /
— Les Gilets Jaunes.
Another list of demands, also in French — “La charte officielle des 25 revendications des Gilets Jaunes,” — covers similar demands but adds withdrawal from the European Union and NATO.
With events moving faster than I can type, it might be time to take a step back. The question on many minds, both in Left circles and in corporate boardrooms, is, “Are we on the verge of a revolution?” Well, there are two kinds of revolutions (at least). There is “Political Revolution,” and there is “Social Revolution.”
Thus when Bernie Sanders raised the very important cry for Revolution, what he was calling for was a Political Revolution. In other words, he was calling for radical change in the political superstructure, defeating corporate control over the political process, but not abolishing the Free Enterprise system itself. The American Revolution of 1776 was likewise a Political Revolution.
Social Revolution, on the other hand, entails changing the very social order. Thus in France 1789, the peasants took the land from the aristocracy, and kept it, while the emerging bourgeoisie became ascendent. Breaking the power of royalty and church, it paved the way for the full development of capitalism in France. In Russia 1918, and Cuba 1959, among others, the means of production themselves were taken over. Those were Social Revolutions.
Yes, Political Revolution can pave the way for Social Revolution, but they are not the same.
With that in mind, global forces are afoot driving radical change (first in Europe, because it is becoming a weak link), and possibly moving to the U.S. and the rest of the world. With that in mind, the December 8 South Front explains about the European Union:
“The concept of the EU might have worked, but still only might have, if a never-ending economic boom could have been manufactured to guide it on its way. But there was never going to be such a boom. …
“Today, there are far too few of the 28 EU countries that have been lifted out of their poverty and other conditions that made them want to join the Union. And within many of the countries, there are way too many people who are, and feel, left behind. While Brussels has become a bastion of power that none of the disadvantaged feel they can properly address with their grievances.
“The main fault of the EU is that the biggest party at the table always in the end, when things get serious, gets its way. The 80 million or so people of Germany de facto rule the 500 million of the Union, or you know, the three handfuls that rule Germany. No important decision can or will ever be taken that Berlin does not agree with. Angela Merkel has been the CEO of Europe Inc. since November 22 2005, gathering more power as time went by. That was never going to work unless she made everyone richer. Ask the Greeks about that one.
“That’s the fundamental flaw and failure of the Union in a nutshell. … Traditional right/left parties have been destroyed all across Europe in recent national elections. And it’s those traditional parties that still largely hold power in Brussels. As much as anyone except Germany and perhaps the European Commission hold any power at all. …
“The Union appears fatally wounded, and that’s even before the next financial crisis has materialized. Speaking of which, the Fed has been hiking rates and can lower them again a little if it wants, but much of Europe ‘works’ on negative rates already. That next crisis could be a doozy.
“But we’re getting ahead of ourselves. First thing on the menu is Macron tomorrow, and the yellow vests in the streets of Paris and many other French cities -and rural areas. He has called for 90,000 policemen on the streets, but they’ll come face to face with their peers who are firemen, ambulance personnel, you name it, lots of folks who also work for the government. Will they open fire?”
To sum up, the political order is splintering. While some may dismiss the above as leftist ravings, we might turn to another bastion of international capitalism, Forbes magazine, December 8, 2018”
“It’s not too late to open a new front, that of imagining the institutions that will make the digital economy more sustainable and more inclusive—a New Deal for the Entrepreneurial Age.
Note that they say, “It’s not too late.” But when elements of corporate America are asking whether it’s too late, that is likely an indicator that it already is too late. For we know that corporate America is not about to create any kind of New Deal. If anyone does, it will have to be “We, the People.”
— Jeff Roby
December 8, 2018