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For a Left Populism. Chantal Mouffe. Review: “Neither Left nor Successful”.

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Left Populism, “Neither Left nor Successful”.

For a Left  Populism. Chantal Mouffe.  Verso. 2018

Review: Andrew Coates.

(From the Latest Chartist Magazine.)

Chantal Mouffe and her partner Ernesto Laclau published Hegemony and Socialist Strategy in 1985 She begins For a Left Populism on the “challenge represented by the ‘populist moment’ by referring to the “incapacity of left politics” during the 1980s to grapple with post-68 movements, from the women’s movement to ecology. Anything that could not be thought of in class terms had been rejected. They offered, she states, an alternative, which became associated with the monthly, Marxism Today, against this “class essentialism”. It focused on bringing these new social forces into a left project, the “radicalisation of democracy”. There were angry debates on the left about these claims, focused around the authors’ ‘post-Marxism’ and the importance of class in left politics.

The world has changed. Today Mouffe argues that neoliberalism, austerity, and “oligarchisation”, has brought down living standards and eroded popular sovereignty. The political system is hollowed out. It is “post-democracy”, a term she takes from Colin Crouch and Jacques Rancière (La Mésentente. 1997). A paradigm of ‘consensus’ around the value of the free-market marks Western societies. There is little more detail about what is ‘post’ democratic in the new millennium’s elections, political competition for government and the possibilities for public debate opened up by social media.

How this differs from the previous consensus around the Keynesian welfare state, known in Britain during the 1950s as ‘Butskellism’, is not explored. The thrust is that social democratic and Labour Parties, notably during Tony Blair and Gordon Brown’s premierships, accepted the legacy of Margaret Thatcher. As part of this ‘hegemonic’ package they put concern for the Taxpayer over generous public spending. New Labour agreed that privatisation of state functions and industries were “what works”. They aimed at competing on the global market. .

After the 2007 financial crisis people across Europe began to question the belief that these policies brought them any benefit. Those “left behind” by austerity in the wake of the baking crisis and globalised economies, demanded “democratic recognition”. Many Mouffe says, have turned to anti-establishment populist parties of the right, or have expressed their unhappiness through backing the Hard-Right project of Brexit in the UK European Referendum.

The message of For a Left Populism is, “To stop the rise of right-wing populist parties, it is necessary to design a properly political answer through a left populist movement that will federate all the democratic struggles against post-democracy.” She commends the Spanish Podemos, Jean-Luc Mélenchon’s La France insoumise (LFI) and Labour under Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership, for “left populist strategies.” 

For a Left Populism draws on many, often very abstract, ideas that Mouffe has developed since the 1980s. This include her writings on Carl Schmitt, Claude Lefort, Jürgen Habermas (amongst many others) and  ‘agonistic democracy”. This is a concept which puts conflict and dissensus at the heart of democratic debate. Conflict, she argues, are the keynotes of pluralist democracy. This is an idea familiar from less elevated works. Bernard Crick’s In Defence of Politics (1964, and later editions) made a vibrant democratic socialist case for the importance of open disagreement and debate for the democratic left. Crick also wrote on how Machiavelli saw “liberty arising from conflicts.” (Introduction to The Discourses. Niccolò Machiavelli. 1970)

For a Left Populism talks about constructing a “collective will”. Left populism, she asserts, draws into its orbit by a “chain of equivalences” a variety of progressive demands, open citizenship. This is the ‘construction of the People”, a collective political agency, “ opposing the ‘people’ against the ‘oligarchy’. For this to work Mouffe follows the late Ernesto Laclau. There has to be “some form of crystallisation of common affects, and affective bonds with a charismatic leader… “ One can see the attraction for Jean-Luc Mélenchon who has made sure that there is no “so-called” democratic opposition in his Web-Platform based movement. It is a “lieu de Rassemblement” (rallying point) not a political party. (1)

Mouffe’s left populism also, centrally, draws on the “libidinal investment at work in national – or regional – forms of identification”…” National identities should be left to the right.  Instead of leaving the field to national populists there should be another outlet, “mobilising…. around a patriotic identification with the more egalitarian aspects of the national tradition.”

Much of this approach to nationalism is drawn out from the tangled thickets of Frédéric Lordon. The French theorist developed from some of  Spinoza’s ideas a picture of the importance of ‘affects’, which he illustrated as attachments of people to national identities, and, above all, nation states. La Société des affects (2013). Lordon, a supporter of Mélenchon has faced charges of nationalism himself. Chantal Mouffe’s French critics have not been slow to point out to the emotional ‘affects’ of voters motivated by anti-immigrant feeling. These are neither legitimate concerns nor are those who have them likely to drop their views to join a left-wing Collective Will. (2)

Since For a Left Populism was published Mélenchon’s Movement has stagnated and declined in polls, down below 10% of voting intentions for the coming European Elections. It has faced a series of internal crises, centring on the lack of democratic decision-making. Marine le Pen appears to have had more of an impact in the Gilets Jaunes uprising than the leader of La France insoumise. After poor regional election results in Andalusia and declining support Podemos, has suffered a serious split. Her interlocutor, Iñigo Errejón (Podemos, In the Name of the People. Iñigo Errejón. Chantal Mouffe. 2016) is now aligned with Más Madrid, a catch-all progressive alliance. Pablo Iglesias is said to project a long-term alliance with the Spanish socialists, the PSOE. The radical left “Anticapitalista” current is in outright opposition.

The problem with left populism is, as Éric Fassin has remarked, is that, “it’s neither left nor a winning strategy.”  Perhaps we should follow his advice and concentrate on creating broad and effective democratic socialist parties and not on ‘federating’ the “people”. (Populisme: le grand ressentiment. 2017) (3)

 

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  1. À propos du mouvement «La France insoumise» Jean-Luc Mélenchon. C:\Documents and Settings\Compaq_Owner\My Documents\À propos du mouvement «La France insoumise» Jean-Luc Mélenchon.htm
  2. Populisme de gauche, du nouveau ? Pierre Khalfa
  3. See also: Left-wing populism.A legacy of defeat: Interview with Éric Fassin Radical Philosophy. 2018. For an overview of Mouffe and Fassin see Jacobin, Can There Be a Left Populism?Jacob Hamburger. There is much to say on the intellectual structure of the ‘affects’ argument, and the abstract account by Mouffe construction of the ‘people’ in a counter-hegemonic direction through relations of equivalence which he does not. Hamburger however makes the valdi points that ‘left populism’ is hard to pin down as one thing (the gulf between Sanders and Corbyn alone is immense, and Podemos and La France insoumise) but fails to deal with anything like the different party structures. One can also see that the “degree of porosity between left and right” is politically fraught with dangers, as, even if minority, Gilets Jaunes red-brown cross-overs indicate. One would also prefer an account which focuses on sovereigntism, national independence as a rampart against neoliberalism, something Jacobin writers have themselves embroidered into a ‘left populism’.

 

As the attraction of ‘left populism’, which is still influential in publications such as New Left Review, and the American Jacobin, and other pro-Brexit groups, wanes,  this important article also in the latest Chartist, continues the argument:

THE DANGER OF LEFT NATIONALISM IN THE UK AND EUROPE

Extract:

A recent book on Corbynism by Frederick Harry Pitts and Matt Bolton argues that its key components lie in “seeing the world as constituted essentially of nations” and “posing the nation against global and international capital”. But, the authors point out, the search for sovereignty is destined to fail, not least because “we live in a world structured by capital, a social relation which exists as a world market, from which single states cannot abdicate, no matter how hard they try”. Not only is this emerging aspect of Corbynism pitting itself against the tide of history, but it also produces political rhetoric that shares territory with the nativist Brexiteer right wing. In casting the ‘national community’ as the primary community for whom the left speaks, and in describing not only global flows of capital but also of people as threat to this primary community, the left has clearly contributed to racist othering of migrant workers. Which is why some of Corbyn’s speeches on Europe have drawn praise from the likes of Nigel Farage.

Corbynism’s emerging left nationalism is treading the same path as parts of the French and German left. As far back as 2016 Sahra Wagenknecht of Die Linke challenged Chancellor Angela Merkel’s decision to accept more than one million refugees, calling for limits on entry. In an environment where the far right is stoking fears about ‘violent’ immigrants with fake news and conspiracy theories, Wagenknecht has called for the deportation of any refugees who ‘abuse’ German hospitality: a call in complete contravention of the UN 1951 Refugee Convention, and one that drew praise from the far right Alternative für Deutschland.

Continue Reading.

 

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The Pro-Brexit Labour Gatekeepers, From Milne to McCluskey.

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There is anger in the labour movement that a small group of pro-Brexit people are making party policy on Europe.

The Observer reported on Sunday that,

A senior union source said McCluskey seemed to be trying to bypass Labour party and TUC policy, which was to insist on a customs union and close involvement in the single market. “History will damn the treacherous moves to sideline the rest of the trade union movement and frustrate Labour party conference policy,” said the union official.

“He and his allies in the leader’s office haven’t made it a secret that they want Brexit to happen, but to do a secret deal behind the movement’s backs to get it done is shocking even for them.”

 Ana Oppenheim, an organiser for the leftwing anti-Brexit movement Another Europe is Possible, who is also active inside the pro-Corbyn grassroots movement Momentum, suggested any Labour MPs who refused to do all in their power to block May’s Brexit should be deselected.

“This is an existential moment for the left,” she said. “The Tory Brexit deal will mean a huge expansion of border controls and will open us up to unprecedented economic deregulation. If Labour MPs cannot unite to block it, they shouldn’t be Labour MPs. Members have mechanisms to choose MPs who actually represent the Labour movement, and we would encourage them to use these.”

Then there was this: in Private Eye yesterday:

There are claims that Corbyn has difficulty dealing with anybody with disagrees with him.

The highly articulate and focused Keir Starmer, the Shadow Brexit secretary, would normally be expected to have been at the meeting with the Prime Minister.

But apart from the differences PE outlines he is reported to back free movement, something the Lexit (pro-Brexit) left are dead against.

Having the unelected Milne in such a strategic position at the Downing Street and inside the Party means – the anti-Brexit internationalist left alleges – that attempts from inside the labour movement to reach a deal are reaching a critical point.

Shiraz posts today,

McCluskey’s Brexit manoeuvres

Four union leaders, including Len McCluskey of Unite, had one-on-one talks with the PM in Downing Street last month.

McCluskey is seeking commitments from May that would give some Labour MPs an excuse to back the government in the next “meaningful vote” on Brexit. That could allow Brexit to proceed without Jeremy Corbyn being held responsible by Labour’s anti-Brexit rank and file.  “The unions are at war given Unite’s attempt at a side deal,” an unnamed “senor union figure” told the FT, adding “and people are suspicious that it’s being nodded through by the leader’s office.”

Milne already has a programme for UK self-sufficiency:
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Written by Andrew Coates

February 7, 2019 at 3:08 pm

Shadow Foreign Secretary Emily Thornberry calls for “timely and effective” new elections in Venezuela and “targeted sanctions”.

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Left needs to say more than this, and Thornberry has said it.

This was posted today on John McDonnell – The People’s Chancellor.

Shadow foreign secretary will make clear rebuke to record of Venezuela’s Nicolás Maduro.

Labour government would not indulge human rights abuses by Britain’s allies or by regimes that “call themselves ‘socialist’ but … betray every socialist ideal”, the shadow foreign secretary will say on Wednesday.

The reference by Emily Thornberry, when she sets out her proposed policy under a Labour government, is intended as a clear rebuke to the record of the Venezuelan government led by Nicolás Maduro.

JeremyCorbyn has so far opposed the decision made by a majority of European Union states, including the UK, to recognise the rival Venezuelan leader Juan Guaidó as interim president, but Thornberry is eager to ensure that Labour’s opposition to interference is not misconstrued as support for the Maduro regime. Guaidó’s party is a member of the Socialist International, with which Labour is affiliated.

The key themes of Thornberry’s speech at the Institute for Government setting out her vision of a Labour foreign policy will inevitably draw parallels with the ethical foreign policy set out by Robin Cook as the first foreign secretary of Tony Blair’s 1997 government.

This is an extremely welcome move.

Unlike many, who have suddenly become experts on Venezuela, this Blog has been reluctant to comment on the crisis in the country.

This numpty for example, thinks he knows it all:

It would seem that the only thing keeping Maduro supporters going in Britain is the fact that Trump and most of the EU (with exceptions like Italy’s far-right/populist government, “Italy has vetoed an EU statement on the Venezuela crisis amid political confusion in Rome“.)  is against him.

It  is as plain as a pikestaff that the Maduro regime is not just on the skids, but that 3 million people have fled  Venezuela, and that the corrupt Chavista government has remained in power through the use of force – including the torture of opponents.

There is a steady drip drip of stories such as this: how pro-regime millionaires have been salting their stolen cash away in foreign banks.

And this:

It is not necessary to go further to agree that Emily Thornberry has the right approach, from first principles, on how to deal with this issue.

Here is what she has just said, (Belfast Telegraph).

Shadow foreign secretary Emily Thornberry called for timely elections but declined to recognise Venezuela’s opposition leader as interim president.

…in a break with Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, Ms Thornberry backed the use of targeted sanctions and “whatever means necessary” short of a military invasion to bring about change.

….

Ms Thornberry told an event at the Institute for Government in London on Wednesday: “What I am saying is that we begin with dialogue.

“That offer has been made, internally and externally we need to ensure that happens.”

She added: “That’s the best way to proceed rather than somebody saying ‘that’s it, we’ve had enough, we recognise X, we don’t recognise Y any more’.

“That’s not the way to treat another country, even a country in as desperate a situation as Venezuela.”

Ms Thornberry said she was a “great believer in sanctions” as a way of using foreign policy muscle “that doesn’t involve killing people”.

She said there should be “timely and effective” new elections in Venezuela but “there should be no invasion, there should be proper discussion and negotiation”.

Written by Andrew Coates

February 6, 2019 at 12:41 pm

Heroic Failure, Brexit and Politics of Pain. Fintan O’Toole. A Review from the Internationalist Left.

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Heroic Failure, Brexit and Politics of Pain. Fintan O’Toole. Apollo. 2018.

“L’existence d’une nation est (pardonnez moi cette métaphore) un plébiscite de tous les jours, comme ‘l’existence d’un individu est une affirmation perpétuelle de la vie.”

The existence of a nation (you will pardon me this metaphor) is a daily referendum, just as the continuing existence of an individual is a perpetual affirmation of life.

Ernest Renan. Qu’est-ce qu’une nation 1882.

No ! penury, inertness and grimace,

In some strange sort, were the land’s portion. ‘See

Or shut your eyes’ says Nature peevishly.

‘It nothing skills: I cannot help my case:

‘It’s the Last Judgement’s fire must cure this place,

Cacline its clods and set my prisoners free’

Childe Roland. Robert Browning. 1855.

The Irish writer Fintan O’Toole begins Heroic Failure on the “phantasm” that drove the Brexit vote with a meditation on the delights of English self-pity. In the years leading up to Brexit, he remarks, E.L. James Fifty Shades of Grey (2011), a “fantasy of domination and submission”. This, he suggests could be rendered into a political fantasy “in which Christian Grey is the European Union and Anastasia Steele an innocent England seduced into entering his Red Room of Pain.” (Page 21) A friend tells me that flipping through its pages he found it full of un-erotic Americanisms (‘ass’). This might be a further metaphor to explore in that. Amongst the Brexit ultras, Boris Johnson and Nigel Farage have not only taken their politics from the US neoliberal right, but the latter seems sufficiently at home alongside Donald Trump to talk in Disney speak of “that’s all folks.”

Ernest Renan, who considered the Nation to be a “soul” a “spiritual principle”, left the decision-making about this make-up to popular choice. O’Toole equally echoes Renan is describing just how much of the British imperial past Leave supporters forget during our own Referendum. In this present the UK is a plucky land, ill-rewarded for holding the fort against Hitler, and under the boot of an alien superpower run by Teutons in a new Holy Roman Empire. In this picture Brexit as a “genuine national revolution against a phoney oppressor. It has the form of a moment of liberation without the content. The people get out of the Red Room of Pain only to find themselves in the Red, White and Blue Rooms of Pain. (Page 141)

Brexit Bollocks.

In the absence of real oppressors a variety of substitutes were found. Food was an issue from the start. Heroic Failure cites E.P. Thompson’s dyspeptic attack on middle class enthusiasm for the Common Market’s well-garnished menu. By the 1990s Mr Podsnap returned to defend our national Cuisine. Boris Johnson pursued the millennium with a crusade against a Brussels-led “humiliation of British democracy” – a threatened penury of prawn cocktail flavoured crisps. Johnson stood firm. Against a bossy female bureaucrat he declared, “As part of the balanced diet of a British child, – two packets Quavers, three chocolate Magnums, 2 oz dog shit a day – the prawn cocktail flavour crisp was thoroughly nutritious” (Page 112) Magnum ice-creams, few will fail to notice, are now being stockpiled to guard against the no-Deal Brexit Final Judgement.

It would take from the pleasure of reading Heroic Failure to recount more of O’Toole’s  not at all tall-tales of Brexiteer Bollocks. Nor would be appropriate to cover his fine account bonds between the Irish and British are bound together, from the centuries of national oppression and prejudice, to the deep ties of affection and descent (this writer is, apparently, genetically around 37% Irish) that bring us perhaps closer than any other nationality outside of the United Kingdom. Given this background it is all the more surprising that the Leave campaign showed an “absolute refusal to countenance any discussion of Ireland.”(Page 88) The importance of the ‘backstop’, which may be translated into English as “safety net”, for the border with North, has turned out to be more important than the nippers’ right to eat dog shit.

Behind the “sadopopulism” and the nationalist “dreamtime” lies the hard free-market right. When the boss of Wetherspoons, Tim Martin, came to Ipswich he evoked fish, no doubt under the impression that East Anglia prosperity was assured, as from mediaeval times until the beginning of the Twentieth Century, by the Herring Catch. Campaigners for Leave may have spoken in other antiquarian language of the country’s ‘Vassalage’ to the European Union. O’Toole gives a reminder of the English Royals’ scorched earth tactics during the 100 years war, which he compares to the mass murders of warlords in today’s failed states. Les Anglais ont débarqué, which originated during this period, can still signify the flow of menstrual blood.

Behind this lies a wish for, O’Toole suggests, Jacob Rees Mogg’s “sovereignty of the super rich and their right to escape.”(Page 172) “Buccaneering capitalism”, national sovereignty in the service of commerce, the right to a no-Deal Brexit under WTO rules, the project is for,  as Luke Cooper says, “a Britain ‘unchained’ from the shackles of European regulation, in other words, even more of a capitalist dystopia.”(The Left Against Brexit. Another Europe is Possible. 2018).

The Rise of English Nationalism.

Heroic Failure concludes with thoughts on the English nationalism that has become the motor of Brexit politics. Renewed English identity – 60% of the country’s population now identify themselves as English instead of British – partly mimics “the gestures of small-nation ‘liberation’ movements…”(Page 187) The self-pity on show is not an exclusive national trade mark, if at least Hugh MacDiarmid is to be taken to heart, ”Puir Auld Scotland’ bleat wi’ pride…. A thorn in a’ the wide world’s side” (A Drunk Man Looks at the Thistle (1926) But few, very few, countries have resembling the “unfinished psychic business of both the Second World War and the End of Empire.”(Page 92)

O’Toole would like to see the back of the Tory eccentrics and chancers who have pushed Brexit. He is not at his strongest when he suggests that English nationalism, “so poorly articulated and self-contradictory” is up for grabs”, by “progressives” (Page 200). In the century following Ernest Renan’s definition of a ‘Nation’ another Frenchman, Henri Barbusse, writing in the midst of the brutalities of the World War that preceded the Second declared that nationality was the business of poets and dreamers. Patriotism can be respected. Yet it carried grave dangers when it became the basis for politics. (Le Feu. Journal d’une escouade.1916).* Left-wing politics may recognise wish to wrest our common feelings and imagination, our humour and our decency, away from the Brexiteers and isolate the far-right. But a political strategy built out of a national identity is unable to respond to the ‘real issues’ (that is, those not stemming from hatred of foreigners) said to be behind the vote to Leave by the left-behind, and their attraction to the wank-bank dreams of the Hard Brexit Right. 

This can be seen in the dismal fate of “leftist anti-Europeanism”. Efforts to harness the ‘national popular’ from those claiming to be on the left have led nowhere. They have run with the Brexit hounds, and not their opponents. There are claims that ‘the’ ‘real’ working class, not by virtue of what they do but on *who they are*, mustered behind ‘national liberation’ from the EU.  During the Greek crisis they would have volunteered to be Lord Byron’s Jackals and fight for Hellenic independence from Brussels. Some on that left now back a Brexit on WTO terms. More live in the ‘dream-time” of a People’s Brexit, a Beacon of Hope to the World, brought in on the backs of a break with the EU. It shows few signs of appearing. A few relish the thought that Brexit will lead to the break up of Britain. This will, by allowing nationalists free reign in Scotland, pave the way for internationalism. Some just wallow in chaos. One of New Left Review’s leading intellectuals, Tariq Ali, leapt for joy at the Big kick up the EU’s backside” after the Referendum result.“

There is another left. “Ours is a future of solidarity between people and across borders”, “to end Fortress Europe, push back against the neoliberal economic consensus and build unity between workers across the continent” “building an internationalist left that can turn the ride in Europe and beyond” (Alena Ivanova. Michael Chessum. The Left Against Brexit. Another Europe is Possible).

We are in the middle of the Battle………..

“Dauntless the slug-horn to my lips I set, And blew. ‘Childe Roland to the Dark Tower came.’

***

*”Out of patriotism–which can be respected as long as it remains in the domain of sentiment and art on exactly the same footing as the sense of family and local pride, all equally sacred–out of patriotism they make a Utopian and impracticable idea, unbalancing the world, a sort of cancer which drains all the living force, spreads everywhere and crushes life, a contagious cancer which culminates either in the crash of war or in the exhaustion and suffocation of armed peace.” Under Fire.The Story of a Squad. Henri Barbusse

The Politics of the Gilets Jaunes and the Far-Right.

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Les Zouaves Paris après l'attaque du cortège du NPA dans une manifestation des Gilets jaunes.

“…the fact that the far right is present in this violence puts them off quite a bit. But it doesn’t bother me.” Verso Author, Éric Hazan.

The group who attacked the Nouveau Parti capitaliste during Acte XI of the Gilets Jaunes march turns out to have been created by former members of the violent far-right organisation, GUD, and (its continuing counterpart outside of Paris) ” Bastion social”.

Zouaves Paris: la résurgence de l’extrême droite radicale violente dans la capitale

France Soir, today.

And here:

“Je songe à ces méthodes qui consistent à violer l’intelligence révolutionnaire des militants (nombreux en France) qui ont l’habitude de se faire eux-mêmes leur opinion et qui se mettent loyalement à la dure école des faits.”

1939 Lettre à Trotsky [Marceau Pivert)

I refer to those methods which consist in violating and brutalizing 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.

Pivert Answers Trotsky 1939

To read English language left-wing commentary on the Gilets Jaunes is to enter a world in which the far-right appears in the movement only from the outside. They are not the “real Gilets Jaunes”. The US left publication Jacobin has published an article that claims that criticism comes from supporters of Macron, and snobbish attitudes towards the “working classes (who) have been neglected and ridiculed” (IMEN NEFFATI). This academic defender of Gammon is not alone. Just translated into English is the contentious ‘sociology’ of Christopher Guilluy’s book, (Twilight of the Elites: Prosperity, the Periphery, and the Future of France). Jacobin’s co-thinkers in Spiked recently interviewed Guilluy, who said,

One illustration of this cultural divide is that most modern, progressive social movements and protests are quickly endorsed by celebrities, actors, the media and the intellectuals. But none of them approve of the gilets jaunes. Their emergence has caused a kind of psychological shock to the cultural establishment. It is exactly the same shock that the British elites experienced with the Brexit vote and that they are still experiencing now, three years later.

‘The gilets jaunes are unstoppable’

Christophe Guilluy on the cultural divide driving the yellow vests.

I have not read the translation but the book was published a couple of years ago and is now in a cheap paperback (on the shelf…). It  is not a work of sociological investigation: it is an illustration of a thesis. That is, that the left has dropped the working class, the ‘popular classes’. It has succumbed to ‘globalisation’ and is now based on urban ‘people from nowhere’, the ‘elite’. The rest of society, the “periphery” is left to rot.  This view, shared by the former radical leftist,  Jean-Claude Michéa (who has also written on George Orwell’s concept of ‘common decency’), is that French society has become Americanised, “ inégalitaire et multiculturelle ” – unequal and multicultural. 

The last word should set alarm bells ringing.

The book will merit a fuller discussion but for the moment one can see the opening that the idea of a popular revolt against the globalised elite by the ‘real’ French (as the Gilets Jaunes call themselves, as, for example in the “Gaulois de Calais)” gives to the far right. Marine Le Pen, like the British extreme-right, is a strong critic of “globalism”. The infinitely flexible picture of the “people”, the left-behind, the “somewheres” is ready-made for their use. The below illustrates one effort at being humorous about the brave little Gauls standing up to the arrogant cosmopolitans.

Some of the French left, and not only those in la France insoumise who wish to channel this fight against the “elites” into their Rally’s strategy to “federate the people” behind Jean-Luc Mélenchon, see in the Gilets Jaunes a social movement in which they can intervene.

Some of those “accustomed to making up their own minds” have been a lot more sceptical..

Facebook sert l’extrême droite. Et l’extrême droite pilote les Gilets jaunes depuis Facebook.

There are large numbers of leftist activists, often from the most radical parts of the left, who, like the highly regarded comrades of  patrie ni frontières who have produced their own independent – often highly critical – assessments of the Gilets Jaunes.

And of the police violence:

This Blog, which shares a common political origin in the self-management (autogestion) current, considers that these voices need hearing.

From André Y.

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Written by Andrew Coates

January 29, 2019 at 12:50 pm

‘Plutocrats’, ‘Elites’ “Oligarchy’, how Brexit backers from Left to Right poison political language.

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The Poisonous Language of ‘plutocracy’: Soros, Rothschild and ‘elites’. 

The great enemy of clear language is insincerity. When there is a gap between one’s real and one’s declared aims, one turns as it were instinctively to long words and exhausted idioms, like a cuttlefish spurting out ink.

George Orwell Politics and the English Language.

The EU plutocracy’s hopes of being able to get a Labour administration to back a second referendum are not wholly misplaced.

John Ress. Counterfire September 2018.The Salzburg shakedown

The people are being betrayed by Britain’s elite in collusion with the European plutocracy.

Austin Mitchell, one time Labour MP. Brexit Central July 2018.

A large segment of opposition MPs and a small band of Tory EU loyalists thus began openly agitating for “the people” to have a “final say” on the Prime Minister’s deal, with the option of staying in the EU after all if they voted against it.

This campaign has been organised under the cross-party “People’s Vote” banner and bankrolled in part by billionaire plutocrat George Soros ..

Breitbart. November. 2018.

Plutocrat – not just a billionaire, but a plutocratic one!

Elites, not to mention oligarchy……a quick google shows how  the language of Brexiter politics has become infected with words which most people, about ten years ago, thought was exhausted.

The whole Brexit row is apparently about “elites” against “the people”.

No prezzies for guessing which side the hard-Brexit lot claim to be on.

Never mind that in English the people rarely takes the definite article.

Never mind that elite, no more than it does in its French original, is no more something you could speak about in ordinary speech.

Never mind that in politics these terms originated not from the left from that curious mixture of former leftists  and outright fascists, Gaetano Mosca, Vilfredo Pareto, and Robert Michels.

To put it simply they thought elites inevitable , and in Pareto’s case, describable (sometimes known as the “the vital few and trivial many”).

The actions of the ‘elites’ described in the citations above are also very different from that of the New Leftist C.Wright Mill’s The Power elite (1956).

Not only did he try to outline (contentiously) a whole set of overlapping and often competing groups, but they had no conscious purpose. “Mills explains that the elite themselves may not be aware of their status as an elite, noting that “often they are uncertain about their roles” and “without conscious effort hey absorb the aspiration to be … The Ones Who Decide.” 

PLutocrats may well be the title of a book about the super-rich by Chrystia Freeland. (Plutocrats: The Rise of the New Global Super Rich. 2012).

But it hardly needs adding that “plutocrat” is a word clearly associated with the far-right infamously with the Nazis.

See the source image

It also goes back to the anti-Semitic side in the Dreyfus affair who talked of “notre ploutocratie républicaine.” (Le vocabulaire de l’antisémitisme en France pendant l’affaire Dreyfus)

Mill’s idea that the US ‘elite’ is a nevertheless a semi-hereditary caste is pretty dubious when we look at Trump today, who has little caste about him.

In short, it is today not a genuine sociological or political concept – pitting  Farage (anti-‘elite’) against the elites it all about sending a signal, not a real criticism of the way power if organised in society.

More to the point the way the language of ‘elites’ is used by national populists and Brexit Boslevikcs is all about conscious organised groups out to thwart the ‘will of the people’.

This is poisonous talk in itself: not about the clash of real interests or class, but putting evil on one side and virtue on the other.

Those who claim to be on the left do themselves no favours by indulging in this rhetoric.

Written by Andrew Coates

January 21, 2019 at 12:33 pm

Corbyn Goes Pro-Brexit with “Re-Negotiation” plan.

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Image result for corbyn and brexit

Corbyn on Rocky Brexit Road.

Corbyn: Brexit would go ahead even if Labour won snap election

Reuters has just clarified thess points,

“You’d have to go back and negotiate, and see what the timetable would be,” the 69-year-old told the Guardian newspaper, when asked what he would do if he won an early election designed to break the deadlock in parliament.

Asked what stance Labour would take if a referendum were held, Corbyn said: “it would be a matter for the party to decide what the policy would be; but my proposal at this moment is that we go forward, trying to get a customs union with the EU, in which we would be able to be proper trading partners.”

…..

Labour wants a permanent customs union with the EU and a close relationship with its lucrative single market. The policy has been dubbed “constructive ambiguity” by some, who question whether Labour could negotiate a better deal.

There are forces hostile to socialist internationalism within the Labour Party, many of whom believe that Brexit was a “a genuine democratic revolt,” “for self-government, identity, community, sovereignty, patriotism.” “It was the elite versus the people.”

Some of these people are close the Leader of the Opposition.

They appear to be making Labour strategy, on their interpretation of party policy, off the hoof.

Britain can, alone, be a socialist “Beacon” a shining “radical break with neoliberalism ” in a benighted world.

Perhaps from its heights Corbyn can tear up lengthy re-negotiations, begin again, and get a customs union, and who knows what other benefits?

He may find time to cast off the economy’s moorings from the capitalist world, WTO rules, and the IMF.

In fact the EU and its negotiators have made it clear that another negotiation is not on the cards at the moment.

We shall see if another one, for a Beacon Brexit, is possible.

It goes without saying that many do not agree with this strategy.

How far is Corbyn willing to share the opinions of the sovereigntist hard-liners is a matter for him.

For the Party it is of great concern.

Faced with this turn this call in the excellent Clarion, by Manuel Cortes, looks all the more important.

 

Transport Salaried Staffs’ Association General Secretary Manuel Cortes, a prominent supporter of Jeremy Corbyn and opponent of Brexit, spoke to The Clarion.

You’ve called for a special Labour conference to decide the party’s Brexit policy. Why?

I think it’s very clear that if we’re going to push for a referendum, the party needs to make a decision about about what it’s going to argue in that vote. At the same time, Brexit is evolving on a day to day basis – we need an opportunity to take stock about what we’ll argue in a referendum but also how we’ll campaign to get one. Andrew Gwynne has alluded to the members deciding our position in a referendum – and the only way to do that is to call a special conference.

Is it realistic? Well, it’s been done before. In 1975, Labour called a special conference at short notice when the referendum on remaining in the European Community was announced.

And what position would you advocate at the conference?

My position remains that we should remain in the EU and work together with socialists and labour movements across the continent to create a Europe for the many. Jeremy Corbyn campaigned for this in 2016, he was right then and it’s the right position now. Clearly the kind of Europe we want to create is one that favours working people – that puts people first. We need an end to austerity and to a system which does extremely well for the one percent at the expense of the other ninety nine. If we’re going to slay the neoliberal dragon and take on global capitalism we have a much better chance in a union of 28 nations than by ourselves.

The situation in the Labour Party seems complicated and hard to predict. How do you think it will play out?

We’ve got a political and constitutional crisis in our country. We’ve had paralysis for the last 30 months at Westminster, ever since the referendum result. I think Labour has not done that badly in the sense that it’s attempted to heal a very divided country. However, it’s become increasingly clear that the party membership and the great majority of our voters no longer want us to leave the EU. In a democratic party we have to recognise and respect that. The best way to solve this contradiction is a popular vote and for Labour to make a strong case for Jeremy’s vision.

What would you say to those who say a second referendum will disillusion blue-collar working-class voters even more and drive them away from Labour?

I′m not arguing we should remain in Europe with the status quo. Far from it. We need a Labour government committed to the kind of policies we had in the 2017 manifesto. It’s been far too easy for British politicians to blame the problems that afflict so many of our citizens on Europe, when by and large they are the fault of Westminster – the privatisation and deregulation of our economy, the fact that we have the most stringent anti-union laws in Western Europe, the lack of labour rights compared to many European countries, all these problems stem from Westminster not Brussels.

I’m extremely proud that working people in 32 countries have the right to move freely. We want that right to be extended, but to give up the right we have is nonsense. I’m a union leader. I’m not in the business of giving the rights our workers currently enjoy. It’s not migrants who create low wages and insecurity, it’s unscrupulous bosses.

The Labour Party must work with our allies across Europe, in terms of democracy but also an economic program that makes the lives of working people far better. For instance we need to extend collective bargaining and ensure there’s a union in every workplace so that workers can fight for their rights. We need repeal of all the anti-union laws, and their replacement with a charter of positive rights for workers. We need to regulate our economy, ban zero hours contracts and introduce a real living wage of at least £10 an hour. We need to ensure resources are made available to enforce all those things.

Then it won’t matter if you come from Wigan or Brussels, everyone will be treated the same in the workplace.

That argument about free movement, aren’t there a lot of people in the Labour Party, including on the left, reluctant to take that on?

The majority of our members want to say and the majority of our voters want to stay. They know that you can’t stay in the EU without freedom of movement. You don’t have to win that argument with most of our members and voters. There is a minority of people we have to challenge and win over but let’s not inflate their voices.

It often seems there is widespread reluctance to criticise Corbyn. What do you think?

I think one thing Corbyn will respect, because he has been known as a rebel for most of his political life, is this – if you think something is right you should articulate your point and do so forcefully. I’m standing up for what I believe. The people of our country will be far worse off if we leave the EU. The xenophobia that’s been unleashed is a terrible poison and we can’t give victory to the people who unleashed it – Farage, Johnson, Rees-Mogg.

If there is a second referendum, it seems likely the dominant Remain campaign will be a bourgeois lash up similar to the first one but with a slightly more activisty buzz. In that situation, what should the anti-Brexit left do?

Actually I think we’re in a very different place from 2016, because Corbyn has now consolidated his leadership of the Labour Party. The party machine and our half a million members should be mobilised and we should have our own agenda – a firm commitment to remain and to fight to change Europe. We should not get involved in so called cross party alliances. In the last referendum I campaigned with Another Europe is Possible, and I am all for Labour members organising for this perspective, but my view now that Jeremy has consolidated his leadership is that the Labour Party itself should run a high profile campaign.

But what if it doesn’t adopt that position?

My confidence is rooted in the fact that the overwhelming majority of Labour members want this. No party can survive long term without giving its members the ability to influence its policies. More importantly still, perhaps, Jeremy and John have a strong record of seeking to involve ordinary members in decision-making. That’s why I’m calling for a special conference. I think if things are moving towards a public vote a conference will happen and I can only see it taking one position – remain and reform.

Written by Andrew Coates

December 22, 2018 at 1:16 pm