Global Independent Analytics
Danny Orbach
Danny Orbach

Location: USA

Specialization: Modern Japanese History, Modern Chinese History, Military History, History of Counterinsurgency, History of Disobedience, Dynamics of Atrocities in Wartime

Standing Nights in Place de la République: Chaotic Demands and the “Resistance” of Free Beers

There are few things in the world more hip and cool than a Paris night, especially if one stands in the Place de la République, where the new “standing nights” protests are taking place.

There are few things in the world more hip and cool than a Paris night, especially if one stands in the Place de la République, where the new “standing nights” protests are taking place. After witnessing and even taking part in several protest movements, from the social protests in Tel Aviv (2011) to the Occupy Movement in the United States, I know well how fun it could be: a lot of young, cool and beautiful people, informal dating, togetherness, the sense of fighting for a higher, noble cause, and in the case of Paris, also free beer. What could be better? In the French capital, the protestors were instructed not to sit down to keep up with the law, hence the name “standing nights” (Nuit Debout). However, the demonstrations quickly turned violent. In the last weeks, young anarchists threw rocks on policemen and burned buses, scooters, and cars. The bill for such destruction, of course, will eventually be paid by the tax money of French citizens. But why should the demonstrators care? To them, the cost of fun is still invisible.

On March 31, several hundred thousand people took part in the largest ND demonstration so far. The Nuit Debout movement is not limited to Paris, and one can find similar protests in other French urban centers. Formally, the ND began as a protest against the reform of labor laws. Responding to the country’s economic decline, the French government decided to amend some antiquated rules that deny employers flexibility in hiring and firing. The goal of the reform is to refresh the labor market and decrease youth unemployment. The protestors, however, want the government to supply them with cushy jobs out of nowhere, without the risk of being fired. They want, as the New York Times put it, just what their parents had, and more. This obviously is self-contradictory: if employers cannot fire easily, they would think twice and thrice before hiring new employees.

Notwithstanding this self-contradiction, the movement quickly expanded to include a wider variety of social justice warriors.  Similarly to the 15-M protest movement in Spain, as well as to America’s “Occupy Wall Street”, the French movement displays a hodgepodge of complaints: free immigration, LGBT rights, anti-establishment, anti-capitalism, and also Euroscepticism.

In the 2011 social protest in Israel, the leadership of the movement at least tried to come up with something tangible (though not always realistic), but not so in France. As one witness testified:

The most conspicuous thing in the discussions taking place in the square, sometimes to the early morning hours, is the reluctance of the participants to offer solutions to the problems they raise. Young and old, men and women, French and foreigners, all ask to bring existing problems into view. Sometimes they back their arguments with impressively detailed data. However, every participant who tries to offer solutions is promptly silenced. [The demonstrators] also have no interest in early elections, or generally in the established political process.

This, indeed, is the price of the current left-wing fad known as “direct democracy.” Even in normal conditions it is difficult to gain the attention of the public with complicated and nuanced solutions; all the more so in squares replete with protestors motivated by cheap beer and revolutionary enthusiasm. People have no time to think, ponder or consider, and therefore, simplistic demagoguery tends to win the day. Also, square decision-making does not necessarily reflect the will of the majority. Though it is fashionable nowadays to be smug about the boring procedures of formal democracy, such as the secret, universal ballot, and methodical vote counting, they are still indispensable, at least if one is interested to know what the majority of people think. This problem was especially conspicuous during the protest that took place in Madrid several years ago when the activists in the square – who were never really elected by anyone – decided that the decisions of a parliament elected by the entire nation were “illegal.” Direct democracy, in other words, is no more than a sham.

But even if we ignore the illusory nature of “direct democracy”, the current wave of protests, especially in France, suffers from significant structural problems. The Marxist and Neo-Marxist left, it seems, has been unable to come up with a positive model of governance since the collapse of the Soviet Union. Therefore, many of its intellectuals and activists have found increasing refuge in “resistance” to the current order – the banks, the established political parties, the European Union. Certainly, there are legitimate reasons to criticize all of the above, but one has to offer an alternative. However, the protestors in France and elsewhere have become infatuated with “resistance” for its own sake. This worldview, based on sheer opposition to the current system, explains why Western leftists so often cooperate with radical Islamists, who oppose most of their values, and why they rarely bother to seriously tackle the contradictions in their own views.

The most interesting contradiction in the protestors’ agenda, however, is their schizophrenic attitude towards the state.  ND protestors in France, just like their brethren in Spain and the United States, are extremely suspicious of state authority. In fact, they fetishize “civil disobedience” of national institutions, while decrying state surveillance and its checks on human freedom. On the other hand, if one looks at their agenda, it is extremely state-centered. For what do the demonstrators in France want, if not more state control? If workers are not to be moved around or fired, somebody needs to enforce these rules on private companies, and who will enforce them but the state? In fact, there is no easy solution to this problem. If one wants more distributive justice, more labor laws, and, more equality, one needs a stronger, more coercive state. The “anti-establishment” image of left-radical demonstrators is, therefore, a chimera, just like Noam Chomsky’s “anarchism”. They incessantly bash and beat the cow called “the state”, but at the same time demand an increasing amount of milk. The constant bashing of patriotism and nationalism by the same leftist circles also contradicts their basic agenda. Obviously, people are unlikely to accept the authority of a centralized and coercive state if they have no feelings towards it.  The idea of the state as a giant, soulless machine designed merely for redistribution of goods may work in theory – but it rarely does in practice.

Hence, these protest movements are doomed from the outset. They cannot overcome their own contradictions and offer a viable alternative to the current order, except for generating a feeling of impending crisis. At best, they can pressure governments to implement some limited reforms. At worst, the crisis atmosphere they generate will be used by right-wing populists to take power. The rare cases when some “new left” movements have formed governments have not been very encouraging. Look as SYRIZA in Greece. When Alexis Tsipras was elected, new leftists all over the world were enthusiastic about the “Greek Revolution”. Today, the same Tsipras, after agreeing to all EU terms he previously rejected, is busy privatizing airports and launching other capitalist reforms. That does not mean that the current wave of protests will not have historical implications. In fact, it may have significant consequences which are still hidden from view. These consequences, however, will most likely have little to do with the idealistic future the protestors espouse in their t-shirt slogans.

POPULAR ARTICLES

Not Found

OPINION

Vladimir Golstein

Vladimir Golstein

The Danderous Acceptance of Donald Trump

James N. Green

James N. Green

Politics in Brazil: Fasten Your Seat Belts!

Barbara H. Peterson

Barbara H. Peterson

Health officials confirm spread of Zika virus through sexual contact in Texas, first in US

Danny Haiphong

Danny Haiphong

WHY IS OTTO(SUPER)MAN ERDOGAN LOSING HIS CHARISMA?

Miray Aslan

Miray Aslan

How relations between Saudi Arabia and Iran reached a breaking point

Navid Nasr

Navid Nasr

How relations between Saudi Arabia and Iran reached a breaking point

Writers

chief editor

Joshua Tartakovsky

Analysis should serve as a method to better understand our world, not to obscure it.

Materials: 42

Specialization: Israel and the Middle East, US politics

Materials: 7

Specialization: Balkans, NATO and EU policies, Strategic communications

Materials: 3

Specialization: Foreign politics, Immigration, Human rights.

Materials: 2

Specialization: Political Science, Social Anthropology

Materials: 3

Specialization: Eastern Europe

Materials: 14

Specialization: Industrial Safety, Corporations

Materials: 12

Specialization: Eastern Europe, Labor movement

Materials: 3

Specialization: American history, way of life, and principles

Danielle Ryan

Ireland

Materials: 10

Specialization: US foreign policy, US-Russia relations and media bias

Materials: 20

Specialization: War, Racism, Capitalist exploitation, Civil rights

Materials: 8

Specialization: Modern Japanese History, Modern Chinese History, Military History, History of Counterinsurgency, History of Disobedience, Dynamics of Atrocities in Wartime

Dovid Katz

Lithuania

Materials: 3

Specialization: Holocaust Revisionism and Geopolitics; East European Far Right & Human Rights; Yiddish Studies & Litvak Culture

Materials: 20

Specialization: History, Catalunya, Spain, Geopolitics, Nationalism in Europe, Islamization, Immigration

Materials: 5

Materials: 3

Specialization: migration, international relations

Materials: 1

Specialization: Syria, US Foreign policy and strategies, BRICS/SCO

Materials: 19

Specialization: Balkans, Yugoslavia

Materials: 10

Specialization: Jihadist Groups, Islamic Terrorism, Global Security

Materials: 4

Specialization: Geopolitics

Materials: 4

Specialization: Media and government relations

Materials: 2

Specialization: Latin America, Brazil

Jay Watts

Canada

Materials: 2

Specialization: History, Marxism-Leninism, Imperialism, Anti-imperialism.

Materials: 2

Specialization: International Relations, Sociology, Geostrategy

Materials: 1

Specialization: civil rights

Lionel Baland

Belgium

Materials: 22

Specialization: Euroscepticism, Patriotic parties of Europe

Maram Susli

Australia

Materials: 3

Specialization: Geopolitics

Materials: 2

Specialization: Civil rights, Racism, US politics

Materials: 1

Specialization: geopolitics, economics

Max J. Schindler

Palestine-Israel

Materials: 9

Specialization: Politics

Miray Aslan

Turkey

Materials: 12

Specialization: Media, Politics

Materials: 5

Specialization: Politics, International relations

Navid Nasr

Croatia

Materials: 13

Specialization: Global security, Politics

Materials: 9

Specialization: Development of European Union, Non-governmental organizations, Politics and economics in Baltic States

Materials: 9

Specialization: Greece, Crisis of the US hegemony; Israel / Occupied Palestine, Oppression of Black people in the US

Materials: 4

Specialization: geopolitics, Russia, USSR

Pedro Marin

Brazil

Materials: 17

Specialization: Latin America, Ukraine, North Korea

Materials: 13

Specialization: Sustainable development, International relations, Comparative European politics, European integration, Eastern European politics and EU-Russia relations

Materials: 8

Specialization: Politics

Materials: 16

Specialization: Counterterrorist Finance

Seyit Aldogan

Greece

Materials: 3

Specialization: ISIS, Middle East, Globalization, Migrant crisis

Materials: 1

Specialization: Head of "Srebrenica Historical Project"

Materials: 3

Specialization: Economy, Social politics

Stevan Gajic

Serbia

Materials: 1

Specialization: Full time researcher at the Institute for European Studies

Materials: 5

Specialization: Geopolitics, Geoeconomics

Materials: 2

Specialization: Civil rights

Tobias Nase

Germany

Materials: 8

Specialization: Syria, US Foreign policy, Ukraine

Valerijus Simulik

Lithuania

Materials: 2

Specialization: Politics and economics in Baltic States, education and science, non - governmental organizations, globalization and EU

Van Gelis

Greece

Materials: 17

Specialization: Middle East

Materials: 1

Specialization: Kosovo, Serbia, Belgrad bombing

Materials: 5

Specialization: international relations, Russia

toTop