French Revolution II ?

I have in my life seen demonstrations (the 1984 protest against the abolition of private education) and even a little rioting from a safe distance, but nothing compared with these scenes from Paris. Tear gas is horrible, through its effect of violently irritating the eyes, nose and throat of anyone who gets a whiff.

This second video is from the press in France, hoping I am not forbidden from linking to it via YouTube without copying it or hiding its character of someone’s intellectual property.

I am out in the country, so I see little gilet jaune activity. I attempted to go to Rouen a couple of weeks ago by car, but had to turn round because the way was blocked. I sympathise with this movement against excessive and arbitrary tax hikes by President Macron, but I have nothing to do with any violence and I take no part in blocking roads and punishing the ordinary population. What good does that do? I have a folded yellow vest on the dashboard of my van, symbol of solidarity with the majority of the movement that is peaceful and respectful of law and order.

The scenes in Paris are terrifying. The police are using non-lethal weapons like tear gas and water cannon, no guns. The rioters and looters are using cobblestones picked out of the road and any throwable object. An old lady has been killed in her house because she was drawing her curtains just at a moment when a tear gas grenade went through the window pane and hit her on the head. There has been a number of deaths, hundreds of injured – both police and rioters – and hundreds of arrests.

The unrest began in mid-­November to protest rising costs of essentials like fuel for motor vehicles and electricity. It is definitely a populist movement without any leadership or organisation. Thus it could be infiltrated by groups of anarchists and “professional” rioters and hooligans of both extreme right and extreme left ideas. There is a Facebook page that has been “liked” 54,399 times. The movement spread from the issue of fuel taxes to a wider protest about French economic policy and the growing difference between rich and poor, and the apparent indifference of the establishment elite to ordinary working people.

As I said to my wife this evening, I see things internationally and in the light of history. It isn’t just France. There is the for and against Brexit in my country, fascists in Italy, a revival of Franco’s integralist Catholic ideology in Spain, Alternative für Deutschland in Germany. All of a sudden we have an embryo Axis. One by one, other European and non-European countries are going the same way: Brazil, Poland, Hungary, Austria, the Netherlands, Belgium. How long will it be before budding wannabe dictators tap into the popular energy and hatred to rise to power? I have sometimes read some horrible hateful things written also by Americans on Facebook and elsewhere on the Internet. In a way, I understand the blowback against liberalism and the kind of capitalism that doesn’t care tuppence about the poor and homeless. On the other hand, it is all so dangerous, an erupting volcano.

What is the political alternative to Macron, if he is prevailed upon to resign? It seems to be down to Mme Marine Le Pen and Jean-Luc Melenchon. Perhaps we have less to fear from the populist right in France than Brazil or Spain. Who knows?

It is worth reading this Guardian article Paris rioting: French government considers state of emergency over ‘gilets jaunes’ protests. What do I think with my experience of French life? The future of this unrest is uncertain. The police and security services will find out (or already know) who the violent rioters are and what unites them. Hundreds of them have already been arrested and will be sanctioned by the law. There seems to be no real ideology or agenda other than violence and destruction for their own sake.

President Macron seems to make the vital distinction and has said he would listen to the legitimate concerns of ordinary people.  Will he revise his policies? The ball seems to be in his court to show concern for the people and realise that poverty is for real.

Elsewhere in France, there have been blockages and tyre-burnings in most towns. Shopping centres, roads and toll booths and government buildings have been the main targets of disruption. All the gilet jaune people I have met have been peaceful.

Obviously, the rioters would like to light the flames of revolution to incomprehensible ends. People have been killed, and there is talk of allowing the army on the scene with guns and live ammunition if the rioting continues. There was a state of emergency caused by Islamic terrorism, and there is talk of another, but no decision so far has been made.

Macron seems ready to listen and negotiate the taxes and means to raise money for environmental projects. It is unjust to punish low income people living outside towns having to drive to work because there are no other forms of transport, with a patronising exhortation to “change their ways”. This will cause long discussions about environmental politics. You can only get people to stop polluting when affordable alternatives are offered like electric or LPG cars and reliable public transport. The infrastructures are not in place, even though the railways here are a lot cheaper than in England.

I don’t think we will see the guillotine reinstated in the Place de la Concorde any time soon! I see Macron as the last bastion of neo-liberalism in France and what separates us from the consequences of populism that would sooner or later become a dictatorship. On one side, I want to avoid being alarmist, but on the other, I cannot help wondering how much is going to be consumed in this raging fire.

Here is a sobering analysis of the situation – Why Macron has France in revolt.

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32 Responses to French Revolution II ?

    • I can see that. Would the alternative be any more Godly?

      • David Llewellyn Dodds says:

        Rereading this exchange, I get a sudden image of Dickens critiquing – what? some aspects of ‘classical liberalism’ from the perspective of others? – updated by Orwell, especially in the end of Animal Farm, where the exploitative farmers congratulate the party animals for being even more successfully ruthlessly exploitative as they plan future cooperation…

  1. Neil Hailstone says:

    This is a very interesting post. The link to the Gatestone Institute was helpful. I had not realised until yesterday the extent of the violent unrest in France. The mainstream media in the UK has under reported all of this. I occasionally watch RT news mostly because I find the Kremlin propaganda amusing as well of course simply pathetic. Earlier this morning they had a full piece on the situation in France and I was stunned by what I was watching.

    I agree with you when you write that there are some people who are taking part simply because of their wish to engage in violence. I would think they are a relatively small number compared to the ordinary people who are sick to death of the political class and their priorities.

    The problem that Macron and other leaders face in the West is the sheer anger that ordinary people have against serious inequality, high taxation and unemployment problems.. I have to say that I hear this anger in everyday conversations when I am out and about locally. Often here in Cornwall in relates to the dire situation in housing for locals when at the same time there are huge numbers of second homes used for around 8 weeks of the year. In some other parts of the UK I know that high levels of uncontrolled immigration are a serious factor in mass discontent.

    Like yourself Father I do not think any of us can say with any certainty where any of this will lead.

    Here of course in the next 8 days we shall face instability when the political class and the ruling elite manage to overturn the clear instruction of 17.4 million voters to leave the EU.

    This will result in a great deal of anger hopefully without violence.

    We can only wait for now and see what happens while we continue living out our lives as Christians.

    • Rubricarius says:

      How is leaving the EU going to help with unemployment and disadvantage?

      I would have thought the opposite effect would be realised with considerable job losses and the loss of various initiatives that aim to address the underlying issue such as ESF providing training opportunities etc to upskill our workforce. The UK still has serious underlying issues with basics such as adult literacy and numeracy.

      • Dale says:

        How economically successful has membership in the EU been for Spain, Italy, Greece, and Portugal? Not very one suspects.

        If there are indeed issues with basic education in Great Britain, importing cheap foreign labour to do the work is perhaps not the best way to deal with it; although the rich are very supportive of cheap labour.

      • An analogy might come in useful (even when we don’t consider the meltdown of the British Government). Is it better to live with a nagging wife or be homeless and sleeping rough? The whole of Europe is going the way of being sick and tired of political elites who use their people to make money. Après nous la déluge – we can only keep things going for as long as possible before the descent into the abyss and 2033 looking just like 1933… The European Union might bring something positive out of the misery but the UK all alone and depending on WTO rules is going to be in serious trouble and a pariah state. It isn’t perfect but nothing ever is.

      • Dale says:

        Fr Anthony, I see and understand many of your points, but a pariah state? Really? I find it hard to believe that Norway and Switzerland are considered as pariah states because of their refusal to join the EU. Although you seem to fear a slide into 1933, I am more afraid of the EU developing into a Soviet style system with a lot of pretend nations under its thumb with a centralised and brutal elite in control. And much like the former soviet model, with a litany of left-wing platitudes of compassion as its propaganda arm.

      • I suppose that all we can do is wait and see what happens. I seem to be reasonably secure in France with a home 3 years shy of being paid off, fulfilling all the requirements for legal residence and my application having been accepted for the Carte de Séjour – and with my application in for French nationality. Yesterday was a watershed in English history, the first time the Government was found in Contempt of Parliament for covering up legal advice which will expose the holes in Mrs May’s deal. We have only a few days to wait and then we know that the fight is between “no-deal” and “no-Brexit”.

        The difference between the UK on one side and CH/NO is that the latter have never been in the EU, so have no problem continuing as they are. The UK has. The difference is two whole eggs still in their basket, and an egg that has been broken and baked into a cake. In the latter case, you can’t get your egg back. No-deal Brexit will involve broken contracts and unpaid debts, and those who don’t get their money are going to be very angry.

        This morning I contemplated the inevitability of nationalism and a return to some form of authoritarianism. All of a sudden, Macron not only suspended the fuel taxes, but stopped them altogether. There will now be a period of dialogue, and Edouard Philippe, the Prime Minister representing the Establishment more than Macron, has been slapped down. Macron knows that he is one of the only points of resistance to the new anti-liberal forces. Brexit used to be seen as a force for populism, but it really a part of the ultra-rich neo-liberal establishment. It was hiding, and it is being blown open now. We are in a Zweifrontenkrieg, against the world of big business and obscene wealth of the 1% and the leaderless populism that can easily be exploited by wannabe dictators. There is every possibility that the EU itself would be taken over by populist demagogues, and the result would be Hitler’s dream come true if taken to the ultimate limit. It is just a question of degree.

        It doesn’t really matter to people of our age. I am not afraid of death. I am concerned for the future and young people as they have their lives before them. That being said, the problem is sustainability and that of most resources being hogged by the minority. If things continue and the bombs not being defused as Macron is trying to do in France, then revolution is inevitable – and revolution is bloody and one injustice is replaced by another. As a European, I don’t see a return of Communism – so feared by the Americans since the McCarthy days of the 1950’s. Over here, it is marginal and discredited except in the enclaves of hard-core trade unions like the CGT in France. Most of those involved in the unrest in Paris and elsewhere are far right-wing. Some are anarchists whose philosophy of life is nihilist. I am not concerned about the EU becoming some kind of neo-soviet union. There is populism in Germany too and some of it is neo-Nazi – in a country that repents of its past.

        A “centralised and brutal elite” or a “centralised and brutal dictatorship elected on the back of populism”. It’s a tricky choice. Either way, we have to live “under the radar” and not stick our head out far enough for it to be chopped off. Perhaps “getting by” would be easier under Macron or his tendency than under a new incarnation of Robespierre and the Jacobins. I just want a peaceful life! Most people do. Neo-liberalism is dying, but it could still be replaced by another form of the same thing in disguise. That is what concerns me about the UK and Brexit.

        The problem with a two-headed dragon is that you can cut one head off and the other keeps the beast alive until the missing head grows back on.

      • David Llewellyn Dodds says:

        How successful are the EU and various of its member governments likely to be to cut off their trade noses to spite their abiding by their rules-allowing-exit face? Punish the UK by injuring if not tpo often killing their own businesses? For instance, over a year ago I read of Hans-Olaf Henkel and Michael Rogowski, as former heads of the Federation of German Industry (BDI), acknowledging/stressing in the latter’s words, “Mit fast 90 Milliarden Euro sind die Briten nach den USA und Frankreich die drittwichtigsten Kunden der deutschen Wirtschaft”. And an AFP report of less than two months ago included, “‘If Britain becomes a “third country” (losing membership of the EU’s single market) it’s not a problem, we already work with 50 third countries,’ said Samia Zimmerling, head of export administration at Delta Pronatura — a cleaning products maker with operations in both Germany and the UK.”

        But, with Tolstoy’s words in War and Peace, Book 13, chapter 8, ringing in my mind’s ear – “Had Napoleon’s aim been to destroy his army, the most skillful strategist could hardly have devised any series of actions that would so completely have accomplished that purpose, independently of anything the Russian army might do” – I can sadly too well imagine that decisive EU and member leaders would stubbornly choose strenuously to pursue their own disadvantage in their arrogance and spite.

      • Dale says:

        I am going to support David here. The Germans have been so spiteful, their typical response to anything that does not go the way they want it to, that they are willing to destroy their own economy to spite Great Britain. Of course, they are afraid that if Brexit works out well for Great Britain, then other nations not happy with the status quo may leave as well.

        Most of the economies, outside of those of Britain and Germany, that are in the EU are not doing well. Most of the Mediterranean EU nations are doing absolutely horribly; but now they are so deeply in debt to Germany that they cannot leave, or govern independently, well at least Italy has recently attempted to do so. With high unemployment, especially among the young, they are still forced to take in hundreds of thousands of immigrants so that Germany can enjoy cheap labor costs and an alleviation of their fears of a dwindling cheap labour force.

        For years the elites have been warning us about the population explosion, imploring us to have fewer children ; but all of a sudden, a population drop is going to end in catastrophe and the end of the world. The only cure is open immigration to replace cheap labour to make up for a population that is growing older, of course immigrants get older too, and many of them never move past being wards of the state, but they do become the new voting block of the old liberal parties. But to hell with ancient traditions and ethnic solidarity, those are the concerns of the racist lower orders. What is important is a profit and a continuing source of cheap labour.

      • Rubricarius says:

        I don’t see how in practice EU workers in the UK can be described as ‘cheap foreign labour’. To give an example in the large hospital I was working until recently EU nursing recruits are paid exactly the same as similarly qualified persons from the UK. It would be illegal to do otherwise. In fact in terms of short-term cost they are more expensive to employ as their flights to the UK are paid for and their first month’s rent as an incentive to come. With the result of the Brexit vote the NHS is seeing the departure of a significant number of EU nationals recruitment drives were taking place in India and the Philippines with associated increased costs.

      • David Llewellyn Dodds says:

        When thinking of “the ultra-rich […] establishment” and “the world of big business and obscene wealth” properly in broadest sense, where does Gazprom Gerhard fit in? And how different (if we are to consider crediting Günther Lachmann and Ralf Georg Reuth’s biography) is Agit-Prop Angela? If “the EU itself […has not been] taken over by […] demagogues” long since, how more accurately to describe our Masters?

    • Dale says:

      “To give an example in the large hospital I was working until recently EU nursing recruits are paid exactly the same as similarly qualified persons from the UK”:

      I do think you realise that “similarly qualified” individuals are not the issue, and the hiring of such individuals will not be affected by Brexit. Highly trained and needed people will always have access to work visas. Exactly as it was before Great Britain joined the EU.

      One of the main issues is the huge numbers of immigrants (usually passed off as refugees) that are coming from Africa and the Middle East. Merkel, without any thought to ask anyone else, invited hundred of thousands into Europe and now wants all the other EU nations to accept them. They tend to be low-skill and low-education immigrants who will seriously affect the pay scale on the lower ends of the social strata. If Great Britain remains in the EU, they will have to be accepted; and hundreds of thousands are still coming. Many of them will never work, but will become a serious social burden as well as a growing ethnic and religious issue as well. Good Lord, in the last two years over 250 men, women and children in France have been murdered by such people and their first generation descendants, mostly over religious issues.

      Even low-skilled and low-educated individuals from some of the EU countries are an issue. The numbers of Romanian Romany in France have caused serious crime issues. As long as Great Britain is with the EU there is not way to control this issue of “legal” immigration; and once again those safely ensconced in higher level positions will have nothing to fear, whilst those on the lower edges of employment are the ones who will have to contend with stagnating wages. Labour is indeed a supply and demand issue. Too much labour available, and wages either stagnate or decrease.

      Fr Anthony, blaming the wealthy for Brexit is not supported by the actual demographics of those who voted to remain. The wealthy areas overwhelmingly supported to remain. I do not wish to insinuate that they only did so in an attempt to keep cheap servants; but it has crossed my mind. The rich do not like rocking the economic boat; they are not the ones who support Brexit.

      • Rubricarius says:

        Dale,

        Non EU immigrants into the UK are, officially, subject to rather strict controls resulting in the issue of permits as to whether, or not, they are entitled to work in the UK and if they are entitled to work for how many hours. Any responsible UK employer who is recruiting must follow strict guidelines if they wish to employ such a person. What we repeatedly hear from the vote ‘Leave’ campaign is about ‘cutting red tape’ and ‘deregulation’. What these terms mean, in real terms, comes back to what normal people would regard as fair and safe working praxis.

        To reiterate the point: A non-EU worker given the right to work in an EU country cannot be paid less than a native EU worker.

        The Brexiteers, and I can think of a particular Westminster Conservative Councillor who brags about what his Great Portland Street flat is worth opined to me how wonderful it would be if all WTD regulations were cast aside, along with taxation rules, and the UK became a sort of North Atlantic Taiwan.

        I am proud to say I would fight such an arrangement to the absolute.

  2. David Llewellyn Dodds says:

    Father Anthony,

    How well and plausibly is the joining of some ambulance staff on 3 December being reported – and what, if any, sequel has it had?

    And, what of the reports of some police showing respect/solidarity/joining? I saw a cautious journalist of 40 years experience noting this on 3 December, saying he had only seen RT taking this up among international media, and quoting (for what it may be worth) from their report, that Alexandre Langlois, the secretary-general of the VIGI police union, told them, “Most of us back the Gilets Jaunes, because we will be directly affected by any rise in fuel prices, Most of us can’t live where we work, because it is either too expensive, or we would be arresting our next-door neighbors, so we drive significant distances.

    “Our tax contributions are going up in several areas, but there are no commensurate wage rises… It is hard to accept these cruel measures.”

    He linked this, posted on 2 December:

  3. David Llewellyn Dodds says:

    Also, what of the assorted student protests of 3 and 4 December – are they continuing? How varied are they, and how opportunistic are some (and how well/plausibly reported, in your opinion)?

    • It’s looking more and more like May 1968. The lorries (trucks) will be on strike from this weekend and blocking fuel facilities, so I need to fill up before the end of this week and keep driving to a minimum. Macron needs to make serious reforms or we go Le Pen or Melenchon. We have to be careful about what we wish for…

  4. Dale says:

    It appears that the Swiss, who have refused to join the Soviet of the EU, are now being strong armed:
    https://www.ft.com/content/0d992b1a-fa39-11e8-8b7c-6fa24bd5409c

    • David Llewellyn Dodds says:

      Not even the Nazis tried that – strong-arming the Swiss – as far as I’m aware: I wonder if the Soviets would have, if they had swiftly overrun the rest of Europe according to various contingency plans which I recall hearing became known after their collapse?

      • Dale says:

        Perhaps this will work better: http://www.reuters.com/article/us-swiss-eu-cabinet/swiss-risk-eu-anger-after-dodging-eu-treaty-deadline-idUSKBN1O52LZ

        Personally, I find this attempt to force nations to accept EU rules and regulations rather offensive, yet telling at the same time.

      • David Llewellyn Dodds says:

        Thanks! “It said the draft treaty was the best deal possible.” But then, it always does, with monotonous impunity resisting any real, deep interest in reform or negotiation, doesn’t it? By contrast, “‘All paths are open from a complete yes to a complete no,’ Foreign Minister Ignazio Cassis told a news conference in Bern.”

        “Swiss-EU relations suffered in 1992 when Swiss voters rejected joining the European Economic Area. This led to a negotiated patchwork of 120 bilateral accords that now govern ties. […] If talks fail, the sectoral accords would stay in effect but relations would suffer badly.” Why? Why not a new round of sensibly-tailored ‘bilateral sectoral accords’? Are there other reasons than our EU-Masters’ arrogance and Willen zur Macht?

  5. Rev22:17 says:

    As an observer across the pond, I find the notion that there isn’t somebody orchestrating these violent demonstrations/protests to strain the bounds of credulity. It takes more than a little doing to get tens of thousands of people to drop their plans so they can show up in the same place at the same time to carry on in this way.

    Of course, that absolutely begs the question of who is orchestrating the protests and what the agendas of the orchestrators might be. Here in the States, political protests of any size are invariably the domain of the radical left. When the radical right has attempted to hold a rally in a public place, the numbers typically have been much smaller — perhaps a couple hundred to a couple thousand or so at most. Unfortunately, I don’t know the political landscape of France well enough to say that it’s the same dynamic with any certainty.

    But the really interesting scenario here is that this could in fact be “the usual suspects” behind political demonstrations and violent protests turning their backs on those whom they previously supported because the consequences of “far left” policies are coming home to roost. When “the wealthy” have to pay more in taxes, it’s inevitably the poor who suffer. In the immediate aftermath, it’s the maid, the butler, and other non-essential domestic staff who get laid off when a rich person can no longer afford to pay them, and the money taken from them is investment capital that otherwise would be invested in ways that would spawn new jobs, providing real economic opportunities through gainful employment rather than government handouts for the poor and the middle class.

    As to the Brexit deal, I expect that Parliament will approve the deal because, when push meets up with shog they have no other viable option.

    Norm.

    • Here is the Wikipedia account of the origin of the movement.

      “A woman from the Seine-et-Marne department started a petition on the change.org website in May 2018 that reached 300,000 signatures by mid-October. Parallel to this petition, two men from the same department launched a Facebook event for 17 November to “block all roads” and thus protest against an increase in fuel prices they considered excessive, stating that this increase was the result of the tax increase. One of the viral videos around this group launched the idea of using yellow jackets.

      According to French scholar Béatrice Giblin, comparisons between the gilets jaunes and the Bonnets Rouges—who opposed a new eco-tax in 2013—were inapt because the latter “had been taken in hand by real leaders, such as the mayor of Carhaix, or the great bosses of Brittany” whereas that is not the case for the yellow jackets. Gilets jaunes is organised in a leaderless, horizontalist fashion. Informal leaders can emerge, only to be immediatly rejected and threatened with violence by other yellow jackets. According to John Lichfield, some in the movement take their hatred of politicians so far they extend it even to any “would-be politicians who emerge from their own ranks.” The yellow jacket movement is not associated with a specific political party or trade union and has spread largely by social media.”

      If enough people are watching the Facebook pages, it just snowballs. Certainly Le Pen on the far-right and Melenchon on the far-left are trying to ride this movement piggyback, and the thugs and hooligans are in it for the violence they love.

      I don’t see a conspiracy from the Illuminati, the Red-Eyed Reptiles or the Moofia. The internet is proving a very powerful instrument for a movement that is the result of years of government that is eroding constitutional principles for the sake of the elite. The “traditional” mainstream political parties have all failed, and neither Le Pen nor Melenchon have the credibility to govern. If Macron goes, there are few options left for the country. Military dictatorship, anyone?

      • David Llewellyn Dodds says:

        I seem to remember reading news reporting about an instance, I think in America, a couple years ago where someone had an invitation to a birthday party on social media and someone/others took that up, encouraging any and all to attend/crash it – which occurred, on a large messy scale. I suppose that combined social media risks with speedy opportunistic organization.

        How does the rise of M. Macron himself fit in such a context? It only just occurred to me to wonder in how far “La République En Marche !” and its predecessor form, “En Marche !”, play with military, and/or ‘revolutionary’ imagery in their name?

        And, what of La Manif Pour Tous – it strikes me that I have not encountered any comparisons or contrasts in English-language reporting of “the gilet jaune people” and activities with it/them (but perhaps I’m just not reading enough…)?

  6. David Llewellyn Dodds says:

    David Brown’s article at Gatestone today includes (with link): “An analysis by the Institut des Politiques Publiques think-tank shows that benefits cuts and tax changes in 2018 and 2019 will leave pensioners and the bottom fifth of households worse off, while the abolition of the wealth tax means that by far the biggest gains will go to the top 1%”.

    Do you happen to have any impression of this, or indeed, of “the Institut des Politiques Publiques think-tank” you might share with us?

  7. David Llewellyn Dodds says:

    And, has anyone seen any update on whether or not the armoured vehicles with the EU flag deployed the other day “denoted participation in the European Gendarmerie Force (EGF/EUROGENDFOR) — an embryonic Europe-wide paramilitary police force which, like the Eurocorps military force often seen raising the EU flag outside the European Parliament building, is not technically an EU organisation, but often involved in EU projects”, as I have seen the question posed? (Who builds and sells them, I wonder, and what is the picture of recent sales and purchasers?)

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