The Gilles-Jaunes are a potent symbol. America is missing out.
Since every car in France requires one- they are artifacts of the state’s commitment to public safety. Plus, they’re work uniforms, everywhere. Here a proliferating number wear them at Amazon (as veneer for its horrid OSHA rating).
When they gather, their name and look remind us of hornets protecting their nest. Which is poetic, since (in part) a tax on fuel -to combat global warming- spurned them. -Unlike the productive honey-bees, who are in decline, yellow-jackets are one of few creatures expected to grow in number as Earth warms and dries.
I hope they migrate here.
Also, they’re a bit more than three weeks in the making…
Last year, on the centennial of WWI, Macron likened its causes to Trump’s current nationalism. In retort, Trump called France the most nationalist country in the world. Both were in form. Macron playing world-healer, and Trump playing fool, as if Macron planned to govern France as a nation, and not as a hand-out to the rich, like Trump governs the US.
Prior, Macron’s show of force made Trump swoon. – I mean the parade. I doubt Trump speaks to his wife or therapist, so only he knows how their handshake made him feel. (I digress.)
It bears repeating (Marx, Weber, Anderson, etc.), ‘nationalism’ was the product of two revolutions. One to end absolute-monarchy, and a second to stop the masses (who did the all work) short of victory and seat an interloping capitalist, ruling-class. They had to negotiate in the interim, but neoliberalism was supposed to mark the capitalists’ unencumbered win.
Trump and Macron still tussle over what ‘absolute-capitalism’ should look like. But that doesn’t make them enemies. Both softened labor protections and cut taxes on extreme wealth. Both reduced housing subsidies for the poor. Both have pushed through dubious anti-terror measures. One had a parade and one’s begging for one.
All that has pushed some bad-hombres onto the streets. (Though in Trump’s case most are hallucinations.) Now both are dissatisfied with the crowd-control they get from constitutional law.
In January Macron signed an executive order, barring individuals who pose a ‘serious threat’ from attending protests. Pose, if their names surface in ‘special police file’ of suspected, but not necessarily convicted, of violent acts, on which prefects, not judges, decide.
In Macron’s best Trump-speak: “We are attached to constitutional rights, but we’ve got people who through all means quite simply want to make a wreck of the republic.”
That would make sense, if the rioters had said it to him.
More recently, when someone -with no obvious ties to the movement- tried to burn the home of National Assembly leader, Richard Ferrand, Macron proclaimed: ‘nothing justifies intimidations and violence towards an elected official of the Republic.’
That of course contradicts Republican doctrine. ‘Insurrection is the exclusive right of citizens,’ in the words of the Jacobin, Saint-Just, from whom I stole the title. However, the title is by a character version from Jean Luc Goddard’s Weekend. ‘From French Revolutions to Gaullist weekends, freedom is violence,’ to complete his thought.
In Weekend, driving south from Paris, a decadent, bourgeoise couple, the antithesis of virtue- sees (but doesn’t acknowledge) their world dying in a mile-long traffic jam and a series of car wrecks caused by a stalled (American) oil truck. Beyond it a continuing French Revolution strips them of their affectations at the hands of guerillas reminiscent of the Sans-culottes. It’s an image from 1967, a fantasy about the student riots about to upend Paris.
We’re still fantasizing. Even esteemed journalist Natalie Nougayrède’ claimed, ‘We must back Macron because riots in France could destabilize all of Europe’ (which plays to both sides, evoking both the student riots and Brown-Shirts). But barring that most Gilles-Jaunes are workers from the hinterland, the Sans-culottes -the politicized artisans and urban poor of the Revolution- are a better mold.
Yellow vests speak to the neoliberal era as caps and long pants did the Liberal Revolution. Louis XVI wore the Sans-culottes token Phrygian cap when he moved from Versailles to Paris though he left it -along with a note condemning the Republic and welcoming an invasion- when he skipped town. Macron, in essence, donned one (and for as long) on his ‘grand debates’ tour.
Later, when Louis was beheaded, Saint-Just remarked ‘One does not make revolutions by halves.’
A statement worthy of Macron. Because the bourgeoise (Jacobins) relied on the Sans-culottes for street protests, to disrupt court, and -broadly- as a specter of violence first to empower, then to legitimize tightening bourgeoise rule. But there was a price wall to them becoming Jacobins. And later Robespierre barred them from most assemblies, and he and Saint-Just beheaded their agitators, Hebert and Babeuf. -A revolution by haves, if you punch down.
In Weekend, Godard makes the Revolution whole, when toward the end of the film his Sans-culottes kill a pig in Thermador, the 11th month of the Revolutionary calendar, when Robespierre and Saint-Just were, themselves beheaded. But a half-revolution remains both the theme of the film and the fact in France, and hence, the source of the Gilles-Jaunes.
As Marx explained, workers are social products. They only occur once capital dictates social relations -once persons have no other means of survival than to sell their labor, and the boss doesn’t want to house them as slaves. Then they become ‘human capital’. Human capital regenerates the workforce, assuring that its skillful within set boundaries, and inculcated with a ‘common-sense’ that normalizes the hierarchy and extreme waste of an extractive economy. In theory, making us all biological capitalists.
If so, nurturing human capital increases human value. But Marx exposed that as fiction, considering the only way to collect is to accept the dehumanization of wage labor, which means handing most of that added value to your boss.
Were the Sans-culottes workers? In effect, the Sans-culottes were being proletarianized by the Revolution. Jacobin France even had something akin to factory time. Besides universal conscription, workers were organized en masse to harvest nitrate to make gunpowder. Military life was organized for the social production of the Republic. And from there, civilian life.
The very idea of the worker never surfaced until we could outproduce ourselves and one of us could make a profit. Increasingly, this meant investing in fuel and its outputs. Such large investments required full-spectrum security, including the guarantee of cheap labor. Thus, the rise of the fuel economy is all but coterminous with the rise of state power.
We can draw a parallel between the coercion it took to change carbon into an economy and ‘Peasants into Frenchmen’. So, it makes sense that now carbon-fuel has brought what it means to be a Frenchmen to a head.
During the capitalist-republic’s victory rounds, increased consumption was as needed a virtue as increased production, and the state was there to facilitate a balance of the two. Undeniably, from here on, both must pivot toward preserving our habitat, and the onus is on governments to decide how.
‘I’d prefer to tax fuel than work,’ Macron said. ‘Those who complain about higher fuel prices also demand action against air pollution because their children get sick.’ He omits the fact that a) work taxes are usually a percent of income, where fuel taxes are flat. And b) the larger picture is the lack of incomes, sufficient to pay for healthcare.
The yellow vests remind us, Marx’ critique reads two ways. Just as human capital doesn’t remove us from the tyranny of capitalism, capital doesn’t loosen its hold when it discards us. Rich-owned industries, not, their workers, consume 90% of non-renewables and produce the bulk of emissions. Moreover, capitalists and aligned politicians set terms, decide where to build, what and what not to promote, subsidize, or produce to begin with. Charging workers more taxes than their vastly more-pollutant bosses, is an affront to Republican virtue. But it upholds Marxian class-relations.
By bourgeoise measures, the Revolution was a complete success. Since, to read the press, the tragedy is that with neoliberalism, capitalism has ceased to lift the poor into the middle-class, not that it has made being poor unlivable. But that’s not neoliberalism’s only misread tragedy.
Back to Weekend. An earlier scene in Paris, titled ‘the class-war’ depicts a scuffle between neighbors over a scratched-car (notably a Dauphine). It’s a scuffle between modern and traditional bourgeoises over property -as banal as the scuffle between Macron and Trump. There, ‘The Revolution has grown cold; all its principles are weakened; there remains only red caps worn by intriguers. The exercise of terror has made crime blasé, as strong liquors made the palace (i.e., the monarchy) blasé.’, to again quote the real Saint-Just.
Even for the bourgeoise, the Revolution has stalled. Lest we forget, capitalists don’t make anything, they just reissue other-peoples’ labor. If ‘neoliberalism’ means a shift away from industry toward financialism, that doesn’t leave us much. -A later scene illustrates just how much, when the two are carjacked by a man who claims he was born from the anus of Alexander Dumas. That is; out the back-side of the Revolution. (It’s a layered film.)
Carjacker: ‘What is your name?’
Passenger: Corinne Durand
Carjacker: ‘No, that’s your husband’s (driver’s) name.’
Passenger: Oh, Corinne Dumont
Carjacker: ‘No, that’s your father’s name.’
Carjacker: ‘See, you don’t even know who you are.
For its part, Capitalism refuses to do the revolution by haves. That is, everything, including the Republic, including the self, dissolves under capital.
Ergo, the Gilles-Jaunes have it right. Like revolution, nationalism should a process, not an end. Hence, spike their fuel taxes and they’re ready to write their 5th constitution. We on the other hand pride ourselves on a constitution that’s kept the hierarchy safe for over ten generations, allowing Trump his king-sized tantrums.
-And tyrannies like Amazon to rule our free-press. We don’t get the Gilles-Jaunes, but we might look there, as to why our papers ignore them.
Virtually every city in America just handed Amazon their building plans free of charge, telling where exactly to build their centers, drive their trucks, waste gas, and recruit and discard adjunct labor. With it they’re remaking the exact crisis that begins the Communist Manifesto. (And mise-en-scene of the French Revolution.)
So far, we have an army of union-deprived Yellow-vests hard at work for Amazon. It certainly won’t be our -literally- Amazon-owned free-press, but someone needs to stir that hornets’ nets.