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By Jason Michael
EACH REVOLUTION MAKES every road possible, and so when the Gilets Jaunes or the “Yellow Vests” movement first sprang to life in France many on the political left looked on with genuine excitement. In early December 2018 the so-called radical left in Ireland was gushing over what it perceived to be the beginnings of a true people’s revolution. On the Rebel website the Socialist Workers Party activist James O’Toole recited Fiona Ferguson’s script on how “Ireland Needs A Yellow Vest Rebellion.” At the time, even I was hoping the wrongs of Irish society could do with being righted by heroes in hi-vis taking matters into their own hands. There’s a lot wrong with Irish society. It’s the same in France and in the United Kingdom. The spirit of the working class has been destroyed by and to the benefit of a new professional corporatist political class. Homelessness, unjust taxation, austerity, and such other ills like the housing crisis could be dealt with if the emerging precariat found its feet and political voice and rose up.
Every road was open and we all saw the potential of harnessing a revolutionised mass movement of people seeking meaningful change and social justice. But it wasn’t long before yellow vests began to appear in the city of Dublin, and the shape it had taken caused outrage and consternation. The left – as is usually the case – had missed the bus. Ireland’s yellow vests were villains, not heroes. Down in the Docklands, by the financial district, they were spouting all the right populist chants about cutting taxes for ordinary people, demanding constitutional protection for the right to water, calling for the end of austerity, the housing and the homeless crises. But every call for justice they were making came with the same chorus line: “We need to look after our own first.”
steinbeck (@FinnMcLovin) January 10, 2019
This was not a movement for social justice, a movement for the poor and the exploited – for all the victims of the system – against the new neoliberal political class. It was obvious that the Irish yellow vests were an amalgam of the fridges of what had been the anti-austerity and the Right to Water movements, groups like “Dublin Says No” with their anti-Jewish conspiracy theories and their half-baked notions of an Irish ethno-state. Quickly, the leftists slowly backed away, realising that the hi-vis protest was a bold flowering of Ireland’s new and growing racist far-right. This would be the last time the Marxists, the Trotskyists, and the rest of the “hard left” called for a yellow vest revolution.
Similarly, and at about the same time, yellow vested protesters began to appear outside the Houses of Parliament over the water in London. There the yellow vest was a mark of distinction, visually separating its wearer from the EU flag waving “Remoaners.” Soon enough the yellow vest had become a symbol of militant Euro-scepticism, of the street politics of the hard Brexiteer. Not only were Remainer politicians being verbally abused on the street by them, the police and every hue of “foreigner” was subject to attack – immigrants and tourists alike. In a matter of weeks, the number of yellow vests has grown in the London protests from tens, to hundreds, to thousands, and now they are emboldened to the point of violence. French-style clashes between these London yellow vests and the police have become the new normal, an expression of the turn Brexit has taken.
Jewish graveyard in Manchester vandalised. Marx' monument vandalised. Jews and Communists. Tell me, where have we s… twitter.com/i/web/status/1…—
Jason Michael (@Jeggit) February 17, 2019
We might imagine that this is a perversion of the pure movement that began over the Channel, but this is not the case. With most of their demands met by Macron, the Gilets Jaunes movement has shrunk; the left has abandoned it to the Rassemblement National (the rebranded Front National) and the rest of the French far-right. Even Alain Finkielkraut, the esteemed writer and philosopher, initially supported the movement until he was accosted on the street by yellow vest protesters calling him a “filthy Zionist” and various antisemitic slurs. It is clear that this mass, transnational political movement has descended into something dark.
Over the weekend, in London, something of this darkness was to be seen at the rallies in the form of the flags English yellow vest protesters were holding. The union jack, while claiming to be the flag of the United Kingdom, has always attracted a certain hint of imperial triumphalism and more than a dash of racial supremacism. More so has the English national flag of St George. Both were highly visible at the yellow vests rally in the city. Yet, the give-away was neither of these, but the appearance of flags that look suspiciously like the flag of “Kekistan.” This might require some explaining.
Jason Michael (@Jeggit) February 17, 2019
Kekistan is a fictitious republic invented by the Alt-Right in the United States. “Kekistanis” are white supremacists and white nationalists who hide behind online memes and “jokes” to take swipes at minorities by hijacking their rights-based language in support of the “Kek Republic” and the “Kekistani minority.” The flag of Kekistan is a white circle mounted on a black cross fringed with white and black on a green field with a series of black Ks at the centre of the central disc forming a cross. In appearance it bears a striking resemblance to the Kreigsfahne – the battle flag – of Hitler’s Third Reich.
The meaning of national flags – especially the union jack and the cross of St George – is context dependent, sure. But the presence of this neo-Nazi emblem in the mix leaves us in little doubt of the meaning of this yellow vests pro-Brexit movement in the UK. The hi-vis vest has become the de facto uniform of the racist far-right, and, when it comes to uniforms, the far-right has form in Europe. It was Roger Anderson, a Scottish independence activist, who explained this connection between the far-right yellow vests and the European fascist movements of the 1920s and 30s on Twitter. Through the Great Depression, another period of economic misery, the fascists of Italy adopted the black shirt. In Weimar Germany the National Socialists donned the brown shirt. In Ireland the far-right ACA (now Fine Gael) opted for the blue shirt. In England – as always, lacking in originality – the British Union of Fascists went with the black shirt.
Brexit's Yellow Vests, German Brown Shirts, Italian Black Shirts, and British Fascists. Can you see the connection?… twitter.com/i/web/status/1…—
Jason Michael (@Jeggit) February 17, 2019
All of these far-right movements started on the street, the politics of violence and thuggery, derided and ridiculed by the centre, the left, and the middle class. Like the yellow vests in London today, they were not taken seriously. They were brutish, unsophisticated, and inarticulate. What they had was their ability to make a scene and a noise. It was not until they were pulled into shape by either a far-right political party or a charismatic leader that they started to become a threat. They found exactly this in both Italy and Germany and so became the advance guard of Europe’s age of totalitarianism and barbaric despotism. The United Kingdom, like Weimar Germany and pre-Mussolini Italy is in an advanced state of political disarray and there is no shortage of bitter and xenophobic charismatic leaders and far-right political parties waiting in the wings to take in these thugs.
In many respects, Brexit and all the turmoil and chaos that has brought Britain to this point has brought us full circle, right back to the revolutionary potential of the late 20s and 30s. The political left has disengaged from the politics of the street and the centre has completely come apart. The only real political strength in England today is the right and the racist far-right. Given this, the yellow vests movement – with its overt “neon-Nazi” leanings – should be a cause for serious concern. In 39 days the UK will most likely crash out of the European Union without a deal, sending social, economic, and political shock-waves over the whole of British society. Britain, frankly, does not have the political cohesion to survive this upheaval. The potential for political and state collapse has never been higher, and these are – as they have always been – the perfect conditions for fascists.
James Goddard Interview, Yellow Vest Manchester