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Should we support the Gilets Jaunes?

Published in Theory on 16.12.2018


For some weeks now, a new protest movement has been making a name for itself. They wear yellow vests and cover the fifth republic with riots, violence and looting: The Gilets Jaunes. The Gilets Jaunes (French for Yellow Wests) are a loose protest movement made up of many different groups of the poor sections of French society, and are therefore not only very heterogeneous but cannot be clearly defined. Neither is it a particular type of worker - blue collar workers march together with white collar workers, migrants, feminists and other minorities are part of the movement. It cannot be divided into strata, milieus or layers (a concept of German sociology that should serve as a substitute for the concept of class for several decades). The lowest common denominator for describing this movement is that of the non-possessing class.1 In short, the Gilets Jaunes apparently bring about a form of class consciousness.

Since then, the European left has been divided: Should we support the movement as allies? From a class struggle perspective, the answer is quite clear: yes, of course. But on another level the answer is much more difficult - with the Gilets Jaunes numerous fascists, racists and anti-Semites march along. Furthermore, the Gilet Jaunes have so far refused any communication. A central committee is missing, as is the willingness to reach it communicatively by other means. The only form of communication that the yellow vests accept is that of violence. Almost 90,000 police officers are currently deployed in France to get the riots of the insurgents under control. And as if it weren't difficult enough to talk to the Gilets Jaunes, the movement also divides the left in Germany.

Bernd Riexinger (Die LINKE) tweeted not so long ago, the party executive decided unanimously to declare official solidarity with the Gilets Jaunes. Yet, a quite clear consensus emerged among all those who responded to this message: The yellow vests should not be supported. People outside the left-wing filter bubble mostly cited the violence of the yellow vests as an argument. But people within the left spectrum found another reason. As @LaVieVagabonde puts it:

Will ja die Party nicht kaputt machen, aber eine Bewegung, in der Rassisten und Antisemiten eine nicht geringe Rolle spielen? Die Bewegung ist doch total heterogen, da kann man doch nicht pauschal sagen JA NICE GEILE IDEE EINFACH 🤨2

(English: I don't want to crash the party, but a movement in which racists and anti-Semites play a not insignificant role? The movement is totally heterogeneous, so you can't say YEAH NICE IDEA)

Further:

Und gerade hierzulande tragen eben die Nazis die gelben Westen. Und sich dann hinstellen und von Solidarität reden? Uff, echt.3

(English: And in this country precisely the Nazis wear the yellow vests. And then stand up and talk about solidarity? Phew, real.)

This assessment, which is often reiterated in the social-medial hemisphere, is fairly clear, but suffers from two points: First, many people in Germany tend to adopt an all or nothing attitude towards social movements. Those in which fascists once tried to take control remain untouchable for numerous left-wing groups - even if the attempt was unsuccessful. Secondly, many completely different movements — the French Gilets Jaunes and the German Gelbwesten — are related to each other in order to delegitimize a whole group of movements for arbitrary reasons.

There is no white vest

The Association for the Design of History supports the Gilets Jaunes because it does not agree with these two points. Firstly, because no movement can only consist of morally impeccable people with white vests, and secondly, because the French Gilets Jaunes have absolutely nothing to do with the German yellow vests.

There are fascists, racists and anti-semites. It’s an undeniable fact. In France, partly due to historical developments, racism and xenophobia are more widespread than in Germany.4 Furthermore, it is statistically impossible to establish a mass movement in which there is no rightist thought. The problem here is not that rights also demonstrate. The problem here is that many people do not even want to let the movement grow out of fear of a right-wing takeover of the movement and refuse to support it. Of course, caution is also called for, as the left is currently too fragmented to ensure that the Gilets Jaunes do not deviate from a class-struggle course. Should fascist ideas ever have a major impact on the Gilets Jaunes, we will also have to redefine our position. But until then, we refuse to accept the all or nothing stance of many left-wing groups and proclaim: Support the Gilets Jaunes as a mass movement of a whole class!

In this point we align ourselves with the party executive of Die LINKE and declare our solidarity with the Gilets Jaunes.

We want to leave the ending of this statement to a protester of the Gilets Jaunes, who in an interview with the BBC precisely named his stance toward the fact that also right-wingers and anti-semitic forces march with the yellow vests:

It's not an idea that sits well with me. But it's the reality. I'm not at ease with it, but it's happening. The movement En Marche! is neither of the left or of the right. It's between the two. It's for the bosses. I think there is a battle between political parties which is playing out through the yellow vests movement. They don't understand the movement has gone beyond that.


  1. See also the fitting statement by the German journal Marxistische Erneuerung: http://www.zeitschrift-marxistische-erneuerung.de/article/3403.jupiter-in-not-der-aufstand-der-gelben-westen.html 

  2. https://twitter.com/LaVieVagabonde/status/1071466324034027521 

  3. https://twitter.com/LaVieVagabonde/status/1071467171325329408 

  4. See, for instance the OSCE study from September 2018, Xenophobia, Radicalism, and Hate Crime in Europe, p. 47 — https://www.osce.org/odihr/395336?download=true



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