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On the Fundamentally Flawed Stop the War Coalition Statement on the London Attacks.

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StWC: Deeply Flawed Response to London Atrocities. 

The events on Saturday have left millions deeply saddened.

It is to be welcomed that the Stop the War Coalition (StWC) has responded to the murders with a serious  statement.

Nevertheless, it is deeply flawed. 

Enough is enough: the government must change course.

The Stop the War Coalition is unequivocal in its condemnation of the latest terror attack in London which has left 7 innocent people dead and many more injured. We extend our sympathy to the relatives of the dead and injured.

For those that committed this crime killing was a means to an end. Like the Manchester attack which preceded it, these murders aimed at disrupting the election, at inflaming racial and religious divisions, and at provoking the government into repressive measures. Theresa May and her ministers show every sign of doing exactly what the terrorists hope they will do.

There is a cycle of violence here in which the role of successive governments is a central part. To destroy Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya and Syria by military intervention and not expect that these ruined and abandoned societies would spawn killers and provoke violent responses was always a policy blindness bordering on the perverse. And of course, UK military forces remain deployed in all these countries to this very day.

Nor will repression based on religious or racial profiling work. The Prevent programme has not prevented terrorism. Internment in Guantanamo did not work. France has continued to suffer racist attacks despite a State of Emergency that has lasted from 2015 to the present and has seen protests banned and tens of thousands arrested.

We urgently need a serious and in depth discussion of the causes of terrorism, not knee-jerk, populist rhetoric.

What is needed is an end to the failed wars abroad; an end to arms sales to Saudi Arabia, a major international incubator of terrorist ideology; an end to racial and religious profiling which so often ends in the demonisation of Muslims.

This, and only this, will begin to drain the swamp in which the terrorists thrive. Anything else perpetuates a mutually reinforcing cycle of violence.

The difficulties with this statement centre on  the sentence that as a result of Western interventions,  ” ruined and abandoned societies would spawn killers “. The West is to be blame for having sown dragon’s teeth. The dragon is fearful, but its the sowers who are the ones responsible.

But who are the people who aim at inflaming racial and religious hatred and disrupting the election?

Not a word.

Islamic State.

 A genuine debate on these issues has to begin with this: who are the Islamic State and what are their aims?

Daesh, ISIS, the group which has claimed that its supporters carried out the killings is a Salafist jihadi group, as Gilles Kepel has called them (for a discussion of Kepel’s. Le Prophète et Pharaon 1984. and  La Fracture 2016 see here) That is, they are rigorist pietist Islamists who, in distinction to some ‘quietist’ (inward looking) Salafists  are engaged directly in violence to impose Sharia law, an Islamic society, fitted out with a totalitarian state, to impose their views. Daesh is also highly sectarian, in the original religious sense. They are marked not just by their hatred of non-Sunni Muslims but for all Sunnis who do not accept their particular ‘line’ of Quranic literalist  interpretation.

Daesh is only the most notorious Salafist Jihadist organisation. If it is, at present, within a broader mouvance, the leading group, there have been many predecessors and their continue to exist competitors. Amongst the best known early example of Salfist jihadis were the Groupe Islamique Armé  (GIA) which slaughtered  thousands during the 1990s Algerian civil war – a conflict that does not fit at all into the “Western intervention causes Terrorism” pattern. Think about it. Just ask this question: what Western military presence was there during a conflict that cost several hundred thousand lives?

At present part of the GIA forms Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, the first part of whose name, Al-Qaeda leads us to a group which needs no further introduction.

The rise of Jihadi Salafism is not doubt the result of complex conditions. But once formed it has a concrete existence. Its development can outlined, from “Micro-powers” centred around ultra-pious Mosques, attempts to create ‘zones’ where Sharia law becomes part of everyday life, to efforts to capture state authority and the means of repression that guarantee religious ‘law’ and function in the total absence of any form of democracy.

At present the most visible  material form of this Salafist Jihadist  ideology, that is a power, with its military and political presence in Iraq and Syria, is ISIS.

The Islamic State is the proximate cause, the inspirer, if not the commander, of the London bloodbath. Daesh is at present the immediate cause of these attacks.

There are is much more to discuss. Whether, as many people believe, the ground for this totalitarian entity was prepared not just by the civil war in Syria and the US-allied occupation of Iraq, but by the finance of Wahhabist Islamist teaching by Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States (which formally support Al-Nusra in Syria and not ISIS), is open to discussion.

What is not open to debate it that religion not international politics, still less “imperialism” plays the major part in Daesh’s  strategy and actions.

How should we look at this? One false route is to ignore the role of faith and simply dismiss their ideas as a “perversion” of Islam.

In the Way of Strangers  Encounters with the Islamic State |(2017) Grahame Wood observes,

The notion that religious belief is a minor factor in the rise of the Islamic State is belied by the crushing weight of evidence that religion matters deeply to the vast majority of those who have travelled to fight. Not only does it issue mountains of Fatwas and other pious declarations, but also, Wood demonstrates, the Islamic state cannot be understood without a deep immersion in the ideology of Salafism and a variety of Islamic schools. The “simplest explanation” for their roots is that their founders were “extreme Islamists”. As for effort to dismiss their faith basis, those doing so rarely have any knowledge of the clerics and scholars in its ranks.

“Since 2010, tens of thousands of men, women and children have migrated to a theoretic state, under the belief that migration is a sacred obligation and that the state’s leader is the worldly successor of the last and greatest of prophets. If religious scholars see no role for religion in a mass movement like this, they see no role for religion in the world.”

As the Blog you are reading commented,

As one reads The Way of Strangers happy talk about Islam as a “religion of peace” quickly evaporates. The ‘literalist’ Islam of the Islamic, baked by scriptural authority, state sanctions the most severe forms of Hudud punishment, slavery, infamously including sexual captives, and the regulation of all aspects of personal life fused around loathing of the non-licit and the ‘kuffer’. It is obsessed with, The Way of Strangers continues, the takfir¸ the “sport” of declaring those who disagree with them and claim to be Muslims “apostates” under sentence of death. It has genocidal intentions, already put into practice against Yazidis. Wild dreams of a worldwide apocalypse the Islamic state’s followers, to come in decades not months, round off the picture.

Attacks by ISIS inspired, or organised, individuals and groups did not start in Britain.

In 2014 a man opened fire in the Jewish Museum in Brussels, leaving four people dead. On 30 May, Mehdi Nemmouche, who in 2013 had fought for Islamists in the Syrian Civil War  was arrested at a bus station in Marseilles and admitted to the shooting. This was the first incident of a European jihadist committing an act of terrorism after returning from Syria.

Without continuing this list, marked by the heart-rending terrorist murders that have been inflicted in France, Germany, Belgium, Turkey and elsewhere, the common cause is the existence of the Islamic caliphate, Daesh, in Syria and Iraq (Islamic terrorism in Europe (2014–present)

StWC confuses  one of the conditions for the rise of Daesh, military intervention in the Middle East, with the existence of ISIS, the immediate causal force behind these atrocities.

It does not mention explore in any detail the all-important regional and religious and inter-state  aspect to the war in the Middle East, between Iran and its Shia allies and the Saudi backed forces, a division from Syria all the way to Yemen.

It does not mention the Syrian civil war, with its own internal causes, either out of a deliberate wish to avoid its own failure to oppose resolutely the Assad regime or back the only forces consistently fighting against ISIS, the Kurdish armed militias of the YPG, their Arab allies or their  internationalist brigades.

Many will say that this absence is more than “policy blindness”. It is a sign of moral cowardice.

The Statement does not mention the StWC’s leaders (in the groupuscule Counterfire)  own past reactions to terrorism, notably during the massacre at Charlie Hebdo and the Hyper Cacher to ‘explain’ the murders in terms of a ‘blow back’ against the “West”, nor the vile suggestion by people such as George Galloway, Alex Callinicos, Tariq Ali and  Seumas Milne, that Charlie Hebdo “had it coming to them”.

Nor does it even begin a “serious and in depth discussion of the causes of terrorism.”

Let us have one.

The Present Terrorist Wave.

France is perhaps the place where such a discussion has taken place.

Gilles Kepel’s Terreur dans l’Hexagone, Genèse du djihad français,, with Antoine Jardi. 2015) just now out in paperback, traces how Jihadi Salafism gained an audience in France.

In a narrative that closely parallels  Kenan Malik‘s writings the authors portray a generational shift from a Muslim community in which secular anti-racism had an audience (in France, La Marche des Beurs 1983), to the present day inflection of Salafism and religious intolerance  in the banlieue. Social conditions in these quarters are perhaps fertile ground for the religious ideologues.

Does this explain the way they have taken shape?

Kepel’s critic, Olivier Roy, by contrast talks of the “Islamisation of radicalism” and the growth of a nihilistic ‘death cult” (Le Djihad et la mort. 2016). Roy considers that the historical sequence, from SOS-racisme, to increased pious observance,  to present day genocidal Islamism ignores a fundamental break in ideology. Salafism is not ‘one’ thing, a continuum from ultra-orthodox to violence. There is a new dimension: the willingness to kill and die.

Roy asks, “why, for the past 20 years, have terrorists regularly chosen to die? “

Roy has written (Guardian April 2017) of this “youth movement”,

My argument is that violent radicalisation is not the consequence of religious radicalisation, even if it often takes the same paths and borrows the same paradigms. Religious fundamentalism exists, of course, and it poses considerable societal problems, because it rejects values based on individual choice and personal freedom. But it does not necessarily lead to political violence.

The objection that radicals are motivated by the “suffering” experienced by Muslims who were formerly colonised, or victims of racism or any other sort of discrimination, US bombardments, drones, Orientalism, and so on, would imply that the revolt is primarily led by victims. But the relationship between radicals and victims is more imaginary than real.

Those who perpetrate attacks in Europe are not inhabitants of the Gaza Strip, Libya or Afghanistan. They are not necessarily the poorest, the most humiliated or the least integrated. The fact that 25% of jihadis are converts shows that the link between radicals and their “people” is also a largely imaginary construct.

It is less sure that his conclusion will be accepted, but it ought to be debated,

The systematic association with death is one of the keys to understanding today’s radicalisation: the nihilist dimension is central. What seduces and fascinates is the idea of pure revolt. Violence is not a means. It is an end in itself.

How does the StWC propose to deal with Jihadi Salafism, if Roy is to be believed, a death cult? That is a group prepared to kill the ‘kuffer’ the mecreants not just aimed at (as the StWC mind-readers claim), “provoking the government into repressive measures” but because they wish everybody who does not agree with them to submit or be murdered.

They start by asserting that Guantanamo Bay, the French state of Emergency and the Prevent Programme, have had no success.

This may well be the case.

StWC Proposals.

But what does the StWC offer?

Let us untangle their proposals.

  • What is needed is an end to the failed wars abroad.

Clearly this will not affect the armed forces of ISIS nor its blood-thirsty supporters. There is only way one can begin to defeat them, by physical force against their ‘Caliphate’.WHy not back, if the StWC is so reluctant to back the West, with support for the YPG, the Kurdish armed groups?

  •  an end to arms sales to Saudi Arabia, a major international incubator of terrorist ideology

If arms sales are stopped how will this alter the Saudi’s finance of Wahhabist hatred?

  • an end to racial and religious profiling which so often ends in the demonisation of Muslims.

It is hard to take this seriously.

How is not doing something – I had no idea that “profiling” was the cornerstone of anti-terrorist policing in the first place – going to stop terrorism?

The StWC statement offers a paradigm of radicalisation-attack-repression-radicalisation, the “mutually reinforcing cycle of violence”.

Or to put it more simply: the more you repress a radical group the greater its support and radicalisation.

Perhaps instead of not doing things – that is, not repressing – the StWC might consider that that, regardless of what the State or the government does, they could begin by making allies with secularist forces, like the Kurds cited above, and with liberal secular voices in the countries they express such concern about.

They could also make a far more effective reply to Theresa May’s appeal to ‘British values’ by stating support for universal human rights.

 

 

 

 

Written by Andrew Coates

June 5, 2017 at 12:46 pm

The Ambiguous Silence of Mélenchon on the Front National.

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2002, The Left United Against the Front National.

Time was when Jean-Luc Mélenchon has no words hard enough against the Front National.

He even called, repeatedly, for it to be banned. As in Jean-Luc Mélenchon : «C’est le Front national qu’il faut interdire». 17th April. 1997. And Mélenchon veut interdire le FN 23rd of January 2010.

Now he is ‘resting’ in initially in silence while his supporters decide on-line whether to vote against Marine Le Pen, that is, vote for Macron, in the Presidential run off.

After Sunday’s election the choice between Macron and Le Pen is the only one present in the ballot box.

An on-line vote by supporters of La France insoumise, the rally with 440,000 ‘members’ (Many of whom give a nominal sum and Web involvement), is taking place on their stand on the Second Round on the 7th of May.

On voting choices they will be able to recommend that the movement advocates one of these options:

A blank vote (or spoiled ballot as we would say), abstention or a vote for Macron. 

There is no option to vote for Le Pen.

Je vote blanc ou nul», «Je vote Emmanuel Macron», «Je m’abstiens».

Note the way this is posed: the second round will set against each other, “the candidate of the extreme right and the candidate of extreme finance” (the latter reads as oddly in French as English).

It continues, “none of us will vote for the far right. Even so, should one give a voting recommendation? We said during our campaign that our votes could not be used by anybody else for the second round. Our candidate, Jean-Luc Mélenchon has loyally respected this commitment. Having indicated this since the beginning of our campaign, therefore we have organised this to give a voice to la France insoumise on what position they personally (my emphasis) take on the second round. This  will not be a voting recommendation; the (aim) is to know the position of those in la France insoumise.

La consultation des militants de la France insoumise a commencé. Libération.  More in  Le Monde.

At a Press Conference today speakers for La France insoumise began by emphasising, quite rightly, that they had an exceptional voting score, which reached nearly 20% (nearly as many as the candidate who came 3rd François Fillon).

On the consultation above they noted that already 50,000 people had taken part, and that it was to give supporters an opportunity to express  an opinion, not a voting recommendation. (“n’a pas pour but de donner une consigne de vote mais de permettre aux insoumis de donner leur avis). They then announced,  amongst other things, that they are not a traditional political party but a movement (Nous ne sommes pas un parti politique traditionnel. Nous sommes un mouvement) and that neither Macron nor Le Pen represented their ideas.

Waxing lyrical, if perhaps in a tone some would describe as  shouty if not hysterical, Alexis Corbière stated that they were they only political force to emerge in the Presidential elections (La seule force politique qui émerge dans cette élection, c’est nous”) and that they were also the only people capable of really standing up to the Front National (“La seule force en capacité de tenir tête à l’extrême droite, c’est nous”) and they were the only ones (again!) fighting the FN consistently and convincingly,  while everybody else was chattering away (“Nous, nous combattons le FN sur le fond et nous convainquons. Les autres font du baratin !).

La France insoumise intends to stand alone, against all other left parties, in the June legislative elections.

More from here: .

In the media, the médiacrates as Mélenchon calls them, have been asking his supporters what they think. 

Some are said to agree with Philippe Poutou, the candidate of the Nouveau parti anticapitaliste (NP), who, with a score of 1,09% (1,15% in 2012) advocates going onto the streets to shout against the FN but to stay away from the polling booths.

Others, will what may be called a firmer grasp of reality, will respond as the rest of the non-marginal French left has done, Voter for Macron, with a heavy heart, “« Tout sauf Le Pen. ». The ‘populist’ movement remains divided. (Macron « à contrecœur », vote blanc ou pour Le Pen, pour le « choc » : les électeurs de Mélenchon tiraillés).  More here: Silence de Mélenchon sur le FN : colère, démocratie ou «faute» ? Libération.

As in:

One of the main reasons for their confusion is that the supporters of La France insoumise are said to be bitterly disappointed that they were not able to reach the final round. Apparently they believed, perhaps alone, that they would face a straight Le Pen Melenchon battle. (L’armée en ligne de Jean-Luc Mélenchon à l’heure de la désillusion. Dans le café virtuel où 20 000 militants ont porté sa campagne en ligne, le débat est intense sur l’attitude à adopter pour le second tour.)

Media which are no friends of the French left – happy to ignore that from the Communists to others on the left of the left will vote against Le Pen (Le PCF appelle à voter Macron, puis à le battre aux législatives) – have seized on the ambiguities of La France insoumise and the Man of Destiny,  Jean-Luc Mélenchon.

The New York Times reports,

The National Front is delighted. The party has extended a welcome mat to Mr. Mélenchon’s supporters, pointing out similarities between the candidates.

The Front’s founder, Jean-Marie Le Pen — kicked out of the party by his daughter partly over his racism — hailed Mr. Mélenchon’s position warmly in an interview on French radio Tuesday.

“This seems very worthy to me, coming from a candidate who made a remarkable breakthrough, and who was — it must be said — the best orator,” Mr. Le Pen said.

His daughter’s top lieutenant in the far-right party, Florian Philippot, said “many voters” for Mr. Mélenchon may now join Ms. Le Pen in the second round, adding that there was a “a kind of coherence, after all” in his refusal to endorse Mr. Macron.

“Among his voters, many will refuse to vote for Macron, and many could vote for us,” Mr. Philippot said on France Info, tying the former economy minister to “finance,” as Mr. Mélenchon does, and to the unpopular government of President François Hollande, in which Mr. Macron served.

“Lots of voters in the electorate that chose Fillon, Dupont-Aignan” — two candidates on the right — “and even Mélenchon are open to a number of our themes,” another top National Front official, Nicolas Bay, said in an internal memo quoted by Agence France-Presse on Tuesday.

The coming vote would be a contest between “fans of Mrs. Merkel and the unsubjugated,” he wrote — an apparent reference to Mr. Mélenchon’s movement and Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany, who is criticized on both the far left and the far right as pursuing policies that have impoverished European Union states.

One of Mr. Mélenchon’s top aides derided the candidate’s critics in a telephone interview Tuesday. “You’ve got to look at where the criticism is coming from,” said Éric Coquerel, a member of the Paris regional council.

“It’s coming from those whose policies have favored the development of the National Front, from the Socialist Party,” said Mr. Coquerel, referring to the quarrel that divided the French left for five years: the governing Socialists’ mild pro-market turn, seen as a betrayal by France’s far left.

“We don’t want to help Marine Le Pen, but we don’t want to endorse Mr. Macron,” he said.

“He’s the candidate of free trade,” Mr. Coquerel said. “He’s going to assist in the Uberization of society. Everything we are going to fight against in the coming months. There’s no possible rapprochement.”

Farage Gushes over Marine Le Pen; US Left Counterpunch’s Diana Johnstone Praises Front National “patriotic socialist left”.

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Far-right presidential candidate Marine Le Pen speaks in Lyon, France. (Michel Euler, AP)

Attracts ‘Anti-Globaliser’ Fans from UKIP and from US left journal Counterpunch.

Leading contributor to Counterpunch, Diana Johnstone is the best known figure in a would-be ‘red-brown’ alliance.

Against the “global elites” she likes both Jean-Luc Mélenchon and Marine Le Pen.

French Elections: Macron versus Le Pen in Run-off. Discredited Socialist Party. A Vote against Neoliberalism Diana Johnstone

The results seem to be just what the polls have predicted from the start: Emmanuel Macron versus Marine Le Pen.  As if the whole campaign brought us right around to the point of departure.

I would add that a significant result of this campaign is the substitution of a new left represented by Jean-Luc Mélenchon for the totally discredited French Socialist Party, which has betrayed all the hopes of its followers by totally adopting the neoliberal economic policies dictated by the Europe Union. This is a renewed and much more vigorous and original left.

The leaders of the failed Socialist Party are rushing to find a place in Macron’s ill-defined movement, “En Marche!”

So now we are faced with the choice between a fake left – Macron – and a fake “extreme right”: Marine Le Pen.

The plain truth is that Marine Le Pen, of a younger generation than her notorious father Jean-Marie, is simply not the same politically.  She has enthusiastically adopted as her main political advisor and number two in the National Front which she inherited, Florian Philippot, who comes from the patriotic socialist left represented by France’s best statesman of the past generation, Jean-Pierre Chevènement.

This difference seems impossible to explain to people who are stuck in the categories of a past that is not longer pertinent.  Emmanuel Macron is an agent of the globalizing elite, from NATO to Goldman Sachs.

As President, he will confirm French subservience to European Union rules which are destroying the French economy as well as to NATO’s policy of war in the Middle East and hostility to Russia.  Marine Le Pen prefers a policy of peace.  I am waiting to learn from my critics how she is the “fascist” whom we must all oppose.

Then we have this:

NIGEL FARAGE: Well, it’s very interesting. The way the international media are portraying this Macron is a centrist. He’s nice. He’s cuddly. He’s the really good guy. Quite why he’s called centrist when he was minister in a hard left, socialist government, I don’t know. And then Le Pen is painted out to be far right. Now, let me just tell you something. The origins of the French Front National may well have been far right, but she’s dragged them, I think, a long way from that. And, in terms of security, in terms of believing in sovereignty, in many of those things, she has a huge amount in common with firstly the Brexit campaign and secondly with President Trump.

“This is a big battle of two huge cultural ideals: one, the globalists who believe in open borders, and the other, those who believe in nation states and protecting their people,” he told the US network.” (from Here).

 

Macron Versus le Pen: Will Left Unite to Defeat Far-Right?

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Unite to Beat Le Pen in Ballot say French Communists.

Nos rêves d’avenir sont désormais inséparables de nos frayeurs.

Our dreams of the future are henceforth inseparable from our fears.

Histoire et Utopie Emil Cioran.

The French Presidential elections were earth-shaking, “In just one year, we have changed the face of French politics,” said a triumphant Macron, whose centrist pitch and so-called “progressive alliance” precipitated the country’s great political shake-up. Equally jubilant, his rival Le Pen said it was “time to liberate the people of France from the arrogant elites that seek to dictate their conduct”. Reports France 24.

Macron came first with 23.75% of the vote. Le Pen second, with 21,53%. Fillon third with 19,91% and Mélenchon fourth at 19.64%.

The Socialist Candidate, Hamon, at 6,35%, a score only slightly higher than their historic low (when they were called the SFIO), Gaston Defferre 1969 5,01 %  represented a party which is now starting disaster in the face (Après la déroute de Hamon, le PS au bord du gouffre).

The last time the Front National reached the run off for the Presidential election was in 2002, when Chirac faced Marine Le Pen’s Father Jean-Marie.

Much of the left was swept up in a country-wide mobilisation to the far-right from winning power.

Chirac won with 82,1 %  of the votes

This time both Fillon and Hamon have called for a Macron vote in the Second Round.

Mélenchon’s supporters, who had hoped for a duel between their candidate and Marine Le Pen, vented their spleen at the “« Médiacrates » and « oligarques ».

They have yet to say what to do in the second round.  Mélenchon preferred to announce that he would be consult his movement, by Internet (“Il n’a donné aucune consigne de vote pour le second tour et a expliqué que les 450 000 insoumis voteraient sur ce point.)

There are voices within la France insoumise  calling for a blank vote.

It has become common on the British left, and more widely in the English speaking world, to draw inspiration from Mélenchon and La France insoumise.

There is little doubt that the movement’s candidate is capable of inspirational, lyrical and rigorously argued speaking.

This sour post-election tweet offers a less attractive side to his public personality.

The US publication, Jacobin, has finally published an article which expresses doubts – familiar to readers of this Blog over the last couple of years –  about La France insoumise.

The Meaning of France Insoumise by

Bekhtari is a member of Ensemble, a major component of what was the Front de gauche. Ensemble’s majority  backed Mélenchon by 72%, but did not accept dissolution into the ‘movement’ La France insoumise (Ensemble ! soutient Jean-Luc Mélenchon sans intégrer La France insoumise. November 2016. ). This alliance of left socialist, Trotskyist, green left and self-management currents  has published both supportive and – minority – critical views on the candidate and the structure of this rally.

The following paragraph are particularly worth signaling,

Jean-Luc Mélenchon explicitly draws inspiration from the theories of Ernesto Laclau and Chantal Mouffe – an official supporter of his – adopting the formulas already used by Podemos, defining the ‘people’ against the ‘caste’ or the ‘oligarchy’. His adoption of this approach is clearly expounded in books such as L’ère du peuple [The Era of the People] or Le Choix de linsoumission [The Choice to Rebel]. Mélenchon no longer uses the term ‘left-wing’, which in his view has been corrupted by the PS’s record in power and unattractive to the wider public. This discourse is also apparent in the position he has taken as a politician who directly addresses the population without the intermediary of a political party and its decision-making structures – not even the party of which he is still a member, the Left Party (PG). He has instead privileged the creation of France Insoumise, a new movement without elected structures whose base unit is the local ‘support group’ backing his candidacy.

…..

Jean-Luc Mélenchon’s candidacy struggled to unite forces to the Left of the Socialist Party. His Left Front partners did not appreciate seeing him proclaim himself a candidate, or indeed the mechanics of his campaign, which only afforded a consultative role to the parties committing to his cause – thus preventing their leaderships from being able to shape his program and the line he put forward. As well as this anti-pluralist modus operandi, some of his politically problematic media sorties were also a turn-off for PCF and Ensemble! militants, for instance when he spoke of detached workers ‘stealing the bread’ of the French; with regard to migrants, when the first idea he expounded was that he had ‘never been for freedom of movement’; with regard to the war in Syria, seeing Bashar al-Assad as a lesser evil faced with Da’esh; or in terms of his refusal to recognise the existence of a Russia imperialism, itself at work in this conflict. Despite his repeated defensive claims – which have consisted of responding that his arguments and his positions were being mischaracterized in order to damage him – we cannot totally dismiss the argument that Jean-Luc Mélenchon has sought to deploy buzzwords able to attract the attention of disoriented voters tempted either to abstain or else to vote for the Front National.

After noting the breakthrough in French TV debates – it worked for me – Bekharti unfortunately speculates,

He came out of the debate as the most effective left-wing vote among all the ‘big candidates’. Even beyond the Left, he exercises a certain force of attraction among former right-wing voters seduced by his integrity and his calls for a clean break, which are interpreted as a promise to put an end to a system that today profits only the ‘political class’ and the ‘oligarchy’. Thus just days before the election he finds himself in third place in the polls, tied with Fillon. The possibility of Mélenchon reaching the second round – and even winning a run-off against Le Pen – is thus coming into view, against all expectations.

This has not happened.

The following exercise in wishful thinking looks even less connected to reality,

The strategy of social transformation via a revolution at the ballot box leaves a lot of room for doubt. We can expect a violent reaction by the bourgeoisie to protect its power and privileges. But in the current context, the hope of the step forward that could come from France Insoumise taking power, and the possibility that a period of radicalisation would follow, appear better able to mobilize the masses than any abstract warning of the future betrayals that may come from Jean-Luc Mélenchon once he is elected president.

One might still ask if fourth position is still a strong one – though not much of a hope for those who would wish Corbyn to follow this path.

But at present it’s the issue of voting in the second round that dominates the left.

Today the French Communist Daily L’Humanité calls for a united struggle against Marine Le Pen. The ballot box is the central means to stop her.

Nothing that Macron represents “financial circles” and liberal economic policies that have harmed France for decades the Parti communiste français nevertheless states that the immediate task is the following:

To block the road to the Presidency of the Republic of Marine Le Pen, to her clan, and to the threat that the Front National represents for democracy, for the Republic and for peace, is to use the ballot, unfortunately the only way to do so.

Le Parti communiste appelle à battre Le Pen.

The Socialists have just endorsed the same position, putting centreplace the need to beat the far-right, (à battre l’extrême droite).

Ensemble  calls to make May the 1st a Big Day of Action against the NF and for an anti-Le Pen vote, “Le mouvement Ensemble! appelle à la mobilisation, dans la rue le 1er mai, en votant contre Le Pen le 7 mai, pour empêcher l’arrivée au pouvoir de l’extrême droite.”

The FN remains a party of the extreme-right and not just for France, but for the European left and labour movement, it is important that the PCF’s call is heeded.

This does not mean that the problems their vote and deep political roots in France pose is solved by such a vote.

Yet…

Mélenchon is fond of citing Victor Hugo.

On wonders if Hugo would have backed abstention had it been possible to vote as freely as one can in the present French election to stop LouisNapoléon. 

Then we have the legislative elections….June….

And the Mail is jubilant…

 

*****

 

Official first round result

With 106 of 107 departements counted | At 04:49 CEST
Macron 23.75%
Le Pen 21.53%
Fillon 19.91%
Mélenchon 19.64%
Hamon 6.35%
Dupont-Aignan 4.75%
Lassalle 1.22%
Poutou 1.1%
Asselineau 0.92%
Arthaud 0.65%
Cheminade 0.18%.

Second-round projection

Pollsters Ifop asked voters for the main contenders who they would opt for in the second round, if the remaining candidates were Macron and Le Pen. Using the actual first-round votes cast, this would imply a second-round result along the following lines:

Macron 60.63%

Le Pen 39.37%

Macron inherits

43% of Fillon’s voters

70% of Hamon’s voters

50% of Mélenchon’s voters

Le Pen inherits

31% of Fillon’s voters

3% of Hamon’s voters

12% of Mélenchon’s voters

Marine Le Pen “Russia and France should work together to save the world from globalism and Islamic fundamentalism.”

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Marine Le Pen Meets Putin in Moscow.

Reuters.

President Vladimir Putin met French far-right presidential candidate Marine Le Pen in the Kremlin on Friday and told her Russia had no intention of interfering in France’s presidential election.

Le Pen, who has said she admires the Russian leader, was visiting Russia at the invitation of Leonid Slutsky, head of the lower house of parliament’s foreign affairs committee, Russian news agencies reported.

State TV showed Putin telling Le Pen Moscow reserved the right to meet any French politician it wanted.

Interfax : “PUTIN AT MEETING WITH MARINE LE PEN: RUSSIA HAS ABSOLUTELY NO INTENTION TO INFLUENCE PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION IN FRANCE YET RESERVES RIGHT TO SPEAK WITH REPRESENTATIVES OF ANY POLITICAL FORCES.

France 24 reported earlier,

French far-right presidential candidate Marine Le Pen was due in Moscow on Friday for meetings with lawmakers less than a month before a presidential election clouded by allegations of Russian interference.

The leader of the National Front, an anti-immigrant and anti-European Union party, is seeking to bolster her international credentials ahead of the two-round French election on April 23 and May 7.

Her visit comes on the heels of a trip this week to Chad, base of a French military operation that’s aimed at rooting out Islamic extremists from a swath of Africa.

The head of the Russian Duma’s international affairs committee, Leonid Slutsky, was quoted by the Tass news agency as saying Le Pen would hold meetings on the “international agenda such as the war on terrorism”.

There was no official word as to whether the French far-right leader would meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin, whom she has described as “good for world peace”.

The BBC also adds this,

“I believe that barring parliamentarians from speaking to each other, working together is an infringement of democratic rights,” Interfax quoted her as saying in a meeting with Duma speaker Vyacheslav Volodin.  She vowed to push for the so-called “blacklists” of targeted invidivudals to be abolished. Ms Le Pen also said that Russia and France should work together to save the world from globalism and Islamic fundamentalism, Interfax said.

Background: Radio France International. (24.3.17)

Marine Le Pen est appréciée à Moscou, car elle prône le démantèlement de l’Union européenne, la levée des sanctions à l’égard de la Russie et surtout la reconnaissance de l’annexion de la Crimée par la Russie. Le Front national avait d’ailleurs envoyé un représentant en tant qu’observateur lors du référendum sur le rattachement de la Crimée à la Russie, qui avait attesté de la transparence du scrutin. L’attitude a convaincu le Kremlin d’être bienveillant à l’égard du mouvement d’extrême droite.

Marine le Pen is liked in Moscow, because she backs breaking up the European Union, lifting sanctions against Russia, and, above all, recognition of the Russian annexation of Crimea. The Front National had also sent a representative as an observer during the referendum in Crimea on joining Russia, which claimed that the vote was free and fair. This attitude convinced the Kremlin to take a friendly stand on the extreme right movement.

Et lorsque fin 2014, le parti a eu besoin d’argent, une banque russe, la FCRB, a accepté de lui prêter 9 millions d’euros, avant de se voir retirer sa licence quelques mois plus tard. Les relations sont toutefois restées au beau fixe entre le FN et Moscou, où Marine Le Pen est régulièrement accueillie par des instances aussi importantes que la présidence de l’Assemblée. A-t-elle été accueillie en plus haut lieu ? En tout cas, il n’en a pas été question officiellement.

When, at the end of 2014, the FN needed money, a Russian bank, the FCRB, agreed to lend it 9 million Euros, before having its licence withdrawn a few months later. Relations have nevertheless remained cordial between the FN and Moscow, where Marine Le Pen is regularly met figures as important at the President of Parliament. Has she been received by higher levels? If she has, it not been official.

As part of its detailed analysis of the FN programme Mediapart  (Le programme Le Pen 2017 au scanner de Mediapart) notes  that,

“Il y a de fait une vraie convergence politique et programmatique entre le Front national et Russie unie, le parti de Vladimir Poutine.

There is, in reality, a real political and programmatic converge between the Front National and Vladimir Putin’s Russia United party.”

The FN, in short, calls for a new strategic re-alignment, from one based on the United States, to one with the Russian Federation.

Written by Andrew Coates

March 24, 2017 at 12:35 pm

Emmanuel Macron: in the “battlefield” against Populists in French Presidential Elections?

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After the Dutch election, national populism is said to have another chance to make an impact in Europe in the French Presidential contest at the end of April (first round). Wilders may have been seen off in Holland but Marine Le Pen, who claims to promote the French “people” (in jobs, ‘priorité nationale’) against uncontrolled “mondialisation” (globalisation) the “elites” of the European Union. She leads the polls, with majority backing in the manual and administrative working class. The Front National’s chances may have been increased by the scandals that have all but wiped out the hopes of victory of Les Republicans’ candidate, François Fillon. It is claimed that many of the once favoured right-wing party’s supporters, feeling that their man has been the victim of a judges’ plot, filled with spite, and underlying affinity, could vote for the Front National in the decisive second round.

For some on the left of centre the candidacy of Emmanuel Macron, a liberal, economically and socially, centrist, “progressive” even a ““centrist populist” now represents the most effective riposte to the far right. A sizable chunk of the Parti Socialiste (PS) right and socially liberal personalities in the wider left orbit, have smiled on his candidacy. Polls suggest he may come close to Le Pen in the April ballot, and, with transfers from all sides of the political spectrum, though notably from left supporters, could win the two-horse play off in May.

A Bulwark against National Populism?

For some commentators Macron could be at the crest of a wave of modernising politics that may be able not just to defeat Marine le Pen but set an example to others on how to overwhelm nationalist populism. For others it could pave the way for an international renewal of the centre, or the ‘centre left’, including the one time dominant modernisers inside social democratic parties This has resonance in Britain, where Liberal Democrats gush admiration, former Social Democratic Party stalwart,  Polly Toynbee has fully endorsed him as a bulwark against Marine Le Pen, disappointed Labour leadership candidate, Liz Kendall is said to admire Macron, as has former Europe Minister Denis MacShane, who sees him as standing up to Euroscepticism, and would no doubt enlist him in the battle to rehabilitate Tony Blair’s record in government.

It is tempting to think of, or to dismiss, Macron as a political entrepreneur, a “personality”, the creator of a “start up”, a political firm (Candidate Macron Jeremy Harding. London Review of Books. 15.3.17). Others have concentrated on attacking his “empty words” (discours creux), and efforts to appeal to all, strongly criticising French colonialism, while offering a dialogue with the ultra-conservatives of ‘Sens commun’, if not further right.

These, together with an elitist education and high-powered insider employment (from the heights of the State to Banking) are important facets of Macron’s character, and his present politics revolved around that personality. But this is to ignore the reasons why this candidacy is unsettling the Parti Socialiste. The former Minister of the Economy (2014 – 2016) under PS Premier Manuel Valls, with, from time to time, most clearly from 2006 – 2009, membership of the Socialists, he was marked out for the economic side of his “social liberalism”. Macron promoted the maximum loosening of labour protection in the El Khomri  labour law, and advanced his own proposals for wider economic reform.

A Tool Against Hamon.

The left outside of France was more interested in Socialist Party critics of the El Khomri law, the “frondeurs” for whom this summed up their dissatisfaction with Manuel Valls and François Hollande’s market reform and fiscal policies. But Macron could be said to be embody the breakaway of the opposite side of the “synthesis” that held the government together between the Prime Minister’s authoritarian modernisation and those with socialist and social democratic values. In this sense En marche! is a handy tool against the present candidate of the Parti Socialiste, Benoît Hamon, the left-wing ‘frondeur’ now representing the Party, with the support of the Greens, EELV and the small, but traditional ally of the Socialists, the Parti Radical de gauche.

The development of Marcon’s campaign bears looking at through this angle. Briefly, in 2016, Macron wished the outgoing President, François Hollande, to stand again. Perhaps heeding Valls’ own judgement that the divisions within the Left, including those inside his own party, were “irreconcilable” he founded his movement En marche! in April that year, as his personal ambition – were it possible – became more assertive, he was obliged to leave the government in the summer.

It is at this point that a programme publicly emerged. Relying on the authority of an economist he has now revived the deregulating, “working with grain of globalisation” “skills and competitiveness” economics of the 1990s centre left. In this vein the central elements of the electoral platform of En marche!, his “contract with France” (Retrouver notre esprit de conquête pour bâtir une france nouvelle) calls to “Libérer le travail et l’esprit d’entreprise” by lowering social charges and doing away with obsolete regulation. His priorities, if in power, are, he has announced to Der Spiegel, (March 17th)

Three major reforms: The labor market must be opened, we need improved vocational training programs and the school system needs to support equal opportunity again.

For Europe.

France must restore its credibility by reforming the labour market and getting serious about its budget.

(and, this precondition fulfilled…)

Much deeper integration within the eurozone.

Just beneath the surface language, which evokes a meld of promoting a “core” Europe (negotiated after a ‘hard Brexit“….)  and French patriotic feelings it’s not hard to discover the economic liberalism that Marcel Gauchet has described as fixing the limits of what is politically possible (Comprendre le malheur français 2016). Macron’s core proposals could be said to be an internalisation of the reduction of state action to the needs of economic actors.

This is more than the traditional call to cut red tape. It is for a shake up of labour laws that El Khomri only began. The dream of much of French business, right-wing politicians, and pundits, but some on the PS right is apparently now possible because, Macron believes, we are in “extraordinary times”  The wish that France could follow other European countries and make a clean sweep of all the laws and protections that ‘burden’ the land’s labour market, and revive the dream of ‘flexibility’ to meet the global challenge, had found its voice again. Perhaps it is no coincidence that a large section of the programme entitled “a State that Protects” is not devoted to welfare but to giving people a sense of security through the protection of the Police and Security services.

Beyond this constituency is Macron a newly minted saviour for the centre? He declares his movement, “transpartisan”. As Thomas Guénolé, author of the witty, Petit Guide du Mensonge en Politique (A Brief Guide to Political Lies. 2014) points out in Le Monde, his “révolution par le centre” bears comparison with former President Valéry Giscard d’Estaing’s “advanced liberalism” in the 1970s (Le macronisme est un nouveau giscardisme. 16.3.17). They have a shared admiration for the Swedish social model, hard, then as now, to translate in French terms, an identical privileged background, and support for social and economic liberalisation against socialism or, today, ‘collectivism’.

It is difficult to see how this brand of “reformism” will marry welfare, and liberal economics. How “progressive” politics will deal with mass unemployment and the problems of the banlieue that successive modernising French governments of the right and left over last four decades have not resolved remains to be seen. Holding hands across the French social and political divide is unlikely to be the answer.

All Have Won, All Must Have Prizes!

The telegenic Macron would no doubt wish to begin the Presidency, transcending “party lines”,  by announcing, “The Race is over! Everybody has won and all must have prizes! But who will award the trophies? What other forces will there be to do the job in the National Assembly, whose election takes place immediately afterwards and which forms the basis of a President’s Cabinet?

The scramble to secure government posts and positions on Macron’s hypothetical list of candidates for the Legislative elections, is accompanied by the refusal of former Socialist Prime Minister Manuel Valls (despite his own record of less than easy relations with the leader of En marche!) to back his own party’s candidate Benoît Hamon.

Longer-standing political facts intervene at this point. While this hastily formed ‘trans-party’ may well get some candidates elected it is unlikely to win a majority in Parliament. As Guénolé points out, in order to establish his power properly Giscard had made a choice to ally with the right, the Gaullist party. Macron, while enjoying the backing of well-known individuals and small groups like the present incarnation of Giscardianism headed by François Bayrou and his MoDems, has yet to choose between an alliance with the real players: Les Républicans (LR) or the Parti Socialiste.

Either choice carries risks. The former agreement could end like that of the British Liberal Democrats and the Conservatives, alienating liberal opinion. The latter would run up against the left, including not just the Hamon wing of the Socialists but those further to his left.

We might ask if, and it remains an if, Macron becomes President, if the results of his programme, which subordinate politics to the economy, would really mean in the words of his programme, that everybody would be have more control over their own destiny and that people would be able to live better together (‘chacun maîtrise davantage son destin et que nous vivions tous mieux ensemble‘) Standing against this possible future two left candidates, Hamon and Jean-Luc Mélenchon, both in their different ways, offer to put economics in the service of politics. But that needs a further analysis…..

See also this,  French presidential candidate Emmanuel Macron’s ‘anti-system’ angle is a sham 

Latest Opinion Polls.

Présidentielle: Le Pen et Macron au coude-à-coude, Fillon distancé 

Karl Marx. Greatness and Illusion. Gareth Stedman Jones. A Democratic Socialist Review.

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Karl Marx. Greatness and Illusion. Gareth Stedman Jones. Allen Lane 2016.

In the Prologue to Karl Marx Greatness and Illusion Stedman Jones announces, the “aim of this book is to put Marx back in his nineteenth century surroundings. (Page 5) For many reviewers, this recalled the last major account of Marx’s life, Jonathan Sperber’s Karl Marx: A Nineteenth Century Life (2013). Sperber begins by declaring Marx to be a “figure of a past historical epoch, one increasingly distant from our own age…” (1)

When Greatness and Illusion appeared last summer there was little agreement about the merits of Stedman Jones’ efforts, with those sympathetic to Marx finding a variety of flaws in its 750 pages. Their reactions are not unexpected. The biography, from the portrait of the young Karl “would-be poet, dramatist or philosopher” to its survey of the continents of 19th century ideas, its survey of the merits of Marx’s critique of political economy,  and lengthy historical chronicles, is never in too much of a hurry to point out Marx’s misapprehensions. Rather than dwell on what would turn out to be a lengthy list (for reviews see the link below), perhaps the most significant aspect of Stedman Jones’ study is the links he draws between Marx’s ideology and political practice, focusing on whether he was, or was not, out of kilter with his own time. (2)

Sperber had argued that throughout his life Marx remained wedded to a “replay” of the 1789 Revolutions in central and Eastern Europe, initially through “Jacobin” republican governments, which would result in a “social revolution (which) would lead from capitalism to communism and replace the rule of the bourgeoisie with that of the proletariat.”(3).

First International.

By contrast Stedman Jones argues that while strongly marked by the legacy of the French Revolution, refracted through Young Hegelian radicalism, and the search for “social emancipation” greater than political liberty, Marx’s greatest achievement lay in his contribution to a non-revolutionary body, the First International (1864, formal dissolution, 1876). The International Working Men’s Association marked the most significant stage in the radical and working class movement’s turn from the Jacobin tradition. It set demands for political freedom, ‘internationalist republicanism” on an intelligible socialist footing, “the political economy of labour”, and linked the left to the trade union movement.

In Marx’s Inaugural Address to the body, he conceptualised “the emancipation of working classes as a global project and articulate a transnational community of workers’ interests” From a lifetime of hostility most forms of radical politics other than his own he had now been able to master “a language with which politically aware working men at the time could identity” (Page 465) “It was in the formulation of this new social-democratic language that Karl made his greatest contribution to the International…”(Page 466) He did not just advocate that the working classes “conquer political power” and emancipate itself. His “assumption was that the process the process of a transition from the capitalist mode of production towards the society of associated producers had already begin.” (Page 467)

Those looking for an endorsement of Marx’s politics will not find much else to feed on. Stedman Jones’ devotes many pages to a much less glowing tributes to the classical texts of ‘political Marxism’, from the Manifesto of the Communist Party (1847-8), the Class Struggles in France: 1848 – 1850 (1850), The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Napoleon (1852) and The Civil War in France (1871). Crucial “moments”, the 1848 Revolutions, Louis Bonaparte’s Coup d’état in 1851, the 1871 Paris Commune, that is historical points in which Marx grappled with the problems of class, the state, revolution and socialism in historical flesh and bones, are extensively covered, with a running commentary on the failings of Marx’s analysis and his wishful thinking.

Class Struggle.

Karl’s notion of “class struggle” has been treated, he declares, as a “dramatisation of self-evident economic facts of industrialisation”. Yet, historians have come to grasp that “class is no longer…the expression of a simple social-economic reality, but as a form of language discursively produced to create identity.” (Page 306) Marx combined a “teleological account of the place of labour in the world”, derived from Young Hegelian thinking with, the French republican, socialist and even Legitimist terms of “proletariat” and “bourgeoisie” used in opposition to the “bourgeois” Monarchy of Louis Philippe. Culminating in the 1848 Revolution and the creation of the Second French Republic the organised “proletarians”, Blanquist and other republican revolutionaries, were like the British Chartists driven by the flames of labour’s destiny and opposition to private property, to confront the contradiction of capitalism, and the political rule of the bourgeoisie.

Such a template led Marx, Stedman Jones asserts, to ignore the ideological and political context of the French uprising. Marx’s emphasis on class struggle missed the key element of the rule of the Monarchy. For Stedman Jones it was the shutting out of the masses from the system of political power under the ‘censitaire’ constitution, a franchise that covered a tiny minority of the population.

“It was not the activities or strategy of a fictive ‘bourgeoisie’ but the attempt around 1830 to construct a political system based upon the political exclusion of wage-earners that created the ‘struggle’ of the ‘working class and the ‘middle class”. “ (Page 311) It was “political exclusion” caused by the ‘censitaire’ (a high payment level for electoral rights), that was the key issue. Stedman Jones asserts that Marx’s “hostility to representation and the ‘political state’” left him in a “poor position to understand the political determinants of working class action.”(P 311)

How did Marx portray working class activity? In his writings on the 1848 Revolutions Marx asserted that the “working class”, in his republican and ‘communist’ associations, was a potential lever for “overturning the world” through actions outside the system. Louis Blanc and those with influence within the French working class had called for “association” linked hand in hand with “universal suffrage”. These dissolved in the face of more ambitious goals. The “proletariat rallies ever more around revolutionary socialism around communism”, for a “class dictatorship of the proletariat”. He criticised attempts to introduce change through a representative republican democratic state, “the peculiar character of social democracy”, “a means of softening the antagonisms between the two extremes of capital and wage labour and transforming it into harmony, of superseding them both (page 176) This nevertheless stands with his 1852 enthusiasm for the Chartist demand for universal suffrage, which would mean the political supremacy of the working class.” (4)

From these brief passages one can see that Marx, may have been hostile to the mechanisms of representation on offer in the Second Republic. But he spent a great deal of time trying to demonstrate how through their institutional weight they might not only divert the ‘revolution’ but also be a practical dead-end (the episode of the National Workshops amongst others). Marx was already considering as the remarks on Chartism indicate, that the “republic” with universal suffrage, could be a key element in the working class “battle for democracy”. Finally if Marx was dismissive of “social democracy”, in this context, it was patent that efforts of ‘party’ had failed to achieve more than fleeting legislative palliatives. As for the importance of the “religious democracy”, a political force which Stedman Jones is more than justified in rescuing from condescension, it is unclear if their belief in “la Cause Sainte” and “Dieu et humanité” helped the fight against “modern slavery”.

Stedman Jones has every right to try to ‘correct’ Marx.  Marx’s claim that Louis Napoleon’s 1851 coup d’état, was supported by  the “lumpen proletariat’  – a category which he shows is vacuous – and his description of the peasantry as ‘sack of potatoes’ unable to represent itself (in fact the one major rebellion against him was rural – Page 339) to give a wider social base the  1851 coup d’état, are important, though not exactly novel, contributions to how we understand the period. But we probably do not need the constant presence of  Stedman Jones as Eugène Sue’s Rudolph in Les Mystères de Paris, to save Marx from his theoretical shortcomings.

Languages of Class.

To some of his most hostile critics Stedman Jones stands convicted of deeper faults. His appears to operate with a watered-down version of the apparently “post-structuralist” slant in his Languages of Class. (1983). That is, critics allege, writing about class as “talk”. This would be unfair. A key essay in the book unravelled the distinctive ‘radical’ political approach to the State, “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” “In radical terms, in 1832, the ‘people’ became the ‘working classes’.” This remains an important account of British radicals’ distinct concept of “class” and the “people” and the way in which writers and activists in and around the Chartist movement claimed to pinpoint political causes of ‘exploitation’ outside of the relations of production. It does not, nevertheless, demonstrate that “class” can be detached from economic conditions, beginning with the occupations of the Chartists. (5)

In Greatness and Illusion Stedman Jones concentrates on the conflicts over “political exclusion”, with a much less coherent account of the ‘figure’ through which French radicals and the ‘working class’ perceived the Second Republic. The reason is simple: there is no easy comparison between the competing but relatively unified doctrines of an body like the Chartists and broader British radicalism or early socialism, and the multitude of disparate forces swept up into active life in France from 1848 to 1851. The Republic unleashed a multitude of different politics of the excluded, but Marx was not alone in underlining its class character.

As Alex de Tocqueville famously observed,

One thing was not ridiculous, but really ominous and terrible; and that was the appearance of Paris on my return. I found in the capital a hundred thousand armed workmen formed into regiments, out of work, dying of hunger, but with their minds crammed with vain theories and visionary hopes. I saw society cut into two: those who possessed nothing, united in a common greed; those who possessed something, united in a common terror. There were no bonds, no sympathy between these two great sections; everywhere the idea of an inevitable and immediate struggle seemed at hand. Already the bourgeois and the peuple (for the old nicknames had been resumed) had come to blows, with varying fortunes, at Rouen, Limoges, Paris; not a day passed but the owners of property were attacked or menaced in either their capital or income. (6)

Stedman Jones’ background as an editor and contributor to New Left Review is perhaps another context for the biography.  A taste for lectures on left-wing strategy marked its early years. This can still be heard in Editorial advice on the welcome “knocks” to the “neoliberal order” created by Brexit. One can detect echoes if not of the content but of this style in Greatness and Illusion. By citing Marx’s dislike of the representative state, readers will be excused for thinking that Stedman Jones is offering recommendations on how to improve on his “poor position”. This impression is reinforced in the account of the First International. Marx’s enthusiasm for the Paris Commune, which revived his “critique of Parliamentarism” The description of the self-governing radical democratic Constitutions established by popular rule in Paris (18th of March 1871 to the end of May 1871) was an account of “what might have become”. (Page 502) Marx should have verified his references.

Stedman Jones states that in The Civil War in France (1871) the famous picture of a smoothly running direct democracy gearing up to war was “an imaginary projection of the changes that might accompany a transition towards the rule of associated producers.”(Ibid) Yet Marx, it should be stated here, was so far wrapped in this imaginary portrait that, as Stedman Jones himself mentions he admired and promoted the English translation of  Prosper-Olivier Lissagaray’s Histoire de la Commune de 1871 (1876)  a book which includes a detailed account of the administrative failings of the Commune. (Page 548)

A particular charge is that, incautiously, Marx underestimated the hostility aroused, not just by the bloody repression of the Communards but also by their own (very limited) violence, amongst British supporters of the International. In short, he had broken with the rule that defined the Association’s alliance: he had begun to preach unfamiliar doctrines. The public scandal created by his words may have pleased Marx and his immediate circle, but began the process which ended in the break up of the International

In The Civil War In France Marx, Greatness and Illusion notes called for “an elected assembly, formed on the basis of democratic and representative principles”. Yet once the proletariat triumphed, “there would be a distribution of general functions assigned as a cooperative factory according to suitability” (Page 528) Stedman Jones’ qualifies this. He points to the need for spaces for differences of opinions and, with a dose of homely doctrine, refers to John Stuart Mill on the importance of individual liberty in a system of “equal ownership” and “combined labour”. As the objective of a proletarian socialist transformation of society, or more simply, democratic socialism, this is a far from a goal that can be consigned to the 19th century.

As others have observed, these thoughts are not developed. Stedman Jones completes his view that Marx spent the last fifteen years of his life trying to produce a theory of modern communism through the “intensive study of ancient, communal and pre-capitalist forms.” Those interested in the Franks, The Gauls, the Germanic Mark, Indo-European cultures, the Slavic Mir and the debate in early Russian Marxism on the place of the village community and its property in the transition to socialism, will find much to reflect on. (7)

*******

(1) Page xii. Karl Marx. A Nineteenth Century Life. Jonathan Sperber. Liveright Publishing. 2013.
(2) Christian Fuchs Karl Marx Greatness and Illusion. Marx and Philosophy Review (September 2016). This provides a very helpful overview of the reviews and Gareth Stedman’s biography. For one review that really dislikes the book see: Who is Gareth Stedman Jones and why is he saying such stupid things about Marx? Louis Proyect.
(3) Page 558 Sperber. Op cit.
(4) Page 123. The Class Struggles in France. Page 176. The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte. Page 262. The Chartists. All in Surveys from Exile. Karl Marx Political Writings Volume 2. Penguin Books. 1973.
(5) Page 104. Languages of Class: Studies in English Working Class History 1832–1982.  Cambridge University Press. 1983.
(6) The Recollections of Alexis de Tocqueville (1896) (Alexis de Tocqueville) A private journal of the Revolution of 1848 published posthumously.
(7) Page 183. Introduction to The Communist Manifesto. Karl Marx and Fredrick Engels. Gareth Stedman Jones. Penguin. 2002.

Written by Andrew Coates

March 1, 2017 at 2:46 pm