back to

Notes on the “Yellow Vests” Movement in France


For weeks now, the “yellow vest” (gilets jaunes) uprising has rocked France. Initially trigger by a proposed increase in fuel taxes, the movement quickly widened into a wholesale rejection of Emmanuel Macron’s government and the economic status quo. A wide swathe of French society has joined the protests, from unions, to government workers, to students, feminists, and the unemployed. Countless roads have been blocks, marches organized, and even government buildings stormed.

Viewpoint magazine has translated an astute analysis of the uprising by the Parisian collective Plateforme d’Enquêtes Militantes. Entitled “On a Ridgeline: Notes on the ‘Yellow Vests’ Movement,” the piece focuses on the unusually complex social composition of the uprising, in which anarchists have sometimes been in the same demonstrations as nationalists. The authors argues that the yellow vest movement defies our usual frames of political analysis and thus requires careful observation, analysis, and participation in order to determine its radical political potential. Here’s an excerpt:

A battlefield: this describes the movement that has gripped France for the past few weeks, insofar as it is traversed by a social composition and political themes – taxation and buying power – that break with our classic interpretive grids. One thing is clear: the “yellow vests” movement requires us to put aside our political routines, in order to participate in it with the prudence of those who know how to advance in a strange and partly unknown milieu. From the outset, then, we must avoid the rigid dichotomy of either simple mimicry or full-on hostility. In this regard, it is imperative not to lose sight of our political convictions.

Beyond the two major days of mobilization on two consecutive Saturdays, November 17th and 24th, this first phase of mobilization extends the sequence of struggle of 2016-18, while also marking a significant leap. While the forms of action practiced by the yellow vests indeed remain familiar to us – traffic blockades, confrontations with the police – several elements have emerged during this last three weeks stand out to us.

Image via Viewpoint.