The French Anti-Neoliberal Revolution. On the conditions for its success

By Dimitris Konstantakopoulos
11/1/2018

The magazine Le Point is one of the main media outlets of the French conservative “centre-right”.  One of its December issues carries the cover title France Faces its History. 1648, 1789, 1830, 1848, 1871… four centuries of revolutions.

The cover features also a painting by Pierre-Jérôme Lordon, showing people clashing with the army at Rue de Babylone, in Paris, during the Revolution of 1830. Perhaps this is where Luc Ferry, Chirac’s former minister, got his idea from, when, two days ago, he asked the Army to intervene and the police to start shooting and killing Yellow Vests.

Do not be surprised if you haven’t heard this from your TV or if you don’t know that the level of police repression and violence in France, measured in people dead, injured and arrested, has exceeded everything the country has experienced since 1968.  Nor should you wonder why you don’t know anything about some Yellow Vest’s new campaign calling for a massive run on French banks. Or why you have been lead you to believe that the whole thing is to do with fuel taxes or increasing minimum wage.

The vast majority of European media didn’t even bother to communicate to their readers or viewers the main political demands of the Yellow Vests; and certainly, there hasn’t been any meaningful attempt to offer an insightful interpretation of what’s happening in France and there is just very little serious on-the-ground reporting, in the villages and motorways of France.

Totalitarianism

Following Napoleon’s defeat in Waterloo, European Powers formed the Holy Alliance banning Revolutions.

Nowadays, Revolutions have just been declared inconceivable (Soros – though not just him – has been giving a relentless fight to take them out of history textbooks or, as a minimum, to erase their significance and meaning). Since they are unthinkable they cannot happen. Since they cannot happen they do not happen.

In the same vein, European media sent their journalists out to the streets in Paris on Christmas and New Year’s days, counted the protesters and found that they weren’t too many after all.  Of course they didn’t count the 150,000 police and soldiers lined up by Macron on New Year’s Eve. Then they made sure that they remain “impartial” and by just comparing numbers of protesters, led viewers to think that we are almost done with it – it was just a storm, it will pass.

The other day I read a whole page article about Europe in one of the most “serious” Greek newspapers, on 30.12. The author devoted just one single meaningless phrase about the Vests. Instead, the paper still found the way to include in the article the utterly stupid statement of a European Right-Wing politician who attributed the European crisis to… the existence of Russia Today and Sputnik! And when I finally found a somewhat more serious article online about the developments in France, I realized that its only purpose was to convince us that what is happening in France surely has nothing to do with 1789 or 1968!

It is only a pity that… the people concerned, the French themselves, cannot read in Greek. If they could, they would have realized that it does not make any sense to have “Revolution” written on their vests or to sing the 1789 song in their demonstrations or to organize symbolic ceremonies of the public “decapitation” of Macron, like Louis XV.  And the French bourgeois press would not waste time everyday comparing what happens in the country now with what happened in 1968 and 1789.

Totalitarianism is not just a threat. It’s already here. Simply it has omitted to announce its arrival. We have to deduce its precence from its results.

A terrified ruling class

The French bourgeoisie is the politically most experienced ruling class in Europe. It has no illusions about the challenge it faces. Le Point put its file on the revolt of the vests under the self-telling title “What is waiting us”.

A few months ago, all we had about Macron in the papers was praise, inside and outside of France – he was the “rising star” of European politics, the man who managed to pass the “reforms” one after the other, no resistance could stop him, he would be the one to save and rebuild Europe. Varoufakis admired and supported him, as early as of the first round of the 2017 elections.

Now, the “chosen one” became a burden for those who put him in office. Some of them probably want to get rid of him as fast as they can, to replace him with someone else, but it’s not easy – and even more so, it is not easy given the monarchical powers conferred by the French constitution to the President. The constitution is tailored to the needs of a President who wants to safeguard power from the people. Those who drafted it could not probably imagine it would make difficult for the Oligarchy also to fire him!

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And who would dare to hold a parliamentary or presidential election in such a situation, as in France today? No one knows what could come out of it. Moreover, Macron does not have a party in the sense of political power. He has a federation of friends who benefit as long as he stays in power and they are damaged when he collapses.

The King is naked

“The King is naked”, points out Le Point’s editorial, before, with almost sadistic callousness, posing the question: “What can a government do when a remarkable section of the people vomits it?”

But it’s not only the king who is naked. The whole system is naked. In the many pages devoted by the magazine to demonstrate that what the Vests want is unfeasible, not even a single serious word is written about what needs to be done to deal with the deep causes which led the French to revolt.  Today’s capitalism of Macron, Merkel and Trump does not produce a Roosevelt and New Deal or Popular Fronts – and we have to wait to see if it will produce a Hitler as some are trying to achieve. For the time being, it only produces Yellow Vests!

They predicted it, they saw it coming, but they didn’t believe it!

Yet they could have predicted all that. It would have sufficed, had they only taken seriously and studied a book published in France in late 2016, six months before the presidential election, highlighting the explosive nature of the social situation and warning of the danger of revolution and civil war.

The title of the book was “Revolution”. Its author was none other than Emmanuel Macron himself.  Six months later, he would become the President of France, to eventually verify, and indeed rather spectacularly, his predictions. But the truth is probably, that not even he himself gave much credit to what he wrote just to win the election.

By constantly lying, politicians, journalists and intellectuals reasonably came to believe that even their own words are of no importance. That they can say and do anything they want, without any consequence.

In Oscar Wilde’s masterpiece “The Picture of Dorian Gray”, the main character looks every night at his horrible real self in the mirror. But he looks at it alone.

This is where Macron made his most fatal mistake, being arrogant and markedly cut off from reality – with the confidence given to him by the mighty elite forces, which elected him and by his contempt of the common people which characterizes him.

Unwise and Arrogant, he made no effort to hide – this is how sure he felt of himself, this is how convinced his environment was that he could infinitely go on doing anything he wanted without any consequences (same as our Tsipras).  Thus, acting foolishly and arrogantly, he left a few million eyes to see his real face. This was the last straw that made the French people realize in a definite way what they had already started figuring out during Sarkozy’s and Hollande’s, administration, or even earlier. Observing Macron, the people understood what lied ahead for them. They felt their backs against the wall – they felt that they had only themselves to rely on, that they had to take themselves action to save themselves and their country.

There was nobody else to make it in their place.

Macron as a Provocateur. Terror in Pompeii

This was the decisive moment, the moment the historical mission of Macron was achieved.

By establishing the most absolute control of Finance over Politics, he himself invited Revolution.

His triumph and his tragedy came together.

It was just then, that Bucephalus (*) sprang from the depths of historical Memory, galloping without a rider, ready to sweep away everything in his path.

Now those in power look at him with fear, but fearful too are both the “radical right” and the “radical left”. Le Pen has already called on protesters to return to their homes and give her names to include in her list for the European election!

Mélenchon supports the Vests – 70% of their demands coincide with the program of his party, La France Insoumise – but so far he hasn’t dared to join the people in demanding Macron’s resignation, by adopting the immense, but orphan, cry of the people heard all over France: “Macron resign”. Perhaps he feels that he hasn’t got the steely strength and willpower required for attempting to lead such a movement.

The unions’ leadership is doing everything it can to keep the working class away from the Vests, but this stand started causing increasing unrest at its base.

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Climate of Fear

Many established “leftists” or “radical” intellectuals, who used to feverishly haul capitalism over the coals – although the last thing they really wanted was to experience a real revolution during their lifetime – they too, stand now frightened, looking at an angry Bucephalus running ahead of them. They prefer a stable capitalism, of which they can constitute its “consciousness”, writing books, appearing on shows and giving lectures, analyzing its crises and explaining its tribulations. They idea that the People could at some point take seriously what they themselves said, never crossed their minds either!

In fact, this is also a further confirmation of the depth of the movement. Lenin, who, in any event knew something about revolutions, wrote in 1917: “In a revolutionary situation, the Party is a hundred times farther to the left than the Central Committee and the workers a hundred times farther to the left than the Party.”

“Revolutionary Situation” and Power Vacuum

Today, four out of five French people disapprove of Macron’s policies and one in two demands that he resigns immediately. We assume that this percentage is greater than the percentage of Russians who wanted the ousting of Tsar Nicholas II in February 1917.

France is currently almost in a state of Power Vacuum. The president and the government cannot in essence govern and the people cannot tolerate them. It is not a situation of dual power, but a situation of dual legitimacy, in Mélenchon ’s accurate description.

This is a typical definition of a revolutionary situation. As history teaches us, the emergence of such a situation is necessary but not sufficient condition for a victorious Revolution.  What is required in or order to turn a rebellion into a potentially victorious Revolution, is a capable and decided leadership and an adequate strategy, program and vision.  These elements do not seem to exist, at last not for now, in today’s France, as they did not exist in May 1968 or during the Russian Revolution of February 1917.  Therefore, the present situation remains open to all possible eventualities; there must be no doubt however, that this is the beginning of a period of intense political and class conflicts in Europe, and that the Europe, as we know it, is already history.

People’s Sovereignty at the center of demands

Starting from fuel tax the revolting French have now put at the centre of their demands, in addition to Macron’s resignation, the following:

– preserving the purchasing power of the poorest social strata, e.g. with the abolition of VAT on basic necessities to ensure decent standards of living for the entire population,

– the right of people to provoke referendums on any issue, the Citizens’ Initiative Referendum (RIC), including referendums to revoke elected representatives (the President, MPs, mayors, etc. ) when they violate their mandate, all that in the context of establishing a Sixth French Republic.

In other words, they demand a profound and radical “transformation” of the Western bourgeois-democratic regime, as we know it, towards a form of direct democracy in order to take back the state, which has gradually and in a totalitarian manner – but while keeping up democratic appearances – passed under direct and full control of the Financial Capital and its employees. Or at least, for the people to be given the opportunity to develop an effective way of controlling state power.

These are not the demands of a fun-club of Protagoras or of some left-wing or right-wing groupuscule propagating Self-Management or of some club of intellectuals. Nor are they the demands of only the lowest social strata of the French nation.

They are supported, according to the polls and put forward by at least three quarters of French citizens, including a sizeable portion of the less poor. In such circumstances, these demands constitute in effect the Will of the People, the Will of the Nation.

The Vests are nothing more than its fighting pioneers. And precisely because it is the absolute majority of people who align with these demands, even if numbers have somewhat gone down since the beginning of December, the Vests are still wanted out on the streets.

By reversing Marx’s famous formula in German Ideology, the ideas of the dominant class do not dominate society. This is why the situation can be described as revolutionary.

And also because it is not only the President and the Government, who have been debunked or at least de-legitimized, but it’s also the whole range of state and political institutions, the parties, the unions, the “information” media and the “ideologists” of the regime.

The questioning of the establishment is so profound that any arguments about violence and the protesters do not weaken society’s support for them. Many, but not all, condemn violence, but there are not many who don’t go on immediately to add a reminder of the regime’s social violence against the people. When a famous ex-boxer lost his temper and reacted by punching a number of violent police officers, protesters set up a fundraising website for his legal fees. In just two hours they managed to raise around 120.000 euro, before removing the page over officials’ complaints and threats about keeping a file on anyone who contributes money to support such causes.

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Until now, an overwhelming majority of the French people supports the demands while an absolute majority shows supports for the demonstrations; but of course, it is difficult to keep such a deadlock and power-void situation going for long. They will sooner or later demand a solution, and in situations such as these it is often the case that public opinion shifts rapidly from the one end of the political spectrum to the other and vice versa, depending on which force appears to be more decisive and capable of driving society out of the crisis.

The organization of the Movement

Because the protesters have no confidence in the parties, the trade unions, or anyone else for that matter, they are driven out of necessity into self-organization, as they already do with the Citizens’ Assemblies that are now emerging in villages, cities and motorway camps. Indeed, by the end of the month, if everything goes well, they will hold the first “Assembly of Assemblies”.

Similar developments have also been observed in many revolutionary movements of this kind in various countries. A classic example is the spontaneous formation of the councils (Soviets) during the Russian revolutions of 1905 and 1917.

Although it is difficult to form an opinion from afar about how the situation may unfold, the formation of a such a United Front from grassroots could perhaps offer a way out with regards to the need for a political leadership for the movement, or even of the need to work out a transitional economic program for France, which must also serve as a transitional program for Europe.

Contrary to how things were a century ago, certain factors such as the educational level of the lower social classes, the existence of a number of critical, radical thinkers with the necessary intellectual skills and the Internet, render such a possibility a much more realistic scenario today, than in the past.

Because the movement’s Achilles’ Heel is that, while it is already in the process of forming a political proposition, it still, at least for now, does not offer any economic alternative or a politically structured, democratically controlled leadership.

Effective Democracy is an absolute requirement in such a front, because it is the only way to synthesize the inevitably different levels of consciousness within the People and to avoid a split of the movement between “left” and “right”, between those who are ready to resort to violence to achieve their ends and those who have a preference for more peaceful, gradual processes.

Such a “front” could perhaps also serve as a platform for solidifying a program and vision, to which the various parties and political organizations could contribute.

In her Critique of the Russian Revolution Rosa Luxemburg, the leader of the German Social Democracy was overly critical of the Bolsheviks, even if, I think, a bit too severe in some points. But she closes her critique with the phrase: “They at least dared

Driven by absolute Need, guided by the specific way its historical experience has formed its consciousness, possessing a Surplus of Consciousness, that is able to feel the unavoidable conclusions coming out of the synthesis of the information we all possess, about both the “quality” of the forces governing our world and the enormous dangers threatening our countries and mankind, the French People, the French Nation has already crossed the Rubicon.

By moving practically to achieve their goals at a massive scale, and regardless of what is to come next, the French people has already made a giant leap up and forward and, once more in its history, it became the world’s forerunner in tackling the terrible economic, ecological, nuclear and technological threats against human civilization and its survival.

Without the conscious entry of large masses into the historical scene, with all the dangers and uncertainties that such a thing surely implies, one can hardly imagine how humanity will survive.

Note

(*) Bucephalus was the horse of Alexander the Great, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bucephalus

 

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