“May our yellow sparks of revolt set the world ablaze in 2019!”

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Since the start of the Gilets Jaunes or Yellow Vests movement in France, mysterious and poetic Yellow Letters have been distributed on the occupied roundabouts and on social media. This is a quick translation of the powerful and inspiring 15th missive, as published on the influential radical website lundi matin, which is close to The Invisible Committee, authors of ‘The Coming Insurrection’.

Dear Gilets jaunes, dear men and women from below.

We are getting close to a critical moment. We are getting close to a historical moment. We are getting close to a tipping point in history. We are getting close to the end.

For several months now, we have been waging a battle, together, to counter the suicidal behaviour of those above.

Our lives, our children’s lives, our grandchildren’s lives, are on a tightrope. We are not going to play the tightrope-walker by weighing up the advantages or inconveniences of this or that constitutional measure which could give us back, they say, some room for manoeuvre. We have to admit that we have lost the knack.

We are no longer in a position to define how we live, in our own way. Such as how do we work, how do we educate our children, how do we eat, how do we produce, how do we dress, how do we party, how do we look at one another, how do we struggle, how do we share, how do we kiss, how do we meet, how do we love?

All of life is hoovered up and devoured by the machineries from above which care little about our grievances, our status, our finer feelings.

Those from above are already machines and a machine, my friends, does not feel or think, it calculates.

Dear Gilets jaunes, dear men and women from below.

In 2019 our living soil, our real soil, that is everything that surround us, the beauty and richness of our countryside, the freshness of a fine morning, the scent of jasmine or lilacs filling the air in the streets, the fears of the black night, the shafts of sunlight caressing our morning faces and the laughter of our children in the gardens of their innocence – all of that is being destroyed and disappearing under a massive tide of concrete.

We have to admit, my friends, that there is no green peace on the horizon. No carbon tax even! No responsible ecologism! No social contract for the environment or Cop 21, 22 or 23! All of that is a mere lick of green paint on the horror that awaits us.

So Macron and his friends from above can well afford to wish us a happy New Year. It’s not them who suffer at the end of every month nor who despair at the end of the world. No, they despair at the lack of growth, they only worry about the failure of France-from-below to adapt to commercial diktats from above. Today, our struggle from below is a total confrontation and no doubt the last. A fight against the scheduled extinction of the human species. So it is time to create real social organisation with a local base and global reach. The problems of those from below in Congo, in Thailand or in Brazil are also our problems.

While we are encouraged to soothe our frustrations by clearing the shelves of the shopping centres in the winter sales, imagine a 20-year-old in Vietnam, uprooted from the home soil where his family have lived for generations, going off at 6am, alone, to a cotton field or to huge cold metallic blocks to produce a miserable item of clothing!

Imagine the same company congratulating itself on its great quarterly results! Imagine now, we Europeans asking for consumer credit to buy this selfsame object! Can we imagine how wretched that is? Can we really imagine the world in which we live? The face, the reflection of our daily misery. This world, our world. The one that we are making so unbearable, detestable, unbreathable and unlivable that we run and hide in our citadels of screens, in our illusions, in our denials…

On the other hand, imagine that in our blocks of flats, in our neighbourhoods, our villages, we could establish other ways of producing and consuming. Can we imagine one washing machine per block of flats? Can we imagine spending the morning fishing, the afternoon looking after the children and the evening preparing for the local festival or the next day’s football match?

Can we imagine conserving our food in old-fashioned jars and shared spaces? Can we imagine shattering the private property that pens us in, forces us out, isolates and evicts us? Can we imagine the 25-year-old pregnant woman whose needs are not the same as those of a robust 35-year-old man?

Can we imagine a night watchman working 40 hours a week in the freezing cold and also a banker working the same hours in his air-conditioned office, with a cup of coffee and posh biscuits? Can we imagine these two sorry states of affairs? Can we imagine a real inequality, and not this abstract equality, that of abstract work, that in which work is no longer judged according to real, vital needs but according to fictional, imaginary needs?

Can we imagine real work, meaningful work? Can we, ultimately, imagine a human face?

Dear Gilets jaunes, dear men and women from below.

This year, our fate is again in our own hands. Let’s seize the opportunity, raise the issues which trouble us and come up with radical and real solutions outside all institutional artifice.

Our world is dying, our world is collapsing, human life is being extinguished. We have reignited a spark of hope! So let’s set our villages ablaze, set our towns ablaze, set France ablaze, set Europe ablaze, set the world ablaze!

May our yellow sparks of revolt turn into a creative furnace! May the destruction of the everyday turn into the vitality of tomorrow!

A Happy New Yellow Year to all of us!

See also:

France on the brink: either we topple the system or it will crush us

Yellow fever: long live the revolutionary mob!

Gilets Jaunes: unfiltered anti-capitalism

“Police everywhere, justice nowhere!” – Gilets Jaunes on the streets of Nîmes

The heartbeat of the yellow jacket revolt is rural

Christmas with the gilets jaunes

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“Police everywhere, justice nowhere!” – Gilets Jaunes on the streets of Nîmes

Paul Cudenec of Shoal Collective reports from Nîmes in southern France and finds that a deeply-rooted belief in social justice lies behind the unprecedented uprising.

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Gilets Jaunes protest outside the police HQ in Nîmes on Saturday December 29

I had been warned not to say anything to anyone about the meet-up
point for the Gilets Jaunes protest in Nîmes on the afternoon of Saturday December 29.

People were going to be heading there in dribs and drabs. Some had been spending the morning together on private land, out of sight of the police. This was to be a surprise.

Half an hour after the wildcat march set off from outside the football stadium, the reason for the caution became clear.

Hundreds of protesters in their now-iconical hi-vis yellow jackets streamed on to the concourse of the city’s police HQ, the Hôtel de Police.

As helmeted riot cops emerged from the building to protect it from the intruders, a large banner was unfurled, condemning police violence.

“France isn’t the country of liberté any more,” remarked Lionel, standing at the edge of the crowd. “Most of the police brutality is hidden. By the media, yes, but also everything that people put on the internet is erased.”

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Protesting against police violence at the Nîmes police HQ

Nîmes is a good-sized city, the 19th biggest in France, but it hardly has a tradition of political unrest.

It is better known for its Roman architecture, its bull-fighting culture, its celebratory ‘ferias’ and the cloth that originally came “de Nîmes” and is now globally known as denim.

It is a sign of how far the roots of the Gilets Jaunes reach into deepest France, that the nîmois have been pouring out on to the streets in huge numbers, blocking the motorway, torching toll booths, closing down the main railway line.

From the police HQ, we headed into the centre of the Occitanian city. Outside the 1st century Roman amphitheatre we were joined by a squadron of motorcycling Gilets Jaunes, revving their engines furiously in support.

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Motorcycling Gilets Jaunes join the Nîmes protest

Then it was into the maze of narrow pedestrianised streets, where the police escort was repeatedly shaken off and their reappearance greeted with boos.

“Police everywhere, justice nowhere!” went the chants. “Macron resign!” “Everyone together!”

Social justice lies at the heart of the Gilets Jaunes’ cause – it is the first thing all of them want to talk about.

Martine is a retired company boss who describes herself as middle class. She said: “I could stay at home if I wanted to, but I can’t. I can’t stand seeing people not having enough to eat at the end of the day. And these are working people!

“France is the most envied country in the world for our culture, our know-how and our economy, but we are turning into a country in need”.

Those running the country were completely out of touch, she said, and had no idea of the everyday reality that people were living.

Lionel, who is also retired, likewise named poverty as the main reason why he was on the protest.

“People are living in misery. There are shanty towns, even here in Nîmes. People are badly paid and live in abominable conditions, but they are not necessarily on the street. We don’t see them.”

Lionel stressed it was not his own personal situation he was complaining about: “You have to protest for other people as well, not just yourself”.

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Hundreds of Gilets Jaunes took to the streets of Nîmes

Corporate media in France and beyond have made much of the involvement of some far-right elements on the fringes of the Gilets Jaunes, suggesting that the protest movement represents a slippery slope towards populist fascism.

I raised this issue with Riton, a libertarian communist from nearby Alès who had made the 25-mile trip to join the protest.

He assured me that the far right was very much a marginalised minority in the Gilets Jaunes movement.

“The movement is really about the class question, although it is not expressed in that way.

“It rejects the idea of leaders and is against all kinds of division. Racist arguments just don’t wash.

“There is also the criticism of the police and the calls for self-government. The extreme right is finding it harder and harder to identify with the movement.”

The “inter-class” flavour of the revolt had also faded after commercial traders whose businesses had been affected by the Gilets Jaunes realised the protests conflicted with their own personal interests and dropped their support, he said.

Riton said it was true that Gilets Jaunes often talked about “the people” and about being French.

“But you have to see what they mean by that. For them, being French is about being in revolt, about solidarity”.

As the Gilets Jaunes waved their tricolours and sang La Marseillaise, I realised he was right, in a way British people find it hard to grasp.

There is, after all, a world of difference between national anthems and flags that sing the stale praises of monarchies and empires and those that are the fruit of a living revolutionary tradition.

See also:

The heartbeat of the yellow jacket revolt is rural

Christmas with the gilets jaunes

Gilets Jaunes: unfiltered anti-capitalism

Yellow fever: long live the revolutionary mob!

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Yellow fever: long live the revolutionary mob!

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Paris, Saturday December 8

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.

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Paris, Saturday December 8
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Gilets Jaunes in Brussels on December 8

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.

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Paris, December 8

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.

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Paris, December 8

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”.

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Paris, December 8

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?

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Bordeaux, December 8

More reading

The People Want the Fall of the Regime

Contribution to the Rupture in Progress

France on the brink: “Either we topple the system or it will crush us”

The “Yellow Vests” Show How Much the Ground Moves Under Our Feet

Are the Gilets Jaunes Today’s Sans-Culottes?

The Yellow Vests

Other links

The Acorn archives

Winter Oak home page

Winter Oak books

Winter Oak Quotes

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A burning barricade in Toulouse on Saturday December 8

France on the brink: “Either we topple the system or it will crush us”

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Things are rapidly hotting up in France. The Gilets Jaunes or Yellow Vests movement, which started as a protest of hard-up working people against spiralling petrol prices, has transformed itself into a full-on uprising against the neoliberal regime of President Emmanuel Macron.

Here we offer a slightly-rushed translation of a significant article published earlier today on the lundi.am website, which is close to the Invisible Committee, authors of The Coming Insurrection.

Contrary to all that we’ve been hearing, the mystery is not that we are rising up but that we haven’t done so before. The abnormality isn’t in what we are doing now, but in what we have put up with so far. Who can deny that the system has failed on all accounts? Who still wants to be fleeced, robbed, reduced to precarity for nothing? Who is going to shed any tears over the fact that posh areas of Paris are being looted by the poor or that the bourgeoisie have seen their shiny new 4X4s go up in flames? As for Macron, he should stop complaining since it was him that suggested we come and see him. A State cannot claim to draw legitimacy from the corpse of a “glorious revolution” only to moan about vandalism when a revolution gets underway.

The situation is simple: the people want the system to fall. The system intends keeping going. This defines the situation as insurrectional, as the police themselves are now admitting. The people have numbers, courage, joy, intelligence and naivety. The state has the army, the police, the media, cunning and the fears of the bourgeoisie. Since November 17, the people have used two complementary levers: blocking the economy and the assault carried out every Saturday against the administrative centre of Paris. These levers are complementary because the economy is the reality of the system, while the government is the symbolic representation. To really bring the system down, both of these must be attacked. This applies to Paris as to the rest of the country: setting fire to a local préfecture and marching on the centre of power are one and the same gesture.

Every Saturday since November 17 in Paris, the people have been magnetized by the same objective: marching on the government’s inner sanctuaries. From Saturday to Saturday the difference consists firstly of the enormous increase in the police numbers deployed to prevent the march and secondly the accumulation of experience from the failure of the previous Saturday. If there were lots more people wearing swimming goggles and gas masks this Saturday, it was not because “groups of organised thugs” had “infiltrated the demo” but simply because the people had been extensively gassed the previous week and drew from that the conclusions that anyone with any sense would have drawn: come equipped next time around. In any case, this is not about a demonstration but an uprising.

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If tens of thousands of people invaded the central Parisian area of Tuileries-Saint Lazare-Étoile-Trocadéro, it wasn’t because of a strategy of harassment decided by certain groups but because of people’s collective tactical intelligence in the face of the police deployment stopping them from reaching their goal. Blaming the “ultra-left” for this attempted uprising doesn’t fool anyone: if the ultra-left had been capable of driving construction machinery to charge the police lines or destroy motorway toll booths, we would have known about it; if it had been so numerous, so likeable, so courageous, we would have known about it. With its essentially identity-based concerns, this “ultra-left” is deeply embarrassed by the impurity of the gilets jaunes movement; the truth is that it doesn’t know which way to turn, that it has a bourgeois-like fear of compromising itself by mingling with this crowd that doesn’t in with any of its categories.

As for the “ultra-right” it has been sandwiched between its supposed means and ends: it promotes disorder while claiming to want order, it throws stones at the national police while declaring its love for the police and the nation, it wants to cut off the head of the republican monarch through love of a non-existent king. On all these matters, we are going to leave the Minister of the Interior to his ridiculous ravings. It isn’t the radicals who make the movement, it’s the movement that radicalises people. Who could believe that they are thinking about imposing a state of emergency against a handful of hooligans?

Those who do insurrections by half are only digging their own graves. At the point we are at, with today’s means of repression, either we topple the system or it will crush us. It would be a serious error of judgement to underestimate this government’s level of radicalisation. Anyone who sets themselves up, in the days ahead, as a mediator between the people and the government will be torn to pieces: nobody wants to be represented any more, we are all big enough to speak for ourselves, to notice who is trying to us calm us down, who is trying to recuperate us. And even if the government takes a step backwards, it will only be proving that we are right to have done what we have done, that our methods are the right ones.

Next week will therefore be decisive: either even more of us manage to stop the economic machine by blocking ports, refineries, stations, distribution centres etc, by really taking the government’s inner sanctuaries and its regional offices next Saturday, or we are lost. Next Saturday, the marches for the climate, which start from the principle that those who led us into this catastrophe aren’t going to get us out of it, have no reason not to join us in the streets. We are a hair’s breadth away from the breakdown of the machinery of government. Either we succeed in the coming months to bring about the necessary change of course, or the coming apocalypse will be twice as heavy, with a clamp-down on a scale scarcely hinted at so far on social media.

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The question is therefore: what does it actually mean to bring down the system? It is clear that it doesn’t mean electing new representatives because the failure of the current régime is also the failure of the system of representation. Bringing down the system means taking over locally, community by community, the entire physical and symbolic organisation of life, for it is precisely the current organisation of life that is in question, that is itself the catastrophe.

We mustn’t be afraid of the unknown: millions of people have never been seen to let themselves die of starvation. Just as we are all capable of organising ourselves horizontally to block roads, so we are capable of organising ourselves for a more sensible way of living. Just as it is locally that the revolt is being organised; so it is locally that the solutions will be found. The “national” level is only the echo of local initiatives.

We are fed up with having to count every penny. The rule of the economy is the rule of misery because it is the rule of calculation. What is beautiful on the road blocks, in the streets, in everything we have been doing these past three weeks, and which means that in a way we have already won, is that we have stopped counting because we have started to count on each other. When the issue is one of communal salvation, the question of the legal ownership of life’s infrastucture becomes a detail. The difference between the people and those who govern them is that the people aren’t a bunch of wankers.

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