A Poor Marxist Understanding of the Yellow Vest Protests

Just recently InDefense of Marxism republished a piece by a French page Revolution: International Marxist Tendency. The piece is in support of the Yellow Vest protests in France. Essentially, by using the words of Lenin they claim that France is on the verge of a communist revolution. Frankly, their view is wholly utopian and short-sighted. We often see this with first worldists. As soon as something happens they immediately jump at the claim that “revolution is upon us!” Every time they are let down by their own irrational exuberance. Let us look at the most recent upheaval.

To achieve this they quote Lenin quite clearly on the “objective” conditions for a revolution:

“1) When it is impossible for the ruling classes to maintain their rule without any change; when there is a crisis, in one form or another, among the ‘upper classes,’ a crisis in the policy of the ruling class, leading to a fissure through which the discontent and indignation of the oppressed classes can burst forth. For a revolution to take place, it is usually insufficient for ‘the lower classes not to want’ to live in the old way; it is also necessary that ‘the upper classes should be unable’ to live in the old way;

“2) when the suffering and want of the oppressed classes have grown more acute than usual;

“3) when, as a consequence of the above causes, there is a considerable increase in the activity of the masses, who uncomplainingly allow themselves to be robbed in ‘peacetime’, but, in turbulent times, are drawn both by all the circumstances of the crisis and by the ‘upper classes’ themselves into independent historical action.”

To this criteria they claim:

This is exactly what is happening in France. The “suffering and want of the oppressed classes” have continued to worsen in recent years. But the “carbon tax” has become the spark that lit the powder keg. A woman in a yellow vest summarised the situation in a television interview on Wednesday: “Until now, we were on the razor’s edge, financially. Now, we are falling.”

There is no denying the collapse of the social situation in France. There is no denying that living standards have been declining for years, primarily out of the Great Recession of 2008. No one would argue that their “suffering” hasn’t increased to some degree. But is this the basis for a revolution? No. From there they remind us much more of what is required, by quoting Lenin once again.

“…not every revolutionary situation that gives rise to a revolution; revolution arises only out of a situation in which the above-mentioned objective changes are accompanied by a subjective change, namely, the ability of the revolutionary class to take revolutionary mass action strong enough to break (or dislocate) the old government, which never, not even in a period of crisis, ‘falls’, if it is not toppled over.”

What Lenin says is true. In Defense of Marxism calls for there to be an organized action against the Macron government. They are essentially calling for a vanguard party to appear. Much to their chagrin, there is no such party. They have ignored from their analysis that communists and communism are not supported by the French masses. In addition, there is no great organized vanguard. The communist and “communist” parties of France are either social-democratic or so small in influence they might as well not exist.  Vanguard party is not simply going to spontaneously appear. It requires tremendous backing and effort in order to produce. It will not spontaneously appear, which is how it would have to in this situation.

We should return to the words of Lenin they quoted and see how selective their reading is. He says, “When it is impossible for the ruling classes to maintain their rule without any change;”. This is what they have primarily overlooked. There is a great deal of room to change in order to maintain their rule. There are a plethora of social-democratic reforms that can be introduced and have already been introduced by the Macron government. This is the very heart of the first wordlist lack of theory: the inability to see that there is “change” that can be carried out via the spoils of imperialism. It is interesting that they have pulled this quote from Lenin, yet have ignored the first line of it.

When these reforms come (and they will) will they think of the Africans which are brutalized in production to pay for those reforms? Will they even acknowledge the billions of dollars in tribute that African countries are forced to pay France that fills the first world coffers? Will they ignore the struggle against imperialism that their country is responsible for?

The reality of the global capitalist order is wholly ignored in favour of a romanticized view of first world workers are the wretched of the earth and the deliberate ignoring of the source of their first world privilege. Such is the way of first worldism, they continually proclaim revolution is upon us at every single little disturbance, and they are always let down. They are let down because their analysis is anti-material and wholly utopian. They believe what they want to believe, not what scientific study tells them.

Source: https://www.marxist.com/france-at-the-threshold-of-a-revolutionary-crisis.htm