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Are the Gilets Jaunes Today’s Sans-Culottes?

Presage to Revolution? Analysing the protests in France

Gilbert Mercier

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“Pour le peuple, il y a toujours la misère!” Anonymous Gilet Jaune

From the Island of La Reunion to the Napoleonic symbol that is the Arc de Triomphe, through big and small towns, as well as the usually bucolic countryside in France, there is something special in the air: the smell of fires on barricades, the smoke of tear gas, the anger built upon decades of inequality, injustice and despair for most. Among the Gilets Jaunes, many understand intuitively that the current democratic process is dead, and therefore the only option is the occupation of streets and roads. History usually moves at a snail’s pace, but sometimes a series of events abruptly push societies to a breakdown, to the fascinating and somewhat beautiful and chaotic quantum leap that is a revolution. Some cultures have it in their collective DNA to embrace, without fear, the chaotic changes of revolutionary turmoil: France is not only one of them, it was arguably the first one when its sans-culottes citizens cut off the head of their absolute monarch Louis XVI. It was unthinkable then; could it happen again?

From gas-tax protests to “Macron Démission!”

It is still premature to call the Gilets Jaunes movement a revolution, but one can say categorically that this unexpected and spontaneous grassroots movement has put France on track for the preliminary stages of such a dramatic event. While the Gilets Jaunes started as an apolitical protest mainly focused on gas taxes deemed unfair, it has, in a matter of three weeks, morphed into a movement that calls for many structural changes as well as the resignation of France’s President, Emmanuel Macron. The French government is under attack and says that the Republic is in peril from the chaos of the unreasonable extremists within the Gilets Jaunes. What the yellow vests of the Gilets Jaunes symbolizes is blue-collar workers, struggling retirees and students who revolt against the suits of the political class and CEOs. The Gilets Jaunes feel betrayed by the political class and even the Republic, and they view Macron as the president of the rich, acting often like a king and as if he is whispering about his subjects the “let them eat cake” of Marie-Antoinette. It is an anger over social inequality that fuels the Gilets Jaunes. While the integrity of the European Union should be defended for geopolitical reasons — otherwise European nations will lose their voices on the world stage — if the Gilets Jaunes movement spreads, perhaps the EU can fully become a European Union by and for the people, not the current EU of a rarefied ruling class.

A popular anti-capitalist revolt not a populist neofascist rise

The Gilets Jaunes movement is strictly horizontal, without a hierarchy or recognized leaders. It has, so far, refused to be hijacked by political parties: either the Rassemblement Nationale of Marine Le Pen on the far-Right, or La France Insoumise of Jean-Luc Melenchon on the Left. It has also rejected association with French labor unions. Without spelling it out, the Gilets Jaunes movement is anti-capitalist: a guttural revolt of the have-nots against the elite. It is a popular, not a populist, movement. Europeans and even American populist-nationalists are already distorting the Gilets Jaunes’ significance to serve their political agenda. As opposed to the rise of nationalism-populism elsewhere, such as in Italy, Austria, Hungary, the UK as expressed by BREXIT, the US, and Brazil with the election of Bolsonaro, the Gilets Jaunes do not have an anti-immigration or even an anti-EU agenda that reeks of racism and neofascism.

“Les riches parlent de la fin du monde, on a peur des fins de mois”

The Gilets Jaunes are in revolt against capitalism or neoliberalism, which is a worldwide system of concentration of wealth and power into a few hands. With our pending ecological collapse and vanishing biodiversity, capitalism has failed and is reaching its end game. Unlike the neofascist science deniers, the Gilets Jaunes perceive climate change as a crisis, but they say that it is hard to focus on a global ecological collapse when you live from paycheck to paycheck. They feel that they deal with the anxiety of putting food on the table at the end of the month while the rich talk about the end of the world. Thinking about humanity’s survival is hard to do on an empty stomach.

May 1968 or 1789? 

Some outside observers, as well as a few Gilets Jaunes have made an analogy between this movement and the events of May 1968 in France, from which the main result was the resignation of General Charles de Gaulle. This is questionable. The 1968 movement was, at its origins, a student movement partially inspired by neo-Marxist ideas. In France, and worldwide, especially in the US, there was the somewhat fuzzy hippy peace-and-love cultural trend dancing to the soundtrack of Woodstock. This was more like a mini cultural revolution: a clash of generations, with the youths revolting against the moral rigidity of their parents. As the ultimate father-figure, General de Gaulle was a prime target. As the baby boomers came of age, the late 1960s everywhere were more about sexual liberation than anything else. In our darker times, when humanity’s extinction has become a legitimate topic of discussion, this hedonist element is entirely gone. The Gilets Jaunes are about bread-and-butter issues, not free love. This is not the Gilets Jaunes reality, as their demographic is, on average, much older. In this regard, the Gilets Jaunes have more in common with the sans-culottes of the 1789 French Revolution than the sons and daughters of the bourgeoisie of 1968. Gilets Jaunes is at its core a blue-collar revolt against unfair taxation and blatant social injustice, a revolt against the dead end that isglobal capitalism.

The “casseurs” are insurgents: repression or compromises?

French mainstream media, which are all on the side of the establishment, have  portrayed some Gilets Jaunes as “casseurs” responsible for what they describe as urban guerrilla warfare. By doing so, they are attempting to gut the protests of their sociological and political content. Casseurs break things and attack riot police for no reason, whereas the insurgent segment of the Gilets Jaunes target symbols of capitalism, such as luxury stores and banks, and retaliate against the blind violence of the state personified by the CRS riot police. Macron’s compromise to scrap the gas tax hike is viewed as too little too late. Gilets Jaunes demands have grown to include systemic fiscal and social changes, such as: reinstalling the Impot sur la Fortune (ISF) that taxes the rich; and increasing both the minimum wage and minimum retirement income to 1,300 Euros a month. Macron can either compromise on these and other points, get rid of his prime minister, and perhaps dissolve the National Assembly and call for new elections. Or he could harden the police repression by declaring a state of emergency and, even worse, call on the French Army to maintain order as some police officials have suggested, in which case the state of emergency would become a de-facto martial law. Playing hard ball with the Gilets Jaunes could be a fatal mistake for the French government. Back in 1789, King Louis XVI had a chance to abdicate his absolute power and become a constitutional monarch: he refused, and this mistake cost him his head.

Revolutions need revolution

Revolutions never happen in a sociological and historical vacuum. This being said, the spark that can light up the fuse of such an atypical event is usually unexpected. A  population can take only so much inequality, injustice and oppression. Under inhumane and unbearable pressures, societal time bombs do go off. Revolutions, successful or not, express a collective rage against a social order that has failed the vast fraction of a population. It is the fracture when talks and compromise become useless, a break point where violence and destruction appear to be the only options. This critical mass was reached for the brutalized and exploited French sans-culottes in 1789, Haitian slaves in 1791, Russian serfs in 1917, and Chinese workers and farmers in 1949. As an expression of the anger of a population with nothing left to lose, cornered by a delusional ruling class, revolutionary explosions are mighty and often unstoppable. Time will tell if the Gilets Jaunes movement has enough legs and bite to catalyze such an improbable revolutionary event.

Editor’s Notes: Gilbert Mercier is the author of The Orwellian Empire.

First Published by News Junkie Post.  Republished with the author’s permission.

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Vera GottliebOlivia Kroth Recent comment authors
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Olivia Kroth, author and journalist
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“Time will tell if the Gilets Jaunes movement has enough legs and bite to catalyze such an improbable revolutionary event.”
No, it probably won’t. CIA and French Army will jump in to cannon down the Gilets Jaunes. They will keep Macron on his post at all costs. The US Empire will not like to let go its bastion and stronghold in the overseas protectorate of Europe.

Vera Gottlieb
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Vera Gottlieb

In Europe, the French are the ones that have what it takes to go out on the street and protest until something starts moving. The French Canadian have the same DNA. And there will be a lot more ‘gilets jaunes’all over Europe until the elite finally gets it through it’s thick head, that time is long overdue to look after the vanishing middle class too. Will there be a Joan of Arc???

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Macron pisses off Merkel as he tries to sabotage Nord Stream 2 pipeline (Video)

The Duran – News in Review – Episode 177.

Alex Christoforou

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The Duran’s Alex Christoforou and Editor-in-Chief Alexander Mercouris discuss an EU compromise for Nord Stream 2 where EU member states, the EU Parliament, and its Commission will give the bloc more oversight on gas pipelines, with one caveat…the Nord Stream 2 project with Russia will not be threatened by the new regulations in the agreement.

Macron pushed hard to have the new regulations include (and derail) Nord Stream 2, an action which annoyed Angela Merkel, who eventually got her way and delivered another blow to Macron’s failing French presidency.

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Via The Express UK

Angela Merkel hit back at Emmanuel Macron over Russia and Germany’s pipeline project, declaring it would “not be a one-sided dependency”. The German Chancellor explained that Germany will expand its gas terminals with “liquified gas”. Speaking at a press conference, Ms Merkel declared: “Do we become dependent on Russia because of this second gas pipeline? I say no, if we diversify. Germany will expand its gas terminals with liquefied gas.

“This means that we do not want to depend only on Russia, but Russia was a source of gas in the Cold War and will remain one.

“But it would not be one-sided dependency.”

Via DW

The EU parliament and its Council are set to adopt new regulations on gas pipelines connecting the bloc members with non-EU countries, the EU Commission announced early on Wednesday.

The upcoming directive is based on a compromise between EU member states and EU officials in Brussels. The bloc leaders agreed to tighten Brussels’ oversight of gas delivery and expand its rules to all pipelines plugging into the EU’s gas distribution network.

“The new rules ensure that… everyone interested in selling gas to Europe must respect European energy law,” EU Energy Commissioner Miguel Arias Canete said in a statement.

For example, owners of pipelines linking EU and non-EU countries would also be required to allow access for their competitors. Brussels would also have more power regarding transparency and tariff regulations.

Russian ambassador slams US

Brussels has repeatedly expressed concern over the controversial Nord Stream 2 project which would deliver Russian gas directly to Germany through a pipeline under the Baltic Sea. Many EU states oppose the mammoth project, and the US claims it would allow Moscow to tighten its grip on the EU’s energy policy.

Berlin has insisted that the pipeline is a “purely economic” issue.

Speaking to Neue Osnabrücker Zeitung daily, Russian ambassador to Berlin, Sergey Nechayev, slammed the US’ opposition as an attempt to “push its competition aside” and clear the way for American suppliers of liquefied gas.

“It’s hard to believe that a country that is destroying the rules of free and fair trade, that is imposing import tariffs on its competition, that is flying slogans like ‘America First’ on its flags and often threatens biggest European concerns with illegal sanctions, is now really concerned about European interests,” the Russian envoy said in remarks published in German on Wednesday.

Last week, France unexpectedly rebelled against the project, but Berlin and Paris soon reached a compromise. Thanks to their agreement, the latest deal is not expected to impede the ongoing construction of Nord Stream 2.

Citing sources from negotiators’ circles, German public broadcaster ARD reported that the deal left room for Germany to approve exceptions from the EU-wide rules.

According to the EU Commission, however, exceptions are “only possible under strict procedures in which the Commission plays a decisive role.”

The Gazprom-backed pipeline is set to be completed by the end of the year.

 

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UK Defence Secretary looking for a fight with both China and Russia (Video)

The Duran Quick Take: Episode 87.

Alex Christoforou

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The Duran’s Alex Christoforou and Editor-in-Chief Alexander Mercouris discuss UK Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson’s idea to deploy hard power against China and Russia, starting with plans to send Britain’s new aircraft carrier to the tense sea routes in the South China Sea.

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“Britain’s Gavin Williamson places Russia & China on notice, I’m not joking,” authored by John Wight, via RT

UK Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson is itching for conflict with Russia and China. He’s not mad. Not even slightly. But he is stupid. Very.

Unlike former fireplace salesman Gavin Williamson, I am no military expert. But then you do not need to be one to understand that while Britain going to war with Russia and China might work as a video game, the real thing would be an exceedingly bad idea.

So why then in a speech delivered to the Royal United Services Institute in London, did Mr Williamson’s argument on the feasibility of the real thing elicit applause rather than the shrieks of horror and demands he be sacked forthwith it should have? This is a serious question, by the way. It is one that cuts through British establishment verbiage to reveal a country ruled not by the sober and doughty political heavyweights of years gone by, but by foaming fanatics in expensive suits

Placing to one side for a moment the insanity of the very concept of Britain deploying hard power against Russia and/or China, the prospect of fighting a war against two designated enemies at the same time is a recipe for disaster. Not satisfied with that, though, Mr Williamson is actually contemplating a conflict with three different enemies at the same time – i.e. against Russia, China, and the millions of people in Britain his government is currently waging war against under the rubric of austerity.

“Today, Russia is resurgent,” Mr Williamson said, “rebuilding its military arsenal and seeking to bring the independent countries of the former Soviet Union, like Georgia and Ukraine, back into its orbit.”

For Mr Williamson and his ilk a resurgent Russia is a bad thing. Much better in their eyes if Russia, after the Soviet era in the 1990s, had remained on its knees as a free market desert; its state institutions in a state of near collapse and tens of millions of its citizens in the grip of immiseration. Yes, because in that scenario Western ideologues like him would have had free rein to rampage around the world as they saw fit, setting fire to country after country on the perverse grounds of ‘saving them’ for democracy.

As it is, he and his still managed to squeeze in a considerable amount of carnage and chaos in the years it did take Russia to recover. The indictment reads as follows: Yugoslavia destroyed; Afghanistan turned upside down; Iraq pushed into the abyss; Libya sent to hell.

By the time they turned their attention to Syria, intent on exploiting an Arab Spring that NATO in Libya transformed into an Arab Winter, Russia had recovered and was able to intervene. It did so in concert with the Syrian Arab Army, Iran and Hezbollah to save the day – much to the evident chagrin of those who, like Gavin Williamson, prefer to see countries in ashes rather than independent of Western hegemony.

As to the facile nonsense about Russia trying to bring Georgia and Ukraine back into its orbit, both countries happen to share a border with Russia and both countries, in recent years, have been used by the UK and its allies as cat’s paws with the eastward expansion of NATO in mind.

It gets worse though: “The Alliance must develop its ability to handle the kind of provocations that Russia is throwing at us. Such action from Russia must come at a cost.”

“Provocations,” the man said. Since British troops have been taking part in exercises on Russia’s doorstep, not the other way round, one wonders if Gavin Williamson wrote this speech while inebriated.

It is Russia that has been on the receiving end of repeated provocations from NATO member states such as the UK in recent times, and it is Russia that has been forced to respond to protect its own security and that of its people where necessary. Furthermore, not only in Russia but everywhere, including the UK, people understand that when you have political leaders intoxicated by their own national myths and propaganda to such an extent as Britain’s Defence Secretary, danger ensues.

The most enduring of those national myths where London is concerned is that the British Empire was a force for good rather than a vast criminal enterprise, that Britain and America won the Second World War together alone, that Iraq had WMDs, and that international law and international brigandage really are one and the same thing.

Perhaps the most preposterous section of the speech came when Mr Williamson tried to fashion a connection between Brexit and Britain’s military strength: “Brexit has brought us to a moment. A great moment in our history. A moment when we must strengthen our global presence, enhance our lethality, and increase our mass.”

Reading this, you can almost hear Churchill turning in his grave. Britain’s wartime prime minister had such as Gavin Williamson in mind when he famously said, “He has all the virtues I dislike, and none of the vices I admire.”

Mr Williamson obviously misread the memo talking up not the opportunity for increased conflict with China after Brexit but trade.

This was not a speech it was a linguistic car crash, one that will forever command an honoured place in compendiums of the worst political speeches ever made. As for Gavin Williamson, just as no responsible parent would ever dream of putting an 10-year old behind the wheel of car to drive unsupervised, no responsible British government would ever appoint a man like him as its Defence Secretary.

In years past, he would have struggled to find employment polishing the brass plate outside the building.

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The Birth Of A Monster

The banking establishment welcomed the Fed with open arms. What gives?

The Duran

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Authored by David Howden via The Mises Institute:


The Federal Reserve’s doors have been open for “business” for one hundred years. In explaining the creation of this money-making machine (pun intended – the Fed remits nearly $100 bn. in profits each year to Congress) most people fall into one of two camps.

Those inclined to view the Fed as a helpful institution, fostering financial stability in a world of error-prone capitalists, explain the creation of the Fed as a natural and healthy outgrowth of the troubled National Banking System. How helpful the Fed has been is questionable at best, and in a recent book edited by Joe Salerno and me — The Fed at One Hundred — various contributors outline many (though by no means all) of the Fed’s shortcomings over the past century.

Others, mostly those with a skeptical view of the Fed, treat its creation as an exercise in secretive government meddling (as in G. Edward Griffin’s The Creature from Jekyll Island) or crony capitalism run amok (as in Murray Rothbard’s The Case Against the Fed).

In my own chapter in The Fed at One Hundred I find sympathies with both groups (you can download the chapter pdf here). The actual creation of the Fed is a tragically beautiful case study in closed-door Congressional deals and big banking’s ultimate victory over the American public. Neither of these facts emerged from nowhere, however. The fateful events that transpired in 1910 on Jekyll Island were the evolutionary outcome of over fifty years of government meddling in money. As such, the Fed is a natural (though terribly unfortunate) outgrowth of an ever more flawed and repressive monetary system.

Before the Fed

Allow me to give a brief reverse biographical sketch of the events leading up to the creation of a monster in 1914.

Unlike many controversial laws and policies of the American government — such as the Affordable Care Act, the Troubled Asset Relief Program, or the War on Terror — the Federal Reserve Act passed with very little public outcry. Also strange for an industry effectively cartelized, the banking establishment welcomed the Fed with open arms. What gives?

By the early twentieth century, America’s banking system was in a shambles. Fractional-reserve banks faced with “runs” (which didn’t have to be runs with the pandemonium that usually accompanies them, but rather just banks having insufficient cash to meet daily withdrawal requests) frequently suspended cash redemptions or issued claims to “clearinghouse certificates.” These certificates were a money substitute making use of the whole banking system’s reserves held by large clearinghouses.

Both of these “solutions” to the common bank run were illegal as they allowed a bank to redefine the terms of the original deposit contract. This fact notwithstanding, the US government turned a blind eye as the alternative (widespread bank failures) was perceived to be far worse.

The creation of the Fed, the ensuing centralization of reserves, and the creation of a more elastic money supply was welcomed by the government as a way to eliminate those pesky and illegal (yet permitted) banking activities of redemption suspensions and the issuance of clearinghouse certificates. The Fed returned legitimacy to the laws of the land. That is, it addressed the government’s fear that non-enforcement of a law would raise broader questions about the general rule of law.

The Fed provided a quick fix to depositors by reducing cases of suspensions of their accounts. And the banking industry saw the Fed as a way to serve clients better without incurring a cost (fewer bank runs) and at the same time coordinate their activities to expand credit in unison and maximize their own profits.

In short, the Federal Reserve Act had a solution for everyone.

Taking a central role in this story are the private clearinghouses which provided for many of the Fed’s roles before 1914. Indeed, America’s private clearinghouses were viewed as having as many powers as European central banks of the day, and the creation of the Fed was really just an effort to make the illegal practices of the clearinghouses legal by government institutionalization.

Why Did Clearinghouses Have So Much Power?

Throughout the late nineteenth century, clearinghouses used each new banking crisis to introduce a new type of policy, bringing them ever closer in appearance to a central bank. I wouldn’t go so far as to say these are examples of power grabs by the clearinghouses, but rather rational responses to fundamental problems in a troubled American banking system.

When bank runs occurred, the clearinghouse certificate came into use, first in 1857, but confined to the interbank market to economize on reserves. Transactions could be cleared in specie, but lacking sufficient reserves, a troubled bank could make use of the certificates. These certificates were jointly guaranteed by all banks in the clearinghouse system through their pooled reserves. This joint guarantee was welcomed by unstable banks with poor reserve positions, and imposed a cost on more prudently managed banks (as is the case today with deposit insurance). A prudent bank could complain, but if it wanted to use a clearinghouse’s services and reap the cost advantages it had to comply with the reserve-pooling policy.

As the magnitude of the banking crisis intensified, clearinghouses started permitting banks to issue the certificates directly to the public (starting with the Panic of 1873) to further stymie reserve drains. (These issues to the general public amounted to illegal money substitutes, though they were tolerated, as noted above.)

Fractional-Reserve Free Banking and Bust

The year 1857 is a somewhat strange one for these clearinghouse certificates to make their first appearance. It was, after all, a full twenty years into America’s experiment with fractional-reserve free banking. This banking system was able to function stably, especially compared to more regulated periods or central banking regimes. However, the dislocation between deposit and lending activities set in motion a credit-fueled boom that culminated in the Panic of 1857.

This boom and panic has all the makings of an Austrian business cycle. Banks overextended themselves to finance the booming industries during America’s westward advance, primarily the railways. Land speculation was rampant. As realized profits came in under expectations, investors got skittish and withdrew money from banks. Troubled banks turned to the recently established New York Clearing House to promote stability. Certain rights were voluntarily abrogated in return for a guarantee on their solvency.

The original sin of the free-banking period was its fractional-reserve foundation. Without the ability to fund lending activity with their deposit base, banks never would have financed the boom to the extent that it became a destabilizing factor. Westward expansion and investment would still have occurred, though it would have occurred in a sustainable way funded through equity investments and loans. (These types of financing were used, though as is the case today, this occurred less than would be the case given the fractional-reserve banking system’s essentially cost-free funding source: the deposit base.)

In conclusion, the Fed was not birthed from nothing in 1913. The monster was the natural outgrowth of an increasingly troubled banking system. In searching for the original problem that set in motion the events culminating in the creation of the Fed, one must draw attention to the Panic of 1857 as the spark that set in motion ever more destabilizing policies. The Panic itself is a textbook example of an Austrian business cycle, caused by the lending activities of fractional-reserve banks. This original sin of the banking system concluded with the birth of a monster in 1914: The Federal Reserve.

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