Archive for the ‘Globalisation’ Category
Ça réchauffe le cœur!
Après Mai (Something in the Air), is an eagerly anticipated film about the lives of young French leftists after May 68.
For some 1968 did not mark just a high-point of radical activism, but the beginning of something that was unfolding not only in France, but across the rest of Europe and the world. As Le Monde said late last year, ”le champ des possibles s’étendait à perte de vue, terrifiant et ‘exaltant.” (the range of what seemed possible unrolled further than you could see – it was both terrifying and exalting). It was the post-68 period that saw French leftist groups (as in the rest of the Contintent) grow into (sometimes transient) organisations with a genuine public presence.
It was during this period that Olivier Assayas , born in 1955, and “became an adult and artist.” Born in 1954 and having taken part of similar – at times identical – political and cultural movements I could not fail to be touched by this brilliant, if sometimes overflowing with references, picture.
The Guardian Reviewer Peter Bradshaw summarises the scenario.
Clément Métayer is Gilles, a politicised kid in high school and would-be artist who is angrily participating in the radical spirit of the times: he is the lover of Laure (Carole Combes), but the relationship is disintegrating because she is leaving for England, and Gilles is increasingly drawn to the beautiful Christine (Lola Créton). In the cause of consciousness-raising, Gilles and his comrades crank out agitprop zines on mimeograph machines and creep into the school at night to cover the walls with graffiti – the kind of graffiti that in 2013 has been reportedly wiped out by social media and Web 2.0. But it isn’t simply that: a concrete block is pushed over a walkway handrail, hitting a security guard below, putting him into a coma, and this serious act of violence – the one moment at which, in fact, the whole idea of violence is brought to a head – means Gilles has to leave town. He heads south to Italy and finds that the further south he goes, the more lenient and hedonistic the revolutionary spirit becomes, very different from the arguments and smoke-filled rooms of Paris.
The critics, like Bradshaw then remark that the main impression left by Assayas it that there were plenty of good-looking people on the young French left, having sex and a whale of a time.
But there is a lot more, a lot more, in Après Mai
It shows not only the individual dramas of committed French school and university students, on the cusp of adulthood,but the rich interaction between post-68 European leftism and the ‘Counter-culture’.
Après Mai parallels the political history of the post-68 left, from lycèens with their ‘automomist’ demands, rebuffed by the PSU for using a rude Robert Crumb cartoon on their leaflets, Mao-spontexs fighting it out after a violent encounter with the CRS at Place de Chichy, a glimpse of Situationism, to the hard-line M-Lers, and the Ligue communiste révolutionnaire. To hammer home the point about the vast orbit of the French left of the time, Gilles is shown stocking up at a news kiosk selling everything from Charlie Hebdo, Combat, l’Humanité to Hari-Kiri.
You don’t need to know who these groups and papers were (and are), but it helps.
Nothing shown – a kind of left-wing ‘product placing’ – is by chance.
As a three page article in Le Monde pointed out, early in the film Gilles is pictured reading Simon Leys (Pierre Ryckmans) book on China, Les habits neufs du président Mao (The Chairman’s New Clothes: Mao and the Cultural Revolution, 1971).
Leys exposed the Cultural Revolution’s murderous side, and the hyper-nationalism of Chinese Maoism. This was, apparently, a key text for Assayas himself – as it was for countless European leftists (myself included). One could say he marked a key moment in the evolution of the left groups listed above.
Gilles is also shown leafing through a copy of the Tibetan Book of the Dead (whether Timothy Leary’s version or not I could not see). Well, I grew out of that one by the age of 16, along with Aleister Crowley, but the text was around, a bit like the Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers….
Politics as always are in command. Gilles is latter admonished by older Marxist-Leninists, in an agit-prop film collective, for reading Leys, a “CIA agent” paid by the USA to slander the splendours of the Cultural Revolution.
Gilles girlfriend Laure Carole Combes) shows him Gregory Corso and the Beat poets (Gasoline) and then disappears off to London. Christine (Lola Créton), his new petite anime (I fell half in love with her as well) becomes part of the M-L film-making group, and their heavy (even lumping) spirit of sacrifice to the Cause of the People, is portrayed with respect but not without the implicit criticism.
In Italy Gilles meets a wealthy American rousse Leslie (India Salvor Menuez), a would-be dancer. Her insufferable American hippie companions (one of whom says he “hates communists”), consult the I Ching before taking decisions.
The flame of the Revolution – a heated image for something that cannot be fingered without burns – occurs throughout Après Mai.
Towards the end one of Gilles’s friends joins up with a hard-line LCR faction that lurches into armed struggle *. He is shown firebombing a car.
One can guess what happens to the copy of Gasoline.
Gilles’ own decision to concentrate on graphic design, and then assisting in film production, rather than a potential career through Beaux Arts, leads him to more encounters with the counter-culture. His graphics are published in a magazine which I thought was a stand-in for Actuel but apparently existed – Parapluie. After working for his television producer father (and making a well-placed put-down about Commissaire Maigret), he ends up in England, sells International Times, then works in Pinewood Studios, as a gofer on what looked like a Hammer Horror.
The soundtrack, including Syd Barret, Tangerine Dream, Soft Machine, Kevin Ayers, Captain Beefhart’s Abba Zabba, is exclusively Anglo-American.
One may doubt if many 1970s young French leftists had exactly these tastes, or that they were as immersed in the English speaking ‘underground’ as the film’s characters.
But as someone who was a young British leftist of the time, in a milieu that came from both the counter-culture, the anarchist and Marxist European new lefts, I savoured every minute of Après Mai.
Assayas is growing into a real chronicler of 1970s radical leftism.
* For the record nothing remotely like this ever happened, although there was a tiny group within the Ligue, around Mandel’s partner Gisele, that veered very close to guerilla warfare (when Latin American revolutionaries were all the rage). They they never went (or succeeded in going) much beyond talking. See the biography of Ernest Mandel, Jan Willem Stutje, “Ernest Mandel: A Rebel’s Dream Deferred”, London 2009, Verso.
Yorum: Revolutionary and Socialist Music.
Four hundred protesters, according to organisers, demonstrated on Saturday evening at the Place du Luxembourg in Brussels to protest against police violence in Turkey.
Muharrem Cengiz Caner Bozkurt from the Turkish music group Yorum talked about the events at Taskim Square in Turkey, at Sazz n’Jazz.
Several musicians from Yorum have participated in demonstrations in Gezi Park, close to Taksim Square in Istanbul.
Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan ordered the withdrawal of police on Saturday afternoon, after two days of police repression. ”This action to save the last green island in the ocean of what became concrete Istanbul has turned into a social movement against Erdogan’s policy.” explained Bahar Kimyongür, a Belgian activist of Turkish origin.
Members of Yorum the are regularly prosecuted for their alleged link with the Turkish extreme left group DHKP-C. Five members were arrested only this January.
The treatment of Yorum is is an important illustration of the limits of the Turkish Islamist government-state’s ‘liberalism’.
This is from Wikipedia:
Grup Yorum is a Turkish band known for their political song writing. Grup Yorum (Yorum means interpretation or comment in Turkish) has released twenty albums since 1987. Some of the group’s concerts and albums were banned over the years, and some of the group members were allegedly arrested or tortured] Yorum remains popular and their albums continue to sell well in Turkey and internationally. Yorum has also given concerts in Germany, Austria, Australia, France, Italy, the Netherlands, Belgium, Denmark, United Kingdom, and Greece.
Then we have this, “70 journalists in Turkey are currently being prosecuted and kept in jail all over the country.”
We could go on but recommend reading this from Human Rights Watch,
Turkey’s Justice and Development Party government maintained economic growth in 2012 despite a slowdown and has taken a strong focus on developing a leading regional role. However, the government failed to take convincing steps to address the country’s worsening domestic human rights record and democratic deficit. Prosecutors and courts continue to use terrorism laws to prosecute and prolong the incarceration of thousands of Kurdish political activists, human rights defenders, students, journalists, lawyers, and trade unionists. Free speech and media remain restricted, and there are ongoing serious violations of fair trial rights.
After the Woolwich killing there have been acres of commentary.
Perhaps we should concentrate on the reaction of the Left, and the influential voice of the Stop the War Coalition, (StWC).
It is impossible to ignore that this is riddled with contradictions.
Before we begin we should bear in mind three strains of different thoughts on the British left which co-exist uneasily.
- Firstly, that the War on Terror is a US-led, UK backed, strategy that has brought misery to countless countries above all in the Middle East.
- Secondly, that the ‘Arab Spring’ has brought the possibility of democratic and social advance to the Middle East, notably Egypt, and parts of North Africa (Tunisia above all).
- Thirdly, that this move forward is threatened not just by the way newly elected governments have adopted economic policies ts that favour business and finance over the people, but that Islamists represent a menace for their democracies.
On the last idea it was initially only the democratic left that worried about Islamism, but now apparently even those who stood “with” the Islamists against “the State’”are having second thoughts – on one country that is.
Such people are perfectly capable of holding to the opinion that Islamists can be ‘progressive’, that is fighting the War on Terror, and reactionary, fighting the Syrian regime.
Back to Woolwich,
According to Lindsey German there are “lessons to be learnt”.
The simple truth is that there were no such cases in Britain before the start of the ‘war on terror’ in 2001, which led to the invasions and occupations of Afghanistan and Iraq. The consequences of those wars have been devastating for the people of those countries and further afield. Up to a million died in Iraq and 4 million were made refugees. Tens of thousands have died in Afghanistan. Fighting still continues and in Iraq looks like descending into civil war in some parts of the country.
This reflects argument number One in its purest from.
But the StWC always add a corollary: their claim that ‘ending’ the ‘war’ (a pretty broad claim) will mean that this kind of violence will case.
The basis of this claim is disputable :Islamism is perfectly capable of violence against those who have not joined the ‘war’, as inter-Muslim violence proves.
There is also more than a distasteful hint here: we should do what the StWC says or…..
German then observes,
Any rational balance sheet of the last decade and more would demonstrate that the war on terror has been a failure in its own terms. It has not prevented terrorism but caused it to spread.
It is not demonstrable that there is something called – other than rhetorically - the “war on terror” in the first place: there have been a series of different interventions by Western, NATO-led, forces, in countries ranging from Iraq (clearly wrong) to Mali (much less clear).
Furthermore, to repeat a previous point: is the development of violent Islamism simply a response to the war on terror?
Violent Islamism has, to say the least, deeper and more lasting roots, as anybody familiar with the history of Egypt, the Middle East and the Maghreb could say.
And it is not reducible to the history of Western colonialism either.
In the end there has to be a political solution to terrorism. But it can only start with recognition of the disastrous effect of western foreign policy in the Middle East and South Asia for decades now, exacerbated by the consequences of 12 years of wars. That means acknowledging that those of us who said these wars were not the answer and would make things worse were absolutely right.
What exactly is the political solution?
We can agree that Western intervention is wholly wrong. It has stoked the fires of conflict in all the countries she cites.
But is removing it a solution to the rise of violent anti-democratic Islamism?
Perhaps we should be, as the left, giving some energy to supporting the democratic left in these lands who offer a real political alternative to Islamism, authoritarian, intolerant, or indeed jihadist.
That involves a genuine politics of human rights.
This is the way to start thinking of how a solution can come about.
The failure of much of the British left to back the Arab democratic left is part of the problem.
Update: just listening to France Culture to speakers who consider that Putin is the winner of the Syrian crisis.
What a thought!
Is Jean-Luc Mélenchon going to way of the French ‘patriotic’ left of yesteryear?
His response to the Socialist-led Government cuts in military spending certainly indicates a drift in that direction.
This is what the leader of the Front de gauche writes on his Blog.
Austérité et atlantisme sont les maîtres mots du livre blanc de la Défense remis ce jour au président de la République. Ce sont deux dangers mortels pour la souveraineté et l’indépendance de la France.
Austerity and Atlanticism are the hallmarks of the Defence White Paper presented today to the President and of the Republic. These are two mortal dangers for the sovereignty and independence of France.
Ce livre blanc est une nouvelle preuve de l’hypocrisie des solfériniens et de l’incohérence du gouvernement.François Hollande annonce qu’il ne touchera pas à la dissuasion nucléaire mais il a accepté d’inscrire la France dans le projet atlantiste de bouclier anti-missile en Europe.
This white paper is, yet again, proof of the hypocrisy and inconsistency of the government. President Hollande has announced that he will not touch nuclear deterrence but has agreed to include France in the Atlanticist project of ‘ a ‘shield’ of missiles in Europe.
François Hollande annonce des moyens préservés pour le budget militaire mais le livre blanc prévoit des dizaines de milliers de suppressions d’emplois et la vente d’actions de l’Etat dans les industries de Défense.
Holland’s announcement means that the military budget is maintained, but the White Paper envisages tens of thousands of job cuts and the sale of state-shares in the defence industries.
Ce livre blanc marque un nouvel étiolement de la puissance militaire de la France. Il prépare les grandes phrases selon lesquelles ”on ne peut rien faire sans les autres”. Air trop connu !
This paper heralds that the military power of France will again be sapped. It claims that we cannot act alone….a phrase with all too obvious implications.
Mélenchon then digs explicitly from the midden of nationalism.
Le renoncement à l’indépendance et à la souveraineté est toujours présenté comme une fatalité indépendante de notre volonté.
Presented as inevitable, and wished for, we are being led to abandon our independence and sovereignty.
Je refuse cette liquidation de l’argument militaire de la France. Loin de l’atlantisme et de l’austérité, la France doit construire une défense souveraine et altermondialiste.
I reject this way of abolishing the argument in favour of France’s military. In place of Atlanticism and austerity, France must build a sovereign and ‘other’ (or ‘anti’) globalisation defence force.
One can translate ”une défense souveraine et altermondialiste” in different ways.
But clearly any kind of ‘other’ or ‘alternative’ form of defence, that rejects cutting the military budget, to that offered by ‘globalisation’ is a highly contentious concept.
Not to say utterly confused.
How can we have a military power based on global justice?
And what exactly is this ‘sovereignty’ ’ Mélenchon is talking about?
In recent issues of Le Monde Diplomatique Régis Debray has argued (La France doit quitter l’OTAN March 2013) for France to leave (again) NATO.
He has been answered by Hubert Védrine – the former Socialist Foreign Minster (L’OTAN, terrain d’influence pour la France. April 2013)
Both of their arguments on the assumption that ‘sovereignty - France’s - is a central value of the left.
Mélenchon seems to think that ‘Atlanticist’ policies - that is aligning France to the US – are intrinsically bad things.
Indeed it is well-known that he considers the USA a very bad thing.
That’s as may be.
But is ‘France’ a ‘good thing’?
Is the French military something the left should defend to make it even better?
“sombre dans le non-sens voire le ridicule. “
Here we fall into nonsense, not to say the ridiculous.