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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 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)
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….
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 Kepel, Olivier Roy, François 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?
“Trotskyism is being studied as never before” The Brent Soviet.
“But we want to speak frankly to you, comrade Trotsky, about the sectarian methods which we have observed around us and which have contributed to the setbacks and enfeebling of the vanguard. I refer to those methods which consist in violating and brutalising the revolutionary intelligence of those militants – numerous in France – who are accustomed to making up their own minds and who put themselves loyally to the school of hard facts. These are the methods which consist in interpreting with no indulgence whatever the inevitable fumblings in the search for revolutionary truth. Finally, these are the methods which attempt, by a colonisation directed from without, to dictate to the labour movement attitudes, tactics or responses which do not come from the depths of its collective intelligence. It is in large part because of this that the French section of the Fourth International has shown itself absolutely incapable not merely of reaching the masses but indeed even of forming tried and serious cadres.”
Marceau Pivert to Trotsky. 1939 (Where is the PSOP Going? A correspondence between Marceau Pivert, Daniel Guerin and Leon Trotsky)
With Trotskyists about to take over the Labour Party there is interest in the ideology and politics of this current on the left.
One figure we have yet to hear mention is Michael Pablo one, of many but by far the best known, party names of a revolutionary usually called Michel Raptis. The most reviled Trotskyist of the post-war period, he has been accused of being the father of lies, liquidationism, and revisionism of all stripes and spots. In fact his ideas and career are important to anybody concerned with Trotskyism: an illustration of its worst faults and some of its better features.
It will come as no surprise that Tendance Coatesy, as with many other leftists, owes a political and ideological debt to this outstanding individual. That his principal orthodox Trotskyist enemies were Gerry Healy, Pierre Lambert and James Cannon – all po-faced right-wing authoritarians – one cannot but help but like Pablo.
This should be borne in mind even if we accept that the fundamental premises with which he, and all Trotskyists, worked, that the Soviet Union, the Eastern Bloc, and China, not to mention countries like Cuba, had, by revolution or by bureaucratic imposition, become ‘non-capitalist’ social formations, part of a fundamentally new stage in history has been proved false. And that it’s hard to avoid acknowledging the erosion of the related belief, that ‘building revolutionary parties’ on the models laid down by Lenin and Trotsky was a realistic strategy to help create socialist societies in the capitalist world, and overthrow the Stalinist bureaucratic ‘deformations’ in these non-capitalist countries.
The term Pabloism was first used during the splintering of Trotskyism in the 1950s. It referred to a set of positions advanced by Michael Rapitis during debates within the Fourth International, principality Pablo’s view that the “objective” growth of Stalinist-led ‘workers’ states’ ‘degenerated’ and deformed) meant that they had to have a strategy towards the mass Communist parties that could capture their base. He was accused of ‘liquidating’ the Trotskyist ‘programme’ as an independent point of reference outside of these parties.
Since many of his opponents had their own strategic alliances inside social democratic parties that disguised their true ‘programme’ (Gerry Healy’s pre-Socialist Labour League group in Labour ‘The Club‘, the original home of most UK ‘Trotksyist’ organisations and groupuscules) , not to mention collaboration with right-wing anti-Communist elements backed by American funds (in France, in the union federation Force Ouvrière) this accusation looks bad faith. More serious criticisms stem from the claim that Stalinist forms of Communism were a kind of ‘leap’ into a better form of society which Trotskyists should back (from the outside) and influence (from the inside).
The noise and fury (cited above) around such disagreements can only be understood by referring to earlier disputes which set the pattern for Trotskyist polemics that has endured to this day.
This process of raucous fractures and splits which can be traced back to the 1930s, notably in France. Despite the widespread impression that American Trotskyism, above all the US Socialist Workers’ party, was the lodestar of the movement, French Trotskyism was the centre of the Fourth International and many of the original parties – a country with (in the 1912 foundation, larger than the Socialist SFIO), and form 1936 ownwards a significant political player) a large Communist party to boot, and a deep-rooted socialist and communist tradition that sets it off from America. Before looking at what ‘Pabloism’ is we have to begin there.
One of the first Trotskyist groups in that country was the la Ligue communiste founded in 1930. By the latter half of the decade there were already three main Trotskyist tendencies in the Hexagone (French Trotskyism) .
They were all organised around strong personalities: long embedded leadership is an enduring feature of Trotskyism (French Trotskyism)
Zeller’s Témoin du siècle (2000) outlines some of their disagreements. Perhaps it is most revealing on how the Trotskyists behaved after the ‘french turn’ which saw them joining the French Socialists, the SFIO.
Zeller describes their activists lecturing people on the First Congresses of the Third International and Trotsky’s line on the Chinese Revolution. Not surprisingly not everybody was impressed with these no doubt kindly meant lectures. They were kicked out of the party of Léon Blum after, amongst other things, a sustained campaign to build workers’ militias. For Trotsky the “La révolution française a commencé” with the wave of strikes that accompanied the election in 1936 of the Front Populaire you understand (Trotsky, Ou Va La France 1934 – 8, particularly the section on the ” milice ouvrière ” in Socialisme et lutte armée.)
In his Mémoire d’un dinosaure trotskiste (1999) Yvan Craipeau describes the various positions Trotsky took on French politics,, from ‘entryism’ in the SFIO as the bolchevik-léniniste tendency, to efforts to influence Marceau Pivert’s “Gauche révolutionnaire” both while it remained in the Socialist party, and later (see above) when it was the independent Parti socialiste ouvrier et paysan (PSOP). founded in 1938. Pivert memorably replied to Trotsky about their efforts at hectoring instruction, that his party members “are accustomed to making up their own minds ” and that they “put themselves loyally to the school of hard facts” – not Trotsky’s international prognostics.
Trotsky replied by, behind his back, describing Pivert (as described by Zeller) as a false revolutionary in the mould of a provincial school teacher.
The entire history is of bitterness and great complexity (one I am familiar with in case anybody wants a Trainspotter lesson…). People wishing the investigate further should begin with these two books and look at this Wikipedia entries: Trotskisme en France. French Trotskyists.
But all this ill-will was a mere foreshadowing of the later splits in the Trotskyist movement.
To jump from those years: the key issues in the 1954 split included entryism (which Pablo advocated inside the mass Communist parties and well as social democracy) and this,
Pablo’s elevation of the “objective process” to “the sole determining factor” reducing the subjective factor (the consciousness and organization of the vanguard party) to irrelevance, the discussion of “several centuries” of “transition” (later characterized by Pablo’s opponents as “centuries of deformed workers states”) and the suggestion that revolutionary leadership might be provided by the Stalinist parties rather than the Fourth International—the whole analytic structure of Pabloist revisionism emerged. The Genesis of Pabloism.
Pablo indeed took seriously the prospect of a Third World war. In these conditions he backed, and enforce, this entryist strategy known as ” entrism sui generis ” inside (where possible) Stalinist Communist parties, and just about everything that moved on the social democratic left. This meant not just concealing membership of the Trotskyist movement, even to the point of point-bank denial of any link. Famously as the text above states he considered that it might take decades of such underground work for their efforts to bear fruit.
Apart from its inherent implausibility the prospect of ‘centuries’ of clandestine burrowing away seemed to consign the Trotskyists to the fate of the Marranos, ‘converted’ Jews who ostensibly submitted to Catholicism but practised their faith in secret.
The strategy had little impact in the Communist parties – in contrast to long-term and independently initiated entryism in the British Labour Party by Trotskyists (the secretive and bureaucratic ‘Militant’ group) who were distant from his Fourth International.
After winning support for these policies, and even a degree of power over the International, helped by the departure of Healey, Lambert and Canon (cited above) Rapitis by the end of the same decade plunged into a new cause: anti-colonialism and the ‘Arab Revolution’. He lost control of the Fourth International to Ernest Mandel and Pierre Frank. He retired from it in the mid-sixties.
Romance about epochs of hidden revolutionary labour aside, the idea of working within the French Parti communiste français (PCF) was, even at the time, in view of the party’s top-down structure and intolerant culture, ill-thought out and profoundly misjudged. It was equally parasitic on the success of the party being ‘entered’ (as indeed the experience of the Labour Party indicates).
Nevertheless French Trotskyism emerged more openly on the 60s political scene when a group of young Communist students, led by Alain Krivine, founded the independent Jeunesse communiste révolutionnaire in 1966. (1) Pablo did however put heart and soul in supporting the anti-colonial struggle in Algeria (a fight in which Krivine was also engaged) and was imprisoned for gun running to the independence fighters. He had a brief period of influence in the post-independence (5th of July 1962) Front de Libération Nationale, (FLN) notably on the leader Ben Bella (1916 – 2012) promoting the ideas of self-management. The Houari Boumédiènne, 1965 military coup put paid to that. (2)
The later politics of Pablo’s the Tendance marxiste-révolutionnaire internationale (TMRI), and its French affiliate, the Alliance marxiste révolutionnaire (AMR) centred around the primacy of self-management. They embraced the project of a ‘self-managed’ republic, took up themes such as feminism (in the mid-sixties), supported anti-colonial revolutions (without neglecting as their consequences unravelled, the necessary critique of ‘anti-imperialist’ national bourgeoisies), and defended democratic politics against Stalinism and orthodox Trotskyism. Pablo’s writings translated into English include a collection of his articles (Michel Raptis, Socialism, Democracy & Self-Management: Political Essays 1980 and his first-hand studies of workers’ control during the Allende government in Chile (Revolution and Counter Revolution in Chile by Michael Raptis. 1975) – another experience cut short by a bloody military coup.
In the 1970s its members joined the Parti Socialiste Unifié, a French New Left party with over 30,000 members, hundreds of councillors during the late 60s and early 1970s and 4 MPs in 1967. Later the AMR was involved in other left alliances, all within the traditions of workers’ self-management and New Left causes, participative democracy feminism, gay rights, green issues. By the 1980s the TNR, operated on a collegiate rather than a ‘Leader’ basis (and numbered outstanding figures such as Maurice Najman). It helped keep alive the ideas of workers’ control during the political triumph of neoliberalism. I was close to them in the 1980s (and attended one of their World Congress, the 8th) as a member of the Fédération pour une gauche alternative where we worked with the PSU in its final years.
Movements, that place ecological issues within the context of popular control, talk of new forms of democracy, owe something to those in the PSU and other New Left groups of the sixties and seventies across Europe. The TMRI was part of these currents, less and less concerned with building a revolutionary ‘party’ than with the interests of the movements themselves. (3) It could be said to have been a practical answer to the critique of Trotskyism offered by Claude Lefort of the group, Socialisme ou Barbarie in the 1950s. Lefort once asked, why, without the kind of material basis of a Stalinist state or even a trade union administration, did all Trotskyist groups reproduce the bureaucratic forms of these apparatuses?One response is, yes, “liquidationism”, being part of the wider movement and not a self-styled ‘vanguard’.
Pabloism’s legacy continues. It is one of many influences inside the French ‘alternatifs’, left social- republicanism, and the (left-wing of) the Front de Gauche (Ensemble) and more widely in the European and Latin American left.
Although a small number of ‘Pabloites’ re-joined the ‘Mandelite’ Fourth International (already moving away from Trotskyist ‘orthodoxy) in the 1990s most evolved away from ‘Trotskyism’ towards broader forms of democratic socialism and New Left radicalism. Some even became part of the French Greens (at the time known as Les Verts), while most, as indicated, merged into the broader left.
As the political landscape has radically changed since the fall of Official Communism and the entrenchment of neo-liberal economists and social policies in most of the world those associated with this current have been involved in a variety of left parties and campaigns. Pablo’s anti-colonialism hardly meets the challenges we face today. But the democratic strand of workers’ self-management remains perhaps, a strand which retains its relevance in the emerging ideas and policies of the left, including within the Labour Party..
Unlike ‘entryism’ and dogmatic Trotskyism….
(1)One of the best accounts of this and Krivine’s background is in Hervé Hamon, Patrick Rotman, Génération, les années de rêve, Paris, Seuil, 1987. For 68 itself: Patrick Rotman et Hervé Hamon, Génération, T.2 Les années de poudre, Paris, Le Seuil, 1988,
(2)The best biographical introduction to Michel Raptis: on the Lubitz Trotskyanet – here
(3) A reliable sketch of the French affiliate of the TMRI, the AMR, is available here: Bref aperçu de l’histoire du courant “pabliste” ses suites et sespériphéries en France 1965-1996. A journal from this tradition is Utopie Critique.
Accused of being nationalist, chauvinist, racist, germanophobe and a great friend of Putin.
Reports the Huffington Post French edition.
Leading Nouveau Parti anticapitaliste figure, Olivier Besancenot, said this: one gaff too many?
The NPA has published a virulent – to say the very least – attack on ‘populist’ Mélenchon who standing as a candidate in next year’s French Presidential election and is the leader of a small group, the Parti de gauche (left party), essentially a political club around his own personality.
At present his campaign « La France insoumise, le peuple souverain. » (internet JLM2017) has become ‘populist’ and aims to be mobilise the ‘people’ against the ‘elites’. (1) He has declared that unless the European Union changes France should follow the UK and leave (Brexit: «L’UE, on la change ou on la quitte», affirme Jean-Luc Mélenchon)
He is neck and neck in the opinion polls with the Parti Socialiste François Hollande and present President – which is not saying much since at 15% each not a single poll gives either any chance of winning.
More on this article here: « Travailleurs détachés » : Le NPA accuse Mélenchon de reprendre « la rhétorique de l’extrême droite » ,
Jean-Luc Mélenchon made a speech in which he accused workers employed in France, but still formally under the pay andconditions of their home countries (posted employees), of stealing the bread out of the mouths of local workers.
This is his expression: the “travailleurs détachés” qui “vole(nt leur) pain” aux travailleurs locaux.”
Travailleurs détachés : les curieux propos de Mélenchon
Je crois que l’Europe qui a été construite, c’est une Europe de la violence sociale, comme nous le voyons dans chaque pays chaque fois qu’arrive un travailleur détaché, qui vole son pain aux travailleurs qui se trouvent sur place. »
I consider that the Europe that has been built is a Europe based on social violence, as we seen in every country when a posted worker comes and steals the bread out of the mouths of the workers who are already there.
As the article title suggests, the original reads just as oddly as the translation which I have rendered into colloquial English.
Many on the French left are now criticising the former leading figure of the Front de gauche, who launched on his own initiative a Presidential bid, addressing ‘The People’, of being “nationaliste, chauvin, raciste, germanophobe et poutinophile” – nationalist, chauvinist, racist, germanophobe and a great friend of Putin.
The polemic continues.
Critical Notes on ‘New Left Oppositions’. Susan Watkins. Editorial. New Left Review. Second Series No 98. March/April 2016.
“Respectful of NATO, anti-austerity, pro-public investment and (more guardedly) ownership, sceptical of ‘free trade’: as a first approximation, we might them new, small, weak social democracies.”
The Editorial of New Left Review (NLR – accessible here), devoted to “left oppositions”, and “new lefts” offers a sketch of the common background of some very diverse political phenomena. With a mixture of gloom and wishful thinking Watkins outlines the legacy of the late 90’s “late-90s alter-globo movements” “wrong-footed by the harsher international climate of the war on terror”. But, she then turns to how European anger at the handling of the economic crisis, the collapse of the centre-left, Third Way, parties, and a “blowback” against Western intervention, street protests, such as Spain’s Indignados have, she observes, been followed by the arrival of new forces on the electoral stage.
It is with little surprise that we learn that the NLR list of the contemporary ‘left oppositions’ includes Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership win in the Labour Party, the Spanish Podemos, and Jean-Luc Mélenchon’s Parti de Gauche (PdG). The US is also affected, as Bernie Sanders’s strong challenge inside the Democratic Party indicates. More surprising is the inclusion of Beppe Grillo’s Movimento Cinque Stelle, which Watkins admits, not everybody considers on the ‘left’. Events and elections, she continues, have not only brought these forces to prominence, in the ballot box, Parliaments and amongst citizens, they have given rise to new “national political projects”.
A common trait, the Editorial observes, of these political green shoots, is the rise of ‘charismatic’ leaders, from Pablo Iglesias, Corbyn, Mélenchon, to Grillo. Exactly what the ‘authority’ given by this ‘gift of grace’ is, and how these personalities carry it out, is not explored. Grillo is notoriously the entrepreneur of his own ‘post-modern’ far from immaterial party-business. Iglesias heads up, to his numerous critics, a vertical pyramid party-structure He indulges himself in ‘populist’ efforts to lead the people ‘beyond’ left and right.
Mélenchon: électron libre.
Jean-Luc Mélenchon won 11.10% in the 2012 first round of the French Presidential election. He leads a ‘party’, the Parti de gauche (PdG) founded in 2009 with other former members of the Parti Socialiste. It remains stuck in the mould of a Parti Socialiste ‘club’, a tendency (at its height well below 10,000 members) centred on a ‘chief’. Its inability to develop has been caused less by the absence of popular protests, the electoral system or “laïciste horror of the headscarf” thwarting its appeal to the ‘banlieue’, than his abrasive personality, which has created a crop of internal divisions to boot. Mélenchon, his many ill-wishers allege, has a vision of himself as a Man of Destiny, with populist and nationalist ambitions far beyond a “sovereign, alter-globalist, multi-polar defence force”.
Inside the Front de gauche (FdG), which allies the PdG with a number of left groups in an electoral bloc, it is not only the Communists of the Parti Communiste Français (PCF,138,000 members) but leftists from Ensemble (2,500), who have found it impossible to work with this électron libre (1). Sensing little support the leader of the PdG spurned the idea of presenting himself before the Front’s supporters and the wider left in ‘primaries’ to select a Presidential candidate. Mélenchon has effectively ditched the PdG for a supporters’ network. He is running for President in 2017 with an on-line based team, with some success in the opinion polls. Nevertheless this venture into political cyberspace has had considerably less of an echo in the Nuit Debout ‘mouvance’ (too heterogeneous to call a movement), which is showing signs of both intellectual renewal in a multiplicity of directions and splintering. The CGT led workers’ spearhead of the wider national campaign against the “El Khomri” labour laws and the wider weekly strikes and marches have largely passed Mélenchon by.
Labour’s leader is, by contrast, a Parliamentary chief with a tiny group of MP supporters, and a mass party with a democratic membership structure and large trade union input. If he won the leadership ballot by a landslide, in a campaign of public meetings which created a “dynamic of their own”, Momentum, Watkins solemnly informs us, is a “somewhat diluted version of the 1980s Labour left”, an “organised adversary” of the ‘Blairite faction, Progress. Few perhaps will recall a mass membership 1980s Labour Left, or of any comparable “parallel structure” to dilute from. Fewer still will remember the Labour Party since George Lansbury (Labour leader from 1932 – 35) headed by anybody who had anything resembling Corbyn’s background in the 1980s/1990s London Labour Left.
Corbyn, like Sanders, is, we learn, “squarely within the social-democratic tradition” – which fortunately covers everything from Eduard Bernstein, Karl Kautsky, Jean Jaurès, to Harold Wilson. In short, the Editorial dispenses with the customary term, democratic socialism, by which a majority of Corbyn supporters, and Mélenchon’s, would identify in opposition to the compromised ideas that contributed to the policies of the Blair and Brown governments. Are there signs that instead after the ‘retreat from social democracy’ there may be a renewal in a very different directions taking place. Watkins calls the combination of anti-austerity programmes, and scepticism about free trade – not mentioning the defence of social and workers’ rights, the fights for a publicly owned public administration and services – and a failure to confront head-on NATO (on what, Syria?) “weak”.
We might then ask: what exactly is the ‘non-social democratic left’? If Grillo, instead of new forms of democratic socialism, is part of the answer, then what kind politics is that?
Readers will no doubt remain on tenterhooks waiting for the latest radical left model to emerge. In the interim the constraints, self-created or inherited, within which these lefts operate are ignored. Are the furiously hostile forces deployed against them, visible every moment in the British media to be ignored? Watkins casts cautious compromise to the winds. She smiles at Grillo’s no-nonsense Vaffanculo(s), scowls at the French Communists’ local electoral deals to retain control of their remaining municipal bastions (what is the threat of the Marine Le Pen or Nicolas Sarkozy to her?), soundly admonishes Corbyn for his “embrace of the discredited Blair-Brown Labour right” and offers Iglesias advice on a tactical abstention, allowing a possible future PSOE-Ciudadanos government coalition “a chance to demonstrate that it cannot work”.
As we have indicated Watkins offers the skimpiest, and often misleading, outline of the party structures and personalities which support the new left “projects” she attempts to grapple with. Oppositions equally fails to investigate the underlying problem thrown up by the more radical movements that appear to remain her benchmark. That is, their inability to develop more than general declarations within the ‘anti’ globalisation protest, that would make them more than a protest against the subsequent Western interventions and security clamp-downs. If Podemos may be able to show that the PSOE cannot work, what indicates that their alternative can? While we are waiting, the proliferation of an identity politics and culture of the ‘populist’ or sovereigntist right, which this Sunday came within a hair’s breath of winning the Austrian presidency, indicates the need for ideas and strategies capable of understanding and confronting nationalism and xenophobia now. (2)
Shocks and Turncoats.
It is on this issue that Oppositions is most wanting. The thought that calls a position on the EU referendum vote a “tactical” decision allows only a Leave or abstention as “left” options. The hope that a Leave vote would be a “salutary shock “ to the “trans-Atlantic oligopoly” and a Conservative Party in “disarray” is gratuitous irresponsibility. The nationalist and xenophobic Carnival of Reaction of the debates on the EU is paraded every-day. A Brexit win would bring not just Tory division but the politics of the most reactionary people in the country to power.
The Editorial is deeply insulting to the majority of the left, the democratic socialist left, who support staying in the EU not just out of self-protection against our most forthright and dangerous class and political enemies, but as an arena where common cause can be made with our comrades across the continent. That is, a place of hope and co-operation not of austerity and repression. To top it all, Oppositions attacks all of us through its words against the much-liked Owen Jones. The author of Chavs “turned his coat” for changing his mind, very publicly and very honestly explaining why, and backing Remain with the campaign Another Europe is Possible. The Editorial’s language in this instance is, not to mince words, despicable.
(1) Mélenchon candidat à la présidentielle : il tourne le dos à l’histoire de la gauche. Philippe Marlière. February 2016
(2) These two weaknesses were signalled by the critic of their French expressions, Phlippe Raynaud in L’extrême gauche plurielle. Tempus. 2006. Whatever one’s views on his generally hostile analysis, these points are if anything more relevant today than a decade ago.
Who’s Pedalo Captain Now?
Europe 1 reports on the latest opinion polls for next year’s French Presidential election.
Alain Juppé (Les Républicains looks an easy winner at present with 35% (plus 4 points since December) in front of Marine Le Pen 26% (minus 2 points). François Hollande only gets 13% (minus 7 pts) Jean-Luc Mélenchon (12%, +1).
In effect Melenchon wavers between 12% and 16% in the polls, according to the survey.
It is important to note that Marine Le Pen is in first place in the case if Les Républicains (the main right party) is presented by either ex-President Nicolas Sarkozy, François Fillon or Bruno Le Maire.
Les Républicains have yet to designate, by ‘primary’ elections, who their candidate will be. Deep divisions continue.
But this, one of many identical polls, strengthens Juppé’s hand.
Neither the Socialists nor the Front de Gauche (of which Mélenchon remains nominally a member) have decided on their official candidate.
A sign of Mélenchon’s trajectory is that he already has 95,000 people signed up to his personal candidacy and claims that 500 groups exist to campaign for him.
Jean-Luc Mélenchon is reported to be on Cloud Nine (Jean-Luc Mélenchon se sent « sur un petit nuage ») enjoying the taste of success while it lasts.
With his customary generosity and dislike of sectarian point-scoring Mélenchon has commented, (DL)
Je regarde passer le corbillard des Verts et le Radeau de la Méduse du parti communiste.
I am looking on as the Hearse of the Greens and the Communists’ Raft of the Medusa pass by.
Mélenchon is now predicting that he will go to the second round in the Presidential elections:
On Lâche Rien!
Several thousand people launched an occupation of the place de la République, Paris, at the end of Thursday’s demonstration against the new labour law. The group, Convergences des luttes (converge of struggles) was behind the initiative. Up to 4,000 people were present at the height of the protest.
The left weekly, Politis, says it’s the birth of a new, unprecedented, movement (Nuit debout», acte de naissance d’un mouvement inédit).#
A statement read to the crowd from the philosopher and economist Frédéric Lordon observes,
Il est possible que l’on soit en train de faire quelque chose. Le pouvoir tolère nos luttes lorsqu’elles sont locales, sectorielles, dispersées et revendicatives. Pas de bol pour lui, aujourd’hui nous changeons les règles du jeu. En donnant au capital des marges de manœuvre sans précédent, cette loi est génératrice de la violence néolibérale qui frappe désormais indistinctement toutes les catégories du salariat et, par là, les pousse à redécouvrir ce qu’elles ont en commun : la condition salariale même.
It’s possible that we are in the middle of doing something. Those in power tolerate our struggles when they are local, by a particular social or employee group, separated, around specific demands. Today they have run out of luck: we are changing the rules of the game. Giving capital unprecedented freedom, this (labour) law creates neo-liberal violence which will henceforth hit every type of employees, and for that reason, pushes workers to discover the thing they have in common: the condition of being a wage-earner.
Le Monde asks if this is the first step towards a movement, which many compare to the Spanish ‘indignados’ (the indignant) which gave rise to Podemos, that the supporters dream will sweep the country.
The occupiers took decisions on the basis of a 80% majority of support for motions (that is, not “consensus” model that bedevilled the Occupy movement).
A key proposal is to draw up, cahiers de doléances, the lists of grievances that preceded the French Revolution. They hope to spread the movement across France.
This morning the CRS removed 500 occupiers from the Square.
Est-ce l’amorce d’un mouvement qu’ils rêveraient « lame de fond » ou peut-être « déferlante » ? Est-ce l’annonce d’un « sursaut citoyen » qui mettrait dans la rue des Français de toutes conditions avides de protester et débattre, en criant leur défiance abyssale envers leurs élus et envers un système ? Est-ce le prélude d’un processus dit « révolutionnaire » ?
Whether they carry the “wind of revolution”, as one participant stated, remains to be seen.
The Tendance’s favourite recent French left group, HK et les Saltimbanques, sang.
We wish the young comrades well!
This music really sums up the wrongs of the world and how to fight back.
More here: «Nuit debout» : expulsés à l’aube.
Le 31 nous ne sommes pas rentrés chez nous après la manifestation.
Au plus fort de la nuit, nous étions plus de 4 000 Place de la République.
Concerts, débats citoyens et projections ont ponctué cette nuit qui s’est déroulée sous les hospices de la bienveillance et de la fraternité.
Mais à 5h45, la police a encerclé notre rassemblement pacifique, et maîtrisé jusqu’au bout, avant de nous contraindre à quitter les lieux manu militari et sans explication.
Nous nous insurgeons contre cette violence injustifiée étant donné la légalité absolue de notre occupation de la Place.
Nous appelons dès aujourd’hui, toutes les forces progressistes à rejoindre et amplifier ce mouvement en nous rassemblant à nouveau Place de La République dès maintenant ce 1er avril et jusqu’à dimanche soir au moins.
Une assemblée générale est prévue vers 17h. Et ce soir des débats et de la musique encore…
Vendredi 1er avril depuis la Place de la République
Students Join Demos Against Plans to Weaken Workers’ Rights.
End of term protests threaten François Hollande’s labour legacy
French president trying to cement his place in history with sweeping reforms to the country’s rigid employment laws.
François Hollande is facing one of the biggest tests of his presidency as his sweeping labour reforms sparked protests by a potent mix of leftwing students and French trade unionists.
Student unions and youth demonstrators were staging sit-ins and street marches on Wednesday, teaming up with unions and striking rail workers in a wide-reaching protest movement that could prove highly toxic for the president. It is the first such collaborative protest against the Socialist government since Hollande came to power four years ago.
Reports the Guardian, neatly illustrating a report with a good reason why leftists do not trust the paper.
The “sweeping reforms” to the “rigid employment laws” were opposed by over a million people who signed this petition below:
Loi travail : non, merci !
The Petition gives is a list of some of the key measures.
☞ En cas de licenciement illégal, l’indemnité prud’homale est plafonnée à 15 mois de salaire.
In cases of illegal redundancies the amount awarded to those who win their case is limited to a ceiling of 15 months wages.
☞ Les 11 heures de repos obligatoire par tranche de 24 heures peuvent être fractionnées.
The day’s rest day – at present 11 hours per 24 hours – can be divided into sections (that is, distrinuted over the whole day).
☞ Une entreprise peut, par accord, baisser les salaires et changer le temps de travail.
A company can, by agreement, lower wages and change working hour.
☞ Les temps d’astreinte peuvent être décomptés des temps de repos.
Standby time can be counted as breaks.
There follows other technical changes – including those affecting apprentices- essentially allowing employers more ‘flexibility’ and their employees the possibility of working more hours according the employers’ needs.
☞ Une mesure peut-être imposée par référendum contre l’avis de 70% des syndicats.
This is the key point: a company will be able to organise a referendum on new working arrangements directly appealing to the employees without the intermediary of the trade unions.
☞ Une entreprise peut faire un plan social sans avoir de difficultés économique.
Laws on redundancies will make it possible to offer a proposal to get rid of people (plan social) whenever they wish.
☞ Après un accord d’entreprise, un-e salarié-e qui refuse un changement dans son contrat de travail peut être licencié.
Anybody who doesn’t knuckle down to the new arrangements can be sacked.
☞ Par simple accord on peut passer de 10h à 12h de travail maximum par jour.
By a simple agreement bosses can increase working hours from 10 to 12 hours a day.
Salarié-e-s ou non : cette réforme nous concerne toutes et tous !
Interpellez la ministre du travail et demandez lui de renoncer à ce projet.
Signez la pétition et RDV sur http://loitravail.lol
Put simply the project, under the name of El Khomri, but piloted by Prime Minister Manuel Valls and his Economics Emmnual Minister Macron, is designed to introduce as much as possible of the British/US model of “flexible” working.
For an expert analysis, by an acknowledged authority in the field, see Gérard Filoche:
Valls, who received a mere 5.63% % of the vote in the 2011 Parti Socialiste ‘primary’ to select a Presidential candidate, has met strong opposition from his his own party MPs and activists. He is described as being, with Italy’s Matteo Renzi, the last of the true believers in the Blair Third Way project – giving priority to adapting economies to ‘globalised markets’.
The result is that some consider that the PS is on the verge of a split. A more probable result, given that breakaways from the Socialists have a long history of marginalisation, the latest being Jean-Luc Mélechon’s descent into populism at the head of the small (well under 10,000 members) Parti de Gauche, is political paralysis.
To use Léon Blum’s words, the Hollande Presidency will be seen not as a “conquest of power” nor even a successful “exercise of power” but a descent into manoeuvring to impose the plans of a minority of the Socialist Party and the – majority – of French employers and the Right.
France faces a wave of protests Wednesday over unpopular labour reforms that have divided an already fractured government and raised hackles in a country accustomed to iron-clad job security. Follow our live blog for the latest news.
Youth organisations and unions have called for protests across France over labour reforms on the same day as a rail strike over a wage dispute that is set to cause transport chaos.
High school pupils are expected to take to the streets alongside unions, ecologist movements and university students over the controversial reforms.
France’s Socialist government has faced massive blowback — including from within — to measures that would give bosses more flexibility in hiring and firing, in a bid to turn around a record 10.2 percent unemployment rate.
The reforms spell out simple conditions such as falling orders or sales, or operating losses, as sufficient cause for shedding staff. They would also cut overtime pay for work beyond 35 hours — the work week famously introduced in the 1990s in an earlier Socialist bid to boost employment.
An online petition against the El Khomri draft law, named after Labour Minister Myriam El Khomri, has attracted more than a million signatures while a poll showed seven in 10 people were opposed to the proposed changes.
Meanwhile, trains are expected to suffer “severe disruption” due to a strike as workers demand salary increases. The Paris Metro will remain largely unaffected.
It is not at all popular: L’Humanité reports: