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Yellow-vest protests in France- An extraordinary political school

Yellow Vest Protests / ABS-CBN News

Note from LeftEast Editors: We publish this interview conducted by Maria Cernat in collaboration with where it originally appeared.

Hello, Professor Drweski. My name is Maria Cernat. I am a feminist, an academic and a journalist writing for I am a lecturer at the Communication Sciences and International Relations Department, Titu Maiorescu University. I was very curious, and I am sure our readers are too, about the situation in France. I have a few questions that I hope you could answer for our readers.

How would you describe the current protests taking place in France from an ideological point of view? Are they an expression of a class struggle?

Objectively, it is certainly a class struggle since it is a protest of people from the working class and lower middle classes against inequality and the leading elites. But it started mainly in the peripheral regions of France, which have been marginalized by almost thirty years of neo-liberal and European Union policies. Though according to the polls this protest is supported by 70% to 80% of the French population, its core is concentrated around what we can call the depoliticized petite-bourgeoisie, which makes it sometimes appear “classless”. Large cities and their suburbs are less active in this movement than peripheral regions, and workers in local industries are more active than the ones from large industries. It is still a quite spontaneous movement, but nevertheless a class movement.

Some political analysts fear that the neoliberal measures taken by Macron will pave the way for Le Pen. Do you agree?

This was for years the strategy of leading classes, to push dissatisfied social groups and classes toward Le Pen, who does not criticize dominant system. But this does not work very well any more, since Le Pen has always been unclear with regard to protests concerning concrete social issues. And the main source of discontent is now obviously linked with very clear social and economic issues. That’s why we could observe, already during the last elections, that France was at the very end of the electoral process split in three more or less equal parts: those who were mostly not convinced by their choice but who voted Macron against Le Pen, those who voted for Le Pen mainly to vote against Macron’s neoliberalism, and those who did not vote at all since they could not decide who their “main enemy” was. Now, since the economic and social issue is back, there is great unity on the ground between members of all these categories, who understood that the Macron/Le Pen rivalry was organized within the frame of the system so as to secure it. We observe that protesters are deeply concerned not to recreate those former differences, which most of them now understand as manipulating people against their own social and economic interests.

In recent protests, we have heard an interest slogan: “Ni patrie, ni patron, Ni Le Pen, Ni Macron” (neither homeland nor boss, neither Le Pen nor Macron). Are the voices of the protesters saying this powerful enough?

The most radical protests have taken place in the French de facto colony of Reunion, in the Indian Ocean, where ethnic and religious differences have been long ago overcome, and protesters there succeeded to making the government retreat. This success made a great impact on the protesters in mainland France as well. The main problem is that the trade unions and leftist parties are to a large extent in a crisis situation, which explains why members of traditionally leftist social groups based in the suburbs are joining the movement individually, but not as a politically organised force as they had been since World War II.

What is, in your opinion, the most brutal of the measures taken by Macron so far?

In fact, we’ve had to deal with brutal measures taken by all three former presidents. Earlier, we had the state of emergency, with more than 5,000 police night raids on families from working-class and immigrant backgrounds who were supposedly, but falsely, linked with terrorism. We had other examples of human and civil rights abuses such as the so-called “Tarnac affair,” when a man supposedly linked with the “ultra-left” was illegally detained for eight months without any evidence, we had two demonstrations of solidarity with Gaza forbidden during the Hollande presidency, and we had different forms of repression and so-called financial inquiries against opposition parties. Now, most of the state of emergency laws were introduced around the time President Macron hailed Marshall Petain for his role during World War I. This is the man known for his military activity against the Morrocan anti-colonial movement of Abd el-Krim during the twenties, and for leading the fascist puppet government during World War II. People do now often understand that the economical exploitation of the poor through new taxes and neoliberal pressure is linked with repression policies against social, ethnic or religious groups and that the elites tend to set one against the other.

How do you see the near future of these protests and the future of France in the current international context?

People are strongly determined not to capitulate, but the main problem is the lack of organization, which on one side makes the movement broader but, on the other leaves it open to provocations, manipulations and social divisions. Even if the general mood is marked with values and slogans that were first used during the French Revolution, it is hard to say if this “national-political-social unity” will prevail so as to force the government to retreat on policies that are pursued not only by the government but also by the EU and the international financial organizations within the frame of the capitalist globalization process. For example, protesters are asking for the end of off-shore tax havens, which means France has to change its international policies radically. When people ask not to send troops to Libya or Mali so to be able to concentrate on these off-shore territories, it makes things very clear but very difficult to solve on strictly French grounds.

Some journalists claimed that the current protest taking place in France are result of Russian interference in the internal problems of the French people. What is your opinion on that?

The so-called Russian interference and “fake news” are becoming quite the joke, since people watch “Russia Today” in French only because they find there what they feel is true and what they cannot find in the mainstream French media. This Saturday, I was at the Champs Elysee during a tear gas attack by the police and I heard protesters expressing great anger toward mainstream BFM TV journalists, but at the same time very sympathetic to the journalists from a Lebanese TV station, whom they trusted to tell the truth to the outside world. In this context, Russian media do not have to make very strong efforts so to be believed, their best advertisers are the mainstream media.

How do you see the near future of these protests and the future of France in the current international context?

I think what is happening now in France is an extraordinary “political school,” mobilizing mostly people from regions and social groups that have up till now been less politicized than others. Listening to the massive debates being held in the streets, between tear gas, water cannons and barricades, I noticed the protesters were progressing very quickly in their social and political thinking. I have heard almost no racist slogans, but rather recognition that social and economic poverty is linked with policies carried on by French elites against the interests of all people living in the same territory, independently of their origins or ideological representations. It is obvious to everybody now that liberal democracy is in crisis everywhere, so is capitalism, so is the European Union, so is NATO. And all these crises together are globalized. People understand now that links have to be made between local, national and international issues. I do not think, even if history seems to be accelerating now, that the situation will change tomorrow, but I notice that during the last two weeks people have already understood a lot concerning the general situation and their particular situation within it. That makes people ready to think about an alternative that so-called alternative parties and trade unions were not prepared for. People understand liberalism is unable to work without repression, and that globalization does not function without unending wars and terrorism carried on in the interest of the military-industrial complex. In fact, people do understand that socialism is the solution, even if the word seems old-fashioned or even meaningless to some of them. We just have to think about a new vocabulary to show that Karl Marx’s analysis is a better fit for the current situation than for the situation that prevailed during the seventies, when capitalism had still some reserves and Keynesian policies could be introduced, which they cannot any more by now.

Bruno Drweski, Historian and Geopolitologist at the National Institute for Eastern Languages and Cultures (INALCO) in Paris ; Master 1979 Jagellonian University in Cracov (Poland), PH. D. 1982 Paris Sorbonne University, Ph. D. 1992 Paris Institute of Political Science, General Secretary for ideological and political issues of the Foreign Student Cracov Comittee in the Socialist Union of Polish Students (1974-1979), Co-founder and Administrator of the European Network for an Alternative Economy of Solidarity (1988-1994), Foreign Policy Commission of the French Communist Party (1991-2004), Member of the Directory Board of Espaces Marx (1996-2004), Chief Redactor of reviews : La Pensée and Recherches Internationales (1997-2004), Director of (2004 up till now), National Comittee of the French antimilitarist and antiwar association ARAC (2005 up till now).