On Nov. 17, the yellow vest protests erupted over increased fuel taxes and have transformed into a protest against the overall cost of living, as well as the administration of French President Emmanuel Macron. The yellow vest movement has proven to energize many in its validation of growing trends in anti-capitalist sentiments. But it has also proven itself successful and capable of real change: since the beginning of the protests, the French government has agreed to delay the increase in the national fuel tax.
The movement also reveals the underlying ideological struggle behind anti-capitalism and populism; voting demographics reveal most of the movement was split between the far-right presidential candidate Marine Le Pen and the far left candidate Jean-Luc Mélenchon. As the movement continues to grow, it is important that it leans more to the left, or else France will fall to political fascism in terms of its governmental leadership, like many other countries entrenched in the growth of populism in Europe and around the world.
Despite his initial popularity around the world, Macron has been heavily criticized for his elitist background and attitude, in addition to his centrist policies. Macron’s presidency sits within a particularly fragile political context as well, with the recent French presidential elections noted for their extremism and decisiveness. A former investment banker, Macron was largely depicted as the liberal solution to a chaotic field of candidates, but his administration has been far from it. A series of political gaffes, allegations of elitism and his failure to increase defense spending, as promised during his campaign, have resulted in record low approval ratings, dipping below 20 percent during the summer. Macron’s failures as the French president are representative of the overall failure of neoliberalism to fix the address the structural problems of capitalism, much like the failure of the fuel tax to adequately address climate change.
The yellow vest protesters are organized in large numbers and continue to demonstrate despite their achievement in suspending the tax. Overall, more than 70 percent of France supports the movement, but some criticism of the movement is valid. Marine Le Pen, the modern face of fascism in France, is attempting to use the movement’s momentum to call for the dissolution of the French National Assembly — the lower chamber of the legislature — in order to force a snap election. The protests have also resulted in the death of an 80-year-old woman, who was killed by a misfired tear gas canister, and 85 percent of French people condemn these violent actions. Nevertheless, the protests show no sign of stopping, with one “self-proclaimed” protest leader telling the Associated Press that “it’s a first step, but we will not settle for crumbs.”
The movement is also spreading internationally, with activists in Italy, Spain and Britain citing the effect the movement has had on their work. Frustrated with broken promises and unaddressed social problems, people all over the world have erupted with anger in a demand for an alternative future, and their voices should not be dismissed.
This path forward can only result in more protests and outcries that reflect these perspectives. If genuine alternatives to capitalism are not offered, then the problem itself will fester. However, as the movement grows and spreads, it must be aware of the influence of the far-right, and make sure to separate itself and its ideology if it hopes to achieve a positive and radical transformation of society.
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