The ‘Yellow Vests’ or ‘Gilets Jaunes’ are a movement of protest in France that since it started in November 2018 has operated outside the framework of political parties and trade-union organisation and has shaken the political establishment. It has brought together waged workers, the self-employed and other popular strata in a protest against the state and has highlighted the injustices and exploitation of French society. Surprisingly it has maintained high levels of popular support throughout months of confrontation with the state, in spite of escalating levels of police repression and it has succeeded in extracting concessions from the government. However, this movement appears as inherently contradictory. Some of its demands and its discourses seem to have elements of the programme of the far-right (nationalism, belief in conspiracy theories and anti-migrant feelings) as well as an emphasis on justice and redistribution of wealth associated with the left.
Dr Stathis Kouvelakis is a Reader in Political theory in the Department of French at Kings College, London. In his research interests he specialises in Marx’s political thought, contemporary French politics and the history of social protest in France. His recent publications include an article in the New Left Review: The French insurgency: Political Economy of The Gilets Jaunes.(110/ May 2019). He will look at the background to the ‘Gilets Jaunes’ protest, the key elements of their programme and their impact on the French political system and the Macron government.
18th November 2019