by Ramin Mazaheri for the Saker blog
During the only debate featuring the five principal 2017 presidential candidates the National Front's Marine Le Pen zinged Macron with the night's best line:
"You have a crazy talent: You just managed to speak for seven minutes, and I am incapable of summarising your thoughts - you've said nothing. It's completely empty," she said, and then turned around to the audience and admired, "It's an art, huh?"
(This is the eleventh 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.)
Macron and Le Pen would barely emerge from a four-way dead-heat in the first round. Twenty percent of France gave their vote to a candidate whose main plank was to start over by founding a 6th Republic - Jean-Luc Melenchon, who had previously broken with the Socialist Party over its Europhile stance. Clearly, many in France realise that still using a governmental structure which was created before the elite-forced installations of the European Union and the euro has produced inadequacies, conflicts and redundancies.
As in 2012, enormous geopolitical issues were at play. Le Pen had refused to ignore the public's perception of economic, democratic and pan-European disaster since 2009. She promised to hold a "Frexit" vote within six months of victory, the repudiation of banker debt and somewhat seriously discussed leaving the euro. She savaged Macron's past as a Rothschild banker and acted every bit the outsider politician intent on overturning the status quo. However, when the moment of truth came - the lone presidential debate between them - Le Pen clowned and mugged for the camera, looking every bit the joker and not the concerned patriot.
In the two weeks between the first and second round of voting terrorism-related news found surprising ways to make the headlines nearly every day. Anti-terrorism raids and arrests fell on April 24, 25, 26, 27 and May 2. One day featured a national homage to a slain cop. High-profile court judgements for being an "apologist for terrorism", a sensationalist charge created after the Charlie Hebdo attack, were released. The day after the debate the media was consumed by a national homage for all the slain policemen across France.
Fear and hysteria was in the air, not serious political debate. There was not one major media in France which was pro-Le Pen, which contrasted sharply with a pre-Brexit United Kingdom that saw daily discussions of the pro-Brexit rationale prior to the June 2016 referendum. Fake-leftist newspaper Libération would even break the law requiring total impartiality on the day before the presidential vote with a cover that read, "Do what you want but vote Macron".
Macron had saved his big public relations gun for the final week of campaigning: "The National Front is the anti-France party". It resonated, even though the National Front is the most hyper-patriotic party: but by including pathetic xenophobia (a form of identity politics which Western Liberal Democracy adopted from fascism) Le Pen obscured her patriotic aspects and became easy to caricaturise and demonise.
Macron won what appeared be a resounding 66-34% victory, and both Brussels and high finance exhaled. The National Front continued to be a mere safety valve and the ultimate paper tiger: in 2017 they held just 0.4% of all French elected offices.
Contemporary elite had every right to exhale because they knew that they couldn't be bothered about France for five more years. In post-Lisbon Treaty (2009) Europe it had become clear that - once elected - politicians were unconstrained by popular opinion. Nicolas Sarkozy's undemocratic end run to install the Lisbon Treaty and Francois Hollande's backtracking on austerity had shown anyone with a political or even legal mind that France truly had become no different than tiny Greece or Ireland. The Macron era would repeatedly remind that this is not hyperbole but 21st century reality.
Macron never had anything close to a broad mandate for his policies but would dangerously govern as though he did: When we subtract abstention, blank or purposely spoiled ballots (the best protest vote allowed in France) and those voters who said they voted for Macron simply to block Le Pen (43%), then Macron's 66% final tally translated into only 24% of the total electorate having actually selected Macron for his policies or personality.
Like Brexit and the United States, which had elected Donald Trump in November 2016, mainstream Liberalist ideology was also harshly reprimanded, but the least so in France. In the June legislative vote the two deeply discredited mainstream parties were swept out of national dominance, which had been the second-most popular motivation voters had for choosing Macron over Le Pen. This legislative victory had now been guaranteed for all three presidents since 2007, when France aligned the timing of their presidential and legislative elections. Still, if we assume Macron's campaign promises of a new anti-corruption regime to be sincere, then it appeared to some like a clean break with the two mainstream parties which had united to establish the current pan-European project on a basis of "neoliberalism": the Socialists, who falsely claimed to be leftist, and the conservatives, who falsely claimed to carry the legacy of Charles de Gaulle and La Résistance (sovereignty and anti-fascism).
Again, the lack of a mandate was obvious: Abstention was the lowest not just in the history of the 5th Republic, but in the 4th and 3rd Republics as well. A final round turnout of 43% represented an absolute democratic catastrophe, as French legislative turnout had averaged roughly 75% for almost 150 years. Even though Macron's parliamentary alliance won 49% of the second round vote this translated to just 21% of the total electorate, but 61% of the National Assembly's 577 total seats. Macron would constantly join his alliance with the mainstream conservatives - which is what Macron always was, despite his campaign claim of "centrism" - to combine for an unstoppable 486 seats. The almost always-agreeable Socialists would hand him another 45 seats for a uni-party-sized 92% of the National Assembly. Furthermore, the National Front and Melenchon accumulated 24% of the first-round vote yet would walk away in the second round with just 4% of total seats combined.
Western Liberal Democracy was already infamous in 21st century Europe for its lack of democratic representation, elite capture and electioneering - the last thing they needed was someone who would pointedly remind angry and embittered French voters of this reality. What France needed was time to heal the anger caused by Francois Hollande's appalling backtracking on austerity and to calmly discuss the perceived failures of a pan-European project which hadn't been fully implemented for even a decade.
That did not happen.
Macron's 'centrism" was quite openly a 'Revolution'
Macron's 2017 book which delineated his program was titled Revolution, and it was not ironic. Macron clearly saw himself as a Liberalist revolutionary, and his war was to roll back the gains which Social Democracy had made from 1945-75 in order to fully impose Liberalism, which is a combination of oligarchic English parliamentarianism and elitist Germanic economics. This is clearly in keeping with the pattern of French and Western history since 1848 as aimed for by its oligarchical elite, given the slow demise of absolute monarchy, and Macron's ability to understand this explains how he rose from a political neophyte to the chief executive so quickly and with such universal elite support.
Macron's primary "revolution" was this: he no longer cared about preserving the social peace whatsoever. Sarkozy autocratically ignored protests for his centrepiece economic legislation - raising the retirement age -, and Hollande did the same for his economic centrepiece - the Macron Law -, but neither dared to make autocracy their governance style in all matters like Macron did. Macron quitting Hollande's cabinet over indignation that minor concessions were made on the 2016 labor code rollback showed how absolutist his conception of governance always truly was.
Macron was the first French leader to have no memory of the 1968 protests and that means - crucially and without a shred of irony - he missed a cultural revolution which was dominated by a peacefulness and utopianism the likes of which a rabidly imperialistic West hadn't seen in centuries. Neither did Macron have any experience with war, and what that instability, deprivation and hardship means. Thus he was very much a throwback to the sheltered, protected aristocracy of the Bourbon royalist era. He was the child of an elite which had told him to be convinced by the neoliberal and neo-imperial pan-European project for his entire life, an idea pushed by the elite-dominated French media. Macron infamously married his high school drama teacher (and a chocolate heiress), and it is widely assumed that their sexual relationship illegally began while he was still in high school (as his wife refuses to give the exact date - chocolate heiresses are apparently extended this right), which would make Macron a victim of statutory rape. The man clearly embraces standard authority figures, and he is clearly no revolutionary against the conservative status quo. His Revolution must be understood for what it truly was: a reversion to royalism.
Macron's lack of contact with and empathy for the French masses explains his constant public relations gaffes (too long to list here), which would force his handlers to keep him away from the French public as much as possible. Unlike the also aristocratic Valery Giscard d'Estaing, Macron could not even attempt normal public relations efforts and nor did he appear to desire to do so. Stunningly, in a France pushed by the Charlie Hebdo attack to think of itself as a nation which demanded a strong press, Macron did not hold his first press conference until two years into his term and five months into the Yellow Vest crisis. An oft-publicised rationale was that he wished to restore kingly grandeur and respect to the French presidency by acting as a remote god - "Jupiter" was constantly cited, pathetically - but his aloofness was actually forced by his arrogant, out-of-touch manner that galled the average voter struggling to make it through Austerity Era France. The "Jupiter" canard was deployed to hide what this mere mortal was: a major victory for royalist conceptions of government, economics and culture. Only a Western culture so blind to the modern scourge of royalism could miss this, but this book aims to remind that ending royalism (and its cultural legacy) is the first necessary step in progressive, leftist politics.
Macron is not completely exceptional - he does have a base of electoral support, and it is the bloc which has been the most firmly united throughout Western Liberal Democracy, starting with the "Party of Order" in 1848: the bourgeois. The term "bourgeois bloc" gained currency after Macron's election, but it hails from an actual coalition of conservative and elitist parties during Weimar Germany.
In the 21st century the bourgeois bloc can be most easily described as the "winners" in Western Liberal Democracy, and they are joined by those who aspire to also "win" via unquestioningly accepting the values of the bloc. The math in Western Liberal Democracies appears broadly like this: the 1%, who own a third of the country (i.e. the "Royalists"), their so called "talented tenth" of professionals, managers and technocrats (the "Liberalists"), who also own a third of the country, and then a "toadying tenth", class traitors who adopt the values of the top 10% in order to join them one day. This computation corresponds almost exactly to Macron's actual base of electoral support (24%). The opponents of the bourgeois bloc are no longer labelled socialists but instead are labelled "fascist" - i.e. racist, misogynist, homophobic, extremists, etc. - because an obsession with identity politics is far more useful to ex-royalists and current Liberalists than permitting discussion of class politics. Also, because of Western Liberal Democracy's adoption of fascism's corporate-elitist alliance the term "fascism" in the 21st century has been neutered of its economic component - precisely because fascist economic ideology has been adopted by Western Liberalist capitalism.
The idea remains the same as it did with the 1848 Party of Order: Allow the bourgeois bloc to rule, with their wisdom which is superior to both king/queen or their mass of subjects, until their riches trickle down and a democratic majority in favor of Liberalism will eventually be created. This majority was not evident in 1852, 1871, 1914, 1936 and other points besides, notably in national referendums which rejected the Liberalist pan-European project. As this democratic majority in favor of Liberalism will eventually be created, then the anti-democratic and inegalitarian methods of Western Liberal Democracy are only a temporary, even necessary, evil for the bourgeois bloc. This explains why this bloc - roughly 25% - ardently supported the repression of the Yellow Vests. The Yellow Vests immediately and durably had about 75% popular support - thus we see the two blocs of modern France is divided into: one convinced of Western Liberal Democracy and one skeptical.
The political vision of the bourgeois bloc is best described as "radical centrism". The radicalism here is that this alleged centrism insists that it knows the only way to view reality, and grants itself the right to reject any contrary view as outright falsehood, and thus subject to Metternichian censorship. Those who affirm the bourgeois bloc are "experts" and "independent", and those do not become classified (increasingly officially) as "misinformation". Want to discuss the democratic and economic failures of the European Union and eurozone? Then you are either just ignorant, supporting fascism, or dangerously pushing misinformation because Liberalism is (or, as most prefer "neoliberalism"), quite simply, the eternal, constant, unchangeable truth. Of course There Is No Alternative - encapsulated by the famous acronym "TINA" - to "the truth", and resistance to "the truth" is futile, as is waiting to install "neoliberalism". This explains Macron's comment referring to the deeply unpopular use by Hollande of the 49-3 executive decree: "Is it democratic to keep procrastinating?" To the bourgeois bloc any procrastination from a full restoration of 1848-style Liberalism is not just normal dissent but evident of being anti-democratic. Preposterous, but this was all the unstated basis of Macron's Revolution.
The main point here is not that cutting off political debate violates a core tenet of Western Liberal Democracy which they insist makes it superior to Socialist Democracy, but that: this is not centrism, because centrism - by definition - seeks a consensus interpretation of reality. Radical centrism is thus an elitist snobbery as old as Western Liberal Democracy itself. To give a French historical parallel from Romaric Godin, the Mediapart author of La Guerre social en France (The Social War in France - 2019): "The 'hateful mob' (foul haineuse) of Emmanuel Macron responds quite exactly to the 'vile multitude' of Adolphe Thiers." Indeed, there is no politician whom Macron resembles as much as Thiers, who colluded with occupying royalist Germans in 1871 to turn the Paris Commune into a bloodbath and into another failed French revolution which aimed to move away from autocratic oligarchy. The American version of this is Hillary Clinton's infamous assessment of Trump supporters as a "basket of deplorables". Western culture has gone from insisting that royalists/elitists are the "deplorables" to it is the working poor which is "deplorable" - the obvious cause of this change is the suppression of Socialist Democratic culture, and the obvious solution is Socialist Democratic-inspired policies.
Macron's Revolution is precisely that of an elite talking to another elite about fully restoring elitism, i.e. Liberalism, by any means necessary and immediately. His backers should have modified the pro-sovereignty slogan of the Iranian Revolution - "Neither East nor West but the Islamic Republic" - into "Neither left nor right but the Bourgeois Bloc Republic". In a West which can no longer see the pernicious culture, economic and political influence still being pushed by shahs, kings and aristocrats, and which views Islam as an existential threat to "the truth" of Western radical centrism, this recent historical parallel cannot be perceived much less rebroadcast.
A primary Western problem is that the bourgeois bloc is actually the most politically united. Contrarily, those who reject neoliberalism are clearly in the Western majority but they have no political organisation or expression of their will - an "anti-bourgeois bloc" doesn't exist in an any politically effective way. How could it, when anti-bourgeois bloc ideas are classified as misinformation and extremism; when a handful of billionaires control France's privatised media in total unity? Who could get a stable, much less influential, job as a journalist in the West by discussing the need for such a bloc on a regular basis? The arrival of the bourgeois bloc's now-ceaseless censorship campaign of social media - after having initially and falsely assumed that social media would easily and successfully broadcast "the truth" of radical centrism to the unenlightened masses - is thus easily explained: social media could be force for the anti-bourgeois bloc.
The Yellow Vests, which effectively began as a movement on social media, are so important because they prove that the Liberalist model is - after almost two centuries, still! - a minority model which can only be imposed by anti-democratic force. In Macron-era France to demonstrate against government policies progressed to making one an enemy of the state and of society, which gutted Western Liberal Democracy's claims of superior political tolerance and openness. The Yellow Vests also buried the world's "Je suis Charlie" sympathy because the freedom of assembly is far more critical to the average person than is the freedom of the press, because rich people own nearly all the printing presses and airwaves in the West. However, the internet (which gave everyone their own printing press) cannot be put back in the jar in the West - the bourgeois bloc's biggest fight will be to control the moderators of social media, and they will eventually lose their battle to perpetually hide the discrediting facts of Western Liberal Democracy.
The Yellow Vests showed to all what French leftist revolutionaries like Napoleon Bonaparte noticed in 1789: that oligarchical English parliamentarianism does not prioritise representativeness but mere governability. This explains why the Yellow Vest crisis could go on, brutally, Saturday after Saturday after Saturday for six straight months in a Western Liberal Democracy without resolution (a rarely asked question): the will of a majority-supported grassroots group like the Yellow Vests could not be (and will not ever be) translated into Liberalist politics because this impasse is baked into the very structure of Liberalism. No understanding is permitted.
Yellow Vests: "If the country is blocked for a few days, that would certainly provide a good tool to pressure the government. I hope Macron will understand by the night of December 5th, but we will do whatever we must to force him to drop this reform."
(Note: this book intersperses over 100 quotations taken from actual, marching Yellow Vests which were originally published in news reports on PressTV.)
What the bourgeois bloc had gained from the undemocratic installation of the pan-European project was not shared tangibly or in perception with the 75% "grassroots bloc". The 1%, talented tenth and toadying tenth salivated over the prospects of perpetual and astronomical gains - they cannot admit or realise their profits come at the expense of the grassroots bloc located in France, the Eurozone and the Third World. Shorn of its Social Democratic concessions and tethered to a new supranational government Western Liberal Democracy in France appeared for what it was: neither rule by the people nor even rule by the majority, but simply periodic elections with ever-worsening outcomes, ever-decreasing voter interest and ever-decreasing actual influence. This did not meet the definition of "democracy" to many in France.
Given these current realities, which are the product of historical legacies, a showdown between the bourgeois bloc and some grassroots group appears in hindsight as an eventual certainty.
The record of Macron: exterminating Social Democracy to restore the Liberalism of 1848
The term "liberal strongman" was first used in reference to Emmanuel Macron by the mainstream media as soon as July 2017 because everybody saw what was coming: Macron had normalised the state of emergency, had an executive branch supercharged by the repeated use of the 49-3 executive decree, control over a brand new party (titled "La République en marche!" (Republic On the Move/Advancing) - the last two words corresponding to Macron's initials, and also being the term Canadian dogsled drivers use while whipping their dogs onwards (corrupted into "Mush!")) half-filled with totally dependent, first-time politicians who had absolutely no political power bases of their own, an absolute majority in parliament with an "opposition party" (the mainstream conservatives) who were happy to move in lockstep with rolling back Social Democracy. Macron was gong to rule as he himself saw fit, and that's exactly what he told people immediately after taking office.
Macron had campaigned on the idea that France has bad finances because France's model is wrong - and it's me or fascism -, which was a very far cry from Hollande's platform in 2012 that France has bad finances because finance is our enemy. Furthermore, Macron insisted that he was the one opposing the rent-seekers in French society - those who can't be easily fired, allegedly-cushy union jobs, old people daring not to die sooner and thus collecting pensions, etc. It's an inverse of reality, of course, but nothing can ever be said about the true rentiers, such as bankers, landlords, financial services, etc., in Western Liberal Democracy, who had fully overthrown France's monarchy by 1848. Prior to 1789 all rentiers in France were confined to the royals and the Catholic Church, of course.
Thus Macron's open goal was to destroy France's model as fast as possible - with its "Mixed Economy" concessions and Social Democratic safety net - and this is why many viscerally hated him immediately and viewed him as an anti-patriotic traitor. He said he needed 10 years to effectuate his revolution - paradise arrives for all after he leaves office, apparently.
Many expected Macron would naturally incline towards 57-year old Laurence Parisot for prime minster. She became majority owner of the nation's top polling institute, IFOP, in 1990. In 2005 she then became the youngest chief of the MEDEF bosses' union, the union with the most positive media coverage in France. Parisot incarnates the revolving door between politics and polling agencies which had come to exist in France, which is alarming given the reliance of modern journalism on polls to shape the news and public perceptions.
Here is what his first prime minister, the unknown mainstream conservative Edouard Philippe, thought of Macron in a January 18, 2017, interview with Libération: "Who is Macron? For some, impressed by his ability to seduce and his reformist rhetoric, he will be the natural son of Kennedy and Mendès France. We can doubt this: the first had more charisma and the second had more principles. For others, he will be Brutus, the adoptive son of Caesar.... Macron, who takes no responsibility but promises everything, with the ardor of a youthful conqueror and the cynicism of an old truck-driver. If I dare to say it, he acts like a used-car salesman." This was the opinion of the #2 public servant in France of the #1 public servant - Philippe accepted the job offer, and it's expected he'll essentially continue Macronism - House of Philippe version - in 2027.
Macron's first major move let France know where the alleged "centrist" truly stood: He ended the ISL (impot du solidarity sur la fortune/solidarity tax on fortunes). The ISL was created in 1981 and helped Mitterrand get elected. In 2018 it only represented €5 billion a year but it was highly symbolic as a longtime anti-neoliberal effort in favor of wealth redistribution. This is when Macron earned the enduring moniker "president of the rich". The approval rating of the man hailed as the new leader of the free world dropped faster in his first three months than any other president, except Jacques Chirac.
With the unveiling of the 2018 budget the fig leaf of the "fiscal deficit rule" was simply discarded for the arbitrary lie it always was: even though in March it was announced that a decade of austerity had shrunk the public deficit to 2.6 percent GDP austerity continued anyway, and worse than under Hollande. Macron's popularity would plummet - never to return - when these cuts to social security incomes alienated his core elderly voters. Many of these elderly voters had grown up resisting Vichy France and then the National Front - they would have voted for Satan himself rather than vote for a Le Pen, but many regretted that now.
In 2018 calculations showed that all of the average Frenchman's wages from January 1 until July 27 went to the tax man - seigniorial dues, tithes and harvest taxes were never so bad. Frenchwomen had it even worse in 2018: due to the gender pay gap they essentially worked for free from November 8 until the end of the year. It doesn't have to be this way, but Western Liberal Democracy has always regressively relied on heavily taxing the populace instead of business profits and the elite - contrarily, in Iran half the population pays no taxes, including every farmer. The French also could not live off fantasies about hoped-for windfalls from Quantitative Easing: in 2016 just 7% of France owned stock, compared to 50% in the US.
In September 2017 Macron rectified what he claimed was Hollande's failure of a labor code rollback (making it "easier to fire") by signing his own version into law by executive decree. Not only was it not approved by the legislative branch, it was not even debated there. Furthermore, it was written, autocratically, entirely by his team - unions, grassroots groups and "social partners" were given just two hours to read the final 159-page version of 36 changes to French labor law. Protests against this laughable "democratic" legislation were widespread and just as spirited as in 2016, but they had not only produced no concessions but not even any involvement. Macron had not yet given a press conference but he did sign the autocratic legislation live on television. This is modern royalism in action, and Western Liberal Democracy swooned over the start of boyish Macron (most especially old ladies).
The following year saw a whirlwind of far-right reforms similarly written autocratically, which would often passed into the law via executive decree. The ELAN law: a rollback in social housing despite 1 in 4 Frenchman suffering from a housing problem. Reforms of teaching and university - to align them with the needs of employers. Pacte law - privatisation of the national lottery and airports, and further deregulation of the economy. Cap 2022 - reduced state expenditures. Fiscal advantages were created to attract financiers from the City of London post-Brexit. (Economy Minister, Bruno Le Maire incessantly repeated: "Finance is our friend.") Ending efforts at a financial transaction tax. De facto raising of the retirement age to 64. Revenu universal d'activité - called France's Hartz IV, was constantly pushed but never made it through. Mobility Law - to allow major internet, transport and distribution platforms to replace the salaried worker with a fictitious "entrepreneur", i.e. the "Uberisation" of the workforce.
It's an incomplete list, but all these changes thrilled the bourgeois bloc and were a counter-revolution of France's Mixed Economy model with its Social Democracy half-measures.
The 2019 budget contained €19 billion in no-strings attached tax cuts to businesses, caps to senior pensions, regressive tax increases on consumer goods, and cuts to thousands of government jobs. Austerity was continuing even while it continued to fail: the Eurozone's GDP was down 12% since 2008, whereas China's was up 266%. There was essentially zero mainstream media usage of the description of "austerité" (or even Mitterrandian "politique de rigueur") for this annual budget - the French voter had lost any allies in all four estates, and all this simply must be accepted patiently if one is not to be accused of being "anti-democratic".
And then the Yellow Vests appeared on November 17, 2018. They are still marching every Saturday at the time of publication of this book, July 1, 2022.
Yellow Vest: "We will continue no matter what the results of the vote are. There are too many people who have been hurt, blinded, and killed, and we must think of them. All we have ever asked for is not to keep starving at the end of every month, and to protect our children's future."
The reminder of the book is dedicated to analysing the Yellow Vests in detail, so only the broad historical points of the unfurling of the movement are necessary here.
The Yellow Vests: The unanswerable rejoinder to proponents of Western Liberal Democracy
The initial protest was over a diesel gas tax hike, and it was unknowingly symbolic of what has become "leftist" politics in the West: a regressive tax (one which costs the poor more) was claimed to be an pro-ecology gesture, but of course it was designed to cover the gaps created by tax cuts for the wealthy, banker bailouts and Eurozone economic failure. French leftists almost uniformly responded to the initial protest by implying that the fate of the world's health depended on making sure dirty diesel was taxed even higher. In a literal sense, France's auto industry had made what was now acknowledged as a failed bet to become the global leader in diesel passenger cars: The state had gone from pushing the average Frenchman to buy diesel cars to not just onerously taxing them for doing exactly that, but to also accusing them of being backwards, selfish, anti-ecologists just for resisting yet another tax hike.
Stunningly and electrifyingly to a France which seemingly assumed that Macron and the bourgeois bloc would never be confronted, the protests continued. Nothing captivated the world or France as much as protest graffiti on the famed Arc de Triomphe on December 1 which read, "The Yellow Vests will triumph". But Macron was not Thiers - no troops from Germanic areas were coming to help - and he could not limit the protests to just the capital. France's most famous roundabout had been occupied but so were they in the rest of the country. The state-sponsored repression shocked the entire world - global perceptions of French democracy changed permanently.
Yellow Vest: "We have a president who is trying to give lessons on democracy to places like Venezuela, and yet Macron is firing on his own people for expressing their discontent with his polices."
All of a sudden things had changed, even though France had already been wracked by intense protests for a decade. The past decade was entirely the cause of the Yellow Vests' discontent - and yet the past decade did not matter anything compared to the revolutionary moment. Did the reflective safety vest which French car owners are required to own contain a magic power?
Immediately the radical centrists went into overdrive: the Yellow Vests were stupid hillbillies, fascists, racists, anti-Semites, anti-ecology, luddites, losers, berserkers ruining the economy (the economic impact of the Yellow Vest protests was ultimately decided to be 0.1% of GNP), minions of the Kremlin and fuelled by the misinformation that Liberalism is somehow not the eternal, constant, unchangeable truth.
Why did the protests continue despite the immediate and total establishment war against them?
The determination of the Yellow Vests is not explained by any negative accusation of the bourgeois bloc but by the Yellow Vests' knowledge that a "neoliberal" minority has unfair and unpopular control over France's government - they knew, correctly, in their marrow that they were in the democratic majority and in the democratic right.
Previously explained is the reason why the Western Liberal Democratic establishment was not just unable but unwilling to appease the protesters. In covering France I had already reported that Macron curiously seemed to be safely out of France on any major day of protest - there was no chance he would engage with the Yellow Vest protesters directly. Thus the executive branch would not intervene to pacify the protesters, the legislative branch knew that they should not pacify the protesters lest they incur the wrath of the executive, and the judicial branch (pathetically citing the same bogus need: to remain "independent") could not get involved in politics no matter how many laws protecting the political rights of citizens were being broken like so many bones.
Yellow Vest: "It's all a masquerade. The government wants to give police total impunity to hurt Yellow Vests. Doctors reported that what they were treating were similar to injuries during war. This is all easily verifiable by countless online videos, but the government doesn't want justice."
There was a widespread belief that Macron would be forced to resign: "Macron resign!" was the primary chant, the spectacular and unprecedented demonstrations hadn't been seen a century, and France had swiftly become totally discredited at home and abroad. After four Saturdays Macron finally had to actually respond to mass social protests - the first setback to his pathetically self-unaware, gaslighting Revolution.
Macron's initial concessions were the abandonment of the diesel tax, a slight rise to the SMIC salary (the minimum salary level) and a slight rise for pensioners. These €11 billion in total concessions were mere crumbs compared to bailouts and concessions to the rich, of course, and not nearly enough to remotely achieve the promises of Western Liberal Democracy.
The protests continued into 2019 with unthinkably high approval ratings for the Yellow Vests, unprecedented and ubiquitous evidences of everyday support for a French social movement, stunning police violence and an executive who seemed personally insulted that his subjects wanted more popular opinion in the shaping of government affairs more than just once every five years.
Instead of concessions to stop the bloodshed Macron announced a three-month national consultation known as The Great National Debate. It was a series of town hall meetings in which a president who somehow felt justified to be totally aloof now got twice as much daily television speaking time then Fidel Castro ever did. "Debate" was false because it implies that Yellow Vests had an equal (or even non-negligible) amount of speaking time. When we recall that radical centrism simply does not allow for true debate, then we understand why it was derided by the Yellow Vests as the "Great Instruction" - from Macron down to the ignorant masses; from the bourgeois bloc down to their lessers. What's worse, Macron put the idea of immigration at the heart of his Great National Debate even though it figured nowhere in the demands of the Yellow Vests. Immigration and identity politics was first an obsession of fascism and now of Western Liberal Democracy.
Yellow Vest: "Macron just said 'blah blah blah' and offered us nothing. He was just trying to put us to sleep with his long-winded answers. He should be listening to the huge part of France which is awake, which is fighting and which is suffering."
The Great National Debate began as a stalling tactic: hopefully the protests would die out. When the protests continued to rage perhaps some in the bourgeois bloc sincerely thought that the Debate would explain to stupid French the eternal truth and beauty of "neoliberalism", thus ending 45 years of mass rejection. When neither happened the Debate allowed the bourgeois bloc and their sycophants to rationalise that a democratic solution "had been tried", and thus overwhelming, coordinated, state-sponsored repression to crush the movement was now justified.
How was the Yellow Vest movement stopped, in just one sentence? The average person simply became too intimidated to protest in a yellow reflective vest anymore. This process of intimidating a French public habituated to not only regularly protesting but to enduring police violence at process required many brutal machinations.
Any state's first responsibility is to provide security, but French riot police were not deployed to allow peaceful demonstrations - they were deployed to prevent them. Only those who never attended a major Yellow Vest demonstration could insist otherwise.
Yellow Vest: "The police did everything they could last week to orchestrate violence in Paris. They did not lift a finger to stop Black Bloc rioters, and the poor Yellow Vests were trapped in the middle. The government wants radical and violent anarchists to infiltrate social movements in order to discredit us with the average person and journalists."
In February 2019 what was known as the "Anti-Yellow Vest law" was announced: The law allowed police chiefs to pre-emptively ban citizens from attending protests, something never resorted to in 1968, and a power previously reserved for judges. The law gave police the power to search citizens without warrants, and imposed fines and prison terms for any protester covering their face even to avoid tear gas. Yellow Vests had already been sped through the justice system with great fanfare, and their trials had received countless criticisms: overly harsh sentences, often despite a lack of evidence, and for people with spotless records; arrest procedures which were not followed correctly; arrests of people who were only trying to leave the demonstration; arrests of people trying to help medics treat injured protesters; and many others. The certainty of not just permanent physical difficulty but long-running legal difficulty should one put on a yellow vest and go protest was thus constantly increasing.
Yellow Vests: "Now, the Yellow Vests must demand not only economic and social justice, but legal justice as well! The government is targeting people from the lower classes with heavy and unfair punishments. Any simple citizen can not only get hurt, but then fined and imprisoned."
It wasn't until late February 2019 that top Western-led NGOs like Amnesty International finally condemned the ongoing weekly violence. It took three months for the Council of Europe to ask France to stop using rubber bullets - golf-ball sized and fired by what French media pathetically rebranded "defense ball launchers" - against protesters. It wasn't until April that the United Nations called for an investigation into the widespread allegations of police brutality, while also recognising the economic and democratic demands of the movement. The entire Western system was being permanently discredited by the Yellow Vests: the refusal of Western-led structures to condemn a Western leader like France was laying bare Western hypocrisy.
Yellow Vest: "I don't know why the United Nations hasn't reacted until now? But we are glad the UN finally denounced the government, because they are using weapons against their own people, and causing people to be permanently handicapped and mutilated."
The Anti-Yellow Vest Law was yet another example of a Western executive branch making a permanent power grab amid chaos, like after terror attacks and later the coronavirus. Similarly, in February Macron used the false slander of the Yellow Vests as racists to announce that public opposition to Zionism (opposition to the colonialist political project which seeks to establish the state of Israel) would now be classified as anti-Semitism (opposition to Jews and Judaism) even though the two are obviously quite distinct.
Yellow Vest: "This is a political operation on the part of Macron and those around him. They are manipulating anti-Semitism in order to smear the image of the Yellow Vests, and it's amazing what a huge effort they are making to achieve this goal."
The Debate ended March 15 and the mainstream media loudly broadcast that democracy was satisfied and that public opinion would now be incorporated into public policy - few actually believed it. The March 16 protest saw the worst police brutality in months. The Paris police chief was fired, but precisely because there wasn't enough brutality: one of the reasons given by the prime minister was that he had given orders which had reduced the usage of rubber bullets. At 6:15 in the morning on March 16th Macron called for a parliamentary vote regarding the biggest wave of privatisation in 15 years: only 45 parliamentarians were present. The bill was approved, and the mainstream media spared no effort to explain why such a vote was still legally-binding.
For the March 23 protest the army was deployed for the first time since the War to Prevent Algerian Independence. Approval ratings for the Yellow Vests are still between 60-70%. Protests are banned in many major cities for the first time - the mayor of Bordeaux orders the metropolis to become a "ghost town".
Yellow Vest: "This is turning into a civil war, and that is exactly what will happen if President Emmanuel Macron doesn't back down! We Yellow Vests have solidarity with all the workers of the world, including the victims of France's imperialism, and we will not stop until our demands for greater economic equality are fulfilled."
Macron continued with autocratic reforms to the unemployment system and thus the spring protests against austerity return - it's now an annual event in post-Lisbon Treaty Europe. Nearly 10,000 police continue to lock down swathes of Paris every Saturday. Much of Paris assumes a pose of ignorance and nonchalance - much of Paris is now bourgeois bloc and not proletarian, of course - and tries to make people believe that all this repression is normal and boring.
Yellow Vest: "The government has chosen to repress us from the very beginning. Not only has this destroyed people and their lives, but it has destroyed the quality of France's democracy. The job of the French president is to find a consensus and not to act as a tyrant, and certainly not to hurt French citizens."
An hour before Macron was scheduled to appear live on national television to give his results of the Great National Debate the nation instead watches Europe's most-visited spiritual centre - Notre Dame Cathedral - gutted by a devastating fire. French malaise has reached incredible spiritual proportions. Europe's primary church would remain closed for years. Four months into 2019 nearly as many French cops have committed suicide as in all of 2018. Macron's approval rating reaches just 27% - it was the bourgeois bloc versus everyone else and the result is total catastrophe.
On April 25 Macron deigned to hold his first press conference ever, to finally give his conclusions of the Great National Debate, and he says the words "Yellow Vests" for the first time ever in public. The mainstream journalists permitted to attend dare to ask just one direct question about the Yellow Vests. Polling agencies now cease publishing findings on the Yellow Vests - the last poll gives them a 50% approval rating, and despite the total establishment war to discredit them.
Macron's concessions after the Great National Debate were considered inadequate to nearly all: polls show just 6% of the country called it a success, while 80% (the anti-bourgeois bloc) correctly predict it will not resolve the current political crisis. Macron says he will drop the plan to de-index pensions to inflation (a nod to his pensioner, anti-National Front base) and a lowering of the income tax, which was the only real concession to the working middle class after all these protests. Macron's austerity-inspired "deform" programs, as listed earlier, never ceased - autocratically organising and autocratically implementing them continued until the coronavirus struck in March 2020, and then sometimes even after normal governmental functioning, transparency and accountability totally broke down in that era.
The faux-democratic sideshow thus had been concluded; it was sanctioned by the glowing participation of a fourth estate trusted by almost as many people as who own it; the judiciary had been sidestepped and was preoccupied with sentencing uppity protesters; the legislative branch approved the formal democratic changes to empower the executive branch, lest the executive branch come after them; the less brutal of the police force had been replaced with the arrival of the army; five months of protests - 24 "acts", as the Saturdays were termed - had culminated by merely making clear that there was going to be no solution offered except violence. The French state, Macron and the bourgeois bloc had no interest in democracy, much less redemption.
May Day - International Workers Day - was intended to be so brutal that nobody except a hard-core Yellow Vest would think of protesting for years, and it worked.
From a radius of 150 kilometres around Paris rural gendarmes made warrantless searches at highway checkpoints and toll booths. In Paris a squadron of riot police were posted every 50 meters along the approved parade route - an unprecedented deployment designed to allow police to forcibly divide the marchers into smaller groups, whom they then attacked with rubber bullets, tear gas, water cannons and batons. The parade route was turned into a total shambles. Protesters fleeing tear gas and rubber bullets enter into the Pitié Salpêtrière Hospital for shelter - this enrages the mainstream media for about 36 hours, who falsely accuse the Yellow Vests of attacking the hospital, and this misinformation prevails as the dominant story of the brutal day. The real story finally comes out, and the event provides the basis for the first French big-budget cinematic portrayal of the Yellow Vests, La Fracture (2021). I reported live directly from outside the hospital during that episode. It was obvious what had truly transpired, but I only saw one other television journalist reporting live from the street that day - a woman from Italy's state-owned RAI - so it's perhaps no wonder the French media got it so wrong. In a decade of covering almost every major protest (and from the front lines, as good television journalism requires) I can report I saw no state-sponsored violence as brutal as May Day 2019. May Day was not aimed at suppressing the protesting Yellow Vests (though they were there, of course) but a day to send a message of violence to anyone else (unions, leftist groups, pensioners, students, etc.) who was thinking about protesting anytime soon, and perhaps with the Yellow Vests.
Yellow Vest: "Just like at the beginning of the movement, it was the same old tactic from our government. They want the protest to degenerate as quickly as possible in order to discredit the movement. They launch round after round of tear gas, to the point where people are stepping on protesters who have fallen down! They want to scare us into staying at home, but we will never stop protesting!"
Protests immediately began to lessen - the average person was simply not willing to attend another May 1 on May 4 (Act 25) or anytime soon. Protesting - such a vital part of French culture, and which for decades had been the key to keeping neoliberalism from sweeping the country as easily as in Anglo-Saxon and Anglophone countries - had become denormalised: only a Yellow Vest could handle it.
On May 11 rural Yellow Vest protests were now officially banned in countless areas. Police claimed the right to "control the pace" of protests: this meant that the fronts of Yellow Vest marches were now never-ending scrums between people trying to walk forward and cops determined to prevent them from doing that anytime they felt like provoking a slowdown. A Yellow Vest march was now easily portrayed on television as simply constant, almost oafish violence.
On May 25 Yellow Vest demos went "wildcat" - they stopped requesting permits, in an effort to avoid the now-perpetual provocation of the brutally armed and brutally-tempered riot police. Hundreds were arrested nationwide - the main difference here being that the arrests were immediate.
On May 26 the far-right won June's elections to European Parliament - the only place they had ever been given any actual power by French voters. Turnout soared to 50%, compared with just 35% in 2014. Three Yellow Vest lists combined for less than 1%, while the Animal Rights Party scored 2.2% - the intelligence of Western Liberal Democracy had partially devolved into a literally subhuman level in places. At the continental level the so-called "Grand Coalition" of socialists and Christian Democrats lost their majority for the first time ever. Eurosceptic parties won 23% of the vote. An era of unprecedented dissent seemed certain for the pan-European project - the coronavirus era would provide unity, simplicity and an end to political talk.
Ignoring the widespread banning of protests, the fear, the certainty of undeserved violence, the indignity of personal intrusions, the arrests, the fines, the court cases, the injuries, etc. the French media gleefully claims the protests are finally "over". French media stops covering the protests completely. By the start of June only Russian and Iranian state media are covering the Yellow Vests in Paris any more. The banning of Russian media in the wake of their military operation in Ukraine means that by spring 2022 only Iranian media is there. In July a "cyber hate" bill passes, targeting Yellow Vests trying to organise and discuss on social media, and Palestinians
Yellow Vest: "The paradox is that Macron is acting just like King Louis XVI: people rebelled against him and his prisoners at the Bastille prison, and today Macron has political prisoners and denies democracy. Macron also wants the rich class to dominate, but this time it's the bankers who gave him millions for his campaign and media barons who gave him free media coverage."
At six months into the protests the government issues new data, which was accused of being drastically undercounted: 50,000 demonstrations, 12,000 arrests, and the use of 13,000 rubber bullets. Media groups counted 11 deaths, 800 serious injuries and scores of mutilations/blindings. What was easier to verify is that 4,000 activists had been rushed to trial, with nearly 1,000 receiving prison sentences, usually of one year.
By Bastille Day in July there was still routine police violence at Yellow Vest demonstrations but the difference is that only committed Yellow Vests were showing up, not the average Frenchman. When the Yellow Vests broke through to march on the Champs-Elysées for the first time since mid-March hundreds were arrested amid mass brutality.
Yellow Vests: "Tourists are getting tear gassed and witnessing major violence, when they are only here out of curiosity. Some people are led to believe that only bad people get tear gassed, but these tourists now know better. If the tourists had stayed a bit longer they would have been beaten, as well."
However, the spirited protest was something of a last gasp - protests immediately returned to being ignored by the media, repressed by police and watched from afar by the average Frenchman. Eight months of protests and the crisis was not resolved, but it certainly was repressed.
The Yellow Vests were initially thought to be merely Macron's "Thatcher moment", or the air traffic controller strike which Ronald Reagan subdued with the army - the most basic analysis, facts and statistics prove that's false. Once the 2009 Lisbon Treaty affirmed that the pan-European project would be implemented on anti-democratic lines there simply cannot be (nor has there been) structural concessions which oppose neoliberal "deforms", and no matter how sincerely desperate and democratically supported the protests are. Democratic opposition to the restoration of Liberalism is not allowed in France, Greece, the Eurozone, the European Union, the West and probably even Earth.
Many will dismiss the above paragraph as opinion, speculation, ideology and even propaganda but what the repression of Yellow Vests proves is this:
The burden of proof is now squarely on the supporters of the pan-European project, specifically, and Western Liberal Democracy (Liberalism), in general. The Yellow Vests are an immediate, unanswerable rejoinder to the ardent proponents of Western Liberal Democracy.
That's a massive, massive, massive achievement because the Yellow Vests end an era which started in 1991: complete certainty in the worth - in every sense - of Liberalism.
How very far France had fallen from its longtime position as the Western and even global leader of progressive political thought - 1789! Napoleon Bonaparte! the only revolution to succeed in 1848! the Paris Commune of 1871! - and how very much the Yellow Vests suffered to restore France.
The failure is to see Macron as something new, which would make 'neoliberalism' something actually new as well
The Yellow Vests are not the singular result of Macron but the historical result of the failure of Western Liberal Democracy to deliver on nearly two centuries of post-feudalism promises to the middle and lower class of employment, stability, security, liberty and dignity. The failure is to not see the same autocracy and elitism in Macron as French revolutionaries perceived in Louis XVI, and not to see that political progress means to move away from autocracy and elitism towards greater citizen empowerment, involvement and equality.
The entire first part of this book proves that the historical expansion of power and wealth from the coterie around an absolute monarch, and then to a slightly expanded oligarchy in a constitutional monarchy, and then to the embrace of lawyers and some professionals in Western Liberal Democracy may be enough to satisfy the bourgeois bloc but that it has never received majority satisfaction or approval. Nor will it. Nor should it.
An obsession with Macron occurred among some Yellow Vests because of Macron's unprecedentedly arrogant and autocratic style, but the previous chapter proved how in even France's most recent history (Hollande, Sarkozy, Brussels) and past history such autocracy was not at all new.
We should not even go so far as to say that Macron achieved what Louis-Napoleon Bonaparte allegedly achieved 150 years ago according to Marx: a "maturation of the executive power" only in order to prove how Western Liberal Democratic executive branches inevitably so discredit themselves that they become "the sole subject of reprobation in order to concentrate against it all the revolutionary forces of destruction." To believe this of Macron would be to not only uselessly repeat history but to uselessly ignore it. Historical progress is linear and not cyclical - or else there is no progress but mere progression of repeated cycles.
Concepts and terminology matters: It is not result of the failure of "neoliberalism", because Liberalism has always been opposed to even the ameliorations offered by mere Social Democracy. The Macron era and the pan-European project give French and European history a stunning new clarity - the 1945-75 period is clearly a 30-year exception in this 1848-2022 history of Western Liberal Democracy. The Yellow Vests remind, with stunning new clarity, that the bourgeois bloc will never allow Socialist Democracy, Social Democracy or even a genuine Liberal Democracy. Marx was correct at its very start: Liberal Democracy denounces even the most basic rights of Liberalism as "Socialism!"
In two centuries there has only been way to combat the bourgeois bloc - zero tolerance for their autocratic, oligarchic privilege and appropriation of their wealth and political influence. Until that is done France (and any other nation) will continue to be ruled by them, with all the repression that inevitably implies.
Upcoming chapter list of the brand-new content in France's Yellow Vests: Western Repression of the West's Best Values. The book will also include previous writings from 2018 through the 2022 election in order to provide the most complete historical record of the Yellow Vests anywhere. What value!
Publication date: July 1, 2022.
Pre-orders of the paperback version will be available immediately.
Pre-orders of the Kindle version may be made here.
Pre-orders of the French paperback version will be available immediately.
Pre-orders of the French Kindle version may be made here.
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
- Yellow Vests: At worst, the most important French movement for a century
- Who are they, really? Ask a reporter whose seen a million Yellow Vest faces
- Yellow Vest Win: Ending the West's slandering of all popular movements as far-right xenophobes
- Yellow Vest Win: The end of Western anarcho-syndicalism & unions as leftism's hereditary kings
- Yellow Vest Win: The end of Western parliamentarianism as the most progressive government
- Yellow Vest Win: Reminding us of the link between fascist violence & Western democracy
- What the Yellow Vests can be: a group which can protect liberalism's rights, at least
- The 2022 vote: The approach needed for 'Before'- what came 'After' polls closed
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.