Tendance Coatesy

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Perry Anderson and the French Left After Macron.

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PERRY ANDERSON AND THE FRENCH LEFT AFTER MACRON.

Part Two of a response to The Centre Can Hold.

In Part One of this critique we suggested that Perry Anderson’s analysis of the result of the French elections barely proceeded further than the affirmation that the “centre left” was a lieutenant of capital, that he lacked any notion of the specificity of different French government ‘neoliberal’, pro-capitalist politics, that his account of Macron’s victory was barely more than a tale of how the electorate was hoodwinked by the media and the establishment.

We noted that Anderson’s analysis of the role of France as a ‘hinge’ in the European Union, which he permits himself some meagre speculation on the potential effects of Macron’s Presidency on the EU. If as he claims these changes will be largely ‘cosmetic’, though one would not imagine that measures resulting from France pressure, to ensure debt relief for Southern Europe would not look like face paint to those affected, what is then the role of oppositions? Our conclusion, which dwelt on the radical utopian alternative of Dardot and Laval, suggested the ambitious scope of radical alternatives to the existing EU.

Anderson’s assumptions about the EU underpin much of The Centre Can Hold. One can note that the theme, clearly stated in 2012 against his critics, that Brussels, led by Germany, “corralled” EU members into fiscal “stability. One of his critics, Jan-Werner Müller, offered at that time an account of the “conscious delegation” of powers that constitute the inter-state body. It may be, Müller indicates, that Germany could, if the will were there, shift towards a more open system of EU decision-making. (1) This premise suggests that rather less than a total rejection of the existing institutions – reform – might be possible. That Europe is indeed a changing body is further indicated in the fate of Anderson’s speculation about the Union as “deputy Empire” of the US. Here does this stand now? No doubt the reign of Emperor Trump, who promoted Brexit, requires a further analysis.

The Jargon of Resistance.

But when it comes to looking at French elections perhaps this is not the point. New Left Review, we have to remind ourselves, has turned into the Organ of Resistance. In an Editorial in 2016 we were treated to a lengthy treatise on Left Oppositions (I will not refer to the article on Poetic Resistance in the same issue). Susan Watkins indicated that “in the last few years” “left oppositions started to produced national political projects with an impact at state level”. This covered Greece’s Syriza, Italy’s Five Star Movement (…), Podemos, Jeremy Corbyn, and apparently, Scottish independence campaigners.

Jean-Luc Mélenchon’s 4 million Presidential votes in 2012, as the candidate of the Front de gauche (FdG), a bloc of his own group, the French Communists and leftists involved in groups such as Ensemble, figured on this list. He features equally amongst the “charismatic leaders” with his old style “oratory”. A paragraph, informed by sources which can guess not unfavourable to the leader of what was then the Parti de Gauche (PdG) complained of the Parti Communiste Français (PCF). It was “mummified”, a “ball and chain”, and, over egging this already egg splattered account, amongst the faults of the PCF, “In the National Assembly it regularly supports the Socialist government against the positions of the Parti de Gauche.” Writing in this vein the Mélenchonistas were given star rating, along with the thousands attending Nuit Debout rallies – over the, unmentioned, trade union led millions-strong campaign against the El Khomri labour reforms.

With the NLR condescension Mélenchon was judged “in part” social democratic, but with more ‘heterodox elements” “including sweeping constitutional change – not a social-democratic trait”. Those familiar with the Journal’s views on such issues, will realise that the importance they attach to the calls for a 6th Republic, although the Editor fails to mention that the same banner has been raised by a number of the left inside the Parti Socialiste (2014: Appel de socialistes pour une sixième République).

La France insoumise.

Shift forward a year, the formation of La France insoumise (LFI), the effective end of the Front de Gauche, and the 2017 Presidential elections. Against the ‘pale figure” of Benoît Hamon. We have the Grand Orator Mélenchon standing with the backing of hundreds of thousands of on-line supporters and – on the ground – “groupes d’appui”, organised supporters.

“..the change was more than just organisational. Fascinated for some time by the success of heterodox governments in Latin America, he drew particular inspiration from the example of Rafael Correa in Ecuador, like him a former minister of a social-democratic party, who had pioneered the idea of a ‘citizen’s revolution’, rewriting the constitution, redistributing wealth and protecting the environment. This was the way forward, to abandon the exhausted schemas of the traditional European left for a radically progressive populism, summoning the people to battle against the elites in control of a bankrupt political and economic system. Impressed with the strategic insight of Ernesto Laclau and Chantal Mouffe, encountered in Argentina in 2013, Mélenchon set about applying their lessons at home.”

We pause for a moment to consider this.

A Movement not a Party.

La France insoumise is a “movement”, not a party. Mélenchon declares, “Il peut disposer des moyens d’être représentatif de cet ensemble globalisant quest le peuple en réseau de notre époque That is, it can be a network that represents the people globally in our era. Is it democratic? Le mouvement na pas à être « démocratique » au sens basiste que souvent on donne à ce mot dans les organisations politiques où lon doit alors affronter le climat de confrontation des courants et des textes qui les fondent avec les votes contradictories. The movement is not ‘democratic’ in the the grassroots sense of the word in political parties, where different tendencies and resolutions are presented confrontationally, or with oppositional voting. The movement is as collective as possible (cest d’être aussi collectif que possible) In other words, there is no formal debate over competing views, or, more significantly, any means to do so – LFI operates internally through cyber-space with the direction set by.the leadership. For his supporters Mélenchon is the “embodiment” of the programme; there is no need for opposition to him. Inside La France insoumise there are, as yet, not plans for a place for a democratic opposition or channels for one to exist. It is run, as report after report indicates, by a core of close Mélenchon advisers from the PdG.. (2)

A further pause, La France insoumise its admirers claim, is not a tactic, a political start-up adapted to the new era of personalised politics. But what is it? The organisation is more that symbolically linked to other models – we shall discard the reference to Ecuador (which few will have heard of and which counts for even less than erstwhile evocations of the Bolivarian Revolution in Venezuela), but to Podemos. LFI is not, nevertheless, the product of a French Moviemento 15 Mars, no mass street protests preceded its launch, and only the figure of the producer of Merci Patron François Ruffin stands in for the brief flash of the Nuit Debout square occupations.

La France insoumise was first and foremost the vehicle for Mélenchon’s Presidential ambitions. It was a temporary body, It is secondly an ambitious claim to federate the people into something resembling the left populism of Laclau and Mouffe. Although one should be wary of politicians claiming intellectual authority from fashionable figures (Hamon has also claimed to be influenced by Mouffe: Benoît Hamon, Inspirations au programme), there is more than a little of a demand for “equality and popular sovereignty in LFIs version of agonistic (conflictual) democracy to feel an imprint. In place of class conflict in the sense of a contradiction rooted in a mode of production, classic social classes, we have the opposition between the People (demanding equality and sovereignty) and the Elite/Oligarchy. We have an even more rudimentary opposition between Friend and Foe (Carl Schmitt), beneath this. Political reform, sweeping constitutional change, a citizens insurrection through the ballot box, are designed to clean the institutions of the corruption of the oligarchs and to bring alive the general will inside a new Republic, one that can (and this is repeated) ensure French independence (3)

Le Grand Replacement ..of the Left.

It is finally, a movement whose central strategy is to replace the existing left, not to unite it, not to bring together it for common objectives, but to call for traditional left-wing parties to sod off (dégagez!) For those wishing to pursue this analysis from the numerous criticisms levelled at Mélenchon and LFI, they will find many more critical accounts, so abundant that one might have thought a reference or two might have crossed Anderson’s mind.(4)

LFIs patriotism, and rejection of any reference to class in favour of the conflict between the People and the Oligarchy, can hardly escape the casual observer.

La France insoumise banned red flags and the Internationale for the tricolour and Marseillaise at its meetings, appealing to all patriots regardless of class or age to rise up against the decaying order of the Fifth. Borrowing the cry that drove out Ben Ali in Tunisia, Dégagez!—‘Clear out!’—became the leitmotif of the campaign.”

It takes a strong stomach to digest this, one no doubt fortified by memories of 1950s PCF tricolours and references to national liberation heroine Jean darc. Is there more criticism, at least more than implicit, from Anderson? Perhaps this sentence could still be expanded In reality, the two anti-systemic forces, rather than aggregating to a common populist insurgency, largely cancel each other out. However similar their critiques of the social and economic system, insuperable moral and ideological differences on immigration hold them apart at opposite ends of the political spectrum, where each freely demonizes the other.” Immigration, FN as a ‘scarecrow’ used to rally people behind the Macron and the Republic……..and there it ends…

Or not. Anderson is soon bored by French Politics and drifts back to geopolitical, European, issues. He notes that, “the balance of forces in a  neoliberal but not yet neo-federal system of power militates against dramatic changes”. The final paragraph of The Centre Can Hold talks of the single currency, the Euro, and the possibility of a French exit from it. Recasting monetary union, is, Anderson pats Mélenchon on the back, a “geopolitical” issue, not a technical one. Of that, all we hear that can be brought down to immediate relevance is the question: can there be an effective means to compel Germany to help a reform of the EU?

The future of La France insoumise, as it announces a Convention in the autumn, remains to be analysed. Will it become a real party? Where will it go? Many suggest that Melenchon has still not come to terms with the idea that he will not be President. In the National Assembly, having made a splash, there are strong independent figures in the group of 17   who may have their own ideas about the direction it should take. One thing is certain, neither the PCF (10)  the PS (45 seats), nor the rest of the left, including Hamon’s own new movement, the mouvement du 1er Juillet  nor the extra-parliamentary  left, nor the union federations,  look ready to be “replaced” by Mélenchon. The failure of LFI’s stunt this week, holding on its own, without trade union backing, rallies against Macron’s new labour reforms, indicates the limits of how far its “recuperation” of social movements can go.  (5)

********

(1) After the Event Perry Anderson. Beyond Militant Democracy. Werner Müller. New Left Review. No 73. 2012.

(2) Jean-Luc Mélenchon. Le peuple et le ‘ mouvement ‘ November 2016 

(3) The Democratic Paradox. Chantal Mouffe. Verso. 2005. A much more detailed critique of Laclau and Mouffe’s influence on ‘left-populist’ politics is in preparation. The motif of French independence, militarily, economically, and related themes, such as “producing French”, stand out in the pages of La France insoumise’s programme,  L’Avenir en commun. 2017.

(4) See: La France insoumise – « L’ère du peuple » et « l’adieu au prolétariat » ? jeudi 3 novembre 2016, par JOHSUA Samuel, MELENCHON Jean-Luc Rousset provides the best summary. Mélenchon, France insoumise, populisme : questions sur la séquence électorale 2016-2017 et ses implications ROUSSET Pierre.

(5) La France insoumise se met en chantier – Vers une convention fin octobre ? BESSE DESMOULIERES Raphaëlle

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3 Responses

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  1. Carl Schmitt not Schmidt.

    You are right there to allude (‘general will’) to the founding myths of the Republic which obviously has much more resonance in France than the unpleasant if in IMO all too insightful theories of a dead Nazi jurist.

  2. Schmittit it is.

    I am always struck, when people refer to the Popular- ‘General’ – Will, by Benjamin Constant’s question: where exactly does it exist?

    Can you touch it, can you measure it, can you determine what it says?

    Benjamin Constant:Principes de politique – Chapitre 1 De la souveraineté du peuple. 1806 but only published in 1815.

    https://fr.wikipedia.org/wiki/Principes_de_politique

    In case anybody thunks I’ve become a liberal I do not recommend much else in this book.

    Andrew Coates

    July 17, 2017 at 4:42 pm

  3. Interesting class analysis of Macro and his movement here. https://foreignpolicy.com/2017/08/14/macrons-revolution-is-over-before-it-started/

    @pplswar

    August 31, 2017 at 8:55 pm


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