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The PSU (1960 – 1989): Quand la Gauche se réinventait. Le PSU, Histoire d’un Parti Visionnaire. 1960 -1989. Bernard Ravenel.

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Review: Quand la Gauche se réinventait. Le PSU, Histoire d’un Parti Visionnaire. 1960 -1989. Bernard Ravenel. La Découverte. 2016.

Following the rise of Spain’s Podemos there has been great interest on the left in the creation of new parties or changed forms of organisation that try to resolve the difficulties, electoral and political, of social democracy. This is not without precedent. The Parti Socialiste Unifié, PSU, (See Wikipedia entry, in English and in French) was created in 1960 in the middle of one of French socialism’s greatest crises, its inability to stand for Algerian independence and failure to stand up to de Gaulle and the creation, his mould, of the 5th Republic in 1959. The PSU became one of the most significant new left parties of the 1960s and 1970s with an impact across the European left. Apart from its anti-colonialism, it promoted ecological politics, feminism, ideas of participative democracy, and, above all, autogestion, self-management, which have resonance today,

In Quand la gauche se réinventait (When the left reinvented itself) Bernard Ravenel offer the first comprehensive history of the PSU. This is a difficult task. The party was far from a leftist groupuscule whose life can be summed up in account of a few ideologues and their battles. Founded with 30,000 members, they won two Parliamentary deputies in 1962, and 4 in 1967. In 1968, after participating in the May events, the PSU candidate, Michel Rocard (1930 – 2016) received 3,61% in the June Presidential elections. Throughout its existence the party had many local councillors, often in the hundreds. At its height in 1970 it counted 350 workplace branches and had strong links with the – then – radical socialist Confédération Démocratique du Travail (CFDT). One of its central motifs, self-management (autogestion) of the French left, formally adopted by the Parti Socialiste in the mid-70s, occupied a major place during that decade in debates and policy formation. This was part of a broad international move towards backing workers’ control.

Bernard Ravenel describes the PSU as a “chaudron”, cauldron, whose brew nourished several generations of the socialist left. But Quand la gauche se réinventait is more than an account of that inspiring party in which people found their bearings. He aims to transmit the memory of their struggles to future generations, to create a bridge between them, and to help enrich present-day critical left thinking (“pensée critique”).

The legacy of the PSU is extensive. After fierce internal disputes Rocard, and many others, left the party and joined the Parti Socialiste in 1974 to become a leader of what some call the “deuxième gauche (second left). In a celebrated speech at the Nantes PS congress, 1977, Rocard attempted to distinguish “two lefts”. The First was centralist, standing for the authority of the State. It was ‘Jacobin’ and even nationalist. The Second stood for decentralisation, dispersed authority, civil society and support for a plurality of oppressed minorities. In practice market friendly policies and modernisation became the hallmark of the Second left. As Ravenel observes, this meant that self-management was – as it did for the Socialist Party in office – mere “varnish”. (1)

Erudite Hamster.

An “erudite hamster”, as less than friendly observers called him, Rocard was to become a Socialist Prime Minister under Mitterrand’s second Presidency in 1988 until 1991. He created the Revenu Minimum d’Insertion (RMI), a universal social security payment in a system that had hitherto been contribution based, leaving people at the end of a certain time with no money at all. But apart from this important measure Rocard is probably more remembered for reconciliation with the market than for radicalism. (2)

After Rocard’s mid-70s departure, along with his supporters and many others, the PSU had continued with diminishing fortunes. The party’s presidential candidate in 1981, Hugeutte Bouchardeau (1,1%) in 1983 entered the Mauroy government under François Mitterrand with responsibilities for ecology. Her participation in a cabinet committed to fiscal cut backs effectively marked the end of the PSU. It formally split in 1989. Some members joined the French Greens (les Verts), others the group (Alliance Rouge et Verte, AREV) which became Les Alternatifs, who now form part of part of the Front de Gauche, Ensemble. Former PSU activists have participated in range of movements, continuing to take up green issues, the defence of immigrants, and feminism.

Foundation 1960.

These are the bare bones of the history of the PSU. If the party is known at all on the English speaking left it is for its role in defending the cause of Algerian independence. Bernard Ravenel begins Quand La Gauche se réinventait by marking out the wider background to the groups that formed the party. It may come as a surprise to many outside France to learn that during the 1950s a variety of substantial groups – and not the tiny Trotskyist movement or the even smaller Socialisme ou Barbarie, – had opposed both Stalinism and the rightward moving French socialists of Guy Mollet’s SFIO (with the historically interesting name, Section française de l’international ouvrière).

These groups, which numbered around 20, 000 supporters, owed much to the attempts to create a ‘Third Force’ on the post-war French left, neither Stalinist nor social democratic. Others came along with the left-leaning reformist, and anti-colonial Prime Minister (7 months in 1954) Pierre Mendès France. Others, such as the sociologist Pierre Naville, the activist Yvan Craipeau, and the novelist Colette Audry, had been figures in the French Trotskyist movement wearied by its incessant quarrels and ineffectiveness.

Engaged in the fight for Algerian national liberation the PSU participated in the often-violent battle against the putschists who tried to maintain French Algeria. It is a measure of the honesty of Ravenel’s book that he does not fail to mention that many Communist students stood should to shoulder with them in demonstrations against the racist attempt to retain colonial rule (Pages 52 – 53).

Algerian independence in 1962 appeared to leave the PSU without a defining mission. But the party soon found a new role. This was not simply opposing De Gaulle’s Presidential referendum in 1962 but in laying down a new approach on the left.

The Counter-Plan.

In broad terms one might say that this had been dominated by two stands. The first, symbolised in the figure of Léon Blum considered that the French republic was basically healthy, the carrier of a long emancipatory history. If the left might pursue a long-term strategy of conquering power by mass activity, it could exercise power within this given framework. In the 1960s this stand meant, however, concentrating on the effects of De Gaulle’s ‘coup d’état’, to return to full republican democracy. The other strategy, at the heart of the line of the Parti Communiste français (PCF) was to consider that “monopoly capitalism” had fused with state power. An essentially healthy proletariat was both held down by capitalism, and formed for an historical leading role within production. Without the restraints of capitalism, freed under conditions of what the Communists would later call “advanced democracy”, and nationalisation, the working class, organised in unity within its allied union structures the CGT, and its party would create socialism. The political agency of socialism was therefore ‘given’, it was up to its political expression, the PCF, to conquer to the state and set it free. (4)

The PSU, critical Marxists, open a wide range of left thinking, inspired partly by writers such as Serge Mallet, looked to new forces within the working class who had begun to raise demands relating to the more immediate control of production. Around the ‘Front Socialiste’ the party supported workers’ struggles (such as the 1963 miners’ strike). But they developed wider ambitions, elaborating a “counter-plan” in 1964. At a time when indicative planning was still practised they offered an alternative to the French planning system based on democratic participation. As Ravel observes, this as the first time in the country that a socialist group proposed to develop planning, of investment and consumption, under democratic control as a form of transition to socialism. He writes, “le contre-plan veut ouvrir une voie démocratique at donc pacifique au socialisme..” The counter-plan wished to open the way to a democratic and thus peaceful transition to socialism. (Page 82)

This perspective, elaborated by PSU strategist Gilles Martinet, offered an alternative to the “republican” reliance on a politically reformed state, and the PCF view that the workers needed to channel their demands through the CGT, and the Party. As the Party developed, particularly after 1968, the idea emerged of passing from such worker and popular “control” to the full-blown self-management (autogestion) of production and distribution. There was also a sketch supporting political decentralisation. For many of us, this thread of ideas, which Ravenel outlines with great clarity amidst the often-complex debates – not to mention critiques – that followed, remains one of the PSU’s enduring contributions to the left.

Badiou and the Armed Struggle.

Quand la gauche se réinventait is no less acute in its description of May 68 and the effects this had on the PSU. The leftist Trainspotter will rejoice in the accounts of the factional battles that ensued after the évévenements. One aspect has drawn the attention of reviewers: Alain Badiou’s support for preparing for armed struggle, with mass participation in the conquest of power (Page 202) More fundamentally in the early 1970s the PSU endured a prolonged confrontation between those who supported changing the organisation into a Leninist vanguard party (‘avant-garde” in French) and those continued to believe in a broad democratic socialist structure. Ravenel describes the latter in terms of a Gramscian vision of the party as a “collective intellectual” (Page 214).

These disputes ended with some ‘Leninists’ resigning and joining the group to be known as Ligue Communiste Révolutionnaire. Another group, which included the future Green theorist, Alain Lipietz went on to found the grandly titled Organisation communiste gauche ouvrière et paysanne, GOP. Other ‘Marxist-Leninists’ were excluded. Rocard, and the more openly ‘reformist’ currents, made their excuses and left. Martinet had already quit for the Socialists in 1972.

Activists from the PSU were involved in all the central struggles of the 1970s. These included Lip (1973, the celebrated occupation of a Watch factory which was then run as a co-operative), Lazarc (protests against the military’s expropriation of peasant land) feminist campaigns (abortion), and the early battles against Nuclear Power. In 1975 they supported the Portuguese Revolution, and the (similar to PSU) ‘centrist’ Movimento de Esquerda Socialista (MES) efforts to establish workers’ power and popular control. Ravenel personally participated in on-the-spot links. Relations with the CFDT, cited above, continued, helped by the common Christian radical origins of many of their members, although they did not become close. The federation’s leader, Edmond Maire early expressed the view that he had no wish to become for the PSU what the CGT was the PCF. (5)

Critical of the Common Programme of the parliamentary left (PCF,  PS, and then the Radicaux de gauche (1972), from its signing to its break up (1977), the continuity PSU remained apart from the mainstream. The Party also had important differences with one group of backers of autogestion inside the Parti Socialiste. The faction, CERES, best known for its leader Jean-Pierre Chevènement, preferred a legislative and nationalised to a grass-roots framework. It was only a commentator on the processes which dominated this alliance up till Mitterrand’s victory in 1981. Yet it could be said that through such activists, and the presence of former members inside the Socialist Party, its influence continued to be felt within both movements and the institutional French left.

Quand la gauche se réinventait is not a history that deals with the alleged turn of intellectuals against the left during the 1970s. According to what one might call the New Left Review version of history, which treats of academics, ideologues, and the media, rather than activists, leads many to believe that the country underwent a profound ‘anti-totalitarian’ moment during the decade. Ravenel describes the more humble task of achieving political power for the democratic socialist left. He cites extensive documentation, including the PSU paper, Tribune Socialiste, and interviews with those involved. That the transformation of that left was never achieved by the PSU – Ravenel describes his book as a history of the vanquished (vancus) – should not detract from their achievements. He is not afraid to reveal one of the less savoury sides of their work. Following a degree of reconciliation with the Algerian one-party state, in 1970 they received a ‘loan’ (never to be repaid) for finance of the (modest but comfortable) Headquarters. These good graces of Houari Boumediene were not publicly trumpeted (Page 189)

Revolutionary Reformism.

Ravenel is thus transparently a trustworthy and welcome guide to some of the most important experiences on the 20th century French left. For him the dream of “reformisme révolutionnaire” was never achieved. Was this because of a change in the social landscape, the basis of the political environment? Ravenel concludes that the PSU was unable to realise its ambitions and programmes which were tailored to the transformation of “industrial society”. This world had gone, replaced by an increasingly “post-industrial” world. Referring to theorists of the ‘new working class’ amongst others in 1981 André Gorz announced the fatal decline of a motivated skilled working class that wanted control of production and had the means to do. (Adieux au prolétariat. 1981) This claim certainly had an impact on the way PSU activists thought. But, citing from own experience of these warm and open people, as the defeats of the 1980s accumulated against them, and their initial ‘critical support’ for Mitterrand evaporated, their legacy remains a vibrant source of hope.

(1) Page 135. Les Gauches Françaises. Jacques Julliard. Flammarion. 2012. Alain Bergounioux Gérard Grundberg as well as Ravenel remind us that a whole series of future leading Socialist party politicians, from Alain Savary, Jean Poperen to another future PM (1992 – 1993), Pierre Béregovoy passed from the PSU to the Socialists (in their case beginning with the re-alignments in the FGDS (1967). Pages 141 – 145. Les Socialistes français et le Pouvoir. Fayard. 2007.
(2) Michel Rocard, le président empêché. Jonathan Bouchet-Peterson. Libération. 27.16. 2016
(3) Pages 35 – 42. The Parti socialist autonome (PSA) a split from the Socialists, counted 8,500 members, the Union de la gauche socialiste (UFS), a Christian leftist organisation had 8,000, and a dissident Communist faction, the Tribune du communisme, had several hundred. These groups had a long and complex history, including relations with another force which would join with the PSU, the supporters of the reformist Prime Minister (7 months in 1954) Pierre Mendès France. Socialisme ou Barbarie was virulently hostile to the alliance with the latter. See. Maille. R.(Alberto Véga) : Mendès-France et le nouveau réformisme. Socialisme ou Barbarie. No 29. December 1959/February 1960. This followed a long history of hostility to this non-communist radical left, principally the result of their attachment to taking part in elections.
(4) See Page 125. Léon Blum. Pierre Birnbaum Seuil. 2016. On the PCF’s concepts see Le Communisme une passion française. Marc Lazar. Perrin. 2005.
(5) The CFDT vision of socialism as self-management and its relations the PSU is dealt with in La Deuxième gauche H.Hamon. P.Rotman. Editions Ramsay 1984. They describe the specific effects of the key events, such as the 1973 Assises du socialisme, and the intimate links between PSU members and the union federation. The CFDT identified itself increasingly as “reformist” formally abandoned all reference to socialism the Congrès de Strasbourg 1988, but retained a reference to autogestion.

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and,  Le Parti socialiste unifié (PSU), un parti germe pour l’autogestion. Patrick Silberstein.

Le PSU, une comète dans le ciel de la gauche : quelques leçons pour aujourd’hui, À propos de Bernard Ravenel, Quand la gauche se réinventait. Le PSU, Histoire d’un parti visionnaire. Gustave Massiah

Written by Andrew Coates

October 26, 2016 at 2:18 pm

Spread Referendum Rebellion *further* in a positive direction says Socialist Workers Party.

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Farage Celebrates ‘Blow’ to Neoliberalism, Capitalism and Political Elite.

Socialists should seek to direct the rebellion of  23 June further in a positive direction and squash any reactionary elements. Those on the left who see only a further spiral downwards are turning their back on an opportunity to connect with and broaden working class revolt.

Says Charlie Kimber of the Socialist Workers Party and Editor of Socialist Worker. (Why did Britain vote Leave? International Socialism October)

I shall not bother with the ‘learned’ examination of statistics Nor with vapid claims that a small fraction of the European left backed Brexit (strangely Kimber does not mention the ultra-nationalist ‘Trotskyists’ of the Parti ouvrier indépendant démocratique (POID), with whom the British ‘Lexit’ campaign formed close ties during the campaign see here). Nor with the rhetoric about a revolt against the ‘elites’.

Instead let’s go to the core of the Kimber ‘argument’: the revolutionary prospects a Leave vote has created.

That is the idea that this was a “working class revolt” that needs to be ‘broadened’.

He observes,

The reasons for that rebellion are contradictory, and the fallout from the vote is uncertain. But that does not change the essential character of what has taken place. We should welcome this development. Liberals fear turmoil, revolutionaries should not. We are not going to get to the British revolution without some complicated and many-sided developments that require the left to grasp the moment—and if they don’t then the right can grab that feeling of anger instead. The year of the referendum also saw meetings in many places to remember 100 years since the Easter Rising in Dublin. Many in the audience would have nodded sagely at Lenin’s understanding of what happened..,

It would be interesting to learn more about how the British Revolution is helped by the victory of Farage and the hard-right Tories. The right has already “grabbed” this moment.

Is Kimber suggesting that this ‘anger’ is something you can go about snaffling for your side if you’re cunning enough?

In the meantime….

Of course the Leave vote was not the Easter Rising. But Lenin’s method is important.

Indeed, the Referendum has so many points in common with the Easter Rising that Marxists will have spotted them immediately.

Apart from welcoming chaos the SWP declares,

The Socialist Workers Party called for a Leave vote. We did so for three main reasons. Firstly, the EU is an openly pro-capitalist institution…  Secondly, the EU, through its Fortress Europe structures, acts to repel migrants and refugees from outside Europe…… Thirdly, the EU is part of the imperialist world order that, along with NATO, delivers important support for the United States and provides reliable partners in its murderous actions. That is why since the late 1940s the US has promoted European integration to secure a stable junior partner for managing global capitalism.

So the SWP voted to leave capitalism by supporting capitalist plans to quit the EU, to back further restrictions on freedom of movement to get rid of racism, and to undermine and get rid of the imperialist world order. No doubt as soon as possible.

The SWP believes the Leave vote will benefit the working class across the world and the struggle against racism. It is a further blow to the coercive neoliberal power of the EU and its racist laws. The dismantling of the pro-capitalist EU must begin with revolts at a national level.

The SWP “believes” that the Leave vote helped the working class across the world, and anti-racism, on the same secure basis that they believe that Lenin would have “nodded sagely” at their ‘line’.

As for the “blow” to EU neoliberalism –  that’s a lot of huff and puff.

Kimber instructs us, “However we voted on 23 June, we have to unite against racism, austerity, the Tories and the anti-Corbyn Labour MPs. “

That is, to unite with those who backed the “rebellion”, ” backed up by a wider programme raising issues that can engage with workers angry at the political elite and austerity.”

Interesting ‘Marxist’ concept that, the “political elite”. (1)

“We must be participants in the outcomes, and that means intervention, innovative thinking, and organising. After the Leave vote the battle is on. Socialists should gladly embrace and shape it.”

After the Referendum the leader of the Fire Brigades Union Matt Wrack said,

The Brexit vote was a defeat for the working class in Britain as well as internationally. It was a defeat for internationalism and collectivism. Brexit was a victory for populist demagogy, xenophobes and racists. Brexit has already had detrimental economic effects and worse is likely to come.

Brexit has resulted in a more right-wing government. It means an already difficult period ahead will be even harder for the trade union movement and the working-class communities we represent.

The Tendance says: we will not unite with those who actively encouraged the defeat of the working class, internationalism and collectivism.

Whatever Lenin said about the Easter Rising.


(1) This is the SWP trying to get on down with Podemos and attempting to find a way to say, La Casta.

Written by Andrew Coates

October 24, 2016 at 11:31 am

Giles Fraser (Guardian) attacks Charlie Hebo – Part 479.

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Zineb El Rhazoui, formerly of Charlie Hebdo, “white atheist sneering at non-white believers” says Giles Fraser. 

Giles Fraser is a columnist for the Guardian.

In his spare time he is  parish priest at St Mary’s, Newington.

Giles Fraser does not like French secularism.

He devotes most of his energy to unmasking Republican France’s  “foundation myth”, the “glorious triumph of atheistic rationality over the dangerous totalitarian obscurantism of the Catholic church.” (France’s much vaunted secularism is not the neutral space it claims to be)

During his morning bath Fraser thinks of the Vendée and the Drownings at Nantes (Noyades de Nantes) of refractory clergy.

A walk on the beach sends him musing on the ‘Burkini’.

Passing by a Stationer’s  the Priest considers the shadow of the secularist Guillotine.

It goes without saying that he did and does not like Charlie Hebdo, modern Atheist “Iconoclasts

It is with little surprise that we find that Fraser now manages to drag Charlie into this debate: “Kelvin MacKenzie has been cleared by Ipso over his column on the Channel 4 News presenter. What message does that ruling send?” (Is it ‘open season’ on Muslims, as Fatima Manji suggests? Our panel responds.)

 Fraser comments,

Defending freedom of speech is one thing, but freedom of speech is brought into massive disrepute when it becomes a moral alibi for white atheists to sneer at non-white believers, and Muslims in particular. It was exactly the same with Charlie Hebdo – they hid their racism behind that all-purpose moral pass, freedom of speech. But at least they were equal opportunity offenders – they had a pop at all-comers: Jews, Christians, Muslims.


Is Charlie a group of ‘white atheists’?

You mean that anybody criticising Islam gives an “alibi” to ‘racists”?

That Charlie “hid” its racism?

As in the case of this much loved comrade….

Zineb el Rhazoui, Charlie Hebdo survivor, discusses why the world needs to ‘Destroy Islamic Fascism’ (New York Times 18.10.16.)

Undeterred by fatwas and death threats, the author has released an incendiary and thoughtful new book, bound to provoke debate.

Written by Andrew Coates

October 22, 2016 at 11:30 am

Susan Watkins, Casting Off. Brexit: a world-historic turn. Alex Callinicos. Assessing Brexit from the Left.

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Socialists must be internationalists even if their working classes are not; socialists must also understand the nationalism of the masses, but only in the way in which a doctor understands the weakness or the illness of his patient. Socialists should be aware of that nationalism, but, like nurses, they should wash their hands twenty times over whenever they approach an area of the Labour movement infected by it’.

Isaac Deutscher, On Internationals and Internationalism. Cited in The Left Against Europe. Tom Nairn. New Left Review. 1/75. 1971.

La terre nous donne une discipline, et nous sommes les prolongements des ancêtres

Nous sommes le produit d’une collectivité qui parle en nous. Que l’influence des ancêtres soit permanente, et les fils seront énergiques et droits, la nation une.

The soil gives us a discipline, and we are the extension over time of our ancestors….We are the product of a collective life which speaks in us. . May the influence of our ancestors be permanent, the sons of the soil vital and upstanding, the nation One.

La terre et les morts. Maurice Barrès. 1899. (1)

Susan Watkins, Casting Off (New Left Review 100. July-August 2016). Brexit: a world-historic turn. Alex Callinicos.  International Socialism. Issue: 151. 2016.)

Casting Off, in the latest New Left Review begins by observing that the “surprise” of the Leave vote in the June Referendum went against the wishes the “ruling class” “much of the intelligentsia” and “much of its youth”. In a choice expression she compares lamentations about the result on Facebook to a “Wailing Wall”. Those beating their brows at the loss of the EU Jerusalem “in one account” were full of “nightmares of xenophobia”. “Britons having ‘voted to make foreigner-hunting legal, if not an actual duty.’”. Many people in Europe, she notes, that is, Germans and French, were unconcerned. Only a third of Germans and a quarter of the French were “unhappy about Brexit”.

Was this the result of the “ressentiment”, bottled up rancour stewing amongst “globalisation’s losers”? An ” insurrectionary protest against neoliberalism, globalism and cultural contemp” as Paul Mason put it (le Monde Diplomatique. July.) ?  Or more simply was a revolt of the left-behind, spearheaded by the working class, the unemployed, the casualised, and the poor. In Brexit, Alex Callinicos has written that, “All the polls show that the poorer you are the more likely you were to vote Leave. This means that millions of working class voters have gone unrepresented by the mainstream of the labour movement”. He trumpets his own group, the SWP, which backed the Leave campaign on a ‘left’ basis (Left-Exit, lexit). “Lexit offered a political voice, albeit a small one, to working class people who wanted to reject the EU on a class basis.” (2)


For Watkins the result was not a rebellion against the distant mechanisms of finance capital and the world market. It has domestic origins, in British government policies laid down since the 2008 banking crisis, Gordon Brown’s turn to fiscal rigour, and the Liberal Conservative Coalition’s austerity programme. As a result scare mongering about the potential negative effects on the economy of Brexit had little impact on those already at the bottom of the pile. In “the Leave districts that have been depressed since the 1970s, with gdp per capita less than half inner-London levels, and now hardest hit by cutbacks in services and benefits, bleakness and desperation appear to have trumped economic fear.” She continues. “Anti-globalisation, then? Of a sort, if globalisation means not just deindustrialisation and low pay but disenfranchisement and politically targeted austerity.” In the south the ‘anti-Globo stand was different, “Their economic interests had been carefully nurtured by the Cameron-Osborne governments and their vote was more purely ideological: fear of change overcome by reassertion of ex-imperial national identity. Britain had never been conquered by Germany, so why was it ceding powers to Brussels?”

In this vein both Watkins and Callinicos play down the role of xenophobia and, more specifically, anti-migrant worker sentiment, in the referendum. Both note the mainstream Remain campaign’s supporters, beginning with the Prime Minister David Cameron’s “talking tough” on migration. For Callinicos, “at least as powerful a force is likely to be an alienation from the economic and political elite crystallising the experience of 40 years of neoliberalism and nearly 10 years of crisis expressed in stagnant or falling wages, unemployment, dwindling social housing and a shrinking welfare state. The EU as the incarnation of neoliberalism and contempt for democracy is a perfect symbol of all these discontents. London, site of a global financial hub, may have voted to Remain”

The pair concur on one point, “….the main reason given by the bulk of Leave voters—49 per cent—was the notion that ‘decisions about the uk should be taken in the uk’, a more ambiguous formulation that could include democratic, sovereign and nationalist perspectives. “ (Watkins), “Lord Ashcroft’s referendum-day poll found that nearly 49 percent of Leave voters said the biggest single reason for wanting to leave the EU was “the principle that decisions about the UK should be taken in the UK”, compared to 33 percent who gave the main reason for leaving that it “offered the best chance for the UK to regain control over immigration and its own borders.” (Callinicos).

There are three central problems with these claims.


Firstly, it is absurd to compare the Conservative Remain campaigners’ talk of ‘control’ of migration in the same breath as the blood-and-fire rhetoric of UKIP and their echo-chambers on the Leave side. To dismiss the issue by ranking its importance on the basis of an opinion poll is to assume that one motive trumped the other rather than coalescing with it.

As Kim Moody has argued, immigration was at the centre of the campaign. “A majority of all those who voted Leave ranked immigration and border control as their 1st or 2nd reason. Those in the top social rank were less likely to give this as their first reason than others, but all groups were the same for 2nd choice and all Leave voters put immigration high on their list. Anti-immigrant and xenophobic views were prevalent in all social groups. This is not meant to be a comforting conclusion.” (3) Furthermore, “One section of British corporate capital that threw its majority weight loudly behind Brexit was the daily press.” “The Daily Mail, Daily Express, Daily Star, Daily Telegraph, and Sun, all known for their anti-immigrant bias and with a combined daily circulation of just over 5 million, supported Brexit.”(Ibid)

It would not have taken long, a visit to the pub in less well-off areas, would suffice to hear people publicly repeating the right-wing tabloid’s anti-migrant propaganda melded with their own prejudiced anecdotes. Perhaps it would have taken longer to visit Ipswich market and see the UKIP placard carrying crew sitting on the benches ranting about Romanians. But such sights were not rare. Anywhere.

Few could doubt that cosmopolitan pro-European hipsters would shy from these displays. But what exactly drove the minority who followed Lexit to cast their ballots in the same way and how do their asses their achievement in bolstering the nationalist right? Callinicos asserts that “The emergence of the Lexit Campaign, advocating a left, internationalist opposition to the EU, was one of the successes of the referendum. Not because it swung a massive number of votes, but because it brought together a significant spectrum of forces on the radical left to campaign for a Leave vote on an anti-capitalist and anti-racist basis that (unlike some earlier left anti-EU campaigns) had no truck with migrant-bashing.” Really? Is the Socialist Party’s call for control (by trade unions?) of the entry of migrant labour, joined by the Morning Star-Communist Party of Britain, part of this “anti-racism”? Does the SWP really have that much in common with the CPB who push a barely revamped version of the 1970s Alternative Economic Strategy, completed – and why not? – with capital and import controls? Was it a ‘success’ to see New Left review, the SWP and all the others, cavort on a Camden stage in the company of a – suitably disguised – supporter of the French ‘Lambertist’ current, one-time Trotskyists who having sipped from that poisoned cup have become ultra-nationalists? (4)


Secondly, what were the “non-immigration” issues behind the Leave vote? Casting Off describes “the slow, still inchoate politicisation that had been taking place in the aftermath of the financial crisis”, and “the Exit vote would not have happened without the financial crisis and skewed, class-based recovery.” Callinicos talks more broadly of UKIP’s rise as part of “ordinary voters’ revulsion against the entire political and economic elite.” The “very unanimity of establishment opposition to Brexit is likely to have goaded many people into the Leave camp simply as an act of defiance.”

Absent is any account of the mass, country-wide, left and trade union austerity campaigns, co-ordinated by the People’s Assembly Against Austerity (PA) Had this no effect in channelling ressentiment against the ‘elite’ towards progressive solutions? Did its protests, marches, conferences, pickets and pressure on local councils, count for little?

It is true that their impact was decreasing in the run up to the Referendum. An April London March barely attracted 20,000 – despite the freedom that the end of Police estimates gave to the organisers to claim an attendance of 175,000 (in a half empty Trafalgar Square). Clearly this ‘incipient politicisation” has drained away in a different direction. A look at how the politics of protest are foundering might throw up the reflection that the victory of Jeremy Corbyn as leader of the Labour Party indicates that political institutions can be the focus of change, rather than the street. The hard task of getting Labour local authorities to oppose austerity, not just because of the legacy of Blair’s accommodations, but as a result of an armour-plated legal budget controls over councils, has begun. The problems this turn to Labour creates for those, like Callinicos, and his former comrades in Counterfire, the majority of the active leadership of the PA, begin with the recognition that the Brexit vote as a “representation” of opinion, which more walking about in the roads, attempts to bathe in Corbyn’s reflected glory, and calls for general strikes, are unlikely to revolve.


Thirdly, the Brexit result was a boost to sovereigntism, the belief that politics has to focus on nations, and on the ‘people’s’ control over the national body politic. In this respect Chantal Mouffe’s declaration that the vote was a “salutary shock” is less significant than her immediately following words. The Belgian political philosopher stated, “That’s because I am one of those so-called ‘left-wing Europeanists who are not sovereigntists but instead demand a democratic refoundation of Europe” Pleasure with the damage to the City and neo-liberal forces is one thing, but what harm did this create to ‘sovereigntism”? (5)

The evidence against rash claim lives in Downing Street. Yet, against Mouffe for many it has reinforced the illusion, that in some form sovereigntism can be the basis of left politics. To cite the most obvious source of how far this ideology has crept into leftist circles: the conclusion of Mouffe’s  jointly-authored of Podemos (2016) Iñigo Errejón has called for the construction of a “..we the people “that demands sovereignty and a new social contract”. To build this we have “to think about the effective, mythical and cultural commonness of any identity construction”. Or, in an even more abstract vein, to follow Frédéric Lordon, politics based on “un commun passional” bound to “une certaine appartenance” (belonging) not to a hypostatised nationality but to “la nation politique” a political construction. (6) In other words, in contrast to Barrès, a newly minted sovereign feeling, without the clamour of ancestral voices, embodied in institutions. They would surely be able to take “decisions about the UK in the UK.” The evidence is that those appealing directly to the dead voices of our forbears, the racist populist right, have had more success in the sovereigntist venture.

Callinicos, with customary grace towards those who disagree with him, outlined the choices for the left at the start of the campaign, “between the neoliberal imperialist monstrosity that is the EU, strongly supported by the main echelons of British capital, and the xenophobic and racist Thatcherites that dominated the Leave campaigns.” In his conclusion he opines, no doubt to warn those not averted to the possibility, that British capitalism is “entering very stormy waters.” The defeat of an invigorated Tory party under Teresa May, at the helm of state, will doubtless be the coming work of a mass movement conjured from the depths.

Democratic Refoundation?

Those who chose to vote for the “monstrosity” as “not worse” may well still feel unhappy at the result – for all the tempests in the global capitalist oceans. Many of our legal rights, consolidated in EU law, are now to put to the test of a sovereign Parliament for which we have ambiguous passionate feelings. The democratic refoundation of Europe, if pursued, and developed by forces such as DiEM25, will take place without our directly interested participation. We risk becoming further stuck in our backwater.

But for others there is this consolation. Our “sub-imperial” “far from prefect Hayekian order” has taken a blow. Watkins speaks of a victory for British (English) nationalism, in a “a semi-sovereign state” Yet the defeat is clear, for several – scattered – targets, “ For now, though, it is plain that Blairised Britain has taken a hit, as has the Hayekianised EU. Critics of the neoliberal order have no reason to regret these knocks to it, against which the entire global establishment—Obama to Abe, Merkel to Modi, Juncker to Xi—has inveighed.” (7)

The prospect of the “actuality of revolution” by “critics of the neoliberal order”, a “world-historic turn”….still leaves them shaking in their boots….

For the rest of us, Matt Wrack, General Secretary of the Fire Brigades Union,  expressed our view (Morning Star 12th of September),

The Brexit vote was a defeat for the working class in Britain as well as internationally. It was a defeat for internationalism and collectivism. Brexit was a victory for populist demagogy, xenophobes and racists. Brexit has already had detrimental economic effects and worse is likely to come.


(1) On Barrès and his concept of the “people” and nation see the illuminating, Le peuple chez Maurice Barrès, une entité insaisissable entre unité et diversité. Brigitte Kurlic. SensPublic. 2007.

(2). See also: The internationalist case against the European Union. Alex Callinicos. International Socialism. Issue: 148. 

(3) Was Brexit a Working-Class Revolt? Kim Moody. International Viewpoint. 14th of September 2016.

(4) Both the Morning Star’s CPB and SPEW advocate immigration controls and socialism in one country, notes Mike Macnair. Weekly Worker 15.9.2015. In report here: Paris Anti-EU Rally: French ‘Lambertist’ Trotskyists Receive Backing from UK ‘Lexit’ Campaign.

(5) A Salutary Shock. Chantal Mouffe. Verso. (From Mediapart 27th June 2016)

(6) Podemos. In the Name of the People. Iñigo Errejón in Conversation with Chantal Mouffe. Lawrence and Wishart. 2016. Imperium, Structures et affets des corps politiques. Frédéric Lordon. La Fabrique. 2015.

(7) See: Prognoses. In: The New Old World. Perry Anderson. Verso 2009.

Nuit Debout: “It did not take off”, Frédéric Lordon.

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Image result for nuit debout

Nuit Debout: A Spark that did not Light a Prairie Fire.

Nuit debout was a French movement that began on 31 March 2016, arising out of protests against proposed labour reforms known as the El Khomri law or Loi travail. The movement was organised around a broad aim of “overthrowing the El Khomri bill and the world it represents”. It was compared to the Occupy movement in the United States and to Spain’s anti-austerity 15-M or Indignados movement. Occupy, and its much smaller imitation in the UK, Like the former, and unlike the latter, it failed to make any lasting connection with wider political forces. 

Nuit Debout was best known for its months long 2016 occupation of the Place de la République in Paris.

Organisers refused to set out a specific list of political demands in advance, although they did denounce the government’s proposed reforms as regressive, and they called for the construction of a new political project that would be “ambitious, progressive, and emancipatory”.

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

Lordon has also been criticised for his ‘soverigentist’ tendencies: that is a belief that French democracy must first be transformed,  however grass-roots led – on a national scale. This means he is against the pooling of sovereignty in the European Union, attacking its ne-libeal and amrket inflection but   offers no concept of how internationalist democracy may be built. (1)

A more radical critique is offered of this type of politics in the latest Red Pepper,

Occupations, assemblies and direct action – a critique of ‘body politics’ Joseph A Todd .

Todd argues that the demand for “presence” at such assemblies (Occupy Wall Street, London, the small camp at St Paul’s, the  Place de la République), is questionable.

Inclusion in the polis was premised on physical presence – both in that decision making was conducted in general assemblies for extended periods of time, but also in that non-participation in the general assembly constituted a symbolic exclusion from the performative spectacle that became the symbol of the movement. And while the lack of demands was partly rooted in a distrust of existing institutions, we can also trace it back to body politics, the belief that bodies together is enough to create change, that bodies in space could prefigure the revolution.

Others have criticised the “consensus” ideal of these movements, which excludes serious debate, and represses minorities, while allowing for a fictitious agreement to be manipulated by an unacknowledged and unaccountable  leadership – the “tyranny of structurelessness”.  Or, more simply, the offputting rules that govern these assemblies, including strange signs to signify intervention in discussions, agreement, or disagreement. Nuit Debout did not enforce consensus – voting was by majority – but adopted many of these alienating procedures.

Nuit Debout existed for some months, brought important issues about the effects of markets, and the failings of democracy in French society and Europe  to the fore, had some interesting debates about democratic structures and the remoteness of official French politics, and inspired some to continue to seek an alternative to liberal pro-market politics.

It never touched the core of the labour movement or the banlieue.

Now we learn that Lordon, still one of the leading voices in the movement, acknowledges it has failed to take hold.

Frédéric Lordon fait le bilan de Nuit Debout : “On ne va pas se raconter d’histoire, le feu n’a pas pris”

la puissance de la multitude” – the might of the multitude has not taken off.

The Bondy Blog interview is in a typical, highly abstract and philosophical vein,  complete with references to Spinoza (one hears echoes of Toni Negri here, as the term multitude suggests already), and La Boétie.

It is heavy going, even for those used to Lordonese.

Fortunately Les Inrocks summarises the key points in which Lordon assesses the successes and the – very evident – petering out of the movement:

Tous les mouvements insurrectionnels commencent à très petite échelle. Le problème pour le pouvoir c’est quand ‘ça gagne’, quand la plaine entière vient à s’embraser. On ne va pas se raconter d’histoire, le feu n’a pas (ou pas encore) pris. Je crois cependant que beaucoup de gens qui étaient loin de l’événement l’ont regardé avec intérêt, et qu’il s’est peut être passé quelque chose dans les têtes dont nous ne pouvons pas encore mesurer tous les effets.”

All insurrectional movements begin small scale. The problem for those in power is when this “takes off”, when the social terrain is swept up in their heat. I am not going to hide the fact that in this case the spark has not (or has not yet) caught fire. I consider nevertheless that many people who were distant from the event watched it keenly, and what took place inside our heads has had effects which we have not really come to grips with yet.

Lordon talks of the “violence des “gardiens de l’ordre” which radicalised the participants in Nuit Debout. But he denied that there was any link between the movement and the ‘casseurs’ (hooligans) who led attacks on the Police and property to demonstrations in France earlier this year, and who provoked a strong counter-reaction.

 The Inrocks also cites Nuit debout, l’instant d’après. Pour un bilan qui n’en soit pas un by .

This is a more intelligible and serious balance-sheet (bilan) of the movement.

Marzel celebrates Nuit Debout’s existence in an “oligarchic regime” and presence in the ” imaginaire politique alternatif”, its democratic experiments, and – apparently – resistance to “narcissism”  as victories in themselves. It did not, however, help stop the new Labour law. And, “Nuit debout s’est rapidement élargie à une contestation de toute la politique du gouvernement et à un rejet global du capitalisme mondialisé.” – it quickly expanded to challenge all the government’s policies, and a complete rejection of globalised capitalism.”

Manzel does not hide that there problems with sexism, intoxication, internal disputes, inside Nuit Debout. Yet he considers that core message of  of the protests was part of the “Miracle” of politics in the sense celebrated by Hannah Arendt.  That is, we might comments,  creative action and reflection by equal citizens that breaks  governmental routine and helps create free public realm.

While some may hope that a new wave of protests may arise in France this autumn Nuit Debout has reached some kind of terminus.


 (1) “Frédéric Lordon offers a radical critique of the construction of Europe. We can only agree when he interprets ‘the oddity of building Europe as a gigantic operation of the political elimination … of popular sovereignty itself’. The Enchanted World of Common Currency – On the Article by Frédéric Lordon).

Socialist Party: For Ending the Free Movement of Labour to the UK.

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Image result for pro-europe demonstration trafalgar square left unity tendance coatesy

Capitalist pro-EU demonstrators.

The Socialist Party writes,

The EU referendum result was a massive rejection of the capitalist establishment but voting Leave was not a vote for a governmental alternative. Now Jeremy Corbyn has the opportunity to use his Labour leadership re-election campaign to rally both Leave and Remain voters behind a programme for a socialist and internationalist break with the EU bosses’ club, argues CLIVE HEEMSKERK.

The Party is exultant.

‘Project Fear’ lost (project hysteria about Johnny foreigners won…).

The main forces of British and international capitalism did everything they could to secure a vote in June’s referendum to keep Britain in the EU. President Obama made a carefully choreographed state visit. The IMF co-ordinated the release of doom-laden reports with the chancellor George Osborne.

And then there was the shameful joint campaigning of right-wing Labour Party and trade union leaders with David Cameron and other representatives of big business.

A propaganda tsunami of fear was unleashed to try and intimidate the working class to vote in favour of the EU bosses’ club.

But to no avail. Pimco investment company analysts mournfully commented that the vote was “part of a wider, more global, backlash against the establishment, rising inequality and globalisation” (The Guardian, 28 June).

No mention of, er, Jeremy Corbyn’s position in favour of Remain..

The article is full of a lot of tiresome self-justification, and statistics that minimise the Labour voters’ support for Remain, not to mention that of the overwhelming majority of young people, (“Just two out of five people aged 65 and over backed staying in. In contrast, 75% of voters aged 18 to 24 plumped for Remain). They apparently do not see it as a problem that, as the Mirror put it,  “Labour’s heartlands united with Tory shires” to vote Leave.

Accepting the present state of class consciousness – on this basis we could equally claim that the Tory shires were also voting “against the capitalist establishment” – is not a socialist standpoint.

Instead the so-called Lexit camp offered ‘understanding’ about fears about being swamped’ by migrants, and a cart-load of clichés about ‘Brussels’ links to big business, as if Westminster is not bound and foot to Capital.

We can also recall straightforward lies blaming the reform of the Code du Travail in France on the EU and the idea that Brexit would halt the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP),  when it’s been EU countries, and not the UK that have scuppered it for the moment.

The result was that during the Referendum campaign the Lexiters sided with the ‘sovereigntists’ who imagine that leaving the EU would ‘restore’ power to Parliament, and indeed the Nation.

In other words they stood on the same side as the most reactionary sections of Capital and the bourgeoisie, the Tory Right and the ‘populist’ nationalist-racists of UKIP.

If they are not always as honest as their virulently nationalist French allies, the Parti ouvrier indépendant démocratique (POID), about this, the strategy of the Socialist Party, like the SWP, the Morning Star and Counterfire, ties class politics to national sovereignty and erodes the internationalist basis of a common European left.


Trotskyist POID pro-Brexit Rally in Paris May 2016 backed by Socialist Party, Morning Star, Steve Hedley, Alex Gordon, Lexit campaign, and Co.

It is the task of the left to fight, not adapt to, the  carnival of reaction that took place during and is continuing after the Referendum.

But no doubt the Socialist Party would have found class reasons to ‘understand’ those in the Victorian proletariat who celebrated the 1900 ending of the siege of Mafeking and this joyous meeting of toffs and East Enders.

Image result for siege of mafeking celebrations in London

To these high-minded people, all capitalist politicians are to blame for nationalist campaigns that feed on racism (“All capitalist politicians, defending a system based on the exploitation of the majority by a small minority, to some degree rest on nationalism – with racism as its most virulent expression – to maintain a social base for capitalist rule”) . It’s never the ideology of others, who have no minds of their own. So they, the capitalist lot, are all to blame…

No doubt from the front page of the Daily Express, UKIP, to…the Liberal Democrats….


The Socialist would no doubt dislike this UKIP poster.

Instead the Socialist Party has a position of the problem – but also opposed to the free movement of labour.

Or to put it less indirectly: migrant labour and ‘foreigners’.

This is a real sticking point.

In the negotiations that are taking place, the Socialist Party lays down a few ‘principles’, apparently socialist and ‘trade unionist’,  on the topic.

They state,

The socialist and trade union movement from its earliest days has never supported the ‘free movement of goods, services and capital’ – or labour – as a point of principle but instead has always striven for the greatest possible degree of workers’ control, the highest form of which, of course, would be a democratic socialist society with a planned economy.

It is why, for example, the unions have historically fought for the closed shop, whereby only union members can be employed in a particular workplace, a very concrete form of ‘border control’ not supported by the capitalists.

What is their position on the kind of ‘border control’ they do support.

The organised workers’ movement must take an independent class position on the EU free movement of labour rules that will be raised in the EU negotiations (see box).

Which is?

Here is the negative (Why the Socialist Party opposed the EU.)

What ‘free movement’ exists in the EU is used to allow big business to exploit a cheap supply of labour in a ‘race to the bottom’ in terms of low pay, zero-hour contacts and poor employment conditions.

Well there’s nothing here about pan-European efforts to end this ‘race to the bottom’.

Only a very British exit from the system.

We would like a specific answer: is the Socialist Party in favour of a “closed shop” controlling entry for European and other migrant workers entry into the UK?

How will this operate ?

Pre or post-entry?

To the whatabouters we ask: will ending freedom of movement from ‘Fortress  Europe’  mean that you can make a ‘socialist’ Fortress UK?

Migrant labour deserves an answer on how the Socialist Party wishes to regulate their future.

Written by Andrew Coates

September 7, 2016 at 4:49 pm

Jean-Luc Mélen­chon Goes Vegetarian Lean Cuisine.

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Jean-Luc Mélen­chon : Son régime, Sa famille, Macron…il dit tout

Mélen­chon: Secrets of a Quinoa Slimming Regime. 

Jean-Luc Mélen­chon needs no introduction to readers of this Blog.

The ebullient leader of the Parti de gauche, presidential candidate – neck and neck in the polls with existing President François Hollande – is the uncontested leader of  la France insoumise a veritable sovereign for the people in revolt.

Following Jeremy Corbyn’s advice on people’s after work drinking life-styles  Mélen­chon offers advice to Gala magazine on how to keep trim with his special recipes.

We learn in this exclusive interview, RENCONTRE DANS LA CUISINE DU CANDI­DAT DE LA FRANCE INSOU­MISEJean-Luc Mélen­chon : Son régime, Sa famille, …il dit tout….

  • How he read 6 to 7 ‘polars’ (mystery novels) while resting in hammock – without his Smartphone!
  • He loves his family.
  • He’s just crazy about tabbouleh.
  •  Mélen­chon has lost 5 Kilos and plans to lose a few more soon!
  • He only eats vegetable protein, no fat and no meat – on must think of the martyrdom of animals (“Il faut penser aux martyrs des animaux !)
  •  Mélen­chon can’t stop talking about the benefits of quinoa (“est inta­ris­sa­ble… sur les bien­faits du quinoa !”)

Asked about the elections within political parties of the left and right to become a candidate, Mélen­chon smiled,

A simple call from Destiny was all he needed.

The dapper gent declares, “I won’t do any primary election. I’m a candidate through and through. ” (“Je ne parti­ci­pe­rai à aucune primaire. Je suis candi­dat jusqu’au bout.”)


Written by Andrew Coates

September 3, 2016 at 3:58 pm