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Frédéric Lordon, Nuit Debout ‘Leader’: Diamond Geezer, or….Not?

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Frédéric Lordon: Diamond Geezer of Nuit Debout? 

In the March’s Le Monde Diplomatique Frédéric Lordon’s Pour la république sociale discussed the end of social democracy and its surrender to the “empire du capital”. He called for the “socical republic”, a slogan with deep resonance on the French left, going back to the 1848 Revolution, and to the writings of Jean Jaurès.

The goal of this republic should be expanded ‘total’ democracy but equally,

…l’abolition de la propriété lucrative — non pas bien sûr par la collectivisation étatiste (dont le bilan historique est suffisamment bien connu…), mais par l’affirmation locale de la propriété d’usage (6), à l’image de tout le mouvement des sociétés coopératives et participatives (SCOP), des entreprises autogérées d’Espagne ou d’Argentine, etc. : les moyens de production n’« appartiennent » qu’à ceux qui s’en servent.

The abolition of profit-making property – not by state collectivisation (whose historical balance-sheets is sufficiently well known…) but through the local assertion of the right to use property, on the model of the broad co-operative and participative movement, self-managed enterprises in n Spain and Argentina, etc; the means of production belong only to those who make use of them.

Having read Lordon’s writings (see also his Blog), with respect if rarely complete agreement, for some years it was nevertheless a surprise to see his rise to national prominence in the wake of the Nuit Debout movement.

Lordon played an instrumental role in the rise of the Nuit debout movement. He wrote a piece in the February 2016 issue of Le Monde diplomatique on François Ruffin‘s film, Merci patron!, describing the film as a clarion call for a potential mass uprising. This prompted Ruffin to organise a public meeting which led to the organisation of the public occupation of Paris’s Place de la République on 31 March 2016. Lordon delivered a speech at the 31 March protest, highlighting the goal of uniting disparate protest movements. He subsequently refused to talk to national media about his role in the movement, explaining that he did not wish to be seen as the leader of a leaderless movement.

Wikipedia. 

Verso has just published (amongst other Lordon material) a translated an interview with the radical economist and social theorist which carries some important observations about the Nuit Debout movement, and more widely, about the crisis of the European left.

Apart from an illuminating account of the origins of the protests (which have spread to scores of French cities and towns, though drawing  predominantly educated crowds rather than people from the banlieues) and the role of François Ruffin’s film Merci patron!  this section  is of great interest to those tending to emphasise the convergences between Nuit Debout and the political expression, Podemos, of the Indignados movement:

Podemos in Spain has repeatedly said that we should no longer speak of Left and Right, but rather of top and bottom, the 1 percent against the 99 percent. Do you agree ?

I completely disagree with this stance of Podemos. In France the denials of the Left-Right split have had very bad echoes. We hear this in the mouths of both what I would call the general Right — namely, the classical Right and the new Right that is the Parti Socialiste; if you will, the general Right is the undifferentiated party of managing neoliberal globalisation — and the far Right. Someone in France who says he is “neither Left or Right” is unfailingly right-wing, or will end up being so. Similarly, I don’t think that monetary inequality — on which basis Podemos converts the Left-Right split into the split between the 99 percent and the 1 percent — is a very incisive political theme. The topic of inequalities is, in any case, becoming a kind of flabby consensus — we even find the OECD or a liberal magazine like The Economist talking about it…

The true question is not the inequality of incomes or wealth, but the question of the fundamental political inequality that capitalism itself establishes: that wage-earners live under relations of subordination and obedience. The wage-relation is less a principle of monetary inequalities than a relation of domination, and this is the principle of a fundamental inequality — a political inequality.

Frédéric Lordon: “We have to stop saying what we don’t want, and start saying what we do want”

Marta Fana’s interview with economist Frédéric Lordon was published in Italian in Il Manifesto and in French in ReporterreTranslated by David Broder.

There remain issues about Lordon’s outlook.

New Left Review recently published this overview of his writing:

A STRUCTURALISM OF FEELING? Alberto Toscano. 

Though less well-known in the Anglophone world, the economist turned social philosopher Frédéric Lordon has emerged as one of the most effective public figures of the French intellectual left. On tv talk-shows and in La Pompe à Phynance, his blog for Le Monde diplomatique, he has launched ferocious attacks on Hollande and Valls’s post-Bataclan police-state legislation, making no concessions to union sacrée thinking. [1] He has been a staunch left critic of the single-currency project, demolishing wistful social-democratic hopes for ‘another euro’, and makes no bones about characterizing the ps as ‘the moderate fraction of the right’. He greeted the financial crisis with a four-act play in rhyming alexandrines, the bankers explaining the tragi-comedy of their subprime losses to the President of the Republic and ministers of state. At the same time, Lordon has been developing an ambitious research agenda, aiming to renew and re-ground the social sciences on the basis of a Spinoza-inspired materialism. What are the origins of this project, and what have been its results to date?

It would be necessary to reproduce the entire article to go into the detail of Lordon’s project but these, less than encouraging, elements, stand out:

A return to the national level was the most viable way to ‘deconstitutionalize’ economic policy. In a spirited concluding chapter, he argued for the left to reclaim la patrie from the Front National by means of Article Four of the 1793 Constitution, granting full citizenship rights to any foreigner who has been resident in France for a year—‘no risk the fn will take that nation from us.’

..

Imperium then launches into a swingeing attack on the anti-nationalist left, targeting ‘the grotesque claims of the well-off’ for a ‘liberation from belonging’, without acknowledging how much they benefit from their own belonging. Lordon contrasts this to the reality of statelessness, the nightmare of absolute non-inclusion, surviving like the sans-papiers without rights—and indeed fighting for citizenship, for belonging. [20] The experience of involuntary migration may rather serve to sharpen awareness of national difference: against protestations that the proletariat has no country, the workless proletarians in the Calais ‘Jungle’ are said to fight on a national basis: Eritreans against Sudanese or Syrians. [21]

To disavow national affects in the metropole while allowing them, romantically or condescendingly, for the subaltern, is mere hypocrisy. One is never totally free of national belonging: we are seized by a nation from our very first day, raised in its language and ways of thinking. Badiou, for example, is ‘profoundly French’. [22] The Europeanist post-nationalism of Habermas and Beck is singled out in this acerbic catalogue as the grossest fallacy of all, its claim ‘to have done with the nation’ simply paving the way for a supra-national power endowed with all the characteristics its authors claim to abhor. Dardot and Laval’s Commun (2014) also comes under fire, while a detour through seventeenth-century theories of sovereignty, counterposing Bodin and Althusius, reveals the limits of a federalist political imaginary in the latter’s theory of consociatio. Ultimately, bodies are not delocalizable; the place where one lives—even as an enemy of the state, a secessionist group or a counter-cultural commune—is always part of the territory of a community. Rather than indulge in these ‘impossible disaffiliations’, Lordon calls for the sharpest critique of nationalist historiography, the record of internal repression and external aggression, as the best defence against national-chauvinist passions.

The “political anthropology” Lordon offers, grounded on the notion of inherent human conatus “effort; endeavour; impulse, inclination, tendency; undertaking; striving”) an inclination of a thing to continue to exist and enhance itself, calls for recognition of the “sense of belonging” is even less attractive (see also, Review by Jean-Marie Harribey : Frédéric Lordon, Capitalisme, désir et servitude. Marx et Spinoza, 2010).

To Toscano it is  “a Spinozian conception of the community constituted by convergence around a shared emotion—a common view of good and evil, for example—which the vertical of sovereignty then establishes as a condition of membership. The community’s feeling for itself exceeds the individual”.

Thus, “with Spinoza completed by Bourdieu, but also brought into hypothetical alignment with Regulation Theory, the argument seems to be that the potentia of the multitude is realized through the institutional processes that constitute its various ‘regimes of capture’. “

Toscano argues,

 More gravely, this approach almost entirely bypasses the question of the capitalist state. [35] When Lordon does ultimately broach the issue of relations between wealth and power, the results are a good deal less illuminating about the specific operations of either than was La Politique du capital. Indeed, at the level of generality at which Lordon has chosen to operate here, what can distinguish capitalist power from imperium? [36] In asserting the trans-historical existence of the state without specifying the genesis of its forms, Lordon leaves himself bereft of any protocol for moving from the general theory to the historical conjuncture. Imperium supplies no theoretical mediation to traverse the space between philosophical concept and social reality: yet re-entry from the exospheric heights of abstract speculation into Earth’s atmosphere often causes conflagration.

Whether Lordon has “no illusions” about his turn to the national we can;t help noticing that he talked in Le Monde Diplomatique about “la”  République sociale, that is France, and not une République sociale européenne, still less an international, world-wide political objective.

One might say that the emphasis on the sense of belonging and the – however social –  national state skirts uncomfortably close to sovereigntism. It is worth noting that reviews of Merci Patron state that it is “critical of the practice of outsourcing French jobs to foreign labour.” specifically a factory relocation to Poland.

As Lordon says of the Euro,

La souveraineté, non comme talisman, mais comme condition de possibilité de toute politique progressiste — car répétons-le : la sortie de l’euro n’est jamais qu’une condition nécessaire, et certainement pas suffisante

Sovereignty, not as a talisman, but a condition for the possibility of any progressive policies – because, we repeat, leaving the Euro, is only a necessary condition, not a sufficient one….

In these circumstances in July 2015 (La gauche et l’euro : liquider, reconstruire) he cited Owen Jones, and backed a stand which he claimed (before Owen’s turn to backing remaining in the European Union), the,

l’idée du Lexit (Left-Exit). Ça n’est plus tel ou tel pays qu’il faut faire sortir de l’euro : c’est la gauche elle-même.

The idea of Lexit (left-Exit). It’s not just such and such a country that has to come out of the Euro, but the Left itself.

Sure….. (1)

*****

(1) For those who read French: theoretical and highly abstract demolition of Imperium : Quelques remarques sur la philosophie de Frédéric Lordon Bruno Amable et Stefano Palombarini  is offered here.

L’État général prend de nos jours la forme de l’État-nation ; et l’affect commun correspondant est l’appartenance nationale. Ces deux affirmations (peu fondées théoriquement) conduisent FL à minorer l’importance des clivages et des rapports de forces sociaux à l’intérieur des frontières « statonationales ». Mais on voit bien le lien avec la vision des institutions proposée par Imperium : l’État capte la puissance de la multitude, et produit un corps politique qui tient sur la base du sentiment d’appartenance nationale. Les institutions découlent de l’État. Dans ce cadre, le conflit social est complètement neutralisé — l’affect « commun » est majoritaire, la construction institutionnelle est cohérente et le corps politique viable —, ou alors producteur de chaos : l’affect « commun » ne permet plus la viabilité d’un corps politique destiné à mourir (et à renaître sous d’autres formes : mais la forme même de l’État-nation sera alors destinée à disparaître). Cohérence institutionnelle et reproduction sociale, ou bien explosion du conflit, chaos et bouleversement complet des structures sociales. Il n’y a pas de place, dans ce cadre théorique, pour le conflit et le compromis comme sources des changements institutionnels qui accompagnent la vie d’une société et le développement d’un État. Nous avons aussi signalé que FL a le plus grand mal à analyser les rapports entre État et capital sans faire violence à son propre cadre théorique. Et on comprend pourquoi : le capital a bien impulsé des changements majeurs non seulement dans l’architecture institutionnelle mais dans les formes mêmes de l’intervention étatique, sans besoin de rendre socialement minoritaire l’affect commun de l’appartenance nationale, et sans produire le chaos qui accompagnerait la mort des corps politiques « statonationaux ».

Mais les changements institutionnels qui caractérisent la réalité concrète dans laquelle nous vivons ne sont pas l’objet central d’Imperium, qui s’intéresse bien davantage au contenu d’une perspective « révolutionnaire » bien particulière. Celle qui consisterait non pas à renverser les rapports de domination sociale existants, mais à marcher (difficilement et éternellement) vers le règne de la raison, dans lequel les hommes « règlent leurs désirs et leurs comportements sur ce qui ne peut rien produire d’autre que leur concorde ». Idéalement donc, plus de pouvoir ni d’institutions. Cet idéal — nous dit FL — est inatteignable, mais on peut s’en rapprocher en choisissant les « bonnes » institutions. De façon là encore assez étonnante, FL indique dans les « institutions de la science qui contraignent les scientifiques à la vertu scientifique, au moins autant que leur désir propre de la vérité scientifique » un modèle à imiter : « la vertu devient l’objet d’une politique des institutions bien agencées » (p. 306). Il ne s’agit donc pas de lutter pour des institutions correspondant à des rapports de forces différents, à une modification de la frontière dominants/dominés, mais de sélectionner les institutions sur la base de leur teneur d’universalité, de leur capacité à créer un environnement favorable au développement de la raison : les « bonnes » institutions sont celles qui nous déterminent à la « vertu ».

 To summarise, the critics consider the assertion that the affects (that is attachments hooked ultimately to the concept of conatus ) to the nation are primal, and the national locus of institutions, create a feeling of national identity, obscures internal social conflicts in states  and the place of conflict (agonistic, that is intellectual and political,  or social) in how states are created a condensations of conflict (class struggle).

Critics of the use of Spinoza in social theory would observe that this may be traced to an ontology grounded on ‘monist substance and the  absence of a concept of real oppositions and contradictions in the social fabric.

The ideal of ‘virtue’ animating this approach is particularly empty (second paragraph).

More: Au fait, que défend Frédéric Lordon ?

Written by Andrew Coates

April 19, 2016 at 10:23 am

7 Responses

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  1. It seems that the Frenchie is following in the footsteps of the great George Galloway.
    Left and Right are no longer clear anyway. Cameron passed thru gay marriage equality. Is this really a ‘right wing’ and ‘Conservative’ position? it seems like a far left position. Likewise, left and right unite in both pro EU and Anti EU. Gilad Atzmon appears on both left and right wing tv and radio shows. You should read Peter Hitchens. He is the kind of right we can work with.

    the working class are being ignored for the fads and pseudo causes. We need jobs, not gender fluidity.

    Vote For RESPECT!
    Vote Galloway!
    Grassroots Out!

    Dean

    April 19, 2016 at 11:55 am

  2. Indeed.

    Neither Right, nor Left, but in Front!

    Andrew Coates

    April 19, 2016 at 5:09 pm

  3. Indeed. You should watch this

    Dean

    April 19, 2016 at 8:38 pm

  4. As Galloway says at the end of this historic speech “left, right, left, right, forward march’.

    Dean

    April 19, 2016 at 8:50 pm

  5. National “Socialism”, eh?

    Jim Denham

    April 20, 2016 at 8:26 am

  6. Jim Denham – no, not really. It is a good slogan tho; left, right, left, right forward march to Victory!

    Was Tony Benn and Michael Foot, and Corbyn before his recent traitorous turn a ‘national socialist’?
    I don’t think so. Are CPGB ML, CPB, RCP B etc all fascists? the KKE in Greece is anti EU. it is a legitimate leftist position.

    Galloway is taking a principled, moral, and highly commendable stand.
    I salute his indefatigably, his courage, his determination to stand up to the EUSSR/Fourth Reich bureacratic superstate.

    Galloway for Mayor!
    Grassroots OUT!
    On the bus to victory!

    Dean

    April 20, 2016 at 12:42 pm

  7. The crowds of popular masses are overwhelming….

    Andrew Coates

    April 20, 2016 at 1:08 pm


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