From Demonstration Effect to Revolution?

09.01.2019 - Paris, France - Claudie Baudoin

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From Demonstration Effect to Revolution?

For the past eight weeks, the people of France have been mobilizing every Saturday in demonstrations in small and large cities throughout the country, and in smaller groups at roundabouts and tollgates, from where they’re making their grievances and demands heard and beginning to develop different types of actions.

Something considered a one-off demonstration is gradually turning into a movement fighting for Real Democracy.

But today, when the only thing being cultivated is the cult of the present moment and the absence of hindsight, anecdotes replace background analysis, political visions replace the sociologist’s perspective, the sensational masks the underlying reasons.  And when the scale and strength of the phenomenon is suspected, then the information is manipulated, becoming false and unreliable right to the very top of the state.  And publicly on the occasion of his “wishes” for the people, the President of the Republic describes the Yellow Vests (YV) mobilized in very large numbers as “heinous crowds”.  Is this complete blindness or proven slander?

Here we will try to take a look at the broader context and develop a more global and process-oriented perspective.  Perhaps we may be able to draw some future possibilities for this unprecedented movement out of all of this.

Context

We are not going to recall here the broader context of the fall of ideologies, the absence of societal projects, the growing anti-humanism on all sides, or the finance governing the world which is spreading poverty and violence in all its forms and hatred.

We will just observe the more recent and specific context of France:

On the evening of 29 May 2005, a majority of French people rejected the treaty establishing a Constitution for Europe, saying “No, we will not continue along this path”. The French, like other European citizens, issue an unprecedented warning to the institutions in Brussels and to political parties.

However, this constitution should have been just a formality. In the spring of 2004, the prognosis was very favourable to a “yes” vote.  The two major political parties, the UMP and the PS, were mainly in favour.  This text, all in terms of compromise and institutional complexity, should have been passed as easily as taking a letter to the post office.  At least, that is what everyone imagined, politicians, observers, journalists, polling institutes… But the people of France seized on the debate that allowed them to ask fundamental questions about the economy, democracy and institutions. The campaign lasted a year, from the announcement of the referendum to the day of the vote.  A memorable political sequence during which the fears of a France already plunged into economic and social crisis were expressed.

The European institutions accept this “no” for a while and then quickly forget it with replacement treaties, against the will of the people. This denial of democracy brands European institutions with a red-hot iron.  It was to that Europe, technocratic and liberal, even ultra-liberal, that the French said no on May 2005.[1]

Since then, two trends in France emerge:

  • What’s the point of voting since our vote is not respected? What’s the point of demonstrating since we’re not being listened to in any way?
  • The ongoing struggle to protect rights and restore democracy.

The first trend, fuelled by a false and manipulative media, and on a daily basis by an unbridled exhortation to consumption, by the sedation of the crowds, predominates for 15 years.

But France has in her history, in the depths of her educational landscape, the French revolution. Many have forgotten the details of the story and even the specific events. But everyone has kept in mind: the rebellious people can overthrow the monarchy. It is the power of the people that is remembered.

In memory also, the “resistance” organized for four long years during the German occupation, resistance to the risk against people’s lives and that of their loved ones.

Many of the more recent precedents for popular mobilization have been underestimated: The movement of the Outraged in Spain, or 15M (15 May 2011) resonates in France in particular during the first global rally on 15 October, but the groups are dispersed by the police and the media does its manipulative work of discrediting.  By 2012, this social surge seems to have disappeared.  It reappears a few years later in 2015 and 2016, after demonstrations and strikes, in the form of Les Nuits Debout, whose rallies are also dispersed by force.  In 2016 and 2017, even more discredited or ignored groups are nevertheless notable: Jean-Luc Mélenchon’s and the nascent France Insoumise meetings bring together tens and tens of thousands of people, going beyond 100,000 in some French cities….

What was blazing there, in the homes, in the cities and in the countryside, was indeed an inferno… and violent winds blew on the embers: the barely elected President showed in an ostentatious way, on the one hand, his contempt for the people (marked by many vile sentences targeted at “little people”) and on the other hand his firm determination to put an end to the social achievements “which cost a dreadful amount”.  The measures taken at full speed directly attack the people: the disabled, pensioners, students, unemployed, workers… Demonstrations and mobilizations resume in earnest: to defend labour law, to protect public transport, to save what remains of public services (hospitals, schools, universities).  Thousands of people on the streets.  The political response: arrogance and contempt displayed publicly, right down to the microphones of the foreign press.

So the increase in taxes on diesel only acted as a touch-paper on accumulated anger, ignored despair, denied suffering.

Since the first mobilization in November, a demonstration effect has been achieved insofar as it confirms:

  • The ability of the French who are overwhelmed by so much social injustice to mobilize,
  • That Paris is not France and that the strength is in its provincial cities!
  • That the media lies indiscriminately to protect the new monarchy.

The wave could perhaps have been contained at that time if the government had responded favourably to the specific request of the people (“fuel tax removal”). But mockery and manipulation have multiplied anger but also, and above all, raised consciousness.

Consciousness movement

Wearing yellow vests that do not fall under any label but have the great advantage of bringing a lot of visibility, people start to gather around being “generally fed up” and quickly around the identity of the people that the President, his government and ultimately “the powerful” make fun of.  Very quickly, too, this movement decides to be without form, without representation, without any verticality, headless and polymorphic.  The average person finds themselves at the roundabouts of the cities where they live, blocking traffic, and there they echo and showcase poverty in France: poverty, with or without work, insufficient pensions, excessive charges, unfair taxes. People talk to one another, discover each other, recognize each other and learn to be together beyond their differences of opinion.

During the first few weeks, there is still a sense of corporate belonging and we see taxi drivers, students, nurses and even lawyers putting on the yellow vest and “supporting” the movement.

But very quickly, people’s assemblies were also organized: they debate, hear information, search, inquire, learn… THE PEOPLE BECOME CONSCIOUS!

So they put on the Yellow Vests and say: “we” are the people, “we” want to regain power over our lives.

Image: Last mobilization of January 5 in France in various cities

The role of the mainstream press

The press plays a major role in amplifying the wave. But it does not act here as the counter-power it is supposed to be.  It serves the central power, providing only partial and partisan information, and very often false: the mobilization figures are reduced in a ridiculous way (from several hundred thousand people in the streets to a few tens of thousands announced by the mainstream media), the images broadcast in a loop only show “yellow thieves”, people are allowed to go on air to degrade and insult people in this movement.  This extreme manipulation of information increases anger.  In addition, one begins to suspect a manipulation orchestrated from much higher up during the rally on December 2 where individuals (who are they?) attack the Arc de Triomphe.  The demonization becomes grotesque.  But no strategy works: neither defamation (labelling it an extreme right-wing movement), nor image manipulation (hateful and violent crowd), nor references to questionable and contested figures as leaders of the movement, nor supposed attempts at attempts by political parties and trade unions to take over the movement, nor fear (police repression) suffocate the people.  Yet they believe they have succeeded thanks to a very clear message: “Citizen: don’t go there: it’s high risk, it’s dangerous…”

These exaggerations lead people to another realization: those who still believe that “what we see on TV has to be true”, here they are by the thousands realizing that everything is a lie and manipulation!  Exasperation is at its height.

The media, for their part, continues to pretend to ignore the fact that a large majority of the population, even when they aren’t mobilized in the street, supports this movement, because a large majority recognizes themselves in the demands… Of course, the media does not report this.

YV demands

They were initially spontaneous and cathartic slogans in the street.  Today, as a result of many citizens’ meetings and assemblies, the demands are being consolidated, strengthened and expanded, and clarified to the point of being written down.

Here is an example, widely distributed in social networks (which is the main source of information and organization), in 21 points, which above all show the fierce desire for more justice: democratic, fiscal, economic and social, and more “purchasing power” that makes it possible to go from surviving to living.[2]

See translation of this table underneath the footnotes

Yet in the street and on the roundabouts, the most shouted slogan, ever since the beginning of the movement, has been and remains: Macron Resign.

And on the placards and now on city walls: CIR: Citizens’ Initiative Referendum (point 9 in the table)

The clearer the demands, the greater the mobilization, the more sympathy from the rest of the population comes in support.  In a recent survey, 77% of French people are in favour of the return of the ISF (French wealth tax) and 80% for the CIR….

This is cause for VERY serious concern for the government… which, forced to note the scale of the insurrection, is losing ground and is responding with the most uncontrolled repressive force we have ever experienced in modern French history.

Repressive violence

Taking the legitimacy of “firm repression” with the pretext of responding to the violence (material damage) produced by certain “thieves”, the armed force sent out to the field is unprecedented.  Not only in terms of the number of men deployed, but above all in terms of the equipment used and the methods employed.

Yet the “Rights Defender”[3], Jacques Toubon, certainly not a “leftist”, has been issuing warnings repeatedly. He has now published a report “Keeping order in accordance with the rules of ethics”[4], in which the dangerousness of Flash-balls[5], the ethical prohibition on the use of unnecessary force, the kettling of non-threatening demonstrators, the pushing of demonstrators to the ground, and the arbitrary arrest of citizens who represent no danger, are very clearly described.

At the same time, examples are multiplying, illustrated by dozens of videos, widely broadcast on social networks.

To date, 10 people have died during these demonstrations (from accidents and one person directly from police repression), there are more than 4000 seriously injured, including dozens of people mutilated for life: loss of an eye, multiple fractures of the jaw, irreversibly burned eyes… In addition, there are 4570 arrests, mostly arbitrary.

The scenes of violence are unheard of, sometimes coming from officers without service numbers, sometimes from higher ranked officials: multiple punches on unarmed and unprotected persons, scenes of humiliation (with young minors), blind shooting (old lady killed by closing her shutters) or intentionally targeted shooting (preferably in the head), the kettling and systematic gassing of people, and the use of water cannons with highly toxic products on women, children, disabled, elderly people…

Some foreign observers are alarmed by this.  Amnesty International has already written a comprehensive report on the “excessive use of force during Yellow Vest demonstrations”[6], noting both an indescribable disproportion and the illegality of the use of certain “weapons of deterrence”.  Since then, however, illegitimate and illegal police violence has increased further.

Journalist David Dufresne, on his Twitter account[7], has organised a whole compilation of reports which testifies to the split that is taking place within the police force.  Because there, as among the Yellow Vests themselves, a deep dividing line is being carved.

The dividing line: violence/nonviolence

Some police officers have their profession’s motto in their memory: “pro patria vigilant” (“watching over the homeland”) and at the heart of their conscience is their mission: “The mission of the police force is to guarantee individual and collective freedoms, defend the Republic’s institutions, maintain peace and public order and protect persons and property.”

We see the appearance of denunciation videos, officers questioning the legitimacy of the orders they receive, the number of cases of sickness are multiplying as the only possible legal recourse on their part, and in more rare cases, refusals to comply.  We have seen attempts at dialogue and fraternization between the YVs and the police.  Some are beginning to call for healthy disobedience.

They smothered (or maybe they thought we were suffocating?) this little jump in consciousness with a bonus of 300 euros at the end of the year for each officer.  And in order to prevent possible awakenings of consciousness, they send the units into the field far from the places where those officers live.  Insignificant measures… and in any case useless for responding to the fatigue of a police force which for the first time is facing “people like them”, i.e. people complaining about the precariousness to which the current system has led them.

Commanding officers, still anonymous for the time being, testify to no longer knowing what to do to preserve the “French model” of maintaining public order.  This “model” in fact refers to international ethics: “as little contact as possible, no recourse to violence without absolute necessity, promoting de-escalation, no disproportionate use of weapons of deterrence, being guarantor of de-escalation and a return to calm.”

But in the face of this citizen consciousness, we are also witnessing the unleashing of a police force that has become out of control.  And the unprecedented escalation of repression that we are witnessing seems to be legitimized by the authorities: the regional prefects and, at their head, the Minister of the Interior, Castaner.

Thus, from one city to another, rallies take on completely different looks: where the police are moderate and not very present, neither theft nor violence (for example Tarbes, Dijon, etc.). Where the order is given to “charge”, the ends of rallies are tragic.

The same is true for the Yellow Vests.

Most of them recognize and affirm themselves as a peaceful, nonviolent and benevolent movement. Moreover, they are multiplying the facts and gestures that attest to this: organization of popular and festive gatherings, solidarity mutual aid actions, attempts at dialogue with the police. They are organized in small groups called “serenity”, composed of women and people of a certain age, to regulate the currents and calm exasperation.  They display their identity and values on all their signs.

But the suffering is expressed in different ways and for many people, anger roars… and the government’s denial, its insistence on insulting the people, is an incitement to violence.  How can a President of the Republic speak of a rally of hundreds of thousands of people calling for a Citizens’ Initiative referendum in these terms: “a heinous crowd, they attack elected officials, police forces, journalists, Jews, foreigners, homosexuals, it is simply the negation of France…”?

This kind of comment, even though our country is experiencing one of the most serious social situations it has ever experienced, even though it is the police force that is attacking the weakest, is likely to trigger rage, and the violent expression thereof.

Today, it is no longer just “thieves” who claim the right to violence, but also angry, exasperated, humiliated people who want justice and reparation for damages.  The “violence” of the YVs is stigmatized in the media, the “guilty” immediately arrested, tried, convicted, sometimes arbitrarily and without foundation, while police violence is not reported at all, and if it is, it is legitimised or trivialized. This dictatorial injustice increases the anger of the demonstrators tenfold and calls for violence in return are increasing.  We have entered the vicious circle of violence.

From revolution to evolution

It is precisely a clear and firm positioning for active nonviolence that will be able to bring the characteristics of evolution to this movement for revolution.

Because it is already much more than a wave of insurrection.  The actions bear witness to this: popular citizens’ assemblies, mayors opening their mayoral offices to sign grievance books, drafting increasingly clear demands, the desire for a referendum on a citizens’ initiative, the need for a new Constitution… It looks like France is trying to move towards the birth of a 6th Republic.

Entire groups and corporations want to see their values – freedom, equality, fraternity – reborn (born again and not cut-short again).

Alternative media[8] and small independent publishing houses[9] act as relays for freedom of expression; social networks, despite censorship that has so far proved impotent, are the most massive distribution tools.  Lawyers assist, both administratively and on the ground, those injured during demonstrations and arbitrarily arrested. Some judges stand up to the powerlessness to which Justice is relegated.

Elected representatives of France Insoumise, joined by many deputies of the “real” Left and by other democrats, echo in the National Assembly, and with all the means at their disposal, calls for legislation on the question of the Referendum….

In parallel and at the same time, especially at the roundabouts, the social fabric is being reformed: this is where solidarity is experienced, a new fraternity is being born, nourished by the hope that united people cannot be conquered.  Over the Christmas holidays, and despite the cold, in hundreds of makeshift shelters, people gathered together to celebrate this new hope, also welcoming people who were alone or homeless, or usually rejected, and hundreds more brought food, gifts, firewood.  An ever-increasing force was born: a force provided by valid action, that action that makes people grow, that they want to repeat and that they never regret.

On the basis of this deep, individual and collective Force, three elements could ensure the change from revolution to evolution:

  • The positioning of the armed forces for the people: “In the extreme case that the people should decide to amend the type of State and type of laws, it is incumbent upon the State and the legal system to carry this out (…) Through military intervention society can reach the creation of revolutionary conditions in which the people can put into practice a new type of social organization and a new legal system.[10]
  • The massive addition of youth: “It is worthwhile for young people to swell the ranks of this Moral Force as a variant of History… so that this current becomes unstoppable and its murmur heard in all the languages of the Earth.”[11]
  • The contagion beyond borders, to all of Europe and beyond[12]. To inscribe this desire for a new constitution in the context of a greater purpose: the Universal Human Nation, which wants to put an end to violence and injustice.

Revolution is possible because there is no turning back on consciousness. The French people know and feel it, they are already organizing themselves into a “great debate”[13], they already count on the strength of their proposals (fiscal justice, exercise of democratic power, refounding of institutions).

But for this to be Evolution, a new consciousness must emerge: the need to take control of one’s social destiny but also to evolve as a species. A species that chooses nonviolence and valid action, and that claims the right to grow and to find Meaning.

“We are at the end of a dark period in history and nothing will ever be the same as before.  Little by little, the dawning of a new day will come. Cultures will begin to understand one another; the peoples will experience a growing yearning for progress for all, understanding that progress for the few ends up being progress for no one. Yes, there will be peace, and out of necessity it will be understood that the outline of a universal human nation is taking shape.  In the meantime we, the unheard, will work from today on, all over the world, to put pressure on the decision makers, to disseminate the ideals of peace based on the methodology of nonviolence so as to prepare the way for the new times. (…) I believe that something very good will happen when human beings find the Meaning, so many times lost and so many times found again in the twists and turns of History.[14]

 


[1] Source France Inter, 2015.

[2] You can also vote on a larger number of claims, not all of which are unanimous, at the following address. https://revendicationsgiletsjaunes.fr/?fbclid=IwAR3RSXoAXsjZ8-xhJCW3lPxa_J0dA0TxRLsQshKoeVz7QPhn2X-sVLDlXGI

[3] In France, the Human Rights Defender is an independent administrative authority, created by the constitutional amendment of 23 July 2008 and established by the Organic Law of 29 March 2011. Its administration takes the form of an administrative authority whose independence is guaranteed by the Constitution.

[4] Report available in its entirety on the National Assembly website.

[5] Non-lethal, hand-held weapon used mainly by law enforcement officers in riot situations as an alternative to lethal firearms, baton rounds, and plastic bullets.

[6] https://www.amnesty.fr/liberte-d-expression/actualites/usage-excessif-de-la-force-lors-des-manifestations

[7] https://twitter.com/davduf

[8] See Media reports and interviews, https://www.lemediatv.fr and feature articles in “Le Vent Se Lève” https://lvsl.fr

[9] Keys to understanding the Yellow Vests, Syllepse editions, see our article of December 26, 2018.

[10] Silo, Letters to my friends, Letter 8: The Military’s Position in the Revolutionary Process. There are many veterans also donning the YV, and more and more soldiers with their faces uncovered stand up to police abuses. Reminder: the military reports to the Ministry of the Armed Forces, the police to the Ministry of the Interior.

[11] Silo, First annual celebration of The Message, Punta de Vacas, May 4, 2004, silo.net

[12] On this point, the gatherings that have already taken place in more than 20 European countries are being held silently. If these movements were to increase, Europe itself would be threatened in its institutions and functioning. On the eve of the European elections, information on a possible growing trend of protest will therefore be ignored as much as possible.

[13] Recent proposal by the presidency, received by the YVs as a further negation of what they are already doing, a rejection of their request for a referendum and an additional “media smokescreen”.

[14] Silo, First annual celebration of The Message, Punta de Vacas, May 4, 2004, silo.net


Yellow Vests demands

Macron and the powerful defend their powers, their caste, we yellow vests want to abolish their privileges

We defend the general interest of the people

First demands of the yellow vests

PURCHASING POWER

1

Minimum wage at 1300 euros net.

No pension below 1200 euros.

2

Salaries, as well as pensions and allowances, must be indexed to inflation.

3

Maximum salary set at 15,000 euros.

Limit the wage gap from 1 to 20 in the company.

4

Increase in disability and unemployment benefits.

Withdrawal of the CSG on pensions. [CSG, Contribution Sociale Généralisée, is a compulsory tax, which contributes to the financing of social security and, since 2018, unemployment insurance, in place of contributions deducted from wages.]

FISCAL JUSTICE

5

More progressive income tax (more brackets for the richest).

6

Reinstatement of the ISF.  [Wealth tax, paid by individuals and couples with assets of more than €1.3 million. The ISF will decrease in 2019, which represents a shortfall of €4 billion in the budget.]

End of the CICE to finance purchasing power. 20 billion euros have been given to companies every year since 2013, under a support called CICE, Competitiveness and Employment Tax Credit. It will be abolished in 2019 and replaced by a reduction in social security contributions to companies.  This represents a shortfall of €20 billion in the 2019 budget.

7

Maximum salary set at 15,000 euros.

Limit the wage gap from 1 to 20 in the company.

8

Recover 80 billion in tax evasion/fraud.

Tax on marine fuel oil and kerosene.

DEMOCRATIC JUSTICE

9

Citizen Initiative Referendum.

10

Recall referendum of elected officials who failed to meet their commitments.

11

End of presidential lifetime benefits.

12

Restore proportionality to legislative and municipal elections.

Recall referendum if their commitments are not met.

ECONOMIC JUSTICE

13

Electricity, water and gas are basic necessities. They must become public again.

14

Prohibition to sell property belonging to France (dams, airports…)

15

Protect French industry, prohibit relocations. Protecting our industry.

16

Large insulation plan for housing. (To be ecological by saving households money).

SOCIAL JUSTICE

17

Zero homeless: URGENT.

Returning retirement age to 60 at full rate.

18

The pension system must remain united and therefore socialized.

19

Same social security system for all (including craftsmen and self-employed entrepreneurs).

20

Limitation of rents. More affordable housing (especially for students and precarious workers).

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