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Yellow Vests – prelude to new forms of representation

Interview of the monthly magazine “Ruptures” with Etienne Chouard, France

Etienne Chouard, who made a name for himself in France in 2005 in the no-campaign on the EU constitution, is the father of the “Référendum d’initiative citoyenne” (RIC) [nationwide votes based on popular initiatives, ed.] and plays an important role in the yellow vests movement. Here is a condensed version, jointly updated with the author, of the video interview Etienne Chouard gave to the electronic edition of “Ruptures”.

Ruptures: What impressed you most about the roundabouts occupied by Yellow Vests?

Etienne Chouard: One of the common features is displeasure at the outrageous contrast between the difficulties experienced by millions and the demonstrative wealth displayed by a minority of the wealthy. These citizens have gone out of their homes and discovered that they were by no means alone with their difficulties in mastering life. They have stopped watching television, some have discovered a new family and so have joined together to form a “new society”. Another feature of the movement is the desire to banish political discord.

A rejection of politics?

In reality, it is a rejection of the political class, its fruitless role-playing game and its disputes. Unity is a great advantage of the movement. Divisions, especially between those classified as extreme left-wing or extreme right-wing, would be fatal.

Have you also been receptive to the demands made?

From the outset, many yellow vests have concentrated their complaints on essential aspects. For example, the demand to abolish the CICE, [tax advantage in order to reduce costs for companies, ed.] this inappropriate 40 billion subvention to companies, or the demand to stop selling and privatising public goods and services.

These demands are not necessarily new ...

What is new is that these complaints, which were initially addressed “from below” to the “elected representatives from above”, led to the emergence of the RIC […], which spread like wildfire. This extraordinary aspect changes the role of the actors: it is no longer just a question of demanding this or that law, but of demanding a completely different type of legislation. This is the beginning of a historic breakthrough: until now, those who made the decisions were addressed – the elected representatives. It is now a question of no longer submitting to the goodwill of the latter: It is the people who must decide.

But does not the Constitution give the elected representatives the power to enact these laws?

That is exactly what needs to be changed! The Constitution, which lays down the forms of representation, was written by these very representatives, and not by those who would be the only legitimate ones: those represented. And that is why the idea of the RIC is so valuable, because it demands that the people really take power and decide on every law. So far, voters have been, in a sense, children who are required to entrust their powers to those who have the knowledge and think for them. In this respect, the status of the voter is degrading, in fact he is required to appoint his masters at regular intervals. Now the time has come for emancipation and growing up.

On the part of the government, however, receptiveness is expressed to the principle of the RIC …

It is illusory to imagine that the masters will readily return power. They may take up the idea of a referendum, but they will equip it with all kinds of barriers: Thresholds, control authorities, restrictions on topics … What is needed is a RIC for all topics. We ourselves must establish our own political power! And this idea can take shape more quickly than we think …As Victor Hugo said, nothing is stronger than an idea whose time has come.

Are the laws desired by the citizens capable of gaining a majority?

Of course, legislative debates and disputes will continue to be necessary. But today, the main thing is that the people establish themselves as a political power. And this idea can be shared by citizens who have very different, even conflicting beliefs. Some have drawn parallels with the “Nuit debout” movement [Spring 2016]; but in “Nuit debout” people from the right or extreme right were excluded from the outset. This movement could not succeed because the division to some extent was already in its genes. In contrast, one of the characteristics of the yellow vests movement is that it does not exclude anyone. Let us recall the time of the occupation: very opposing political forces were able to unite in the resistance, from the communists to the Maurrassians [followers of the Catholic-conservative Charles Maurras classified as right-wing extremist, ed.] …

Is the parallel to the time of occupation appropriate?

Every historical period is different. But let us take the “European project”: it is clearly a project for the expropriation of nations and thus of peoples. With the transfer of national sovereignty to the European level, our representatives have sold our most valuable asset, although they were by no means its owners. This is, in fact, a betrayal. And since our Constitution does not provide any punishment for this crime, they continue. In reality, the European Union is an occupation project conceived and implemented by the leading American forces at the end of the war, as François Asselineau (President of the UPR) has already often explained. In short, we must leave the EU, that is obvious.

Emmanuel Macron, on the other hand, wants “European sovereignty” ...

This concept is an oxymoron (association of two incompatible terms). Or one must speak of the sovereignty of banks and multinationals – they are the ones who rob people of their sovereignty. And it is certainly not the European Parliament that is going to change that, that is a complete fallacy. In this sense, the forthcoming European elections would be an illusion if certain people imagine making it an extension of the yellow vests movement. I would also reiterate that elections are a process of political expropriation. No emancipation of the people can result from this!

Aren’t they a source of legitimacy after all?

No! What constitutes the great wealth of the yellow vests movement is the prelude to new forms of representation, as they have been developed at the roundabouts: no representatives to decide for us; in the case of representations, precise definition of mandates, clear instructions as well as possibilities of monitoring and recall; transparent negotiations. Today’s technologies make it possible: when a negotiation takes place, it can be transmitted via a simple telephone, and the representatives are under control at all times and in real time.

How do you see the future of this movement?

For the time being, the movement remains unified, determined, persistent and peaceful. If all this is preserved, history will sometimes experience unexpected accelerations. And when more and more sections of the population are won over – including the public forces of law and order – the government will appear to be what it is – naked – and will have to make way. Priority will then be given to a constitutional process of the people.    •

Source: ©Ruptures No. 82 of 31.1.2019
(Translation Current Concerns)