David Graeber of the LSE has an interesting article on the yellow vests (they are not vests but waistcoats – itself another misnomer of course – but I suppose as we have bullet proof vests we have to accept vests as a translation of what is jackets in French!) movement in France.
I think David Graeber is right to suggest that there is no conventional explanation for the anger expressed by the demonstrators. More doubtfully for me he thinks that this indicates we are in revolutionary times.
I fear that he is reading too much into what in France is virtually normal – as I’ve said before the French police arrive dressed for a riot and often it is granted them. It is partly this system of policing which seems reluctant to neighbourhood police but be very active in general policing, which means that uprisings (if they can be so termed) are not policed as they fester but only as they materialise into something bigger. Amnesty have, I understand, reported that one woman has lost an eye as a result of a direct hit with a rubber bullet an a man lost a hand from a dispersal grenade in Nantes.
These would be scandals in Britain but not, it appears in France.
And yet, and yet, Macron has taken note of about 170,000 ‘yellow vests’ whereas the UK chose to ignore a million against the Iraq war and about 800,000 against Brexit.
I struggle to comprehend this but I suppose it must go with the French revolutionary tradition – with which I think David Greaber has intriguingly, been caught up.
There is no doubt that those with the desire and opportunity to involve themsleves with finance and the top echelons of the corporate world are substantially rewarded everywhere for doing what they do, though it clearly bears no relation to what is their actual worth.The rest of us are much less well rewarded.
David Graeber goes on to suggest that “an ethos of horizontality one where (democratic, egalitarian) practice and ideology are ultimately two aspects of the same thing. Inability to understand this gives the false impression movements like Gilets Jaunes are anti-ideological, even nihilistic“.
He continues: “financialized capitalism involves a new alignment of class forces, above all ranging the techno-managerials (more and more of them employed in pure make-work “bullshit jobs,” as part of the neoliberal redistribution system) against a working class that is now better seen as the “caring classes”—as those who nurture, tend, maintain, sustain, more than old-fashioned “producers.” One paradoxical effect of digitization is that while it has made industrial production infinitely more efficient, it has rendered health, education, and other caring sector work less so.”
I entirely agree that the caring classes are more prevalent than the working classes. Even in the nineteenth century, when the industrial revolution was in full flight there were in all likelihood many more domestic servants than industrial workers. The workshop of the world actually required an awful lot of care, subservient as much of it was.
Now, not capitalist industry, but finance, is effectively supreme. Like the ‘gilet jaunes’ we all need to realise that the neoliberal moneyed classes do not a society make or as David Graeber puts it:
“The ground has shifted under our feet, and we might do well to think about where our allegiances actually lie: with the pallid universalism of financial power, or those whose daily acts of care make society possible.”
We need to recognise as essential to our lives ‘the caring class’.
Macron seems to have got it rather half-heartedly and rather late – but he seems to be much further on than the British government.