is too small to hold
this many people”
lyrics to a song of the Yellow Vests addressed to Macron
“I am not a seed of the Luck
the moulder of the new life
I am a child of the Need
and a mature child of the Wrath…
…Listen, how the winds take
of thousand years the voice!
Inside my word
all humanity hurts…”
Kostas Varnalis, The Guide (Ο Οδηγητής) (*)
In the evening of 14 July 1789, the Duke de La Rochefoucauld-Liancourt woke up King Louis XVI from his sleep to inform him about the storming of Bastille.
“Why, is this a rebellion?” the King wondered.
“No Sir. It’s a revolution”, replied the Duke.
What is happening today in France is probably the most significant political development on the European continent after the collapse of the Soviet Union almost thirty years ago.
It is the most radical, the deepest and more dynamic challenge posed to modern European capitalism in decades, both in terms of method – the direct, mass mobilisation of people, of the “masses”, their dramatic entry in the stage of history – as well as in terms of the depth of the movement, as it is already reflected in its demands, which question directly the political and, implicitly but clearly, the social regime. (**)
If we wanted to find a revolutionary movement in Europe reassembling that of the Yellow Vests in terms of massiveness and depth we would probably have to look back to 1965-85.
That is, we would look back to the general revolutionary strikes in France and Italy (1968-1969), the ‘Prague Spring’ (1968), the Carnation Revolution in Portugal (1974-1975), the Solidarity revolution in Poland (1979-1981) and perhaps, to a lesser extent, to the long, militant strike of British miners (1984-85).
These are all movements which, each one in its own way and despite the differences between them, have profoundly changed the way we perceive the world, and were all characterized by the same direct form of people’s action, with millions of simple people directly participating, and by the fact that they all questioned the foundations of economic and social organization and the power system in the countries in which they broke. All these movements, without exception, were, in one way or another, accompanied by demands for democratisation of society, self-management and direct participation of people in power.
The momentum of these movements was later halted by the capitulation of Mitterrand’s Socialists, the triumphs of Neo-liberalism in capitalist Europe, the collapse of the Soviet regime and the “counter-revolutions” in Eastern Europe. “Counter revolutions” which, although advanced through “democratic” slogans, did not lead anywhere but merely to the economic and political power changing hands from “socialist bureaucracies” to quite authoritarian in reality, oligarchic and sometimes clearly Mafiosi elites, masquerading as democratic governments – “social Darwinists” in the service of International Capital and the US.
The Yellow Vests seem now to pick up in their own way from where the European movements of 1965-85 left off their core fundamental demands, and they do so in their attempt to respond to a policy of systematic destruction of the French society and, even more so, of its lower and poorer strata.
Of course they do it in the context of today’s European and global conditions which differ substantially from those of that period both in “subjective” and “objective” terms.
French and European crises and Global economic crisis
The French revolution – the term revolution, we think, being more appropriate because what is happening in France does not constitute simply a rebellion, as we will attempt to show later – is the direct product of the multifaceted, complex “European” crisis. A crisis which, in its turn, is the product and the consequence of two factors: the deep economic crisis in which the world capitalism entered in 2008, the third as deep in all History of capitalism, and the very way in which the European Union has been built and operates.
It is very important to properly diagnose the root cause of the crisis, both factors which provoked it, the global and the European one. Because if we assume that the whole problem is due to the euro and the EU, ignoring the structural crisis of modern world capitalism, then we would come to the conclusion that all a country needs to do is to leave the EU and all problems would be solved. Of course, this does not mean that a given country should not attempt to leave the EU if this is what is required for saving itself. But it means however, that it must be aware that even by leaving, it will still be confronted by all the problems thrown up by the tremendous power globalized capitalism and international Finance have acquired.
Most criticisms of EU by various sides are correct. But this is not the main political problem. The main question is what is to be the European order of tomorrow and how it can be ensured that the order which shall be established after the EU will be better and not worse; what is the policy and strategy that, as of now, within the context of the existing EU, can serve better the purpose of creating a radically different and radically better European order tomorrow.
This is because, a European country, in particular a medium-sized country such as France, may initiate a course of liberation from the bonds of globalized capitalism, but it won’t be easy for any country, even the strongest in Europe, to achieve this on its own in the long-term.
The international impact of the French revolutionary movement will have a crucial, vital significance, not only in the long-term, but also in short run, for both the movement itself and for the situation in all of Europe.
Any victory or defeat of the Yellow Vests movement depend heavily on its ability to expand and find immediate support in the rest of Europe.
On the other hand, the entire European situation will be directly and decisively affected by what will happen in the coming weeks and months in France.
However, we have not yet seen any of the forces which wish to self-identify as “radical leftist” in Europe -from the left-wing of Die Linke to the left-wing of the Labour Party- realizing fully the vital importance of what is happening in France; adjusting their activity accordingly, giving absolute priority to the organisation of support to the French people, explaining to their people what is happening in France or even imitating the French movement through the initiation of campaigns in their countries, appropriate and adapted of course to the respective conditions they are facing in every country. We have not seen them attempting to create programmatically, politically and organizationally a united European front, not only of the radical left but also of all the forces that would be willing to commit sincerely to fighting the totalitarian dictatorship of Financial Capital in Europe.
What we mostly see are various groups, parties, and aspiring leaders, the usual strangers to modesty, narcissist stars of “international radicalism and progress”, prominent “intellectuals of the Self-evident”, who, at a moment when one of the most significant revolutions in Europe in the last fifty years is unfolding, they are making micro political electoral calculations in view of the European elections; calculations which too shall prove to be irrelevant in the context of a Europe that continues to be shaken to its very foundations by its crisis.
Direct result itself of the 2008 global economic crisis, the European crisis has so far generated, before the current developments in France, the destruction and “betrayed revolt” of Greece, the Indignados and the Podemos in Spain, the left government in Portugal, the BREXIT vote, the surge of radical right in Italy, the rise of AfD in Germany, the “clinical death” of the German Social Democratic and the French Socialist Party, the rise of Le Pen and Melenchon in France.
However, the developments in France are now taking us to another level, because of two factors of fundamental significance. The French people, having spent a number of decades hoping in vain for some improvement through the processes of elections and referendums, has now moved to the phase of direct, dynamic and mass mobilization of the people. Secondly, the French movement for the first time questions directly the political and, indirectly but clearly, the social regime.
The financial oligarchy which is currently governing Europe together with its employees – the European politicians and bureaucrats – has no answer to the issues raised by the Greeks, the Spanish, the British, the Italians and, even more so, by the French now.
For this and for other reasons that we will explain, the French crisis is only the beginning of a course of events, of which, of course, we cannot predict and prescribe the development and milestones, nor can we foresee where it’s going to lead us to; however, we can say with certainty already from now that they will radically change Europe and the world.
The developments in France not only coincide and partly reflect, but they also affect the on-going deep crisis of the EU, which now threatens its very existence. The developments take place, most probably, in the eve of a new aggravation of the economic crisis of 2008 in the context of which we still fare; an aggravation against which states have now much fewer means to use for defending themselves than in 2008.
And as if all these were not enough, at the international level we also note a rapid deterioration of all the significant global concerns including the re-emergence of nuclear war risk and, most importantly, the near certainty over the end of human life through climatic change and environmental destruction; such defining issues require immediate radical measures that go far beyond the limitations and capabilities of the existing economic, social and international system.
Realism and Romanticism
The other day a friend, despite in a well-meant and tactful way, accused me of a sort of “revolutionary romanticism” referring to my most recent article about the developments in France. (***). I will leave aside the fact that, as it soon transpired from our conversation, he was not aware of the most elementary information such as what are the main demands of the Yellow Vest movement; instead he perceived as real not what is really happening in France – of course for this the media is more to blame for not giving out all the information – but what he himself thought that is likely to be happening!
Living in Greece he thought that in France too, politicians could throw some “revolutionary buzzwords” just to gather votes, as it so often is the case with Greek politicians. So he was trying to interpret the French movement from the point of view of our current moral and intellectual misery, which is the result of our overwhelming defeat of 2015 and the way it has come about. It may also be that deep inside, he could find difficult, and even be annoyed by the comparison between the current grandeur of a revolting people with our own, now humiliated and defeated, miserable and servile, individual, social and national existence.
However, the important point is something different and I told him so. Romanticism is not to hope for the advancement of humans and people to the forefront of the historical process. They did it in the past and hence they can do it again in the future. Romanticism, and almost a criminal delusion, is to bestow upon those who today govern the world the ability for preventing the destruction of humanity!
Realistically speaking, the only chance that humanity has to save itself is to consciously take own action to this effect and, indeed, to do so very quickly.
The May 1968 slogan “Imagination to the Power” is today the only viable realism. The “revolution”, in the meaning of a radical transformation of the dominant system, regardless of the way in which it may happen, is a precondition for the survival of humanity. This sort of thing is not taught now by social and philosophical theories or by our Morality; it is rather determined by the merciless clarity and accuracy of the mathematical and physics equations of climate science.
Besides, great revolutions often happen when no one expects them. And no one expects them because when they happen a system is “completed”, it is, in a way, “closed”, it has left no room for any “reform” or “self-correction”. And it is precisely this same fact that makes them seem impossible which renders them also unavoidable.
The global human consciousness owns this knowledge, despite the constant efforts of the dominant and possessing to erase it. This is the reason why we do honour the memory of those who were “defeated” in history, of those who “lost”, such as Jesus Christ and Spartacus, and we pay no tribute to those who crucified them to protect and preserve the public order and the power of their time.
It is precisely at this moment, when the system has “closed”, does not allow any progress and it is threatening with destruction, it is at this moment that the God of Necessity unearths from the depths of the souls of ordinary people, of the great “anonymous” crowd and enlists the moral superior human qualities, the inherent to the Humans drive towards Freedom, and Dignity, the expression of the mortal being’s need for meaning in his life. It is then, at those privileged Moments of history, that simple people, free from the usual burdens and hypocrisies of professional politicians and intellectuals, employ the superior brain functions of humans, the Reason and the Imagination, in order to find solutions to the problems they encounter in their way, as the French have been doing for nearly two months now.
All revolutions may look similar to each other, but each one is different. This one, the revolution that is now struggling to force its way out of its mother’s belly – the European crisis- has an incomparable advantage over the Great French Revolution of 1789 and over the three Russian revolutions of 1905 and 1917. The people who revolted now have significantly higher intellectual weapons, more knowledge to rely upon than what was available to the sans-culottes and the Russian workers of the past revolutions. Moreover, they have the experience of the achievements, but also of the degenerations and tragedies that accompanied all the great revolutionary movements of history.
But it is impossible to cover such a subject in one article. In our next article, we will examine the way the French people were led to take the course they follow and the structure of their demands, in the centre of which is the question of Populara Sovereignty, the possiblitty of the people to exercise himself the power or, at least, to be able to control in an effective way how state power is exercised.
This is nothing different than the same fundamental question, albeit in a new form, put, but not solved in a satisfactory way, by the Great French Revolution of 1789, the Russian Revolutions of 1905 and 1917 and many other popular uprisings in Europe and the world.
(*) This is an improvised translation by the author of a portion of a poem by Kostas Varnalis (1984-1974), one of the greatest poets and writers of modern Greece. A communist, a Marxist and a resistant during the Nazi occupation of Greece, he was persecuted for his ideas.
(**) It is quite difficult to write an article about France addressed to people who are not living in France. The reason lies with the fact that Western Media do all that they can, indeed with a certain degree of success, in order to play down, distort and conceal the events in France and, most importantly, their significance. Their aim is to present them as some sort of the usual “social upheavals” without highlighting the underlying causes which drove the people of one of the most important countries in Europe to revolt against the political system in power.
During the military dictatorship in Greece I was going to school. I remember that the press at that time was full of propaganda, but, at the same time, it was publishing all the basic facts necessary to form an opinion. Through this censored press controlled by the “black colonels”, Greeks knew better what was happening in France during the May ’68 Revolution or with the Vietnam War, than they know now about social and political problems in other EU countries or the reality of a dozen wars in the Middle East!
The “Empire of Finance” which controls the media and most “intellectuals”, the “Space of Ideas” in our societies, in a way that is unprecedented in the history of capitalism, has a vital interest in doing so as it trembles at the prospect of the “French virus” spreading outside France, as it happened in 1789, 1848 and 1968.
Besides, even if they wanted to transmit the real meaning of these processes they wouldn’t be able to do it. Journalism follows democracy on the path to demise. In their efforts to control all information, they have isolated almost all journalists who would have the knowledge and critical thinking skills that are required to analyse and describe the meaning of a revolution such as the one that is now unfolding in France. Nowadays, it is often the case that the media do not even choose journalists of their own liking, asking instead political parties and financial lobbies to “accolade” these and appoint “journalists”.
The suffocating and total control of the sphere of ideas has led to the creation of a class of “political professionals”, intellectuals, scientists, advertisers and pollsters who have ended up believing their own propaganda and are now unable, to a large extent, to analyse what is happening in the real world, even if this is needed by the class of interests they serve.
Perhaps this is why the French Le Monde decided to send 70 scientists across France on a quest to understand what’s going on in the country – probably the largest “press expedition” in history!