Have the Gilets Jaunes Also Become Our Friends?

In the midst of the “Gilets Jaunes” movement these last two weeks, riots erupted, in Paris, but not only, and various acts of sabotage have taken place. Since then, a certain number of anarchists have raised the question of intervention within this movement, in the same way that they have always intervened in other social movements.

However, while intervention usually seems self-evident, it does not seem trivial this is not so much the case and that the issue is being debated. It’s a sign that something is wrong.

The Gilets Jaunes began as a movement more or less Poujadiste based on cancelling the rise in taxes, etc.. Since then, the list of demands has lengthened and it has to be noted that they mainly pay for populism (one of the demands is “that the unsuccessful asylum seekers be sent back to their country of origin”). For a movement that claims to be apolitical, a good part of its claims is rather very right.

The movement is intrinsically reactionary and it is not for nothing if during the various blockades and, even more obviously, during the riots, we could hear the Marseillaise, see nationalist flags, Gaullists, royalists, and other Phrygian caps. In the same way, the political colour of certain “famous” supporters from the very first hours (Le Pen, Dupont-Aignan, Wauquiez, Dieudonné, etc.) does not seem to us to be trivial.

If one could be tempted to look at the revolutionary and insurrectionary movements of the past to venture into comparisons with what is happening now, one must not forget that in the meantime the world has changed. This is a population stuffed with disgusting ideas and “fake news” that is now in the street. All this creates a climate where, among other things, nationalism, racism, (hetero-cis) sexism and conspiracy are never far away. These forms of domination can also be present in social movements (and even in our milieus), but here they are much more present and in an assumed way.

Therefore in the context of the question that arises about the anarchist intervention in this movement, we are already wondering (since some have begun to intervene) why we should accept the Gilets Jaunes brand. Why accept and endorse the “basic” claims (tax increases, etc.), and above all, why relay the symbolism?

If anarchists wear the yellow vest during the riots, this raises the question, do they do it in a spirit of manipulation, to blend into the mass and make believe that they are integrated with the rest of the Gilets Jaunes?

The unity materialised by the fact that everyone wears this vest makes us uncomfortable: once again, as an incessant reproduction of the world that we hate, individualities are erased. The specificities and uniqueness of each individual are erased by a uniform that would make believe that the aspirations of everyone are equal. This standardization has, in addition, a symbolic value, and not practical as can be seen in the anarchist “culture” of the riot where it serves to anonymise to avoid repression.

The symbolism of the “yellow vest” is not trivial. It refers to the obligation dating from a few years back to have a yellow vest and a warning triangle in one’s vehicle, which had already caused the discontent of the average driver. At that time, he was no more concerned about social struggles than today. His demands were only immediate, without social thought behind, without envy of another world, without hatred of the current. The same is true today with the rattle of purchasing power. What the “yellow vests” want is not a break but, on the contrary, to continue to perpetuate this world, to be able to continue to participate. How can this be interesting?

For many people participating in this movement, this is their first “mobilisation”. Where were they in 2006, 2010, 2016, to pick up only the biggest social movements of recent years? This is not to say that because they did not participate in these social movements (even despised them), we should not participate in their movement, but rather to realise that our perspectives differ. from what they seem to aspire. Just as the prospects emanating from the “Day of Wrath” [1] prevented us from intervening, we see no reason for the prospects of this movement to incite us to act on it.

And if this movement had been based on more social questions, these individuals (the Gilets Jaunes) would they have taken the initiative to join such a movement? It’s doubtful, without being certain, given the gap between their demands and those of a social movement. One could argue that there are not only right-wingers in this movement. This is obviously not the case, but it is clear that the ideas at least on the left are not in the majority. This creates an extremely confusing climate that is conducive to spreading far-right ideas.

Thus, it is difficult to understand how this slump could lead to anything other than a state that is more coercive, excluding and where identities (national but not only) would be reinforced.

One of the anarchist principles is that means must correspond to ends. It seems problematic to us when anarchists riot alongside reactionaries (whether they make themselves visible as part of far-right movements, or whether they are mere “lambda people”), that this question is evaded. And if we consider that everything is better than the existing one, then why not support initiatives like those of ITS [2] or ETA [3]?

For some anarchists intervening in this movement, one has the impression of attending the eternal race on the revolutionary or insurrectional subject, the one that calls it “proletariat”, an inhabitant of popular districts, “raci”, even “people”.

A question that arises is “What can this lead to? It is unlikely that this will lead to a revolution or an insurrection whose foundations would satisfy us. Thus, there are not many possible outcomes: either a new government manages to take power, and we can bet that it would have, at a minimum, nothing to envy the previous one, a total or partial satisfaction demands. Given their content, do the anarchists who wish to intervene truly want to be those who, through their actions, would potentially favour “that the unsuccessful asylum seekers be sent back to their country of origin”?

And in this context of tension and action, can our ultra-minority speech be heard and understood? Is a moment of conflict a moment when one can really have an influence on global thinking? Moreover, the majority of people who participate in this movement do not frequent our communication channels and share a political/philosophical culture that is close to zero, or the opposite of ours.

Some people say we would have a common enemy, and that would justify unity. Is this really the case? Our enemy is not only Macron, just as he was not only Holland nor Sarkozy, nor is he just Rothschild or any multinational CEO. Among our enemies are the state, capitalism and any form of political regime. In the same way, to converge towards the centres of power at a time when it is much more diffuse seemed to us to have little sense.

The prefectures and the Élysée are more symbols, and to concentrate only on these points, it is on the one hand not to see the capacities of adaptation of the power (it does not need particular buildings to continue taking decisions). On the other hand, it is having a very superficial analysis of what power is and ignoring the fact that it is not limited to a few institutions. Even going to work, accepting to submit to a leader, is obeying a power, and the Gilets Jaunes movement does not massively question that. Their criticism focuses mainly on taxes without an ounce of criticism against employers, work or even, at least, the number of hours worked compared to wages earned.

How can one justify, fighting alongside people who are usually the targets of our critics, whether they are neo-fascists, small bosses, or even the person who compares his situation to that of a hard worker who has nothing left at the end of the month, with these “RSA assistants who are paid for everything”, or who castigates immigrants and a government that is far too lax?

There is also a comparison between anarchist intervention in the current movement and the same, much more usual, intervention in social movements. We could be accused of hypocrisy accepting the second and rejecting the first because we are supposed to be both against the left and against the right.

Let’s clear things up: We want a chaotic situation. But in a situation of chaos, there is always a part of the population that wants a return to calm. In the first case, the extreme right is the one that most desires a return to calm. Here, the extreme right (or part of it at least) wants the extension of chaos. But it only wants chaos to be the one that will eventually bring order. And if that happens, we will be extremely isolated to be able to fight against this extreme right that will have gained strength.

Anyway, anarchists want chaos in a perspective of denial of power, which is not the case for the vast majority of other components of the movement, which want the perpetuation of power.

And let’s face it: how many anarchists first had leftist aspirations before having real anarchist perspectives? And even among the current anarchists, how many claim to be attached to the left? If we have no problem in asserting that anarchism as we understand it is beyond the left and the right (and not “beyond the left-right divide” which is often a neofascist sexbags), and thus beyond politics, it remains historically and in the individual journey closer to the left than to the right.

It is all well and good to rave about the sabotage actions that can be seen at this moment. For us, the act and the thought must correspond and a bank stuck in a movement which believes that all the bankers are “Jews” or “Zionists” does not have the same echo in our eyes as the same bank stuck in a hate of a world based on money. One can observe the problem from another angle: Among the people who today applaud the setting on far of the URSSAF, how many applaud acts of sabotage perpetrated the rest of the time?

If this movement is indeed rotten, we can certainly learn some lessons about our ways of acting. We have seen in previous riots actions scattered and diffuse, so more uncontrollable. On the contrary, “our” riots tend to be coherent blocks moving from point A to point B, in a path strewn with sabotage. This strategy seems out of breath today and well known to law enforcement agencies. This movement can also be interesting in that it was built outside the trade unions (although the reasons for this refusal have nothing to do with ours) and that it still seems to refuse any representation today. (Again, it is nuanced since spokespersons have emerged.)

Nevertheless, if it can be defeatist, it is probably better to have no illusions about any “happy” outing than to put so much energy into something that does not correspond to our interests. These are not in the claims for a cheaper life. What we want (and we can not ask any leader) is a life, not pay. We do not want to be part of a world where you have to work to live, to be able to be someone. Our interests are not found in any resignation (or “dismissal” as the neo-Blanquists like to say) but in the destruction of power. We were enemies of the previous governments, and we will continue to be for the next ones, whatever its colours.

On the one hand, we think that waiting for objective and subjective conditions for a revolution or an insurrection is illusory, especially in a context where the reaction seems to be coming back. On the other hand, refusing to wait for these conditions and acting with people who have reactionary ideas at heart is problematic. We reject this false dilemma. We do not want to wait for the right moment to act, but we find it absurd to be where reactionaries are.

Anarchists do not need this movement to act. Hatred against this world can materialise at any time. Today, in ten days, in two years, always.

Individuals, not clothes.

– Anne



[1] Day of politically confused demonstration that took place on January 26, 2014 in Paris. The Wikipedia article says something interesting: “In its review of the event, Le Monde, in collaboration with Agence France-Presse, notes that” the parade is very heterogeneous: Catholics, “hommens”, cross-border workers with Switzerland and protesters against the “equitax” alongside flags of La Manif for all and anti-tax slogans, but also, more marginal, ultra-nationalists or admirers of humorist Dieudonné […]. Some anti-Semitic acts and homophobic slogans were heard and some clashes took place on the way to the demonstration.”

[2] Individualities tending to the wild: A misanthropic tendency of the illuminated who practice the indiscriminate attack guided by a reactionary anti-civilizational thought that has been strongly criticised by anarchists in recent months. They are mainly present in Central and South America.

[3] Euskadi Ta Askatasuna, the Basque independentist armed organisation.

Article courtesy of Indymedia Nantes. Photograph courtesy of Night Flight to Venus. Published under a Creative Commons license.