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Jean Jaurès: The Anniversary of his Assassination, July 31st 1914. A Tribute.

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Jaurès was killed blindly, yet with reason:

‘let us have drums to beat down his great voice’.

The Mystery of the Charity of Charles Péguy. Geoffrey Hill.

A hundred years ago today, Jean Jaurès the leader of French socialism (SFIO, Section française de l’Internationale ouvrière), and Editor/Founder of l’Humanité were preparing an article against the coming war. Jaurès had supported the call of the Socialist International, launched by Keir Hardie and the Frenchman, Édouard Vaillant, to launch a general strike if armed fighting broke out.

By 1914 Europe was on the brink of war. At the end of July an emergency meeting of the Socialist International was held in Brussels, which endorsed a call for peace. On the 29th of July Jaurès spoke with Rosa Luxemburg, at a rally of seven thousand people against militarism and the coming confrontation at the Cirque Royal. He had already warned that fighting would lead to a catastrophe, “Quel massacre quelles ruines, quelle barbarie!” (Discours de Vaise. 25th July 1914) Now he talked of his “hatred of our chauvinists” and that we would not “give up the idea of a Franco-German rapprochement”. This looked less and less probable. Jaurès’ newspaper column (published after his death) would describe of the climate of “fear” and “anxiety” spreading across the continent.

Jaurès paused from his journalism and went to the near-by Café du Croissant to eat. At 20.45, the nationalist student Raoul Villain approached him and fired two bullets. One stuck his neck and was fatal. Villain claimed to have acted to “eliminate an enemy of the nation.”

The assassin was associated with Alsatian nationalists close to the far-right Action française. But hatred of Jaurès had been whipped up across the political spectrum. The Catholic libertarian socialist, poet, critic and Dreyfusard, Charles Péguy had been baying for his blood. Péguy described the Socialist leader as the representative of “German imperialism” in France, a “traitor” to the motherland in the service of “bourgeois parties”. (1)

Geoffrey Hill asked if Péguy had effectively incited the killer. (2) But there were many, many, others – not least amongst the ranks of the Action française and the ‘terre et ses morts’ nationalists like Maurice Barrès  – who loathed the inspirational clarity of Jaurès internationalism.

Today, as commemorations of the murder take place in France, Jaurès remains a moving figure for many people, in his home country, and in the socialist movement across the world.

The ‘Jaurésian synthesis’ has in many respects outlived the historical record of Jaurès the founder of the first united French socialist party. That is, his ability to capture and bring together ideas from Marxism, above all the ‘class struggle’, the understanding of capitalism and its historical development, with “social republicanism”, support for democracy and human rights.

One of his most celebrated campaigns was to back Dreyfus, a combat that led him into conflict with anti-Semitism, and religious intolerance. Jaurès advocated strongly secular public institutions, above all in education, a position which has still to make headway in countries like Britain where religious authority still holds sway over a large part of the left – with pretensions today to “multi-culturalism”. Secularism, he argued, does not mean imposing atheism, it is to free our common institutional life from the hold of any particular faith. Absolute freedom of personal belief was his watchword. These views, backing the 1905 law on the separation of Church and State, reflected the importance of the issue in France during the first decade of the 20th century. They were opposed, with venom,  by nationalists and the majority of practicing Catholics.

Above all Jaurès, while perhaps inclined to a romantic vision of the universalism of the French Revolution and its enduring influence inside French institutions, was equally prepared to fight with all his might against chauvinism, nationalist hatred….and war.

This, all of this, should be remembered.

On France-Inter this morning it was noted that the French Prime Minister, Michael Valls, claimed this year that Jaurès would have supported his deal with the employers, the ‘pacte de responsibilité”. Former President Sarkozy claimed him for his educational ‘reforms. Even Marine Le Pen’s party organiser, Louis Alio,  has hailed his patriotism, suggesting during one European Election that the SFIO (the French section of the Workers’ International) would have backed the Front National. (3)

It is fitting that Jaurès should have made his last major public speech in the company of another martyr, the beloved Rosa Luxemburg. One doubts if any of the figures cited above would have felt comfortable in her company.

Reformist, compromiser, agent of German imperialism, able to bring people together, or to divide them, there are as many judgements of Jaurès as there are books and articles.

The war that broke out in earnest in the first week of August 1914 redrew the political map, as socialist parties across Europe rushed to support ‘their’ governments in the battle. It is worth recalling that some of his most virulent critics on the left, such as Gustave Hervé and Jules Guesde became rabid nationalists during the Great War, the latter joining the Union Sacrée  as a Government Minister.

Villain was put in gaol  and stayed there during the war. He was brought to trial in 1919. The murderer was acquitted in a jury trial on March 29.  Jaurès’s wife, plaintiff, was convicted in costs. Villain  later fled to Spain where he was killed by Republican soldiers during the Spanish Civil War.

Jaurès, above all the controversies, continues to loom large, and for many of us, flaws included, remains greatly honoured.

(1) Notre Partie. Vol. ll. Oeuvres en prose de Charles Péguy. La Pléaide. 1959

(2) “Did Péguy kill Jaurès? Did he incite the assassin? Must men stand by what they write as by their camp-beds or their weaponry or shell-shocked comrades while they sag and cry?” The Mystery of the Charity of Charles Péguy. Geoffrey Hill. Collected Poems. 1985.

(3) This use of Jaurès, which extends right through the French political spectrum, was recently analysed in L’art de tuer Jaurès. Jérôme Pellisier, Benoît Bréville. Le Monde Diplomatique. July 2014. See also Le Monde. Mélenchon, Valls, Aliot, Sarkozy… tous jaurésiens !,  Jaurès, un héritage très disputé. L’Humanité « Jaurès, un être engagé, complexe, comme chacun d’entre nous »

This is the FN’s claim,

Update.

Le président François Hollande signe des autographes lors de la commémoration du 100e anniversaire de la mort de Jean Jaurès, à Paris.

Le président François Hollande signe des autographes lors de la commémoration du 100e anniversaire de la mort de Jean Jaurès, à Paris. | AP/Yoan Valat.

See also this,  generous, piece, “Jean Jaurès Leon Trotsky Kievskaya Mysl July 17, 1915.

France: 100 years after Jean Jaures’ murder, his name still inspires. Dick Nicolas. Links.

Gauche Unitaire à la commémoration des 100 ans de l’assassinat de Jean Jaurès

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

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Alain Badiou Renounces his Maoist Past.

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Alain Badiou: I was wrong, innit?

“The Greatest Philosopher since Plato and St Ignatius of Loyola”, as Terry Eagleton calls him, Alain Badiou, a dapper gent, wears his 132 years well.

The Tendance interviewed  him in Les Deux Magots.

“Cher Maître, is it ‘true’ that your latest book includes a 300 page self-criticism of your Maoist years and your support for the Khmer Rouge?”

“Indeed! Let me sum up my truth procedure: Regretter et se repentir, on peut toujours le faire. C’est très facile! One can always regret and repent, it’s always easy! As Spinoza said, it’s always a bit too easy. “

The great man paused, slipping into the fluent English he learnt as a Dalston pot-boy.

“I was wrong, innit?”

Dipping a chip into a bowl of mayonnaise he continued,

“When Mao launched the Great Cultural Revolution, it was a Communist Invariant. But now only 40 years later we have to admit that there were some errors. Humiliating professors, for example and not performing any of my operas. I remain, however  fidèle to the Event. There have been dramas and heart-wrenching and doubts, but I have never again abandoned a love.”

“And Pot Pot”

“He was a bit of a lad, hein?”

“But times move on. L’Organisation Politique is set in new directions. After taking absolution I plan to retire to a Trappist Monastery in Belgium to brew an excellent beer. Here try some”.

 

………………….

Diagram of Badiou Truth Procedure. 

Written by Andrew Coates

April 1, 2014 at 10:58 am

The Legacy of Stuart Hall (Dies aged 82).

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http://www.bfi.org.uk/sites/bfi.org.uk/files/page/stuart-hall-project-2013-bfi-poster-001-1000x750.jpg

Stuart Hall: 3 February 1932 – 10 February 2014.

“One of Britain’s leading intellectuals, the sociologist and cultural theorist Stuart Hall, has died age 82.

Known as the “godfather of multiculturalism”, Hall had a huge influence on academic, political and cultural debates for over six decades.” Guardian.

More Obituaries (from the left)  Here  and Robin Blackburn (with links and background) Here and commentary on Shiraz Socialist.

Stuart Hall’s legacy is significant and enduring. In the field of cultural studies, he played a big role in creating, in work on race, gender, ideology, post-colonialist studies, and sub-cultures. The opening up the Anglophone academy to Continental theorists, such as Althusser, Gramsci and Foucault, owes a debt to the Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies, which Hall directed from 1968 to 1979. More controversially his analysis of the Great Right Moving Right period and Thatcherism ended in Marxism Today’s Manifesto for New Times (1989).

Stuart Hall, in 1956, was a founding figure in the ‘First’ British New Left. Formed in the wake of the Soviet invasion of Hungary and the Anglo-French  attack on Suez this was an attempt to create a democratic left opposed to both Stalinism and imperialism. It was determined not to repeat the dogmatic slogans of the post-war left. Hall’s A Sense of Classlessness (1958) addressed the new “consumer society” and its effects on working class communities.

As Editor of the original New Left Review (1960 1962) Hall introduced cultural topics into the journal, “to meet people as they are.” It challenged the traditional definitions of politics. The CCCS journal, Cultural Studies, described in the early 70s  a “major historical realignment in the ‘fifties and ‘sixties. In these conditions, cultural studies were based on the “recognition of cultural domination as a special area of politics.”

Hall’s work is perhaps best understood within this context. It was political and not limited to academic ambitions, still less was it an effort to import theoretical novelties in order to make an impression in the university world.

In this vein Hall and his colleagues paid special attention to Gramsci’s work on hegemony, politics and Althusser’s theory of ideology (On Ideology. Cultural Studies. 1977). Hall’s Marxism, which he interpreted in an open-minded fashion, inspired by the analysis of shifting classes and parties in 19th century Europe, drew on the spirit of the method outlined 1857 Introduction to the Grundrisse and not every sentence in Capital.

This approach, which could be called “eclectic” (in the sense of taking the best from theories) was very different from the “pure” Althussarians of the short-lived Theoretical Practice. It was some perplexity that the CCCS reacted to the assault on Theory in general and Althusser in particular by Hall’s comrade from the New Left, E.P. Thompson. Hall, like the author of the Making of the English Working Class had always underlined the importance of ordinary people’s experience and resistance.

Many on the left initially greeted Hall and his colleagues’ analysis of Thatcherism. It was considered, given his New Left background, and its focus on ideology, to be an attempt to break away from overly ‘economistic’ approaches to the rise of the New Right. As somebody at the CCCS during the period 1979-81 I personally found thee ideas extremely appealing. That they developed into the less accepted positions, of the magazine Marxism Today only gradually became apparent. When differences became clear there was a break up between those on the side of Marxism Today and those opposed. Some of the disagreements, on fundamentals about class, politics, and socialism, went deep. The debates were marked by strong feelings on both sides (see below).

Throughout Stuart Hall remained  greatly respected on the left, and more widely in Britain. Over the decades his reputation extended across the globe.

Those who knew him closely speak of his inspirational quality. We extend our condolences to all affected by his passing.

*********

Update: referencing to Stuart Hall’s legacy  today there is an important article by Ross Wolfe on the broader aspects of some of the theories associated with his name,

In this essay, I intend to argue that Marxism does contain the analytical tools necessary to theorize and deepen our understanding of class, gender, and race. I intend critically to examine, from the standpoint of Marxist theory, the arguments for race, gender, and class studies offered by some of their main proponents, assessing their strengths and limitations and demonstrating, in the process, that Marxism is theoretically and politically necessary if the study of class, gender, and race is to achieve more than the endless documentation of variations in their relative salience and combined effects in very specific contexts and experiences.

His conclusion,

As long as the RGC perspective reduces class to just another form of oppression, and remains theoretically eclectic, so that intersectionality and interlockings are, in a way, “up for grabs,” meaning open to any and all theoretical interpretations, the nature of those metaphors of division and connection will remain ambiguous and open to conflicting and even contradictory interpretations. Marxism is not the only macro level theory that the RGC perspective could link to in order to explore the “basic structures of domination” but it is, I would argue, the most suitable for RGC’s emancipatory political objectives.

This was posted here in June last year published by the North Star.

Stuart Hall, Thatcherism, Marxism Today, Yesterday, and Tomorrow.

“What matters is some sense of continuity through transformation – of political allegiances which won’t go away, of bedrock reference points – which does allow us to say something about the present conjuncture.”

Stuart Hall. Out of Apathy. Voices of the New Left Thirty Years on. Oxford University Socialist Discussion Group. Verso. 1989.

Amongst all the debates that have come out of the latest splits on the British left perhaps some of the most important have been about looking again at the 1970s and 1980s left. Feminism and party forms have been to the fore. But more recently people, notably Jules Alford, Richard Seymour  and the International Socialist Network, have begun to think about the way the left responded to the rise, and consolidation, of Thatcherism, and economic liberalism, during the same period. Today we tend to think of free-market policies as the fixed agenda of nearly all governments across the world, and in Britain, they seem the horizon of both the liberal-Conservative Coalition and Ed Miliband’s Labour leadership. But the 1980s saw heated debates about whether the Thatcher governments introduced something new into British politics, and if liberalism was a rational strategy for the country’s economy. Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Andrew Coates

February 10, 2014 at 5:51 pm

Through the Language Glass. Guy Deutscher. Breaking the chains.

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Breaking the chains of language.

Through the Language Glass. Guy Deutscher. William Heinemann. 2010.

In the 1970s the left became fascinated with the “linguistic turn” of structuralism and post-structuralism. At the bottom of the pile of ideas heaped up by Theory was the premise that Language (capitalised) could never directly grasp the Real. That just as the ‘signifier’ (words, symbols, icons) slipped for ever over the “signified” (meaning) there was never a point at which it could be “buttoned down” onto a stable reference in the world.

Realism, which from the late 1970s enjoyed a vogue amongst opponents of this ‘turn’ began modestly by Roy Enfield and Ted Benton, developed its own luxuriant and incomprehensible metaphysics of ‘generative mechanisms’ in the later writings of Roy Bhaskar. But many of us enjoyed the polemics between, say, Norman Geras and the half-forgotten Ernest Laclau and Chantal Mouffe, on the contrasting merits of a Marxist materialism based on the existence of external objects ‘post-Marxist’ discourse theory, which ‘brackets’ this.

This was harmless in itself. Nobody is ever going to settle for once and all the issue of the existence of the “real”. Perhaps Kant was right on this all along. But the idea of linguistic relativity lived on in what was once known as ‘post-Modernism’ and enjoys an after life in what is “post” the post. It came to imply that language truly is the limit of the world. Different languages are so incommensurable that they refer to a different “real” (bracketed again, this time for good).

Some famous distinctions behind this, the “prison house of language” approach, are taken (legitimately or not) from the ideas of the Swiss linguist, Ferdinand Saussure (1857 – 1913). Language is considered as a system in itself, Langue operates through Parole (speech). As a system we can consider it “diachronically” (historically) or – as it is present – “synchronically” – as a chain of signs and meanings, moving, or “slipping”, through difference, to make up Langue and our particular speech acts (Parole). Many non-linguists concluded from this abstract account, that at some point – though no follower of Saussure has ever provided the time and date – the elements of a language develop their own internal logic “outside” of history. Radical literary critics, post-structuralist philosophers, and social theorists, from the 1970s onwards, embraced Theory and littered their writings with Discourse.

Politics and Language.

It is important to consider the political uses these ideas have had. One conclusion was that language was the prime reality of social conflict. In The Culture of Complaint (1993) Robert Hughes poked fun at the postmodernist left. More seriously he observed that their relativism (reinforced by the ‘linguistic turn’) led to moral consequences. When Iran pronounced a Fatwa against Salman Rushdie “the more politically correct among them felt it was wrong to criticise a Muslim country, no matter what it did. At home in America, such folk knew it was the height of sexist impropriety to refer to a young female as a “girl” instead of a “woman” Abroad in Tehran, however, it was more or less OK for a cabal of regressive theocrats to insist on the chador, to cut off thieves’ hands and put out the eyes of offenders on TV, and to murder novelists as State policy”. (Page 99)

Stanley Fish’s response to these issues, that there is “no such thing as free speech” – Rushdie’s in the occurrence – outside of the social conventions governing language, illustrates moral bankruptcy that can result from linguistic relativism. Whatever the other merits, and faults of his approach, everything takes place within “discourse”, including the ‘silence’ that surrounds speech.

The silence has to do with the shape of any discourse. As Hobbes brilliantly points out again and again in his Leviathan, thought of a sequential and rational kind can only proceed when some set of stipulated definitions has been put at the beginning and established. Unless you have definitions of your topic, of your subject, demarcations of the field that you are about to explore, you cannot proceed because you have no direction. Hobbes also points out that such stipulative definitions are necessarily exclusionary. They exclude other possibilities, other possible ways of defining the field from which you might then have proceeded; since speech and reasoning can only occur when something is already in place and since the something that is already in place will be in place of something else that could have been in place, that something else which isn’t there is the silent background against which the discourse resounds.Here.

More recently we have seen supporters of Islam who want to have it both ways. Those defending the censorship of Jesus and Mo cartoons have also restored to Sausssure.

On the one hand an Islamist declared that language – synchronically – is indeed a system with great internal weight, in which contested meanings have social implications. Hence the need to ban offence against “oppressed” religions. On the other hand Muslim theology is ground on the idea that the classical Arabic of the Qur’an offers a privileged window onto reality. With echoes of Aristotle, they assert that these “signs” are genuine reflections of the order of the universe, bolstered by the unique, “divinely created”, morphology of this Semitic language. Contrary to the axiom that all truth can be translated, it is claimed that its verities cannot be fully rendered into other languages. Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Andrew Coates

January 25, 2014 at 12:51 pm