The yellow vest path to failure
Media reports suggest that yellow vest protests in France are petering out, numbers are smaller, demonstrations are fewer, the path of direct action has led nowhere. Perhaps thoughts of Christmas have assumed a priority, perhaps winter is not the best time to mobilise for radical change; perhaps the lack of a single focus, the absence of a coherent manifesto, and the disparate nature of the movement, have meant that there would only be one outcome.
Does direct action always lead to failure? Attending an Open University summer school at the University of Sussex in the summer of 1989, the final afternoon was a workshop on industrial relations. The case of the closure of the British Steel works at Shelton Bar was the background for a role play exercise. A group of us were cast as workers in the plant. The labour force was efficient, it was productive, and it was unable to do anything to save the plant and so save the jobs. Reading through the script of the role play, there was the realisation that there was nothing that those of us playing the workers could do; there was no form of words that could change the reality of the situation. When it came to our turn to speak, we set aside the script, climbed upon the desks and stood and declared that we were engaged in direct action and that the plant was henceforth under workers’ control. The lecturer smiled, “a nice try,” he said, “unfortunately direct action doesn’t work”.
He was right, of course. Like the yellow vest movement in France, every effort at direct action has always failed. Paris is the world’s leading city for direct action, the Paris Commune of 1871 was an attempt to bring revolutionary change to the city. Stand at the Communards Wall in Père Lachaise cemetery, and it is sobering to read of the thousands of ordinary people executed by the army for their support of the commune.
Direct action, whether by the yellow vests, or others, begs an answer to the question in Milan Kundera’s The Unbearable Lightness of Being, “Is it better to shout and thereby hasten the end, or to keep silent and gain thereby a slower death?”
People undoubtedly prefer the latter, standing up and shouting does not come readily. But would direct action not be the cathartic thing to do? Would it not be a statement, “I am a person; I am alive; I have rights; I have dignity?”
The yellow vest movement was born out of a deep alienation of working people; when the political establishment ignored them, taking to streets became the only way to shout.
Mmmm. France is making the mistake that the UK and the US made. It assumes the ire will go away because the people stopped wearing the gilet jaunes. But in reality this current president sits in the seat of Obama as being different enough that gives hope that the look will cause change. But of course it rarely does. So where in France will the disaffected go. And will the administrative class do like they’ve done in the USA and UK and bemoan the size of the franchise thinking they are the only people that vote.
To me the danger began about 2004 but really ramped up after the crash. Before the people could be calmed with the hope of riches via a house price rise. After, the very people being hit were those that were hit profoundly in the crash.
Those of us who stayed in Ireland in the years after the crash don’t truly understand the trauma that went through lower class Europe and the US.
I think the anger and frustration becomes something random and incoherent – people drift down a path of nihilism or arbitrary and unpredictable action – as in Strokestown
Strokestown was a shot across the bows. One that the FGers won’t be able to hear, as usual. And because of that they’ll be driving around to 3-day-events for 40 years.
As to France. LePen will draw all this to her and give it a voice.
According to reports those evicted in Strokestown had made no attempt to engage with the bank. The brutality of the eviction and the apparent “standing idly by” by the Gardai fed into a story of injustice. The attack on the security staff guarding the house may have been an attempt by dissident republicans to garner support – who called them out?
Macron was elected because he was not Le Pen. There was very little between the top four candidates in the first round of the French Presidential election; whichever “not LePen” candidate ran was going to be elected. Unfortunately, Macron has lived up to his past as a Harvard Educated Goldman Sachs staffer and has been acting, as the Gilets Jaunes and others have said “the President for the rich”. Unfortunately, unless he changes course dramatically, the French will probably have President Le Pen in a few years’ time.
Strokestown was an example of nasty mob rule – I have no doubt that the “security” personnel were men on minimum wages. If there was a legitimate protest, it could have been made without violence against working people, violence which may have included a racist element.
Ireland’s problem is that there is no coherent Left of centre movement to channel dissent in a positive way.