by Ramin Mazaheri for The Saker Blog
Let’s predict the likely trajectory of France’s Yellow Vest movement:
What seems certain is that the only-on-Saturday protests will soon change into massive, permanent encampments in Paris, along the Champs-Elysées and Eiffel Tower. Other camps will be set up around the country, also at symbols of state power: the local city halls and tourist/historic attractions. This will make international news, because they will make for pretty pictures, but it’s the camps at road roundabouts and highway tollbooths which will make the necessary impact – an economic impact.
The primary call will be for the resignation of President Emmanuel Macron and new elections, because there is no other apparent socio-political solution to France’s problems:
A general strike has repeatedly failed to materialise despite years of hopes, and this has revealed the inability of French unions to reflect the will of the people. Unions have lost influence due to the four-decade official and legal assault on their overall numbers and militancy, but the Yellow Vests refusal to march alongside unions shows that they have grasped the seeming illogical premise underpinning Europe’s model of “independent” trade unions – that they would put the needs of the country over the needs of their dues-paying members. This social-labor-management blockage is also combined with total political blockage – i.e., the failure of France’s three mainstream parties (Socialists, conservatives, Macron’s new party) to provide a dependable political pathway for the political will to be expressed (much less implemented). Macron must go, not because he is so terrible (but he is), but because he is not “different”, which is what he implicitly promised by sweeping out the two mainstream parties.
A host of other demands will be officially adopted by the Yellow Vests; few of them will have ever been implemented in any major Western country. Macron will refuse, Brussels will make threats and defend Macron, and the battle lines will be drawn.
The strain of repeated clashes already has France’s detested police force “at the breaking point”, so they will use a shock-and-awe violence to disperse the camps quickly. Cops on horseback will ride roughshod over the protesters as though they were Black & Muslim refugees in France and not actual people. However, this won’t last long – the French People, habituated to constant police brutality at political protests, will continue to endure and fight back. This will encourage the international press to book long-term rooms in France, and the crucial moment will come when the cops breaks ranks and go over to the People.
Macron will then be faced with calling in the army, which in France is – as the French are – an extremely cliquish and walled-off group. Even though they are drawn from the People, their military’s extreme re-socialisation makes their commitment to the French People – as opposed to non-human French institutions – tough to gauge. I predict they will remain aloof – i.e., the French fall-back pose of social superiority – and will not save Macron, whom they never liked. Abruptly, Macron will be forced to step down, surprising everybody.
Nobody will know what to do next, and the economy will tank. The European Union, slowed additionally by Brexit, will grind to a halt. The Eurozone, the world’s largest macro-economy and still the global economy’s weakest major link, will enter a crisis even worse than in 2012…but France will be focused on themselves (another popular fall-back pose).
Several years of Cultural Revolution will ensue, creating entirely new institutions on both a national and pan-European level. I will be elected to a very high post despite not being a citizen of France, which will prove how “comrade-friendly” and socialist-inspired the Yellow Vest Revolution truly is. Since we are dreaming, I will also win the lottery, despite never buying a ticket. I will finally marry a nice, brown-eyed girl – she is also a supermodel who holds multiple doctorates in diverse fields, was a recent winner of the TV show “Top Chef”, hails from a family without problems of any sort to annoy me, and she will also never make me do housework or change a diaper.
Ok, the last paragraph is obviously absurd, but everything up to “Cultural Revolution” is very possible. After all, I pretty much described the situation in Egypt in 2011 – human history repeats itself, whether in Muslim or Christian/atheist lands.
I’ve been reporting in France for 10 years come February, and I was also at Tahrir Square when Mubarak fell, so I know how it happened. I arrived just after the cop-mounted camels (not horses) charged, and I was there the night when news of Mubarak’s departure provoked firstly a short wave of an unexplained cry, and then an ocean of celebration.
Thirty years of Mubarak versus 10 years of high Brussels and high-finance-imposed austerity – lotta difficult times for the average person. I certainly have grounds for such comparisons.
In my blueprint for a Yellow Vest Revolution the only real difference with Egypt is when I imagined that French cops would switch sides: In Egypt it was the army which stepped in to save the People, revoking the power of the hated, black-vested police forces.
I have heard and read from top rightish-but-leftish French sources, like Alain Soral, that the French police will save the Gilet Jaunes…which is nonsense. The West’s hysterical post 9/11 love affair with “First Responders” (excepting journalists, of course) is all a media concoction to hide this fact: the police are drawn from the most reactionary elements of society – they never go over to the crowd. In fact, they took their job in order to fight and manipulate the crowd. Admirers of French riot police fail to realize that cops are always selected from among the most class-illiterate, most intellectual brutal members of a society. The Egyptian army, by contrast, was broadly drawn from the mass of the People, and that is why the protesters at Tahrir repeatedly told me that they would never open fire.
Of course the Egyptian Army – in collusion with the sabotaging Egyptian 1% and foreign powers in Tel Aviv, Washington and the West – would later turn against the Egyptian People. The reason? The Egyptian People installed Mohamed Morsi and a Muslim democratic party via long-withheld Muslim democracy, and that will always threatened the Zionist project, the Egyptian 1% and regional Muslim monarchies. But in 2011 hopes were high, and rightly so.
Reactionary hopes that the Yellow Vests are done shows ignorance of modern French history
So is this the start of a French Spring? Will it spread to the Eurozone? To turn a 2011 cliche on its ear: Is the European World finally “ready for democracy”?
In my humble opinion: France is not there yet.
What preceded victory in Egypt was not anger, testosterone or the desire for fighting: the endlessly repeated word at citizen checkpoints was “ehsan” – which colloquially means “easy” or “calm”, but which is actually an Islamic concept meaning “act as correctly as if God were seeing you and you were also seeing God”. Indeed: who is going to commit a crime when they see God right in front of them? Makes it hard to get away with anything….
The Yellow Vesters do not act with such faith and peace, but that is not a condemnation of their spraying graffiti on the Arc de Triomphe – that was awesome, and incredibly effective in grabbing attention. But until we see even one permanent camp, let’s scrap my Egypt model for France.
But if France is not “ready for democracy”, I think that they are indeed ready to try.
This is what many pundits likely can’t tell you, because they don’t actually cover protests (unless they are about gay marriage, or against the Catholic Church, or other fake-leftist nonsense): we should be very, very stunned that the always-undercounting Interior Ministry said 34,000 French protested as late as December 15 and that 50,000 people protested on January 5 – that is totally unprecedented in the Age of Austerity. I’ve never seen anything close to that over the Christmas holidays, and the same goes for August – both are traditional times of vacation.
In a more-extensive article I wrote last month which explained the Yellow Vest movement in the correct context – as part of a “continuum” (8 years of (accumulative) state austerity) instead of the Mainstream Media’s isolated “vacuum” (“It’s just the diesel gas tax hike, we swear!”) – I predicted the movement would take Christmas off…and they did, but only relatively speaking – the first few Yellow Vest protests had 2-300,000 people.
But if we are looking at this like social scientists or experienced journalists, then we have to realize that our needle has actually jacked into the red because such political turnout from December 15 – January 5 is totally unprecedented over this time period. France has had 8 years of huge, constant anti-government protests (galvanizing 10 times more people than the biggest Yellow Vest protest), but we have never, ever seen such political activity during Christmas (or August) in the last decade. France has always traded vacations for political momentum…but not the Yellow Vests.
A lot of people in the media and in France are asking: Has the Yellow Vest movement died out? If you accept the logic of the above paragraph, the answer is: not at all, and we should get ready for something big.
However, the Mainstream Media wants to fool us because they over-emphasize the (obviously capitalist-influenced) statistics of overall turnout and “protest growth rate”. Their foolishness is ignorant and lacks context, but they do (sadly) set the tone of discussion. Ignore their foolishness – expect hundreds of thousands of Yellow Vesters back in the streets by the end of the month.
The Yellow Vests can’t die, because they have nowhere else to go
A lot of people have indeed put politics aside for Christmas, if only to get along with their family, but everyone in France will soon remember three crucial things: nobody has listened to the will of the French People in years; the French People have smashed/are smashing the mainstream political parties (Socialists, conservatives, Macron’s party); and, consequently, a new party simply must be formed due to this very real, very undeniable vacuum of undemocracy which is French politics in January 2018 (and which hit high gear in 2012 with Hollande’s backtracking on ending austerity).
Here is the crux of the biscuit, politically: Macron’s party was created and elected to destroy the two mainstream parties. It did. But Macron’s party is still an undeniable failure in the eyes of the French people – this is mainly because it was always fabrication of the 1% and not a genuine “populist” movement. Y’all were crazy to vote for a neoliberal, EU-loving Rothschild banker who married his statutory rapist (because I’m a classy guy I did not detail Macron’s obvious similarities with rock-and-roll co-founder Ike Turner until after the 2017 election), but Macron was fabricated because Marine Le Pen imperiled the fortunes and Quantitative Easing of France’s pro-globalisation 1%.
But when the destroyer of the destroying is destroyed, what is left? Answer: not much.
As I wrote in last month’s article, a Red-Brown alliance (the true left of the Communist-inspired, meaning people like Jean-Luc Melenchon and his party; the often-fascist National Front of the Le Pens) is not at all likely in France. After all, they foolishly elected a Rothschild banker expressly because they could not make this temporary partnership of necessity. Not even a shotgun could get this wedding consummated. As I wrote last month: Melenchon and Le Pen are simply too polarizing and have too much negative history to ever unite the two groups.
So, all five of France’s major political pathways – Socialists, Les Républicains of Sarkozy, Macron’s new Party, National Front (now Rassemblement Nationale) and France Insoumise (Melenchon’s party) – are unacceptable to and unwanted by the Yellow Vests.
That’s why I think the future of the Yellow Vests is to become a French version of Italy’s Five Star movement, but that’s a whole ‘nother article.
2019 prediction: A Yellow Vest standoff with Macron is certain
Macron’s first cabinet meeting of 2019 revealed that, sadly, he was not visited by ghosts on Christmas Eve like Ebenezer Scrooge telling “ministers they should be more radical in their attempt to reform the country and law and order must be restored” is proof of that. Translation: Macron is not going to slow down his pace of radical social “reforms” (unemployment insurance and social security are next on the docket) no matter how unpopular he gets, or how many protesters get in his way.
And why should he? I can’t stress this enough: yeah, over 1,000 protester arrests on December 8 was a record in my time, but I have seen countless days of hundreds of protester arrests over the past 10 years in France. Macron has truly grown up with this being considered “normal” governance, so why would he deviate from it and call off the police dogs?
(We can blame this “normalized” state brutality on the UN, Amnesty International and other top NGOs, as they must have used up all their condemnatory breaths for when an anti-government protester was overcharged for coffee in Venezuela, Iran and China.)
And why should he part 2? Macron has an absolute majority in Parliament, and this is a bourgeois/West European democracy, so he doesn’t have to. France’s liberal democratic system sucks and is based in the 19th century, and they have to eat what they sow, which is bourgeois self-interest & contempt for public opinion instead of some tasty socialist-democracy cake.
The best France can hope for in 2019 is that Macron’s job title has changed:
At first, he was the 1%’s Golden Boy charged with implementing as many neoliberal reforms as fast as possible in order to roll back decades of advancements for workers – he succeeded. Now, given that his popularity is half that of Trump’s, he has a new charge: prevent total revolution/instability by giving back as few morsels as possible, which he has already done.
But of course Macron’s 13-minute address on December 10 was unlucky – his main offer, 100 euros more to the monthly minimum wage, implicitly implied that he incorrectly views the Yellow Vests as merely the poorest of the poor – he doesn’t get it that 75% of France supports the movement because the Yellow Vests are middle class too. Austerity has accumulated to the point where a middle-class person in France has zero stability (what is this, the United States?!) I detailed last month how austerity has made what was once a comfortable salary in solid social safety net France – 2,000 euros – now quite precarious.
His other three offers also failed to even come class to appeasing the class-based anger against the 1%: no taxes on overtime (gee, thanks massa!); encouraging bosses to give Christmas bonuses out of the kindness of their hearts (so far I’ve counted a whopping total of two French media stories of bosses who have acquiesced, but the law gives them until March 31 to give a bonus or not); the cancellation of a tax on grandma and grandpa’s (already repeatedly frozen) pension (designed to win back the approval of France’s 16 million pensioners). All of that was doomed from the start, if the goal was to placate the movement; undoing 8 years of accumulated austerity measures will truly require something like a Cultural Revolution.
Given that Macron will not learn and desist, and given that trickle-down/austerity economics & social policies can only continue to their 40-year record of failing and creating misery – more intense confrontations are certain in 2019. That’s bad news for the former Golden Boy.
From a human standpoint, Macron can only fail if his task is not to inspire but to intimidate: Small, notably balding, waifish Macron can never look like a tough leader you wouldn’t dare defy, such as a father figure, a general, a tribal leader, or the grandfather of the nation (although Macron is a grandfather at 41).
Macron’s appeal was based on his claim to be a bold technocrat, and one who would sweep away the old order. Nineteen months later France’s economy is in the same stagnant shambles, and his “new order” is the old order at least 3/4ths of the country didn’t want and also on steroids.
Can Macron really push his public opinion-defying agenda for three more years and get away with it? Just getting through 2019 looks difficult.
But “Impeach!”, as the US proves with their similar calls, is simply scapegoating, media sensationalism, and not any remedy whatsoever to a Western nation’s deep structural problems caused by a rejection of socialist democracy.
So what is coming in France in 2019?
I am not a journalist who makes doomsday predictions to sell papers, but my answer is: major, major unrest. A protest during France’s vacation period: c’est pas possible! But it happened for the first time this century – it’s a little thing but it’s a big thing.
Bigger things appear certain when all the Yellow Vesters come back from vacation, and they will be joining a hardcore group of protesters for whom we have no recent parallel.
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. His work has appeared in various journals, magazines and websites, as well as on radio and television. He can be reached on Facebook.