by Ramin Mazaheri for The Saker Blog (cross-posted with PressTV)
(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 the books ‘I’ll Ruin Everything You Are: Ending Western Propaganda on Red China’ and the upcoming ‘Socialism’s Ignored Success: Iranian Islamic Socialism’.)
For many years to come France will be divided into two periods – before the Yellow Vests, and after the Yellow Vests. It’s widely believed in France that things can never go back to the way they were.
I’m not sure there can be a better yardstick of domestic success – a better gauge of sociocultural impact – than that?
Outside of France the Yellow Vests have given the world a precious gift, and at a huge sacrifice: nobody will ever view “French-style democracy” with the respect their government arrogantly demands as the alleged “birthplace of human rights”. For a generation or longer, “What about the Yellow Vests?”, will be a conversation-ending question to anyone who claims the moral superiority of the “Western-style” political system.
Systematic repression of the poorest classes are indeed “universal values”, but only within neoliberal and neo-imperial systems. Make no mistake: It has been one year of open Yellow Vest revolt against the economic dictates of that “neoliberal empire”, the European Union, and it’s neo-colonial puppet temporarily occupying Élysée Palace in Paris.
What the last year has testified to is the redemption of France’s revolutionary spirit. Not every country has that, after all.
England, for example, will foolishly “keep calm and carry on” – a perfect summation of change-hating conservatism – until the bitter end, always. This is why reading English-language media coverage of the Yellow Vests was so very similar – “English conservative opposes egalitarian movement in France”. They have been running the same story for 200+ years, going back to Edmund Burke, who founded modern Western conservatism with his (reactionary) Reflections on the Revolution in France in 1790.
France is not England, but 53 weeks ago I don’t think anyone imagined that the French could possibly muster the stamina, dedication and self-sacrifice to protest amid massive state-sponsored repression every weekend for one year.
It’s an amazing achievement, and only those full of spite and hate could deny them a modest present of honest recognition on their birthday.
But Western mainstream media coverage in English and French was just that – they claimed the Yellow Vests achieved nothing.
One thing the French don’t like to be reminded of is: the French Revolution failed, and quickly. It’s as if they forget Emperor Napoleon?
The French Revolution is not like the Iranian, Chinese or Cuban Revolutions, all of which have endured. The American Revolution has also endured – too bad that it was even more aristocratic (bourgeois) and sectarian than the French Revolution.
But the French Revolution occurred in an era of constant regional imperialism, war, slavery, repression of women, religious and ethnic sectarianism, etc. – we would be wrong to say it did not still have positive worldwide ramifications in the most important realms of politics, economics, culture, etc. The USSR – the only empire based on affirmative action – also failed, but we would be wrong to say it didn’t also produce positive changes for their people and also worldwide.
Quickly, here are a few tangible victories of the Yellow Vests: they prevented Emmanuel Macron from presenting a 10th consecutive annual austerity budget, they prevented Macron from de-nationalising the three airports of Paris, and the 10 billion euros in so-called “concessions” was credited with keeping French economic growth in the positive in the last quarter.
However, even if the Yellow Vests have obviously not yet toppled the 5th Republic and set up a new order, their cultural is inestimable. Just as the Occupy Movement of the US in 2011 gave us the slogan and mentality of “We are the 99%”, so will the Yellow Vests stand for something equally conscience-raising.
The Yellow Vests want a French Cultural Revolution, and should lead it
However, a big difference between the two movements is that Occupy was led by many college-educated “do-gooders” – and God bless them – whereas the Yellow Vests are undoubtedly a movement of the most marginalised classes.
Seemingly the most comprehensive survey thus far showed that few Vesters are unemployed, two-thirds of Vesters make less than the average national wage, and an even greater percentage regret a lack of cultural resources and social links. In other words: hard-working, (yet still) poor, isolated citizens who yearn for more cultural enrichment.
This is why I have repeatedly drawn a different parallel: the Yellow Vests are essentially demanding a Cultural Revolution. Only China and Iran have ever had one, and both were state-sponsored.
Cultural Revolutions put the values of the formerly-oppressed classes into power – everything is brought to a halt for perhaps years in order to engage in mass discussions, with the aim of drastically updating a nation’s democratic institutions and general culture in order to accord with modern political ideals. This is precisely what the Yellow Vests want: a long, comprehensive, democratic rethink and public debate over France’s inclusion in the European Union, the eurozone, NATO, and the Americanisation/neoliberalisation of their domestic policies.
Chinese peasants, Iran’s “revolution of the barefooted” and the rural-based Yellow Vests – it’s impossible not to admit the parallels. The West, of course, only insists that both Cultural Revolutions were huge mistakes.
Not true: China’s Cultural Revolution created the rural economic and human capital which laid the groundwork for their 1980s-onwards boom, although the West would have you believe its rebirth sprung only from Deng’s reforms; Iran’s Cultural Revolution swept away the elite’s oppressive aping of the West and created the first modern Muslim democracy.
The Yellow Vests insist that they are the “real” France, and after a year of talking with them I agree – they know as much or more about politics than I do. Politics is not rocket science, after all, but mainly applying common morality to public policy and daily events.
Iran and China already had a government inspired by socialist democracy (and not by aristocratic liberal democracy) when they embarked on their Cultural Revolutions, whereas France does not – thus the repression.
What did the Occupy Movement “achieve”, after all? They prevented no bailouts, they folded after infinitely less state repression and there is no direct movement linked with them today. However, only a Burkean conservative would insist that the Occupy Movement didn’t wake many people up to the struggles of class warfare, and of egalitarian right and greedy wrong. It’s never mentioned in the Western media – which only adores far-right, nativist, anti-socialist movements like in Hong Kong – but Algerians have protested for 39 consecutive weekends as well.
The Yellow Vests have not failed – they have much to celebrate on their birthday, and this article serves as a rare reminder of that reality.
Iranian and Russian media – doing France’s job for them
What’s important to note is that since late June – when France started going on summer vacation – Russian and Iranian media in Paris (including my Farsi- and Spanish-language colleagues) have been the only television journalists openly covering the Yellow Vest demonstrations.
My French colleagues have done the most cowardly thing possible – they quit the field. For many months people in Paris couldn’t believe I had to work covering the Yellow Vests on Saturday: I repeatedly heard, “I thought they were finished?”
With exceptions I can count on one hand, for many months French media has been either totally absent or hidden. There are certainly no reporters doing live interviews (even without a logo displaying whom they work for), even though the presence of live reporters inherently reduces the willingness of police to be violent. Considering the toll of violence – 11,000 arrested, 2,000 convicted, 1,000 imprisoned, 5,000 hurt,1,000 critically injured and the innumerable tear-gassings – it’s no wonder French people hate the media.
In France the vast majority of media are private, with editorial lines decided by a handful of billionaires – that’s just how Western journalism works, sadly. “Free speech”, they call it. However, where are the public media – they are paid by taxpayer dollars to objectively cover their own nation?! Quite pathetic….
This is probably why the Macron administration openly disparages Russia’s RT and Sputnik (we won’t get into their problems with PressTV here): we have spent the past year properly doing our jobs, unlike France’s media.
That’s too bad for France, but the unexpected and undeniable accomplishments of the Yellow Vests speak for themselves. Who knows what they might achieve in year 2?
My constant complaint about Les Gilets Jaunes was that they have no Leader; but Ramin is emphatic that Lack of a Leader (as opposed to their active Local Leadership and networking) is their strength – because this is a Cultural movement. Having read Ramin’s series on the Chinese Cultural Revolution – a real eye opener – I believe he knows what he is talking about. In which case my children and grandchildren may live to see the rebirth of the France I knew and loved in bygone years – before that earthy country tried to emulate Le Defi Americain by pulling up its roots.
I’m interested in what Ramin thinks about Alain Soral and his role as an intellectual leader of these Yellow Vest protests. Soral and his Equality and Reconciliation political association points towards a possible path for French patriots from all groups to wage war on the neo-liberal cabal now enjoying power and benefiting the wealthy oligarchs. France is not like China or Iran at the time of their cultural revolutions, and there isn’t enough cohesiveness among the people in opposition to the current order to form the kind of barefoot revolutions that took place in those countries. Soral’s ideas of uniting the left and the right present a real threat to the status quo, and it’s no wonder that he is vilified as extreme right and antisemitic. People must realize that in the present climate, any group that speaks out against the neoliberal globalist project will be tarred with the antisemite brush. It should be worn as a badge of honor.
The Yellow Vests are freedom fighters in the same spirit of the American Minuteman.
The average French citizen supports them.
Time is up for Macron and his backers.
Ramin, je salue ton observation très perspicace au sujet de la ”révolution” américaine: une révolution entièrement aristocratique et par conséquent extrêmement réactionnaire. Son but était ouvertement génocidaire. Au moins, la révolution française malgré ses défauts n’a pas détruit le radicalisme intelligent du pays, comme le montre le lien ci-dessous:
Tout à fait impossible pour des patriotards USiens; cela va de soi.
Ramin, I welcome your very perceptive observation about the American “Revolution”: an entirely aristocratic and therefore extremely reactionary revolution. His goal was openly genocidal. At least the French Revolution, despite its flaws, did not destroy the country’s intelligent radicalism, as the link below shows:
And its colonialist past
Its odours, its relents and its paternalistic reflexes
And its imperialist history
Its walls, its walls and its capitalist delusions
I think that Macron is probsbly the most incompetent person in Europe. I didn’t say Angela Merkel, because although her policies have been disatrous, I think that she is cunning like a fox, perfectly content to destroy Germany, and all of Europe.
Macron was simply put there to stall the LePenn movement for awhile. He was the only controllable person they could find at the time. By his backers dont realize it wont stop the inevitable.
France needs a new direction.
Yes it seems that way, but I doubt that LePenn would have done much for the working class either, although I could be wrong. I can understand wanting to increase trade among European countries and wanting to protect their countries, but the EU agreement like all globalist agreements and trade deals are so loaded with bureaucratic red tape and are so restrictive that they end up stifling growth. They are all written by specific industries which all seek to limit competition for their particular business while ensuring a source of labor and consumption for their products. They are Never written for the bennefit of the countries, the citizens, the labor force, entrepeneurs, or the consumers, and this is not just related to the west. it is just as prevalent and restrictive in the far east, if not more so in some countries, well, China.
Yes. Part of the problem is the European mindset. Same mentality exists in Canada and thats why its underperforms. EU will always be stifled and, like US, its main problem is over population.
The fundamental flaw in policy has been to think if you increase population as short term fix to keep some industries growing (housing construction & related) that you can do it forever – its bubble that bursts. The yellow vests are a result of this process.
It would be interesting to see how Ramin would explain the anti-austerity protests in Iran. Are they similar to the Yellow Vestes? Is a ‘cultural revolution’ brewing (women throwing away the hijab)?
This was a very informative artile, and I do not bring this up for the sake of being disagreeable or argumentative, but aren’t all revolutions cultural revolutions of people wanting to change those in power? It seems to me that they are, whether initiated from withoutbor within. A revolution may be initaiated from without, but must be carried out from within.
Also, regarding the Islamic revolution in Iran, you must be aware that this was supported by Carter and the CIA. What better readon to give the Zionists more fuel to say these people are anti jewish! They have a theocracy that supports Islam, even though they have one that supports Judaism, which also allows them to say, see, we are not the only theocracy.
I would be interested in your thoughts if you have the time to comment.
Illustratingbthis point also, probably too fresh in your memory was the failed CIA revolution attempt which tragically resulted in the death of Nedah. The CIA failed, and Nedah was a tragic casulty.
Reading “The unknown Cultural Révolution” by Singling Han and it looks like the French may go that route with the backrolling their oligarch leadership has applied to their own citizens. Their is no backtracking from here on. And I wouldn’t be surprised that it would spread accros Europe. Those private bankers went too far…
Bravo pour tes articles.
Singling Han? Jesus, that good man’s name is Dongping Han!
Cultural revolutions are a result when the intelligentsia is alienated from its nation – this means that there are subversive elements (memes) present in the upper educational system alienating them. That is often the sign that the society will either collapse or “refresh” and reform. Collapses are bloody revolutions (like the french, russian etc), but mere cultural revolution is just that – a change of pace, but a keeping of most previous systems
I fear that the current elite in france are too entrenched to be replaced with a mere cultural revolution. Total revolutions are rarely good since they often result in a dictatorial caste that is at risk of also losing sight of who and what they are.
The last time that the french had an actual cultural revolution was during Napoleon, and sadly he lost. For 2 centuries since they are wandering in the dark
Thanks. The morons running the show in America are too entrenched to it seems, so entrenched that they are referring to themselves as the deep stats. What a crying shame. They have destroyed everything. They say that truth is always the first casulaty in war. America has been at war for over 90% of its history, so who knows what is going on in this hell hole of a country.
Also, it seems that racial, religious, sexual, and economic quotas have all contributed to the stupification of America. People should be rewarded for their achievements and capabilities for things, not punished for them, regardless of any group or sub group, imo.
“English conservative opposes egalitarian movement in France”. They have been running the same story for 200+ years, going back to Edmund Burke, who founded modern Western conservatism with his (reactionary) Reflections on the Revolution in France in 1790.”
Come on, fairs, fair. What about Thomas Paine and ‘The Rights of Man’ and the Revolutionary war against the King by Parliament 1641-49, followed by the Putney Debates. After all we beat the French when it came to chopping King’s heads of in 1649. Their’s was a century and a half later. Also the spirit of the English people is captured in the last stanza in G.K.Chesterton’s poem ‘We are the people of England who never have spoken yet.’
It goes as follows:
”We hear men speaking for us of new laws strong and sweet,
Yet is there no man speaketh as we speak in the street.
It may be we shall rise the last as Frenchmen rose the first,
Our wrath come after Russia’s wrath and our wrath be the worst.
It may be we are meant to mark with our riot and our rest
God’s scorn for all men governing. It may be beer is best.
But we are the people of England; and we have not spoken yet.
Smile at us, pay us, pass us. But do not quite forget.”
Don’t write us off yet!