So, the Yellow Vests in France have French President Macron scared, and he has given to some of their demands, including raising the monthly minimum wage and getting rid of the diesel tax which sparked the original protests.

Joe Penney at the Intercept has a good overview of the current state of play, which I encourage you to read.

What I want to discuss, however, is WHY they are having some success where unions, for example, could not stop Macron.

No Centralized Control

The great weakness of modern unions is leadership, bank accounts, and law. They are easy to break if the state cooperates with corporations, or even by the state alone. You can bribe the leadership, you can scare the leadership, or you can break the union.

Because unions have things like headquarters, leaders, and bank accounts, the state can simply take all of those things away any time it wants to if the unions don’t have enough internal support in the government to prevent it.

This matters because unions tend to have centralized leadership: Take out the leadership, get rid of the strike funds, and the union can be broken.

The Yellow Vests have none of this. What tiny leadership they have is exercised through some Facebook pages. They have no united bank account, no buildings, no strike funds, etc. They cannot be broken by a strike on a few people and some pooled resources.

Instead the, Yellow Vests are just whoever wants to show up for any given protest and put on a yellow vest. This causes some problems, yes, but it means that they cannot easily be taken out.

Scare The Opposition (State/Corporate) Leadership

Why is Macron giving in to some demands? Well, perhaps because he’s scared (and, I suspect, personally a coward, which he has struck me as from the first.)

During the January 5 edition, protesters commandeered a forklift and broke open the office door of Macron spokesperson Benjamin Griveaux, forcing him to flee through the back entrance, while an ex-professional boxer was filmed punching and kicking a gendarme. Some reports have stated that Macron is worried for his personal safety. In December, protesters attempted to break through police lines that were guarding his home in Touquet, and his wife’s family has voiced concerns that their chocolate shop in their hometown, Amiens, will be attacked.

Cue laughter, because I have no sympathy for Macron or his lackeys. (I have a little sympathy for his family, but not much. I’ll discuss this further in a bit.)

Here’s the thing: Most protests get nowhere because they threaten no one and nothing. The elite, being rich and powerful, can wait out those harmless protests they cannot buy, scare, or break. They know it.

This is why the union protests against Macron also failed. He just waited them out. Unions cannot tell their members to try to attack political leaders. (Though sometimes such things happen and are “regrettable” and a good union then makes sure the people who did it have good lawyers.)

Macron is scared. He is scared for himself. For his family. For his staff and probably for his friends.

There are people he cares about who could wind up catching a good beating or worse. (Given that the police have killed a number of protesters, please spare me any wringing of hands.)

Normally, no one a politician cares about is threatened. Protesters get beaten, maybe the occasional cop gets a beating (being a cop is NOT dangerous compared to most manual labor jobs so also spare me the hand wringing about people who beat people for a living, very occasionally getting beaten themselves).

But politicians and corporate leaders are safe. The protesters suffer, strikers lose money, etc, etc.

The Yellow Vests have threatened Macron. He is personally frightened, and he is giving in.

Always, always find a way to threaten your opponents directly if the stakes merit it. Find something or someone they care about and go after it.

Now, because many people are wringing their hands, let’s deal with that directly.

There is a great essay by Mark Twain called “The Two Reigns of Terror.” Please go read it.

Macron’s policies and those of France’s elites have made poor French and many middl-class French poorer for two generations now. Macron, in particular, has made it easier to fire people, raised regressive taxes, and broken unions. He is a neoliberal’s neoliberal who believes that a more precarious, poorer workforce will lead to prosperity. The fact that this ideology has been tried since 1979 and not worked does not stop ideologues like Macron. Clearly, they reason, if it hasn’t worked, it hasn’t been tried in a pure enough form.

Macron and the French elites’ policies KILL people. These deaths show up in the statistics. They don’t have dramatic pictures. But there are more suicides, poorer people die younger, people under financial stress drink more, beat their wives more, and so on.

Death and suffering is what neoliberalism causes. Macron is a murderer, in the name of an ideology which has never worked–despite being tried in most of the First World and much of the developing world.

So, if Macron is scared, and if a few of his relatives or friends or employees (all of whom are very well-looked after), happen to catch a bit of the violence flying around, so be it. It didn’t bother Macron that people were suffering and dying when they were people he didn’t care about.

The Future

The problem with the Yellow Vests, to my mind, is that while the protests include left, right, and the formerly apathetic, they seem to be resounding more to the benefit of the hard right than the left.

One of the things I have been watching carefully is where various countries are going to land as neoliberalism collapses.

There are three primary choices: populist left, populist right, or repressive surveillance/police state.

Right now, I think that the US and Britain have a good chance to land on the populist left. I thought France might, with Melenchon’s left-wing party being very close to LaPen in the last election.

But I am beginning to wonder.

One of the problems is that, fundamentally, if neoliberals are going down, they’d rather surrender to fascists than the left. The fascists will let them keep most of their money and power, and will break the unions for them, and so on. (The Nazis were not socialists, despite their name. Under their reign, worker wages dropped, and executive wages skyrocketed.)

So we’ll see how this all plays out. However it does, the lessons are clear enough.

Hit the “masters” where they hurt, and make sure you have no center to target that they can destroy or subvert.

And if you do get them on the ground, which the Yellow Vests have yet to do, keep kicking. Rest assured, they will keep kicking if they can get to you.

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