Let them eat debate

Somehow I don’t think this initiative by the French government will succeed in mollifying the angry wearers of high-visibility garments:

In 1789, Louis XVI summoned France’s aristocracy, clergy and citizens to discuss ways to plug the crown’s dismal finances and quell popular discontent over a sclerotic feudal society.

It marked the start of the French Revolution. Within months he was powerless and four years later beheaded by guillotine.

Two centuries on, President Emmanuel Macron, often criticized for a monarchical manner, is also calling a national debate to mollify “yellow vest” protesters whose nine week uprising has set Paris ablaze and shaken his administration.

He will launch the three-month “grand debat” initiative on Jan. 15. As during the rule of the ill-fated king, the French are already writing complaints in “grievance books” opened up by mayors of 5,000 communes.

The debate will focus on four themes — taxes, green energy, institutional reform and citizenship. Discussions will be held on the internet and in town halls.

There’s a catch, though, that seems to defeat the purpose:

But officials have already said changing the course of Macron’s reforms aimed at liberalizing the economy will be off limits.

“The debates are not an opportunity for people to offload all their frustrations, nor are we questioning what we’ve done in the past 18 months,” government spokesman Benjamin Griveaux told BFM TV. “We’re not replaying the election.”

Meanwhile, the protesters have come up with another disruptive tactic:

Members of the “yellow vests” protest movement have vandalised almost 60% of France’s entire speed camera network, the interior minister has said.

Christophe Castaner said the wilful damage was a threat to road safety and put lives in danger.

The protest movement began over fuel tax increases, and saw motorists block roads and motorway toll booths.

Some protesters feel speed cameras are solely a revenue-generating measure which takes money from the poor.

A novel tactic

Remember the yellow vest protests in France? They haven’t stopped. Indeed, as one journalist reports, “Saturday insurrections are now institutionalised in Paris, and also across the country, as far as Marseille and Toulon.”

Some 80,000 law and order agents, including 5,000 in the capital, will be mobilised this weekend, along with armoured cars, water cannons and apparently unlimited supplies of chemical weapons. Luc Ferry, a former conservative education minister, has already suggested that live ammunition should be used to quell growing attacks on police.

And now it looks like some of the protesters are preparing to level up the disruption:

Activists from a French protest movement encouraged supporters Wednesday to set off a bank run by emptying their accounts, while the government urged citizens to express their discontent in a national debate instead of weekly demonstrations disrupting the streets of Paris.

Activists from the yellow vest movement, which started with protests over fuel tax increases, recommended the massive cash withdrawals on social media. One protester, Maxime Nicolle called it the “tax collector’s referendum.”

“We are going to get our bread back … You’re making money with our dough, and we’re fed up,” Nicolle said in a video message.

The movement’s adherents said they hoped the banking action will force the French government to heed their demands, especially giving citizens the right to propose and vote on new laws.

In the meantime, copycat yellow vest protests have been spotted in Belgium and the NetherlandsBritainCanada, and even Bulgaria, Israel, Iraq and Taiwan. The Egyptian government banned the sale of yellow vests in December.

France braces for more protests

The revolt of the Yellow Vests continues this weekend:

France was in lockdown early on Saturday with thousands of French security forces braced to meet renewed rioting by “yellow vest” protesters in the capital and other cities in a fourth weekend of confrontation over living costs.

The Eiffel Tower and other tourist landmarks were shut, shops were boarded up to avoid looting and street furniture removed to avoid metal bars from being used as projectiles.

About 89,000 police were deployed across the country.

Of these, about 8,000 were deployed in Paris to avoid a repeat of last Saturday’s mayhem when rioters torched cars and looted shops off the famed Champs Elysees boulevard, and defaced the Arc de Triomphe with graffiti directed at President Emmanuel Macron.

Protesters, using social media, have billed the weekend as “Act IV” in a dramatic challenge to Macron and his policies.

Clearly this is about much more than fuel taxes. What do they actually want? Here’s a clue:

From Stanley Pignal of The Economist:

@spignal

A new “unofficial” list of Gilet Jaunes demands here:
– cut taxes to 25% of GDP (so half current levels)
– better public services/massive hiring of civil servants
– Leave EU & NATO
– Default on public debt
– New constitution
– less immigration
– Scrap CFA Franc in W Africa (??)

3:33 AM – 7 Dec 2018

French insurrection

Bane Dark Night Rises speech

Open-source warfare is winning in France, as the Yellow Vests force the beleaguered President Macron to back down on his planned fuel tax hike. Here’s an interesting Marxist analysis of the current ructions, complete with some good-old-fashioned hatred of the rich and unironic usages of the term “lumpen”:

The Gilets Jaunes (yellow vest) protests in France are at a turning point. In the face of building radicalism, which now threatens the very survival of his government, Macron has changed his defiant tone and promised to “suspend” the fuel tax hike that provoked the movement. This retreat came after street battles over the weekend between thousands of protesters and the police that have left over 200 injured in Paris alone and resulted in at least one fatality.

The organised working class has begun to enter the struggle (although the labour union leaders have dragged their feet), as have students, who are occupying their institutions in solidarity and raising their own demands. But despite Macron’s attempt to defuse the situation, the explosion of anger and frustration at years of austerity and inequality has acquired a logic of its own, and it will not be easy to put the genie back in the bottle.

The events of Saturday and Sunday marked the third straight weekend of unrest in the French capital. Thousands of protesters took to the streets of Paris – while the exact figures are unclear, it is certain that over 100,000 took part in demonstrations across the country. This is fewer than came out last weekend (200,000 according to the official figures, which is a major underestimation), but the mood was far more radical, and it was clear that the demands of the movement have moved well beyond the question of the fuel tax. Amongst certain layers of the movement there is an insurrectionary and revolutionary mood. The 5,000 who marched down the Champs Élysées at midday on Saturday were shouting and carrying the slogans “Power to the People!” and “Macron resign!” Many bore the latter slogan on their vests.

Boy, that escalated quickly.

As Idir Ghanes, a 42-year-old, unemployed computer technician from Paris, stated: “We have low salaries and pay too much tax and the combination is creating more and more poverty… On the other side, there are government ministers and the president with their fabulous salaries.” Other protestors, like Marie Lemoine, 62 (a school teacher from Provins) pointed out the pro-capitalist and hypocritical nature of Macron’s policy: “We are being targeted instead of the airlines, the shipping lines, those companies who pollute more but pay no tax… Macron is our Louis XVI, and we know what happened to him.”

Note: Louis XVI was beheaded.

Jeanne d’Hauteserre, the mayor of the 8th city district of Paris, near the Arc de Triomphe, told BFM TV, “We are in a state of insurrection, I’ve never seen anything like it.” Several regional representatives of the central government spoke anonymously to Le Monde of an “explosive and almost insurrectional” or “pre-revolutionary” situation. They also noted that it was a section of the population rising against taxes that sparked the revolution of 1789. One representative concluded: “What is expressed the most is the hatred of the President of the Republic.”

Perhaps unsurprisingly, Marxist.com views this is a class conflict.

While it is true that there were lumpen and far-right elements in the demonstrations over the weekend, these were marginal. From the beginning, the yellow vests movement has penetrated into very deep layers of society, with Front National voters and middle-class elements taking part alongside the working class and trade unionists. But as the movement has begun to radicalise and the working class imprint on it increase, a lot of the rubbish on the right is being thrown out and the class contradictions within it have become clearer. For example, another viral video shows Yvan Benedetti, former president of the ultranationalist group L’Œuvre française (himself dressed in a high-visibility jacket), being attacked and driven off by anti-fascists within the yellow vests.

Video:

Subsequently, over the past week, over 300 high schools have been occupied and blockaded around the country, including in the southern city of Toulouse and in Créteil in the Paris area.

Wow.

And it looks like the party may be just getting started. Marxist.com is calling for “a 24-hour general strike, as a starting point for a series of renewable strikes, with the objective of bringing down the government.”

No matter happens to this particular movement, it is clear that a new chapter has opened in the class struggle in France, where as Frederick Engels put it, the class struggle is always fought to the end.

And:

For the yellow vests, these announcements are very far from having answered their demands. They wanted the tax to be scrapped altogether, and a mere suspension does not seem to have appeased their anger. […]

And the yellow vests are maintaining their call for renewed demonstrations, this coming weekend in the French capital.

Cauchy said: “We must not fear demonstrations on Saturday in Paris, because they will take place.”