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Editorial : Paris burning with anger

【明報專訊】THE worst riot in Paris in half a century has turned the Arc de Triomphe into a battlefield. The French government has announced that it will shelve a plan to increase fuel taxes and introduce relief measures to improve people's livelihood in an attempt to placate the public. Globalisation is facing a strong backlash in the Western world. The "yellow vests movement", triggered by the proposed increase in fuel taxes, has put conflicts between urban and rural areas, conflicts between different social classes and the masses' hatred of the wealthy elite on full display. One and a half years ago, the election of Emmanuel Macron as president kept the wave of populism in Europe and the US in check. But he has failed to blaze a trail for France, as his policies are friendly to businesses and wealthy people under a moderate veneer.

Over the past three weeks, the "yellow vests movement" has shaken France. The protests were triggered by Macron's proposal to increase fuel taxes in the name of reducing emissions. In France, drivers must be equipped with yellow vests in their cars to deal with what happens when a car breaks down on the road. French people living in rural areas rely on cars for transportation. Having just sat out a spike in oil prices earlier, they were angered by the increase in taxes. They took to the street and the "yellow vests movement" spread rapidly. Last Saturday Paris saw the worst riot since the May 1968 events. The Avenue des Champs-Élysées was turned into a battlefield, with radicals setting things on fire and spraying graffiti on the Arc de Triomphe de l'Étoile reading "Resign, Macron", "Down with the bourgeois", etc. Some "yellow vests" protesters have called it a "revolution".

The scenes of riots in Paris are redolent of the burning of the stock exchange during the May 1968 events half a century ago. The two social movements, however, were apparently different in nature. The 1968 student movement was spearheaded by the left wing to fight for reform. The "yellow vests movement", in contrast, did not have an outright leader. Social network was used to mobilise participants. Those who took part in the Paris riots last Saturday included the far right as well as the far left. That the yellow vests movement spiralled out of control reflects not only people's dissatisfaction with Macron's governance but also the difficulties facing France and the Western world amid globalisation.

Macron proposes middle-of-the-road politics to reform "capitalism with French characteristics". But he has found himself in a blind alley just more than a year after his election. Right-wing populist politicians are trying to solve the crisis facing capitalism with economic nationalism and protectionism. Many academics, however, are sceptical whether such a way of transforming internal conflicts into external conflicts is sufficient to solve the crisis. Recently some Democrats in the US have proposed adopting the German strategy to require corporations to shoulder more social responsibility and share wealth with employees. This includes the legal requirement that 40% of representatives sitting on the board of directors are elected by employees, while the government should consider providing support for corporations through policies to encourage innovation. It remains to be seen whether such a road to reform, which carries characteristics of corporatism, will find its way into the mainstream. But many Americans have apparently realised that time has come for a reform of capitalism.

明報社評2018.12.05:法國階級「大革命」 巴黎怒火在燃燒

巴黎發生半世紀最嚴重騷亂,凱旋門成為戰場,法國政府宣布暫停燃油稅計劃,推出利民紓困措施,盼息民憤。全球化在西方遇上強大逆流,法國這場由燃油稅觸發的「黃背心運動」,突顯城鄉和階級矛盾,以及普羅大眾對精英巨富的憤怒。一年半前法國總統馬克龍上台,遏阻歐美民粹主義浪潮,然而其政策中間路線為表、親富親商為實,未能為法國殺出一條血路。

過去3周,「黃背心運動」搖撼了法國。示威導火線是馬克龍以減排之名調高燃油稅。在法國,司機車內必須配備黃背心,以便應付在公路「死火拋錨」情况。法國鄉郊民眾日常依賴汽車出入,早前才捱過高油價之苦,現在又要加稅,不少人怒不可遏上街抗議,「黃背心運動」迅速蔓延。上周六,巴黎爆發了1968年「五月風暴」以來最嚴重騷亂,香榭麗舍大道猶如戰場,激進分子一邊縱火,一邊在凱旋門噴上「馬克龍辭職」、「推翻資產階級」等塗鴉,有黃背心示威者形容,「這是一場革命」。

今次巴黎騷亂的畫面,令人想起半世紀前法國「五月風暴」火燒股票交易所一幕。這兩場社會運動,本質其實有顯著分別。法國「六八學運」由左翼牽頭爭取改革,相比之下,「黄背心運動」沒有明顯領頭人,主要靠社交網絡動員,參與周六巴黎騷亂的,既有極右亦有極左分子。「黃背心運動」一發不可收拾,反映了民眾不滿馬克龍施政,亦折射了全球化之下當前法國以至西方的困境。

馬克龍主張以中間路線改革「法國特色資本主義」,走了僅僅一年多已陷入死胡同。歐美右翼民粹政客正試圖以經濟民族主義和保護主義,應對這場資本主義危機,可是不少學者都懷疑,這種將內部矛盾轉化為外部矛盾的做法,是否能夠解決危機。近期美國民主黨有人提倡參考德國經驗,要企業負起更大社會責任,與員工分享財富,包括立法規定大企業董事局必須有四成代表由員工選出,至於政府則會考慮向企業提供政策支持,鼓勵創新發展。這種帶有社團主義(corporatism)色彩的改革路線會否成為主流,仍待觀察,然而不少美國人顯然意識到,資本主義已屆改革之秋。

■Glossary

shelve : to decide not to continue with a plan, either for a short time or permanently

placate : to make sb feel less angry about sth

veneer : an outer appearance of a particular quality that hides the true nature of sb/sth

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