The Yellow Vests of France: Separating Fact From Fiction

The so-called Yellow Vest protests in France are about to enter their fourth week as the group’s decentralised leadership rejected a compromise from the government to suspend an increase in the fuel tax for six months. The anti-tax protesters are clearly looking for a long term commitment from the government not to increase a regressive tax at any time in the foreseeable future and it would appear that much of the nation agrees. But beyond this, the Yellow Vests have called for President Emmanuel Macron’s resignation while the movement has grown from an anti-fuel tax pressure group to a fully fledged street uprising. Yet in spite of the dramatic images of the Yellow Vest protests deriving from multiple French cities and the possibly dramatic consequences of France’s biggest protests since the May events of 1968, it is important to separate fact from fiction when discussing the Yellow Vests, their methods, their motives and their political implications.

Comparisons to Palestine are insulting 

Many of the Yellow Vest’s supporters on social media have taken to comparing the group to other national resistance movements throughout the world including the Palestinian resistance. While some of these comparisons may be well meaning, they are ultimately an insult to Palestinians.

The fact remains that while Palestine is a country being occupied by the region’s only nuclear military power and while thousands of Palestinians have died in recent years after being slaughtered by Israeli forces during largely unarmed demonstrations against occupation, France is one of the world’s wealthiest nations and is a fully fledged welfare state. While it can be alleged with verisimilitude that President Macron’s policies are making France a poorer and less peaceful place for the common citizen, this does not mean that anyone in France has it as bad as the Palestinians resisting occupation in the open air prison that the world knows as Gaza.

The differences are great and any similarities are too superficial to merit mentioning.

Comparisons to Kiev’s Maidan are idiotic 

In 2014, after it became clear that the corrupt and indecisive though fully legally and democratically elected Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych was not going to sign up to an association agreement with the European Union, the United States and its EU allies literally poured money and other accoutrements into the pockets and hands of far-right Ukrainian ultra-nationalists who engaged in an organised and blood-soaked coup against the legitimate government. The coup itself was largely orchestrated by foreign forces who later gloated in helping foment the putsch.

Thus far, unlike in Ukraine in 2014, there has been no evidence as to whether any foreign power is behind the Yellow Vests in Paris, while no foreign politicians or officials have come to Paris to encourage the protests. At the moment it therefore appears that there is not any foreign hand behind the Yellow Vests and furthermore, the French government which has a history of being trigger happy when accusing Russia in particular of meddling in foreign states, has thus far not blamed Russia nor any other foreign state for funding or encouraging the Yellow Vests.

The Yellow Vests are not united behind Marine Le Pen 

When the Yellow Vest protests started, some French officials tried to dismiss them as individuals rallied into action by right wing opposition leader Marine Le Pen. While Le Pen is naturally trying to politically benefit from the unpopularity of her main political rival (as most people in her position would try to do), the protesters seem to be drawn from multiple walks of life including the right, the left, the normally non-party political and crucially, images of white, Arabic and black looking French citizens have all been photographed taking part in the activities surrounding the Yellow Vest protests. While their colour is Yellow, the protesters do seem at this stage in time to be a kind of socio-economic rainbow coalition.

Some of the protests are violent and some are peaceful 

The Yellow Vest protests were highly provocative from the beginning and have since often turned violent with cars, businesses and even homes being torched and vandalised. Since the group does not have a centralised leadership (although this may change rapidly), the entire movement cannot be blamed for the violence but nor can the movement be described as totally peaceful.

The reality is that France has a history of violent protests dating back to at least 1789. Recent events however have been particularly shocking as not since 1968 was so much of France agitated in such a prominent fashion.

Macron’s economic failures are real 

In spite of France’s overall wealth as a nation, many citizens are angry about the phenomenon of so-called trickle up economics that is prominent in many neo-liberal systems. As the prices of goods continues to rise while taxation increases and public services as well as working people’s rights and benefits get cut, the protesters do in fact speak for a substantial segment of the French population who feel that they are being ripped off while the wealthy maintain lavish lifestyles.

Donald Trump relishes at the opportunity to have a dig at post-“bromance” Macron 

When world leaders gathered in Paris to commemorate the end of the First World War on 11 November, President Macron turned his speech into a bizarre campaign style tub-thumbing rallying cry against the policies of Donald Trump. This clearly annoyed the US President who has now relished the opportunity to ridicule Macron’s own policies via Twitter. Just as Macron could not resist having a dig at Trump on the 11th, Trump did not hold back when earlier today he Tweeted the following about Macron.

Some French police and emergency workers have joined the protests, but not all

Dramatic images of riot police removing their helmets in solidarity with the protesters as well as strikes and pro-Yellow Vest demonstrations by ambulance workers and fire fighters have given rise to a theory that like in Petrograd in 1917, the authorities have joined the demonstrators.

In actual fact, not all Russian soldiers and law enforcement joined the Bolsheviks in October of 1917 and likewise, thus far, only a minority of police and emergency service workers have joined the Yellow Vests in demonstrations of solidarity. The moves among police and emergency workers to show solidarity are in fact significant but they should nevertheless be contextualised.

The western corporate and state owned media is being as hypocritical as ever 

‘A riot at home is a revolution abroad’ and clearly the western corporate and state owned media are playing their part in respect of trying to minimise the political angle of the Yellow Vest protests. By underplaying the significance of the French protests while elevating the status of minor protests in Asia, Africa and Latin America to the level of a “legitimate revolution”, the corporate and state owned media of the west is showing its true collective racist and neo-imperial colours (with few exceptions) in plain sight.

The alt-media is being as hypocritical as ever

Inversely, while the hypocrisy of the mainstream media invites satirical calls from alt-media commentators for countries generally opposed to western neo-imperialism to send money, aid and troops to help the “French Revolution of 2018”, the frightening reality is that some such commentators seem to be taking the sarcasm literally.

If one does not believe that leaders as different as Viktor Yanukovych, Eduard Shevardnadze, Muammar Gaddafi, Salvador Allende, Mohammad Mosaddegh or Saddam Hussein should be overthrown in an illegal or violent manner, than why should Macron be any different? Supporting lawful behaviour and peace has nothing to do with whether you like any given leader’s set of policies…unless of course you are a stark raving hypocrite.

Fake news has already destroyed some people’s credibility 

Some journalists and activists have begun sharing photos of French police and/or army snipers perched on buildings above the protesters. These photos have yet to be verified by any credible source and thus, people should not rush to judgement about their authenticity. Again, there is a great deal of hypocrisy at play when the same people who did not believe the fake news coming from pro-western sources in Kiev in the year 2014 seem all too happy to engage in the same style of sensationalism regarding Paris, simply because they do not like Emmanuel Macon. This is childish and it is in the words of Donald Trump “very fake news”.

That being said, if people want to destroy their own credibility they should not be censored. Such things would be the equivalent to “treating dandruff with decapitation” in the words of Frank Zappa who himself was incidentally no fan of France.

Conclusion 

Given the level of anger among the Yellow Vests, it does not appear as though the protests will ebb anytime soon. That being said, they have already accomplished one thing: they have demonstrated that those who shriek the most about objectivity in journalism are typically the first to expose themselves as utter partisans. This goes for CNN and the BBC as much as the self-funded social media activists.

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