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Miguel Abensour. 1939 – 2017. Radical Left ‘Insurgent Democracy”.

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Miguel Abensour. 1939 – 2017.

The radical left-wing political philosopher Miguel Abensour passed away on April the 22nd. From a Jewish family, and a childhood spent hidden from the Vichy regime in the countryside, Abensour began to teach political science in 1962. The young teacher, who had early discovered the division between “friends” and “enemies”, remained haunted not only by the experience of Nazism, but also by Stalinism. (1)

The Algerian war of independence and de Gaulle’s Fifth Republic saw the young university teacher’s involvement in the anti-bureaucratic and anti-capitalist left. Abensour’s ideas were influenced by Castoriadis and the review Socialisme ou Barbarie (1949 – 1967) During the sixties he was as founder of Utopie, whose other best known figure was Jean Baudrillard. The title of the journal could stand for a life-long interest in utopian thought, from Thomas More, William Morris, Walter Benjamin the anthropologist Pierre Clastres who speculated on societies without states, to Ernst Bloch and the Frankfurt School. He admired Hannah Arendt, her critique of totalitarianism, the destruction of pluralism, and her writing on the “hidden treasure” of the direct democracy of the workers’ councils. Unlike those, who in the wake of François Furet’s Penser la Révolution française (1978) saw in all radical revolutions the germs of totalitarian tyranny, he continued to defend a Marxist inflected “insurgent democracy”.

Tributes to Abensour have described his contributions to other journals, such as the 1970s anti-totalitarian Textures (to which Castoriadis and Claude Lefort contributed), and his publishing work in the collection, Critique de la politique.

La Démocratie contre l’État

Abensour’s La Démocratie contre l’État (2004) remains his most significant contribution to the independent critical left. Subtitled Marx et le moment machiavélien it is a reflection on Marx and Machiavelli. The work is informed by J.C.A Pocok’s account of how the Florentine’s idea of political Virtue might impose on Fortune and the form of the republic and Fortune, with sociology of liberty (The Machiavellian Moment. 1975). In the discussion of Marx Claude Lefort’s reading of Machiavelli come to the fore. For Lefort the description of the class divisions in Italian city-states, perennial conflicts, a refusal to be commanded or to be oppressed, were the foundation of liberty (Le Travail de l’oeuvre Machiavel. 1972/1986).

But Lefort, Abensour observed, had not stayed there. The former Socialisme ou Barbarie member’s defence of “démocratie sauvage”, heterogeneous movements for human rights, fights for legal rights in the sense also advanced by E.P.Thompson. After the 1970s vogue for ‘anti-totalitarianism’ in France Lefort had moved further into considering that “democratic revolution” could be focused around the “lieu vide” of power, the acceptance that there is a way of institutionalising contestation, pluralism, in a political place that remains “empty. That is, unoccupied by individuals, forces or ideas that impose a single social order. In other words, democratic societies are grounded on the acceptance of division. By contrast Abensour defended Marx. Against the charge that he wished to end this ambiguity in a society of total transparency and harmony. Marx did not imagine a return to ancient republicanism, a world of public lives under constant surveillance and ‘unity’. Insurgent democracy fuelled by such as sense of class conflict, closer to the spirit of anarchy, the “withering away of the state”, not only refuses totalitarianism, but also the structures of the state. Abensour thus rediscovered the possibility of radically new “espaces d’invention, d’évasion” – disorder that Lefort had turned away from. (2)

At a time when National Sovereignty is brandished by those who wish to occupy the space of democratic power, when the ‘federated’ People replaces for Class, and some would wish to claim the ‘independence’ of the Nation against the ‘Elites’ and ‘Oligarchs’, Abensour’s insurgent democracy stands as a rebuke to the narrow goals of populism, right or left. Yet perhaps there is some virtue in keeping the reins of power out of the hands of a single General Will. Those on the British left, now offering to fight to the last French person against Le Pen and Macron, might also reflect on those, like Michael Abensour, who have had more fecund dreams of a utopian future without domination and Sovereignty. He deserves to be as widely read as possible.

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(1) Les guerres d’Abensour.

(2) Page 184. La Démocratie contre l’État le Felin. 2004

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Written by Andrew Coates

April 28, 2017 at 11:45 am

As Marine Le Pen Rises in Polls Criticism of Mélenchon’s Silence Grows.

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Nothing to say on how to fight Marine Le Pen at 41% ( +1).

France 24 reports,

Far-left candidate Jean-Luc Mélenchon forfeited the opportunity to play kingmaker on Sunday night by declining to back centrist (and onetime banker) Emmanuel Macron over anti-immigration europhobe Marine Le Pen in the run-off on May 7.

Heady with the 7 million votes he scored in Sunday’s first round – or disappointed that he fell only 618,609 short of beating Le Pen to a spot in the presidential run-off – Mélenchon took no clear stand on election night, leaving his voters to hash out their choice for May 7 online. Third-place finisher François Fillon, of the conservative Les Républicains party, and Socialist candidate Benoît Hamon both used their concession speeches on Sunday to immediately back Macron for the presidency.

However, Mélenchon’s Unsubmissive France (France insoumise) movement launched a voter “consultation” he promised on its website on Tuesday evening. It gives the 450,000 supporters who signed up on the platform before 10pm on April 23 – when Mélenchon gave his speech, and two hours after polls closed – a chance to express their choices among three options: voting a blank ballot, voting Macron or abstaining. Pointedly, voting Le Pen is not provided as an option “because it is clear to us that the National Front is a danger for the workforce”, Mélenchon spokesman Alexis Corbière explained on Wednesday.

The straw poll will continue until next Tuesday at noon, after which the results will be announced. But Unsubmissive France said on Wednesday that Mélenchon himself would not make public how he will vote personally, even after the results of the survey are released.

A sensation who rose like a shot in polls in the month before the first round, Mélenchon managed the feat of relegating the Socialist candidate to an also-ran. A former Socialist himself who cut ties with the party in 2008 to establish his own movement farther to the left, Mélenchon scored more than three times more votes than Hamon, largely on the back of two charismatic TV debate performances on March 20 and April 4. In those clashes, the 65-year-old political veteran came off as lively, confident, witty and frank. The contrast between his showman flourishes then and his post-election-night silence now is jarring.

Calls to abstain

Mélenchon voters have taken to social media to air their misgivings about voting for Macron, a onetime banker and economy minister under Socialist President François Hollande who quit last year to mount his own independent presidential bid. Many, using the hashtag #sansmoile7mai (“May 7 without me”) have said they simply cannot vote for “le capitaliste” Macron, even against Le Pen; they would rather cast a blank ballot or abstain.

This position, whose ambiguities  we have already outlined is opposed to that of  whole trade union movement. All of the union federations have called for a  vote against Le Pen and the National Front on Sunday May 7. The CGT, Force Ouvriere, Solidaires, the CFDT, FSU and even the Christian CFTC, which only once before, in 2002, have all called on their members to ‘stop the National Front’.

The left, the PCF, Ensemble (in a rather contorted fashion, no doubt to avoid offending the Great Man),  and the French Socialists  have also done so.

Not everybody in La France insoumise is happy with the silence of the Man of Destiny.

Mélenchon’s  stand has raised a storm of protest on the left which has been reflected inside the rally itself.

Monsieur Mélenchon, que diable allons-nous faire dans cette galère ? Libération.

Par Baudouin Woehl, étudiant dans un conservatoire à Paris

Un militant de la France insoumise s’indigne de la non-prise de position de Jean-Luc Mélenchon contre Marine Le Pen.

An activist of La France insoumise is angry at the failure of Jean-Luc Jean-Luc Mélenchon to take a stand against Marine Le Pen.

Dire non au FN, c’est se donner les moyens de poursuivre la lutte, c’est éviter de transformer ce «matin tout neuf qui commence à percer» dont vous parlez, en une nuit toute longue et incertaine.

To say No to the FN, is the way to get the means to continue the fight, that is, to avoid that the “new dawn which has begun to shine”, which you speak about, becomes a long night of uncertainty.

This is in a similar vein: Lettre à mes ami.e.s de gauche qui ne voteront pas contre Le Pen le 7 mai.

This demands that Mélenchon takes off the Red Triangle, sign of solidarity with victims of the Nazi, from his label.

Monsieur Mélenchon, ayez la décence de retirer ce triangle rouge de votre veste.Par Didier Daeninckx, écrivain.

On the British far left, amongst the professional dilettantes (the inevitable Tariq Ali) cheering on Mélenchon  is Kevin Ovenden,  who has been a leading figure in Respect and now appears close to the groupscule Counterfire, with influence in the Stop the War Coalition.

France: an historic moment for the left

He argues against the Vote Contre Le Pen campaign,

The Socialist Party and the Communist Party, in the false name of anti-fascist unity, are aiming to restore their own fortunes at the National Assembly elections, over the corpse of this radical breakthrough by the insurgent left last Sunday.

In endorsing Macron, they do three things. They give political support to someone who will launch an offensive against working people. They help Le Pen – for she wants this political constellation of her against all the old party machines. And they do Macron’s bidding in trying to rip away a part of the “insubordinate left” back to the centre, in return – if they are lucky – for some local pacts to deliver some parliamentary seats.

Instead, willing to share his successful strategy  in Respect Ovenden argues  to back an independent la France insoumise, do not vote against Le Pen in the polling booths, and to for those who supported Mélenchon to start  “providing them with the tools to maintain this insurgency.

For, “This is actually the moment of the fighting left. The agency for rupturing into a half century political settlement has been someone whose politics are actually closer to the patriotic social democratic left than they are to anti-capitalist revolutionaries.”

Ovenden  seems to be relishing the idea of street fighting if Le Pen approaches power, and no doubt afterwards.

He will no doubt offer his strategic skills to the French Left.

Written by Andrew Coates

April 27, 2017 at 1:10 pm

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Then we have this:

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

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

 

Counterpunch – Diana Johnstone – Defends Marine Le Pen Against “Racism” charge and Rallies to the Cause of National Sovereignty.

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Johnstone: Cannot “reduce” Marine Le Pen’s anti-Immigrant stand to “racism”. 

Diana Johnstone is a columnist for the American left site, Counterpunch.

She has, to put it mildly, ‘form’ on French Politics saying that the Front National is “basically on the left”. And indeed on British Politics, where she warmed to UKIP’s views on European immigration (Diana Johnstone’s poisonous nativism) (1)

In her most recent contribution (21st of April)  to the favourite journal of ‘wise-guys’ who want the ‘low down’ on politics, this is her view on tomorrow’s French Presidential election.

The Main Issue in the French Presidential Election: National Sovereignty 

Johnstone is torn in the French elections,

A most remarkable feature of this campaign is great similarity between the two candidates said to represent “the far left”, Mélenchon, and “the far right”, Marine Le Pen.  Both speak of leaving the euro.  Both vow to negotiate with the EU to get better treaty terms for France. Both advocate social policies to benefit workers and low income people. Both want to normalize relations with Russia. Both want to leave NATO, or at least its military command.  Both defend national sovereignty, and can thus be described as “sovereignists”.

Left-wing internationalists may protest at this side of Mélenchon’s politics (La chevènementisation de Jean-Luc Mélenchon Philippe Marlière).

She ignores such critics

The main divide appears to be racism.

But…

In a country suffering from unemployment, without jobs or housing to accommodate mass immigration, and under the ongoing threat of Islamist terror attacks, the issue cannot be reasonably reduced to “racism” – unless Islamic terrorists constitute a “race”, for which there is no evidence. Le Pen insists that all French citizens deserve equal treatment regardless of their origins, race or religion. She is certain to get considerable support from recently nationalized immigrants, just as she now gets a majority of working class votes. If this is “fascism”, it has changed a lot in the past seventy years.

So that’s all right then.

Human rights bleeding hearts and internationalist globalisers  might remarks that giving national preference to the French in jobs and housing, chanting “on est chez nous”, claiming that the French have fewer rights than foreign residents(“les Français ont parfois moins de droits en France que des étrangers, même clandestins”) restricting free schooling to French citizens, and systematically linking terrorism to immigration is about as racist as you get.(Immigration et terrorisme : Marine Le Pen multiplie les intox.)

Then there is this,

The globalist media are already preparing to blame the eventual election of a “sovereignist” candidate on Vladimir Putin. Public opinion in the West is being prepared for massive protests to break out against an undesired winner, and the “antifa” militants are ready to wreak havoc in the streets. Some people who like Marine Le Pen are afraid of voting for her, fearing the “color revolution” sure to be mounted against her.  Mélenchon and even Fillon might face similar problems.

Against the views of the “globalist media” Johnstone concludes,

By far the most fundamental emerging issue in this campaign is the conflict between the European Union and national sovereignty.

 That  Counterpunch claiming to be on the left, publishes Johnstone’s  defence of the ‘nation’ against the EU is, well, not unexpected.

A section of the former French ‘republican’ and anti-EU  left has moved from  ‘sovereigntism’ to active involvement in the Front National. From the “regulation” heterodox economist Jacques Sapir (a former supporter of the Front de gauche) who has called for a “common front” against the Euro with the FN ( J’ai dit, et écrit, que, dans la lutte contre l’européisme, il faudrait faire front commun et que, sous certaines conditions, le Front National pourrait y participer) to Thibaut Garnier (former youth secretary of the  Mouvement républicain et citoyen (MRC) and many others, they have found in Marine Le Pen a defender of National Sovereignty (Ces chevènementistes séduits par le FN).

This little gang obviously has its admirers in the US.

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As Theresa May Sets out Hard Brexit Stall, Left Brexiters Want to Reform, not Oppose Her Plans.

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We have only to Wait for Him to Comment on UK Election Vote…..

The Daily Mail reports,

Tory manifesto will guarantee end of free movement, UK to leave single market and no more meddling by Euro judges as May issues her cast-iron Brexit pledges.

Theresa May will place a triple lock on Brexit in the Tory manifesto to stop obstruction by diehard Remainers. Tory sources say she is set to include specific pledges to overcome opposition within her party and in the Lords. The manifesto is expected to commit the Conservatives to ending EU free movement and pulling out of both the single market and European Court of Justice. Senior Tories see the three measures as essential in delivering last year’s referendum result.

Socialists should oppose these plans.

The Alliance for Workers’ Liberty speaks for a much wider constituency when they say,

Even on the basis of its existing policy, Labour could argue for opposition to the Tories’ Brexit plans, for defence of free movement and migrants’ rights, for remaining in the single market. We should fight for this. Otherwise Labour will go into the election echoing, or scarcely contesting, the Tories’ main message.

By contrast the remains of the Brexit left claim that they can reform these Brexit plans and harness them to their own ends.

Jeremy Corbyn must fight the election with socialist policies

It is clear that much of the pro-capitalist cabal at the top of the Labour Party will be secretly welcoming this election because they think Corbyn will be defeated and they can then replace him with some pro-capitalist pro-austerity leader. However, they could rue the day this election was called. If Corbyn fights on a clear socialist programme – for a Brexit in the interests of the working and middle-class – he could win the general election.

Or so, instructs the Socialist Party (ex-Militant)

The SWP states,

To win a Brexit that serves the interests of the majority rather than the bosses means dumping the Tories.

Some of the Labour right would prefer the Tories to win than to see Corbyn in Downing Street. They will have to be pushed aside.

Socialist Worker helpfully reminds us,

“Moderation” is the enemy. Labour would be in a better position if it could raise slogans such as—“For the NHS, not Trident missiles”, “Chuck out the parasites, take over the banks”.

And the union leaders should be stepping up strikes and protests, not holding them back in the false belief that such resistance harms Labour.

We want Corbyn to win—but that means more struggle not less.

Written by Andrew Coates

April 20, 2017 at 11:47 am

Counterfire calls for Corbyn to Follow Jean-Luc Mélenchon and “denounce the banks and corporations, NATO and the EU as “capitalist con trick”.

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Rees explains to Corbyn how to follow Mélenchon’s book.

What, the masses, okay, John Rees and the groupuscule Counterfire, ask, should we do about Theresa May’s “gamble”, her all-too-evident desperation.

Well, they reply, to themselves, it’s proof of that agony the Tories are facing.

She has called a General Election.

You can’t get more desperate than that!

So,  Bring it on

Rees is a-buzzin’ at French politics,

Only weeks ago, Marine Le Pen was destined to be stopped only by a Blairite candidate. Now the far-left candidacy of Jean-Luc Mélenchon has upset all predictions and, even if he doesn’t make the second round, he has rebuilt the French left.

Jeremy Corbyn should be aiming to make good the poll deficit by similar methods because Melenchon was at least as far behind in the polls when the French Presidential campaign began as Corbyn is now.

So,

….audacity is the order of the day. Corbyn should take a leaf from Mélenchon’s book and denounce the banks and corporations, NATO and the EU, for the capitalist con trick they are. He should unashamedly run as the establishment’s unbending opponent and as the outspoken champion of working people, the unions, and the social movements.

Then, if he fails, at least it will not be by his own hand and at the cost of demoralising the left and working people, their organisations and their hopes.

Yup, Mélenchon’s strategy of replacing the Socialist Party, that is Labour’s sister party, and his struggle for French “independence”, waving of tricolors an all, is just the recipe for a Labour victory.

He could also try a few of the poems Melenchon likes to stud his speeches with,

Mes frères, c’est dans la Paix que nous respirons à pleins poumons
L’univers entier avec tous ses rêves…
Mes frères, mes sœurs, donnez-vous  la main…
C’est cela la Paix.

Yánnis Rítsos.

Or this:

Rees is resolutely upbeat.

There may or may not be a majority Labour government, but that is not the only bad outcome for the Tories. There may be a minority Labour government supported by the SNP. There may be a Tory government with a reduced majority, and that would be a huge disaster for the whole UK ruling class and a huge opportunity for the left.

Those majority Tory governments are surely always an opportunity……

We need to make Theresa May’s election gamble her last, argues John Rees

François Hollande “writes off” his party candidate, Hamon, and seems to call for Macron vote.

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Hollande: dumps his own Party’s Candidate.

Just when you thought things couldn’t get more confused in the French Presidential elections, this story erupts.

Si François Hollande n’a publiquement pris position pour aucun candidat à la présidentielle (ce que Manuel Valls ne juge “pas normal”), sa préférence semble aller à Emmanuel Macron.

If François Hollande has not publicly taken a position in favour of any candidate in the Prsidential elections (which Manuel Valls estimates is “not normal”) his preference appears to be for Emmanuel Macron.

Benoît Hamon accuse François Hollande de “pousser les socialistes à rejoindre Macron”

Now if there is one thing President Hollande was famous for, it was that he was a “party man”, a stalwart figure of the Parti Socialiste,  the Genial  First Secretary and all that.

Apparently not.

The story is developing:

 Sans vraiment le dire, François Hollande a discrètement appelé à voter pour le candidat d’En marche! dans un entretien à paraître jeudi 13 dans Le Point et dont le journal  Le Monde développe les principaux points dans un article paru ce mercredi 12.

Without exactly saying it François Hollande has discreetly called to vote for the candidate of En marche! in an interveiw which will appear on Thursday in Le Point (Note: hard line ‘liberal’ right wing weekly). Le Monde has outlined the principle point in an article which has come out today.

France Soir.

Le Monde,

François Hollande sort de son silence : « Cette campagne sent mauvais »

Sans appeler à voter Macron, le président s’inquiète de la percée de Mélenchon et semble avoir fait une croix sur le candidat socialiste, Hamon.

François Hollande  breaks his silence: this campaign reeks.

Without calling for a Macron vote, the President is worried about Mélenchon’s breakthrough, and seems to have written off the Socialist candidate.

This is the dilemma Hamon faces: