by Joshua Clover
Much has been written about the gilets jaunes and there relation to both politics, of the left and the right, and historical waves of labour unrest. In this article, Joshua Clover argues that the gilets jaunes are in fact a texbook example of a contemporary riot, and may be best seen as an early example of an approaching wave of climate riots.
France, having bequeathed to the world left and right as political concepts, now seems intent on exploring the dynamics of a situation in which the longstanding spectrum no longer functions according to custom. At that level of abstraction, the topography there is now something like an isosceles triangle. The right belongs to Rassemblement national and worse, having radicalized itself along a nationalist course. Having suffered through the Pasokification that has eroded Parti Socialiste, a lefter left remains by default. Both are condemned to oppose the technocratic center in ways that seem to set them in a formal alliance: both national chauvinists and those who can still recall the clarion calls of communism and anarchism necessarily oppose a shared enemy. Once out the front door, however, they are repeatedly compelled to fight each other out in the streets in moments of direct combat that cut out the middleman, né Macron. This triangular drama begins to suggest why the uprising of the Gilets Jaunes has proved so chaotic and, from a distance (perhaps up close as well), so hard to parse. Many participants declare themselves apolitical, living downwardly mobile lives in the middle of the triangle, averse to the seductions of any party promises. Meanwhile, if it is about gas prices and the collapse of purchasing power, why are there melees between fascists and antifascist fighters? Each position must struggle with both of the other vertices of the triangle in wars of position and in street fights of maneuver. And this too is a simplifying schematic. Wisdom demands that I leave the detailing of the uprising’s striated social forces to those with greater local experience.