What would an anti-capitalist revolution actually look like, if it happened?
That is the question that must be going through many an anarchist’s mind as current events unfold in France.
The Gilets Jaunes or Yellow Vest movement has staged four successive Saturdays of startling and energetic mass mobilisations across France against the neoliberal Macron regime, turning a protest against the cost of living into an attempted insurrection.
On Saturday December 8 there were more than a thousand arrests as crowds occupied central Paris and caused general havoc from Toulouse to Bordeaux, Nantes to Marseilles. The protests even spread to Brussels in Belgium.
Another huge day of action is planned for Saturday December 15, which is being billed as Act V of the show, in which neoliberal President Macron finally resigns!
Meanwhile, France’s capitalists are complaining that the protests have already cost them a billion euros of lost consumer profits in the run-up to Christmas.
On the face of it, this is every radical’s dream. Thousands of people are taking to the streets, blocking roads, setting up burning barricades, resisting the state’s robocops with their tear gas, water cannon and armoured cars.
The movement has so far bypassed all the usual organised structures of trade unions and political parties, which is no doubt why it has been able to maintain its momentum.
All sorts of people have jumped aboard, of all ages, and although they don’t necessarily speak a finely-honed ideological language, the mood is clearly anti-capitalist and anti-hierarchical.
This is an anti-capitalism which has been learned from real life, from being constantly trampled under the boot of exploitation, rather than from the pages of a left-wing textbook.
Blocking their way to actually bringing down the system is, of course, the huge power of the system itself.
This can be seen physically, in the enormous numbers of police on the streets and the violence which they have obviously been authorised to inflict on protesters.
French “democracy” is just as much a sham as UK or US “democracy” and those in power will do anything necessary to keep hold of it.
The French authorities have already threatened to shoot live rounds at protesters, if need be, and you would have to be very naive to think they do not mean it.
Having said that, the state knows it could not hold down the whole population across the country if they rose up with sufficient energy at the same time.
The system also has an enormous power of propaganda, of controlling the narrative. The French public are constantly told that the rebellion is petering out, that it has been hijacked by extremists (far-right or far-left, depending on the target audience), that it has descended into sheer vandalism.
The international public are told that the movement is just about fuel prices, or that it is dangerously “populist”, or that, absurdly, it has all been staged by the Russians!
Happily, more and more people in France are seeing through all this and understanding their Fifth Republic for what it is – yet another scowling capitalist tyranny hiding behind a smiley mask of “democracy”.
There has also been a heartening response from radicals in France and beyond. After an initial scepticism about the nature of the Gilets Jaunes (which we shared), the vast majority on the revolutionary left have decided that the protest movement needs to be actively supported and its reactionary elements challenged from within.
This makes a refreshing change from the buckets of cold ideological sick all too often thrown over anyone whose revolt does not conform with a very specific set of principles and speaks of a new maturity and determination which bodes well for the future of anti-capitalist struggles.
There will, we suppose, still be those on the liberal fringes of anarchism and leftism who treat the popular uprising in France with disdain.
Maybe it is time for these pseudo-leftists to come clean and admit that they are not actually in favour of revolution at all, but are simply using the rhetoric of resistance to bring about some small liberalising tweaks to the status quo?
Maybe it is time for them to slink silently back indoors into the soul-sapping sterility of their politically-pure “safe spaces” and let the filthy, raucous, uncontrollable mob in the streets storm and burn down the corrupt citadels of power?
A burning barricade in Toulouse on Saturday December 8