Archive for the ‘New Left’ Category
Nuit Debout: A Spark that did not Light a Prairie Fire.
Nuit debout was a French movement that began on 31 March 2016, arising out of protests against proposed labour reforms known as the El Khomri law or Loi travail. The movement was organised around a broad aim of “overthrowing the El Khomri bill and the world it represents”. It was compared to the Occupy movement in the United States and to Spain’s anti-austerity 15-M or Indignados movement. Occupy, and its much smaller imitation in the UK, Like the former, and unlike the latter, it failed to make any lasting connection with wider political forces.
Nuit Debout was best known for its months long 2016 occupation of the Place de la République in Paris.
Organisers refused to set out a specific list of political demands in advance, although they did denounce the government’s proposed reforms as regressive, and they called for the construction of a new political project that would be “ambitious, progressive, and emancipatory”.
Lordon played an instrumental role in the rise of the Nuit debout movement. He wrote a piece in the February 2016 issue of Le Monde diplomatique on François Ruffin‘s film, Merci patron!, describing the film as a clarion call for a potential mass uprising. This prompted Ruffin to organise a public meeting which led to the organisation of the public occupation of Paris’s Place de la République on 31 March 2016. Lordon delivered a speech at the 31 March protest, highlighting the goal of uniting disparate protest movements. He subsequently refused to talk to national media about his role in the movement, explaining that he did not wish to be seen as the leader of a leaderless movement. More Frédéric Lordon, Nuit Debout ‘Leader’: Diamond Geezer, or….Not?.
Lordon has also been criticised for his ‘soverigentist’ tendencies: that is a belief that French democracy must first be transformed, however grass-roots led – on a national scale. This means he is against the pooling of sovereignty in the European Union, attacking its ne-libeal and amrket inflection but offers no concept of how internationalist democracy may be built. (1)
A more radical critique is offered of this type of politics in the latest Red Pepper,
Occupations, assemblies and direct action – a critique of ‘body politics’ Joseph A Todd .
Todd argues that the demand for “presence” at such assemblies (Occupy Wall Street, London, the small camp at St Paul’s, the Place de la République), is questionable.
Inclusion in the polis was premised on physical presence – both in that decision making was conducted in general assemblies for extended periods of time, but also in that non-participation in the general assembly constituted a symbolic exclusion from the performative spectacle that became the symbol of the movement. And while the lack of demands was partly rooted in a distrust of existing institutions, we can also trace it back to body politics, the belief that bodies together is enough to create change, that bodies in space could prefigure the revolution.
Others have criticised the “consensus” ideal of these movements, which excludes serious debate, and represses minorities, while allowing for a fictitious agreement to be manipulated by an unacknowledged and unaccountable leadership – the “tyranny of structurelessness”. Or, more simply, the offputting rules that govern these assemblies, including strange signs to signify intervention in discussions, agreement, or disagreement. Nuit Debout did not enforce consensus – voting was by majority – but adopted many of these alienating procedures.
Nuit Debout existed for some months, brought important issues about the effects of markets, and the failings of democracy in French society and Europe to the fore, had some interesting debates about democratic structures and the remoteness of official French politics, and inspired some to continue to seek an alternative to liberal pro-market politics.
It never touched the core of the labour movement or the banlieue.
Now we learn that Lordon, still one of the leading voices in the movement, acknowledges it has failed to take hold.
The Bondy Blog interview is in a typical, highly abstract and philosophical vein, complete with references to Spinoza (one hears echoes of Toni Negri here, as the term multitude suggests already), and La Boétie.
It is heavy going, even for those used to Lordonese.
Fortunately Les Inrocks summarises the key points in which Lordon assesses the successes and the – very evident – petering out of the movement:
Tous les mouvements insurrectionnels commencent à très petite échelle. Le problème pour le pouvoir c’est quand ‘ça gagne’, quand la plaine entière vient à s’embraser. On ne va pas se raconter d’histoire, le feu n’a pas (ou pas encore) pris. Je crois cependant que beaucoup de gens qui étaient loin de l’événement l’ont regardé avec intérêt, et qu’il s’est peut être passé quelque chose dans les têtes dont nous ne pouvons pas encore mesurer tous les effets.”
All insurrectional movements begin small scale. The problem for those in power is when this “takes off”, when the social terrain is swept up in their heat. I am not going to hide the fact that in this case the spark has not (or has not yet) caught fire. I consider nevertheless that many people who were distant from the event watched it keenly, and what took place inside our heads has had effects which we have not really come to grips with yet.
Lordon talks of the “violence des “gardiens de l’ordre” which radicalised the participants in Nuit Debout. But he denied that there was any link between the movement and the ‘casseurs’ (hooligans) who led attacks on the Police and property to demonstrations in France earlier this year, and who provoked a strong counter-reaction.
The Inrocks also cites Nuit debout, l’instant d’après. Pour un bilan qui n’en soit pas un by .
This is a more intelligible and serious balance-sheet (bilan) of the movement.
Marzel celebrates Nuit Debout’s existence in an “oligarchic regime” and presence in the ” imaginaire politique alternatif”, its democratic experiments, and – apparently – resistance to “narcissism” as victories in themselves. It did not, however, help stop the new Labour law. And, “Nuit debout s’est rapidement élargie à une contestation de toute la politique du gouvernement et à un rejet global du capitalisme mondialisé.” – it quickly expanded to challenge all the government’s policies, and a complete rejection of globalised capitalism.”
Manzel does not hide that there problems with sexism, intoxication, internal disputes, inside Nuit Debout. Yet he considers that core message of of the protests was part of the “Miracle” of politics in the sense celebrated by Hannah Arendt. That is, we might comments, creative action and reflection by equal citizens that breaks governmental routine and helps create free public realm.
While some may hope that a new wave of protests may arise in France this autumn Nuit Debout has reached some kind of terminus.
(1) “Frédéric Lordon offers a radical critique of the construction of Europe. We can only agree when he interprets ‘the oddity of building Europe as a gigantic operation of the political elimination … of popular sovereignty itself’. The Enchanted World of Common Currency – On the Article by Frédéric Lordon).
“Trotskyism is being studied as never before” The Brent Soviet.
“But we want to speak frankly to you, comrade Trotsky, about the sectarian methods which we have observed around us and which have contributed to the setbacks and enfeebling of the vanguard. I refer to those methods which consist in violating and brutalising the revolutionary intelligence of those militants – numerous in France – who are accustomed to making up their own minds and who put themselves loyally to the school of hard facts. These are the methods which consist in interpreting with no indulgence whatever the inevitable fumblings in the search for revolutionary truth. Finally, these are the methods which attempt, by a colonisation directed from without, to dictate to the labour movement attitudes, tactics or responses which do not come from the depths of its collective intelligence. It is in large part because of this that the French section of the Fourth International has shown itself absolutely incapable not merely of reaching the masses but indeed even of forming tried and serious cadres.”
Marceau Pivert to Trotsky. 1939 (Where is the PSOP Going? A correspondence between Marceau Pivert, Daniel Guerin and Leon Trotsky)
With Trotskyists about to take over the Labour Party there is interest in the ideology and politics of this current on the left.
One figure we have yet to hear mention is Michael Pablo one, of many but by far the best known, party names of a revolutionary usually called Michel Raptis. The most reviled Trotskyist of the post-war period, he has been accused of being the father of lies, liquidationism, and revisionism of all stripes and spots. In fact his ideas and career are important to anybody concerned with Trotskyism: an illustration of its worst faults and some of its better features.
It will come as no surprise that Tendance Coatesy, as with many other leftists, owes a political and ideological debt to this outstanding individual. That his principal orthodox Trotskyist enemies were Gerry Healy, Pierre Lambert and James Cannon – all po-faced right-wing authoritarians – one cannot but help but like Pablo.
This should be borne in mind even if we accept that the fundamental premises with which he, and all Trotskyists, worked, that the Soviet Union, the Eastern Bloc, and China, not to mention countries like Cuba, had, by revolution or by bureaucratic imposition, become ‘non-capitalist’ social formations, part of a fundamentally new stage in history has been proved false. And that it’s hard to avoid acknowledging the erosion of the related belief, that ‘building revolutionary parties’ on the models laid down by Lenin and Trotsky was a realistic strategy to help create socialist societies in the capitalist world, and overthrow the Stalinist bureaucratic ‘deformations’ in these non-capitalist countries.
The term Pabloism was first used during the splintering of Trotskyism in the 1950s. It referred to a set of positions advanced by Michael Rapitis during debates within the Fourth International, principality Pablo’s view that the “objective” growth of Stalinist-led ‘workers’ states’ ‘degenerated’ and deformed) meant that they had to have a strategy towards the mass Communist parties that could capture their base. He was accused of ‘liquidating’ the Trotskyist ‘programme’ as an independent point of reference outside of these parties.
Since many of his opponents had their own strategic alliances inside social democratic parties that disguised their true ‘programme’ (Gerry Healy’s pre-Socialist Labour League group in Labour ‘The Club‘, the original home of most UK ‘Trotksyist’ organisations and groupuscules) , not to mention collaboration with right-wing anti-Communist elements backed by American funds (in France, in the union federation Force Ouvrière) this accusation looks bad faith. More serious criticisms stem from the claim that Stalinist forms of Communism were a kind of ‘leap’ into a better form of society which Trotskyists should back (from the outside) and influence (from the inside).
The noise and fury (cited above) around such disagreements can only be understood by referring to earlier disputes which set the pattern for Trotskyist polemics that has endured to this day.
This process of raucous fractures and splits which can be traced back to the 1930s, notably in France. Despite the widespread impression that American Trotskyism, above all the US Socialist Workers’ party, was the lodestar of the movement, French Trotskyism was the centre of the Fourth International and many of the original parties – a country with (in the 1912 foundation, larger than the Socialist SFIO), and form 1936 ownwards a significant political player) a large Communist party to boot, and a deep-rooted socialist and communist tradition that sets it off from America. Before looking at what ‘Pabloism’ is we have to begin there.
One of the first Trotskyist groups in that country was the la Ligue communiste founded in 1930. By the latter half of the decade there were already three main Trotskyist tendencies in the Hexagone (French Trotskyism) .
They were all organised around strong personalities: long embedded leadership is an enduring feature of Trotskyism (French Trotskyism)
- Raymond Molinier et Pierre Frank of the GAR (groupes d’action révolutionnaire who published the et La Commune which became in 1936 Parti communiste internationaliste (PCI).
- Pierre Naville ,who following Trotsky’s instructions had booted out Molinier early on. Their paper La Vérité and La Lutte de classes which became Lutte ouvrière (no real link to modern group of the same name), the organ of the Parti ouvrier internationaliste (POI, créé en 1935 which (follow this closely) the official section of the Quatrième Internationale. U A part of this group became involved in the Parti socialiste ouvrier et paysan (PSOP) of Marceau Pivert, until unceremoniously booted out for Trotskyist factionalism.
- Yvan Craipeau, Fred Zeller (a leader of the Jeunesses socialistes who had created a Trotskyist faction in the Socialist Party, (the SFIO) until also booted out for factionalism, and Jean Rous créent les Jeunesses socialistes révolutionnaires around the paper Révolution.
Zeller’s Témoin du siècle (2000) outlines some of their disagreements. Perhaps it is most revealing on how the Trotskyists behaved after the ‘french turn’ which saw them joining the French Socialists, the SFIO.
Zeller describes their activists lecturing people on the First Congresses of the Third International and Trotsky’s line on the Chinese Revolution. Not surprisingly not everybody was impressed with these no doubt kindly meant lectures. They were kicked out of the party of Léon Blum after, amongst other things, a sustained campaign to build workers’ militias. For Trotsky the “La révolution française a commencé” with the wave of strikes that accompanied the election in 1936 of the Front Populaire you understand (Trotsky, Ou Va La France 1934 – 8, particularly the section on the ” milice ouvrière ” in Socialisme et lutte armée.)
In his Mémoire d’un dinosaure trotskiste (1999) Yvan Craipeau describes the various positions Trotsky took on French politics,, from ‘entryism’ in the SFIO as the bolchevik-léniniste tendency, to efforts to influence Marceau Pivert’s “Gauche révolutionnaire” both while it remained in the Socialist party, and later (see above) when it was the independent Parti socialiste ouvrier et paysan (PSOP). founded in 1938. Pivert memorably replied to Trotsky about their efforts at hectoring instruction, that his party members “are accustomed to making up their own minds ” and that they “put themselves loyally to the school of hard facts” – not Trotsky’s international prognostics.
Trotsky replied by, behind his back, describing Pivert (as described by Zeller) as a false revolutionary in the mould of a provincial school teacher.
The entire history is of bitterness and great complexity (one I am familiar with in case anybody wants a Trainspotter lesson…). People wishing the investigate further should begin with these two books and look at this Wikipedia entries: Trotskisme en France. French Trotskyists.
But all this ill-will was a mere foreshadowing of the later splits in the Trotskyist movement.
To jump from those years: the key issues in the 1954 split included entryism (which Pablo advocated inside the mass Communist parties and well as social democracy) and this,
Pablo’s elevation of the “objective process” to “the sole determining factor” reducing the subjective factor (the consciousness and organization of the vanguard party) to irrelevance, the discussion of “several centuries” of “transition” (later characterized by Pablo’s opponents as “centuries of deformed workers states”) and the suggestion that revolutionary leadership might be provided by the Stalinist parties rather than the Fourth International—the whole analytic structure of Pabloist revisionism emerged. The Genesis of Pabloism.
Pablo indeed took seriously the prospect of a Third World war. In these conditions he backed, and enforce, this entryist strategy known as ” entrism sui generis ” inside (where possible) Stalinist Communist parties, and just about everything that moved on the social democratic left. This meant not just concealing membership of the Trotskyist movement, even to the point of point-bank denial of any link. Famously as the text above states he considered that it might take decades of such underground work for their efforts to bear fruit.
Apart from its inherent implausibility the prospect of ‘centuries’ of clandestine burrowing away seemed to consign the Trotskyists to the fate of the Marranos, ‘converted’ Jews who ostensibly submitted to Catholicism but practised their faith in secret.
The strategy had little impact in the Communist parties – in contrast to long-term and independently initiated entryism in the British Labour Party by Trotskyists (the secretive and bureaucratic ‘Militant’ group) who were distant from his Fourth International.
After winning support for these policies, and even a degree of power over the International, helped by the departure of Healey, Lambert and Canon (cited above) Rapitis by the end of the same decade plunged into a new cause: anti-colonialism and the ‘Arab Revolution’. He lost control of the Fourth International to Ernest Mandel and Pierre Frank. He retired from it in the mid-sixties.
Romance about epochs of hidden revolutionary labour aside, the idea of working within the French Parti communiste français (PCF) was, even at the time, in view of the party’s top-down structure and intolerant culture, ill-thought out and profoundly misjudged. It was equally parasitic on the success of the party being ‘entered’ (as indeed the experience of the Labour Party indicates).
Nevertheless French Trotskyism emerged more openly on the 60s political scene when a group of young Communist students, led by Alain Krivine, founded the independent Jeunesse communiste révolutionnaire in 1966. (1) Pablo did however put heart and soul in supporting the anti-colonial struggle in Algeria (a fight in which Krivine was also engaged) and was imprisoned for gun running to the independence fighters. He had a brief period of influence in the post-independence (5th of July 1962) Front de Libération Nationale, (FLN) notably on the leader Ben Bella (1916 – 2012) promoting the ideas of self-management. The Houari Boumédiènne, 1965 military coup put paid to that. (2)
The later politics of Pablo’s the Tendance marxiste-révolutionnaire internationale (TMRI), and its French affiliate, the Alliance marxiste révolutionnaire (AMR) centred around the primacy of self-management. They embraced the project of a ‘self-managed’ republic, took up themes such as feminism (in the mid-sixties), supported anti-colonial revolutions (without neglecting as their consequences unravelled, the necessary critique of ‘anti-imperialist’ national bourgeoisies), and defended democratic politics against Stalinism and orthodox Trotskyism. Pablo’s writings translated into English include a collection of his articles (Michel Raptis, Socialism, Democracy & Self-Management: Political Essays 1980 and his first-hand studies of workers’ control during the Allende government in Chile (Revolution and Counter Revolution in Chile by Michael Raptis. 1975) – another experience cut short by a bloody military coup.
In the 1970s its members joined the Parti Socialiste Unifié, a French New Left party with over 30,000 members, hundreds of councillors during the late 60s and early 1970s and 4 MPs in 1967. Later the AMR was involved in other left alliances, all within the traditions of workers’ self-management and New Left causes, participative democracy feminism, gay rights, green issues. By the 1980s the TNR, operated on a collegiate rather than a ‘Leader’ basis (and numbered outstanding figures such as Maurice Najman). It helped keep alive the ideas of workers’ control during the political triumph of neoliberalism. I was close to them in the 1980s (and attended one of their World Congress, the 8th) as a member of the Fédération pour une gauche alternative where we worked with the PSU in its final years.
Movements, that place ecological issues within the context of popular control, talk of new forms of democracy, owe something to those in the PSU and other New Left groups of the sixties and seventies across Europe. The TMRI was part of these currents, less and less concerned with building a revolutionary ‘party’ than with the interests of the movements themselves. (3) It could be said to have been a practical answer to the critique of Trotskyism offered by Claude Lefort of the group, Socialisme ou Barbarie in the 1950s. Lefort once asked, why, without the kind of material basis of a Stalinist state or even a trade union administration, did all Trotskyist groups reproduce the bureaucratic forms of these apparatuses?One response is, yes, “liquidationism”, being part of the wider movement and not a self-styled ‘vanguard’.
Pabloism’s legacy continues. It is one of many influences inside the French ‘alternatifs’, left social- republicanism, and the (left-wing of) the Front de Gauche (Ensemble) and more widely in the European and Latin American left.
Although a small number of ‘Pabloites’ re-joined the ‘Mandelite’ Fourth International (already moving away from Trotskyist ‘orthodoxy) in the 1990s most evolved away from ‘Trotskyism’ towards broader forms of democratic socialism and New Left radicalism. Some even became part of the French Greens (at the time known as Les Verts), while most, as indicated, merged into the broader left.
As the political landscape has radically changed since the fall of Official Communism and the entrenchment of neo-liberal economists and social policies in most of the world those associated with this current have been involved in a variety of left parties and campaigns. Pablo’s anti-colonialism hardly meets the challenges we face today. But the democratic strand of workers’ self-management remains perhaps, a strand which retains its relevance in the emerging ideas and policies of the left, including within the Labour Party..
Unlike ‘entryism’ and dogmatic Trotskyism….
(1)One of the best accounts of this and Krivine’s background is in Hervé Hamon, Patrick Rotman, Génération, les années de rêve, Paris, Seuil, 1987. For 68 itself: Patrick Rotman et Hervé Hamon, Génération, T.2 Les années de poudre, Paris, Le Seuil, 1988,
(2)The best biographical introduction to Michel Raptis: on the Lubitz Trotskyanet – here
(3) A reliable sketch of the French affiliate of the TMRI, the AMR, is available here: Bref aperçu de l’histoire du courant “pabliste” ses suites et sespériphéries en France 1965-1996. A journal from this tradition is Utopie Critique.
Back to the Beginning…..
We were always too incompetent and self-obsessed to do damage. The real threat comes from the Gramscian legions of the dull
“My main aim as a university revolutionary at York was (I now confess) to do down the rival International Marxist Group…The difference was emphasised by the names of our newspapers — ours was Socialist Worker, theirs was Red Mole. Our contest once led us both to seek recruits at the Kit Kat factory, where they distributed (I am not making this up) a special publication called The Chocolate Mole. “
Hitchens sternly warns,
And so the real revolution in the Labour party, which most of Fleet Street has never understood, was inflicted not by Trotskyists, but by the legions of the dull — Eurocommunists who realised Bolshevism was obsolete, quietly captured think tanks and policy committees, and used the apolitical figure of Tony Blair as the front for a Gramscian cultural, constitutional, educational and sexual revolution, whose greatest triumph was to capture the Tory party as well as the Labour party.
Hitchens may be right. Hhis brand of illiberalism (and sovereigntism, a trait he shared with many an erstwhile leftist, here across the Continent), “embracing equality and diversity, the unmarried family, globalism and open borders,” may risk disturbing “thousands of great cattle, reposed beneath the shadow of the British oak, (who) chew the cud and are silent.”
.Whether there was a Gramscian struggle for hegemony that resulted in the defeat of his traditionalists remains to be seen.
One recent event may indicate that these forces have not won…er Europe…..er…Referendum.
One would have thought Hitchens would have embraced the anti-European Leave campaign, and, perhaps in an ecumenical spirit, found himself glad to be on the same side as the his former comrades in the SWP, not to mention the Militant – Socialist Party in England and Wales, rallying, like UKIP and the Tory Right to defend “our” land against the Globe. He should surely be bathing in the joys of victory.
Thatcherite Gillingham is Top Author on Verso ‘internationalist’ reading list on EU.
Verso books, the publishing wing of New Left Review, has”put together an essential reading list of books that critically engage with the debate from a perspective of internationalism.”
At the top of the pile of books is this:
The EU: An Obituary — John Gillingham
In this pithy, rigorously argued book, leading historian John Gillingham examines a once great notion that soured long ago. From its postwar origins through the Single Market and to the troubles of the present, Gillingham explains how Europe’s would-be government became a force for anti-democratic centralization and inept policy-making. The EU: An Obituary is an urgent call to the political Left, Right, and Center (sic) to set things right before it is too late.
The Guardian review of the book by Christopher Kissane is headed
The Thatcherite historian argues that the EU is defunct, a relic of the postwar decades. But would an unfettered Europe be a better place?
Euroscepticism creates some strange bedfellows. Many rightwing nationalists view the EU as a Trojan horse of unstoppable multiculturalism. Some on the left see its focus on the single market as institutionalised “neoliberalism” and austerity. And some “neoliberals” such as Gillingham see it as a relic of the postwar decades that binds free markets in red tape. Gillingham is not a typical author for the radical-left publishing house Verso – presumably at least one commissioning editor there has Eurosceptic leanings. From all sorts of angles, the EU seems to be the sick man of Europe.
This is Gillingham’s prognostic,
Only a fool would venture to predict how the official institutions of Europe will become unglued, unravel, fall apart, or simply evaporate into thin air. The list of possible scenarios is innumerable. A reasonable guess would be, however, that Brexit will trigger the process of decomposition and reconfiguration. If past events can serve as a guide to the British referendum planned for 23 June, the tide will shift in favour of the anti-EU cause.
Only a fool…..
Recent polls have swung decisively in favour of the Leave campaign. Behind this shift in sentiment is a reality of awesome significance: Cameron’s promise of a better deal for Britain has little meaning in respect to an EU in disarray, which is untrustworthy, falling behind economically, and unable or unwilling to deliver on its commitments. At the rock-bottom level, moreover, a sovereign national political system, like Britain’s, based on the supremacy of parliament, is incompatible with the existence of a supranational entity, whose leadership remains – in spite of everything – unwavering in its determination to create a European state.
“Gillingham is University of Missouri Board of Curators Professor at University of Missouri and was Professor of History there until 2007. He has authored books on European integration, heavy industry in the Third Reich and the economy of Belgium under Nazi occupation. Gillingham is listed in Marquess’s Who’s Who in America and has received numerous awards and recognitions.”
Meanwhile back on the left, away from Verso and the (formerly) ‘New Left’ Review.
In a mix of left-wing political perspectives, Labour’s Shadow Chancellor joined former Greek finance minister Yanis Varoufakis, Green Party MP Caroline Lucas, Labour MP Clive Lewis and journalist Owen Jones, among others, to make their case for remaining in, but overhauling the current European Union.
They were speaking at a rally called Vote In – Another Europe is Possible, at London’s Institute of Education on Saturday.
Mr McDonnell told the gathering that there is a movement across Europe to respond to the challenge of democratically transforming the EU, and also attacked the Tories for dragging the referendum debate “into the gutter”.
He said: “We have the opportunity to regroup the referendum debate away from Tory Brexit and into a debate on a democratic Europe.
“A Europe that is not just possible but is urgently and vitally needed – where we can say yes, we are proud of being British, but we are also proud of the European future we have created.”
He also lambasted the Tories and said the EU referendum debate on the right is “disfiguring political discourse” and causing people to become “tired of the ranting hysteria”.
“(Boris) Johnson’s comparisons of the EU to the Third Reich and (David) Cameron’s claims of impending World War Three, they just beggar belief,” he said.
“We cannot let the right drag this debate into the intellectual gutter.”
He said it is the job of those on the left, and the progressives, to now “step in and save the debate”.
The Labour MP for Hayes and Harlington also said the problems faced by the UK are transnational problems with transnational solutions.
“How can we turn a blind eye to the City of London effectively acting like a funnel to offshore tax havens for the taxes of transnational corporations and super rich?” he said.
“Public funding is not just needed in this country but right the way across Europe,” he added.
“We know that if we clamp down here, the tax evaders will avoid us and will move elsewhere.
“That’s why European agreements are necessary and which form the basis for global agreements to track down and confront tax evasion and avoidance.
The Another Europe is Possible tour started at the UCL Institute of Education in central London on Saturday. Momentum, the Labour-supporting network, also joined Corbyn in launching a platform called Your Referendum to boost grassroots campaigning for remain.
A vote by Momentum’s national committee, a poll of Momentum’s supporters and a YouGov poll of Corbyn-supporting Labour members have all overwhelmingly backed remain.
Momentum said Your Referendum was inspired by the US presidential candidate Bernie Sanders’ campaigning methods of providing tools for volunteer-led organising.
In a statement, the group said: “Your Referendum is Momentum’s effort to take the toxic Brexit debate out of Westminster and the TV studios and into our communities, with the hope of reaching leftwing and younger voters, who polls say are less likely to turn out although they tend to support remain.”
The national organiser for Momentum, James Schneider, said: “Through the Your Referendum platform and the activities of local Momentum groups, we hope to encourage more activism, engage more people actively in the EU debate, and mobilise the harder to reach young or leftwing voters, who are turned off by Stronger In’s defence of the status quo.”
Other rallies as part of the tour will involve trade unionists and the Labour MP Clive Lewis at cities including Bristol, Birmingham, Sheffield and Manchester.
Critical Notes on ‘New Left Oppositions’. Susan Watkins. Editorial. New Left Review. Second Series No 98. March/April 2016.
“Respectful of NATO, anti-austerity, pro-public investment and (more guardedly) ownership, sceptical of ‘free trade’: as a first approximation, we might them new, small, weak social democracies.”
The Editorial of New Left Review (NLR – accessible here), devoted to “left oppositions”, and “new lefts” offers a sketch of the common background of some very diverse political phenomena. With a mixture of gloom and wishful thinking Watkins outlines the legacy of the late 90’s “late-90s alter-globo movements” “wrong-footed by the harsher international climate of the war on terror”. But, she then turns to how European anger at the handling of the economic crisis, the collapse of the centre-left, Third Way, parties, and a “blowback” against Western intervention, street protests, such as Spain’s Indignados have, she observes, been followed by the arrival of new forces on the electoral stage.
It is with little surprise that we learn that the NLR list of the contemporary ‘left oppositions’ includes Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership win in the Labour Party, the Spanish Podemos, and Jean-Luc Mélenchon’s Parti de Gauche (PdG). The US is also affected, as Bernie Sanders’s strong challenge inside the Democratic Party indicates. More surprising is the inclusion of Beppe Grillo’s Movimento Cinque Stelle, which Watkins admits, not everybody considers on the ‘left’. Events and elections, she continues, have not only brought these forces to prominence, in the ballot box, Parliaments and amongst citizens, they have given rise to new “national political projects”.
A common trait, the Editorial observes, of these political green shoots, is the rise of ‘charismatic’ leaders, from Pablo Iglesias, Corbyn, Mélenchon, to Grillo. Exactly what the ‘authority’ given by this ‘gift of grace’ is, and how these personalities carry it out, is not explored. Grillo is notoriously the entrepreneur of his own ‘post-modern’ far from immaterial party-business. Iglesias heads up, to his numerous critics, a vertical pyramid party-structure He indulges himself in ‘populist’ efforts to lead the people ‘beyond’ left and right.
Mélenchon: électron libre.
Jean-Luc Mélenchon won 11.10% in the 2012 first round of the French Presidential election. He leads a ‘party’, the Parti de gauche (PdG) founded in 2009 with other former members of the Parti Socialiste. It remains stuck in the mould of a Parti Socialiste ‘club’, a tendency (at its height well below 10,000 members) centred on a ‘chief’. Its inability to develop has been caused less by the absence of popular protests, the electoral system or “laïciste horror of the headscarf” thwarting its appeal to the ‘banlieue’, than his abrasive personality, which has created a crop of internal divisions to boot. Mélenchon, his many ill-wishers allege, has a vision of himself as a Man of Destiny, with populist and nationalist ambitions far beyond a “sovereign, alter-globalist, multi-polar defence force”.
Inside the Front de gauche (FdG), which allies the PdG with a number of left groups in an electoral bloc, it is not only the Communists of the Parti Communiste Français (PCF,138,000 members) but leftists from Ensemble (2,500), who have found it impossible to work with this électron libre (1). Sensing little support the leader of the PdG spurned the idea of presenting himself before the Front’s supporters and the wider left in ‘primaries’ to select a Presidential candidate. Mélenchon has effectively ditched the PdG for a supporters’ network. He is running for President in 2017 with an on-line based team, with some success in the opinion polls. Nevertheless this venture into political cyberspace has had considerably less of an echo in the Nuit Debout ‘mouvance’ (too heterogeneous to call a movement), which is showing signs of both intellectual renewal in a multiplicity of directions and splintering. The CGT led workers’ spearhead of the wider national campaign against the “El Khomri” labour laws and the wider weekly strikes and marches have largely passed Mélenchon by.
Labour’s leader is, by contrast, a Parliamentary chief with a tiny group of MP supporters, and a mass party with a democratic membership structure and large trade union input. If he won the leadership ballot by a landslide, in a campaign of public meetings which created a “dynamic of their own”, Momentum, Watkins solemnly informs us, is a “somewhat diluted version of the 1980s Labour left”, an “organised adversary” of the ‘Blairite faction, Progress. Few perhaps will recall a mass membership 1980s Labour Left, or of any comparable “parallel structure” to dilute from. Fewer still will remember the Labour Party since George Lansbury (Labour leader from 1932 – 35) headed by anybody who had anything resembling Corbyn’s background in the 1980s/1990s London Labour Left.
Corbyn, like Sanders, is, we learn, “squarely within the social-democratic tradition” – which fortunately covers everything from Eduard Bernstein, Karl Kautsky, Jean Jaurès, to Harold Wilson. In short, the Editorial dispenses with the customary term, democratic socialism, by which a majority of Corbyn supporters, and Mélenchon’s, would identify in opposition to the compromised ideas that contributed to the policies of the Blair and Brown governments. Are there signs that instead after the ‘retreat from social democracy’ there may be a renewal in a very different directions taking place. Watkins calls the combination of anti-austerity programmes, and scepticism about free trade – not mentioning the defence of social and workers’ rights, the fights for a publicly owned public administration and services – and a failure to confront head-on NATO (on what, Syria?) “weak”.
We might then ask: what exactly is the ‘non-social democratic left’? If Grillo, instead of new forms of democratic socialism, is part of the answer, then what kind politics is that?
Readers will no doubt remain on tenterhooks waiting for the latest radical left model to emerge. In the interim the constraints, self-created or inherited, within which these lefts operate are ignored. Are the furiously hostile forces deployed against them, visible every moment in the British media to be ignored? Watkins casts cautious compromise to the winds. She smiles at Grillo’s no-nonsense Vaffanculo(s), scowls at the French Communists’ local electoral deals to retain control of their remaining municipal bastions (what is the threat of the Marine Le Pen or Nicolas Sarkozy to her?), soundly admonishes Corbyn for his “embrace of the discredited Blair-Brown Labour right” and offers Iglesias advice on a tactical abstention, allowing a possible future PSOE-Ciudadanos government coalition “a chance to demonstrate that it cannot work”.
As we have indicated Watkins offers the skimpiest, and often misleading, outline of the party structures and personalities which support the new left “projects” she attempts to grapple with. Oppositions equally fails to investigate the underlying problem thrown up by the more radical movements that appear to remain her benchmark. That is, their inability to develop more than general declarations within the ‘anti’ globalisation protest, that would make them more than a protest against the subsequent Western interventions and security clamp-downs. If Podemos may be able to show that the PSOE cannot work, what indicates that their alternative can? While we are waiting, the proliferation of an identity politics and culture of the ‘populist’ or sovereigntist right, which this Sunday came within a hair’s breath of winning the Austrian presidency, indicates the need for ideas and strategies capable of understanding and confronting nationalism and xenophobia now. (2)
Shocks and Turncoats.
It is on this issue that Oppositions is most wanting. The thought that calls a position on the EU referendum vote a “tactical” decision allows only a Leave or abstention as “left” options. The hope that a Leave vote would be a “salutary shock “ to the “trans-Atlantic oligopoly” and a Conservative Party in “disarray” is gratuitous irresponsibility. The nationalist and xenophobic Carnival of Reaction of the debates on the EU is paraded every-day. A Brexit win would bring not just Tory division but the politics of the most reactionary people in the country to power.
The Editorial is deeply insulting to the majority of the left, the democratic socialist left, who support staying in the EU not just out of self-protection against our most forthright and dangerous class and political enemies, but as an arena where common cause can be made with our comrades across the continent. That is, a place of hope and co-operation not of austerity and repression. To top it all, Oppositions attacks all of us through its words against the much-liked Owen Jones. The author of Chavs “turned his coat” for changing his mind, very publicly and very honestly explaining why, and backing Remain with the campaign Another Europe is Possible. The Editorial’s language in this instance is, not to mince words, despicable.
(1) Mélenchon candidat à la présidentielle : il tourne le dos à l’histoire de la gauche. Philippe Marlière. February 2016
(2) These two weaknesses were signalled by the critic of their French expressions, Phlippe Raynaud in L’extrême gauche plurielle. Tempus. 2006. Whatever one’s views on his generally hostile analysis, these points are if anything more relevant today than a decade ago.