What follows is a translation of a blog post by Carbure. It is a collaboration between ourselves & Otto Mattick. The original text was published on Dec. 3rd, 2018.
Saturday December 1st, the Gilets Jaunes movement had ceased to belong and be the movement of lower-class White France which it was at the beginning. Given the predictable refusal of the State to satisfy the smallest demand (as evidenced by the refusal or inability of the “spokepersons” of the movement to meet the Prime Minister), also given the derisory aspect which any demand takes on in light of our intolerable existence, and thanks to the convergence in an urban setting of ALL rage, the revolutionary content of the current period beings to appear under the crust of discourses and ideologies, and this content is disorder. The question is now where will what has started end or how far what has started here will be able to create disorder. Already those who made up the origin of the movement serve as a rear guard of what they have started, making appeals to reason and demanding a return to republican order within the pages of Le Journal du Dimanche. They were the incarnation of the start of the movement and their reluctance demonstrates enough what this movement is no longer. They would be satisfied with a moratorium on raising fuel prices, on raising the price on anything or organizing a referendum on the energy transition, right when an emerging movement wants to take whatever is in its path and can no longer crystallize itself around any discourse or demand; save for the repetition of “Resign Macron” as a sort of mantra calling on nothingness and the disappearance of all that this world represents. “Resign Macron” is at once the political limit of this movement and also a call for the end of all politics.
Given what took place on Saturday, December 1st it would be absurd to continue to call what is happening a “movement against expensive life,” or to re-purpose into an economic demand that which evidently has gone beyond that. On Saturday “lists of grievances”1 served to help start fires. The Gilets Jaunes movement have already surpassed the stage of making economic demands after the first week, then entered its politically populist phase the following week, demanding that the State recede from the people or that the people become the State. We have critiqued this phase and determined the content of the demands made by lower-class White France within its class mediation, demonstrating the limits of interclassism and pointing out the danger of a popular national union of some against the “others.” We had scarcely made our critique of this phase when we then found ourselves in another one.
This movement lacked a dose of nihilism to give its “apoliticalism” some meaning: the meeting with the “banlieues” brought with it what this movement lacked to correspond with the “real movement2”, which is not a movement of social progress but the movement for the destruction of society and this meeting allowed this movement to joyfully recognize the “real movement” as its home. Interclassism has under pressure turned into a unity between those who know either clearly, or in a confused way, that they can expect nothing from this society, that they were relegated to the banlieues, shipwrecked in the nightmare of the peri-urban pavilion and RSA3 recipients who survive by collecting chestnuts in Ardèche. It was necessary to watch the dead army of the trade-union march go by at Place Bastille, hidden behind its flags and its slogans, affirming the particularity of its workmen, and feel the total indifference of those who, whether in yellow vests or not, were walking aimlessly but together in Paris, to understand how much the old workers’ movement, its unions, its representatives and its demands are a thing of the past. There will be no “social convergence,” this movement did not come to be from Leftist reason and it will never be a social movement. That era is gone. It is no longer a question of anti-racism or anti-fascism, of Left or Right, when the only thing to be done is burn everything and to know with whom you can accomplish this. This state of affairs is as much about civil war as it is about revolutionary overcoming: to take the step that leads from insurrection to revolution is to walk on the blade of a sword.
This meeting has taken place and it remains to be seen if it could repeat itself and spread. Everything that can oppose this meeting is already there, present within the “social” nature of the movement, as well as in the social relations themselves, which no riot can abolish: the federative slogan “Resign Macron” contains implicitly the possibility of a national-populist alliance taking state power in the name of ‘the people’ (Le Pen and Mélenchon calling with one voice for early elections), and offering the state an adequate form to the crisis: a compassionate-authoritarian form, capable of bringing everyone into line, assigning one to otherness, and symmetrically assigning the others to responsibility and patriotism, crushing one in the name of the others to dominate everyone. We have seen it ten times in recent years: ‘Que se vayan todos4‘ is often a call to renew, for the worst, the political staff. But to get there, it will be necessary to place lower-class White France back in its place, under the direction of the middle-class: honest work paid its fair price and harmonious commodity circulation. This is the only way out of the crisis that is currently conceivable, unless the Macron government handles itself this authoritarian shift.
To avoid this the disorder must be pushed further. The moment of the urban riot is itself the limit point of what is now happening: historically it corresponds with two modalities, either the seizure of state power or pushing the state into a crisis to then push for concessions. But this is not 1917, no seizure of state power to then realize a socialist program is conceivable, and we are not in 1968, there were will be no agreements made at Grenelle5. To stick with the urban riot is to remain at a level where the movement still has politics. But if what manifested on Saturday in Paris and everywhere in France returns to the blockades, creates new ones and begins to truly “block the country,” that is to say, to seize itself and to decide from there on its future, one can imagine going from riot to uprising to revolution. But no one can say in which direction this is going, this thing running faster than the whole world: there is no better mark of revolutionary content than this. This movement, because it is a class struggle, bears all that can be today a communist revolution, including its limits, its dangers and its unpredictability: but to reach that point, it will probably be necessary to burn a great deal of things that stand between us, whether it’s cars or social relations.
P.S. In response to certain critiques and questions around this text, it must be made clear that it must be understood as a snapshot of an event in progress. If someone were surprised by its “optimistic” tone (which is not an everyday occurrence), it should also be noted that this optimism is tempered by the prospect of a return to order, which is also well-supported by this movement. All the questions made of the preceding texts remain valid. Though it is essential to remain lucid, it is also essential to be aware that the class struggle is not a long calm river, nor a well-marked landing strip for bombers of “heavy” theory. What is done and undone in the course of a struggle goes faster than our analytical abilities, and if what opened up on Dec. 1st is closing quickly, it must be reported, like everything else. Nothing is written in stone: there is conjecture, “defeasance,” and all order of other things in struggles. Let’s say this text is part of that and takes its position.
1 “The Cahiers de doléances (or simply Cahiers as they were often known) were the lists of grievances drawn up by each of the three Estates in France, between March and April 1789, the year in which a revolutionary situation began.” (source: wikipedia)
2 A reference to The Communist Manifesto (1845): “We call communism the real movement which abolishes the present state of things.”
4 tr. “THEY ALL MUST GO!” (Spanish); a phrase made famous after the deep economic crisis Argentina underwent in 2001.
A conversation after this text
Comment from Alerta Comunista, “Some communists from Greece interested in the issues put forward by communisation theory”:
How have the yellow-vests « ceased to be the movement of white france » when national flags, celtic crosses, monarchist flags, Breton flags, etc, were seen everywhere, even in the barricades? Yes, there were cases that nationalists were attacked, but in some cases, and for 3 weeks now they are present. Why so many protestors (is it the majority?) if not agreeing with them, at least tolerate them? Are all of these just empty signifiers? Isn’t it pointing to a gloomy situation of what will happen if the state apparatus collapses while under the current conditions, the current correlation of class powers? Isn’t it telling that what the yellow-vests movement inspired in other countries (Netherlands and Germany) is purely reactionary and anti-immigrant protests? Can current protests in France provide an exit from the tunnel or are they getting us deeper into its darkness? Here in Greece, in the Indignados movement nationalism was dominant, and it now has supplied immediately a chain of events leading straight to the anti-Macedonian protests, which now came back around the corner (last week, high-school students mainly in Northern Greece closed their schools against Macedonia and Albania) and as we get closer to the official enactment of the Prespa agreement things will intensify.
A reply from Carbure:
I am sorry not to be able to reply in English. If a comrade could translate it, I’d be very grateful. [What follows is our translation of the French text]
You have every reason to ask these questions. It is true that this movement had a very strong Far-Right composition since its beginnings. It is also possible that its political translation is the outcome of the rise to power of some populist coalition, if not directly due to the National Rally [Far-Right party formerly known as the National Front]. This cannot be ignored, just as the attempt to structure this movement as a “people,” including all the classical parties and meditations, just as we cannot ignore the fact that the “people” cannot mean anything else than White France and alliance between a part of the proletariat and the petite-bourgeoisie. We have said this since the start of the movement, against almost the entirety of the Left which saw the possibility of a “social convergence” within this movement and considers the racism it contains but a matter of the miseducation of the popular classes, without taking into consideration its political content, which you rightly underline with the case of Greece, just as can be said about the rest of Europe.
Simply stated, everything is moving quickly and in a few days one could say that the movement has taken a different tone which exploded on Dec. 1st. I think that at the barricades and demonstrations the proletarian component of this movement has little by little overtaken the others. This movement, which was initially one of the small middle-class fearing their own déclassement which highlighted the most difficult circumstances to then better their own, has found themselves taken by their own game, and has succeeded in gathering the fringes of the most precarious of the proletariat. These proletarian components came to be through the restructuring after the [financial] crisis, existing outside of the unions and work typically represented by them. It’s emblematic that the demand around the return of the ISF [Solidarity tax on Wealth] and a raise of the minimum wage [SMIC] also finds itself along side the critique of taxes. All this has come out of a movement about “financial persecution.” Further, if at the beginning there were reported racist attacks with a nationalist tendency, this is no longer the case (for the moment) since last week. Yesterday, a TV journalist, known for their liberal positions and which supported the movement from its beginning, declared that the movement had “lost its soul.”
But, more importantly, the demands have been diffuse and the movement cannot put forward any political structure which could bring their demands to the powers-that-be. The few spokespersons which proposed an exit from the crisis have received death threats and then find their solutions retracted. Power, which no longer really “dialogues,” finds no one to dialogue with. Further, the very movement that demands “responses” is demanding nothing and refuses any dialogue. That which took place on Saturday, and which I some up rather quickly with the fact that racialized and white proletarians founds themselves side-by-side to “fuck shit up,” sums up an anomic situation, a breakthrough situation produced and desired by the movement such as it has become, and which momentarily abolishes the barriers between subjects. “We can’t make ourselves heard without violence” they say, but “violence” seems to have become the principal goal, since nothing is being demanded anymore.
On Dec. 1st this movement escaped those which started it, and those who were supposed to be mere extras have come to the forefront. If I say this movement at its present stage translates as the “real movement” it is because such as it now exists it bears all the contradictions of the class which propels it and finds itself in a situation where the impossibility of any bettering of our living under conditions under Capital has exploded and there is the realization of the unbearable nature of the situation. This impossibility, which creates what we are socially, and which totally defines us, is precisely that which impedes our existence; it is this which we have always qualified as a revolutionary situation and I think that something of this order took place on Dec. 1st. This statement bears nothing of a prediction.
Reply from Alerta Comunista:
The February 12th of 2012 was the peak of anti-austerity movement in Greece. In Athens this May was the biggest demonstration in Greece after the Regime Change, challenged in number of protestors only by the 1992 anti-Macedonian protest in Thessaloniki (it’s unclear which of the two had most protestors, the estimated numbers are very close). In February 12 of 2012 I saw anarchists with black&red flags mixed with nationalists with Greeks flags, fighting the cops together side-by-side on the same streets. In the « quiet » moments between the attacks of anti-riot police, I’ve heard nationalists with Greek flags talking about the need to form popular militias to defend the protestors from the cops (of course, no more riots took place after that day so, fortunately, those nationalist militias were never formed). In the whole period of 2010-2012 with the big anti-austerity protests, nearly no immigrant ever participated in them. The immigrants were preoccupied defending themselves from Golden Dawn and the cops and, of course, the knife-wielders of Golden Dawn attacking immigrants weren’t people with property and status, but mainly people « with nothing to lose », proletarians, defending their interests in the job market in times of increased unemployment (or, at least, that’s what they thought they were doing). The Indignados never cared about the immigrants, it was a movement of Greek citizens demanding from the Greek state to protect them from the tempest of the global market and the international crisis. The Athens’ riots of that period were never initiated by the Indignados of Syntagma square, who were only a part of the anti-austerity movement (and even many local square assemblies had very different character from the Syntagma square) not the whole movement. The big Athens’ riots were directly linked with the working-class protests, the general strikes of that period. I live in a neighbourhood with many immigrants, mainly from Albania, Pakistan and Bangladesh. In the local square assembly there was no participation by immigrants from Pakistan and Bangladesh, nor even Albanians (the Albanians, being in the country since the early 90s and with their children born and raised here are far more integrated in the Greek society and the Greek state than the two other nationalities). In the local square assembly there were no fascists: the neighborhood is generally dominated by left political parties and organisations. So, why the absence of immigrants? Because the political content had nothing to do with them. The content of the assembly was politicised, ie state-ified, it was concerning the politics of Greek state: out of EU, write-off Greece’s debt, no privatisation of public services (from which the majority of the immigrants, not being citizens, were de facto excluded), no selling Greek national property and national enterprises to foreign states or foreign private investors, etc. In contrast to December 2008, no immigrant participated in the riots of 2010-2012. The only immigrants ever to be found in the Indignados in Syntagma square and the riots of 2010-2012 were some immigrant small street vendors trying to make a living, selling Greek flags, bottles of water, sandwiches, ski masks and swimming goggles to the protestors.
What I’m trying to say, is that the nationalisation of a struggle isn’t just the result of the participation of the right-wing. And even when a riot or a movement or whatever don’t have a certain demand, it surely has a general content or character. The riot of February 12th of 2012 posed no demand, but its content or character was de facto national by the processes of the previous two years: it was the culmination of those social processes. The outcome of those processes was the cultivation of nationalism even in the « radical » political milieus, like the anarchists (here, even we are considered anarchists, because here « anarchists » are generally considered those who are anti-state and against mediations like parties, trade-unions, etc). One anarchist collective/organisation after the other (of course not all, but many) started embracing an anti-imperialist and leninist rhetoric, with some even publishing « programs » for the free Greek state and its economy after the « revolution ».
The national character of the struggle is not just given by a bunch of right-wing participators in it, and if they are ousted from the protests then everything will be okay. The problem isn’t so much the right-wing protestors themselves, but the fact that, as you write, there were « racist and white proletarians side by side ». Even if the middle-classes and the petit-bourgeois withdraw from the protests due to the violence of riots, that doesn’t mean that nationalism and populism have left with them, the issue isn’t so simple. The issue isn’t just the class composition of a movement, but its content. These two of course are connected, but it’s not a direct connection, it’s mediated.
In Marx in his Limits, Althusser wrote that « not communist ideas, but the general movement of the proletariat’s class struggle against the capitalists is paving the way, and will continue to pave the way, for communism, which is a ‘real movement’. The influence of ideas makes itself felt only under ideological and political conditions that express a given balance of class forces: it is this balance of forces, and its political and ideological effects, which determine the efficacy of ‘ideas’ in the ‘last instance’. » Looking the events outside of France, I assume that the ideas that are reaching here are the dominant ones, and these ideas express a certain balance of class forces. If these ideas are indeed the dominant ones, then I can only conclude that the balance of forces that they express aren’t in the favour of not just a revolution, but even in favour of something that could be called « progressive ». If these ideas are indeed the dominant ones, expressing a certain balance of class forces, then populism and nationalism have already won, like here, in Spain, in Italy, in Ukraine, in Britain, in USA. I can only hope that what information and ideas reach here from the whole « yellow-vests » are distorted, so that there is still hope there in the current period. And my biggest hope is that people from the banlieues are in riots again.