by Ramin Mazaheri for The Saker Blog
Ever since the start of the Yellow Vest movement – which has been violently repressed for an entire half-year – many people have hoped that French police would put flowers in their rubber bullet guns and join the side of the righteous.
To me… such a hope is not based on reality. It is certainly not based on history.
But French thinkers like Alain Soral, whom we could call the primary intellectual godfather of the Yellow Vest movement, said from the very beginning (40 minute mark) that if the state, “… sends the forces of order against the people, against the Yellow Vests… they will join the Yellow Vests because, fundamentally, they are the same people and they have the same interests. And the day that happens I will be there, I will do my job – with all the risks that entails – and I have been preparing myself for it since around 1985. All my life has been turned towards this.”
Soral had the courage to stand up for the Yellow Vests when he said that on November 30,2018, but six months later he has been disappointed and disproven. The forces of order have been sent against the Yellow Vests 26 consecutive Saturdays and the cops have never come close to joining the Yellow Vests.
Soral is still waiting, and he will always wait. In March I laid out why the Yellow Vests are “Proving police are part of the 1%”: ironclad job security, early retirement, guaranteed pensions, chances for overtime pay, elevated social status, Mainstream Media worship, etc. The working class has none of those things. Therefore, claims that cops are “working class”, made by Soral at that same point in the video, are absurd. No matter the circumstances of your birth: join the police force and you are no longer “working class”. This reality of cops being part of the working class is just as clear in the neo-imperialist West as it is in developing countries, and I will discuss later how France’s 1% has specifically arranged it that way.
Yet many in the Yellow Vests who are risking life and limb every Saturday still persist in thinking that cops will switch sides en masse.
A PressTV report of ours captured this sentiment during “Act 20”, on March 31. That was the second weekend when urban protests had been banned outright; last weekend was the first time rural protests (at traffic roundabouts) had been banned in many areas, a fact which was totally ignored by the Mainstream Media but which I made our headline on May 11. Back on March 31 I interviewed a protester who was helping to carry a rather costly banner which read, “Forces of order: you will go down in history, so don’t wait until you are tried in court. Join us.” Alongside the slogan was a picture of the Nuremburg trials of Germans during World War II. However, despite the comparison with Nazis those carrying the banner were entirely sympathetic to cops – they were there to intellectually convince the cops to join their side.
So what do cops think?
I did an interview with Eric Roman, the National Secretary of France’s 5th-largest police union, the French Union of Angry Policemen (Syndicat France Police – Policiers en colère). The union’s name is rather silly, I think, but the source of their anger is the government, as I will explain later.
Roman is clearly one of the good cops: this is the Police union which every Saturday dares to defy the Interior Ministry’s deplorably low and obviously false turnout estimations of Yellow Vests. Along with the Nombre Jaune, these are the only two sources of credible Yellow Vest crowd counts, in my estimation and experience. However, Mainstream Media only very occasionally reference the Nombre Jaune, as the cop union’s numbers are far more problematic because they clearly indicate dissension within the forces of the government.
You can check their weekly count on their Facebook page, and learn more at this PressTV report we worked on together, Cop union says Yellow Vests undercounted massively. Of equal interest should be the vast disparity between their weekly counts since Week 1, which French Wikipedia has put in a table at the bottom of this page.
Why would a French cop talk to Iranian government TV about the falsehoods of the French government?! LOL, as I said, Roman is a good cop… and he is unionized, and that makes a world of difference when it comes to feeling empowered enough to speak honestly about your work.
He is also experienced at his job and – as many unemployed 50+ year old journalists know – that also makes one bolder to take on management in corner offices. Roman even said that he considered a career in journalism, and he certainly seemed to know more about modern global politics than many of my mainstream colleagues. But his open mind amid four decades of Iranophobia shows that he appreciates that good workers all row in the same direction: for the well-being of society.
Roman even tipped me off to a story which broke a couple days later about how police management has given illegal orders to target Muslims, Blacks, Roma and the homeless. He was disgusted that he and his colleagues were being given such illegal, racist orders.
Not all cops are as bold and sensible as Eric Roman.
There are good cops, certainly, yet ‘The police never go over to the crowd’
Before I get to Mr. Roman’s thoughts, I think some historical context is necessary, regarding the role of police during political turmoil.
If Yellow Vests want to know how revolutions are won in modern times they should read the 2017 book, A People’s History of the Russian Revolution, which overturned mainstream media accounts of the revolution which inaugurated true political modernity.
I wrote a 5-part series on that necessary book because the 1917 Revolution has, at least thus far, many parallels with 2019 France. Of course, the Mainstream Media is not going to write just one half of a single part which sympathetically examines these parallels.
The book proved how the February Revolution was not guided at all by the Bolshevik party (or any party), in a clear rejection of the mainstream media’s repeated, uniformed contention of “dominance by Lenin the dictator”. This type of spontaneous, grassroots development is obviously the same with the Yellow Vests today.
How did the February Revolution occur, which paved the way for the October Revolution (“ October Celebration”, I say, as it was a near-bloodless fiesta)? The Bolsheviks did not call for it – indeed, established political parties are always behind the mood of the average person. The February Revolution to expel the czar occurred via spontaneous protests (the first was by women) – not via calls from Lenin – and then it was allowed the space to achieve its aims thanks to attacks on police.
Well, of course. Was the Shah, excuse me, the czar and his police going to give up their extraordinary privileges otherwise?
Imagine what the Yellow Vests could do if they were not being beaten, gassed, arrested and maimed? The Yellow Vests would have certainly occupied Paris. They tried to, on Friday March 8, and the headline of my report says it all: Paris bans Yellow Vest camp, rejects UN brutality probe. That night the Eiffel Tower was filled with surly cops, who were angry they had to work at night and in the cold rain, and angrier still that they had to get up tomorrow morning for Act 17.
In covering the Yellow Vests I am naturally reminded of my time reporting on the Egyptian Revolution at Tahrir Square. There, nobody feared the army, but they all hated the black-sweatered police force. And that makes sense: the army was a national institution, drawn from all classes of the People, whereas cops were the violent tools of the Mubarak status quo. Time after time in Cairo protesters stood up to the cops, and that is how Mubarak eventually fell. The army never did open fire on the protesters, but the cops merely continued what they had been trained and ordered to do – repress rejection of political conservatism. Indeed, prior to the fall of Mubarak I was detained by a cop, but was saved thanks to the intervention of a young soldier, who insisted he was the higher authority.
Just imagine if Macron had shown as much tolerance as Mubarak at Tahrir Square, LOL? Yellow Vests would have forced the global Mainstream Media to objectively (dare we say, sympathetically) relay their motivations and demands via such occupations and freedom of political expression. (The repression is “daily”, because every demonstration is absolutely surrounded by 3-4 times more cops than normal for France. For example, I estimate seeing 100 cops at this week’s demonstration against Macron’s Americanisation of France’s education system: they faced down maybe 100 super-tough, stone-faced veterans of trench tactics… grade school teachers. That huge deployment is all due to fear of Yellow Vest involvement, and France has had the usual regular non-Yellow Vests protests since winter ended.)
Such occupations would force society to stop ignoring them; they would force politicians to deal with them directly. It is the cops which are preventing all this.
So the police did not “go over” in 1917 – far from it. After all, they had not gone over during seven decades of repression of revolutionary sentiment in Russia. This is because, as the book states:
“The police never go over to the crowd. They are recruited from the most backward section of the working class….Their daily work is a matter of hostile collisions with activists, workers, and the poor. Their hatred of the repressed is reinforced by what is nowadays called ‘canteen culture’. So they become a hardened reactionary caste, immunised against any appeal for solidarity by a psychic armour of indifference and prejudice. In revolution, the police cannot be won over; they have to be physically confronted and routed.”
The day before I wrote this outside my home in Paris I witnessed the arrest of a one young Black man standing on the corner with a half dozen other young men. I stood to observe the proceedings, being a journalist. The oldest cop – and thus the most responsible, one would assume – was the only one who violently threw the arrested young man to the pavement, even though the man put up zero resistance. The cop then gave the man, who was face down on his belly, a parting kick in the back for no reason. I voiced an objection. This is the kind of needless violence French minorities are routinely abused and insulted by. This is why for cops, “Their daily work is a matter of hostile collisions”, at least when it regards the oppressed classes, which are the classes who are most likely to revolt, such as the Yellow Vests.
Furthermore I have never seen a police force with a stronger “canteen culture” than that of France’s police. This must be added on top of the well-known fact (certainly well-known to us immigrants, who are 2nd-class citizens in anti-multicultural France) that France is an exceptionally cliquish society.
As Mr. Roman kindly explained in our report on how cop suicides this year have already neared the level from all of 2018, cops from around the country usually start their career in Paris before perhaps being sent back to their home areas. Thus, young cops are sent to the capital, where they often have no family and friends – only their fellow cops. That leads to suicides, and to the reinforcement of their canteen culture. Unfortunately, this plan of “importing rural mercenaries” is the opposite of the “I live in this neighborhood, too” type of policing – where cops are a genuine part of the community – which is obviously the best policy.
What’s far worse, in my opinion, is the rule for France’s urban cops that they have to travel in packs of four. Indeed, you will never see a cop alone in Paris – he or she is always in their own little unit, viewing the whole street as “them” and not “us”. If they did not selfishly prioritize their own “safety in numbers” with this approach, and thus had to actually engage fellow citizens one-on-one (or one on six), then they could not possibly be so arrogant and aloof. They could not be “cowboys”, as the new generation of cops is disparagingly called by older Parisians. Or, as the joke goes, cops only travel in four because they are always playing cards instead of catching the real crooks.
Despite the diversity of France’s presidential election, which featured 11 candidates, polls showed that nearly 60% of active police voted for Marine Le Pen and far-right National Front in the first round. That would be almost three times as often as the general population – a clear sign of a problem and a major disconnect. In these Great Recession, Frexit-ignoring, neoliberal times, only fake-leftists think the RN is France’s biggest problem – indeed, that’s how we got Macron, who is getting away with an intensity of repression Le Pen never could have – but it’s clear how strong and how out of touch France’s “canteen culture” among cops truly is.
So, will mostly Le Pen-loving cops “go over”?
Each weekend has made cops switching sides less likely… and it was already not very likely
I will quote Roman at length, and then examine his statements out of order, because I think readers would want to follow the flow of his logic and see his statements in his largest context:
“At the beginning of the movement many police were Yellow Vests because we had many demands in common. However, the longer a conflict continues, the greater the likelihood that opinions will go the ‘extreme’. Today, it would be a very difficult thing for us to support the Yellow Vest movement, because many of our colleagues have been hurt by them; we have heard many stories of difficulties for cops. These are the same reasons why Yellow Vests are less likely to support us: many have been hurt and arrested. The government has created a very large gulf between the police and the People, and they have worked at this for years.”
I think Roman means a “gulf” which must be primarily the government’s fault, as they are the ones who have given the appallingly repressive orders to cops to attack protesters. Cop management now has “no mental restrictions concerning the use of force”, according to Nantes departmental director of public security of Nantes last weekend (Nantes was the focus of “Act 26”). However: with whom does the buck stop – we are to accept that violent cops are merely the victims of bad management? This logic was obviously addressed by the Yellow Vests with their “Nuremberg” banner….
But the gulf was originally created by the policies which “they have worked at… for years”, to foster a police canteen culture which can be truly called “anti-community”, which I described in the previous section.
Roman’s belief that hard feelings are getting harder seem perfectly logical, and… certainly in keeping with the traditional French policeman’s unforgiving view of the world. That is not a knock on Roman – he is simply describing the mood in the police locker room, which is obviously increasing anti-Yellow Vest.
I would say that even though chants of “Everybody hates the police” are ubiquitous, the majority of Yellow Vests will likely continue to try and win over cops week after week after week.
Is the Yellow Vest a revolution or just a protest movement?
When I put my cards on the table, I must say: the Yellow Vests are not revolutionary – they do not truly want a “new” France.
A majority of them could probably be bought off by meeting some of their key demands: pension increases, no Value Added Tax on necessity goods, installing RICs (citizen initiated referendums), and not a whole lot else. This is why Macron is so foolish: by giving such paltry concessions, and by only saying their name in public for the first time on April 27, he is risking that the Yellow Vests will become a conflagration and prove my previous paragraph wrong… but when did the 1% ever give back any of their ill-gotten gains when they weren’t forced to? But will it become a conflagration?
Firstly, answer me this: which modern country that has had a modern revolution (and I am wiling to generously include the French Revolution here, even though modern political thought should be considered to start with Marx and socialist democracy)… has had another modern revolution? None, except China. Result: they are about to be #1 for a very long time.
(I thoroughly explain why I rename the Cultural Revolution the “Chinese Socialist Civil War” during my ongoing 8-part series on the Chinese Cultural Revolution, which, is only waiting for Part 8, titled, What the West can learn: Yellow Vests are demanding a Cultural Revolution.)
Iran can also be included – and the short timeline doesn’t change it – first came the 1979 Islamic Revolution and then came the state-sponsored, three-year Iranian Cultural Revolution, the world’s only other such revolution and which is the reason why Iran created an Islamic socialist democracy instead of foolishly install a Western liberal democratic regime after the shah’s regime. Result: Iran is the only Muslim country with an independent government, anti-capitalist & anti-imperialist policies, and a revolutionary outlook.
But the Yellow Vests are not Chinese nor Iranian…. They are quite content to live off the legacy of the (bourgeois) French Revolution.
That explains why the French are very self-satisfied: they do not want to create a “new France”.
The whole world knows the French think the whole world should change before the French would ever have to seriously change their own culture. France remains incredibly neo-imperialist and racist (Islamophobic) – this can never be considered “politically modern”, thanks to the conception of socialist democracy, which did not exist at the time of the French Revolution. Just because France wants a little more economically egalitarianism than austerity allows, and wants a little less bourgeois democracy (via more referendums) doesn’t mean that France is a society which is willing to throw of their liberal democratic/bourgeois chains.
And, of course, cops are perhaps the least willing to throw off their chains (they are a part of the 1%, after all).
Roman reflects this view. Again, that is not a knock on Roman, and I asked him if French cops would go over.
“We cannot ‘change sides’ because President Macron was legally elected by a majority of the people for five years. A million people is not a majority of the French people. Even though we can fairly say that the Yellow Vests’ demands are supported by a majority of the French people, we are only taking about a poll. We can’t change sides because Emmanuel Macron was legally elected. In three years a new president will be elected, and we will serve him because he will have been legally elected by a majority of the French people.”
I quoted Roman at length again for the benefit of the reader. What I read is an honest cop who puts his job first – upholding the law.
The Yellow Vests and Alain Soral forget the primary role of cops, which Roman just expressed: to be apolitical. They defend “the law”, regardless of whoever is in power, and regardless of the moral correctness of the law. Cops have personal political ideas, being human, which they put aside when on duty. Roman’s union expresses this with their crystal-clear declaration of being “100% apolitical”.
It is not for cops to change the laws. However, it is the job of cops to prevent laws from being changed as France in 2019 proves yet again.
The reader can draw more conclusions from Roman’s dependable words, but it does not change the fact that France’s police is no “Revolutionary Guard”, as seen on the streets of Iran, Cuba and very few other nations.
So what would it take for French cops to go over?
“We can’t change sides unless there is something like a catastrophe – like if there are 20 million people in the streets. Or if President Macron becomes crazy and orders us to fire on protesters until no one is left standing, which he will never do. We are not at that point (revolution, editor’s note) – we are very far, in fact. One million different people demonstrating is very impressive, it’s very popular, but it’s not enough – it was just one day. We are waiting, as we are in a democratic regime – we must wait for a new vote, otherwise it is impossible for us to change sides.”
Roman’s “One million different people” refers to his union’s count of Yellow Vest Act 1, on November 17, 2018 – they counted 1.3 million people, whereas the Interior Minister claimed only 288,000. The Interior Ministry has always reported 3-5 times fewer people than Roman’s cop union – shame on the Mainstream Media for never even considering that the government might have self-interested motives for undercounting anti-government protesters.
But Roman says what politically-experienced people know, “it is impossible for us (the police) to change sides”.
And that is from the Secretary General of the “#5 union power in the Interior Ministry and the #1 opposition force of the National Police.”
Voila. French cops are not going to join any revolution.
I hope this article answered some questions about French police and their relationship with the Yellow Vests. This article is not anti-policeman, but anti-police; with a name like “Syndicat France Police – Policiers en colère” or “the French Police Union of Angry Cops”, it’s clear that many policeman are “anti-police” in that they are against this current version and structure of the 1%-managed police force of France.
After all, what are they “angry” at? They are “angry” not at the People or simply “angry” in general, but at the government, which the have viewed as poor bosses. And that means some police are allies of revolutionary change, but not the French police force as a whole. Not in this current structural form. You don’t need to have lost an eye in the past 6 months to realize that.
The idea among Yellow Vests that cops will switch sides could only come from those who are fundamentally conservative and thus have never attended an anti-government protest before… as is the self-professed case with many, many Yellow Vests. Six months later they still don’t believe their own eyes, mainly because the idea causes such intense cognitive dissonance due to their “glorious” view of France’s “revolutionary” history – but because they have not updated their political thought in 200+ years, they cannot be revolutionaries in the 21st century.
That declaration is not set in stone – people do change; they are made into revolutionaries, not born one.
But revolutions take time, and certainly some cops can be allies… but not the cops as a whole, and not French cops as regards the Yellow Vest anti-government movement.
Given that French cops will never go over, we thus know that France’s terrible repression can only continue. That makes the order of the day to address the French state’s new tactic of “initiate violence in order to divide and conquer peaceful protesters” which will be the subject of a future article.
Ramin Mazaheri is the chief correspondent in Paris for Press TV and has lived in France since 2009. He has been a daily newspaper reporter in the US, and has reported from Iran, Cuba, Egypt, Tunisia, South Korea and elsewhere. He is the author of I’ll Ruin Everything You Are: Ending Western Propaganda on Red China. His work has appeared in various journals, magazines and websites, as well as on radio and television. He can be reached on Facebook.