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The calls for demonstrations and « blockades » on November 17 against the increase in fuel prices and future taxes on diesel quickly attracted a large audience among the population who are forced to use their vehicles in their daily lives. This audience was reflected in the success of the day (300,000 demonstrators in more than 1,500 demonstrations according to official figures, which obviously downplayed its size); although with significant regional differences, it was national in scope. The movement continued in the following days, although with fewer blockages and demonstrations, except in La Réunion island where riots took place; it spread to Belgium where there were clashes with the police at a Total oil site in Feluy.
The success of the movement has undoubtedly been facilitated by benevolent media coverage (unlike what happens in workers' movements); it has also been facilitated by the fact that it presents itself as coming from the bottom up and the expression of discontent of all « normal people » (as François Ruffin, MP left party France Insoumise says), outside the parties and trade unions. This mobilization has generated and is generating an undeniable echo among the proletarians, some of whom have participated in the actions, finding a way to express their anger in a more immediately demonstrative and effective way than with the peaceful demonstrations and movements directed and controlled from beginning to end by the unions – which regularly lead to defeat.
But it is not by chance that the Yellow Vests movement was promoted and supported by the far-right parties, the Rassemblement National [« National Gathering », ex National Front] of Marine Le Pen and Debout La France [« Rise Up France »] of Dupont-Aignan, although in the end the presence of these parties is marginal on the ground. A movement based on a demand affecting « everyone », it claims to be the expression of the « people », not only outside the parties and trade unions, but also above the classes. That is why it is not uncommon to see the national flag flying on the roadblocks, to hear the nationl anthem (La Marseillaise) sung by the demonstrators or to see them calling on the police to join them. Such an interclassist protest movement, initially initiated by small bosses, does not arouse media hostility and inevitably attracts the forces of the extreme right; even when it displays virulent opposition to government policy and large capitalist companies (oil trusts, etc.), it can only have a bourgeois orientation. The proletarians who participate in the movement do so only on an individual basis; not being organized on an independent basis, they cannot defend their specific interests of exploited workers – that is, struggle against capitalist exploitation: they find themselves drowned in a common struggle with small bosses, shopkeepers, artisans, professionals, etc., who, of course, defend capitalism obstinately !
As might be expected, the collaborationist trade union organizations reacted to the movement as zealous defenders of the established order. They condemned the Yellow Vests, not in the name of class independence (!), but because they do not respect the good ways of class collaboration, because they are « totalitarian » (Laurent Berger, CFDT union). Faced with workers' dissatisfaction, the trade union centres only propose the « opening of negotiations on wages » (CGT union communiqué), in short the continuation of the policy of class collaboration, which in practice translates into the splitting of struggles and mobilizations: refinery strike on November 22, nurses on November 23, unemployed people's march on December 1, and so forth.
But the success of the Yellow Vests led the parties of the left and the « extreme » left to rally more or less openly and clearly to the movement, in order not to let the right occupy a terrain where there may be voters to be won: the PS [Socialist Party] assured that it would be « alongside the French people» on the 17th, as would the PCF [French Communist Party], not to mention Melenchon's France Insoumise [« Unbowed France »].
The « extreme » opportunist left was not left out. The NPA [New Anti-capitalist Party], after condemning the movement by aligning itself with the CGT and SUD unions, joined in the end. Lutte Ouvrière [Workers Struggle] had similarly called in an editorial of its weekly newspaper of November 15th not to abandon the movement to the extreme right: nothing unusual for a party always concerned about the « little people »... All carefully ignore the central point for the defense of proletarian interests: class independence.
An interclassist struggle, where the proletarians are inevitably subject to the interests of other classes, may well succeed; it may well succeed in thousands of occasional blockages, but it will never be able to block capitalism. Only the independent class struggle, the struggle for the class interests of the proletarians can achieve this; indeed, it is the proletarians who alone have the potential strength to defeat capitalism because it lives only on their exploitation. To fight against this exploitation is to fight against capitalism, to put an end to it, to put an end to capitalism!
By waging a struggle on this basis, including inevitably partial and limited fights at first, the proletarians have the capacity to push back the capitalists and their state. For this reason, they must not allow themselves to be drowned in interclassist rallies where their class strength is diluted. They must organize themselves on a class basis for the struggles of daily resistance against the bosses' attacks, not only against taxes, but specifically for the defence of their wages and living and working conditions; they must also organize themselves on the political level for the more general, anti-capitalist and revolutionary struggle. Unlike the petty bourgeois who boast of refusing any party or union organization, they must remember that, as the Communist Manifesto said, their struggle implies the organization of the proletarians into a class and, consequently, into a party.
Then, when this organization takes root, it will be possible to drag the petty bourgeois layers, or part of them, into the fight against capitalism, instead of being dragged along with them towards an outcome that can only be anti-proletarian (1).
The scale of the Yellow Vests movement is an indicator of the social tensions at work and also heralds future social storms. In the period ahead, the proletarians will be pushed into a struggle to react to the redoubled blows of capitalism: they will have to do so on their own terms and on their own account to not be defeated once again.
For independent class struggle and organization!
For the reconstitution of the internationalist and international class party!
For the resumption of the revolutionary anti-capitalist struggle!
(1) See the collaboration of the Yellow Vests with the police to arrest migrants during a roadblock in the Somme on November 19.
International Communist Party
June, 24th 2018
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