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Out of Time. The Pleasures and Perils of Ageing. Lynne Segal. A Review

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Out of Time. The Pleasures and Perils of Ageing. Lynne Segal. Verso.

“In front of the vacant Mausoleum of the First Leader an old woman stood alone. She wore a woollen scarf wrapped round a woollen hat, and both were soaked. In outstretched fists she held a small framed print of V.I.Lenin. Rain bubbled the image, but his indelible face pursued each passer-by. Occasionally, a committed drunk or some chattering thrush of a student would shout across at the old woman, at the thin light veering off the wet glass. But whatever the words, she stood her ground, and she remained silent.”

The Porcupine. Julian Barnes. (1992)

In Making Trouble (2007) Lynne Segal asked what become of the ‘dangerous’ young radicals as they age. For her it was the “bonds we forged in collective efforts not just to wrestle with the world, but also to try to change it which, for a while at least, gave us our strongest sense of ourselves” that would indelibly mark how people develop. 

How this sense of the self both changes and endures over time is one of the most fundamental aspects of being human. But we are not separate islands. As Segal suggests in Out of Time our “collective” actions mark the process of ageing with great weight. The process of ageing cannot be caged in the individual’s own life, still less mastered through self-help manuals based on individualism.

One of the contributors to the influential Beyond the Fragments (1980), which brought a libertarian rush of personal feelings into left politics, in Out of Time Lynne Segal relates her private experience of ageing to the world beyond the Self. From her own life, “literary and political, of the women’s movement as an activist, a scholar, a teacher and a writer”, she reaches out to explore multiple physical, physical and social aspects of ageing. Novels, psychology, paintings, the philosophy of personal identity over time, and the sociology and politics of the increasing numbers of the elderly, are employed to mark out a stunning and thought-provoking book.

Segal retains her emphasis on the left. There are some people, as they say, for whom the glow of that commitment continues to shine through all the defeats and set-backs that we have faced over the decades. “Entering old age, almost all those leftists and feminists I knew forty years ago hold much of the same political views as then. There is no shortage of older radicals who continue to support struggles of justice, equality and a safer, greener more peaceful world.”(Page 54)

Sexual Politics.

She is equally resilient in her feminism and sexual politics. From Simone de Beauvoir’s autobiographical La Force d’âge (1970) to her La Viellesse (1970) Segal draws on images of the ageing female body as something “pitiable” in the eyes of others. She talks of how elderly women become in simply invisible, undesired. The “double standard” at work in conventional sexuality means that this change does not apply to men. Yet the strictures of abstract feminist theory dampen down when faced with men’s own “horror of ageing”. She records the importance for elderly men not of aggressive sexual virility but of “intimacy and touch in their experience with wives or partners.”(Page 89)

Are women trapped in the beauty culture dictated by masculine desire? Gender as a construction can always be, as Judith Butler suggested, destabilised, and redefined (Gender Trouble. Feminism and the Subversion of Identity. 1990). Known a decade ago as a defender of the legitimacy of heterosexual relations against separatist feminism, Segal describes how she found, after her relationship with a younger man ended in her fifties, “Unexpected erotic pleasure in a relationship with a woman.”(Page 117)

Perhaps it is no coincidence that Segal cites Peter Osborne to develop a variegated perspective on time which helps her to come to terms with this feature of her life. Personal identity is something that endures in ageing, but its relationship to the past, the present and the future is not to be fixed by the chronology of clocks. The past remains there in the eternal present. There are always yearnings for roads not taken. In the now there are moments throughout our lives that draw us to the future. In discussing psychoanalysis (Freud and Lacan) and psychology she observes that the unconscious itself is “timeless”. One could equally say that grace and charm (and their contraries) are things that may endure  over a life-time. 

Ageing in Literature.

Segal refers to the paintings of Lucien Freud and David Hockney to portray the sight of ageing. But perhaps it’s when she harvests literature, such the works of Philip Roth and John Updike, that she makes the most incisive impression. This is literary direction is a fruitful avenue, whether or not it directly speaks for personal experience. Roth’s I Married a Communist (1998-  (which she does not cite)  features one character in its wider plot,  whose commitment, worn over the years gradually boils down, as he gets old, to a simple sense of being a “good person”.

The importance of life-long goodness is apparent in Flaubert’s Un Coeur Simple (1869), the subject of Julian Barnes’ Flaubert’s Parrot (2009) to which Segal refers. In that short story the maid Félicité devotes herself to others – her mistress, her employer’s children, her nephew and an old man with cancer. Dying, in one of the most moving scenes in the history of literature, she imagines god or the Holy Spirit as her parrot, Loulou. In homage to human unselfish devotion Michel Houellebecq (Les Particules élémentaires 1998) describes such beings, who have worked all their lives, uniquely for love and out of devotion for others. In practice, Houellebecq noted, these people have generally been women.

The elderly can also be wrong-footed in their attachments. De Beauvoir’s La Cérémonie des Adieux (1981) is marked by the author’s annoyance at Sartre’s senescent years. Under the influence of Benny Lévy her close companion was enthused by the Cultural Revolution. By the late seventies he turned like a weathervane – as his self-appointed secretary veered to the right and the Talmud – to endorsing the anti-Communism of the nouveaux philosophes. Beauvoir could hardly contain her rage, as Sartre appeared to lose his sense of self and judgement. A besotted dupe Sartre is as pitiable as Balzac’s Père GoriotHe sacrifices all his wealth for his daughters, who are ashamed of him, and is left to die in wretched isolation.

Other novelists enter Out of Time to mark out lines of experience. Penelope Lively’s reflections on generational difference impress her. Lively also indicated in Treasures of Time (1979) the presence of the monumental past in the now. As her partner, Jack Lively, might have indicated, from his work on Joseph de Maistre, for many individuals (whatever the reality of these impressions), there are deep traces of the people who have gone before in the world of today.

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Written by Andrew Coates

September 5, 2014 at 9:15 am

Imperialism, Anti-Imperialism, and the Left. A Reply to Andrew Murray.

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Communist Party of Australia’s View of Imperialism.

Imperialism, anti-Imperialism, and the Left. A reply to Andrew Murray.

Imperialism, the Marxist historian Victor Kiernan claimed, shows itself, “in coercion exerted abroad, by one means or another, to extort profits above what simple commercial exchange can procure.” Andrew Murray begins Imperialism has Evolved since 1914, but it still Rules to World (Morning Star. 2.8.14. reproduced on 21st century Manifesto), by citing this assertion to observe that the “wars of 1914 and 1939 are the outstanding examples of what happens when that international system of extortion breaks down.” “Break-down and crisis” are as much a feature of “imperialism” as growth and slump are of capitalism. We might explain this, as a critic of Kiernan once noted, as the result of an inherent “atavistic” tendency to revert to type. (1)

Murray paints a picture of contemporary ‘imperialism’ in which there are “instruments of inter-imperialist mediation and control” such as Nato and the IMF, which bear some marks of “ultra” or “super” imperialism. That is, as Lenin put it in 1915, the view that there was underway an “international unification of national (or more correctly state-bound) imperialisms which “would be able to eliminate the most unpleasant, the most disturbing and distasteful conflicts, such as wars, political convulsions which the petty bourgeois is so much afraid of.”(2) At its most developed the idea of ‘ultra-imperialism’ would foresee a “single world trust” that would swallow up all states and enterprises. This, Lenin argued, simply would not happen.

Does the past show us the future? We can clearly set aside any idea of a single Capital dominating capitalism. Politically the existence of inter-state institutions, including international justice systems, does not eliminate rivalry between countries. There is no effective “global governance”. Conflicts have a recurrent source. “The shaper contradiction is between that world order managed and maintained by US power and those big powers which stand to a significant extent outside of it. There are two – Russia and China.”

Dominant, naturally, is the “US-led bloc”; the imperialism “constitutes the dominant system in the world today”. This is bound, hand and foot, to a policy of aggression, “the main driver of war lies in the policy of the US and the imperialist world order it has created to further its leading business interests, and those of its capitalist allies, Britain pre-eminent among them.” That is, despite signs of US “retreat” and “difficulties in the Middle East, it is “commanding” with world-wide military bases, and control of the (above) “inter-imperialist” bodies, like the IMF and Nato.

Anti-Imperialism.

Threaded into this analysis Murray states, “anti-imperialism now is at the heart of any serious progressive politics”. Sometimes it may lead progressive to “deal with contradictory cross currents”. One, is that “Russia’s role as a challenger to global US hegemony and the legitimacy of many national demands arising from the break up of the Soviet Union, may often mandate contingent support for the positions of the Putin government”. That is with the “contradictory” recognition that Russia has “corrupt oligarchic and repressive” practices, in “restored Russian capitalism.”

It is odd that anybody would consider that backing any aspect of Russian foreign policy is ‘anti-imperialist‘. It may be done with reasons, but if the government of Putin is the head of a capitalist state, meshed into the imperialist system, then how exactly it is a consistent part of anti-imperialism? It is hard to see many people rushing to the defence of one group of oligarchs fighting another.

One wonder how many other ‘challengers’ to US hegemony also “mandate” contingent support? To be supported (or in real terms, given kind words and some public show of endorsement) how far can a foreign policy trump a domestic one? A debate has begun on the US-left, with echoes in Europe, on Hamas. The American International Socialist Organization reject any backing for the violent, reactionary ISIS and Islamic State Islamists in Syria and Iraq. But they offer “unconditional but critical” support for the Gaza wing of the Muslim Brotherhood which has right-wing anti-socialist and anti-liberal policies. (3) The importance of their anti-imperialist battle with Israel over-rides their anti-democratic and corrupt practices.

Others might argue that it would be better simply to oppose Israel’s actions in attacking the Palestinians and depriving them of their rights than in to offer any succour to a group with a proven record of hostility to any form of left-wing and progressive politics. No amount of bluster about solidarity can disguise this side of Hamas. Israel’s actions need to be fought by a coherent movement, one not entangled in this dead-end. Such a push requires co-operation with Israeli citizens opposed to their state’s policies, and not a call to drive them into the sea. This is not to “blame” Hamas, it is simply not to take their political side.

Romantic third-worldism appears to have survived the collapse of any specific “non-capitalist” development after the fall of Official Communism and the rise of neo-liberal economics and politics. Perhaps we are seeing signs of a part others about to plunge into a second-youth, digging out dusty copies of Frantz Fanon to find inspiration for their “anti-imperialism”. (4) It continued to exist in the half-life of university “post-colonial” theory and some marginal groupuscules, like the French Les Indigènes de la République. These self-appointed representatives of the “natives” battle against neo-colonialist secularism and Marxism. They really are unconditional backers of Hamas, and treat the racist anti-Semite, ‘anti-Zionist’, and Holocaust denier, Dieudonné with great tenderness.

It is perhaps unfair to draw such conclusions from what are, at present, straws in the wind. But it is disingenuous to claim that you give “unconditional” support to a movement or party when you reserve the right to be “critical”. Heroes do not generally appreciate unfavourable comments, even if made very discreetly, from their fans. No doubt politics is full of tales of unrequited love. The left groups that popularised this and similar formulae in the 1960s and 1970s, notably the Trotskyist United Secretariat of the Fourth International, knew many such disappointments, from African national liberation movements, to the IRA, to cite but a few.

People often comment on a distinct strand of visceral anti-Americanism in what is left of post-war leftism and Communism. It could be said  that sometimes it plays a role not dissimilar to Marx’s eminently forgettable phobia against Tsarist Russia (Revelations of the Diplomatic History of the 18th Century, mid 1850s)  That led Marx to make some claims which can only be described in terms of conspiracies, the “secret collaboration between the Cabinets of London and St. Petersburg” back to Peter the Great(!). Today it is frequent to see people throw responsibility for wars and exploitation on the US in terms of intrigues, spying, most recently, through the etheral spheres of the Net.

The Communist Party of Britain (CPB) is, one hopes, made of sterner stuff. While there is a continuing regret at the demise of ‘actually existing socialism’ only a few have found a new home in the national conservatism of Putin’s Kremlin – though many more indulge its media, such as Russia Today. Andrew Murray notes that the Russian Federation’s actions in Ukraine have been circumscribed by the need to maintain “economic links with important Ukrainian enterprises”. The Communist Party of Britain, and some left groups, contains people who do not consider Russia imperialist. Murray suggests “otherwise” – on the basis of its international economic interests. This is indeed an illustration of how the left cannot “conditionally” align with any existing capitalist power. But mroe deeply is he seriously suggesting that it might be a good thing if Russia stood by the separatists? Why exactly? What socialist objective does that meet? It is bad enough having a right-wing pro-EU pro-US government with far-right involvement. But does a break-away solve the problems of the Ukraine? What criteria are being used to determine this?

Imperialism Otherwise.

It is the case that the “territorial” and “economic” mechanisms that states are caught up are shaped by the hegemony of one great power, the United States. ‘It’, or rather the fractions and networks that dominate the country’s economic and politics, has played a key (though, as is obvious, by no means exclusive) role in spreading the neo-liberal economic agenda. It has tried to exert, with no great success, territorial rights in the Middle East, Afghanistan, and across the globe. These actions have been a major cause of great, and continuing, bloodshed. (5)

But Murray’s “otherwise” has to be extended. There are plenty of ‘other’ factors to consider behind conflicts in the world today.Nor are things reducible to the US-leadership. However, adding the European Union to this list of powers still leaves us short of determining the overwhelming influence of a new ‘concert of imperialist nations’. To give one example,  the failure of the ‘Arab Spring’ can hardly be reduced to the machinations of the Pentagon, the EU, or the galaxy of US-inspired think tanks and ‘advisers’ on democracy. Domestic politics, state structures, and the rise of the “micro-powers” of Islamic coercion, and the pressures of economic flows, could be put into the very long list of causal factors at work behind the (still unsettled) outcome of these revolts. 

If there are forces for the left to support they can probably be best found in those determined to put democracy and social justice above religious and national concerns. Göran Therborn recently argued that the “new middle classes” in the developing world could divide into those who take sides, “either with the oligarchs against the poor, or with the people against the oligarchs. (6) This expresses a theme popular amongst journalists, that democracy is the central issue of our time and the basis for new cross-class alliances led, in the South, by a “modern” Westernised professionals and the intelligentsia.

The recent record (from the Arab World to Turkey) of such movements is not one of success. Syria has apparently melted down to a confessional war, stained by state mass murder and the rise of the totalitarian genocidal ISIS, which has spread into the Iraqi Islamic State. In Baghdad a confessional Shiite regime clings to power. Egypt has returned to a repressive military oligarchy. States founded on religious authority, repression, and sexual apartheid, from Iran to Saudi Arabia, remain in place.

Many Marxists have always argued that democracy is tied to the struggles of the labour movement, a more permanent, and more radical and better-founded basis for change. Therborn may be right that economic change means that its class bases have weakened. Yet it’s worth noting that Tunisia, a case apart in the Arab Spring, in which some hopes may still be placed, is marked by opposition to the domination by Islamists of a, sometimes stormy, partnership between intellectuals and the powerful trade union federation the UGTT (Union Générale Tunisienne du Travail).

Western governments may create, or exacerbate wars. Their prime concern remains the economy. Neo-liberal economics do not rely on heavy-handed domestic repression. In Europe and elsewhere, it is the privatisation of the public sphere, and exploitation by a new class of rentiers, that is the most pressing threat. 

How does this affect  internationalism – something  basic behind genuine open-minded  ‘anti-imperialism’? Globalisation and mass migration have created a sense that the “distance” between lands is far less than it was 100 years ago.This is a fight that could unite people across the world against the ‘empire’ of those enlarging their grossly unequal territories, not divide them.  On this democratic and socialist basis we could be said to be “anti-imperialist”. But there is nothing, absolutely nothing, that corresponds today to the Comintern’s Fourth Congress, “anti-imperialist united front”, nor, given the diversity of  world politics and states, does one look likely to reappear.  There is no division of the world into clear-cut “camps” to choose. We have to make our own choices. (7)

References.

(1) Page 58. Imperialism. Pioneer of Capitalism. Bill Warren. NLB 1980.

(2) Page 12. V.I. Lenin. Introduction to Imperialism and the World Economy. N.Bukharin. (1915). Merlin Press. 1972.

(3) What do socialists say about Hamas? July 31, 2014

“We differentiate between utterly reactionary Islamist movements such as ISIS, and Islamist movements such as Hamas and Hezbollah. The latter two movements came into existence to resist imperialism and entered into many confrontations and struggles with Zionism and imperialism in defence of the legitimate rights of the Palestinian people and the Lebanese people.

We consider Hamas, which originated in the midst of the first Palestinian Intifada at the end of the 1980s, and won wide popularity among Palestinians because of its rejection of the concessions and surrender which Fatah offered to the Zionist enemy and the United States, and through its military resistance to the brutal Israeli assault on Gaza, to be a resistance movement against Zionism and imperialism.

From this perspective we unconditionally support Hamas when it is engaged in military or non-military struggles against Israel, because it weakens the Zionist state and terrifies the Arab regimes and the United States, and therefore strengthens the potential for class struggle in the Arab states against this imperialist system.

Our unconditional support for Hamas is not uncritical, however, because we believe that the movement’s strategies in the struggle to liberate Palestine – like the strategies adopted by Fatah and the Palestinian left before it – have failed and will fail in the future.”

(4) See: Capitalism, Class and universalism: escaping the cul-de-sac of postcolonial theory. Vivek Chibber. Socialist Register. 2014.

(5) “In the course of four decades of unremitting struggle, a military and political order was constructed that transformed what had once been a merely hemispheric hegemony into a global empire, remoulding the form of the US state itself” Page 110. Imperium. Perry Anderson. New Left Review. No 82 (New Series) 2013. See also, Imperium. Perry Anderson. Critical Thoughts. Andrew Coates. “The Bush administration’s shift towards unilateralist, towards coercion rather than consent, towards a much more overtly imperial vision, and towards reliance upon its unchallengeable military power, indicates a high-risk approach to sustaining US domination, almost certainly through military command over global oil resources. Since this is occurring in the midst of several signs of loss of dominance in the realms of production and now (though as yet less clearly) finance, the temptation to for exploitative domination is strong.”(P 75) The New Imperialism. David Harvey. Oxford University Press. 2005.

(6) New Masses? Göran Therborn. New Left Review. 2nd series. No 85. 2014.

(7) The anti-imperialist united front. Alliance for Workers Liberty. 2013.

Mélenchon to take a Back-Seat on French Left?

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Now to Take a Back Seat? 

The co-President of the Parti de Gauche, Jean-Luc Mélenchon, has expressed his weariness, and his wish to take some distance. He estimates that the Front de Gauche has suffered a setback.

(Interview à Hexagones,Exclusive Interview with Jean-Luc Mélenchon. The leader of the Left Party announces his willingness to take a step back,  recharge his batteries, and says that it is time for him to pass the baton of leadership to others. He also noted the failure of the Left Front, and denounced the role of the media in the electoral breakthrough of the National Front.)

Mélenchon cited the need to escape from the pressures that his intense political activism, over the last five years, have brought.

He expressed the view that as a “big tree” he risked stunting the growth of the others in the left political “forest”  from growing.

It is time, the former Presidential candidate for the Front de gauche said, for new faces inside the Parti de gauche (his own group inside the bloc) to take a more prominent roles.

Mélenchon offered a critical balance-sheet of the Front de gauche, notably against the Parti Communiste Français (PCF) and their electoral arrangements with the Parti Socialiste (PS).

He did not hesitate to criticise the “functionaries” who had attempted to isolate the great man. (1)

concluded that his time would be spent in giving a detailed content to the general ideas of the left. Above all, “La question pour nous n’est pas de faire un parti révolutionnaire, c’est d’aider à la naissance d’un peuple révolutionnaire». The issue for us is not to build a revolutionary party, but to help a revolutionary people be born.

Adpated from Libération.

This follows troubles inside the Parti de Gauche earlier this month.

A small number of leading figures resigned their posts, protesting at the “centralisation” of the small party.

Tensions et démissions au sein du parti de Jean-Luc Mélenchon 3.7.2014.

The set-back of the European elections has produced a number of responses.

The Parti Communiste Français has talked of building a “people’s front”, (Passer du Front de gauche au front du peuple.)

It is known that dissatisfied members of the ruling Parti Socialiste (‘frondeurs’) are upset above all with plans to cut spending and toe the line of budgetary ‘rigour’.

Ensemble, the third force in the Front de gauche (grouping a number of left currents), has proposed expanding to a broader  “anti-austerity” front.

Is something like a French People’s Assembly on the cards?

(1) Les Echoes fills in the dots,

“Sans les nommer, il met en cause Pierre Laurent, le secrétaire national du Parti communiste ainsi que Ian Brossat, adjoint communiste d’Anne Hidalgo, responsables d’une stratégie d’alliance qui a « complètement décrédibilisé ce qu’était le Front de Gauche, explosé entre ceux qui ne voulaient pas d’alliance avec le PS et ceux qui se sont vautrés dans cette alliance.»

Se montrant très critique sur la ligne adoptée par le Parti communiste « plus institutionnelle, plus traditionnelle, où on continue à penser que la gauche est une réalité partiaire, organisée et qu’on peut rectifier le tir du Parti socialiste »,

 

Thunder on the Left, Lightening on the Right, Alex Callinicos’s Slow Impatience.

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Thunderclap Callinicos. 

Thunder on the left  (International Socialism Issue: 143Alex Callinicos

Alex Callinicos begins and ends his latest assessment of the “present situation” by resigning himself to the weaknesses of the “radical left”(1). A paradox, given, apparently, the SWP leader asserts,  that capital is also weak.A feeble economic recovery after the Bank crisis of 2008 is not met by any renewed left. Indeed there is a “weakness of credible anti-capitalist alternatives.” Not only in the larger continental European organised parties, he modestly cites his own small group the SWP’s ‘troubles’,  a subject which his article  addresses.

The King’s College academic stops short of advocating the “communist pessimism” of Pierre de Naville or Walter Benjamin,. But he finishes by citing Daniel Bensaïd need for “a slow impatience”—in other words, “an active waiting, an urgent patience, an endurance and a perseverance that are the opposite of a passive waiting for a miracle”. This implies, an ” effort to intervene in and shape the present …”

Callinicos claims that there was a time when all seemed sailing towards a renewed radical left. This was, “the era of good feelings (1998-2005) the impulse of a growing movement was to play down or finesse political differences in the name of unity.” Not everybody will recall the creation of communalist groups like Respect, and the part played in its formation, and self-destruction, by the megaphone Ego of George Galloway, in the same way.  The “Split” in this lash-up, in 2007, was apparently of great importance, though only the SWP (the splitters) took it as the milestone it apparently was – for the SWP. The subsequent misadventures of this ‘party’ are passed over, as if they had been written out of history.

Nor is the judgement that, “The radical left began to have an impact on the bourgeois political scene” quite as secure as it might appear. The May 2005 French referendum on the European draft constitution, lost by the neo-liberals backing it, was certainly significant. But the effect this had on the French left, notably the scission of what is now the Parti de Gauche from the French Parti Socialiste, and the formation of the Front de Gauche, are apparently (for Callinicos)  of less significance than the fact that the LCR/Nouveau parti anticapitaliste, lost three tendencies (he does not bother to name them or describe their politics) to the FdG, one at its formation in 2009  (Gauche Unitaire) the other two in May 2005.

Callinicos manages to avoid discussing the mass basis and actions of the Front de Gauche (which has plenty of its own problems, starting with Jean-Luc Mélenchon) not to mention its election results (11,11 % for Mélenchon in the  2012 Presidential election’s first round, 10 MPs, and 4 MEPs this year) . He does however devote space to criticising the much more successful electorally  Greek left bloc/party  Syriza (26.5% of the vote in the 2012 European elections), apparently on the slippery slope to neo-liberalism after backing Juncker as European Commissioner.

Let us state clearly. This analysis of left retreat is lop-sided. The results of the May European elections indicate that the ‘radical left’ did not do badly at all. Indeed in Spain they reached historically high levels of support, adding to the weight of the Greek Syriza. In France (FdG) and Germany (Die Linke) left groups remained at stable levels of support. But the Front de Gauche (for all its internal problems) remains a player in the political and social game. These observations would be extended across the continent. Only if we take the ‘revolutionary left as a measure of left influence can we reach Callinicos’s  conclusions about weakness and marginalisation.

Callinicos observes that for some  parties may be in crisis, but the movements are fine. On the basis of some well-publicised protests (beginning with Callinicos ‘ high moment’ Seattle protests of 1999, though this remains firmly stuck in the – good – period of “good feelings”  ) there has been a ” panorama of decentralised horizontal struggles that simultaneously subvert capital and outflank the ‘old left'”. These  (initially referring to Paul Mason’s wildly over- enthusiastic, Why its All Kicking off Everywhere  2012 – really? ), “started with the Arab revolutions (rebellions as much against the polarising and impoverishing effects of neoliberalism as against autocracy) and the echoes it gained in the North with the 15 May movement in the Spanish state and Occupy Wall Street and its numerous imitators.Other protests—somewhat earlier (British students, 2010) or later (Brazil and Turkey, 2013)….”

Callinicos does not discuss the view widely circulated by commentators, that these are protests of the liberal middle class, or their inability to effect any substantial change in any government’s policies- a serious balance-sheet. They have all, in other, words, been kicked into the long grass, if not brutally suppressed. The sole exception, Tunisia, looks increasingly, a ‘normal’ democracy, a welcome result compared to the alternatives. As with the mass ‘centrist’ parties (see definition of the ‘radical left below) this is carried our without any serious examination of these movements, in all their diversity. Above all there is no serious attempt to grapple with politics of the ‘movement’ that has become the focus of British activists, trade unionists, and the grass-roots left: the People’s Assembly. Instead it is largely  dismissed on the basis of the strategy of the union, UNITE, to “reclaim  Labour”.

Instead, the SWP theorist reminds us of the timeless truth, “The trouble is that the state, the broader political process of which it is the focus, and the parties that struggle over it remain fundamental determinants of the social, whatever autonomists and neoliberals fondly claim. ” Furthermore, “The wager of Leninism is that a revolutionary party can intervene in the political field in order to help bring about the overthrow of capital. From this follows, as Bensaïd also stressed, the centrality of strategy—of the determined, persistent, organised effort to relate specific tactics to the overarching aim of socialist revolution. ” There views are bolstered, by appeals to Gramsci. One might say that citing Leninist aims does nothing to answer those who see Leninist practice, or rather the SWP and other groups, in the multiple crises Callinicos only begins to sketch.

Callinicos finally gets to some genuine meat, ‘anti-politics’. “The structural divorce of the political class from the citizens it is supposed to represent and its integration into the moneyed world encourages popular rejection of all parties, summed up in “¡Que se vayan todos!”—All of them must go!—the slogan of the Argentinian revolt in 2001-2. This rejection—which can be called “anti-politics. He continues, “on the whole the right-populist currents that have been most successful in exploiting this mood are not themselves “anti-politics”.” This is not new. Known in France as “anti-system” parties, these are have been a long-standing feature of European politics, going (in the case of the Hexagone) back to General George Boulanger’s   at the end of the 19th century.

If this is fast becoming a commonplace – a much better starting point for looking at the May European elections, and the rise of groups like M5S (Italy) and UKIP, as well as the Front National, there are some systematic difficulties with Callincos’s analysis. One certainly does not have to accept a neo-Foucaulean analysis of the articulation of a neoliberal subjectivity to see that these  materialised policies  have sapped the basis of left politics. Thomas Picketty is a better guide to the ideology of justly reward success – underpinning the growth of the share taken by owners of capital, and high earners – offers an indication of how the “losers” despair at overcoming their inequality by collective action.This is a structural feature of Capital in the 21st century, a deeper causal mechanism behind economic restructuring, and the inability of the workers’ movement to oppose neo-liberalism. The transformation of the state into a gigantic renting operating – by which most of the population pay rent to private owners of public services – is a greater challenge than the venality of the political class.

Significantly Callinicos does not discuss the one leftist bloc, the Spanish Podemos, which has attempted to combine ‘anti-politics’, new methods of organising, with electoral participation and the building of a ‘broad party’.

Attacking the claim that the  Leninist ‘model’ has had its day is a necessary task for a leader of the SWP. Awareness of the largely forgotten writings of Alain Badiou on the new “political organisation” that will replace Leninism, or John Holloway’s writings, at least indicates an awareness that Lenin is not an unchallenged authority. It would take longer than this brief notice to discuss Lars Lih’s reconstruction of Lenin’s political ideas. The same applies to Callinicos’ observations of feminism – which others will not doubt discuss in detail.

But one point stands out in Thunder on the Left: what is wrong with broad parties of the left?  Why, given the present ideological and political diversity of the left, are they not the ideal vehicle (wide enough…) to work out differences? What is wrong with broad democracy – on the network model? Those who have elft the SWP, engaged in such groups inside Left Unity, are unlikely to be convinced by a  few warm words about feminism, and  criticism of the tortuous liberalism of “intersectionality”.

Why does a Leninist ‘Combat Party’ – to all the evidence in terminal decline, riddled with problems, from democracy onwards – still fascinate people like Callinicos? Some of us, who recognise strengths in Lenin’s analysis of political conjunctures, have never adopted the model of the Leninist ‘party’ in the first place. Even the Acts of the Apostles were never much of a guide to historical Christian practice. Hankering after a party’s glory years,  whose first acts on taking power were to suppress opposition groups – an ever-widening number – raises more problems than it solves.  All the evidence is, that we will have to hang around for a long time  for a new revolutionary Party that fulfils the role of a Messiah that can do better than these imperfect, “centrist” (as the Leninists call them) broad left parties.

But then the leader of the SWP shows every sign of waiting, impatiently,  a very long time in Perry Anderson’s Watchtower.

Update:

This is worth reading,

Alex Callinicos: take a look in the mirror Louis Proyect.

It ends with, “Displaying a shamelessness on the order of a Washington bourgeois politician, Callinicos spends a thousands words or so defending his party’s understanding of the “woman question” against Sharon Smith of the ISO who views Tony Cliff’s analysis as lacking to say the least. If Callinicos can’t make the connection between a certain theoretical deficiency in the SWP and the commission of inquiry that asked the female rape victim about her drinking habits, then he is beyond help.

In his conclusion, Callinicos writes:

The present crisis is much more diffuse, but in some ways more threatening, because the revolutionary left is much weaker than it was in 1979. This makes the attempts to split and even to destroy organisations such as the NPA and the SWP so irresponsible.

Now I have no idea what is going on in the French NPA since the comrades are not particularly engaged with the English-speaking left (who can blame them?) but I doubt it has anything to do with a rape investigation that had more in common with those conducted in the American military than what we would expect from a Marxist party. In terms of attempts to destroy an organization, my suggestion to Alex Callinicos is that he takes a look in the mirror at his earliest convenience. There he will find the miscreant most responsible.”

As can be seen above, we do know what happened in the NPA and Callinicos is talking bollocks.

People left it because they saw the Front de gauche (which the NPA denounced – as they memorably described their politics, “between us and the Parti Socialiste, there is nothing“) as the best way forward for broad – mass –  left politics.

 

 *******

(1) Callinicos, “By “radical left” I mean those currents that reject neoliberalism, whether on an explicitly revolutionary basis or in a manner that avoids the choice between reform and revolution or even embraces some version of left social democracy. This is the spectrum from the NPA and the SWP to the Front de Gauche and Die Linke, with Syriza somewhere in between. In this article I concentrate mainly (though not exclusively) on Europe.” On this definition alone his claim that the left has precipitously declined is false. Taking the crisis of the remaining ‘Leninist’ groups for the left is, of course, just one of his solipsistic errors.

Left Unity and its Future.

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Left Unity: Advancing to What?

“If the Labour Party cannot be turned into a socialist party, then the question which confronts us all is, how can we form a socialist party? If we are not ready to answer this question, then we are not ready to dismiss the party that exists.”

Socialists and the Labour Party. Ken Coates. 1973.

“There are many formidable obstacles, which stand in the way of political renewal on the left. Yet such a renewal is necessary if an effective challenge is to be posed to the domination which the Labour Party exercises over the labour movement: nothing much by way of socialist advance will be possible until such a challenge can be effectively posed. This requires the formation of a socialist party free from the manifold shortcomings of existing organisations and able to draw together people from such organisations as well as people who are now politically homeless. By no means the least of its purposes would be to provide a credible and effective rallying point to help in the struggle against the marked and accelerating drift to the right in Britain.”

Moving On. Ralph Miliband. 1976.

“There is a saying on the British left that the only thing more futile than trying to transform the Labour Party into an instrument for radical change is trying to set up a viable party to the left of it”.

Left Unity or Class Unity? Andrew Murray. 2014 (1)

Polls indicate the xenophobic and anti-EU UKIP may get over 30% of the vote in May’s European election. Nigel Farage is not isolated. Marine Le Pen (also leading voting intentions) in France, the Austrian FPÖ, Wilders and the PVV in Holland, and others, many others on the populist extremes, have come to prominence across the continent. They appear on the crest of wave, with a projected electoral score of up to 25% gathered inside the EU. If there is radical shift in the political agenda it looks as if it’s being pushed from the fringes of the right. (2)

Faced with this prospect it may seem of little consequence that in November last year a small section (over 1,200 sub-paying members) of the British left formed a new party, Left Unity (LU). Left Unity’s creation began in March 2013 when Ken Loach, Kate Hudson and Gilbert Achcar, railed against the absence of a left agenda in national politics, “…Labour embraces cuts and privatisation and is dismantling its own great work. Labour has failed us.” (Guardian. 25.3.13) The wanted something paralleling other European radical left-wing parties “to fill the left space, offering an alternative political, social and economic vision..“The anomaly which leaves Britain without a left political alternative – one defending the welfare state, investing for jobs, homes and education, transforming our economy – has to end.” The call received thousands of on-line and other endorsements, 10,000 according to supporters

Read the rest of this entry »

France: the Left, the Future of a Disillusion – Eric Fassin

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Un manifestant, le 1er mai 2014.

Hollande: ‘Sarkozy with a Human Face’? 

Eric Fassin sociology professor at  the ’Ecole normale supérieure (ENS) has written a new book, Gauche : l’avenir d’une désillusion (The Left: the future of a disillusion).  It offers a highly critical balance-sheet of Hollande’s presidency.

Interview with CÉCILE DAUMAS

Two years ago François Hollande was elected President of the Republic. Have these been two years of economic realism or of a long disillusionment?

Hollande is “Sarkozy with a human face”, you say in your book: the issue  is no longer whether it is still socialist or has passed over  to the Social Democracy … you think he is the gravedigger of social democracy . Is this not exaggerated?

The President “admitted” to being a  ” social democrat”. The press applauded, starting with Libération . But the “pact responsibility” (Hollande’s key measure this year AC)  has been arranged with  the employers, not the unions. Social democracy implies a trade-off between capital and labour. Holland has reason to reject those who use the term “social-liberal” (about his policies. AC): his government is hardly “social.” It may well be  true that in policies, “the State will take the initiative”; but it is at the service of companies, banks and markets. This is not a liberal but neoliberal state. “Holland has got rid of socialism,” Alain Minc has announced with joy, just  as “Mitterrand  got rid of communism” .

But Holland hasn’t he proved that the left  can be realistic about the economy, something the left is often accused of being incapable of?

It’s an odd kind of economic realism that turns its back on the analyses of economists. We are told that “too much tax kills tax”. It would be better to remember that austerity kills prosperity, except for a few. It reduces purchasing power, boosts precarious employment and promotes … the incomes of rentiers. Who can believe that the money given to companies benefits employment, and not  shareholders? What  the socialist leaders call realism is a renunciation of the values ​​and intelligence of the left, as if reality was necessarily fixed on the Right.

At Le Bourget, the candidate Hollande called his enemy (“finance”) and declared: “There has never, I mean never, been only one possible policy, regardless of the seriousness of the situation” . Today he says the opposite – as François Mitterrand did in 1983  (when he turned to the Right, AC).

This is the posthumous triumph of Margaret Thatcher and her assertion that “There is no alternative” In other words, there is no policy: the illusion of ‘realism’  ” kills democracy.

Because if there is no alternative, voters choose either abstention or the Front National which has  denounced the “UMPS” (the Right-Left’ consensus in power, AC).

**********************

You imagine in your book a scenario in which the  second round of the Presidential elections (2017)  is a duel between  UMP  (Right) and the FN  (far-Right). .. This strategy (by the Socialist Party) of refocusing its goals,, or (as critics allege) its drift to the right,  is it doomed to failure?

There are certainly reasons to be frightened ! Since 2002, the direction of endless Socialist Party changes has been always  rightward … However, if the government imitates the right in the same way that  the right imitates the extreme right, the result is that voters often prefer the original to the copy. We are on this slippery slope towards this.  Hollande, for once realistic, has already mentioned that he may well not stand as a Presidential candidate in the 2017  election.

 Adapted extracts from Libération.

More on Fassin’s book, and his, call to rebuild links between the Left and the People,   Éric Fassin : « Il faut peser plus que notre poids, devenir des minorités agissantes »

Counterpunch “Unites Against Imperialism”.

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To the Barricades!

CounterPunch looks reality in the face.

“In countless interviews, in personal letters, in face-to-face discussions, the questions I keep being asked are becoming very similar: “Now that it is obvious that the West is ready and willing to destroy everything that stands in its way to the total domination of the planet, what can still be done?”

“… if there is no determined resistance, or defence of the basic values on which humanity is based, there will soon be nothing except absolute slavery, market fundamentalism, in brief a society much more appalling than Orwell or Huxley could ever envision.”

“The good news is, that there is resistance!” says André Vltchek

“I am talking about Cuba and Venezuela, Bolivia and Ecuador, Uruguay, China, Russia, Eritrea, Vietnam, Zimbabwe, Iran, and many other nations of our wonderful and diverse planet.”

“Iran: Is there any country (maybe except Cuba and Russia), which has suffered from Western terror more than this old cultural powerhouse?”

“Let us first stop Western aggressions, imperialism and neo-colonialism, and only then, let us sort out our differences and determine the ideological way forward for the progressive forces on this planet.

Until then, to the barricades, to the battleships and to the television stations and magazines!

Of course we will win, but it will take some balls and ovaries, as they say in Latin America!”

*****

CounterPunch cannot count this Blog amongst its fans.

Its founding figure Alexander Cockburn (1941 – 2012)  has received affectionate, adulatory,  reminiscences in the pages of New Left Review – a journal he was also associated with.

Following his death Robin Blackburn claimed in (NLR No 76 2012)  that “Alexander’s outlaw columns and newsletter, CounterPunch, held the new power elites to account and showed up the conformism of the serious organs of opinion.”

He was a ” franc-tireur, often roving behind enemy lines, alert to the infinite varieties of liberal claptrap, and unveiling the real world of Big Money and the National Security State”.

A kind of Marxist Hunter S.Thompson.

In short he was a wise guy spilling the “inside dope”.

Perry Anderson, another friend,wrote (Counterpuncher. NLR 85. 2014) “What did this feeling for l’Amérique profonde, as Robin Blackburn has called it, mean for his politics?”

Amongst other traits  it seems to have meant a large collection of vintage cars, and a love of guns contributing a lot towards his wandering off onto the wilder shores of cranky ideology.

He attacked “warmism” – the reality of global warming – and defended to the teeth the right to “bear arms”.

Anderson explained the former stand  in terms which both lovers of rare words, and and those given to over-used  (French) clichés can only admire.

It was the result of an “attachment to barouches pre-dating catalytic converters; perhaps an element of épater—he refused political correctness in any form.”

Lethal weapons for Anderson, perhaps recalling shooting parties Hibernian Estates, were no big deal,  “Fire-arms he defended as a patrimony of the American Revolution, whose rifle shows were vibrant displays of anti-government strains in popular culture.”

There is plenty more to say, but not worth saying about somebody whose imprint is already fading.

Though one should add that Cockburn had the good sense to see through the pretensions of Occupy Wall Street.  This  is to his credit.

His legacy, Counterpunch, often seems to be a cross between the old GDR Schwarze Kanal  and Hollywood Confidential.

You half expect articles about desperate West Germans smuggling butter out of the land of milk and milk that was the East German Workers’ State.

Or, to follow the analogy more exactly, it is simply a long sarcastic scream dubbed over the latest news about the USA and the West.

Plus a bit of titillation: Very hush hush.

Nobody, but nobody, is going to the barricades on reading Vltchek.

Who would put these countries in the same list, “Cuba and Venezuela, Bolivia and Ecuador, Uruguay, China, Russia, Eritrea , Vietnam, Zimbabwe and Iran…”

And Iran? (to cite but one, we could continue….).

Many of us would vigorously protest against any US-led attack on the country.

But to claim that the blood-stained Islamist dictatorship merits support as an ” old cultural powerhouse”?

Then there is the coupling of South American social democracies, left governments with Eritrea, one of the worst dictatorships on the planet, and…well we could go on and on.

Fuck off mate! 

Written by Andrew Coates

April 26, 2014 at 10:39 am