By Ramin Mazaheri for the Saker Blog
“All the chorus of calumny, which the Party of Order never fail, in their orgies of blood, to raise against their victims, only proves that the bourgeois of our days considers himself the legitimate successor to the baron of old, who thought every weapon in his own hand fair against the plebeian, while in the hands of the plebeian a weapon of any kind constituted in itself a crime.”
The West loves to say is how they are for “law and order” – but what would you choose when you realise that, in truth, the two are actually separable?
(This is the eighteenth and penultimate chapter in a new book, France’s Yellow Vests: Western Repression of the West’s Best Values. Please click here for the article which announces this book and explains its goals.)
It was undoubtedly clear to anyone who actually attended Yellow Vest demonstrations that France’s police were incapable of protecting both order and law. Order was preserved – the 5th Republic did not fall – but obviously at the expense of the law, which states that the French have Liberalist rights such as the freedom of protest, assembly, speech, etc.
The difference between myself and many others is that I found the guaranteed Saturday repression of the Yellow Vests a sufficient crisis to invoke changes of a civil wartime nature which would protect the people and law – others did not, seeing only a sufficient crisis to invoke changes of a wartime nature which would protect property and order. Post-1917 Socialist Democracy privileges the people (equality) and law (rights), whereas Western Liberal Democracy privileges property (inequality) and order (power).
Given this reality, it’s as if 1789 didn’t even happen and royalty still rules supreme.
As the right to social equality was forcibly abandoned in the 19th century, the rights to political equality were the only gains left in France of the French Revolution. Of course, these political rights were never actually allowed in much of Western Liberal Democratic history – they certainly were not considered to be universally enjoyable, especially by women, until the arrival of the era of Social Democracy (1945-75). The repression of the Yellow Vests show how that era has ended.
The repression of the Yellow Vests has smashed the appearance of stability, respectability and moral-political superiority which the West claimed they had following the collapse of the Soviet Union. It’s an appearance which was routed in 1852, and demolished by the horrors of industrial imperialism, two World Wars and the Great Depression, history reminds.
If even rich people can march with the Yellow Vests and get beaten by police and prosecuted by the judicial system, then the class analysis has lost much of its economic component. What we are then left in the use of class analysis is the political component: only those who support the political agenda of the bourgeois bloc, and are also rich, are granted rights in the 21st century West.
Either those of us not with the bourgeois bloc do not have the right to have political rights, or we do have the right to have political rights and thus the right to defend them.
To put it differently: either the people have rights which are subject to the arbitrary whims of a shah or a “liberal strongman” like Emmanuel Macron, or they have lawful rights which the forces of order themselves must be made to respect – this cannot be disputed.
Yet making such a claim eventually provokes the same old “chorus of calumny” even in the 21st century. Marx wrote the above regarding the first Western Liberal Democratic Party in France, the conservative Party of Order. In 175 years Western Liberal Democracy has clearly not evolved away from an oligarchy which jealously guards for their own elite class the political gains of 1789’s Liberalism.
What the Yellow Vests remind us is that it’s still a revolutionary choice in a Western Liberal Democracy to choose “law” instead of “order”. They also remind that not only do Liberalist nations not enjoy the social rights of socialist-inspired nations, but they still do not even have the enjoyment of the political rights of Liberalism. This book has reminded that these just rights have been hard won, only recently partially installed, even less recently been actually made universal and only just last Saturday were overturned at roundabouts and demonstrations across France.
Yellow Vest: “All of the police violence has made many people afraid to demonstrate. However, they are just as unhappy with the government’s choices. We must remember that we protested during winter, which is never done in France, and then all through a very rainy and cold spring. The important point is that there are tens of thousands people protesting despite all these obstacles.”
To many Westerners, with their conception of time perhaps being more recent than that of an Asian or African, these Liberalist rights may seem old; to many Westerners the idea that counter-revolutionaries still act to undermine those rights may also seem to stem from a bygone Cold War mentality; to many Westerners the idea that monarchy still plays a pernicious, un-excised role in Western political cultures seems antiquated as well. This book seeks to give the West a new view of themselves, and from the new perch which is provided by the installation of the pan-European project and subsequent Yellow Vest repression.
What the Yellow Vests have demonstrated, above all, is the longstanding fact of Western imperialism. In neo-imperialism Western people have the rights of what used to be associated with those of a colonised subject – the Yellow Vests should mark the end of the Western individual’s sense of exceptionalism. The Yellow Vests show the average Westerner that they are down here with the rest of the world – it’s another victory of French egalitarianism, and of the socialist concept of the class struggle.
What the Yellow Vests should have evolved into – could have evolved into, may still evolve to – is a true protesters’ militia which would have safeguarded the right to peaceful protest from both the police and the police-infiltrated black-clad groups, both of whom prevented the exercise of the French people’s bourgeois era rights.
The renunciation of militias in the West & the acceptance of fake-leftist militias like Antifa and Black Bloc
The idea of the need for militias empowered to use self-defence was not always so shocking to Western ears.
The very first decree of the Paris Commune of 1871 was to enrol all citizens capable of bearing arms into the National Guard, which replaced the army and police and put power in the hands of the citizens. Marx knew the immediate importance of such an act: “… the disarming of the workers was the first commandment for the bourgeois at the helm of the state.”
Of course, there is no doubt for what aim that commandment was made: French backers of property and order colluded with the Germans who had just defeated them in the Franco-Prussian War, lay siege to their own capital for over four months, and massacred 30,000 Parisians rather than giving up their monopoly of armed force. Thus the Paris Commune is the historical foundation of the neoliberal and neo-imperial pan-European project.
It is not shocking to many non-Western ears, especially in the region currently most set-upon by imperialism – the Muslim world. There are many militias in the region, but almost no Western discernment as to which militia is progressive and has grassroots legitimacy, and which are propped up by foreign dollars and reactionary ideas. The Basij and Al Qaeda are alleged to be the same – reactionary and illegitimate – in shameful propaganda.
Of course Iran has a protesters’ militia – it is the Basij. I detailed it throughly in my book, Socialism’s Ignored Success: Iranian Islamic Socialism, and I drew the innumerable structural and bureaucratic similarities it has with China’s protesters’ militia, the Chinese Communist Party. Additionally, the China’s People Liberation Army is hell-bent against depoliticisation and both allow their republic to average 500 protests a day without police wrecking them, as in France. Cuba has such incredible unity – the protests against the socialist government are so tiny, and the protests in favor of the socialist government so enormous and joyous, as I have reported upon – I’m not sure they even need a protesters’ militia at this point, but of course they have the Committees for the Defense of the Revolution (Comités de Defensa de la Revolución).
France remains an incredible exception when it comes to protest and violence. It is the rare Western country where police are permitted to use rubber bullets – it’s because violence at protests is presumed, incorrectly, to be totally unavoidable. It’s a presumption whose false legitimacy relies on blaming French revolutionary history, but the reality is that protests only grew more and more violent since 2009 because they did not result in any concessions from a disempowered French president in the new pan-European project. For example, the widespread use of preventative arrests was unknown in 1968, but it was also first legalised under Nicolas Sarkozy.
Right now the Yellow Vests are not revolutionary because they do not demand an overturning of property relations, but also because they do not demand the right to armed self-defence. The arming of protesters is verboten in France, and proof that the Yellow Vests accepted this is why Saturday after Saturday they simply took the punishment. The West is unique in that their people have, since the 1960s, totally relinquished to the government the right to self-defence and have been totally swayed by the nonsensical notion that only non-violent protests have political and legitimacy. WIth the exception of ending their Apartheids, their protests have failed to defend mere Social Democracy much less finally win Socialist Democracy.
“These accusations (that there should be no workers’ militia) reduced themselves, in the final analysis, to the profound that thought that if the oppressed do not balk, the oppressors will not be obliged to beat them. This is the philosophy of Tolstoy and Gandhi but never that of Marx and Lenin,” wrote Trotsky. Tolstoy, the artist who works in an imaginary and in ivory tower abstract, and Gandhi, the patron saint of the post-colonial status quo and the hardened social caste – the typify the political inspiration of the average Westerner, today. They have these false notions precisely because of anti-socialist repression, which implies an equal repression of knowledge surrounding the crimes, failures and true aims of Western Liberal Democracy.
And yet a protesters’ militia does actually exist in France: Black Bloc and Antifa. The only problem is that both of them exude hate and contempt of the protesters. They are, in turn, hated by the average protester, who does not feel any kinship with them or that their ideals are similar. As someone who has attended many hundreds of protests since 2009 as a journalist I have seen so much questionable behavior from these two groups that I am certain, as many French activists are, that these two unaccountable groups are infiltrated by French police. I say this because I have witnessed many instances of members of these groups committing so many unexpected, ill-timed and unappreciated acts which protesters all knew was only going to discredit them and their cause. They cannot all be that politically stupid. Even if that presumption is not true, Black Bloc and Antifa are the opposite of what I am talking about, which is a self-defense militia – those two groups are purely offensive in their tactics and goals; they are playing a game with the cops, not trying to win the support of the marchers/protesters one by one by one.
I recall Yellow Vests pleading with me at the tear gas-filled Arc de Triomphe roundabout multiple times: “Why aren’t the police doing anything to stop Black Bloc?!” Answer: because Black Bloc and Antifa helps police to destroy protests – the don’t work to help protests succeed.
Black Bloc and Antifa are thus a safety valve which benefits the government, which is obviously why they are tolerated and not smashed as dangerous and almost universally-despised organisations. As Yellow Vest organisers told me: social media such as Facebook now routes searches for Yellow Vests to these extreme organisations, with the obvious goal of discrediting the Yellow Vests by association.
These two groups are so rejected by French protesters that they are not even worth discussing, except to point out their incapability, their rejection and the ease with which such groups can be infiltrated by reactionary state agents.
Any Yellow Vest protesters’ militia would be as sincerely concerned with stopping the shenanigans of Black Bloc and Antifa as they would those of the CRS riot police.
Yellow Vest: “What voters should do is not be scared and rejoin the Yellow Vests. We have lost our purchasing power, our social services, our individual freedoms – stop crying about these two candidates from behind your television or computer and come join us!”
As time goes on, and as France realises they have been cowed into staying at home and have relinquished their right to protest, then the idea that the Yellow Vests should become the clearly-marked guardians of the rights to assembly and speech will become more acceptable. The idea that the police will be transformed somehow into an organ of the oppressed is without example in history, and it is notable that despite the regular violence for six months the French political establishment never made any efforts to transform their police in a less brutal and lawbreaking manner. Significantly, and as previously discussed, they gave the police even more power and punished police for not being brutal enough.
How many Yellow Vests must die before France comes to its own defense against the bourgeois bloc?
The Yellow Vests undoubtedly created a revolutionary situation, but to call for an armed uprising here would be a failure: even the Yellow Vests would not join, I predict.
Unlike Muslim countries victimised in such a deadly way by Western neo-imperialism, Westerners do not yet see their condition as neo-imperial subjects as being dire enough so as to warrant taking up arms. The fact that the Yellow Vests did not even mention the word “Europe” in their list of 43 demands shows how little understanding there is that the current version of the pan-European project is obviously neo-imperial.
Should the French state ever open fire on the Yellow Vests – then the equation would change.
So far, the 12 deaths at the Yellow Vest demonstrations have been mostly inadvertent – traffic accidents and heart attacks. The killing of 80-year-old Algerian woman Zineb Redouane, hit at her fourth-floor window by what certainly seems to be an intentional tear gas canister fired during a Yellow Vest demonstration, is not viewed the same in France as firing en masse on Yellow Vests.
As the spokesperson of a police union told me during an interview: cops will only stand down if tens of millions of people take to the streets. Only the murder of Yellow Vests could generate that, and then the acceptance that Western Liberal Democracy is obviously a failure. The second Je suis Charlie march provoked 4 million to protest, the largest French march since World War II.
This exact scenario may actually happen. The Yellow Vests have already been such heroic and wiling martyrs, and the French police such cowardly and reactionary employers of brutality – why should we assume these two trends will discontinue, rather than continuing to a very logical and quite likely conclusion upon the next certain crisis in Liberalist capitalism?
Should this happen the Yellow Vest network will immediately spring to action. France is a nation with plenty of guns (globally they are 26th in gun ownership, with 20 firearms per 100 civilians) and the Yellow Vests are a self-trusting network full of ever-more politically advanced people who are committed to a progressive, not reactionary, France.
The Yellow Vest experience shows that, apparently, only massacres will cause the average Frenchman to realise that they are not even allowed to defend themselves while exercising the Liberalist rights which they are told they enjoy, falsely. Opening fire on the Yellow Vests is the one mistake the bourgeois bloc forces must not make – if they do, then certainly Macron will be forced to resign in order to save Western Liberal Democracy in France.
“If one allows for a moment that the army equipped to its teeth will under all conditions be found on the side of big capital, then one must renounce not only the workers’ militia but socialism in general. Then capitalism is eternal,” wrote Trotsky (emphasis his), and we can substitute “Western Liberal Democracy” for “capitalism” and “police” for “army” to reflect modern French conditions.
France is like most countries: they naively believe in the benevolence of the national army, even though France’s army is not grassroots and defensive but imperialist and offensive. Nor did the army step in to protect the Yellow Vests’ – they accepted Macron’s order to be deployed against the Yellow Vests.
Many may not realise it, but France is truly at an impasse – what happens in social conflagration produced by the next inevitable bust in Liberalist capitalism?
What is a ‘protesters’ militia’ to protect Liberalist rights?
“The workers’ militia – not by its armaments but by its class consciousness and heroism – will be the vanguard of the revolution.” (emphasis his)
Trotsky isn’t describing the Yellow Vests, but the Yellow Vests obviously fit the bill in every
The Yellow Vests merit being the political vanguard in French society. The absolute hallmarks of the Yellow Vests is civic consciousness, class consciousness and heroism. Thus they deserve a role in French society, and if the French care at all about their fate in the pan-European project popular acclaim should push them into a vanguard role at protests.
The Yellow Vests desire, I believe, to become an entirely new French institution. They are not sufficiently willing to enter politics – in the 2022 legislative elections they could not even cobble together a “Yellow Vest list” of candidates, though there were individual Yellow Vests who ran for national office – but they are ready to become a fixture of French political culture. The protest is their home, at least for now, and they are undoubtedly needed there.
It would be totally autocratic to presume that public demonstrations are not an indispensable component of modern political life. They are absolutely necessary for any democracy and any society, as they alert both the government and the people to serious problems, and simply must be preserved at all costs. Socialist-inspired democracies such as China and Iran are full of protests for this reason.
A militia is an army made up of regular citizens called to respond during an emergency. What’s needed is for the French people to realise that the pan-European project’s repression of their Liberalist rights does indeed constitute an emergency.
Barring a massacre of Yellow Vests the French will not easily turn to armed revolution – the average Frenchman is now a neo-imperial subject, but they are still in a much better economic position than most neo-imperial subjects; the propaganda of imperialism falsely tells the French that a revolution would overturn 1789 instead of adding to its achievements. A “protesters’ militia” is something which I feel would appeal to the French, and which could lead to the progressive political changes they are obviously clamouring for.
What the Yellow Vests should do is to recreate the National Guard, the group which decided the fate of revolutionary movements until its wilful disarmament in 1848 and then its disbandment during the 2nd Empire. By drawing on their French Revolutionary heritage the appeal among Frenchmen would be widened. In 2016, France actually reestablished the National Guard – however, it is composed of reservist military forces, serves as the fifth branch of the armed forces was done as an Islamophobic response to terrorist attacks and is completely shorn of its revolutionary legacy.
What a “National Guard Protesters’ Militia” means in 21st century France is that it would be charged with defending Liberalist rights, such as the freedom of assembly, speech and protest – these rights are also a part of Socialist Democracy. They can be a force of conscience and self-defence which presides over protests and debate in order to permit the French to voice their concerns in peace, to raise their political consciousness and to develop French solutions to French problems. Not only would they be present at protests, but they could provide security at nightly protests such as Nuit Debout in 2016. They could even permit the creation of a permanent encampment – a “French Tahrir Square”, as was tried at the Eiffel Tower on March 8, 2019, but which was forbidden by police.
To be brief about what a people’s militia looks like: it would have to put a citizen’s group on the level of the government’s armed forces. The Yellow Vests would provide security along with the police. It is not necessary that the protesters’ militia would be armed but that the government’s armed forces would have to be disarmed. The police would retain their legal rights afforded to them (observation, questioning, detention), but the presence of the Yellow Vests would ensure that riot police, Antifa and Black Bloc cannot cause a degeneration to violence. What are the Yellow Vests if not the watchmen and watchwomen of French democracy?
This is a practical solution, considered within a French culture which is clearly opposed to armed demonstrations, in order to protect the rights of the average Frenchman from further erosion. The solution is not for the Yellow Vests to be run roughshod over again and again and again and again.
There’s no need to quote the countless heroes of socialist democracy who know that the peoples’ best interests are preserved in a peaceful revolution. The proposition of the Yellow Vests as a defensive protester’s militia is an opportunity for the peaceful development of progressive politics, and it should be seized upon. If the supporters of the bourgeois bloc refuse it – it is they who are advocating and perpetuating violence, and they should learn from the history of modern revolutionary nations that violent revolutions only occurred as a result of the repeated denial of accepted democratic rights. Perhaps above all else the Yellow Vests represent the blatant, repeated denial of accepted democratic rights, and this cannot continue.
This proposition is a peaceful reform of a protest space with the Yellow Vests have proven to be in desperate need of reform – the political raison d’être of reformists and Social Democrats is that they insist peaceful reform actually is possible in Western Liberal Democracy, so how can they not champion this?
Quite simply: France either has the Yellow Vests to create a people’s militia or they have nobody qualified at all. If they have nobody qualified, then continued repression of French protesters is certain and proves that Western Liberal Democracy will never give even the mere rights of Liberalism to the average French person.
The French government refuses to produce qualified persons – in the form of responsible CRS riot police, which have already been totally discredited from consideration – and thus they must create a new institution which will preserve their Liberalist rights in order to cope with the nation’s problems.
If such a group is not created then a massacre of the Yellow Vests will occur – it is the logical endpoint of the combination of a self-sacrificing group and social conditions which have only and will only worsen under this version of a pan-European project.
Calling for the Yellow Vests to be given the right to police demonstrations and to have the right to defend the law is not something which creates more violence – it would prevent it. If the bourgeois bloc feels that even such discussions threaten their dominance and are unacceptable, then they shouldn’t look to the Yellow Vests for what the future may hold but to their neo-colonies.
The only area of France which has recently understood this need for citizens to sometimes protect the right of citizens was in French Guiana, where in 2017 the “500 Brothers against Delinquency” put on masks and did exactly this in order to bring order to France’s most violent département. Failure to protect the Yellow Vests may led to yet another example of a now-established rule in France: political movements and innovations often begin first in France’s overseas territories and then spread to the mainland.
In the 2022 presidential election the majority of France’s overseas neo-colonies voted for Marine Le Pen. Which will come over to the mainland first: a president from the National Front, the masked 500 Brothers Against Delinquency or a Yellow Vest protesters’ militia to reduce the violence at French protests? Perhaps eventually all three but certainly not none.
What is not also certain to not happen is the promised prosperity and stability of the pan-European project, nor the beginning of a capitalist era without devastating bust periods, nor the complete renunciation by the French of political protests.
France is truly at an impasse: the coronavirus era has finally faded and the re-election of Macron puts France back to where it was in January 2020, after the failed general strike.
France must either take steps to reduce its astounding amount of political violence, or else more violence can be the only result.
Upcoming chapter list of France’s Yellow Vests: Western Repression of the West’s Best Values.
Chapter List of the new content
- New book announcement – ‘France’s Yellow Vests: Western Repression of the West’s best values’ – March 15, 2022
- Introduction: A Yellow Vests’ history must rewrite both recent & past French history – March 20, 2022
- The UK’s endless reaction: 1789 & feudalism’s end creates modern conservatism – March 25, 2022
- Glorious Revolution of 1688: England declares ‘death to all other revolutions’ – March 29, 2022
- Modern political history makes no sense if Napoleon is not a leftist revolutionary – April 2, 2022
- The ‘Counter-Revolutions of 1848’ stillborn child: Western Liberal Democracy – April 7, 2022
- Louis-Napoleon: The revolutionary differences between Bonapartism & Western Liberal Democracy – April 11, 2022
- The Paris Commune: The true birth of neoliberalism and EU neo-imperialism – April 17, 2022
- Where the West is stuck: The fascism of the 1930s and the ‘fascism’ of the 2020s – April 23, 2022
- On ‘Leon Trotsky on France’ in order to reclaim Trotsky from Trotskyists – May 2, 2022
- Growing up Yellow Vest: Seeing French elites, not French people, conquered by neoliberalism – May 8, 2022
- The pan-European project wanted a Great Recession, winds up with Yellow Vests May 13, 2022
- To Yellow Vests he’s the radical: Macron imposes ‘radical centrism’ for Brussels – May 19, 2022
- Yellow Vests: At worst, the most important French movement for a century – May 24, 2022
- Who are they, really? Ask a reporter whose seen a million Yellow Vest faces – May 31, 2022
- Yellow Vest Win: Ending the West’s slandering of all popular movements as far-right xenophobes – June 9, 2022
- Yellow Vest Win: The end of Western parliamentarianism as the most progressive government June 14, 2022
- Yellow Vest Win: The end of Western unions as leftism’s hereditary kings – June 20, 2022
- Yellow Vest Win: Proving that Western Liberal Democracy is the same old autocracy – June 27, 2022
- What the Yellow Vests can be: a group which can protect Liberalism’s rights, at least
- Postscript: Looking back and looking forward with the Yellow Vests
Ramin Mazaheri is the chief correspondent in Paris for PressTV 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 ‘Socialism’s Ignored Success: Iranian Islamic Socialism’ as well as ‘I’ll Ruin Everything You Are: Ending Western Propaganda on Red China’, which is also available in simplified and traditional Chinese.