A short and critical look at the “Yellow Vests” movement taking place in France. For more of an in- depth look, go here.
The Yellow Vest Movement presents something of a conundrum for anarchists. To quote The BBC, “It is quite clear there were agitators or “casseurs” at the sharp end of the clashes with police. We saw groups of people both from the anarchist far-Left and from the nationalist far-Right. They were tooled up and ready for a fight.” Occupying the same spaces as the far-right seems like strange position for anarchists to be in. However, I personally support the anarchist presence in the movement and I’ll briefly explain why.
The proposed tax on fuel functions is regressive tax that would serve to exacerbate inequality and reduce the disposal income of people who’re dependent on fossil fuels through no fault of their own. At the same time, our dependence on fossil fuels is causing catastrophic climate change, which is likely displace millions of people and represents a global network of exploitation and extraction.
CrimethInc. recently published an in-depth analysis of the yellow vest movement, which is a grass-roots, decentralized, direct-action oriented struggle, framed as opposition to the state squeezing the pockets of average French people. It has attracted participants from across the political spectrum including the far-right, anarchists, communists, social democrats and apolitical people concerned with rising fuel costs. Attendees have chanted far-right slogans and have used racist and homophobic rhetoric. At the same time many reject the far-right rhetoric.
The anarchist approach is to address climate change at its root cause, by acknowledging the underlying structures of domination that lead to environmental destruction in the first place, namely capitalism and the state. Instead of offsetting the cost of pollution fuels onto people, anarchists propose to minimize our dependence of fossil fuels by providing alternatives and attacking the concentration of corporate and state power that forces people into being dependent on fossil fuels for the livelihoods, for example, traveling long distances on a daily basis for work. Today, production isn’t local and decentralized, rather, concentrated power has produced a core and periphery, which necessitates the long-distance movement of millions of people and goods on a daily basis.
For fascists this represents an opportunity to sow a false narrative among the working class, blaming immigration, encouraging racism against minorities and maligning environmentalism by associating with a state that is out of touch with the realities of everyday life. Their platform does very little to address the core issues and primarily serves to capitalize on hate.
Before I go any further, it’s important to acknowledge that many people don’t have the privilege to operate in the same spaces as the far-Right and that going out into the streets or extending support is a matter of personal preference.
That said, an anarchist presence on the ground is important to maintain because firstly, we should reject statist measures such as taxes that that eat into the livelihoods of the working class and present an alternate framework that address the problem at its root, capitalism itself. Secondly, as pointed out by CrimethInc., fascists have attempted to co-opt the yellow vest movement and a strong anarchist presence would serve to counter their reactionary appeal to apolitical protesters. Finally standing in solidarity with each other, fighting the police state, is a good opportunity for anarchists to demonstrate their ideals and broaden their networks.