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Europe: a Bloc démocratique against the Bloc oligarchique and the Bloc of Sovereigntists? Review: Ce cauchemar qui n’en finit pas. Pierre Dardot and Christian Laval.

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Ce cauchemar qui n’en finit pas. Comment le néolibéralisme défait la démocratie. (This nightmare without end. How neo-liberalism  is dismantling democracy) Pierre Dardot et Christian Laval, La Découverte, 2016.

Pierre Dardot and Christian Laval are important writers on the French radical left. Laval  is a specialist on Jeremy Bentham, utilitarianism, the economic, political and ideological grounds of neoliberalism, and, more recently, has written on Marx. Dardot and Laval run the “groupe d’études et de recherches « Question Marx » ” and most of his publications have been joint ventures with Laval.

Both researchers and authors  have  a significant place within the ‘altermondialiste’ movement – the ‘other’ globalisation campaigns. Their joint La Nouvelle Raison du monde. Essai sur la société néolibérale, (2009) investigated classical political economy (Adam Smith, Ricardo), utilitarianism and  the ‘courant ordolibéral’, or ‘social market’ opposed by Hayek and Von Mises.  It is the totality of these doctrines, as social and economic practices, which is now known as “neo-liberalism” that they centre upon. The book is translated into English as The New Way of the World: On Neoliberal Society. Pierre Dardot and Christian Laval. It considers  this economic liberalism a ” permanent governmental critique of sovereign power – through the market.

The alternative they offer   centres on the idea of a society founded on  the “common”, a notion  elaborated by many parts of the alter-globalisation currents, chiefly concerned with its opposite, privatisation. The book  Commun –Essai sur la révolution du XXIème siècle ( 2014) is an important synthesis of these ideas and their own take on ‘anti-utilitarian’ economics.  (Le “commun” : un principe au cœur des mouvements sociaux 2014).

Their approach is significantly influenced by the ideas of the later Michel Foucault on “rationalité gouvernemental”, and ‘bio-power’, how the liberal limitation of the ‘state’  is also a form of intervention, to impose a “social discipline” dictated by this form of the market.

Critics have signaled scepticism about the picture of ‘neoliberalism’ and its institutional ground, particularly as it has developed in concrete forms, such as within the European Union in combination with the framework of the post-war ‘social market’ economy, or ‘ Rhineland model.’ The use of Foucault to conceptualise a new “way of life” that reigns in neoliberal polities has also met serious reserves. It is hard to see exactly how Foucault’s concept of governmentality and biopower meshes exactly with the economy, right down to accountancy and finance. Still less clear is the evidence that it has created a ‘new kind of person’. Similarly  Foucault’s residual ‘resistance’ to ‘micro-powers’ for all its descriptive force, is compatible with a realisable left project of taking power…..

Others have asked how exactly the principle of the ‘common’ can be translated into a political project. As this critic noted, citing Boltanski and Chiapello in  Le nouvel esprit du capitalisme. (1999, English translation, 2007), past creative ideas, critical of capitalism,  can be absorbed within the market society. (1).

That said this vision applied to direction of European construction is an influential one and chimes with a widespread perception that it is the ever-rightwards and pro-free-market. Neo-liberalism is, they have since asserted, apparently, less plural and more monolithic. Despite their earlier belief that rule is now dispersed and horizontal, it has become oligarchical and tending towards the centralised or at least coherent.

The issue of how to render the counter aspiration for the ‘common’ against this trend into anything resembling political and social reality is at the heart of their latest work, Ce cauchemar qui n’en finit pas.

The lucid study merits reading in its entirety.  It returns to the global character of neo-liberalism marked by a  hallucinating degree of inequality. The steady dismantling of democracy is, they argue, its trademark.

Two central areas in the present, well-written and exceptionally clear book, are  relevant for the debate on the left about British European Referendum.

The first is that Dardot and Laval begin with an account of the further spread of neo-liberalism, from the (Foucauldian) ‘disciplining’ of the masses, right down to the ‘imaginary’ entrepreneurial liberation of Uber,  share the pessimistic account of the European Union, portrayed with crusty bitterness by one-time pro-European and one-time New Leftists like Perry Anderson. In this picture the EU is dominated, shaped and founded within the terms set by an oligarchy – a veritable political and class ” bloc oligarchique” –  which cannot be reformed. It is a form of polity in which the ‘ gouvernementale’ – governing or capable of governing – European social democracy has become “social liberalism”, with concerns for fashionable rights and equality of opportunity, , or straightforward market liberalism.

Dardot and Lavel spend some trying to justify this conceptualisation and vocabulary. Most obviously – which they do not consider – the  term Bloc, compact mass, partisans of the same strategy –  is singularly unconvincing. It covers, in their opinion, political rulers, finance, ‘top management’, the media and ideological apparatus (Not their phrase but essentially identical to Althusser’s usage), media and education, universities included, all the ‘few’ who rule. Applied to the United Kingdom, where the bourgeoisie and ‘oligarchy’ contains important fractions, and the right-wing (Conservatives and UKIP), political expressions, of neoliberal agencies virulently opposed to the EU’s present policies and long-term governmental strategies, this image of unity is plainly nonsense. The images of corruption inside the bloc also looks more like wallpaper paste rather than cement.

Is Democracy Ending?

Ce cauchemar qui n’en finit pas alleges that we   are at the threshold of a “sortie de la démocratie” – any form of popular control is being eliminated from the governance of the economy, and, behind that, the institutional framework  of the EU. The treatment of Greece and the Syriza government is proof of this development. In their vein the two claim, that is, assert, that Yanis Varoufakis and DiEM‘s project of democratising the existing structures is a no-runner. A more telling point, is that Syriza had no effective political allies that could counter the ‘triumvirate’s demand.

The second is that an alternative has to be built, across countries and across movements, a “ bloc démocratique”. Dardot and Laval have serious reserves about Podemos, noting that the causes of the radical Spanish left’s progress are very specific to the country – something one can see with the limited impact of its homologue in France, Nuit Debout. But the prospect of an alternative trans-continental ‘bloc’, rather than national forces, leads back to the arena in which DiEM has been created.

It is clear that no such movement can be built on the basis of the ‘Lexit’ campaign. This is to retreat to an imaginary British national sovereignty which leaves the labour movement and left at the mercy of those intent on constructing a Hayekian ‘order’. Those going that route, like nostalgic for Little Britain strategies of the 1970s UK left, are marginalised in the face of the relentless campaigns against migration and xenophobic attacks against ‘Europe’.

The book concludes with a bold, some might say, irrelevant, ‘non-negotiable’ demand for the rotation of all public offices. Nevertheless, the optimist strand in Ce cauchemar qui n’en finit pas points in another direction: to outward movements and alliances within a trans-national democratic bloc, in the first instance in Europe itself. This would involve left parties, unions, campaigns, and a galaxy of progressive social movement groups. Whether we can create these links – Another Europe is Possible is a hopeful sign –  is up to us. We back this approach to voting Remain, critical support  – in debate and activity with comrades like  Dardot and Laval.

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Another Europe is Possible Rallies the Left in London last weekend.

(1) Le Commun, ce qu’il n’est pas, et ce qu’il peut être. A propos de l’ouvrage « Commun : essai sur la révolution au XXIè siècle » de Pierre Dardot et Christian Laval.  Mathieu Cocq also signals potential problems in the authors’ history and concept of “neclosure” of the common and attemnpts tpo create a new ‘common’.

Review of Ce cauchemar qui n’en finit pas: Henri Wilmo (Nouveau Parti anticapitaliste).

 

Jean-Luc Mélenchon Beats François Hollande in French Presidential Election Opinion Poll.

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Who’s Pedalo Captain Now?

Europe 1 reports on the latest opinion polls for next year’s French Presidential election.

Alain Juppé (Les Républicains  looks an easy winner at present with 35% (plus 4 points since December) in front of Marine Le Pen  26% (minus 2 points). François Hollande only gets 13% (minus 7 pts) Jean-Luc Mélenchon (12%, +1).

In effect Melenchon wavers between 12% and 16% in the polls, according to the survey.

It is important to note that Marine Le Pen is in first place in the case if  Les Républicains (the main right party)  is presented by either ex-President Nicolas Sarkozy, François Fillon or Bruno Le Maire.

Les Républicains have yet to designate, by ‘primary’ elections, who their candidate will be. Deep divisions continue.

But this, one of many identical polls, strengthens Juppé’s hand.

Far-left candidates, Nathalie Arthaud, Lutte ouvrière (1,5%) and Philippe Poutou, Nouveau Parti anticapitaliste (2,5%) and the Green Party (EELV), Cécile Duflot, (3%) barely register.

Neither the Socialists nor the Front de Gauche (of which Mélenchon remains nominally a member) have decided on their official candidate.

A sign of Mélenchon’s trajectory is that he already has 95,000 people signed up to his personal candidacy and claims that 500 groups exist to campaign for him.

Présidentielle 2017 : Intentions de vote (17 avril 2016) http://www.tns-sofres.com/publications/presidentielle-2017-intentions-de-vote-17-avril-2016:

Jean-Luc Mélenchon is reported to be on Cloud Nine (Jean-Luc Mélenchon se sent « sur un petit nuage ») enjoying the taste of success while it lasts.

With his customary generosity and dislike of sectarian point-scoring  Mélenchon has commented, (DL)

Je regarde passer le corbillard des Verts et le Radeau de la Méduse du parti communiste.

I am looking on as the Hearse of the Greens and the Communists’  Raft of the Medusa pass by.

JEAN LOUIS THÉODORE GÉRICAULT - La Balsa de la Medusa (Museo del Louvre, 1818-19).jpg

  Mélenchon is now predicting that he will go to the second round in the Presidential elections:

« Le programme que je porte peut être présent au second tour »

Written by Andrew Coates

April 20, 2016 at 12:11 pm

“Progressive Alliance” Mania: Green MP, Caroline Lucas Calls for Alliance with Labour, *and* the Liberal Democrats.

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For a Progressive Alliance of Greens, Labour and…..Liberal Democrats.

Peter Hyman, former key Blair speech writer and strategist, has called for a new alliance of the centre of British politics.

In the Observer on Sunday this appeared,

In a devastating critique of the party’s recent failures, from New Labour’s second term onwards, Blair’s former speechwriter and chief strategist Peter Hyman suggests its plight is now so desperate that it may even be necessary to form a new party with others, including the Lib Dems, to fill the “gaping hole in the centre and centre-left of British politics.

But Hyman is not alone is courting the Liberal Democrats.

Leading Greens are making eyes in that direction.

A progressive alliance of Labour, Lib Dems and Greens should be formed to take on the Tories in the 2020 General Election, Caroline Lucas has claimed.

Speaking to the Huffington Post UK, the Green MP called on anti-Conservative parties to band together to stop the “terrifying” prospect of a further decade of Tory rule.

Ms Lucas, who increased her Brighton Pavilion majority in May’s General Election, said one of the key principles those in the alliance should agree upon is to introduce proportional representation in order to end the “logjam” of the current “archaic voting system.”

The Green MP refused to say this year’s election was a missed opportunity for her party, and instead blamed the campaign of fear run by the Tories for the party’s failure to secure anymore MPs.

Not so long ago the Greens also admired the nationalist parties.
March 2015. Scottish Herald.

UK Greens back ‘progressive alliance’ with SNP at Westminster.

THE Green Party’s only MP has backed Nicola Sturgeon’s claim that a ‘progressive alliance’ could be formed between their parties at Westminster.

Caroline Lucas, who defeated Labour to win in the Brighton Pavilion constituency at 2010, told a conference of the Green Party for England and Wales that she wants to “forge a new grouping in Parliament” with the nationalists.

Like the SNP, the Greens have increased their membership substantially since the last General Election, with the party rivalling the Liberal Democrats in recent polls.

Ms Lucas said: “With the rise of the SNP, and with our own Green surge, we have the chance to forge a new grouping in Parliament. A progressive alliance.

This latter, a link-up with centrist pro-business Scottish nationalists, Plaid Cymru, and the Greens, found an admirer in the shape of Red Pepper’s apparently left-wing Editor.

Hilary Wainwright on the 7th of May wrote in Red Pepper.

These smaller parties – the SNP (Scottish National Party) Plaid Cymru (Welsh Nationalists) and the Greens are already talking about forming a ‘progressive anti-austerity alliance’ with left wing Labour MPs – there are still some but not many – and using their bargaining power to push Labour to the left.

This kind of alliance combining parliamentary and extra-parliamentary sources of power, is my dream

The growing network of militant extra-parliamentary, direct action campaigns are also insisting that these MPs give support to their struggles and not confine themselves to the shenanigans of parliamentary politics. All three parties and many left Labour MP’s have a strong record of engagement in campaigning politics outside of parliament. The new contingent of SNP MPs who will arrive at Westminster are mainly the product of the radical movement for Scottish independence which had real roots in working class communities and was hitherto largely autonomous from the SNP. And the one Green MP, Caroline Lucas, gains her inspiration more from outside parliament than inside. Many of the leadership of the Welsh Nationalists spent time in prison as a result of direct action in support of the Welsh language.

New alliances for the Greens have shifted since then, or have they not?

Who knows?

Caroline Lucas and Hilary Wainwright may consider the idea of a tie-up between Jeremy Corbyn, John McDonnell, Greens, the SNP and Plaid Cymru is still on the cards.

But the competition for the attention of the Liberal Democrats is already there.

Written by Andrew Coates

December 21, 2015 at 5:28 pm

Portugal: Divided Left Wins 50% of Vote, but Right Retains Power.

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Portugal’s governing centre-right coalition has won the country’s general election, which was widely seen as a referendum on four years of austerity.

Socialist leader Antonio Costa admitted defeat and congratulated Prime Minister Pedro Passos Coelho.

With almost all votes counted, the centre-right leads with just under 37%, with the Socialists on over 32%.

However, Mr Passos Coelho said his coalition appeared to have lost its absolute majority in parliament.

With 99 seats in the 230-seat parliament, the ruling coalition fell 17 seats short of the number it needed.

Mr Passos Coelho indicated that he was ready to talk to other parties in the next parliament to pursue the “necessary reforms” he wants to implement.

“Times haven’t been easy, and the times ahead will be challenging,” he said, promising to talk to the Socialists with the aim of maintaining a rigorous budget and a reduction in the public debt.

Parties to the left of the Socialists achieved their best-ever result, says the BBC’s Alison Roberts in Lisbon.

Left Bloc won 10% of the vote, securing 19 seats, while the Communists took 8% of the vote.

BBC.

Parties Votes % ±ppswing MPs MPs %/
votes %
2011 2015 ± % ±
Portugal Ahead (PSD / CDS–PP)[j] 1,979,132 36.83 Decrease11.0 124 99 Decrease25 43.81 Decrease11.1 1.19
Socialist 1,740,300 32.38 Increase4.4 74 85 Increase11 37.61 Increase4.9 1.16
Left Bloc 549,153 10.22 Increase5.0 8 19 Increase11 8.41 Increase4.9 0.82
Democratic Unity Coalition (Communists and Greens) 444,319 8.27 Increase0.4 16 17 Increase1 7.52 Increase0.4 0.91
Social Democratic[k] 81,054 1.51 N/A 7 5 Decrease1 2.21 Decrease0.9 1.46
People-Animals-Nature 74,656 1.39 Increase0.4 0 1 Increase1 0.44 Increase0.4 0.32
Democratic Republican 60,912 1.13 N/A N/A 0 N/A 0.00 N/A 0.0
Workers’ Communist Party 59,812 1.11 Decrease0.1 0 0 Steady0 0.00 Steady0.0 0.0
FREE/Time to move Foward 38,958 0.72 N/A N/A 0 N/A 0.00 N/A 0.0
National Renovator Party 27,104 0.50 Increase0.2 0 0 Steady0 0.00 Steady0.0 0.0
Earth Party 22,384 0.42 Increase0.0 0 0 Steady0 0.00 Steady0.0 0.0
Labour / Socialist Alternative ACT! 20,690 0.38 N/A N/A 0 N/A 0.00 N/A 0.0
We, the Citizens! 18,695 0.35 N/A N/A 0 N/A 0.00 N/A 0.0
People’s Monarchist 14,799 0.28 Increase0.0 0 0 Steady0 0.00 Steady0.0 0.0
Together for the People 14,196 0.26 N/A N/A 0 N/A 0.00 N/A 0.0
United Party of Retirees and Pensioners 13,739 0.26 N/A N/A 0 N/A 0.00 N/A 0.0
People’s[l] 7,536 0.14 N/A 1 0 Decrease1 0.00 Decrease0.4 0.0
People’s / People’s Monarchist[m] 3,654 0.07 N/A 0 0 Steady0 0.00 Steady0.0 0.0
Christian Democratic and Citizenship 2,658 0.05 Decrease0.1 0 0 Steady0 0.00 Steady0.0 0.0
Labour[n] 1,748 0.03 N/A 0 0 Steady0 0.00 Steady0.0 0.0
Total valid 5,174,499 96.30 Increase0.4 230 226 Steady0 100.00 Steady0.0

The Bloco de Esquerda (Left bloc) made a breakthrough. It got 5,2% in the last election.  Now it has 10.22%. It’s worth noting that some opinion polls had given them around 5%.

They are part of the European United Left/Nordic Green Left European Parliamentary Group and the Party of the European Left.

We are Europeans, but not Eurocentric: we want for Europe the same that we wish for the planet. We are Europeans, but not Eurocrats: we believe in democracy. We reject the standardization and lack of respect for the diversity that makes Europe. We are Left. Our opponents are not immigrants, minorities, poor, gays or unemployed, but those who promote austerity. We believe in solidarity, in facing the crisis together, in a Europe that restores hope.

“The Left Bloc (B.E.) was formed in March 1999 by the merger of the People’s Democratic Union (União Democrática Popular, UDP, communist), Revolutionary Socialist Party (Partido Socialista Revolucionário, PSR [ex-LCI], Trotskyist), and Politics XXI (Política XXI, PXXI, socialist). B.E. has had full party status since its founding, yet the constituent groups have maintained their existence as individual political associations, and retain some levels of autonomy, leading to a loose structure.” (Wikipedia)

I would correct Wikipedia on the details of this: the  União Democrática Popular (UDP) are former marxist-leninists- that is, Maoists. 

The Bloc had a very sharp internal debate last year:

Portugal: Left Bloc in struggle to regain unity after convention. December 2014. Dick Nichols.

After its ninth national convention, held in Lisbon on November 22-23, 2014, it really looked as if Portugal’s Left Bloc were in serious trouble—split right down the middle. And split not over insuperable differences of political perspective but over its leadership model and who, as national coordinator, should be its public face.

This was the first time in its 15-year existence that a Left Bloc convention had not produced a solid majority (usually around 80%). But this time Motion U (called “Unitary Motion under Construction—For a Citizen Revolt Against Austerity”, with outgoing co-coordinators Catarina Martins and João Semedo as lead signatories) was being challenged by Motion E. This motion was called “A Plural Bloc, Force for Turnaround” and was supported by the Bloc’s national parliamentary caucus leader Pedro Filipe Soares and founding member and MP Luis Fazenda.

Motion E put up Soares to replace Semedo and Martins as the Bloc’s national coordinator.

In the vote for the 80-seat National Board, the Bloc’s leadership body between conventions, Motions U and E both won 259 votes. As a result both obtained 34 seats, with the remaining positions being shared between two of the three other motions that had been submitted to the convention. These were Motion B (51 votes, 7 seats) and Motion R (32 votes and 4 seats).

In the vote on the motions themselves, Motion U won by a hair’s breadth from Motion E, by 266 votes to 258. Motions A (“A Left Response—For a Bloc that attends to the needs of people now!”), B (“Re-found the Bloc in the fight against austerity”) and R (“Reinvent the Bloc”) won 7, 34 and 30 votes respectively.

This overall result, due to some delegates switching from Motion B to Motion U for vote on the political line, raised the possibility that the incoming National Board, which elects the Left Bloc’s Political Committee and National Coordinator(s), would be deadlocked. The headlines read “Bloc ends convention without leaders” and “Left Bloc: leadership coming soon”.

Nonetheless, at the first meeting of the National Board, on November 30, a compromise was reached that won 90% backing and which no-one opposed: the 16-person Political Committee would reflect the proportions of support received at the convention (as required by a change to the statutes) and there would be a six-person Standing Committee (also with proportional representation) and a single national coordinator instead of the gender-balanced two-person coordination formula adopted at the previous National Convention (2012).

Portugal. Le Bloc de Gauche à la croisée des chemins gives more details on the stakes in the disputes.

As a result of these difficulties, which have continued this year,  these elections were crucial for the Bloco’s future,

The loss of the rightwing majority and the rise of the Left Bloc Monday 5 October 2015, by Luis Branco

The Portuguese right wing coalition has lost its absolute majority in parliament, but remains the main political force in Sunday’s election. The Left Bloc made a spectacular comeback with the best result ever, almost doubling its voters and more than doubling the number of elected MPs.

This result was built mostly on the performance of the new Left Bloc leadership after the November 2014 national convention of the party. The spokeswoman Catarina Martins had a widely-applauded victory in every face-to-face tv debate with the prime-minister, the vice-prime-minister and the SP leader and gathered the biggest popular support on street campaign in all Left Bloc’s history. The electoral result confirmed this warm reception on the streets in every corner of the country for the last two months. And the two parties that were formed by dissidents of the Bloc with widespread media coverage (Livre and Agir) were now doomed to political irrelevance, obtaining 0.72% and 0.38% respectively. The only small party to enter the Parliament is PAN, which has an animal rights agenda and it is ready to support any government.

 Official site, Bloco de Esquerda.

Vota Bloco

Written by Andrew Coates

October 5, 2015 at 10:38 am

Ipswich For Corbyn.

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Rugby Tackle by Tony Blair Not Guaranteed!

The apocalyptic  mood that seems to have seized the right-wing of the Labour Party and their Eustonite friends reached a frenzy this morning:

Tony Blair: Even if you hate me, please don’t take Labour over the cliff edge.

The party is walking eyes shut, arms outstretched, over the cliff’s edge to the jagged rocks below. This is not a moment to refrain from disturbing the serenity of the walk on the basis it causes “disunity”. It is a moment for a rugby tackle if that were possible.

…..

Even more so today, they do not think their challenges can be met by old-fashioned state control as the way to personal or social empowerment; they do not think breaking up Nato unilaterally is sensible; and they realise that a party without a serious deficit-reduction plan is not in these times a serious contender to govern them.

……

If Jeremy Corbyn becomes leader it won’t be a defeat like 1983 or 2015 at the next election. It will mean rout, possibly annihilation. If he wins the leadership, the public will at first be amused, bemused and even intrigued. But as the years roll on, as Tory policies bite and the need for an effective opposition mounts – and oppositions are only effective if they stand a hope of winning – the public mood will turn to anger. They will seek to punish us. They will see themselves as victims not only of the Tory government but of our self-indulgence.

Jeremy Corbyn doesn’t offer anything new. This is literally the most laughable of all the propositions advanced by his camp. Those of us who lived through the turmoil of the 80s know every line of this script. These are policies from the past that were rejected not because they were too principled, but because a majority of the British people thought they didn’t work. And by the way, they were rejected by electorates round the world for the same reasons.

I also recall the 1980s – if you were there you would remember it.

The expression “old fashioned” was around then too.

It was used against those who wanted public influence and – yes – ownership (you can’t control what you don’t own – democratic socialist axiom), back in the ….1950s.

But at least the leading “revisionist” of that time, Tony Crossland, aimed for “social equality” and sought means to that goal ( The Future of Socialism. 1956).

In the 1980s faced with Thatcher there was a profound re-thinking on the left.

A high-point came with the Socialist Conferences (also known as the Chesterfield Conferences after the founding one) in the latter part of the decade.

They involved the left Labour Campaign group, notably Tony Benn, union and Labour Party activists, the Socialist Society (a ‘new Left’ group), left and pressure groups of all hues.

Over 2,000 people attended each of these events.

They debated  topics, Hilary Wainwright noted (in a reply to the  SWP’s dismissal of the Labour left)  such as, Left perspectives on winning the next election or Campaigning for the leadership: prospects and possibilities, the papers and workshops were on Democracy and state power, International finance, The fight for local government, The politics of race, The working class and socialism. Other events discussed feminism and socialism, green politics and constitutional reform (including Proportional Representation).

Documents emerged that offered a radical green democratic socialism based on participation and expanded rights.

Apart from that mouthful they put forward some clear ideas about workers’ rights, feminism, welfare, and constitutional change.

All this, as things boiled down in the 1990s – not forgetting the Fall of Official Communism –  to a choice between Blair and an effort to stand by the gains of social democratic public control, union rights,  and welfare.

There is also nothing new about our opponents’ rhetoric: all of this was shouted down as the foibles of the ‘hard left’ dinosaurs.

It seemed that a “multiplicity of democratic forces” in the ‘New Times’  would best be served through bolting down to the new free-market environment, and hope to add a little reform through the ‘Third Way’ (one idea that’s now so past its sell-by date that even its authors have forgotten about it).

The “modernisers” of the Labour Party, Blair and then Brown’s Cabinets, were even more electorally focused: they proposed a strategy based on an appeal  the “aspirational ” middle and working class that was indifferent to anything but their own personal interests and conservative (small and big ‘C’) values, what happened to them?

For the left the principal point about these Labour governments was that  they opened up the remains of the social democratic state to new markets (the NHS’ internal market) financing by PFI and turned over the unemployed to private profiteers, ‘providers’ of the various schemes like the New Deal.

Some of the Blair and Brown crew, and many of their immediate followers, went in for pretty old fashioned personal benefit.

One only has to look at those now benefiting in outsourcing companies like Capita to get a glimpse of that picture.

They did not bolster the position of unions – the grass-roots participatory foundation of many social rights.

On welfare they did not expand rights, or protect the “safe home” of the welfare state, but tried to reform the personal behaviour of the poor, the “socially excluded.”

They did not  up for the public goods that are needed for social equality, the universal services, the cash we have to have pumped into welfare run on a democratic basis , or freed the state from the grip of private exploiters – outsourcers –  living off the general purse.

The money they pumped into public services went as quickly as it had appeared, at the first signs of an economic crisis.

What have they done since?

In a sentence: they have not fought austerity.

Corbyn, by starting from this position opens up the possibility of re-opening the left’s imagination for those debates of the 1980s – ones which, it’s easy to see, have a great deal of present-day relevance, in new and changed forms.

One big idea that’s come back is public ownership of public provision.

This needs a pan-European approach, as developed by the Party of the European Left.

In the meantime…..

Today’s Guardian attack on Corbyn carries all the moral and principled authority that Blair can draw upon:

Tony Blair’s insatiable greed exposed by his secret deal with Saudi Arabia

John Stevens 22 January 2015.

Tony Blair has amassed a personal fortune since standing down as prime minister – often acting as an adviser to controversial businesses and regimes.

But yesterday the hefty fees he charges to act as a go-between were revealed.

A previously secret contract with a Saudi oil company headed by a member of the country’s royal family has been leaked showing Mr Blair charging £41,000 a month and 2 per cent commission on any of the multi-million-pound deals he helped broker.

The emergence of the Saudi deal led to new criticism of Mr Blair’s role as a Middle East envoy, but he strongly denied there is a conflict of interest.

The contract between Tony Blair Associates (TBA) and PetroSaudi signed in November 2010, said Mr Blair would personally arrange introductions to his contacts in China, such as senior politicians.

He had already attracted scathing criticism after it emerged that he had given Kazakhstan’s autocratic president, Nursultan Nazarbayev, advice on how to manage his image after the slaughter of 14 unarmed civilians.

Mr Blair has said claims that he is worth £100million are ‘greatly exaggerated’. But the Saudi contract shows how much he has been able to charge for his services.

Since leaving Downing Street in 2007, he has amassed a fortune including a property portfolio of 31 homes worth at least £25million.

He is one of the world’s best paid speakers – earning up to £150,000 a speech – and has secured advisory roles with US investment bank JP Morgan and Swiss insurer Zurich International.

The Saudi contract stated that TBA would help find potential sources of new investment and added that Mr Blair would make ‘introductions to the senior political leadership, industrial policymakers, corporate entities and other persons in China identified and deemed by us and you to be relevant to PetroSaudi’s international strategy’.

The firm agreed it would not divulge his role without permission.

Meanwhile we learn that Ipswich Top Tory Kevin Algar has joined the Eustonite attack on Corbyn:

Jeremy Corbyn Signed Commons Motion Looking Forward To Asteroid Killing All Humans

The backbencher – who looks set to be voted Labour leader next month – signed an Early Day Motion (EDM) in 2004 called ‘Pigeon Bombs’ that criticised the way the birds were treated by, er, British spies

Labour leadership contender Jeremy Corbyn once declared his support for an asteroid killing every human on the planet – because of PIGEONS.

The backbencher – who looks set to be voted Labour leader next month – signed an Early Day Motion (EDM) in 2004 called ‘Pigeon Bombs’ that criticised the way the birds were treated by, er, British spies.

Adding his name to the motion alongside fellow Labour MPs John McDonnell and Tony Banks, Corbyn felt it was right to highlight the issue – and wanted an asteroid to obliterate every human on the planet for being “cruel and uncivilised”.

Populism, Popular-Democratic Fronts and Tim Farron.

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https://i1.wp.com/www.heraldscotland.com/resources/images/4009486.jpg

Tim Farron: New Populist Front – but don’t invite Gays!

Older left-wingers will remember the group, the Democratic Left.

It was the official heir of the Communist Party of Great Britain (CPGB) and grew out of the magazine Marxism Today.

We have written on some of the theories and politics behind this group, Stuart Hall, Thatcherism, and Marxism Today (also published in North Star. June 2013).

One of the principal criticisms of the current that became the Democratic Left, was its its willingness to dissolve any form of class politics into a very nebulous form of “democratic alliance”. In the case of Stuart Hall this took the shape of looking for “new constituencies for change” to win over a hegemonic majority opposed to the ‘National Popular” configuration that cemented the electoral  the base of Margaret Thatcher’s ‘authoritarian populism”.

The idea that there is an alternative, progressive, type of populism, is not new. The present rise in the intellectual  popularity of “populism” on the British left, articulated in a “democratic” left-inflected way, woes something to another influence on the Democratic Left, the “post Marxism” of Ernesto Laclau, and, to a lesser extent Chantal Mouffe (she has since adopted a form of left republicanism or “agonistic pluralism” *).

Laclau developed the idea out of his studies of Latin America, including Peronism, and a critique of the Althussarian  and Poulantzian position on the class grounds of ideology. Ideology is something which only take a class alignment in specific configurations of discourse. This leaves open the possibility of “democratic” as well as reactionary forms of populism. That is ” the basis of populism in the creation of “empty signifiers”: words and ideas that constitute and express an “equivalential chain”. This “equivalential chain” is made possible only when a list of unfulfilled political demands create a ‘logic of equivalence” between them. ” To translate: populism can become ‘popular’ when the frustrated masses fuse their demands (through what mechanism?) together.

Like Castoriadis’ concept of the “social imaginary” this appears to encourage a great deal of political creativity. Unfortunately it also allows politicians to ‘creatively ‘ make alliances and launch campaigns around demand with whoever seems to advance their cause. It is also suggested that it lets political parties and activists lose sight of the need to give a voice to clear interests – like class – and to make “socialism” such a flexible ‘democratic’ signifier that it loses all specific meaning.

We hear that Laclau has had an impact of Podemos and (we are surprised at this) the more seriously left-wing Syriza (Why Ernesto Laclau is the intellectual figurehead for Syriza and Podemos In the Spanish case it appears to mean appealing to the “masses” against the “elites”, the “political caste” (la casta), and claims to have gone “beyond” the “old” divisions between left and right.

In a British left-wing  version, advanced by, amongst others,  Owen Jones, left populism appears to mean pandering to anti-European fears. It can, in fact, mean just about anything that is “popular”

This is the end result of the (soon to dissolve) Democratic Left:

The Democratic Left stated a belief in a pluralist and socialist society “incompatible with the structures and values of capitalism.” Beginning as a political party, it decided not to stand candidates but instead to support tactical against the Conservatives at the 1992 General election and soon become a non-party campaigning organisation. DL campaigned on modernising unions, including Unions21; anti-racism and cultural diversity; democratising Britain, including Make Votes Count; social exclusion and poverty, including the Social Exclusion Network; focussing on coalition building, and operating in effect as a ‘socialist anti-Conservative front’.

Wikipedia.

Hard-line critics of this approach dismissed it as an end to class politics, without any solid basis in society, and (for Trotksyists) a renewed “popular frontism”, without specific socialist politics.

The Democratic  Left withered away during the early Blair years, though we hear that some of them are still around in the New Politics Network (always something ‘new’…) and the journal Soundings.

We were reminded of these ideas when we read Red Pepper in June.

Many of the SNP candidates in the last election were chosen from or influenced by this movement, even though the movement is autonomous from the SNP. They have come to Westminster not with a nationalist but an anti‑austerity and pro-democracy agenda. As George Kerevan, now MP for East Lothian, said in the last issue of Red Pepper: ‘Watch out for SNP campaigners south of the border. If there are anti-austerity demonstrations in London, I will be there.’

He’s not alone. And although with Cameron in office there is probably little that he and his fellow SNP activists can achieve through sitting in Westminster and sticking to conventional procedure, there is much that a progressive anti-austerity alliance of MPs, including from Plaid Cymru, the Labour left and the victorious Green Caroline Lucas, can contribute to amplify the voices and demands of the movement across the country.

Hilary was once a critic of the Democratic Left and Marxism Today…..

It will be interesting to see this ‘populist’ left reacts to this generous offer:

Tim Farron, the Liberal Democrat leader, began his first day in office by calling for progressive groups on the left to come together to forge a joint agenda on key constitutional issues such as electoral and Lords reform. He also revealed that defence of civil liberties, more social housing, climate change and continued UK membership of the European Union will be the primary issues on which he first intends to define his leadership.

This seems one of the – many – stumbling blocks to this new alliance (Guardian).

The new Liberal Democrat leader, Tim Farron, on Friday night repeatedly avoided answering whether he regarded gay sex as a sin during a live television interview.

Just one day into his role as party leader, in an interview with Cathy Newman on Channel 4 News, Farron was asked whether he personally believed, as a Christian, that homosexual sex was a sin.

After replying that as liberals it was not “our views on personal morality that matter”, Farron said that to “understand Christianity is to understand that we are all sinners”.

* See the readable On the Political. Chantal Mouffe.  2005 and the, less readable, Agonistics: Thinking The World Politically. Chantal Mouffe. 2013.

 

Greece and the Left, the fight against Austerity continues through the EU, not for a ‘new Britain’.

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Europe’s Left: No Retreat to Nationalist anti-European Politics. 

Alexis Tsipras’s grip on power suffers a blow with 32 of his own MPs rebelling as the Greek parliament votes in favour of new austerity measure against a backdrop of violence on the streets of Athens reports the Telegraph.

There are many things to say about the developing Greek crisis but I am still  struck by the information given in Le Monde on Tuesday about the “Explosive Propositions of Wolfgang Schäuble“.

The German Fiannce Minister, Schäuble, wanted Greece out of the Euro (no doubt to the satisfaction of the ‘left’ critics of Syriza’s leadership ), for a “provisional” period (not enough, would say the ‘left’, the True Finns and Golden Dawn). He also demanded a through-going “depolitisation” of the country;s administration, under close EU supervision (not something the ‘left’ would welcome one suspects).

The details behind this are a lot worse – as presented by Jack Rasmus,

Why Hardliners Prefer Grexit

It is a known fact that Schaubel and the ‘right wing’ of Euro bankers and ministers have wanted to eject Greece from the Euro since 2012. In that prior debt restructuring deal, private bankers and investors were ‘paid off’ and exited the Greek debt by means of loans made by the Troika, which were then imposed on Greece to pay. 2012 was a banker-investor bailout, not a Greece bailout. What was left was debt mostly owed by Greece to the Troika, more than $300 billion. Greece’s small economy of barely $180 billion GDP annually can never pay off that debt. Even if Greece grew at 4% GDP a year, an impossibility given that Europe and even Germany have been growing at barely 1% in recent years, and even if Greece dedicated all its surplus GDP to paying the debt, it would take close to a half century for Greece to pay off all its current debt.

Schaubel and the northern Europe bankers know this. In 2012, in the midst of a second Eurozone recession and financial instability, it was far more risky to the Euro banker system to cut Greece loose. Today they believe, however, that the Eurozone is stronger economically and more stable financially. They believe, given the European Central Bank’s $1.2 trillion QE slush fund, that contagion effects from a Greek exit can be limited. Supporters of this view argue that Greece’s economy is only 1.2% of the larger Eurozone’s.

What they don’t understand, apparently, is that size of GDP is irrelevant to contagion. They forget that the Lehman Brothers bank in 2008 in the US represented a miniscule percent of US GDP, and we know what happened. Quantitative references are meaningless when the crux of financial instability always has to do with unpredictable psychological preferences of investors, who have a strong proclivity to take their money and run after they have made a pile of it—which has been the case since 2009. Investors globally will likely run for cover like lemmings if they believe as a group that the global financial system has turned south financially—given the problems growing in China, with oil prices now falling again, with commodity prices in decline once more, with Japan’s QE a complete failure, and with the US economy clearly slowing and the US central bank moves closer to raising interest rates. Greece may contribute to that psychological ‘tipping point’ as events converge.

But there’s another, perhaps even more profitable reason for hardliners and Euro bankers wanting to push Greece out. And that’s the now apparent failure of Eurozone QE (quantitative easing) policies of the European Central Bank to generate Eurozone stock and asset price appreciation investors have been demanding.

Unlike in the US and UK 2009-2014 QE policies that more than doubled stock prices and investors’ capital gains, the ECB’s QE has not led to a stock boom. Like Japan recently, the Eurozone’s stock boom has quickly dissipated. The perception is that stock stimulus from the Eurozone’s QE, introduced six months ago, is perhaps being held back by the Greek negotiations. Euro bankers and investors increasingly believe that by cutting Greece loose (and limiting the contagion effects with QE and more statements of ‘whatever it takes’ by central banker, Mario Draghi) that Grexit might actually lead to a real surge in Euro stock markets. Thus, throwing Greece away might lead to investors making bigger financial profits. In other words, there’s big money to be made on the private side by pushing Greece out.

So, when we are talking about Syriza’s ‘betrayal’  bear this in mind.

Read it carefully.

Most will rightly, dismiss as stale air, calls for a “true” revolutionary party which will abolish these difficulties, and no doubt make the bankers and Schäuble disappear from the Earth’s surface.

But there are serious people inside Syriza, the Left Platform,  who offered an alternative strategy to Tsparis and who have not accepted the present deal.

One of their leading spokespeople, Stahis Kouvelalkis  has declared of the pro-EU Syriza leadership (this could apply more widely to others on the left – to Tendance Coatesy amongst many others) (Greece: The Struggle Continues ):

So for these people the choice is between two things: either being “European” and accepting the existing framework, which somehow objectively represents a step forward compared the old reality of nation-states, or being “anti-European” which is equated with a falling back into nationalism, a reactionary, regressive move.

This is a weak way in which the European Union is legitimated — it might not be ideal but it’s better than anything else on the table.

I think that in this case we can clearly see what the ideology at work here is. Although you don’t positively sign up to the project and you have serious doubts about the neoliberal orientation and top-down structure of European institutions, nevertheless you move within its coordinates and can’t imagine anything better outside of its framework.

This is the meaning of the kind of denunciations of Grexit as a kind of return to the 1930s or Grexit as a kind of apocalypse. This is the symptom of the leadership’s own entrapment in the ideology of left-Europeanism.

Kouvelakis cites the Greek Marxist political writer Nicos Poulantzas, who wrote and lived in France for most of his career,  to back his anti-EU ideology.

He says that Poulantzas said the following.

Yes, Poulantzas talked about European integration in the first part of his book on social classes in contemporary capitalism, in which he analyzes the processes of internationalization of capital and he clearly considered the European Economic Community an example of an imperialist form of internationalization of European capital within the framework of what he considered the new postwar structural hegemony of the United States.

Poulantzas indeed made this analysis in Les Classes sociales dans le capitalisme aujourd’hui, (1974)

But in L’État, le pouvoir, le socialisme (1978) Poulantzas offered an alternative to the domination of capital: a fusion of direct and representative democracy based ont eh workers’ movement and civil society. He famously stated that the state, is a ” « condensation matérielle d’un rapport de force entre les classes et fractions de classe » (a material condensation of relations between classes and fractions of classes).

The European Union is a judicial and economic  framework which is, self-evidently,  linked to these relations of changeable power.

It is not only a cabal of finance ministers, EU Commissioners,  and neo-liberals who can do as they will – if there is a large enough power to stop them.

To change the EU,  to fight neo-liberalism,  requires a different relation of force: based on Europe-wide unity between the popular classes and lefts.

It means a political movement, across borders, with institutional weight.

The European Parliament, without any effective influence on EU decision-making, which is essentially inter-Ministerial and Commission based,  is nevertheless a point where these bonds can, and are, made, through groups like the European Left Party – however weak they may be at present.

To leave the EU is to leave these potential ties of unity.

It is to give up the game at the first sign of difficulty – to follow those, misguided or simply opportunist ‘friends’ of Syriza who now turn on them when they have run into trouble.

It is to set the course for naked domination by the forces of international capital.

Or to put is more simply, no country, nor left, is in a position to  break free of  the IMF’s clutches, not to mention world financial markets.

Those on the Syriza left who proposed a Grexit, the centrepice of their economic plans, have yet to answer the point: would they have either offered a viable package, and how would they have warded off the financial locusts described by Rasmus?

They have yet to give a serious response.

A ‘New Britain’.

The Greek crisis has been a perceived as proof that the ‘pro-European’ left has failed, largely by those who were already convinced that this is so.

Briefly basking in Syriza’s reflected glory they have now returned to their own political projects.

In France, apart from the anti-Euro and ‘Sovereigntist’  Front National, a minority of the Parti de Gauche (45%) voted at their recent conference for this as part of a general “Eurosceptic” line (Libération).  Their leader, JeanLuc Mélenchon, has made frequent nationalist and anti-German remarks during the Greek crisis.

He said a few days ago,

“Pour la troisième fois dans l’histoire de l’Europe, l’obstination d’un gouvernement allemand est en train de détruire l’Europe”

For the third time in the History of Europe, the obstination of the German government is destroying Europe.

There is little doubt the same mood exists across Europe.

In Britain some see the Greek crisis as a sign to join in the campaign for the UK to leave the European Union.

This, Owen Jones dreams, would ” focus on building a new Britain, one of workers’ rights, a genuine living wage, public ownership, industrial activism and tax justice. Such a populist campaign could help the left reconnect with working-class communities it lost touch with long ago.”

Unfortunately this option will appear on no Referendum Ballot paper, when, one assumes the believers in a New Britain will mark their slips in the same way as the ‘populists’ of the far-right,  and hard-line anti-socialist economic liberals.

As Jim Denham rightly says, “The left should fight, not to go backwards from the current bureaucratic, neoliberal European Union, but forward, to a democratic United States of Europe, and a socialist United States of Europe.”

In the meantime here are some serious articles by people the Tendance respects (though disagrees with) on Syriza and the present crisis:

Leo Panitch and Sam Gindin: Treating SYRIZA responsibly (Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal)
Leo Panitch and Sam Gindin, Athens

 

Update: A reminder from UNITE,

Remaining in the EU is essential for manufacturing workers

02 April 2015 By Tony Burke, Unite assistant general secretary

Two-thirds of manufacturing jobs in the UK are sustained by trade with the rest of the EU.

Between 2009 and 2011 the number of manufacturing jobs in the UK dependent on trade with the EU grew by 15 per cent.

But it is not just the economics that make membership crucial it is also the protection that workers have because of the EU.

Talk of employment directives may seem dry but protecting our members rights at work have come about because we belong to the EU, and because Unite and other trade unions have fought long and hard to achieve them.

Parental leave has been extended to at least four months for each parent no matter what type of employment contract a worker may be on.

Thousands of workers in part time jobs can no longer be treated less favourably  than their counterparts who work full time.

Bosses don’t want anything that might interfere with their right to hire and fire at will so anything that provides protection for temporary agency workers from gross exploitation are hard fought. But we have been able to do it.

One of the major protections for workers is the transfers of undertakings directive a vital piece of legislation that guarantees workers’ rights and obligations in company takeovers and mergers – there was a time when companies could dismiss and automatically sack their entire workforces upon the transfer or sale of a business.

The working time directive protects workers from being forced to more than 48 hours on average and guarantees breaks during and between shits.

And lest we forget – guaranteed paid annual leave, of at least four weeks (28 days a year) – which now thanks to Unite has to be paid at average pay.

There have been massive improvements on equal pay; the right to be consulted on redundancies; to have information about your company and for workers in multinational companies the right to be heard and consulted at European level and improvements on health and safety.

Tory Eurosceptics and Ukip echo the right wing and defeated Tea Party in the United States offering Britain a prospectus of becoming an offshore financial centre – like Hong Kong.  Left to them we will become Europe’s economic and political renegade.

If the Tories and Ukip get their way they will set us on this calamitous course to exit the EU. That’s why manufacturing workers need to vote Labour on 7 May.