by Paul Street
Photo Source Dmitry Dzhus
CC BY 2.0
The deletion of events that don't fit with the reigning ideology is
part of how
ruling class-owned media works to
manufacture mass consent to unjust hierarchy.
I spent much of last week in a cable-television-equipped
U.S.-American apartment with CNN, MSNBC, and FOX News at my
As I inhabited this
abode, flicking between sports and cable news, a political crisis of
the state was unfolding in one of the world's richest and most
France was gripped by an
historic working- and middle-class
In the biggest popular
unrest seen there since May of 1968, many hundreds of thousands of
Gilets Jaunes ("yellow vests")
took to French roadways and other public space in their fourth
straight week of explosive mass protests.
As Gilbert Mercier
wrote last Friday:
"From the Island
of La Reunion to the Napoleonic symbol that is the Arc de
Triomphe, through big and small towns, as well as the
usually bucolic countryside in France, there is something
special in the air:
the smell of
fires on barricades, the smoke of tear gas, the anger built
upon decades of inequality, injustice and despair for most.
Among the Gilets
Jaunes, many understand intuitively that the current
democratic process is dead, and therefore the only option is the
occupation of streets and roads.
History usually moves
at a snail's pace, but sometimes a series of events abruptly
push societies to a breakdown, to the fascinating and somewhat
beautiful and chaotic quantum leap that is a revolution...
It is still premature
to call the Gilets Jaunes movement a revolution, but one
can say categorically that this unexpected and spontaneous
grassroots movement has put France on track for the preliminary
stages of such a dramatic event."
As in previous weeks, the
yellow traffic vest-wearing crowds did not turn out to politely
carry signs and hear speeches.
They burned rich folks'
cars, trashed bourgeois luxury stores, smashed banks, set up fiery
barricades, and engaged in running street battles with
tear-gas-wielding and water cannon-spraying riot squads.
The number of street
rebels remained high - 125,000 or more (300,000 came out on November
17th) - last Saturday even as the government deployed
89,000 police officers to contain the rebellion.
The absurdly unpopular French president, Emmanuel "Hot for
Teacher" (HfT) Macron, largely disappeared from public view
behind rings of heavily armored protection at his presidential
There was talk of Macron
calling out the national army to suppress the revolt.
The establishment French media blamed the disturbances on a minority
of right-wing and left-wing "extremists" and destructive "casseurs"
(vandals and rioters).
In reality, the great
majority of protestors were ordinary and politico-economically
exasperated working-poor and middle class citizens not affiliated
with either the far right or the left.
spontaneous and leaderless Gilets Jaunes movement was
supported by nearly 80 percent of the French citizenry.
Beneath the pre-revolutionary protests lay a broad popular sense
that the arrogant neoliberal former investment banker Macron
"the president of the
The trigger behind the
rolling street agitation and angry crowd behavior came four weeks
ago when the government raised taxes on petrol in the name of
curbing the climate crisis.
The tax sparked road
blockades by suburban, ex-urban, and rural French working people,
who spend inordinate parts of their largely stagnant incomes on gas
thanks in part to their inability to afford the high cost of living
in the cities where most of the jobs are located.
The gas levy - repealed by Macron in an effort to place the
automobile-torchers last week - was just the proverbial straw that
broke the camel's back.
swelled into a broader protest against the bourgeois president's
whole neoliberal agenda.
HfT Macron's provocative
measures have included,
slashing taxes on
the wealthy Few (to "spur investment," of course)
"reform" that will make it more difficult for young people
to attend colleges and universities...
The Gilets Jaunes'
diverse and diffuse demands (there is no centralized yellow vest
leadership or agenda/policy platform at this point) go far beyond
the repeal of the gas tax.
the nation's wealth tax (the "solidarity tax on wealth"/Impôt
de solidarité sur la fortune or ISF)
increases in the
minimum wage and the minimum pension to 1300 Euros a month
higher taxes on
rollback of austerity policies
demand real democracy - popular self-rule.
They have called for a
popular referendum whereby 700,000 citizen signatories would force
the French Parliament to debate and vote on a law within one year.
There have been calls
(evoking memories of the great French Revolution of 1789) for a
Constituent Assembly to draft a new Constitution meant to create a
new French government - a Sixth Republic based on popular
sovereignty and majority rule, not the plutocratic commands of a de
Calls for Macron's resignation have been prominent in
Gilets Jaunes rhetoric and graffiti.
Many, probably most
French people want a new and genuinely democratic government
now, not on the ridiculously time-staggered scheduled
imposed by an outdated Constitution.
Despite predictable attempts by the right to hijack the movement and
notwithstanding an absence of coordination by Left parties or
unions, France is experiencing a left-leaning popular and
working-class uprising consistent with the French revolutionary
tradition of "Liberty, Equality, and Fraternity."
It is not a
neo-fascist or anti-immigrant or anti-environmental
As Mercier writes:
"...What the yellow
vests of the Gilets Jaunes symbolizes is blue-collar
workers, struggling retirees and students who revolt against the
suits of the political class and CEOs…
The Gilets Jaunes
strictly horizontal, without a hierarchy
or recognized leaders.
It has, so far,
refused to be hijacked by political parties:
Rassemblement Nationale of Marine Le Pen on the far-Right,
or La France Insoumise of Jean-Luc Melenchon on the Left.
It has also rejected
association with French labor unions.
Without spelling it
out, the Gilets Jaunes movement is anti-capitalist:
a guttural revolt
of the have-nots against the elite.
It is a popular, not
a populist, movement.
Europeans and even
American populist-nationalists are already distorting the
Gilets Jaunes' significance to serve their political agenda.
As opposed to the
rise of nationalism-populism elsewhere, such as in,
Jaunes do not have an anti-immigration or even an anti-EU
agenda that reeks of racism and neofascism...
The Gilets Jaunes
are in revolt against
capitalism or neoliberalism,
which is a worldwide system of concentration of wealth and power
into a few hands.
With our pending
ecological collapse and vanishing biodiversity, capitalism has
failed and is reaching its end game.
Unlike the neofascist
science deniers, the Gilets Jaunes perceive
climate change as a crisis, but
they say that it is hard to focus on a global ecological
collapse when you live from paycheck to paycheck.
They feel that they
deal with the anxiety of putting food on the table at the end of
the month while
the rich talk about the end of the world...
humanity's survival is hard to do on an empty stomach."
The Gilets Jaunes
have resisted the nativism of the nationalist right.
They have called not for
closed borders but rather for improved integration policies to help
foreigners settle in France (language and civic education), for all
foreign citizens working in France to have the same labor rights as
French citizens, and for policies that address the causes of forced
The yellow vest uprising was/is no small development in a nation
that is a leading nuclear power and one of just five permanent
member of the United Nations Security Council!
You wouldn't have known it from U.S. cable news last week or
on CNN, MSNBC, and FOX News could barely break from their week-long
commemoration of the
imperialist war criminal
George H.W. Bush and their
breathless reporting of the latest developments in Bob Mueller
RussiaGate investigation to give any serious attention to the
momentous events in France.
To be sure, the death of a U.S. president is always a big
Orwellian deal for dominant U.S. media. The RussiaGate
news (prosecutorial sentencing recommendations for former Trump
cronies Michael Flynn and Michael Cohen) was
But the near-blackout
on France was over-the-top and quite telling given the
world-historic import of the story unfolding in one of the world
capitalist system's crown-jewel core states - a great Western
nation-state whose history has been intimately linked to that of the
United States since before and during the American Revolution.
My limited viewing sample last week suggested that FOX News gave the
Gilets Jaunes more - and more sympathetic - coverage than did
CNN and MSDNC.
That's probably because
Trump state television (FOX) identifies more with the creeping
fascist anti-immigrant French right-wing (Marine Le Pen's National
Front) than it does with the neoliberal Macron - and because FOX
joined Trump in finding it useful to misrepresent the Yellow
Jackets' opposition to the petrol tax as a rejection of positive
Macron is more
fashionable and popular at "progressive-neoliberal"
Still, since the Yellow Jackets have risen up against capitalism in
a popular and anti-capitalist movement. Arch-capitalist FOX wasn't
eager to pay all that much more attention to the street-fighting men
and women of France than did the
Obama-Macronists at CNN and
There's a very simple reason I had to turn to the Internet to get
any decent coverage and commentary on the yellow vests.
The problems that have
pushed ordinary French people into the streets and to support those
ready to destroy bourgeois property are widely present - more
present, in fact - in the United States.
The U.S. is more plagued
than any other rich Western nation by the,
(of both condition and opportunity)
soullessness of contemporary eco-cidal capitalism,
...and of a
constitutional political set-up that is badly out of step with the
needs of its embattled working-class majority.
We, too, suffer from the
horrid arrogance of a corrupt, out-of-touch political class that
represents the rich, not "We the People," in the corridors of policy
As the distinguished
liberal political scientists Benjamin Page (Northwestern) and
Marin Gilens (Princeton) showed in their expertly researched
in America?' last year,
"the best evidence
indicates that the wishes of ordinary Americans actually have
had little or no impact on the making of federal government
and organized interest groups - especially business corporations
- have had much more political clout.
When they are taken
into account, it becomes apparent that the general public has
been virtually powerless… The will of majorities is often
thwarted by the affluent and the well-organized, who block
popular policy proposals and enact special favors for
Americans favor… programs to help provide jobs, increase wages,
help the unemployed, provide universal medical insurance, ensure
decent retirement pensions, and pay for such programs with
Most Americans also
want to cut 'corporate welfare.' Yet the wealthy, business
groups, and structural gridlock have mostly blocked such new
policies [and programs]."
We, like the French, get
to vote? Super!
Mammon reigns nonetheless in the
United States, where, Page and Gilens find,
reflects the wishes of those with money, not the wishes of the
millions of ordinary citizens who turn out every two years to
choose among the preapproved, money-vetted candidates for
ca change, plus c'est la meme chose...
University of Kentucky
history department chair Ronald Formisamo's latest book is
titled volumes, American Oligarchy - The Permanence of the
Political Class (University of Illinois, 2017).
By Formisamo's detailed
account, U.S. politics and policy are under the control of a "permanent
political class" - a "networked layer of high-income people"
representatives (half of whom are millionaires)
well-funded nonprofit institutions...
This "permanent political
class," Formisamo warns, is taking the nation,
plutocracy" to "the hegemony of an aristocracy of inherited
"drives economic and
political inequality not only with the policies it has
constructed over the past four decades, such as federal and
state tax systems rigged to favor corporations and the wealthy.
increases inequality by its
self-dealing, acquisitive behavior as it enables, emulates, and
enmeshes itself with the wealthiest One Percent and .01 percent
[It engages in] the
direct creation of inequality by channeling the flow of income
and wealth to elites [while]… its self-aggrandizement creates a
culture of corruption that infects the entire society and that
induces many to abuse positions of power to emulate or rise into
[And as it]
contributes to continuing high levels of poverty and
disadvantage for millions that exceed almost all advanced
We also chafe under the
limiting of our supposed grand "input" on excessive executive branch
power to preposterously time-staggered elections scheduled by an
"Our" decrepit charter
was drafted and passed behind locked doors by and for wealthy
slaveholders and merchant capitalists for whom popular sovereignty
was the ultimate nightmare during the time of
We, too, are badly overdue for another revolution and
the holding of a national Constituent Assembly to draft a new
Constitution based on real popular sovereignty and the advance of
the common good and over and against the unelected and
environmentally catastrophic dictatorship of capital.
Thanks to all of this and more, the yellow vests could prove
highly contagious to millions of ordinary U.S.-Americans if the
French movement was give anything like the coverage it deserves in
"mainstream" U.S. media.
Hence the ruling-class
"mainstream" cable networks' near blackout of the Gilets Jaunes...