By Ramin Mazaheri and cross-posted with PressTV
On December 1, 2018, the Yellow Vests announced themselves to France, the world and the history books with their revolutionary graffiti tagging of the Arc de Triomphe.
“The Yellow Vests will win” was a slogan gaped at worldwide as they would become the biggest, most organic, most devoted and most truly revolutionary threat any Western country had faced for 50 years. It was their third week of protest, and there was now no going back.
The colonised world never expected a genuine resistance movement to sprout in one of the modern West’s worst imperialists. The French were – many insisted – too self-righteous, too spoiled, too propagandised, etc., and yet for the next six months every single Saturday was a war zone across France. France was truly in a revolutionary situation back then, and it was because the French way of life isn’t as sumptuous as people may think.
The Yellow Vests didn’t bravely endure all this – at least 11,000 arrests, 1,000 political prisoners, 5,000 protesters seriously hurt, 1,000 critically injured, scores maimed for life and 11 deaths – because they have a luxurious lifestyle.
I’m not sure what was worse – the repression by the French regime, or the way Western media and NGOs slandered and ignored the weekly blood baths, tear gas and mass arrests. The Yellow Vests are an immediate, permanent rejoinder to any Westerner who claims their governments are more protective of democracy and less brutal than those of non-Western countries. That’s one of the three great legacies of the Yellow Vests.
The key to understanding the Yellow Vests is this, and it’s implicitly understood by the average European, totally not understood in places like the United States, and has been intellectually mastered by the vanguard Yellow Vests:
Ever since the pan-European project went fully on-line in 2009 it has done nothing but fail. Prosperity, stability and democracy – none have been implemented. France is not really France anymore – not unless Brussels says so – and it’s getting less like France with each passing day under a political system which is really still quite new.
So the Yellow Vests were truly 10 years in the making. They even arrived after a decade full of major social movements, because the first war of the European Union wasn’t a proxy war against Russia but the social war it waged against its own citizens.
The problem was not just the Great Recession of 2008 but the fact that the European Union/Eurozone was the only macro-economic bloc which implemented absolutely no major recovery plan. Even worse, its response was to undemocratically ram through far-right austerity policies instead. The Yellow Vests were this “working-poor class” cemented by the changes of Brussels’, and their opponent was the highly-unequal “bourgeois bloc” which only saw the pan-European project in a rainbow glow of total success.
The Yellow Vests disproved the insistence of the Anglosphere – whose cultures are all extremely conservative politically – that all populist groups in the West are necessarily on the far-right. As soon as December 2018 it was clear in France that the Yellow Vests were steeped in left-wing economics, anti-imperialism and a non-Islamophobic, modern conception of healthy patriotism. This explains their nearly 80% approval rate, a staggering popularity anywhere but especially in a France which had grown extremely cynical, due to the undemocratic failures of the pan-European project. .
If only given one word to describe the Yellow Vests I require a hyphen, please: civic-minded. Concern for their fellow citizens and the downward spiral of the non-elite masses is what has motivated any popular revolution, after all.
These simple, obvious and pro-community concepts are forbidden in the Western mainstream media. There is no “working-poor class” in France – there are only racist, backwards, lazy, always-complaining Frenchmen. There is no “bourgeois bloc” – there is only an elite group of enlightened and deserving technocrats who have all the answers to decide for us about what constitutes “reality”.
These are truly the two classes of the 21st century West – forget “middle class”, because the pan-European project has been (thus far) the final blow to what Reaganomics/Thatcherism began. Fully understanding and opposing the West’s current social class reality is the second great achievement of the Yellow Vests, but of course one cannot find class discussed in the English-speaking media.
However, there is another achievement which is even greater but even less discussed, and probably because it requires a complete overview of modern Western politics, which began in 1789 with the anti-monarchy/anti-aristocrat/anti-privilege French Revolution.
The arrival and the repression of the Yellow Vests reminds us all of the undeniable failure of “liberalism”. The Yellow Vests aren’t actually new, but are a true piece of French revolutionary history transported from 1848-71 – the struggle today is the same as it was back then.
It’s a struggle against always-elitist liberalism and its attendants: oligarchical and anti-democratic parliamentarianism, free-market chaos, the anti-government ideology encapsulated by austerity cuts to social services, and the encouragement of a rat race to “become bourgeois”. The Yellow Vests took France and Europe back to 1848, when the “2nd Republic” re-ended the French monarchy and claimed the mantle of the French Revolutionary “1st Republic”. Liberalism was installed for the first time and… immediately proved that it was plagued by all the problems described above.
Liberalism has failed since 1848, and the liberalist principles (“neoliberal” is more commonly used today, in order to differentiate itself from the discredited, original “liberalism”) which underpin the pan-European project have failed today. They always fail. The arrival, desperate passion and durability of the Yellow Vests is proof of this, and showing the hypocrisy, brutality and ineffectiveness of always-unequal liberalism is the third and greatest historical achievement of the Yellow Vests.
Liberalism, infamously, does not promise anyone the right to a decent existence. Back in 1848 Marx and other socialists demonstrated these facts about Western liberal democracies – the Yellow Vests have brought us back to these inescapable political and social truths.
Why did the Yellow Vests “fail”? Quite simply: Via guaranteed police violence, fines, arrests and imprisonments, the French government scared the average person away from protesting. That’s why their protests dwindled – fear of absolutely certain repression.
The fear has had dramatic, lasting consequences: the French have been reduced from the most politically-active nation in the West to being apathetic and uninvolved – typical of Western liberal democracies. The apathy surrounding this year’s re-election of Emmanuel Macron was completely atypical for France, but the nation saw quite clearly that there was no stopping the will of the 1% and their fanatical “bourgeois bloc” toadies.
The Yellow Vests marched to commemorate their 4th anniversary, but you likely didn’t hear about it. You likely haven’t heard that they’ve been marching every Saturday since “Season 2” began in October 2021, following a 1.5-year coronavirus pause – a pause which no world leader embraced with more joy and relief than the embattled Emmanuel Macron. However, the media blackout on them actually began way back in June 2020.
France is no longer in a revolutionary situation, but the Yellow Vests haven’t gone anywhere. The average person has put their reflective yellow vest back where it belongs by law – in the car – but the network, relationships and experiences created by the unprecedented Yellow Vest movement ensures that they’ll be back one day.
And they will be back – the history of Western liberalism has proven over and over that the average person’s right to live decently will never be guaranteed.
Ramin Mazaheri is the chief correspondent in Paris for PressTV and has lived in France since 2009. He is currently covering the US midterm elections. He has been a daily newspaper reporter in the US, and has reported from Iran, Cuba, Egypt, Tunisia, South Korea and elsewhere. His latest book is ‘France’s Yellow Vests: Western Repression of the West’s Best Values’. He is also the author of ‘Socialism’s Ignored Success: Iranian Islamic Socialism’ as well as ‘I’ll Ruin Everything You Are: Ending Western Propaganda on Red China’.