For centuries, the “left” hoped popular movements would lead to changes for the better. Today, many leftists seem terrified of popular movements for change, convinced “populism” must lead to “fascism.” But it needn’t be so, says Diana Johnstone.
by Diana Johnstone
Part 4 - The Government Misses the Point
Initial government responses showed that they weren’t listening. They dipped into their pool of clichés to denigrate something they didn’t want to bother to understand.
President Macron’s first reaction was to guilt-trip the protesters by invoking the globalists’ most powerful argument for imposing unpopular measures: global warming. Whatever small complaints people may have, he indicated, that is nothing compared to the future of the planet.
This did not impress people who, yes, have heard all about climate change and care as much as anyone for the environment, but who are obliged to retort: “I’m more worried about the end of the month than about the end of the world.”
After the second Yellow Vest Saturday, November 25, which saw more demonstrators and more tear gas, the Minister in charge of the budget, Gérard Darmanin, declared that what had demonstrated on the Champs-Elysée was “la peste brune”, the brown plague, meaning fascists. (For those who enjoy excoriating the French as racist, it should be noted that Darmanin is of Algerian working class origins).
This remark caused an uproar of indignation that revealed just how great is public sympathy for the movement – over 70% approval by latest polls, even after uncontrolled vandalism.
Macron’s Minister of the Interior, Christophe Castaner, was obliged to declare that government communication had been badly managed. Of course, that is the familiar technocratic excuse: we are always right, but it is all a matter of our “communication”, not of the facts on the ground.
Maybe I have missed something, but of the many interviews I have listened to, I have not heard one word that would fall into the categories of “far right”, much less “fascism” – or even that indicated any particular preference in regard to political parties. These people are wholly concerned with concrete practical issues. Not a whiff of ideology – remarkable in Paris!
Some people ignorant of French history and eager to exhibit their leftist purism have suggested that the Yellow Vests are dangerously nationalistic because they occasionally wave French flags and sing La Marseillaise. That simply means that they are French.
Historically, the French left is patriotic, especially when it is revolting against the aristocrats and the rich or during the Nazi Occupation. (The exception was the student uprising of May 1968, which was not a revolt of the poor but a revolt in a time of prosperity in favor of greater personal freedom: “it is forbidden to forbid”. The May ’68 generation has turned out to be the most anti-French generation in history, for reasons that can’t be dealt with here. To some extent, the Yellow Vests mark a return of the people after half a century of scorn from the liberal intelligentsia.)
It is just a way of saying, We are the people, we do the work, and you must listen to our grievances. To be bad, “nationalism” must be aggressive toward other nations. This movement is not attacking anybody, it is strictly staying home.