Behind the Headlines
by Justin Raimondo
As a European-wide movement against gas taxes brings not only England but large sections of the continent to a grinding halt, the Left in power is snarling and hissing, sputtering that these aren't "the workers" that their socialist policies were supposed to benefit. As Polly Toynbee, queen bee of the New Laborite columnists, despairingly put it in the Guardian:
"But this isn't the unions, this is the world turned upside down. This is a fight against the forces of conservatism a popular front of Poujadist small businessmen, farmers, cab drivers and truckers, all supported with weasel words by Mr. Hague and the right-wing press. There is no ready-made language to describe this particular enemy of the people, the militant chambers of commerce."
Ms. Toynbee is quite right, there is no ready-made word to describe the new revolutionaries who are bringing governments to their knees all across Europe. Unlike the archetypal "workers of the world," in whose name the socialists of all countries speak, these guys aren't looking for any government action to save them, succor them, or "liberate" them from the responsibilities of life in a capitalist society. Instead, they want to get government off their backs. And unlike the official victim groups of race, gender, and sexual "orientation," they aren't demanding special legal status, apologies for past injuries, or reparations; they are not lionized in the media, hailed as heroes, and interviewed on PBS (or the BBC). These are the unknown soldiers of liberty, whose organizations are largely ad hoc alliances, and whose voices are rarely heard in the media or the establishment political parties. Who are these guys? The New York Times describes them as "a mixture of truck, bus and taxicab drivers, farmers and small-business owners, all of whom say the increasing cost of fuel threatens their livelihoods. Not organized by a union or any one group, they have joined together out of a common desperation."
Desperate to get out from under the heel of their socialist rulers and the burden of a crushing taxation, the militance of the protesters is driven not only by the economic threat to their livelihood, but by the arrogance of the socialist elites. Ms. Toynbee is right on another score: this is the world turned upside down. With socialist governments in power in Britain, France, Germany, Italy, Belgium, Netherlands, and Spain, the middle classes have taken the place of the proletariat as the new agency of revolution. A specter is haunting Europe the specter of Poujadism. . . .
In the 1950s, with French shopkeepers, small businessmen, truckers, and other self-employed citizens bent under the weight of oppressive taxation, Pierre Poujade, a grocer, led a largely middle-class rebellion that threatened to topple the French government and threw a scare into Socialists, bureaucrats, and liberal elitists everywhere. The whole point of this movement, which shook French politics to its foundations, was energized by a desire to preserve the economic viability of the self-employed middle classes. Squeezed between the rise of mega-corporations and the insatiable greed of government bureaucrats, the shopkeepers, farmers, and independent artisans and entrepreneurs of all sorts found their voice in the fiery polemics of Poujade, whose followers carried out similar direct action tactics against the French state and its corporate allies. Poujade's party, the Union for the Defense of Merchants and Artisans (UDCA), won 53 seats in the 1956 parliamentary elections. The movement didn't last long under assault from the government and the established political parties, and the wave of protest receded along with the political fortunes of the Poujadists. Caught between left and right, and overshadowed by the looming cold war standoff between the US and the Soviet Union, the Poujadists of yesteryear could not have succeeded. They were what we might call premature anti-globalists, clearly ahead of their time and their time, it appears, is now. . .
Unlike French Poujadism, which is invariably disdained by academic sociologists and political scientists as provincial to the point of "xenophobia," this is a European-wide movement: it started but did not end in France, where the government quickly capitulated. Instead, it leapt across the Channel, spilled over into the Low Countries, quickly arose in Germany, and is now reaching as far as Poland, Spain, Hungary, and Norway. In Britain, where the price of petrol (as they call it) is a whopping $4.50 a gallon, even the fishermen have joined in the protest. Forty fishing vessels sailed up the Clyde river and staged a demonstration outside a Trade Union Congress meeting being held at the Scottish Exhibition Center. Their first action, on Monday, blockaded a fuel depot at Cattledown Wharf. Clyde Fishermen's Association chairman Kenny MacNab declared: "We are sick to death of being messed about by the government, not only on the fuel prices but in other matters involving fishing. The government does not seem to want to listen to us at all."
This isn't about the price of gas, but the price of EU-style socialism and the aristocratic arrogance of Laborites like Ms. Toynbee, for whom petrol is a dubious luxury, like absinthe or fox-hunting, that ought to be curtailed if not altogether abolished. As the London Telegraph succinctly put it:
"This is not a fuel crisis. It is a tax revolt. This is the nation of the stiff upper lip. We put up with war and rationing, disasters and poverty, bad public services and worse traffic jams. We even put up with high taxes. In Burke's peerless words: "To tax and to please, no more than to love and to be wise, is not given to men." Up with penal taxation, though, we will not put. For most of the population, fuel is a necessity, not a luxury. And the penny has dropped that it is more heavily taxed here than anywhere else."
Far from listening, Tony Blair was doing all the talking, promising that the whole crisis would be over in 24 hours and declaring that he would not "capitulate" to the tax protesters demands. He was backed up in his hardline stance by the unions, notably the Transport Workers Union. The headline in the Telegraph summed it up: "Get back to work, say union leaders." The British Trade Union Congress ordered its workers "to beat the 'bosses' blockade'" and get busy building Tony Blair's workers' paradise. In an incredible inversion of the popular image of unions as the tribune of those who work for a living, the TUC general secretary denounced the workers rebellion as a capitalist plot! As the fishermen jeered at him from their vessels parked in the Clyde outside the hall, John Monks, the TUC general secretary, told delegates:
"Companies that have refused to recognize unions, and who would be straight to court at the first hint of industrial action against them, have clearly colluded in lawless protest and civic disruption. Let us ask who owns the lorries that have been used to disrupt supplies. Let us ask whether fuel companies have been as firm in resisting disruption as they should. We call on Britain's trade unionists to work normally and to take no part in this bosses' blockade."
According to this rather unusual conspiracy theory, the oil producers are blockading their own facilities! It's all a rather complicated scheme to get rid of the taxes, you see. But the big oil producers don't care that much about the taxes, which make market entry more difficult and thus stifles their competition: the cost, in any case, is merely passed on to consumers. The real villain here is not the oil producers, but the government, which keeps prices artificially high not only through steep taxes, but also on account of onerous environmental regulations and anti-auto regulations that threaten to drive independent truckers and small businesses over the brink. As the apologist for a socialist state that thrives on confiscatory taxation, Mr. Monks must conjure the absurdity of a "bosses' blockade" to disguise his role as a keeper of the social peace rather than a fighter in what they used to call the "class struggle." Instead of "workers of the world, arise," the slogan of the Left in state power is "work normally"; instead of acting as a social catalyst, British trade unionists are scolding companies for not having "been as firm in resisting disruption as they should."
The world is indeed turned upside down and that, coincidentally or not, is the tune they played to celebrate the victory of another great tax revolt that became a revolution: the American Revolution. In this struggle, Tony Blair is the 21st century equivalent of George III. Along with his counterparts all across Europe, the socialist ministers of France, Germany, and other countries where the Third Way holds sway, Blair faces a formidable challenge: spontaneous rebellions by independent associations of self-employed professionals. This is the vanguard of resistance to the social planners of the EU, and what promises to be the United Socialist States of Europe and the protesters are clearly winning the first round. In Brussels, the Euro-crats' capital city, Belgian hauliers drove right up to the European Parliament building. They know who their real enemies are. The protesters have made a point to target and surround EU facilities all across Europe: and this is only a harbinger of things to come if the Eurocrats don't back off. . . .
In spite of the hardships endured, public support for the protest never flagged. "I heard Tony Blair say he wouldn't cave in to the protesters, but he should know that 90 percent of the public are with them, not him," said Dave Cummings, an Edinburgh tax driver, described in the New York Times [14 September 2000] as one who "backed the movement even though he had only a half tank of gas left this morning and no likelihood of a refill." Having made their point, protest leaders called off blockades in much of Britain on Thursday, so that emergency supplies could get through. In Belgium, too, after the government partially caved in to their demands, the protesters relented and let oil supplies go through. But this is hardly the end of it: indeed, it is only the beginning. . . .
What we are witnessing in Europe is nothing less than a revolution, a radical reaction to the consolidation of continental socialism a reaction that goes beyond the ballot box and takes the fight against the Eurocrats to the streets. As even the idea of national sovereignty is erased, and the rule of the managers and corporate planners seeks to rationalize European social and economic life into prescribed patterns of political correctness, the intended victims of this new order the small business owners, the independent truckers and lorrie drivers, the Belgian hauliers, the French farmers, the fishermen in short, ordinary people throughout Europe have been thoroughly radicalized by the stubborn arrogance of their socialist elites. While the Brits and the Belgians have a bit of a breather, new protests are erupting in Germany, where thousands of truckers and farmers stopped traffic in Hanover, and protesters parked their vehicles in the center of Magdeburg and paralyzed that northern city. The oppressed and exploited producers of Europe are rising up against the socialist parasites: a giant is awakening, and we have just begin to see what he is capable of...
Polly Toynbee and her ilk disdain the automobile as the symbol of capitalist greed and individualism run amok. Bemoaning its power as a potent weapon in the political wars, she writes: "Margaret Thatcher's deadly political instinct recognized the car as her great ally, her symbol of individual selfishness. New Labour has yet to find an eloquent language or attractive policies to tackle it. Now it must." Her alternative, however, is unlikely to appeal to the working masses: "Go Green," she urges Blair and New Labor, and forget the working stiffs who depend on fossil fuels for their livelihood. Such rhetoric is the contemporary equivalent of Marie Antoinette's admonition to the masses to "Let them eat cake." This is why Polly Toynbee and her friends are doomed, and why the revolution unfolding across Europe has taken her and New Labor completely by surprise. It is also why we will win.
We? Who dat? This column is already too long to get into that whole question, which could easily take up another two-to-three thousand words. Suffice to say that the Battle of Europa illuminates the outlines of a new political landscape, as the issues of globalization and economics begin to interact with potentially explosive results The victims of the socialist super-state are coalescing into a militant mass movement, and threatening to bring the system to a screeching halt: they are sure to run up against naked repression the mailed fist of the state. The attempted coup d'etat represented by the European Union, and the continued electoral dominance of socialist "Third Way" parties from London to Berlin and all points in between, is far from defeated but neither are the protesters, who may yet bring the mother down. The British protest leaders have given Tony Blair and his government of socialist prigs an ultimatum: they have 60 days to lower fuel taxes, or else face the prospect of another massive disruption. Keeping in mind that the protesters are up against the same governments that unleashed a deadly assault on the former Yugoslavia, one question comes immediately to mind: In this showdown between the socialist bosses, and the capitalist workers, who will blink Blair or the protesters? From one end of Europe to the other, a different version of the same question will be asked. The answer depends on the ability of the producing classes to organize their own defense and, when the time comes, to go on the offensive.
Please Support Antiwar.com
A contribution of $50 or more will get you a copy of Ronald Radosh's out-of-print classic study of the Old Right conservatives, Prophets on the Right: Profiles of Conservative Critics of American Globalism. Send contributions to
520 S. Murphy Avenue, #202
Sunnyvale, CA 94086
Contribute Via our Secure Server
Credit Card Donation Form
Have an e-gold account?
Contribute to Antiwar.com via e-gold.
Our account number is 130325
Your Contributions are now Tax-Deductible