Lessons from the yellow vests: One solution, revolution

France is being shaken from within, in a way that shares the characteristics of major historical social upheavals. The grand resistance happened on 17 and 24 November, and 1 December, in every corner of the country including Champs Elysées avenue famed for its richness and swank, and showcased the bitterness, dissatisfaction, pain and violence long dormant in the society. Turns out those very people that were thought to be “rich” in the “social welfare state” of France were very angry all along!

So many social segments join the yellow vest uprising every day! High school students all over the country, including the working class suburbs and Marseille, occupy schools and boycott courses. University students follow suit and decide to “block” the schools. The largest farmers union in the country, FNSEA, calls farmers to the protests against the government’s “assaults on farmers”. Most important of all, the two largest workers union confederates, CGT and FO, call all transportation workers to strike for an indefinite time. This sector with 700 thousand ranked workers is known to play a significant role in the class struggles of the last decades, an example being the 1995 events that made the bourgeois government taste bitter defeat. On the other hand, worker struggles in certain oil refineries cause shortages in gas stations and trigger another crisis dynamic.

On top of all these, a major shock was caused by the news of police union VIGI, a member of CGT the leftmost confederation in France, calling its members to strike! That union has a membership of merely %3,4 of the personnel of the department of home affairs. In addition, the union cannot call the cops to strike, instead the call is for the peripheral personnel. Hence the call is mostly symbolic. When the cooks of the VIGI union go to strike, the French cops won’t be starving, yet the symbol is of great importance. One cannot be certain of other police unions remaining neutral if things go even more serious! Here we see how a community is getting prepared for a rebellion and a revolution.    

Corrupt system retreats

The self styled, “neither left nor right” politician called Macron has been working on the backs of the French working class for the last one and a half years. Calling workers “lazy” and “useless”, telling the disgruntled unemployed that “I could easily find a job right across the street”, telling them to “work harder so that you may also afford a suit”, is the “president of the richmen”.   

It seems the regressions made in the labour laws by his predecessor “socialist” Hollande was not enough, so he decided to double down on these by making industrial labour even more “flexible”, by assaulting the rights of the workers of the railways company SNCF and step by step setting the ground for an eventual privatization. He boasted that workers resistance that stopped previous governments from going so far would not affect him. He would say “no matter what you do, I’ll get it my way”. One has to accept that he seemed to be right in his first one and a half years of rule.

Yet now he is perplexed like a puppy tucking its tails between the legs and looking to run! During 1st of December events, let’s stress it further: when Paris was burning, monsieur Macron was at a G-20 meeting in Argentina. Then, he still had the guts to say “I understand my citizens, but violence can never be accepted”. He was back in France on the 2nd, and gathered the ministers to a meeting after a short visit to Champs Elysées. Press speculated a possible state of emergency declaration. Yet only two days later, prime minister Edouard Philippe announced that the carbon tax laws, a prime target of the yellow vests, would be postponed for at least six months. Turns out megalomania is contagious, Philippe declared that “he postponed the law” as if he was the king! And just a day later, Macron himself declared that the law is not just postponed, it’s completely cancelled. And all these happened right in the middle of 2019 budget preparations. Parliament is left to figure a way to fund the gap of an additional 4 million euro.

All the world is witnessing the results of a workers uprising when they are abandoned by their government. Just a few days ago, all they talked about was how Macron, a president that aimed at being a leader of Europe, refused the handshake games of Trump. Yet now a defeated man lies in Elysée palace! All the world witnessed how protests, strikes and demonstrations were the way to victory. The symbolism of “yellow vests” already made its way to Belgium and Netherlands. If its successes continue, no one should doubt that it will spread all over Europe.

It’s not just the working class that brought this success. Indeed, it’s the isolated, apolitical, non-left oriented masses living in the peripheries of France, who protested for the first time in their lives. This brings us to the leftists that despise them.

Racist and Sexist Mob”

Many on the left think of the yellow vests as being unworthy of support, as they are “not one of us”. This is another example of how poor the ordinary leftists conception of social events got to be. What does one mean by “them not being one of us”? They heard that the protestors were not “respectful identities, sensitive to environment and enlightened” like them, so they hold no sympathy or trust.

Those who refrain from supporting social struggles unless they are shown a certificate of “progressive”ness, are living examples of what had been lost with collapse of the socialist states and the prestige of Marxism in the 20th century. Consciousness of the masses change with the social struggles. Those that that were taught of “dirty and lazy Arabs” by their parents can only get to change their minds once they are in the same struggle with Arabs against a common enemy. A man whose mind and soul had been shaped by a misogynistic culture can only correct himself once he sees brave and resolved women in the same barricades. No need to give more examples. As long as the petty intellectuals continue to scorn the masses, they will never have the means of supporting social struggles against oppression. Some others excuse this behaviour by pointing at the perceived non-working class, “ignorant” and “rude” people in the protests. They bring out the main strategic arguments of Marxism, “only the working class has the means to change the society”, that they otherwise have long retired; so that they may prove, using mere word plays, how “leftist” they are. Do they think the workers themselves are any less racist, sexist or homophobic? Such arguments are extremely dangerous. They are the means of going against a possible future worker revolution in the name of “leftism”.    

Such narrow minded distance from the protests was also observed in France. When the events first broke, two leading Marxist parties, NPA and LO, claimed that this movement was an expression of petty bourgeois disgruntlement and they were under the hegemony of the “proto-fascist” Marine Le Pen and thus refused support. The post-Leninist character of NPA could explain why their reaction was so similar to most of the leftists elsewhere. It is fortunate that they eventually revised their position after three weeks of determined struggle by the yellow vests. On the other hand, LO is known to have a strong foothold in the French working class, yet they always fail in the struggles of working class allies. When the immigrant youth of working class neighbourhoods rose up to sow fire and dread in France, LO kept itself away from it. And now they are only slowly warming to the yellow vests. Once they only talked about the “working class”, now they have the courage to talk about “popular classes”. It’s immensely ironic that the vanguard parties of the working class are always so reactive!      

The problem of alliances

Those treat the Marxist attitude towards classes in a rote and dogmatic manner are always in the wrong. Marx and Lenin strongly emphasized the role of peasantry in the success of a proletarian revolution. Peasantry makes up the largest chunk of petty bourgeois. Trotsky repeated many times how the support of the petty bourgeois, or under whose hegemony they will be, will determine the fate of the struggle against fascism. If the working class parties can successfully create a united labour front, they can claim the support of the petty bourgeois back from fascism.

The fact that yellow vest movement was under the weight of petty bourgeois and the weakest and most regressive sections of the working class, shaped by the conservative peripheral cities, should not have disoriented Marxists so much. Just like any other class, petty bourgeois are made up of several sections. The rich doctor with a private clinic, the public notary that gained influence with the support of the state, the owner of the small workshop who practices the most extreme exploitation, the owner of the cafe in the busiest street in the city, etc. naturally make up the most conservative elements and support Marine Le Pen and the like. However, the middle and poor farmer who can barely afford the costs, the divorced coiffeur with three children struggling to make ends meet in a working class neighbourhood, Turkish kebab or Arab  merguez shop owner working almost 24 hours, the electrician that can barely afford to operate his small business, among many others are trying the survive until the end of the month and live in a much worse condition than unionized workers.

Marxists do not confuse petty bourgeois with the working class, organized workers with individual workers. These classes and sects differ from the perspective of party strategies. Yet when poor working masses rise up against the tyranny of capitalism, those parties that leave them alone and unguided because “our goal is to organize the working classes” prove that even the most progressive slogans, when used without regard to real concrete conditions, can end up being reactionary. Those who remain neutral and go “this is not our business” when yellow vests are in the grips of proto-fascists, can never claim to understand the Trotsky’s policy of “getting petty bourgeois back from fascists”, no matter how much they call themselves Trotskyist.

Red vests

We would like to give a warning to those enemies of Marxism who will claim that we are “fantasizing”. Those who will claim that we cry revolution for the events in France are in the wrong. No, there’s no revolution in France. Yet! Crux of the matter is: working, poor, oppressed and scorned masses can achieve things, that could not be achieved through votes, when they are in the streets. Revolution is merely the logical consequence of this. Revolution is securing the rights that have been taken, taking them back and guaranteeing that they are never to be violated again with the conquest of political power by working classes.

This means, today we struggle hand in hand with yellow vests. But tomorrow, when the working class gets back into the scene with their heavy battalions, under the leadership of a revolutionary workers party, wearing red vests; then the real emancipation will be on our horizons.

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