By Yücel Özdemir
Originally published in Evrensel (12/07/2018)
Not only in France, but in all Europe, those who stand in the vanguard of the urgent demands of the masses will continue to gain in strength.
The attention of the whole world has justifiably been grabbed by the struggle over various social problems, not least the taxes it is wished to impose on fuel as of 1 January, being waged by the hundreds of thousands of people in France who for three weeks in a row have donned yellow vests every Saturday.
In the end, President Emmanuel Macron, seeing that quelling the upswell of social anger would not be easily achievable, announced that he had postponed the hikes. He did not stop at this, and also consented to raise the minimum wage, included among the protestors’ demands, and went on to grant a three per cent increase.
We will see tomorrow just how effective these hastily taken decisions have been in quelling the “Yellow Vests” movement. For, the spokespersons who are calling for a protest on social media are aware that the intention behind this step taken by Macron is to give a few crumbs and gain time.
Liberation newspaper shares the same view: “Ten days ago the measures now announced would have stopped the protests. But social movements change the people who take part in them. In the past, they often faced their difficulties alone, trapped in a feeling of abandonment and humiliation. Now they’ve had a taste of the euphoria of collective action, the comfort of solidarity and mutual recognition, the rare pleasure of massive media attention and the pride of finally playing a role in national politics. It’s difficult to end such a beautiful moment – because whatever else happens it will remain one of the best memories of their lives. . . The presumptuous arrogance of those in power has opened Pandora’s box.” (eurotopics.net)
For Macron, who is trying with all his might to appear as Europe’s young and strong leader, to kneel at the outset before the “Yellow Vests” is portentous. It has come as a huge morale booster among the wide masses who took to the streets, and those who did not. It has fostered a sense of victory. But this does not mean everything, because Macron has not yet fully abandoned his plan.
But social opposition does not appear likely to subdue that easily. Interclass contradictions have continued to deepen in the Macron period. It is ever more apparent that the fate of the millions hangs on the word of an elite group. Nadia Pantel, who has been covering the Yellow Vests protests for Süddeutsche Zeitung since their outset, points to the following: “The dynamic that has emerged in the past three weeks has carried the anger of years into the streets. What is happening has to do, not with specific policies, but the country’s structure in general. The feeling is developing that an elite group in Paris is deciding the fate of millions of people without speaking to them. In fact, in this regard, the crisis of the French elites is far deeper than Germany’s. Macron has not changed this.” (05.12.2018)
As such, there is a significant breaking away from the established order and its parties. This was clearly apparent in the elections held last year. The two major parties of the system, the conservative Republicans and the Socialist Party, suffered a severe blow. In their place, unjaded Macron became the hope. However, the pent-up social problems and anger show that this hope has soon evaporated.
Under such circumstances, the broad masses naturally enough give vent to their demands and anger on finding suitable conditions. It is wide of the truth to connect the Yellow Vests movement with nationalism and Le Pen and make analyses on this basis. Observations of this nature are in short supply at least in the German press, because fundamental social problems prevail in the 42-point manifesto that was published; points such as treating refugees with humanity and paying immigrants equal wages illustrate this. Accusations of “vandalism” and “racism” have been consciously made by the Macron administration and the capitalist press to marginalize the movement. A process is underway whereby all those dissatisfied with Macron’s policies have come into the street. The left movements in Germany, Belgium and Spain have supported the Yellow Vests.
Viewed as a whole, increasing class contradictions have stamped their mark on the protests. Throughout Europe and not just in France, neo-nationalist-left movements that prioritize social justice, equality, nationalisation and national protectionism are intent on filling the political space vacated by traditional social democratic parties. With the representative of this current in France, Jean-Luc Mélenchon, having come third with the high vote of nineteen per cent in the last presidential elections, this already portends that he is the candidate most likely to make it through to the second round in the next elections.
A similar movement is now being fermented in Germany, named “Aufstehen” (Stand Up). It is far from a remote possibility that the broad masses who have given up hope on the system parties of long years but are not racist will assemble in such movements that prioritize social problems.
In short, with one thrust of the Yellow Vests movement representing an outburst of rage, another of its thrusts is pushing ajar the door into a new political movement. Not only in France, but in all European countries, those who stand in the vanguard of the urgent economic and democratic demands of the masses will continue to gain in strength. France may pioneer this quest, too, as it has in the past. It is clear that millions of working people are not condemned to the racists and established system parties. Conditions in Europe have made the appearance of a new choice apart from this duo all but indispensable. Struggle that attains results will for sure fortify more progressive options.
Let nobody have any doubt about this.
Translated by Tim Drayton