back to

"Five Notes on the Yellow Vest Movement"


At Popula, radical theorist Joshua Clover offers “Five Notes on the Yellow Vest Movement,” as the uprising transitions from weekly marches and blockades across France to more dispersed forms of agitation and organization. Among other things, Clover suggests that the movement’s heterogeneity—attracting nationalists, communists, and everyone in between, as long as they’re fed up with the governing status quo—means that within the movement there is a “low-key civil war” being waged over its meaning, future, and political orientation. An excerpt:

Number Two: It’s Low-Key a Civil War

A main shared characteristic of participants may well be hostility to business as usual, which is to say, politics as usual. Certainly it begins from an economic demand. It is striking how swiftly and creatively it moved toward a broad set of demands both economic and political, with Macron’s resignation predictably at the top. The remainder intimate both progressive and reactionary political visions(France out of Africa on the one hand, strong immigration controls on the other). The movement has sustained itself longer than anyone supposed, after Macron yielded on the gas tax, after he offered modest increases in the minimum wage. Even when it dissolves, its energies will still be present. If we lived in a world where the psychic life of politics was not dominated by the electoral pantomime, we could hope for a real challenge to the rule of capital. We can hope regardless. Likely there will be a tedious hustle to canalize the movement’s denizens and dynamics toward the next elections—with a real risk that the national chauvinists of Le Pen’s Rassemblement National will most successfully lay claim to the politics of pretending to hate politics. This is why there is, as there must be, a struggle within the struggle, a sort of low-key civil war internal to the movement itself about what it will end up meaning. It is for this reason those who know that state authority or a new compact with capital will not save anyone, radicals and militants who may have kept their distance from a movement with reactionary elements, might wish to fight over its direction from within.

Image via Citizen Truth.


This conflict within the Yellow Vest movement is not one which, unfortunately for them, be resolved in favor of Marxists. The protests have strong nationalist currents; flag waiving, xenophobia and general national chauvinism are present and prominent. The majority of protesters express that the current order hurts the French people, not that gas prices and low wages hurt “progress” and are evidence of the need for revolution. As global capital and the US empire strain their local western populations under the demands of the empire, there will be populist, nationalist, reactionary backlash. The hope of the system is that it can play the new, imported and alien populations, in conjunction with native leftists, off of this reactionary force creating a stalemate in the polls until such a force can be destroyed through demographic replacement and ideological indoctrination. Then, revolutionaries will be eliminated (if any remain) just as the native population was. Ultimately the riots are an honest expression of the French people, though neither left nor right will truly get what it wants.