« Bourgeois thought always says to the People: « Take my word for it; what I tell you is true. All the thinkers I feed have worked for you. You are not in a condition to rethink all their difficulties, to go through their ways again, but you can believe the results of these disinterested and pure men. Of these men marked with a great sign, these men who hold apart from the common men for whom they work, the secrets of truth and justice. » «
(Paul Nizan, Les Chiens de garde . New edition, Paris, François Maspero, 1965, p. 89)
On closer inspection, there is no need for lengthy discussions to mark out a social phenomenon whose issues are all too obvious. Wouldn’t it be enough, in fact, to consider that democracy is the mode of government of the people, by the people, and for the people, to shed some light on what is going on in our underground? Analytically, we can of course ask the tough questions. They concern the nature of the beginning and the end, and the modus operandi that is supposed to lead from one to the other.
First, when did this start? Is it the fruit of a long gestation, or is it a recent and erratic event? To put it plainly: would the vase overflow or not?
If the first actions that can be univocally linked to the « yellow vests » date back to November 2018, the deterioration of the living conditions of the population, in general, and the chronic rejection of the referendum vote, in particular, have, in fact, always been denied by politicians. However, for the benefit of those who are distracted, we have officially been in crisis since 1968. There have been phases of apparent remission, but the proletariat and the (petty) bourgeoisie have been victims of a constant decline in their standard of living since the early 1970s. A single indicator will suffice to show this: the structural unemployment rate, the parameters of which are manipulated in order to keep it, year in, year out, around ten percent.
It is therefore the immediate cause that must be questioned. Is it unique or plural? We can easily agree on the triggering factor: the taxation of fuel prices and the fall in the purchasing power of basic goods. What does it mean exactly? To speak about drop that makes the vase overflow and, in passing, to stigmatize the consumerist and ecologist unconsciousness of the bleating crowds, allows to suffocate the fire of the indignation by the opinative cover of rigor, not to understand the situation. Let’s clarify.
The climate imperative, and incidentally the ecological one, is more than fashionable. It is very simply formulated in political economy: what can we afford to change so that nothing changes? As always, we tax in order to reform, at any cost, the habits of the population, without questioning those of the industries, and thus without impacting the conditions of possibility of their international competitiveness and their offshore profits, and, it is almost subsidiary, in order to finance the negligence of the political decision-makers themselves.
Above all, we must, without appearing to do so, take into account the reality of peak oil. To say that the energy base on which the consumer society is based is collapsing under the weight of 200 years of institutionalized waste would be tantamount to asking for huge structural works, which the oligarchs have great difficulty in conceiving. How to prevent an insurrection without giving ballast? How to give ballast without cutting dividends? How can they be reduced without losing face and disavowing the neoliberal ideology?
The use of new exploration and drilling techniques, the arrival on the market of unconventional oil, thanks to a whole series of political incentives, and the acceleration of the melting of the polar ice caps, have apparently pushed back the oil deadline by about twenty years, but King Hubbert’s warning (1956), updated by Colin Campbell and Jean Laherrère (1998), has lost none of its topicality. A closer look is all it takes to understand this.
First, locating « peak oil » in, say, 2005, is not the same as announcing widespread scarcity in 2006 and civil war in 2007 — but rather anticipating great economic turbulence. It is simply a matter of naming the moment when global conventional oil production begins to decline irrevocably. Secondly, this peak only concerns conventional oil, i.e. that which made the fortune of the founding countries of OPEC. Non-conventional oils, which have lower energy densities and low (shale and tar sands) or negative (agrofuels) energy rates of return (EROEI), offer a double buffer effect: geopolitical, by briefly giving some people the illusion of regained autonomy, and economic, by temporarily securing consumer supplies at a reasonable, but not necessarily reasonable, price. Third, peak conventional oil will not affect, at the same time, and in the same way, all products from the petrochemical industry, starting with gas, gasoline, kerosene, diesel, heating oil, heavy fuel oil, coke, asphalt, and lubricants (listed in order of increasing energy density). Taxing diesel under the pretext of a universally accepted and apparently politically neutral ecological motive is simply intended to manage the imminent shortage of this type of fuel, diesel, which can only be produced with difficulty in a non-conventional way, and which will have to be reserved in the future for the transport of goods (by land, but also by sea and, finally, by air) and for the military (which are very fond of energy-dense fuels).
Secondly, what end are we talking about? First of all, as we have just seen, the end of consumerism, that is to say, of everything to the market. Then, it is inescapable, the end of democracy as we understand it today. In a world as Orwellian as ours, it will not be difficult to recycle « democracy » along with its petrochemical products, but talk of « market democracy » will become even more euphemistic than usual. Finally, one cannot exclude, a priori, that the most acute phase of this revolutionary process will be to the detriment of the oligarchy, and that the carnival representativeness that has been the rule for too long will give way to a direct or participative democracy. After all, a long way was covered between the Kosovo referendum (of September and October 1991), which was legalized by the international community, and the Crimean referendum (of March 2014), which did not receive its assent. No one seems to have forgotten the Irish rejection of the Treaty of Nice (2008), and that of the French and Dutch of the European Constitution (2005).
Third, we must ask ourselves if the modus operandi of the undisciplined, and more precisely their dependence on social networks, might not allow them to anticipate their collective fate. The reference to 1789 and its emblematic guillotine may suggest that some, at least, will no longer let themselves be counted out. (Note, however, that the photo of the installation of a yellow guillotine in the Place du Palais Royal, accompanied by the words » when the French want to remind those in power that they are their representatives and not their masters, they have some powerful symbols » is a nice joke). But what is possible in practice?
According to the free world media, starting with the BBC, the question is: are we dealing with a real Russian plot or a fake spontaneous generation? Indeed, we do not know enough, Cambridge Analytica has its headquarters in Nizhny Novgorod, and the « yellow vests » all have an account on the social network « VKontakte » (or « VK », for short), which allows them to co-create their protest « acts » in real time. This is not without consequences for the independence of the movement. Two hypotheses must, in fact, be considered in order to evaluate the possibilities. At the very least, the administrators of the VK network let it happen; at the very most, they pilot the movement by modulating the news feeds that cause the mobilizations (spring would thus arrive this year before the winter solstice). If they let this happen, one wonders how much longer? And what dark dealings with the Russian « deep state » will the French authorities have to resolve in order for everyone to finally return to their homes, and for the Republic to be saved, if not healthy? If they fly, even in a minimalist way, the issue is even more painful. In both cases, is it reasonable to think that such a social network would stay for long without trying, directly or indirectly, to take advantage of the situation?
In the end, it is perhaps the current archaism of the government’s response that is striking (no pun intended): to encourage the rise of violence by manipulating both the demonstrators through infiltration of real-false thugs, and to leave the forces of law and order, equipped with military equipment and ordered to use it, in the lurch. Demonstrating now means risking mutilation. Some even suspect that the use of chemical weapons — by the « yellow vests » — would be imminent. All this reminds us of something, but what? Michel Weber, philosopher; recently published Power, sex and climate. Biopolitics and creative writing in G. R. R. Martin, Avion, Éditions du Cénacle de France, 2017 & Against transhumanist totalitarianism: the philosophical teachings of common sense, Limoges, FYP éditions, 2018; see https://chromatika.academia.edu/MichelWeber.