8th December 2018
Protests continue in the French capital, Paris
In advance of nationwide gilets jaunes (yellow vest) protests the French state made 280 arrests this weekend. Over 89,000 police have been deployed across the country, 8,000 on the streets of Paris alone, backed up by heavy duty VBRG armoured vehicles, as the Macron government desperately tries to get a grip on the fast moving insurrectionary mood in the country. Having been elected only 18 months ago, as a ‘new force’ in French politics, the En Marche movement of which Macron is head is in danger of splintering into several pieces.
The reasons for this are clear. Macron was never more than old wine in new bottles. Representing the interests of the French bourgeoisie in a smart suit could fool some of the people some of the time but was never going to fool all of the people all of the time. The recent fuel duty increase proposals, withdrawn due to popular pressure, would have hit those least able to pay the hardest.
This follows on from Macron’s programme of tax breaks for the rich, attacks upon social welfare programmes, the attempt to extend the working week and the furore caused over the attack on public sector pensions. The inept socialist government of Francois Hollande created a political void into which Macron was able to step. Faced with the choice of a Macron presidency or one headed by far right demagogue, Marine le Pen, in the presidential run off French voters were faced with little choice.
Under these circumstances however it was always going to be only a matter of time before the superficiality of the Macron programme was exposed and the French people had to look for new solutions. The spontaneous protests have no clear programme or leadership at present other than being united around regarding Macron as being a puppet of the French political elite, with no idea of how the less well off live.
However, if protests are sustained beyond this week it will be essential for a Left platform to be articulated which can capture the mood of the protesting French working class. Without unity around a progressive set of demands the danger is that the Front National of Marine le Pen will step into the void, with the usual easy targets of immigrants and refugees in their sights.
The protests in France are the latest manifestation of popular discontent across Europe, which has accelerated since the bank bailouts of 2008 saw Europe wide austerity programmes imposed by EU governments, to pay for the bankers gambling debts. Discontent has been manifest in the Podemos movement in Spain, the Five Star movement in Italy, the election of nationalist governments in Poland and Hungary, the rise of the far right AfD in Germany and the vote to leave the EU in the UK.
That the austerity programme has coincided with a migration crisis, as refugees flee NATO led interventions in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya and Syria, has added to the self-inflicted pressures face by European governments.
As a political project the EU has been a spent force, dissociated from the interests of the peoples of Europe, for some time. The acceleration of the protests in France may be the start of the final act in the EU’s demise. If that is the case, the debate over Brexit in the UK will pale into the background as the EU is plunged into existential crisis.
There are alternatives. The French Communist Party (PCF) for example has a programme for a people’s Europe stating,
“Today, everything is done to make us believe that we should make a choice between an increasingly liberal European integration or nationalist disintegration. In France for example, Emmanuel Macron tries to reduce the political debate of the European elections between “pro” and “anti” EU. But there is an alternative: that of a Europe of peoples and nations, free sovereigns and associates, turned towards social and ecological development. The communist project is that of a break with the current EU and a refoundation of its objectives, missions and institutions. In other words, a Europe of the Human first and no longer of finance.”
It may not be fully formed in every detail but such an objective would certainly be a start and give the peoples of Europe some hope that, whatever institutions were established to coordinate real solidarity across the continent, they would be ones which would be working for them, not against them.