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The Death of “Left Wing Populism”.

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Image result for la france insoumise tricolore

“Fashion dies young, ” (La mode meurt jeune) said Jean Cocteau (Le « populisme de gauche » est mort !)

It seems like another epoch.

‘Left wing populism”, the new strategy of the left, was going to sweep all before it.

In the “era of people” the old class divisions were eroded, politics was about moblising, giving a voice to, and joining together the victims of neo-liberal economics against the Oligarchy, the “elite”.

National symbols and a feeling of real  community needed to be retaken by the left.

In  France this reached the point of celebrating the “patriotic” revolutionary tradition of ‘the French’ with ‘left populists’ waving the Tricolore and singing the Marseillaise – as indeed their forebears in the French Communist Party were wont to do in times of popular unity and their own ‘National Fronts’ (1940s onwards).

We were lectured on how French nationalism – no doubt like so many other nationalisms in the eyes of their ‘left’ supporters – is uniquely revolutionary and ‘popular’.

It would not be hard to find the pages written on this, from Chantal Mouffe’s For a Left Populism (2018) to scores of articles on Mouffe, and the (deceased) Ernesto Laclau’s writings on populism.

It was recommended that the British Labour Party take note and develop its own “insurgent” style and politics.

In those distant days (31st of March 2019) the self-styled voice of the American radical left, Jacobin, was full of articles on the topic.

Anton Jäger and Arthur Borriello wrote,

Left populism is the new idiom of radical politics worldwide. It emerged as the answer to the problem of a weak and disorganized working class — but despite its electoral successes…

In contrast to a moribund old left, clinging to antiquated remedies when facing annihilation, left-populism has trimmed its sails to the wind.

Is Left Populism the Solution?

The previous year (2018, how distant it seems now! ) Jacobin’s European editor, Dave Broder boasted, of an event on the fringe at the Labour Party Conference.

Tonight Jacobin will host an event at The World Transformed featuring France’s most popular political leader, France Insoumise’s Jean-Luc Mélenchon. Winning seven million votes in last year’s presidential election, the radical left-winger is today at the forefront of the revolt against Emmanuel Macron’s crisis-wracked government.

He went onto to praise, Mélenchon and his movement’s

 ..success in uniting the oppressed…

The Left Should Welcome Mélenchon

Earlier this year Broder gave a reverential interview to the Leader of la France insoumise in the Jacobin supplement, the UK magazine Tribune.

‘Everyone should know — I am very dangerous’

This Blog has covered the growing crisis in his La France insoumise.

We have discussed this book, Le populisme : le grand ressentiment (2017) and interview (2018) Left-wing populism. A legacy of defeat: Interview with

Fassin had the foresight to say:

The problem with the populist strategy, for the left, is that it’s neither left nor a winning strategy. It was even less so during the latest presidential campaign in France: everyone played that same card at the same time, including Macron, with a rhetoric of ‘centre’ populism!

Today we read on a site of the French radical left close to the independent section of La France insoumise, Ensemble, though increasingly not close to Mélenchon himself, that the strategy of left-wing populism has unravelled right to down to reveal its bleached skeleton.

Le « populisme de gauche » est mort ! 

The economist Cédric Durand and the sociologist Razmig Keucheyan.

After tracing the origins of this strategy to the Latin America left, (an important inspiration for Ernesto Laclau inspiration), and the failures of the ‘Bolivarian Revolution” they state,

..the limits of the model are obvious, and even more so in Europe, where no current claiming “left-wing populism” has been able to gain power. The results of Podemos and La France insoumise in the European elections, accompanied in the Spanish case of very poor local elections scores, sound the death knell of experience.

It forced the left to think about what “people” means today. More complex and diverse, the ‘people’ are no longer those created during  the post-war economic success when the left bloc combined the salaried popular classes and certain fractions of the middle classes, especially intellectual ones. Globalisation, neoliberal Europe and the renunciation of social democracy have blown it up, creating a deadly cleavage between a supposedly protective nationalism and an all-market pseudo-internationalism. The populist strategy has been able to defy the hegemony of the neoliberalized left by jostling amongst the interstices of the historical formations.

But it failed to structure a new social alliance. How to explain the failure?

The summary of the answer to this is that,

The opposition between the 1% and the 99% has perhaps allowed to trigger a political movement and to incarnate it in a leader, but has  prevented it from developing long-term roots.

They argue that the backing for these parties, above all Podemos and La France insoumise,  has been based on too many differing social  constituencies. These are not just fragmented but lack  a consistently defined interest however much a political apparatus tries to “articulate to offer a stable political base.

To put it simply ‘federating’ a variety of ‘democratic’ struggles and social concerns together around a charismatic ‘Leader’ has not paid off.

No strategy based on Laclau’s picture of the rhetorical foundations of society and floating signifiers, or Mouffe’s agonism, and “effects” can hide the results of elections, and the failure to “capture” the – ambitious – Gilets Jaunes revolt to restore the “moral economy” that many very different social categories dream of  asserting faced with President Macron and his own simulacrum of a party, La République En Marche.

Perhaps the substantial part of LFI’s ecosocialism” and green planning (far from their personal property as Benoît Hamon and Génération.s, stand for une écologie humaniste qui prône l’humain au coeur de la réflexion écologisteindicates) can be saved from this wreck……

That is France, but the downward spiral of left populism has wider implications.

Above all Durand and Keucheyan ask,

Why do left-wing populisms prove incapable of dealing with disagreements and bringing pluralism to life? Podemos and La France insoumise are authoritarian structures. A clear-headed assessment obliges us to recognise this.

One party of the answer, which applies to French Left Populism,  is offered here.

In this article Après le départ de Charlotte Girard, «La France insoumise en difficulté»… et après? criticises above all La France insoumise for its “hégémoniste et exclusive ” political practice.

This is a striking observation.

Jean-Luc Mélenchon a été formé à l’école de Pierre Lambert: où qu’il soit passé (y compris comme premier secrétaire de la fédération PS de l’Essonne comme féal mitterrandien), il n’a jamais hésité devant les méthodes brutales, au nom des exigences de l’orientation politique du moment, cette orientation fût-elle éphémère.

Jean-Luc Mélenchon was trained at Pierre Lambert’s |(note, hard-line orthodox Trotskyist, with strongly patriotic/nationalist traits)  school: wherever he went (including as first secretary of the PS federation of Essonne as a loyal supporter of Mitterrand)  he never hesitated before brutal methods In the name of the political demands of the moment, however ephemeral they were.

It was often said that Left Populism was a strategy in a hurry.

It needed to build quickly to overtake and replace  the ‘old’ left, the compromised ‘neoliberals’  those unable to confront globalisation with a viable appeal to “the people”.

Internal democratic structures in such ‘start up’ parties, movement, best called in France’s case a rally, were not that important.

Fat chance….

When they lose votes in elections, when their strategy is in tatters, how else can their difficulties be discussed?

How can a return to alliances of the left bloc, the people of the left be made by charismatic leaders with a direct line of communication to the People?

The obituary of left populism may be premature.

The stakes are high:

Yet the “populist moment” today is the time of national populism of the right and the far-right, helped by political confusionism – the -red-brown ‘left’.

Let’s hope that the left stops listening to those who were so enthusiastic about  left populism only a few months ago reflect.

Beware ! to  anybody in the UK stumbling by chance on Jacobin, left-populist Dave Broder is now praising Jeremy Corbyn….

Update: this is in an interesting analysis of the “chain of equivalences” between La France insoumise and the Front National.

France Insoumise : Ces chauvin(e)s qui nous cassent les couilles.

«l’Insoumission »? C’ est un  « Front ». France ≡ National / Insoumise  ≡ Front.

C’est avec la naissance de la France Insoumise que Mélenchon (qui a passé la plus grande partie de sa vie dans le « socialisme ») et les siens ont abandonné le drapeau rouge au profit du sympathique et vibrant Bleu, Blanc, Rouge. Ils ont aussi abandonné cette vieillerie de l’International au profit de la très moderne Marseillaise. Mélenchon et les siens ne se réclamaient plus de la « gauche » mais du « peuple » en prétendant que le mot gauche est un attrape-tout, qu’il empêche de penser rigoureusement.

It was with the birth of France Insoumise that Mélenchon (who spent most of his life in “socialism”) and his family abandoned the red flag for the sympathetic and vibrant Blue, White, Red. They have also abandoned this old age banner of the International in favour of the very modern Marseillaise. Mélenchon and his people no longer claimed to be on the “left” but on the side of the “people” by claiming that the left word is a catch-all term, that prevents rigorous thought.

See also this (the fall-out continues on a daily basis):

 

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Left Populism: La France Insoumise Faces Internal Challenge.

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Mr 6,3% and his European List.

A few days ago I, as a loyal supporter of la France insoumise (along with half a million others who signed up to their free online registration of support) received a notification of their latest ‘conference’ the Assemblée représentative de La France insoumise on the 23rd of June.

The E-Mail invited me to put my name into a hat for the “tirage au sort” (selection by lot) to attend. 160 of us would be chosen by this method, and 80 “representatives” from the “different spaces” (its sounds as odd in French) of the “point de ralliement” of JeanLuc  Mélenchon.

There are no “factions”; indeed no different currents of opinion on an organised basis. There are no bothersome competitive elections, different political platforms or indeed anything more than an opportunity to talk as individuals  about the programme for the upcoming Municipal elections.

One is invited to contribute to the debate with comments on the “Texte programmatique national pour les élections municipales” – as in the good old days when the Parti communiste français invited members, and cells, to express their views on the Central Committee’s documents before the Congrès. Before that is, the CC’s line was adopted unanimously.

Cette assemblée sera composée de 160 insoumis·es tiré·es au sort et 80 représentant·es des différents espaces de La France insoumise. Une première phase du tirage au sort est prévue le mercredi 5 juinVous pouvez vérifier que vous êtes inscrit⋅e aux tirages au sort ici.

This kind of ‘democracy’ may remind some people of how Momentum operates, except that this is a group with MPs, MEP and a whole raft of councillors.

It has long irked many people and been cited as an example of how E-democracy  with a “charismatic” populist leader is no democracy at all.

The idea of a lightening struggle for power, that has no need for long-term structures, has been proved wrong by election results.

Today we learn that leading activists in lFI are speaking out and calling for democratic change inside the movement.

The Huffington Post this Thursday  reports that after last week’s discussion on “left wing populism” dissatisfaction with la France insoumise has moved now onto its internal structures and lack of viable democratic channels.

Si le débat stratégique entre “ligne populiste” et “union de la gauche” a focalisé l’attention la semaine dernière, c’est désormais la gouvernance même de La France insoumise et son manque de démocratie qui sont aujourd’hui pointés du doigt.

Amongst the many reasons why a large section of the Left in France, and elsewhere in Europe, is sceptical about ‘left populism’, is this kind of simulacrum of democracy cobbled together around a “Webocracy”.

The stimulus for this is that today Le Monde published an internal document of LFI in which members of the movement criticise these structures and their poor results (6,3%) in the European elections.

Une note interne à La France insoumise dénonce « un fonctionnement dangereux pour l’avenir du mouvement »

Dans un document que « Le Monde » s’est procuré, plusieurs dirigeants « insoumis » demandent plus de démocratie interne et critiquent sévèrement le mauvais score du parti aux élections européennes.

In a document that le Monde has obtained many leading figures of LFI have asked for more internal democracy and have heavily criticised the poor results of the party in the European elections.

This report gives some details:

Crise ouverte à La France insoumise

This is not the end of the troubles of LFI.

One of their best known intellectual, Thomas Guénolé,  has fallen out with the rally, and has been embroiled in a sexual harassment case brought by a young woman LFI activist.

Today we read this: Thomas Guénolé poursuit La France insoumise en justice

The political scientist is the author of some decent books (Petit guide du mensonge en politique, 2014) and some, in many critics’ view,  less than decent books  – (Islamopsychose 2017).

Guénolé had been active in LFI. He was a candidate on their European list this year, before falling out, drastically with them. He has called hMélenchon an « autocrat », la France Insoumise a « dictatorship », and denounced their “stalinist methods of stifling critics.  Guénolé has been accused of sexual harassment by LFI.

Today he announced that he will see them in court…

 

To cap it all  in le Monde yesterday (print edition) an appeal was published calling to break with the existing structures of the French left (follow my gaze, La France insoumise), in a “big Bang” to create co-operative structures.

It’s launched by Mélenchon’s  nemesis: Clémentine Autain.

Image result for clementine autain

 

Perhaps the Charismatic Leader will now take a back-seat:

National Populism: Trump to Boost Farage as Brexit Party Support Surges.

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Image result for front page sunday express

What do want? “Smash the System”! 

These figures predict the beginning of a political earthquake.

One might say that such a tectonic shift in support cannot happen.

There are good grounds for scepticism.

But…

Fast backwards to France a couple of years ago.

Since the French elections of 2017 the victory of President Macron and its aftermath have seen the traditional parties of left and right nearly wiped off the map.

The first round of the Presidential contest saw the former ruling Parti Socialiste get 6,36% for its candidate, Benoît Hamon. For the traditional right,

François Fillon scored a respectable 20,01%. Jean-Luc Mélenchon, for the “movement” or “point de ralliement” la France insoumise, got 19,58%. The context went into the second round with a duel between Emmanuel Macron and   Marine Le Pen, which ended in Macron’s victory at 66,1% over the far-right Le Len getting 33,9%.

In the legislative elections held afterwards Macron’s party and allies won 348 seats. The left (Socialists, Communists and La France insoumise) was reduced to 44 deputies.

This is the result of this year’s European elections which saw, in France, the left further reduced (only the Socialists, PS, and La France insoumise LFI won seats) the ‘neither right nor left’ Greens (EELV) win MEPs, and the traditional right (Les Républicains, LR)  also lose heavily. The results were again dominated by Macron’s party and Le Pen’s rally (RN).

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Some  features stand out.

The first is the marginalisation of a splintered left.

If people have been “freed” from the slavery of their traditional allegiances,  in  Christophe Guilluy’s words, “Le grand marronnage des classes populaires” (Le Crépuscule de la France d’en haut, 2018) their new home is not in any renewed democratic politics.

Far from creative grass roots politics, or a new kind of left, we had the success of Macron’s ‘start up’ Business party.

This is its internal structure, “La République En Marche! considers every person who submits identification information (date of birth, email, full address and telephone, number) and adheres to the party’s charter to be an adherent.” The English Wikipedia entry neglects to go further into how LRM  operates, “les décisions viennent d’en haut, il y a une commission d’investiture sans que les militants ne votent…”,   Decisions come from above, there is a commission of investiture (selection of candidates) without activists voting. (see Structure )

It is a “movement”, like Mélenchon’s La France insoumise, run top down by a coterie of professionals in communication and in liaison with the Parliamentary group  around the Leader (with all the authority in this case of the President)  with no internal democratic decision making, only online “consultations”.

The Third is that if the “gilets Jaunes”, whose main rallying call has been for Macron to Resign, have not created an alternative out of their “assemblies”, or one that is invisible to anybody but their more gushing admirers, from the UK’s National Populists of left and right, and some romantic leftists.

I the European elections it was the Rassemblement national (RN), ex Front national (FN) who came first. This party has a tiny, 38 000 official membership. It has a structure, said originally to be inspired by the French Communist Party, of a an executive bureau, a political bureau and a central committee, now know (since 2018) as the ‘national council.”

Is that the kind of political melt-down we are facing in the UK.

Richard Seymour, in no less an organ than the New York Times observes.

.Long underestimated, Mr. Farage has done more than any politician in a generation to yank British politics to the hard, nationalist right. He is one of the most effective and dangerous demagogues Britain has ever seen.

Seymour notes the most relevant aspect of the Brexit Party’s model, which has been widely commented on:

Farage has spotted an opportunity: a new political model, inspired by the Five Star Movement in Italy. A “digital platform” that harnesses the free labor of its “users,” allowing them “participation” through content-sharing and online polls, rather than rights. Parliamentary democracy is slow at the best of times, and these are not the best of times. Such platforms, however, introduce volatility to the system. Dropping UKIP, a traditional membership party, he launched something like a venture capitalist start-up, with crowdfunders rather than members, and a chief executive rather than a leader.

Unlike older party models, it doesn’t invest in lasting infrastructure. It is nimble-footed, expert at gaming social media — the stock market of attention. It won the battle for clicks, and made a killing in this election. Such online frenzies are akin to destabilizing flows of hot money, forcing legacy parties to adapt or die. But when Parliament is so weak, its legitimacy so tenuous, they can look like democratic upsurge.

If the poll today there is more than a “online frenzy” happening.

The M5S,  Movimento 5 Stelle may or may not be a “model” for some.  I doubt if Macron or Mélenchon’ would see it that way and Podemos, while partially inspired, has at least some democratic framework.

Most significantly M5S, with an unstable record of support (32,7% of the vote in 2017 Parliamentary elections, 17,1% in this year’s European elections, in coalition with the far-right Lega, has, with its deputy PM   Luigi Di Maio paved the way for the hold on power of his fellow deputy PM,  the National Populist Matteo Salvini.

Yet the issue of Democracy apparently remains at the centre of the Brexit Party’s claim to Speak for the People, for National Sovereignty, and for a Hard Brexit.

Usefully highlighting the core of the operation Seymour does see off this self-serving claim by Claire Fox:

She heralds this ” “start of a new politics”

In Spiked the former RCP activists continues: Claire Fox on what’s next for the Brexit Party and her journey from Marxist to MEP.

when I was in the RCP many moons ago – and the past really is a different country – I was always a democrat, a supporter of liberty, agency and sovereignty, so I don’t think I’ve travelled that far.

I somehow felt that if I could do anything to rescue the democratic potential of the 2016 vote, then I would. So in that sense, it has been a journey. But the journey was not so much from revolutionary communism to standing next to Farage, but from commenting on events to taking on that responsibility.

Her Boss continued in this vein.

The Brexit Surge

Engaging the ignored masses, tapping their democratic insights, genuinely drawing their convictions and concerns and beliefs into the heart of the political sphere – this is now the key task of everyone who is committed to the idea of Brexit, democracy and radical political change in this country.

Brendan O’Neill

But…..if you’re not democratic inside your ‘party’, if you leave things to the Farage coterie, how can you be democratic in the country?

Seymour concludes,

The quintessential City trader and apostle of cutthroat competition, he is exploiting our democratic crisis to remake politics in his own image.

Shift forward to today’s headlines.

Image result for Nigel Farage and Donald Trump newspaper front page

Is the Brexit Party also fascist?

For the moment we take this into account:

The Crisis of Left Populism in France.

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Left Wing Populism Faces French Crisis.

The End of “left-wing Populism”?

On the 11th of May Jean-Luc Mélenchon presided in Marseille over one of his many public rallies. This was one had a new angle. On the 11th of May he had invited the principal ‘left populist’ parties in Europe. An alliance, under the name of Maintenant le Peuple, claiming to be a European Citizens’ Revolution, was backed by his own “point de ralliement”, La France insoumise (LFI), Podemos, the Portuguese left bloc, the Bloco, and parties of the Swedish, Danish and Finish radical left. The immediate plan (while awaiting the “révolution citoyenne en Europe”), was to restructure the left in the European Parliament, inside the GUE/NGL. (See: Elections européennes : La France insoumise, chronique d’un désastre annoncé )

Last Sunday’s European elections saw the Continent’s radical left go from 52 MEPs to 41. Nowhere were the ambitions of the new alliance less answered than in France. Mélenchon’s list led (after considerable internal rumblings about its make-up) by Manon Aubry got 6,3% – below the objective of 11% and well short of Mélenchon’s Presidential score in 2017 of 19, 58 %. Just above the Parti Socialiste-Place Publique list led by 6,2% LFI was well behind the French Green EELV at 13,5%. LFI now has 5 MEPs, EELV 10. 

“No self criticism!” (Ne pas faire de auto-critique) was heard from the movement on the evening as these results came through. This was, predictably, not followed. LFI MP, Clémentine Autain, with an independent base in the bloc of left groupings, Ensemble, made a very public intervention in Le Nouvel Observateur (Clémentine Autain tire les leçons des Européennes).

She observed that La France insoumise was backed by 36% of its voters in 2017 while 57% of Macron’s supporters from that year chose his list and 78% of Marine Le Pen’s have voted for the Rassemblement National. Their “political capital” had been severely eroded.

There was no official response, although Manon Aubry  registered her movement’s activists’ hard work and disappointment, while stating that LFI had still shown that it anchored itself on the political scene. (Déclaration de Manon Aubry)

Clémentine Autain

How had this come about? Autain questioned the left populist strategy of dividing the people into an “us” and the “elites”, including intellectuals and the media. They had built walls rather than bridges. The deputy observed that Mélenchon had railed against those who’d supported a petition to support migrants, while he had let a sovereigntist wing, increasingly nationalist, best known for François Cocq et Djordje Kuzmanovic, off with mild rebukes. That is, until one of them, Andrea Kotarac, made an open appeal to vote for Marine le Pen. This did not show difficulties about the internal democracy of the LFI – a point few would ignore. It shied away from the need not the rebuild the old union of the left but to bring together “le peuple sur une base de gauche “, the people on a left-wing basis.

There are those who claim that LFI lost out by dropping the more forceful aspects of its ‘populism’, their journey from celebrating the Brexit vote (which did not go unnoticed amongst the internationalist anti-Brexit left in the UK), to an ever-increasingly watered down demand to ‘renegotiate’ EU treaties eroded support. Others point to his ill-judged ‘war’ with the media, the hysterical reaction to an investigation into their use of EU funds, his “command and control” approach to his movement (” le but du mouvement de la France insoumise n’est pas d’être démocratique mais collectif”), the feeble participation in its “on line” votes, and  Mélenchon’s irksome traits, above all his tendency to attack in all directions at once. LFI, some estimate looking at internal party consultation rates rather than the massive 500,000 click supporters, may be effectively total 20,000 activists, at most.

In Le Monde yesterday Manuel Cervera-Marcel listed the ‘left populist’ strategy, designed to replace the social democratic and neo-liberal left. Citing Ernesto Laclau and Chantal Mouffe’s approach, for the author it claims to replace the old left/right division by the “people versus the oligarchy”. These parties have a charismatic leader to incarnate the ‘people’ runs parties. They claim to give a voice (‘articulate’) popular demands against these ‘elites’, in LFI terms, “federate the people”). Finally it proposed taking over the ‘floating signifiers’ of the Nation, Security and Order, and giving them a democratic content. (Elections européennes 2019 : « Le recul de la gauche “radicale” ne s’explique-t-il pas par le tournant “populiste” de ces dernières années ? »)

Laclau and Mouffe’s strategy in question.

Cerbera-Marcel suggests that this approach can have immediate electoral benefits but that results, such as the European election defeat of LFI and the shrinking of Podemos in those and Spanish national elections, suggests that short-term popularity can easily be lost.  A much more extensive list of criticisms of the skeleton and the details of this strategy, from the abstractions of Laclau and Mouffe to the practice of left populist parties, above all, La France Insoumise and Podemos has already been made by people on the left. French contributions can be seen in, for example, La stratégie de Mélenchon se discute. Nous-le peuple, eux-les élites : un nouveau populisme de gauche and   Populisme de gauche, du nouveau ? Sur le dernier livre de Chantal Mouffe.

This is not the place to go into details about them. Yet one could usefully begin with Laclau’s efforts to designate forerunners of modern populism amongst the British Chartists. Drawing on the studies of Stedman Jones, Laclau talked of how the “us” and “them” was constructed between the “producers” and “idlers”, Old Corruption Jones, made this relevant point, “The self-identity of radicalism was not at of any specific group, but of the ‘people; or the ‘nation’ against the monopolisers of political representation and power and hence financial or economic power “. That is, it was not capitalism, a system of exploitation, injustice and oppressions, but those “monopolisers” who were at fault. Stedman Jones, Laclau notes, saw how this channelling was warded off by legislative reform. This channelling of democratic demands through political action, within the limited space of restricted, but gradually expanding franchise paralleled the High Victorian separation between the economy and politics. (1)

The People and its Parasitic Other.

One might speculate that the major fault of left populism is to divide the world into the “people” and this parasitic ‘elite’ concentrated in the ‘casta’ giving the impression that capitalist exploitation is created by politics. The ‘logic of populism’ is to unite against them, and to project the hatred talked about by Autain onto this “oligarchy, the source of their problems. One can only register that many Gilets Jaunes have this focus in their demands for a  “moral economy” to meet their needs without any vision of a real change to economic and social structures. (3)

An ever-expanding pile of pamphlets, of which the virulent diatribe against the Macronie (as his critics call the Macron ‘system’) by Juan Branco (Crépuscule. 2019) is by no means the worst, takes up against Corruption. It offers no way of uniting the popular electorate for a positive programme of emancipation. It is the seed-bed for the extreme right’s charges of “conspiracies” against the people, ‘betrayals’ by cosmopolitan elites, Globalism, People-Nations against International Elites. In short, it opens the way through an easy “chain of equivalences” to National Populism.

The principal French national populist party,. Marine le Pen’s Rassemblement National, is a  materialised bearer of Laclau’s abstract ‘rhetoric’ about the People versus the Elites. It is well funded, have hundreds elected figures:

Députés
6 / 577
Sénateurs
1 / 348
Députés européens
20 / 74
Conseillers régionaux
306 / 1 758
Conseillers départementaux
58 / 4 108
Maires
29 / 36 635
Conseillers municipaux
1 533 / 536 519

Anybody playing with the language of populism will run up against their simple, easy to understand, law and order, nationalist, political message. That’s without even looking at the strong “affects” and “libidinal ties” the far-right can draw on to spread its nationalist message to the ‘nationalised’ left populist people.

La France insoumise, far from freeing voters from their grip, may well have given their message an easier ride to first place in the French European elections, at 23,3%

The experience of the Brexit left in the UK confirms that anti-EU populism, even when only a small minority of them have openly endorsed the far-right Brexit Party, is another route to boost the national populists.

As an outside observer one can only commend Autain for her stand. Mélenchon’s strategy, his ‘rally’ (point de ralliement) run top down, a Net Corporation (though its media company failed) with “groupes d’appui’ (branches kept deliberately small to discourage organised disagreement) federating the people without respecting a vibrant internal democracy, his seductive rhetoric, with fewer and fewer listening, is part of a wider problem. As a less than outsider, not as a looker-on, but an active participant in the European left, it has been obvious that the ‘left-populist’ turn was not headed in the right direction. Those who praised Mélenchon, whether academics playing at politics in journals like Jacobin and its subsidiary in the UK, Tribune, or engaged in mass politics, have been misled. We can see in France how rancour is not only a bad starting point, but a way that leaves open national populists and business liberals of the stripe of Emmanuel Macron dominate the show – with of course some Greens who also deny the ‘left right’ division playing on the sidelines.

Autain’s intervention is a good and positive sign. A green socialism, a reformist and a radical socialist way forward, has, many would agree,  to be grounded on gathering together of the left, campaigns and the labour movement, with a generous and appealing vision of the future. 

There remain forces in La France insoumise who wish to contest any such refoundation of the left.

Image may contain: 2 people, crowd and outdoor

 

*****

  1. Pages 90 -91. On Populist Reason. Ernesto Laclau. Verso. 2005.
  2. Page 104 Languages of Class. Studies in English Working Class History 1832 – 1982. Gareth Stedman Jones. Cambridge University Press. 1983.
  3. In L’économie morale et le pouvoir. Samuel Hayat makes an interesting compassion between E.P.Thompson’s The Moral Economy of the English crowd and the demands of the Gilers Jaunes. In   Le Fond de l’air est Jaune. Seuil. 2019.

Far-Right Rassemblement National set to top French European Polls.

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National Populists Predicted to get strong vote in European Elections.

Elections européennes 2019 : à deux jours du vote, le RN solidement installé en tête des sondages

European elections 2019: two days before the vote, the RN firmly installed at the top of the polls.

Le Monde.

Selon la dernière étude Ipsos-Sopra Steria pour « Le Monde », la liste RN devance de deux points celle de LRM. L’estimation de la participation augmente fortement, à 47 %.

According to the latest Ipsos-Sopra Steria study for Le Monde the RN list is two points ahead of LRM. The estimated  level of participation has increased sharply to 47%.

The party of Marine Le Pen, the Rassemblement National, RN,  (ex-Front National) is at around 25% while President Macron’s list, La République En Marche  (LRM) with the centrist party, the Modems,  ( Mouvement démocrate) of François Bayrou  is at 23%

The once ruling right-wing politicians (under the Presidency of Nicolas Sarkozy 2007 – 2012) grouped in the Les Républicains have only 13%

The RN no longer advocates withdrawal from the European Union.

The hard-line sovereigntist far-right, which backs Frexit, with ‘social’ policies of nationalisation and anti-austerity with an end to uncontrolled immigration (resembling the British red-brown alliance), of Debout la France of Nicolas Dupont-Aignan, and Les Patriotes of Florian Philippot stand at 3,5% and 0,5% respectively.

According to these figures the Party of JeanLuc Mélenchon, La France insoumise (LFI), has continued its decline and stands at 7,5%.

The Greens (EELV), who have been keen to stress that they are neither right nor left (Ecologie “ni de gauche ni de droite” : la stratégie à l’allemande de Yannick Jadot) , at 9,5% are well ahead of LFI.

The Socialists, Parti Socialiste (PS) have their own alliance, PS-Place publique. The list is led by Raphaël Glucksmann, of Place Publique, a socially liberal forum of intellectuals. he is the son of the anti-Marxist New Philosopher  André Glucksmann.  Glucksmann, fils, is a one-time dabbler in “neo-conservatism” with a controversial advisory role to the former President of Georgia  Mikheil Saakachvili . They are hovering at just over 5% at 5,5%

Both the Communists, the Parti communiste français  (PCF), and the alliance of Benoît Hamon  (former French Socialist presidential candidate in 2016, 6,36% of the vote),  Génération.s, stand well below the 5% needed to get MEPs (both at 2,5%)

It is worth noting that Génération.s, is linked to  DieM25,

This initiative, promoting a Green New Deal,  very much led by Yanis” Varoufakis, which has a European candidacies across the continent  seems unlikely to make an impact.

The far left  Lutte ouvrière is at 0,5% and a Gilets Jaunes slate (Alliance Jaune) is at 1,0%

Génération écologie, the historic bearers of “écologie intégrale”, who have aligned with just about everybody in the long career of  Brice Lalonde are at 0,5%

The Parti animaliste, which backs animal rights, tops all three of them with 1,5%.

 

There was an important article in le Monde yesterday which judged that any alliance between the very disparate forces of the European nationalist populists is likely to unravel fairly quickly.

 L’alliance à contrecœur de Matteo Salvini avec Marine Le Pen »

By the “spécialiste du populisme et des droites radicales Gilles Ivaldi.”

The failure of the French left to present a united front is clearly a major obstacle in efforts to win electoral support, leaving the way open for the RN and Macron list duel.

But this is not all.

The National Populist leaning (suitably mashed up in a Mouffe antagonistic articulation) left magazine Jacobin, could not be wider of the mark with this claim (yesterday):

Given the state of the Left on most of the continent it seems unlikely to benefit from a breakup of the European Union. If recent trends are any indication, the kind of broad social base and political power necessary to implement a bold, socialist exit from the EU is still quite a way off — Jeremy Corbyn being the hopeful exception.

The European Left in Disarray. LOREN BALHORN

Anybody looking at the Labour Party’s probable European elections result (which is certain to see a big vote for non-Labour Remain parties by Labour supporters) will laugh at that “hopeful exception” comment.

Un rire jaune.

As French National Populist Rassemblement Takes Projected Lead in European Polls Anti-Semitism Scandal Emerges.

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Marine Le Pen’s Party  likes a laugh…

The Rassemblement National (RN) stands at 23,5% in polls for the European elections, just ahead of Macron’s list, for En marche at 22,5% (Européennes : un nouveau sondage donne le Rassemblement national devant En Marche ) In another poll more than a third of French people are reported to  have a “good opinion” of the far-right party (Plus d’un tiers des Français ont une bonne opinion du Rassemblement National).

This morning on Europe 1 Gilets Jaunes were interviewed on how they would vote.One said for Marine Le Pen’s party, the other would cast his ballot for La France insoumise.Meanwhile this  scandal around the picture of a Rassemblement National aide disguised in “funny” dress as a Rabbi has been hitting the French media headlines.
This is the background from Konbini news.C’est un nom inconnu du grand public. Et pourtant, Guillaume Pradoura est bien connu de la délégation du Rassemblement national (ex-Front national) au Parlement européen. Par son curriculum vitae d’abord. Actuellement assistant de l’eurodéputé Nicolas Bay, en 7e place sur la liste RN aux élections européennes, il a été un temps colistier de Marion Maréchal-Le Pen aux élections régionales de 2015.

He is unknown to the general public. And yet, Guillaume Pradoura is well known to the Parliamentary group of the Rassemblement national (RN) (former Front National) in the European Parliament. By his CV to begin with. He is currently assistant to the MEP Nicolas Bay, in 7th place on the list RN in the European elections. He was on the same election list as Marion Maréchal-Le Pen in the 2015 regional elections.

Guillaume Pradoura s’est d’abord fait un nom au sein de la mouvance identitaire avant de rejoindre le parti de Marine Le Pen. Un engagement qui lui permit de nouer de solides relations avec différents groupes nationalistes et néonazis européens. Au point de faire jouer son réseau pour aider un jeune Français proche du Ku Klux Klan à échapper aux forces de l’ordre, avait révélé Mediapart en 2016. L’assistant de Nicolas Bay avait alors expliqué au site d’information avoir “voulu l’aider, dans une sorte de réflexe paternaliste”.

Guillaume Pradoura first made a name for himself within the identitarian movement before joining the party of Marine Le Pen.  This was an engagement that allowed him to build strong relationships with different nationalist and neo-Nazi European groups. To the point of using his network to help a young Frenchman close to the Ku Klux Klan to escape the police, as Mediapart revealed in 2016. The assistant of Nicolas Bay had then tried to explain this by saying that he ” wanted to help, in a kind of paternalistic reflex’ .

He is now suspended from membership of the Rassemblement national.

RN : l’assistant de Nicolas Bay suspendu après s’être “déguisé” en juif sur une photo

The Rassemblement national (RN) announced Friday the suspension of Parliamentary Assistant to the European Parliament, RN Nicolas Bay after the broadcast of a photograph depicting him “disguised” as a Jew.

On this snapshot posted on social networks by MEP Sophie Montel, former activist of the National Front, Guillaume Pradoura is wearing a rabbi hat lined with curls. He grimaces in front of the lens, his hands twisted.

“Guillaume Pradoura is immediately suspended from the National Gathering and summoned before the conflict commission for the purpose of exclusion”, wrote Friday on his Twitter account the mayor of Hénin-Beaumont (Pas-de-Calais) and vice-president of the RN, Steeve Briois.

At the beginning of the day on Radio Classique, Nicolas Bay had played down the importance of this “very old photo, which dates from 2012 or 2013” and spoke of “bad taste”.

This picture was initially defended by his boss,

“It was a dressing up, a simple bad taste joke  in a private setting” , said the former Vice President of the Front National Nicolas Bay,

Aide to far-right French politician pictured wearing Orthodox Jewish costume

Times of Israel.

Guillaume Pradoura, an aide to National Assembly leader Nicolas Bay, posing in 2013 while wearing an Orthodox Jew costume. (screenshot news.konbini.com via JTA)

JTA — An assistant of the general-secretary of France’s foremost far-right party was photographed grimacing while dressed as an Orthodox Jew and extending claw-like fingers at the camera.

Labeled by the French media as an “anti-Semitic caricature,” the image from 2013 of Guillaume Pradoura, which surfaced in social networks this week, exposed the National Rally – formerly National Front – to fresh criticism of anti-Semitism in its ranks.

Pradoura is the assistant of Nicolas Bay, ranked number 7 on the list for this month’s European Parliament elections by the National Rally under Marine Le Pen.

Bay dismissed criticism over the picture, saying that “it was a disguise, a mere joke made in bad taste made privately,” Kobini, a news site, reported Thursday.

Far-right candidate of the National Rally party Nicolas Bay, speaks during a media conference for the upcoming European elections next month in Strasbourg, eastern France, April 15, 2019. (AP Photo/Jean-Francois Badias)

Jean-Marie Le Pen, the party’s founder and father of it’s current leader, Marine Le Pen, has multiple convictions for denying the Holocaust and inciting racial hatred against Jews. His daughter has kicked him out of the party and vowed to stop expressions of anti-Semitism in its ranks.

 

Copying National Populism, the Left and Brexit.

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The ‘left’ that copied National Populism so much that it joined it.

The deeply affecting Retour à Reims, (2009, translated in 2018) by Didier Eribon  describes growing up gay in a hard working class area of Northern France. His parents who were manual labourers and cleaners. Eribon, who began a University career, and journalist on left of centre papers and magazines,  known for his critical writing on Michael Foucault and gay politics, stayed away from the city of his youth for many years.  His ‘return’  is  physical, visits, but it’s principally a trip through his memories.

Reims is hard to summarise in a few lines. Even so, for once the publisher’s puff is spot on. It is “breathtaking”.  Perhaps one outstanding theme is important for today, when we see national populism rise across Europe, and channel through the rise of the Brexit Party in the UK. In the sometimes harrowing pages he asked “how did people like his working class family who used to vote communist when he was a child, end up voting in such large numbers for the far right?

That is, how did large numbers of ordinary working people once on the left become voters, if not more, for the nationalist right.

“To be a communist had next to nothing to do with a desire to establish a government resembling the one found in the USSR … In working-class environments, leftist politics meant first and foremost a very pragmatic rejection of the experience of one’s own daily life. It was a form of protest, and not a political project inspired by a global perspective.”

Working Class.

His own answer focused on this, as Steven Pool put it in the Guardian review of he recently translated English version, “the problem, as he sees it, is that the left ended up abandoning talk of the “working class”, a political concept through which people could experience fellow feeling with others in the same boat. After the turn in the 1980s and 90s towards talk of individual rights and responsibilities, by contrast, this idea of group feeling, indeed of fraternité, had been atomised. And what took its place was the cynical exploitation and fomenting of anti-immigrant attitudes by the far right, which brought the working class back together but this time under a mood of hostile nativism rather than economic solidarity. The National Front, Eribon asserts, was now “the only party that seemed to care about them, the only one, in any case, that offered them a discourse that seemed intended to provide meaning to the experiences that made up their daily lives”.

Authoritarian Populism.

In his memoir Erbion refers to the work of Stuart Hall on authoritarian populism in The Hard Road to Renewal (1988),  and to Raymond William’s novel Border Country (196) inspired by his own working class origins. Hall tried to explain how people came to vote for Thatcher’s mixture of hard-line economic liberation through a cultural brand of law and order populism that ‘articulated’, gave voice to, their anxieties. Williams helped more personal insights into how somebody may move class but still be moulded by the ‘habitus’ (Pierre Bourdieu, a key reference) of his ‘popular’ (working class) background.

Erbion, who had been a Trotskyist in a group which ignored issues of identity (he does not name the tendency), as a gay man, asked, how can we neutralise this support for the far-right, or the drift to the more traditional right of his brothers?

The most recent – paperback –  French edition of Retour à Reims has an introduction by ‘Édouard Louis.

The gay writer was inspired by Erbion in his own more recent literary career, books which have an international impact (En finir avec Eddy Bellegueule  Le Seuil. 2014.  The End of Eddy. 2017) 

Louis has recently written Qui a tué mon père (2018). translated this year, Who Killed My Father.  It ends in a few moving pages where he rages against the French  welfare reform designed to attack “spongers”.  Since the new millennium  ‘reforms’, which cut disability benefits and  forced his father to accept low paid gruelling jobs, raised prescription charges  and which, through a reduction in Housing Benefit.

Louis’ anger is very easy to grasp in the country of Universal Credit and Pip Disability Tests.

Other themes are also easy to relate to.

For French Communist Party read the  ‘traditional Labour supporting’ North.

Does this exasperation following the end of the traditional working class and welfare reforms designed to compel people to be ‘flexible’ and turn to precarious jobs,  explain the rise of national populism?

Is part of its support mourning for the end of the traditional working class?

Is the Brexit Party surfing on this wave of emotion  able to direct people’s hatred onto the EU.

Anybody reading Lexit (pro-Brexit) left-wing material will find the idea that somehow the salt-of-the-earth working class have been ‘betrayed’ and ignored by the cosmopolitan elites including the rights based  left – not that Erbion or Louis romanticise  past or present workers, beginning with their own families...to say the least!

Today the Guardian publishes this essential read which deals with some of these issues, above all how can the left tackle the support for national populist parties, like the French Front National/Rassemblement National.

It takes apart some of what might be called the mythic interpretation of the working class.

Why copying the populist right isn’t going to save the left

Cas Mudde.

Among the old stalwarts of the centre-left, there is a simple explanation for the decline of the parties they used to lead: immigration. In recent interviews with the Guardian, Hillary Clinton, Tony Blair and the former Italian prime minister Matteo Renzi all sounded the same note, declaring that Europe must “get a handle on migration” to stop right wing populism. Hardly a week passes without some candidate or columnist declaring that liberals will only regain power when they lock down the borders.

 

Mudde continues,

This dramatic shift in the rhetoric of ostensibly centre-left parties is part of a larger panic over how to halt the spread of right wing populism across the west in recent years. The conventional wisdom has been largely steered by a growing group of academics and pundits, often of the right or centre, who offer the same advice: social democratic parties will perish unless they take care of the “left behind” voters by limiting immigration. Some academics now even go so far as to openly defend white identity politics.

Whiteshift: Populism, Immigration, and the Future of White Majorities,” Eric Kaufmann’s polemic dressed up as social science is a key book in this respect. Although it ends with a call for a ‘civic’ inclusive nationalism, Kaufmann’s premis is the ‘naturalness’ of ethnic dislike. Policies have to adapt to this feeling, not try to change it.

The argument that a tougher stand on immigration will revive the social democratic parties – and arrest the rise of the radical right – is based on two basic errors, which together reflect a larger misunderstanding about the historic role of centre-left parties.

The first mistake is the widespread assumption that the rise of rightwing populism and the decline of traditional centre-left parties are two sides of the same coin – both caused by working-class voters abandoning the old social democrats for the nativist message of the new populist radical right. The second misperception, closely related to the first, is that the voters who now support the populist radical right are largely the white working class that used to vote reliably for social democratic parties.

As the data shows, both of these widely repeated assumptions stand on loose empirical footing. In fact, most populist radical-right voters are not working class, and the majority of the working class does not support the populist radical right.

Comrade Cass Mude states,

In fact, most voters for populist radical-right parties were not working-class – and most working-class voters did not vote for the populist radical right. A recent study found that “only” 31% of “production workers” and 23% of “service workers” voted for west European populist radical right parties between 2000 and 2015. And while the FN and Austria’s Freedom party are exceptions – with workers constituting 45% and 48% of their electorates, respectively – the figures are much lower for other such parties, with Italy’s Lega Nord at only 17%, for example.

I could not put this better,

Social democracy is an ideology that supports egalitarianism and social justice through the framework of liberal democracy and a mixed economy. Inspired by the Marxist concept of class struggle, social democracy aims to uplift all marginalised groups. But those who argue that centre-left parties need to pander to white anxiety about immigration are essentially saying that social democratic parties are first and foremost an interest group for “the working class” – which is always, in these accounts, assumed to be white.

..

The key to reviving the fortunes of social democracy is not to pander to the nativism of part of the white working class, but to embrace the ideas and policies that are fundamental to social democracy – egalitarianism, social justice, solidarity, the right to social protection and a comprehensive welfare state. These values represented a widely shared common sense for the vast majority of Europeans in the second half of the 20th century – before their hegemony was eroded by three decades of neoliberal ideas and policies. The only way back for social democracy is to fight to make these values dominant once again.

 In other words, we should be proud of our movement’s history, and seek to build a left bloc in society inspired by these values.

Democratic socialism is inclusive. Our greatest leaders, from Jean Jaurès to Rosa Luxemburg, stood for universal  rights, and universal rights against oppression and exploitation.

It is no more viable to adopt right wing ‘identity politics’ – not too far from the ‘Identitarian’ far right, than it is to develop a US-style politics of coalitions between interest groups, in its academic version a multiplicity of different ‘sectional’ struggles.

Chantal Mouffe, who has been amply criticised on this Blog, says,

What I call the ‘populist moment’ is marked by the multiplication of resistances to this post-democratic situation. Those resistances are manifesting themselves in many different ways, not necessarily in a progressive way. Those resistances are, in a sense, all expressing ‘democratic demands’ – demands for more democracy, for the people to have a voice. But these demands can be articulated in a xenophobic way. This is why we have seen the development of right-wing populism that claims ‘the problem has come from the immigrants’. Those demands, however, can also be articulated in a more progressive way, as a call for the extension and radicalisation of democracy. This is what I refer to as ‘left populism’.

For A Left Populism’: An interview with Chantal Mouffe

To this argument Mudde says,

Although Mouffe stays away from the nativism lite of some other left populists – most notably Sahra Wagenknecht and her new movement Aufstehen (Stand Up) in Germany – she also clearly targets the white working-class voters, particularly the ones the third way lost to the populist radical right. In several interviews Mouffe has said: “When citizens go to vote they see no difference between the choices facing them. That has allowed the development of right-populism. Marine Le Pen speaks to the pain of the popular classes, telling them that foreigners are the cause of their problems. We need another, opposed discourse built on the basis of equality.”

The left populists share the assumption that the (white) working class votes for the populist radical right out of economic anxiety rather than cultural backlash. Hence, once the left provides them with a better socio-economic alternative, they will no longer care about Islam and Muslims.

Another aspect it that trying to turn around national ‘affects’ (emotional bonds to the ‘nation’) in a left direction have not only failed in Spain (not least because the Spanish ‘nation’ is made of multiple nations) but in France where La France insoumise is down to under 10% in the most recent polls.

And this has happened, a leading member who has just announced his support for the far-right party of Marine Le Pen.

As Éric Faisson says,

..my point is not that immigration is a good economic deal, but, first, how come those who are supposed to think in terms of good deals and bad deals don’t acknowledge this, and, second, how come those who are supposed to be critical of all this actually buy into it. In fact, when people say we cannot afford to be nice to migrants because it would be against the interests of the people, they are buying the idea that it is a bad deal. My point is not to endorse the good deal argument but to question the bad deal one. It is really about the racialisation of economic issues, about how those who are racialised (and thus considered ‘naturally’ other or radically alien) are considered worthless, and then by the same token, about how those who are considered worthless are in turn racialised and treated as ‘other’. Such an approach avoids accepting as a fact the opposition between Whites and non-Whites.

He observes,

The problem with the populist strategy, for the left, is that it’s neither left nor a winning strategy. It was even less so during the latest presidential campaign in France: everyone played that same card at the same time, including Macron, with a rhetoric of ‘centre’ populism! Of course, my argument is not just about France. The same considerations apply to the United States. But another dimension becomes apparent there, thanks to the availability of racial data. Trump’s success is not so much among working-class voters in general, but more specifically among the white working class. In a left-wing populist strategy, the racial dimension of the Trump vote is underestimated, and the class dimension is overestimated – whereas it now seems clear that his critique of the establishment was always just an illusion.

Mudde ends with these inspiring paragraphs,

Social democracy needs to reassert its ideals in a way that is inclusive of all workers. It should return to the theory rather than the practice of European social democracy – an egalitarian ideology based on solidarity with all socially weaker groups and individuals, irrespective of class, race, or sexuality. In the early 21st century, throughout western Europe, a growing percentage of the shrinking working class will be female and non-white (or of immigrant descent).

..

The revival of social democracy will require a new cultural and political infrastructure, centred, at first, outside of electoral politics. It should include the trade unions, which, despite weakened membership and power, still have better connections to working people. It should include progressive minority organisations, particularly those focused on socioeconomic concerns, and new grassroots organisations, rooted in local communities.

Above all, to fight national populism we need to build the internationalist left.

The issue of immigration was and still is at the heart of the Carnival of Reaction that followed the Brexit referendum result.

It and the rhetoric of ‘betray’ are tied together.

An alternative begins with a pro-European internationalism against Brexit, in opposition to the Brexit Party and those who wish to copy the ‘populists’.

 

The latest on those who have copied the National Populists.