On the Political and Social Situation In France and the Movement of the Yellow Vests

Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Workers of France

Since November 17, a large-scale movement (1) has mobilized tens of thousands of people, who wear a yellow vest and who occupy highway junctions, block highway tolls and demonstrate every Saturday in the towns and in Paris. This movement has also developed on the island of Reunion, one of the colonies of French imperialism.

Starting from the rejection of a further increase in the fuel tax levied by the state (2), this movement spread very quickly through social networks and had a very strong media coverage, especially from the 24-hour news channels.

The images of violent clashes, hundreds of “yellow vests”, without banners or flags of organizations (except the blue, white and red flag), attacking stores located in the rich neighborhoods of Paris, shouting “Macron resign”, have gone around the world. In many countries, especially in Europe, many people share in this anger, in this radical denunciation of the contempt of the top leaders, the elites, in the radical speech and actions of the demonstrators. This movement of the yellow vests has created sympathy, in France as in other European countries, but it has also asked questions about its nature, its objectives and its prospects.

Elements of the movement of the “yellow vests”

One of the characteristics of the “yellow vests” movement is its composition: people between 30 and 40 years of age, on picket lines at the crossroads, retirees, many women, self-employed, small bosses, of liberal professions, employees, poor workers, the unemployed, most of whom live in rural areas or the periphery of the cities.

It is a heterogeneous movement where the impoverished layers of the petty bourgeoisie and of the working class who work in small businesses in the countryside, less unionized, poor pensioners, are found together with administrative employees, members of the liberal professions, artisans, small bosses.

The majority of these strata are part of the popular masses and the majority of them have little experience of collective struggle. For many, this is the first time they have participated in a collective social action. What unites them is not only the rejection of the fuel tax increases, but also the feeling of being the victims of the policies that the governments have been pursuing for years, being particularly scorned by Macron and his government. For many, he is the “president of the rich,” the one who decided to significantly limit the ISF, the tax on large wealth (3). They were there when Macron made his “tours” of the regions, especially during his “memorial tour” (on the occasion of the 100th anniversary of the armistice of November 11, 1918) in the towns of the East and North of France: they tried to challenge him, to make him understand that “they could not take it anymore” and saw that he was deaf to their distress.


But we must not believe that this movement, which calls itself “apolitical”, is not influenced by political forces, especially those of the extreme right, which have an influence in the non-proletarian sectors – small bosses, artisans, members of the liberal professions, etc.

Right-wing activists may be on the picket lines, but they act mainly on social networks, through the “yellow vests” that hide their political affiliation. If the party of Le Pen does not appear openly, it is undeniable that the ideas of the extreme right as well as those of the nationalist right (the party of Dupont Aignan allied with Marine Le Pen in the last elections) are present, especially on two questions:

Propaganda against sales and income taxes, a constant theme in the demagogy of the extreme right in France; the so-called “neither left nor right”, populist demagogy against the elites and the rich, without class content.

On the other hand, the extreme right is very active through trained groups, in the actions of breaking shop window, the destruction of cars and even clashes with the police.


The “yellow vests” and others do not accept the accusation by the government of lack of understanding of environmental problems to justify in fuel tax increases. First, because often it is not true. Then because, under the current conditions, they have no choice but to use their car. Finally, because vehicles are far from being the biggest polluters. Moral lessons and calls for good citizenship sound false from a government that defends the richest people who are the ones who damage the planet the most: their way of life has a particularly high carbon footprint, but especially with their polluting industries and a just-in-time economy that puts millions of trucks on the road and hundreds of cargo ships and planes on the seas and skies.


This movement with forms never seen before is symptomatic of a period of crisis for which the oligarchy makes the whole of society pay, and which pushes the challenge to new strata.

A movement that raises just and legitimate social issues

The slogans of anger and the demands written on their vests, the statements from groups of the yellow vests that circulate on social networks, make use of some demands that the workers and union movement have put forward for years, such as an increase in wages, pensions, and fiscal measures that further tax the “big” people and big money. But this movement says nothing about the anti-worker and anti-union laws that have multiplied and against which the labour and trade union movement have fought forcefully (the El Khomri law, the Macron decrees, etc.). Nor do they denounce the railway law, which the railway workers and their trade union organizations fought for months in 2018, supported by a strong solidarity movement.

It is not a case “forgetfulness,” but the expression of divergent interests that run through this movement and the desire to “create unity” between workers and small bosses, between the private self-employed and workers. We emphasize these aspects, because some organizations are making this movement into a myth, placing it “above” the organizations of struggle of the working class and the working masses, under the pretext that they have failed to prevent the implementation of neoliberal policies.

Globally, the movement of the yellow vests from the beginning has distanced itself from the trade union organizations. Where “pickets” were held by trade unionists wearing the yellow vests, there was no hostility towards trade unionists who came “to talk”, especially when the government violently repressed the demonstrations but also the pickets.

This movement also, overall, calls itself apolitical. Many yellow vests do not feel represented either by the trade unions or the political parties and have kept themselves away from the social mobilization.

The rejection of the unions can be explained by two main trends:

On the one hand, the reactionary influence of anti-union propaganda, coming from the employers and the right in general;

On the other hand, the fact that the dominant reformism at the head of the trade union leadership, which in several unions leads to class collaboration, goes along with the counter-reforms imposed by the government and the blows of the employers. Hence the feeling among these strata of workers who are “spectators” and do not take part in the trade union movement, that the “unions are useless” or that they are “all rotten and sold out”.

The rejection of the “traditional” political parties, those registered in the elections, is not unique to these sectors. It is the current mechanisms of political representation that are targeted. It is in this respect that the left-wing parties, which remain deeply electoral, such as France Insoumise [“France Unbowed”] (4), praise the “direct democracy” of this movement to the skies, some even speaking of a “citizen’s revolution”. If certain sectors of this movement take up these ideas, they are in the minority.

In conclusion, the movement of the “yellow vests” marks the entry into the social struggle of sectors of the petty-bourgeois, of sectors of the working class that work mainly in small and very small enterprises with few unions, and other sectors (artisans, members of the liberal professions, small bosses, etc.). This heterogeneous movement denounces the consequences of Macron’s neoliberal policy that continues and amplifies those of his predecessors and his class contempt. It demands a fiscal policy that taxes the rich and the “big” ones and more generally, less social inequality.

Its limits are due to its social composition and the fact that it cannot, and does not want to, attack the interests of capital. If the movement has economic consequences that disrupt the transport of goods by truck (which has grown considerably due to the policies of “zero stocks” [of the just- in-time technology – translator’s note] of companies) and a number of supermarkets, it is mainly aimed at the “government” accused of giving more to the rich than to those who work.

The repression of the movement by the State

The government did not immediately repress this movement. The demonstrations organized in Paris marked a turning point. During the first demonstrations in Paris, the police forces were obviously unprepared for the organized nature of the groups that confronted them and which caused significant damage in neighborhoods both symbolic and rich, which had never seen demonstrations (as in the Champs Elysées). Some yellow vests participated in these actions organized by groups outside the movement. Macron intervened on Monday, December 10, after a weekend in which Paris was put under siege and in which the police and military forces (5) made several hundred arrests (more than a thousand throughout France) and in particular many preventive arrests permitted by the “anti terror” law that was passed in October 2017 and which incorporated measures of the state of emergency.

When the mobilization of young secondary school and other students began to develop, with their own demands (6), the repression intensified.

The current social and political situation and our tasks

It took a while for the class struggle union movement to take a position on the movement of the yellow vests. These are essentially important union sectors within the CGT, Solidaires, some sectors of FO and the mass of activists and combative workers who have led the strikes and mobilizations of recent years.

For years, class struggle unionism has been facing a campaign of systematic attacks by the government, the employers and the media, especially at the time of large demonstrations against anti-worker and anti- union laws.

At the beginning of the movement of the yellow vests, the reactionary ideological campaign consisted in putting forward the movement of the vests, because it stood apart from the unions, because it claimed it was “apolitical”, to try to oppose it to the union movement, in order to discredit the latter.

It took time for demands to emerge that could be taken up by the class struggle union movement. This was not done “spontaneously” because the platforms of the yellow vests included dozens of demands.

Some demands have emerged: the increase in the minimum wage, pensions and social minima, the reduction of VAT on basic necessities (including fuel), and the reestablishment of the tax on large fortunes.

It is in this sense that the call for union mobilization on 14 December was launched.

In this situation our line of conduct, as a party through our comrades and union friends, has been to work mainly in the organized workers and union movement to carry forward the social and political demands around which the broadest unity, including the workers and popular sectors of the yellow vests, can be realized and concretized through struggles, strikes and, demonstrations. At the same time, we worked with other political forces, to go in the same direction, which also means fighting the tailist positions that wanted to lead the popular movement behind the movement of the yellow vests (7).

The breach opened by the movement of the yellow vests must be widened and the balance of forces must be strengthened through the class struggle against capital, through strikes and stopping production. We believe that it is very important, in the context of the sharpening of the class struggle, at the national and international level, to continue to work to raise the consciousness of the advanced sectors of the working class and the popular movement, on the need to fight the imperialist capitalist system – and not just one politician or one president and his government – on the need for its revolutionary overthrow. We are not in a pre- revolutionary situation, contrary to the illusions of some, but we are in a context in which the question of the revolution, the question of the communist party and its strengthening, the question of class struggle unionism and the organization of the youth and women from popular backgrounds on revolutionary and anti-imperialist bases, must be tackled.

Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Workers of France

Paris, December 13, 2018

Statements and texts of our party:

On the demonstrations of December 1st and the participation of our comrades: http://www.pcof.net/the-manifestations-of-the-1th-december/

December 5, after a first setback of the government: http://www.pcof.net/communique-le-government-to-recule-amplifions-the-movement-of-social-contest/

December 12, after Macron’s intervention: http://www.pcof.net/communique-des-annonces-tres-loin-de-nos-exigences/

The various articles of La Forge of December 2018


  1. The mobilization at the highway junctions, the highway tolls, in the demonstrations in Paris and in the towns did not achieve the breadth of the trade union demonstrations, such as the mobilizations against the El Khomri law. It is more the duration of these occupations that make them special, and the fact that this movement has no national structure, no representatives recognized and accepted by the yellow vests, which are structured by “pickets”.
  2. State taxes on petroleum products represent 64% of the price paid by the motorist at the gas pump. They represent 5% of state revenue.
  3. The ISF, known as the tax on large wealth, was introduced after 1981, after the election of Mitterrand. It only “reported” €5.2 billion in tax revenue and affected approximately 340,000 tax havens. The VAT brings in €148 billion. But it is a “symbol”; to make the very rich pay a little. As soon as Macron took office he it decided to only take into account real estate income and exclude financial investments. This is why he is called the “president of the rich” and favours the big shareholders.
  4. J.L. Mélenchon analyzes this movement as the concretization of the “citizen revolution” and wants to make use of this dispute at the next European elections, by presenting candidates of the FI.
  5. The gendarmes are part of the army. They have tanks that have been used in Paris this time and are systematically used in the colonies against protest movements.
  6. High school students mobilize against the implementation of the reforms of secondary schools and university entrance announced and voted for before the holidays. They introduce social selection from high school up to university entrance.
  7. Some people wanted to demand of Lenin to raise the revolutionary potentialities of this movement, forgetting that the Bolsheviks fought on two fronts: against those who thought that the advanced elements of the working class could accomplish the revolution alone, without the cooperation the mass of the oppressed coming from the petty bourgeoisie, mainly represented at that period by the peasantry; but also against the Russian “populists” who wanted to make the mass of the peasants the centre of gravity of the revolution.

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