An epitaph for the Yellow Vests protests. Look to the future.

Summary: News about the inevitable burn-out of the “Yellow Vests” protests, and what it tells us about politics in our time.

Mob protest - dreamstime_111755862
ID 111755862 © Siarhei Nosyreu | Dreamstime.

France 24: “French ‘Yellow Vests’ see turnout dwindle on fifth weekend of protests

“Defiant “Yellow Vest” demonstrators faced off with tens of thousands of police around France on Saturday,
but the movement appeared to have lost momentum on a fifth weekend of protests.”

‘Yellow Vest’ Protests Dwindle Amid Warnings and Concessions” by Aurelien Breeden at the NYT.
Protests by ‘yellow jackets’ calmer, fewer numbers in France” by Allen Cone at the UPI.

The Guardian gives the numbers.

“Around 66,000 protesters turned out again on Saturday on the fifth round of anti-government demonstrations, which sprung up over diesel taxes last month. The figure was about half the number of the previous weekend, suggesting momentum was waning and the most acute political crisis of Macron’s 19-month presidency was coming to an end. Around 69,000 security forces were mobilised across France on Saturday, down from 89,000 the weekend before when 2,000 people were detained.”

Occupy Wall Street, the Tea Party, Black Lives Matter, and now the Yellow Vests. These are the peasants protest of our time. Without feasible goals, without organization. They dominate the media for a brief time, exciting the Outer Party (for whom becoming informed is entertainment). but leave little or nothing behind. It is back to business as usual for France’s ruling class! As I predicted (see the posts listed below).

These protests warm the cockles of the hearts of the 1%. The proles vent their accumulated frustrations without any ability to upset the game. Plus, it is fun to watch the peasants’ festivities on TV! Can life get any better for the 1%?

An after-action report on the Yellow Vest Protests

“What does that get us? A discontented, lazy rabble instead of a thrifty working class. And all because a few starry-eyed dreamers like Peter Bailey stir them up and fill their heads with a lot of impossible ideas.”

–- Henry F. Potter, leading banker and first citizen of Bedford Falls, commenting on France’s social benefits and security for its workers. From It’s A Wonderful Life.

Emmanuel Macron, President of France, has brilliantly handled the Yellow Vest protests. He quickly got in front of the movement. He combined a carrot (cancelling the increased carbon taxes, giving other benefits) with the stick (rapid and massive mobilization of the security services). Note how he mobilized fast, not with the usual incremental and reactive escalation that makes leaders look weak. Plus patience, waiting for the protests to burn themselves out.

Macron was fortunate that the protests did not grow. He mobilized almost all of France’s security services. They had nothing more to use, other than the military. It was a successful show of force, deterring mass violence. A remnant of rioters remain, whose antics alienate the public.

“A major poll by the Ifop group published in Journal du Dimanche newspaper showed Macron’s approval had slipped another two points in the last month, to 23%. The proportion of people who declared themselves “very dissatisfied” by his leadership jumped by six points to 45%.” {The Guardian.}

Of course, Macron’s popularity has been trashed by his service to France’s elites. As was the popularity of his predecessor, François Hollande. As will be the popularity of his eventual successor. They loyally serve the 1%, then go off to a lavish retirement. All that matters are their policies, slowly boosting inequality and eroding away the security of the middle class.

Will France’s people ever learn – and change? Being peasants is a choice.

Another oddity, one of many in the Crazy Years

As crime rates rise, Britain and France cut their police forces. I can think of conspiratorial explanations for this, but no rational ones.

France Doesn’t Have Enough Cops.

By Claire Berlinski at The American Interest.

“Between 2005 and 2011, the government cut the police budget by 3 percent, the equivalent of 7,236 full-time employees. Between 2015 and 2018, the PP was reduced from 35,000 to 29,000. Between 2009 and 2011, 400 of Paris’s 6,400 police stations disappeared.

“Meanwhile, the economic crisis caused an upsurge of every kind of crime and social malaise, including political violence. Casseurs – violent far-right, far-left, and anarchist thugs – began showing up at demonstrations determined to commit vandalism and violence to prove that the state was unable to contain them.

“Then came the Syrian war, ISIS, and the refugee crisis. …This unspeakable and unprecedented humanitarian crisis coincided with a wave of terrorism inspired by the Syrian jihad. More than 250 people have been killed in France, and almost 1,000 wounded, in the wave of atrocities that began when Mohamed Merah killed three French soldiers and four Jews, three of them children, in southwestern France in 2012. …

“In 2012, the budget for the Police Nationale was raised again, but manpower still remains below 2007 levels. …The salary for a police trainee in Paris is €1,318 a month (housing is included). On Monday, in response to the Gilets Jaunes’ demands, Macron announced that the SMIC – akin to the minimum wage – would be increased to €1,598.

“Last summer, prompted by a rash of protests and police suicides, two Senators from France’s Les Républicains conducted an inquiry into the state of France’s security forces. Anyone who read their report would be unsurprised that the police have been unable to control a national uprising. The police, they concluded, were ‘at a crisis point.’ The Senators called on the President to act quickly, warning that they were ‘on the verge of implosion.’

“Witnesses, in sworn testimony, repeatedly called the dire condition of the police ‘unprecedented,’ noting the “shocking” lack of investment in equipment, the old and substandard police buildings, the aged vehicles. (The average age of a police vehicle is almost 8 years old; this is supposed to be the maximum age for a law-enforcement vehicle.) The security forces, they said, lacked basic supplies. ‘Equipment and premises are degraded,’ one said …The suicide rate among members of the force was 36% higher than the national average. …Between 2009 and 2015, police injuries on mission increased by 29%. Last June, the General Inspectorate found that the use of service weapons had risen by 54% in the past year.”

The cuts to police in Britain are even larger. Real funding fell by 19% from 2010 to 2018, while crime increased. Daily Star: “Lawless Britain: 600+ police stations shut – entire CITIES left unprotected.” Since 2009, they cut 22,424 police officers (22% of the force). The cuts continue.

“In an unprecedented public warning, the chief constables of the West Midlands, Greater Manchester and Merseyside forces told the Guardian the fresh cuts would leave them with officer numbers last seen in the 1970s. …Forces are now coming to terms with the impact of the further budget squeeze and anger is mounting.” {The Guardian.}


The most obvious lesson: yet again the hysterical predictions of our political gurus proved to be wrong.

The most important lesson: the West’s leaders have proven themselves again to be competent. But they rule in the interests of their elites, not us. That is rough justice, the proper reward for our apathy and passivity. So long as we resort to peasants’ protests instead of organizing, we will get what we are given.

The hidden lesson: everywhere I look today, I see anomalies. Our mad wars, RussiaGate, Merkel throwing open Europe’s borders, nations cutting police while crime increases. It is a long list. That suggests that unseen forces are at work. What we should expect in the Crazy Years.

Yet everywhere I look, I see people giving confident analysis of the big picture, as if God was whispering in their ears. I suggest that instead of confidence in your vision, you should expect the unexpected.

Other posts about the Yellow Vest protests

  1. The “yellow vest” protests in France: peasants playing.
  2. What the news media don’t mention about the Yellow Vests.
  3. Why the French protest.
  4. Hear the voice of the Right in France. The Yellow Vests do.

For More Information

Ideas! For shopping ideas, see my recommended books and films at Amazon.

If you liked this post, like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter. See all posts about France, about political protests, especially these …

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  3. Lessons from the failure of Occupy Wall Street, its lasting legacy.
  4. Occupy & Tea Party are alike, both saving America through cosplay.
  5. How do protests like the TP and OWS differ from effective political action?
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  8. Hidden and painful truths about the NFL protests.

Populism: one alternative to rule by neoliberals and neoconservatives

Democracy and Populism: Fear and Hatred by John Lukacs.

What Is Populism? by Jan-Werner Müller.

Democracy and Populism
Available at Amazon.
What is populism?
Available at Amazon.

17 thoughts on “An epitaph for the Yellow Vests protests. Look to the future.”

  1. Would they mobilize on such a scale against dangerous criminals in their midst of which many migrants are party to.

    1. Larry Kummer, Editor


      “I guess this shows the govt can wait out protests.”

      Sometimes. The 1965-75 race riots in America were suppressed by force, patiently applied for many years.

  2. “Emmanuel Macron, President of France, has brilliantly handled the Yellow Vest protests.”
    What a load of horseshit!
    He has NOT handled anything, wait for 2019…

    1. Larry Kummer, Editor


      Thank you for sharing your feelings. But you’ve told us nothing. Can you explain the basis for your feelings? Facts, logic, etc.

  3. Do you think that the Strasbourg shootings also played a part in calming protesters down? There was a large appeal for national unity following the shootings, which had a good chance of swaying the more moderate protesters. I read something like (I’m paraphrasing from memory) “You can’t ask the police to protect you today, and throw stones at them tomorrow”, which summarizes the government’s appeal.

    1. Larry Kummer, Editor


      I don’t speculate about that level of detail from Iowa. I go by the most obvious (i.e., certain) things I glean from the news and local English-language commentary.

      The stories I’ve seen say that the Yellow Vests protests lost steam each weak, with a big drop after Macron’s concessions and the violence last week.

    2. As can be seen from very little participation here, on FM, the French are also busy with Christmas etc.

      I think the police know that the real protesters aren’t the breakers (casseurs), as they demonstrated by taking off their helmets in solidarity with the main body of Yellow Vests a couple of weekends ago…

      There was a good (believe it or not) sort of “hands-on” commentary on CBC web-site:
      That gave me much better perspective on what was going on there than any “live feeds.” Well, I only presume that, as I don’t watch TV.

    3. Fair enough. I got this idea from conversations with French co-workers who are more aware of what’s going on than us, but aren’t in France (but we’re only 15 hrs away from Paris by car). Until last Tuesday they talked a lot about the Gilets Jaunes, but since the shooting they were much more worried about whether the Police would catch the killer.

      The idea that the shootings helped take some steam out from the Yellow Vests makes sense to me, but talking to a couple of people is not the same as gauging the French public opinion.

      1. Larry Kummer, Editor


        “talking to a couple of people is not the same as gauging the French public opinion.”

        That’s an essential insight that few have. I find it difficult to understand events in America, despite living here for 60+ years and my extensive travel. There are parts of it I have little understanding of — inner cities, rural areas, etc. Even US journalists report about these areas like Stanley reported from deepest Africa.

        So I read English-language reports about foreign areas with some skepticism. In my experience they capture the views of a narrow sliver of foreign societies, and are often grossly unrepresentative of the range of national opinion.

    4. The response is no.
      Or more exactly : it is complicated.

      The shooting happened after the president announces.
      Evidently, members of the political class did call out the Yellow Vest to stop their portest.
      But in the same time, Yellow Vest group upon Facebook or in the street were full of doubts. The timing seemed too convenient in favor the government. So on the one hand it change the medias attention a little and help people who were weary of protest to stop, on the other hand it did not change the mind of many other people.

      For four weeks there had been protests, and at last, the president, the patriarch, had come down, talked to the people and made some promises. From this moment onward, the protest were going to slowly stop. Because people did not want to make a revolution and go all out toward that.

      As for your remark about the police, one had to understand that it is not the same part of police that handles terrorism (and manhuntung) or demonstration. Demonstration are handled by the CRS (épublicaines_de_Sécurité) whose sole job is to handle those kind of things. When situation becomes rough like this month, they received support from specialized police department and rarely from the common cop.
      Manhunting is dealt by the Gendarm (a branch of the military whose job is to be the rural police), and in case of terrorism with the help of other specialised forces).
      The French do very well the difference beetween the CRS (aka the bad cop that repress demonstration) and the other (the good cop that deal with the true problems).

      Evidently, the government tried to use Stasbourg’s event as a way to walk out of the crisis.

  4. The cuts to police in Britain are even larger. Real funding fell by 19% from 2010 to 2018, while crime increased. Daily Star: “Lawless Britain: 600+ police stations shut – entire CITIES left unprotected.” Since 2009, they cut 22,424 police officers (22% of the force). The cuts continue.

    This is happening in numerous municipalities in the US that cannot afford the pension obligations of their police forces.

    Here’s another police force that just shut down.

    Modern police forces are a feature of the nation-state. Perhaps as the nation-state declines, so will policing.

    More from Britain:

    Sara Thornton, chairwoman of the National Police Chiefs’ Council, called for a refocus on “core policing” in response to increasing violence and record-low conviction rates for crimes such as burglary.

    She told a conference in central London that investigating gender-based hate incidents and allegations against those who had died were not “bad things to do” but added: “They just cannot be priorities for a service that is overstretched.”

    But the police have time to prosecute “hate” crimes like Christian preaching.

    1. Larry Kummer, Editor


      I agree about Britain’s slashing of their police forces. But not in the US. The number of law enforcement officers is difficult to determine, but seems to be roughly flat from 2004 to 2017. That means the number of law enforcement officers per capita has been falling slowly.

      See Statista.

  5. Well French administration is notorious for applying a double standard in between how it states that company should treat employes and how they do themselves.
    TO complete your informations, dear Mr. Kummer. A full fledged French policeman is paid between 1940 and 2577 EUR (net salary). Wich put them in the 30% of the French that are best paid incidently. (and ironically in the 50% of the French that pay direct taxes).

    On a more general point of view, French state has no money and to shut down part of the military and police is easy : they rarely protest (the military does not have this right, so it does help). Because for the public opinion it is unthinkable to spend less on Education or Health…

    I do begin to feel it would have been better for Marine Le Pen to be elected. She would have dealt worse with similar problems, and thus disqualified her party as a government party for many years. Seeing the situation, the lection of Marion-Maréchal Le Pen cease to become unprobable. And that woman is much more solid than her aunt.

    Yes, Crazy years ahead…

    1. Larry Kummer, Editor

      Silius Italicus,

      “French state has no money”

      That’s quite false.

      Also, France followed the deficit-loving policies of US Republicans: cut taxes on the rich, watch the deficits soar, scream that the government is broke. Effective in 2018 they ended the wealth levy on everything except property assets (in effect cutting the tax by 70%) – cut taxes on capital gains, dividends, and interest from a graduated rate (max 60%) to a flat rate of 30% – and reduced the corporate income tax from 33.3% to 25% (details here).

  6. Dear Mr. Kummer,

    Thing is your report is a little lacking.

    The corporate income tax has not been reduced. It was in project for next year. And seeing there as the Yellow Vest movement, it will probably not be done. This tax is approximatively 15% of the French State revenue (what remains is 50% for the VAT, 20% for the imposition upon revenue, 3% upon the the Oil products (the cause of the protest) and 12% of others thing).

    Indeed the ISF was transformed into a flat tax and a tax on real estate. Which has the invisible effect that the wealthiest stay in France instead of fleeing is high taxes (around 40% revenue of the middle class goes into taxes), and the visible effect of making almost all the country angry. That is why symbols are important.

    The result is a public debt around 100% of the PIB (after the state agreed to take the railway debt last spring after another round of protest) and a 70 Billion deficit. Well fiscal fraud is estimated to be around 60 and 120 billions per year, so this problem could be solved. In theory.

    And well, as a French myself I do see that the public administration are not in a good state and lack of money. At the same time, I know, as you do, that no one can live on debt forever. If you do not corrct this and your investment does not pay off, then you are doomed. For years French political have avoided this problem believing the economical growth would return (indeed it would solve the problem or make it easier to solve).

    In practice, since the State is bound by the Euro (no inflation) there are little it can do apart from diverting some tax money from one group of citizens to another, with the hope to find the right combination that would ablaze economy. Exactly what is doing the President : less burden upon the wealthiest, more upon the retired… And well, I don’t reallly want to find is the Laffer curve is right.

    Another way is to cut spendind, but well… difficult to do. Even to stop the rise of the spending is difficult. Because for State spending has been rising faster than inflation…

    Well either way, it would have been better to reinforce the taxation upon heritage in order to stop the rise of inequalities at least between the 1% and the 99%.

    The conclusion is that French State is in way of impoverishment. At least on the short term. Well, let’s see how it will turn.

    1. Larry Kummer, Editor


      “Thing is your report is a little lacking.”

      You jest delightfully. My comment was a few hundred words, on a subject about which books have written. Your comment was just “as lacking.”

      “The corporate income tax has not been reduced.”

      False. The staged reduction dates are in the future, but the law has been passed. Which is what people mean by saying the government has done something (effective dates are almost always in the future). See KPMG’s descriptions.

      “The Finance Law for 2018 and the second Corrective Finance Law for 2017 were adopted by the French Parliament and, following their examination by the French Constitutional Court (Conseil Constitutionnel) — the Constitutional Court did not question the constitutionality of these two laws, except on certain minor points — were published in the French official gazette (Journal Officiel) on 29 December 2017 for the second Corrective Finance Law and on 31 December 2017 for the Finance Law for 2018. With these actions, the processes for enactment of the two laws were completed.”

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