When we were about to spend a week in Paris recently in order to visit several art exhibitions that were about to close, I was afraid that the demonstrations of the gilets jaunes (Yellow Vest protestors) would disturb our visit, but there was no sight or sound of them, except on the TV. The receptionist in the hotel assured us that they confined their disruptive activities to the areas on the other side of the Seine, and that they did not venture to the area of the Left Bank (Saint Germain des Pres), where we were staying.
That was very reassuring, and indeed we did not catch sight of a single yellow vest. However, it was while we were in Paris that it finally dawned on me that what is happening in Paris (and elsewhere in France) is connected with events in other countries, and that it all comes down to the clash between the ‘haves’ and the ‘have-nots.’ The gilets jaunes have made it very clear that their grievances are about economic inequality and the burden of taxation that was about to become heavier until Macron reversed his policies, or at least put them on hold.
From my (admittedly limited) experience of France I find it strange that people there are complaining about the standard of living. Supermarket shelves are stocked with all kinds of delicacies, and the restaurants and cafes seem to be thriving. Although productivity in France is one of the highest in the OECD, French working hours are relatively short and the retirement age quite low (55). That, by the way, is one of the bones of contention, as M. Macron has expressed his intention of increasing it, bringing it into line with the retirement age in other OECD countries.
Be that as it may, the thought that came into my mind upon hearing the grievances of the French protestors was that they are being echoed around the world. What, after all, is behind Brexit if not the resentment of the ‘have-nots’ in the poorer regions of the UK against those they perceive as the ‘fat cats’ in London and other large cities, who are all in favour of remaining in the EU? Theresa May admitted as much in her speech to parliament in which she claimed that there are large segments of the British public which feel under-represented and neglected. Naturally, there’s nothing easier than to direct that enmity towards the newcomers, the upstarts, the immigrants, as was done by the Leave campaigners.
And where are the voters who supported Donald Trump for president of the USA? Mainly in the Midwest and the towns and states where unemployment and poverty is more widespread than along the east and west coasts of the USA. Several European countries have also voted right-wing candidates into office, as has happened in Hungary, Poland, Italy and elsewhere, probably for similar reasons.
It has been claimed that the internet has enabled diverse groups to become connected with one another, to share experiences and complaints, and then to take action in order to bring about the changes they want, or at least to express their sentiments and objections.
And therein lies the danger. Karl Marx’s clarion call, ‘Workers of the world unite, you have nothing to lose but your chains,’ is reaching an ever-widening audience that is ready and willing to act upon that message. It is no coincidence that this happens to coincide with a rise in expressions of anti-Semitism and actions against Jews and Jewish communities. Today it is easier than ever to rally support for theories of conspiracy and hatred against whoever is the subject of opprobrium de jour, and there is no group easier to pinpoint as having prospered, as ‘not belonging,’ as ‘not one of us’ than Jews.
The Moslem religion, whether benign or radical, also has a role to play in generating anti-Semitism, and the growing proportion of Moslems in Western Europe cannot be ignored. There is anti-Semitism on both the European far right and far left, and it is further promoted by propaganda intended to arouse sympathy for Palestinians and opprobrium towards the State of Israel. The sad fact, which is generally ignored, is that because Israel was attacked by several Arab countries in 1967 it now controls areas of land inhabited by Palestinians. Politicians on both sides seem unable or unwilling to find a resolution to the current impasse.
The only solution to all the resentment and hatred generated by inequality and poverty throughout the world would be the large-scale redistribution of wealth, as advocated by Marx. But that doesn’t seem likely to happen any time soon.