Tendance Coatesy

Left Socialist Blog

Gilets Jaunes and the Crisis in France, a Left Analysis.

with 12 comments

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The Politics of the Barricades Reborn?

“Toutes les grandes crises que connaît le pays prendront la forme d’une tension entre ceux d’en bas et ceux d’en haut et d’un process des élites gouvernantes.”

All the big crises that the country has experienced have taken the form of tensions between those at the top and those at the bottom, in the shape of an attack on the governing elites.

Jacques Julliard  La faute aux élites. 1997.

On ne donne rien si libéralement que ses conseils”.

Nothing is given so freely as advice.

La Rochefoucauld. Maxims. 

In France, between October and October 2018 the pump price of petrol rose by 15% and diesel (used by many motorists) 25%. Taxes make up 60% of cost of fuel. While presented as part of a “Green transition” plan most of the money goes to general public finances. In May an on-line petition calling for a reduction in these increases had attracted 220,00 signatures by October. On the 10th of October there was a call to block the country’s road system. Social Networks carried videos backing action. By the 17th of November there were 300,000 people across France protesting against the price rises.

Every account agrees that the Gilets Jaunes were initially self-organised through Face Book, Twitter, and self-made Videos. The demands of the movement, which have spiralled in all directions, began to focus on high taxes and the erosion of the purchasing power of ordinary power. To which have been added the decline in the public infrastructure of La France périphérique, precarious working conditions, and, above all, the call for the President Emmanuel Macron to resign. Demands for a special national conference, whether as an Assembly on Fiscal issues, or a ‘Grenelle’, that is a wide-ranging agreement on the pattern of the 1968 union-government negotiations, to resolve these difficulties, have emerged.

Neither the Web, nor efforts to designate spokespeople for the Gilets Jaunes, have enabled the movement to cohere around an agreed structure. There are groups out at roundabouts, tollbooths, and demonstrators. There is a far-right presence, and the “people from somewhere” often show support for the Rassemblement National of Marine Le Pen. There was a strong presence of ‘nationalists’ during Saturday’s violent demonstration on the Champs Élysées. 

The left has shown sympathy for the demands of the movement. Lundi Matin, linked to the comité invisible which believes in a coming insurrection, gave support. Their affinity mouvance is said to be have engaged in some of the street fighting. The widely respected group, Verité pour Adama (after the name of a young person killed by gendarmes in 2016), with wider backing, has attempted to waken the banlieue to the revolt. To join the main march they mobilised a few hundred people in central Paris. Across the country there are reports of left-wing activists joining Gilets Jaunes actions, either on their own initiative, as part of the strategy of La France insoumise to “federate the people” around their own movement, or from other, much smaller, left wing organisations.

Protest Spread.

Following the government’s climb-down Lycéens and students have protested against Macron’s education ‘reforms’, often amid violence. As with Saturday’s protests the forces of order have reacted with a heavy hand. Farmers are also out on the streets. Many groups, though not, as yet, people in the workplaces, have seen in Prime Minister Édouard Phillipe’s announcement of an end to the fuel price hike an opportunity to press their case. The CGT has announced a national days of action and demonstration with a list of demands, on the 14th of December.

The French left has suddenly discovered a long history of popular uprisings that began with protests against taxation. The burden of the 17th century paiement de la dîme’ has nevertheless little in common with today’s tax regimes.

As Alexis Spire points out in the latest le Monde Diplomatique, outsourcing means that large numbers of workers are nominally self-employed (as in the UK), and have to pay for themselves. Reliant on their own transport they would find it hard to see why their means of getting to work should be a source of state revenue. A ‘far-away’ government, which seems to offer little in the way of public services across large swathes of the country, imposes charges on people who see little in return. To add to this tax offices are less and less accessible. One asks how people in France would react to the virtual disappearance of physical contact with HMRC. (2)

Before tax revolts become the left’s favourite new social movement it is nevertheless important to see some difficulties here. To begin with in 1953 Poujadisme started with small businesses revolting against tax inspectors verifying their accounts. Jean-Marie Pen began his political career as a Parliamentary deputy for this movement which won 52 seats on 11,6% of the vote in 1956. Echoes of the less than progressive aspect of this early ‘populism’ can be seen in Gilets Jaunes demands for less frequent strict MOT tests, raising rural speed limits, the – to their admirers marginal – racist incidents which have come to wider attention, and the enthusiastic backing from le Pen’s daughter Marine le Pen.

As the quote from Julliard reminds us, complaints about French governing elites are far from new. Today we have those who talk of “post-democracy” the detachment of polities from the masses reinforced by Macron’s neoliberalism. In the era of Donald Trump’s broadsides against globalism it is hard to imagine that opponents of the liberal ‘progressive’ (Macron’s self-description) centre are invariably to be welcomed.

The real problem is that Emmanuel Macron came to power after a political earthquake in 2017 marginalised all the traditional political parties. His own movement-party, la République en Marche (LREM), ”  centrist, liberal and social-liberal” was only founded in April 2016. It is made up of politicians from the centre right, the  right wing of the Parti Socialiste, a dash of ‘personalities’ and a lot of newcomers. It has definite campaigning experience in the grass-roots, but little experience of long-term local political implantation.

On the left opposition la France insoumise )FI) is a body linked together, like the Gilets Jaunes, by the web (I received an electronic appeal to ‘vote’ on their European programme a few days ago). It, like LREM, is a movement around a Leader, not a democratic party. Both the President’s effort to negotiate with the thousands of visible Gilets Jaunes factions, and FI’s efforts to speak on behalf of le Peuple, start from a position of outsiders trying to direct the political theatre.

Unity Against Macron’s Arrogance is not a Strategy.

Some of the best, and realistic, accounts of the present crisis have come from those with little stake in the state system or on the bigger parties of the left. They have indicated that, perhaps in a more acute form than in the UK trade unions, where activity is at low ebb, syndicates have been weakened in recent years, as the failure to push back Macron’s labour reforms and his liberalising plans for the rail system illustrates. The violent acts on Gilets Jaunes marches were no doubt made worse by the absence of traditional union or left stewarding. There is little coherence on a left which may well end up presenting over 7 different lists for next year’s European elections.

The way in which the present movement has tossed aside what local campaigns have been built going to help those trying to push them in a left direction. With the demands of the Gilets Jaunes moving like a buoy tossed by the sea in all directions, it is hard to see that either following them (suivisme) or trying to channel them, is going to work.

More fundamentally, how can any the left’s fight against austerity meet demands meet the call for fewer taxes? 

In these conditions who can be surprised to hear calls for the tax burden to be relieved by cuts in state spending, that is real neo-liberalism, from former Prime Minister and right-wing politician Édouard Balladur  – this morning, on Europe 1.

*****

(1) Page 52. Jacques Julliard La faute aux élites. Folio. 1997.

(2) Aux sources de la colère contre l’impôt. Alexis Spire.  December 2018. Le Monde Diplomatique. 

(3) Histoire de l’extrême droite en France. Michel Winock Seuil 2015

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Written by Andrew Coates

December 7, 2018 at 1:16 pm

12 Responses

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  1. A fight for lower *corporate taxes* or lower *taxes on high incomes* is not a left-wing anti-austerity fight.

    However, is the same true for fighting the bedroom tax of Theresa May in Britain today?

    Or was it for fighting Thatcher’s poll tax in Britain?

    In fact, Macron has LOWERED taxes for the rich and corporations, including polluting fossil fuel corporations and their CEOs:

    https://dearkitty1.wordpress.com/2018/05/25/president-macron-makes-french-billionaires-richer/

    Many people in France now call for rescinding that.

    Meanwhile, police brutality against high school students:

    https://dearkitty1.wordpress.com/2018/12/07/french-police-brutality-against-high-school-students/

    petrel41

    December 7, 2018 at 2:35 pm

  2. So you have bitten the bug!

    So it’s a good thing that petrol and diesel will be cheaper, and better for the environment?

    Andrew Coates

    December 7, 2018 at 3:29 pm

  3. It would be a good thing if in France all public transport would become free; like the government in Luxembourg has announced recently.

    Better than, as the Pétain praising and Maurras praising Macron government has done, lowering corporate and income taxes for the fossil fuel fat cats. Where Macron had already conflicts about as a minister in the Hollande government, with his Environment colleague Ségolène Royal trying to stop his pro-Big Oil proposals.

    By the way, I asked questions about the British Conservative poll tax and bedroom tax. You did not answer them. Maybe because, though living in Britain, you are not aware of these issues?

    petrel41

    December 7, 2018 at 4:01 pm

  4. Climate change is extremely real. as seen in the hurricanes and California wildfires. The Paris agreement is far too little to deal with it:

    https://dearkitty1.wordpress.com/2015/12/13/paris-climate-summit-jeremy-corbyn-and-naomi-klein/

    Macron’s bosses are not the UN, but Total oil and other French billionaires. Macron pretends to agree with the Paris agreement (chauvinism, as it was concluded in ther French capital). While in practice sabotaging it:

    https://dearkitty1.wordpress.com/2017/03/28/french-macron-wants-destructive-gold-mining-in-french-guiana/

    petrel41

    December 7, 2018 at 4:12 pm

  5. Unless you tackle capitalism …

    petrel41

    December 7, 2018 at 4:34 pm

  6. Petrel, do not bother replying to alt-right trolls.

    Of course you are right!

    Andrew Coates

    December 7, 2018 at 6:02 pm

  7. […] Coatesy can always be relied on for well-informed comment and analysis on France: […]

  8. Hi Andrew, I agree one should not reply to alt-right trolls. They are not welcome at my blog.

    I see that you have, correctly, deleted them.

    I replied because at first sight it looked like a confused person rather than alt-right, as words like ‘cultural Marxism’, ‘white genocide’ and ‘rapefugees’ were missing.

    As for the yellow vests: Dutch NOS TV interviewed some, translation is at

    https://dearkitty1.wordpress.com/2018/12/08/french-yellow-vests-interviewed/

    They do not sound like extreme rightists. More like angry working class people. Including even one who had voted for Macron in the first round.

    Another yellow vest compared it to the 1968 protests. Then, part of the occupation of the Sorbonne was by the extreme right Occident organisation. However, should one see the whole 1968 movement as defined by Occident?

    petrel41

    December 8, 2018 at 11:56 am

  9. Sorry Andrew. Still not lovin Macron.

    IanG

    December 8, 2018 at 10:55 pm

  10. Another left analysis, from The Young Turks in the USA:

    https://dearkitty1.wordpress.com/2018/12/09/french-yellow-vests-and-lies-about-them/

    petrel41

    December 9, 2018 at 11:51 am

  11. Andrew Coates

    December 9, 2018 at 11:52 am

  12. […] Gilets Jaunes et la crise en France, une analyse de gauche […]


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