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France: Emmanuel Macron’s ‘Reforms’ to Continue on Track?

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Protest Against Macron Calls for General Strike. May 2018.

Is France’s President Emmanuel Macron about to win his battle against the rail strikers?  

Last Friday after the French National Assembly the Senate passed legislation reforming the country’s railway system, the SNCF by 245 against 82. The principal change is that from an “établissement public à caractère industriel et commercial (EPIC) » to « société anonyme (SA) ». That is, it will become a limited company, which will remain under public ownership.

No new recruit will benefit from the existing ‘statut’, the terms and conditions, of existing employees. This open the way for the end of free travel for employees, lower pay, more worker ‘flexibility, and the abolition of the right to retire at 55 for train drivers. A principal argument behind these, and other changes, is that the public railway company must resolve its debt problem to be competitive.

There will be competition between the rail-service and other companies, extending the existing opening to freight. There are suggestions (Spinetta report) that some unprofitable branch lines may be done away with. Maintenance will also be open to private companies (l’Humanité. 15.6.18). From 2019 regional services will be affected and in 2020 the TGV will, leaving the position around Paris in the l’Ile-de-France to be clarified between 2023 and…..2039.

These changes follow European Union directives on public debt and competition. They have been issued with the agreement of the counties of the EU, dominated by supporters of the marketisation of public services, and not from some hidden Brussels cabal.

Strikes, strongly supported by those working for the SNCF, against the ‘reform’ began on the 3rd of April, co-ordinated by the ‘intersyndical’ of rail unions (CGT, UNSA, SUD, CFDT, and FO). As collective bargaining begins in the light of the new law stoppages continue, intended to weigh on the negotiations. Despite suggestions that the ‘reformist’ unions (such as the CFDT) might reach a conciliatory agreement on their own this has not yet happened. What looks likely happen as talks get underway is that strikes will become reduced to a means of pressure for the best possible outcome, within this framework.

Despite a parallel conflict in Air France and a student movement, including militant occupations, against the reform called ORE (“d’orientation et de réussite des étudiants”) which gives universities the power to set admission criteria and rank applicants , a ‘social movement’ against Macron’s moves has not taken off. The wider public appears not to have identified with the fight of the cheminots (rail workers) as they did in 1997. Jean Luc-Mélenchon has stated that while he is drunk with his own self-satisfaction,  59% of those polled have a ‘negative’ opinion of the President. But ‘marées populaires” ‘ (tidal waves of protesters) at demonstration of solidarity with the strikers by his rally-party, have failed to flood the streets.  La France insoumise, the radical left, and other parts of the fragmented green, Communist and socialist left, trade unionists and students, have not created an ‘ insurrection  citoyenne’. Many of the public, lukewarm at the defence of what much of the media has presented as “special interests”  do not identify with the strikers.

Macon now feels free to tackle the welfare state. He has complained about the “pognon de dingue” (daft amount of dosh)  spent on welfare, suggesting wholesale changes in the benefit system. Replacing the complex French pension system with a uniform regime is in his sights. At the same time today it’s confirmed by right wing Economy Minister, Bruno le Maire, that the les Aéroports de Paris, la Française des Jeux (National Lottery) and Engie (unsurprisingly an energy firm) will be privatised (France’s Le Maire set to unveil inflammatory privatisation bill.)

It is sometimes suggested that Macron poses as ‘above’ left and right to cover his neoliberal policies. But is the struggle against neo-liberal globalisation what it was at the turn of the new millenium? The nature of ‘liberal’ policies, when not only European countries like Italy, Poland and Hungary, displaying signs of the less attractive side of anti-liberalism, but the US is engaged in trade wars that strike up the pillars of what was assumed to be ‘globalisation ‘ is in a state of flux. It is all very well for Mélenchon to shout that the President is an “EXTRÊME-LIBÉRAL”. But that part of the French left, including sections of La France insoumise, like other currents in Europe, including Britain, consider that ‘socialist’ version of ‘sovereigntism ‘ that is national control of the economy, is the answer to the difficulties created by years of market reform and liberalisation only adds to the confusion.

The French President himself claims to be a « progressive » both of the « right, the centre, and the left ». (Macron, un président philosophe. Brice Couturier. 2017) Put in less exorbitant langue he is, in effect, claiming the mantle of the 5th Republic, designed by de Gaulle to make the Head of State appear « above » parties and social divisions. Taking this further Macron presents his fight against workers and social rights as a struggle against outdated ‘ corporatism ‘.

A more bogus sets of political assertions would be hard to find. Saint-Simonian top-down technocratic reforms are the opposite of changes inspired by grassroots democratic struggle. But until there is a left united enough to challenge Macron and the domination of the National Assembly by his La République En Marche!  they will be hard to put down.

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French Assemblée nationale debates law on “Fake News”.

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Not Good Company for Macron.

Taking aim at so-called fake news, France’s Parliament on Thursday is set to begin debating a tough bill aimed at repressing phony news items, one pushed by President Emmanuel Macron amid criticism that it poses a potential threat to press freedom.

The measure would allow judges to block content deemed false during a three-month period preceding an election.

Mr. Macron, stung last year by a phony internet-spread story claiming he had an offshore account in the Bahamas, has made fighting “fake news” a priority. His opponent, the far-right candidate Marine Le Pen, brought up the Bahamas story during a critical presidential debate. Now, she is attacking the proposed law as a “liberty killer.”

Shortly after the new year, Mr. Macron told a press gathering that he would aim to “protect our democracy from these false stories” by cracking down on phony reports.

New York Times.Adam Nossiter

Libération reports today (Fake news : une loi qui fonce la tête dans le bidon Amaelle Guiton , Jérôme Lefilliâtre)

Originally supposed to fight “against false information” (contre les fausses informations) , the bill to be discussed on Thursday in the National Assembly was renamed to target “the manipulation of information.”(la manipulation de l’information).

This change of name was decided in view of the law’s stated objective of reacting to “destabilisation operations” carried out by foreign powers (Russia, especially), whereas in first formula appeared to many as a possible way of making news conform to what the authorities in place consider to be the truth.

There are many problems.

The first is that the main axis of the law , “creates two tools supposed to fight against the large-scale dissemination of false info that could compromise the “integrity of  of an election” (scrutin).

In other words the law is aimed at allegations of outside interference in electoral contests (one can also imagine Britain’s vote on Brexit would serve as an ideal-typical example).

Digital platforms such as YouTube and Facebook, “will have to indicate the identity of the customers who paid for the stories, as well as the sums involved,  to promote “information related to a debate of general interest”.

The other instrument put in place, more formally legal, attacks the propagation of false information.

During the same pre-election period, a judge in a legal hearing may within within forty-eight hours, ” lay down all proportionate measures necessary to stop the dissemination of this false information.

One can imagine that any democratic legal system is not equipped to deal with such cases so rapidly.

The second is that the law increases the powers to sanction of the Superior council of audio-visual (CSA) with regard to the audio-visual media “controlled by a foreign state or under the influence of this State” if they have been found being guilty of a false info. This implicitly targets, the Russian TV channel RT.

The text presented this Thursday is limited to specific periods and limited cases. For example, the judge will only be able to rule if false information is “disseminated in bad faith, artificially or automatically and massively”,that is, if it is the product of a deliberate strategy.

How this could operate in the face of a sophisticated operation like RT is hard to see. What is false and what is not? The Russian media outlet gives a platform to far-right and nationalist ‘republican’ politicians in France, far-right and anti-European ‘left’ politicians in the UK. It carries endless stories about ‘Chaos Europe’, and stokes fear of migration. It hosts pro-Russian, and pro-Assad voices, and some claiming to campaign to the Stop the War in Syria. t broadcasts opinion-news on the turmoil in the Middle East more widely, and extends its operations across the world. Most obviously it boosts Putin’s immediate interests in Russia itself. I

Which part of this web of misinformation, fear-stoking and promotion of divisions in European society could a law bring to a halt?

These and other obvious ambiguities in the law have already resulted in amendments.

More are expected today, while the whole principle of legislating against Fake News is questionable.

As Hervé Saulignac states in the New York Times piece,

“The potential risk in this law is if it winds up in the hands of a government with the wrong motives,” said Hervé Saulignac, a Socialist member of Parliament who is leading the opposition. “That’s where it could lead to catastrophe.”

Mr. Saulignac said, “There is no clear frontier in the law between journalists who follow the rules, and all the rest.” Mainstream journalists, he said, “could be attacked for fake news, simply because, for instance, you have attacked me.”

Beyond that, he said, “How can it be proved in just 48 hours that I don’t have an account in the Bahamas?”

“At a time when the press is threatened around the world, it is better to protect the press,” Mr. Saulignac said.

le Monde is of a similar opinion, stating that a Law cannot settle the issue of Fake News>

Loi sur les « Fake news » : la confiance dans l’information ne se décrète pas

More background: Fake news : une loi pour rien ?

 

 

Written by Andrew Coates

June 7, 2018 at 12:09 pm

Ernest Mandel in 1968 – Berlin and Paris Friday 18 May 2018, by STUTJE Jan Willem

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Just Short of the “Conscious Leap”: Ernest Mandel in 1968 – Berlin and Paris

STUTJE Jan Willem

Europe Solidaire Sans Frontières 

An excerpt from the book which details Mandel’s experiences during 1968 in Berlin and Paris.


On 9 October 1967, the world learned of the murder of Ernesto Che Guevara. Convinced that guerrilla warfare was the only way to victory, he had gone to join the Bolivian struggle. His body was found mutilated in a remote village. This was the death of a revolutionary, a modern-day warrior chief. The left was in mourning; poets wrote elegies, laments that ended with calls to rebellion. In an interview with Gerhard Horst (pseudonym of André Gorz), an editor of Les Temps Modernes, Mandel spoke of “a severe shock, all the more as I regarded him as a personal friend.” In La Gauche he mourned “a great friend, an exemplary comrade, a heroic militant.” On the Boulevard St-Michel in Paris and Berlin’s Kurfürstendamm, in London and Milan people shouted: “Che, Che, Gue-va-ra!” The chopped syllables formed a battle cry against the established order. Neither Moscow nor Beijing had expressed even the most grudging sympathy. In openly showing their regret the Italian and French Communist parties proved they still possessed a little autonomy.

Mandel’s sympathizers in the French Revolutionary Communist Youth (JCR), a radical group founded in 1966 in a split from the Union of Communist Students, refused to accept his death. “Che was our best antidote to the Maoist mystique,” Daniel Bensaïd recalled. In the Latin Quarter of Paris, the Mutualité, temple of the French workers’ movement, was full to overflowing. Mandel spoke alongside Maurice Nadeau, just back from Havana, and Janette “The Cuban” Habel. He portrayed Che as he had come to know him in 1964. Emotion crested as those present softly hummed “The Song of the Martyrs,” the mourning march from the 1905 Russian Revolution, before launching into, “You have fallen for all those who hunger” and belting out the chorus, “But the hour will sound, and the people conquer . . .”

In Berlin too people were deeply moved. The SDS called for intensifying actions. Che had been Rudi Dutschke’s inspiration. With Gaston Salvatore, a Chilean comrade and friend in the SDS, Dutschke had translated Che’s last public statement, with its famous appeal for “two, three, many Vietnams,” from Spanish into German. Like Che, Dutschke lived the conviction that there “is no life outside the revolution.” He named his recently born son Hosea Che. Latin America would not let Dutschke go. In 1968 he wrote a foreword to The Long March: The Course of the Revolution in Latin America, a collection of articles by such figures as Régis Debray, Castro and K.S. Karol. Meschkat was surprised to see letters from Gisela, which she had sent him from Havana in the summer of 1967, printed in the book. As far as he had known, Dutschke had asked only for permission to read them.

 Berlin 1968: with Rudi Dutschke

In the summer of 1967 Mandel and Dutschke grew closer. Dutschke noted in his diary: “Discussion with Gisela and Ernest, [Adorno’s student Hans- Jürgen] Krahl, etc. about organizational questions and preliminary theoretical discussions for a conference in Berlin.” Shortly before, Dutschke and Krahl had presented a so-called organization report to an SDS conference in the old refectory of the University of Frankfurt. Krahl was for Frankfurt what Dutschke was for Berlin — the undisputed chief ideologue. The SDS was growing dramatically, with 2,000 members and easily several times that many sympathizers, including not only university students but also high school students and young workers. They were for reform of the universities and against the Vietnam War, against the Greek dictatorship, against the emergency decrees and against the “emperor of torture,” Shah Reza Pahlevi of Iran. Participating in their actions cost Benno Ohnesorg, a twenty-six-year-old student, his life. On 2 June 1967 he was shot dead by the police in Berlin, setting off a month-long rebellion.

More on site. 

The present Blog published a review of Stutje’s book when it appeared. 

The Bright Side of Things

Ernest Mandel. A Rebel’s Dream Deferred. Jan Willem Stutje. Verso 2009.

From the latest Chartist.

In 1976 Ernest Mandel observed that Europe’s far left had been able to “accumulate sufficient forces” in this “revolutionary period” to have the “realistic possible of winning over the majority of the working class.” (New Left Review. No 100.)

As a young member of the same Fourth International as Mandel I read many of Mandel’s similar exhortations. Even to us ‘ultra-leftists’ in the International Marxist Group, only a few believed that this was true in Britain. Most were wary of what Stutje calls his “exuberant optimism”.

Yet someone with a command of serious Marxist theory, a democrat and a revolutionary socialist, opposed to the official Communist parties of the day, a tireless activist, deeply impressed us. That our International had someone with such fierce intelligence, not a bullying leader of a sect, was a source of pride. A Rebel’s Dream Deferred tries to do justice to this Mandel. Somebody with the ambition to influence and take part in not just Europe’s but the World Revolution is no easy subject.

If Stutje’s biography does not unearth a forgotten figure, Mandel’s writings remain in circulation; it confronts us with aspirations that have seemed, for a long period, from another epoch.

A “Flemish internationalist of Jewish origin” Mandel was born (1923) in Hamburg and grew up in Antwerp. His father was a leftist refugee from Hitler, who became a diamond dealer and then insurance agent; he was linked to the small Trotskyist movement opposed to Stalin.

Mandel was brought up in an atmosphere of high European culture, and classical Marxism. Soon after the founding of the Fourth International in 1938 he joined the Belgium Trotskyists. Under German occupation Mandel remained politically active. Arrested once, and released (or ransomed, Stutje recounts), he was finally tried again for giving German soldiers anti-militarist leaflets. Deported to a labour camp in Germany, he was freed in 1944 full of expectation of the coming revolution.

He had a lasting impression, “The alliance against fascism had consolidated both the democratic and Stalinist regimes, but under working class pressure.” Mandel threw himself into a lifetime of ratcheting up that pressure.

From the 1940s hope that Europe’s workers would rise in socialist revolution, to the joys of ’68, the left’s rise, and impasse, in the decades that followed, Mandel plunged into far-left politics.

Stutje recounts the saga of the Belgium left (through the microscope of Trotskyism), and Mandel involvement in the Fourth International. Or rather, the United Secretariat of the Fourth International. He is fair to Michel Raptis (‘Pablo’), for years his closest collaborator and rival, praising his “political intuition”, and his faults, “imperiousness”. They separated mid-60s, on Pablo’s unconditional support for anti-colonialist movements. Mandel too, as the sixties wore on, had been wrapped up in ‘third-worldist’ causes – Struje cites close contact with Che Guevara. But his principal faith lay in the working class in industrialised counties.

At the same time the party man was writing serious, if (critics comment), too all-embracing works, such as Marxist Economic Theory (1962), and the unfortunately titled Late Capitalism (1972) – how ‘late’? These consolidated his academic position at the Dutch language Free University of Brussels. That aside, few consider Mandel as the founder of a ‘school’ of Marxist political economy. As Stutje remarks, his study on the ‘long waves’ theory of crises (1978), lacks the institutional details of how capitalist accumulation developed post-war. But his influence was wider. Amongst prolific writings, which read as if stitched together from Europe’s press, Mandel produced real gems, his Introductions to the Penguin edition of Capital, and on Marx’s wider intellectual development. Perhaps his greatest political contribution – a break with the Leninist past as great as Eurocommunism’s – was to envisage socialist democracy. Strange to say, in retrospect, this was a major turning point for those reared in the harshest interpretations of the Dictatorship of the Proletariat. It would be impossible to imagine a left capable of confronting the collapse of Official Communism without this return to democratic roots.

In the 1970s Mandel was banned from entering several countries, including Germany, France, and the US. Not only Mandel envisaged – in this case, feared – revolutionary upheavals. Even when this prospect subsided in the early 1980s the Fourth International peaked at 10,000 active members.

But it did not weather the Thatcher-Reagan years well, nor adapt easily to the Fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989. They foresaw everything but the neo-liberalism that ran riot across the globe. Yet till his death in 1995, Mandel remained bound to the “moral imperative” to continue to fight. Mandel was too much part of the real left – perhaps obscured in Britain through his brief canonisation by the most politically sterile faction of the New Left – to retreat to the Watchtower.

A Rebel’s Dream Deferred pays tribute to the sheer ethical drive of the man. That the Fourth International’s Ligue Communiste Révolutionnaire, now the Nouveau Parti Anti-capitaliste has been a real player in French politics demonstrates that he was not entirely mistaken.

Andrew Coates.

Also read Phil Hearse (Fourth International) on this book here.

Written by Andrew Coates

May 31, 2018 at 1:34 pm

As Anglos attack Charlie Hebdo over Cartoon of Pougetoux’s Veil, Mélenchon says, ‘It’s as if I was wearing a Massive Cross.”

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Riss the author of this cartoon, was seriously injured by the Islamist murderers at Charlie Hebdo in 2015.

(“Blessé à l’épaule droite (l’os de l’omoplate est éclaté comme une assiette) lors de la fusillade au siège du journal à Paris, le , il succède à Charb en tant que directeur de la publication de Charlie Hebdo, et possède aujourd’hui 70 % des actions du journal3. Depuis, il déclare être visé par une fatwa4.”)

I do not find the cartoon of Maryam Pougetoux  funny, and that’s speaking as a long-standing Charlie supporter.

Nor do I appreciate the intervention of Gérard Collomb, Minister of the Interior,  attacking her.

But when I read this I have no sympathy with those attacking our Charlie many of whom lose no opportunity to have a go at those “dammed Frenchies” as their forerunner the Scarlet Pimpernel would have put it.

Twitterati Furious as Charlie Hebdo Depicts Hijabi Woman as Monkey

Now those defending the wearing of the Veil have a problem – apart from the fact that our comades are regularly put in prison for not wearing the religious dress in Iran.

Nobody asked her to impose her religious beliefs on a student union, which is what despite her claims, she is doing.

She is enforcing her religious identity.

Now the the multi-cultural left who lose no occasion to attack Charlie have an additional  problem.

The leader of la France Insoumise has also attacked those wearing reactionary religious symbols, such as the Veil.

C’est comme si j’arrivais avec une énorme croix”

It’s as if I came wearing an an enormous  cross.”

Invité du “Grand Jury” ce dimanche 20 mai, Jean-Luc Mélenchon a réagit à la polémique concernant Maryam Pougetoux, la présidente de l’Unef à Paris-Sorbonne apparue voilée à la télévision il y a quelques jours. Il a estimé que “la religion devient de plus en plus ostentatoire”.

 

le Monde. Maryam Pougetoux, responsable de l’UNEF, répond aux critiques sur son voile.

More background: former head of the student union says her stand is in “total contradiction with the values and history of our union.”

Another Riss cartoon which no doubt defenders of Marine Le Pen will be offended by.

 

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Written by Andrew Coates

May 27, 2018 at 1:26 pm

The French comrades react: Fuck you Daesh!

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When I heard the news of the latest atrocity in Paris it struck me, as somebody who worked a few metres from where this happened .the French comrades reacted exactly the same way as I did.

A thought for the victims of the attack near the opera. I continue to plead for a firm, full and unconditional condemnation of terrorism, the methods and ideology of the djihadisme, by the orgas and militant forces who claim to be on our side, because it is not frankly and always the case. I also keep worrying about media ritournelles that the bastards were every time they were on file. If that means that the rg needs to spend more time watching Islamists instead of extreme-left militants, then okay. If it is a ritournelle to prepare for habeas corpus and to take us to administrative internements, bad days will be announced.

 

S.

 

C’est ma ville, la ville des douleurs et des sourires mélangés du monde entier. La ville où tu sens à chaque instant l’odeur du temps et celle des gens du présent, la ville où le monde entier s’est échoué sur des terribles campements .La ville où mon grand-père s’est échoué aussi, il y a si longtemps, et la France n’en voulait pas, mais Paris , têtue, reste la ville monde où , à chaque instant, même dans le désespoir le plus noir, on se dit , devant la nuit qui brille et chavire en même temps, que l’échec ne durera pas toujours, forcément, qu’il y aura les révoltes des Printemps, où les arrivés d’hier , depuis la Commune et même avant, sont toujours devant, fièrement.

C’est ma ville, où le FN ne crève jamais le plafond, malgré les fascistes qui attaquent les gens sur les campements, malgré les terroristes qui font couler le sang.

C’est ma ville, qui tangue de douleur et d’effroi devant tous les droits dans leurs bottes, mais ne sombre pas, c’est la haine qui finira par se noyer dans les rires mêlés des mômes de banlieue, des touristes endimanchés et des réfugiés fatigués mais qui vont rester, t’inquiète, et dans trois générations , leurs enfants me ressembleront, Parisiens accrochés aux bords de Seine, certains de passer leurs soirées dans la ville la plus belle du monde, qui sera toujours à tout le monde.
Fuck you Daesh.

N.

Written by Andrew Coates

May 13, 2018 at 12:20 pm

French protest against Macron: la Fête à Macron.

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Thousands of people demonstrated in central Paris on Saturday amid a heavy police presence to protest against President Emmanuel Macron’s sweeping reforms, a year after he came to office.

France 24.

Some 2,000 security forces including riot police were deployed as marchers gathered from midday in warm early summer sunshine in the central Opera square for a protest dubbed a “Party for Macron”, a tongue-in-cheek “celebration” of the 40-year-old centrist’s first anniversary in power.

Smaller rallies took place in the southern cities of Toulouse and Bordeaux while the Paris variant kicked off with a mass picnic which drew numerous families.

l’Humanité reports that the marches were backed by all the French left, except the former ruling Parti Socialiste (not asked), trade unionists, and civil society associations.

Génération.s Benoît Hamon, Pierre Laurent PCF, Philippe Poutou and Olivier Besancenot for le NPA,former leaders of the protest movement,  Nuit Debout  such as Frédéric Lordon, some of the union federation,  CGT (their chief, Philippe Martinez  refused to take part), the far-left union blocs SUD,  Solidaires, and the anti-globalisation network, Attac..

Huffington Post.

Libération states that activists are now looking to redouble their efforts to moblise opposition to Macron by looking for new struggles. (Après la Fête à Macron, des manifestants en quête de lutte).

 

Those with strong stomachs can watch, and hear, Jean-Luc Mélechon “do music”.

 

Written by Andrew Coates

May 6, 2018 at 3:20 pm

Stuart Jeffries Spits on Charlie Hebdo Graves: Guardian Review of “The End of the French Intellectual From Zola to Houellebecq by Shlomo Sand”.

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Verso and the Guardian Spit Again on the Grave of Charlie Hebdo Martyrs. 

Stuart Jeffries is an admirer of the French sovereigntist and nationalist “Je ne suis pas Charlie” Emmanuel Todd.

Todd : le liseur de cartes… qui préfère le FN à Mélenchon (2015)

Todd backtracked during last year’s French Presidential elections. Denouncing the leader of the FN, Marine Le Pen as xenophobic and a a vote for Macron as “soumission aux banques, à l’Allemagne, (subservience to the banks and to Germany) he abstained in the second round (Emmanuel Todd: «le FN ne veut pas le pouvoir»). Le Pen, he opined, is not a “true patriot”.

Jeffries is a staunch admirer of Emmanuel Todd.

After the Bataclan massacre, and in the wake of the Charlie Hebdo and Hypercacher killings, led to mass mourning,  he wrote in 2015,

Emmanuel Todd detects in his book was that these marches in January were not based on the grand old French revolutionary notion of fraternity. When Paris marches in solidarity with the murdered – as it surely will – it needs to march in true fraternity, rather than in the masquerade Todd anatomises. That is the kind of defiance that Paris needs now.

It is with little surprise that we read in yesterday’s Guardian that Jeffries finds much to agree with in Shlomo Sand’s The End of the French Intellectual a book built around Todd’s Qui est Charlie ? : Sociologie d’une crise religieuse. (2015).

This gives the flavour of the review.

Review – from Judeophobia to Islamophobia.

Sand starts his history with the Dreyfus affair and ends it, nauseated, in 2015, as the French establishment marches in solidarity with murdered workers at Muslim-baiting magazine Charlie Hebdo and there are calls for Michel Houellebecq to be inducted into the Académie Française for his novel Submission(one that imagines France busted down to a mere province of a Mediterranean caliphate). “The modern Parisian intellectual was born in the battle against Judeophobia, the twilight of the intellectual in the early 21st century is happening under the sign of a rise in Islamophobia,” Sand argues.

……..

 

Perhaps it takes an outsider Jew to diagnose the sickness of French intellectual life. Near the end of the book, Sand looks at a cartoon of Muhammad published in Charlie Hebdo, “a cruel-looking bearded figure wrapped in a white jellaba, his eyes hidden and holding a long pointed knife”. He has seen that image before. Where? In the Jew-hating cartoons published in the 1890s in La Libre Parole to whip up antisemitic sentiment during the Dreyfus affair. “It is surprising to see how much the ‘Semitic’ Jews of the past resemble the ‘Semitic’ Muslims of today: the same ugly face and the same long and fat nose.”

No wonder, then, that when some 4 million French people joined the march for Charlie Hebdo’s murdered court jesters three years ago, Sand was not one of them. He is not the kind of guy to sport a “Je suis Charlie” badge – his admiration for French intellectuals, such as it is, does not extend to self-identifying with Islamophobes.

After this it may  help to read this, in the Observer today: On 7 January 2015, terrorists burst into the offices of the satirical magazine, killing 12 people. In an extract from his new book, published to huge acclaim in France, here is one survivor’s astonishing story by 

Here is a proper review: (September 1, 2016 .)Scroll down to the section at the end on Charlie Hebdo.

La Fin de l’intellectual français? De Zola à Houellebecq. Shlomo Sand. La Découverte. 2016.

 

 

 

Internationally celebrated for The Invention of the Jewish People (2009) Shlomo Sand is a redoubtable controversialist. That study, which argued that those following the Jewish religion only began to consider themselves a “people” during the Middle Ages, continues to be debated. Sand’s assertion that most Jews owes their origins to religious conversion, and not to ancient Hebrew origins, was intended to strike at the heart of the “National Myth” of the state of Israel. How I stopped Being a Jew (2013) announced a wish to break with “tribal Judocentrism”. Warmth for the secular ideals of Israel, and for the Hebrew language, has not protected him from vigorous criticism from a wide variety of Zionist critics.

La Fin de l’intellectuel français has equally iconoclastic ambitions. Apart from frequent autobiographical notes, during which we learn he was once a Marxist who wished to change the world, it is no less than a charge, an accusation,against Europe, and against France in particular: that the Continent is lifting the drawbridges against the “Muslim foreigners”. A “contagious plague” of Islamophobia, uniting left secularists and traditional nationalists, has infected the Hexagone. For Sand, “media intellectuals” (intellectuels médiatiques) both circulate this “code” and pile up its symbolic property. “A une vitesse suprenante, une puissante intelligentsia médiatique s’est constituée pour qui la stigmatisation de l’autre’”… “La détestation de la religion musulmane” has become “le nouvel opium de l’intellectuel’ ‘antitotalitaire.” (Page 238) At an amazing speed, a powerful media intelligentsia  has been built around the stigmatisation of the Other. ” “The loathing of the Muslim religion” has become the “new opium of the anti-totalitarian intellectuals.”

Put simply, to the author the stars of the modern Parisian media salons, those setting the tone, the style and the substance are small in number. They include (putting them in British terms) Éric Zemmour (a ‘declinist’ second cousin to our historians nostalgic for the Empire with specific French gripes against the ‘héritières de mai 68’, ), Alain Finkielkraut (a ‘philosopher’ of the erosion of educational and grammatical standards, and what one might call “Parisianistan’, an even closer co-thinker to Melanie Phillips), Renaud Camus (a professional  indignant xenophobe railing at the ‘replacement’ of Europeans by foreigners, and potential Editorialist for the Daily Express), and Michael Houellebecq, who needs no introduction, even, one hopes, to dimwits.

The Intellectual.

The bulk of La Fin de l’intellectuel français consists of chapters on the historical role of French intellectuals, and considerations of their social functions, from Gramsci, Pierre Bourdieu to Régis Debray. There is mention of lesser-known writings, such as Harman and Rotman’s Les Intellocrats (1981) which highlighted the small Parisian world of publishing, and heralded the birth of the new “media intellectuals” that came to the fore in the late seventies with the nouveaux philosophes, André Glucksmann, Bernard-Henri Lévy and others, long forgotten, defying the totalitarianism they had freshly rejected.

As a pared down version of Michael Scott Christofferson’s Les Intellectuals contre la Gauche (2014 – French, expanded, edition), this history, a grand narrative, charges the French intellectual class with having abandoned Marxism and the left. Amongst many other faults it ignores that the left continued to exist during that decade. Mitterrand’s 1981 victory – initially ruling in coalition with the Parti Communiste français (PCF) – was supported by the mass of the intelligentsia, within which an unbroken critical, if minority, left – never once mentioned in La Fin – has continued its own way, up till the present. This indicates one of the many ways in which the dominance of ‘media intellectuals’, in, unsurprisingly, the media is not the same as the kind of more entrenched intellectual hegemony that Gramsci outlined.

Readers unfamiliar with the history of the term intellectual and the politics of French intellectuals, from the “critical collective intellectual”, Zola and his cohorts, that arose during the Dreyfus Affair, Julien Benda’s defence of disinterested universalism (La Trahison des clercs. 1927), Paul Nizan’s Leninist commitment to the “soldats de la plume” (Les Chiens de Garde. 1932), will find, at least some passages to reflect on.

The Collaboration, the Resistance, post-war ‘engaged’ thinkers, in the mould of Sartre, Beauvoir and Camus, receive particular attention. The less reputable aspects of the Existentialist couple’s war record and minimal participation in real resistance were, for Sand a stumbling block for his own hero worship. Those who have not stumbled across writings such as Carole Seymour-Jones, A Dangerous Liaison (2008) that portrays in more depth than La Fin de l’intellectuel français the worst side of the pair’s war-time treatment of their Jewish lover, Bianca Bienenfeld, may even now be shocked.

Sand is, while not widely known outside of specialised circles, is the author of a fine study of Georges Sorel, L’illusion du politique (1984) Based on his PhD thesis this intellectual biography demolished a number of misconceptions, including the idea that Sorel was a proto-fascist, while making the various writings and stages in Sorel’s thought as clear as is possible. He followed this (echoed in the present volume) with a dispute on fascism, with the Israeli historian Zeev Sternhell. Apart from demonstrating again that 1920s and 1930s French ‘non-conformist’ admiration for Mussolini, and then (to a lesser extent) Hitler, indicated just how far real fascism did not take root in France, Sand demonstrates analytical fineness. He even admits that the far-right (and most notorious intellectual Collaborator) writer Drieu la Rochelle had talent (Page 158). Indeed the text displays – against Sartre’s belief that no anti-Semitic novel had any merit – a serious acquaintance with the romancier’s (in our opinion) interminable and tedious Gilles. (1939) (Page 215)

Islamophobia.

None of this delicacy is offered in the concluding chapters of La Fin de l’intellectuel français. It is tale of French Islamophobia, of nationalism and bigotry masquerading as Universalist secularism that would have been lifted from the pages of Socialist Worker or the web site of Counterfire. It is with no surprise that we learn that his first salvo against Charlie Hebdo, appeared in the far from philo-semitic ‘wise-guy’ publication, Counterpunch (,A Fetid Wind of Racism Hovers Over Europe. January 2015) a site which has published articles contesting the pardon of…Dreyfus. (1)

Sand loathes Houellebecq, who is perhaps an acquired taste. This may be why he fails to pick up on one of the few funny jokes in Soumission, the creation of the “Indigenous European a direct response to Indigénes de la République” – one group of racists giving ideas to another. Je Suis Charlie, is not, as it is for many of, the emblem of love and freedom. For the nuanced connoisseur of French pre-War ideologies, it was a publication that produced, week in and week out, a “representation méprisante et irrespectueuse de la croyance d’une minorité religieuse”  a picture that shows disrespect for a religious minority. (Page 225). No doubt that explains why Muslims, frustrated, unhinged with only a fragile belief to cling to, decided to react with murderous folly (Page 227). Doubtless it also accounts for why they killed at the Hyper-Cacher….

That the middle class demonstrated on the 11th of January 2015 in solidarity with Charlie we do not doubt. But oddly, Sand does not deeply cite his authority on this point, Emmanuel Todd, for whom they also showed the spirit of Vichy, Catholic Zombies (walking unconsciously in the steps of their religious past), soaked in the ‘culture of narcissism’, objectively xenophobe, like the Parti Socialiste, and …pro-Europeans – the (Sociologie d’une crise religieuse. Qui est Charlie? 2015). So, with every one of his bugbears wrapped together, what next? Todd, we are not astonished to learn, despises this bloc, the MAZ, prefers those who rejected the Maastricht treaty, and….is himself a nationalist, or, as they call it today, a “sovereigntist” who wishes to reassert French Sovereignty over the economy, against the European Union….

Laïcité.

In his pursuit of allies in the fight against French laïcité Sand might consider a much deeper problem than hostile reactions to Islam or those who make summary judgements about ‘Islamo-gauchisme’. It lies in this sovereigntism: a nationalists turn with far deeper roots than religious or ethnic hostility: a true xenophobia, embraced not just by the Front National, but by the centre-right, and that section of the left which shares Todd’s loathing of the European Union, if not other European states (not to mention the US). There is a name for this, which we have already used, xenophobia, and the point where nationalism slides into racism.

One can accept that that anti-Muslim feeling is prejudice, that there is a strong dose of racist defence of “la terre et les morts” against all classes of immigrants but particularly Muslims, and Catholic Mayors suddenly discovering that are secular republicans. That one can pretend that specifically French forms of secularism are universal at one’s peril.

One can accept all of this, even some gestures towards the sub-existentialist phrases about fear of the Other …but, are there not some problems about violent forms of Islamism, some difficulties, as indicated in Syria, Iraq, Saudi Arabia and Iran, to halt just there. That amongst contemporary forms of Islamism, the status of the Kufur, the rules governing women, most visibly their ‘modesty’ and punishing the ‘immodest’, bedrock human rights issues, remain…issues.

Sand passes in silence over the ideas of the strongly left-wing and pro-Communist Charlie editor, Charb. Perhaps he should read his posthumous Lettre aux escrocs de l’islamophobie qui font le jeu des racists (2015). If that proves too much for him he has no excuse whatsoever for ignoring the mass of serious literature in French on Islam, and Islamism, from Gilles KepelOlivier RoyFrançois Burgat, Gilbert Achcar  in French.  The vast majority of these writings, are as nuanced, as profoundly researched as one could wish, with all due consideration for the immense difficulties of marginalised Maghrebian and African populations. I would recommend he begin with a genuine intellectual with knowledge of both the evolution of former Maoists towards ‘anti-totalitarianism’ and Islamism, Jean Birnbaum, and his Un Silence Religieux. La Gauche Face au Djihadisme. 2016. He is certainly not a sign of the ‘end’ of the species.

The secularist Ligue des droits de l’homme has been at the forefront of the fight against the ‘Burkini ban’ (l’Humanité) So much for Sand’s recent claim that “La laïcité, comme autrefois le patriotisme, s’avère, de nos jours, l’ultime refuge de l’infâme ” (Nouvel Obs. 24.8.16.)

(1) THE DREYFUS CASE, REVISITED: Israel Shamir sifts through the Dreyfus case: was he really a victim of anti-semitism?