Yellow Vests stand for and against many contradictory things, but are united in opposition to oligarchy


Originally published at:


Should be noted that a yellow vest is something everyone in France (or at least everyone with a car) has, as motorists are legally required to have them in the car in case of a breakdown.

Of course, this also gives the vest the extra meaning of “motorist in distress”. Which it doesn’t have in the UK, where there is no such law so the Brexit supporters seen blocking an ambulance on Westminster Bridge looked like either a lost school trip or people doing court-ordered community service.


The yellow vests in Alberta are quite tiny and very right wing, as their main issues are believing that carbon taxes and the UN migrant compact are a plot to destroy Canada as they imagine it. They’re the same people that think their is communism under every bed and latch onto anything they think could be a popular movement to spread their worldview.


There’s an active effort by the far-right to claim the Yellow Vest as their thing. The antifascist hypervigilance of the left makes this really easy, because all they have to do is insert themselves into something and the left will recoil from that thing like it has the plague.

Yellow Vests is not right wing. It’s also not left wing. At this particular point, it’s whatever we make it. If we continue to decry the far-right nature of the movement, the prophecy will fulfill itself. But if we engage with it, if we become it, then it will become us.

Intergalactic Yellow Vest Revolution!


David Graeber on Gilets Jaunes

Reading his piece, the thought occurred to me that what we have been seeing since the Arab Spring through the Indignados to Occupy to Extinction Rebellion to the Gilets Jaunes is less about individual demands or arising leaders than a call to a more inclusionary and responsive political process. People have taken to the streets because they feel that their needs, whatever they may be and certainly more than a single, simple need, are not being met, that they don’t need someone to lead them as a figurehead or commanding voice because they know what they want, that the usual “democratic” process of voting once a year or so for representatives is no longer enough.

At least that’s one of the threads I can distinguish among all the unconnected dots.

Given the technology available, we could have a more agile and responsive decision-making apparatus for governance, especially if we get all Kropotkin-style with voluntary association and begin to look to each other, to organize ourselves to meet the needs government is not even recognizing.

The Brexit stalemate and the slow, slow, sloooowww implosion of the fraudulent Trmp administration are two examples of the current failures of our present “democratic” system.

The practiced inability to face climate change is another and possibly even more dangerous failure. The children who are telling the “adults” to grow up and confront climate reality - Greta Thunberg in Sweden and Jeremy Ornstein here in the USA
( - have been quite eloquent on this point. They have certainly demonstrated more maturity on this issue than most of our politicians.

I tend toward practical grassroots solutions rather than electoral politics or legislation but remain a singular minority in that view. I believe that I’ve demonstrated the economic and practical viability of simple solar and the possibility of a solar swadeshi that could a) eliminate deep energy poverty around the world within a few years and b) be an economic tool to leverage the existing grid towards a speedier energy transition with a kind of energy boycott for personal electrical power through a solar walk-away as emergency solar or hand crank electricity (light, communications, small battery charging) is now globally available at a retail price of $10 per unit or less. However, nobody I know of shares my point of view. In fact, even those suffering from climate disaster (Puerto Rico) have roundly rejected my suggestions for local energy self-reliant initiatives.

Anyway, those are my thoughts. May they be of use to you.


Like Anonymous, I think they need a Wise Beard Man.


The Yellow Vests are rooted in France’s specific political situation and political culture, so I don’t think it’s going to translate well to Alberta. Especially where opposition to a carbon tax is almost exclusively right wing, even though there is a good progressive case against one, in that it downloads climate costs incurred for the rich’s benefit onto everyone else.

Incidentally, we should still be cautious about “neither right nor left” populist movements if we’re interested in building revolutionary politics. Muscular left populism is good, right populism is not, and should be subordinated to the former in any movement otherwise we get something that hates a specific kind of the rich (Soros) and immigrants.


The trouble with that sort of thing is that “oligarchy” means “rule by a small group”. Opposition to “oligarchy” could mean any number of things… some laudable, and some horrible.


Next stop Portugal.


Yeah, I did alot of reading about populism recently for academic research and it can be pretty mad libs about who the people and the elites are, mainly because it appears in periods of crisis but lacks proper structural critiques of why it’s happening, but is heavily shaped by the specific context it appears in.

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I don’t want to get too off topic here, but the best way to structure a carbon tax and avoid hurting the poor is using a tax and dividend approach where all (or most) of the revenue generated by a carbon tax is returned to tax payers as a dividend. And if the size of the dividend is inversely proportional to income, it will really be the wealthy paying the most for the tax.

Of course, with any tax there will always be winners and losers, and those with little money AND are car dependent will still be hit harder. It’s hard to get right, but it’s theoretically possible (but is it politically feasible?).


Alberta already has a refund system where 60% of households get a full refund based on what the tax would cost them on average in a year. It does have a mild downward redistributionist effect, particularly if you take efforts to reduce your carbon emissions, but its still not very popular for a lot of complicated reasons that I won’t get into here. It’s better than nothing, and generally about as good a carbon tax policy as you’re going to get, but honestly we should be going for supply side policies, like making industry eat emissions caps, as they’re the one pumping most of the carbon into the atmosphere, not people doing necessary things like heating their house.



You know… Those vests are so 2018… Here’s the upgraded version :


Sure, caution always, but not reservation. Revolutionary politics doesn’t come through ideological purity or having the best positions on everything. It comes from being in conflict with power, and engaging directly and earnestly with other people who are in conflict with power.

Some on the left are content to condemn Yellow Vest as far-right, take no action, and will consider themselves wise when their prediction comes true. For those of us who actually need real revolt now, those leftists are holding us back.

I think it’s pretty uncontroversial that if we encounter people hating on immigrants anywhere in society, we should oppose that. But that’s not what the Yellow Vest means. You’re suggesting that it could come to mean that, but being so cautious about theoreticals is a hallmark of armchair leftism.

Because any site of social struggle might and probably does contain some far-right elements. Even the freakin Sierra Club very nearly got taken over by white supremacists once. If their progressive members had responded with caution and distance, out of fear of supporting “the wrong thing”, it would probably be white supremacist today. Instead they said “Hell no, I am the Sierra Club and I have progressive politics, so my Sierra Club is progressive”.

The struggle itself is a struggle, over what the struggle is struggling over :wink:

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And a lot of us think a revolution is a very, very bad idea.


The yellow-vests, and their counterparts around the world, are reprising Marlon Brando ("The Wild Bunch’). When asked, “What are you rebelling against?”, his character replies, “What’ve ya got?”

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I think what you’re talking about is the difference between what is economically most efficient vs what is politically feasible. Mark Jaccard (Canadian environmental economist) has said basically that they are the most efficient way to price carbon, but the politics of it make them unworkable.

To summarize people see the higher price of gas and see the carbon tax added to their gasoline and heating bills, while the dividend portion is separated and you only see that at tax time. This makes carbon taxes an easy target for anti-tax folk.

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I prefer a nice dinner party, myself. But the tone-deafness and complacency of establishment liberals like Macron or Clinton makes revolution or authoritarian electoral coups increasingly more likely.