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Mélenchon and la France insoumise in Free-fall.

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Mélenchon : Aux portes du pouvoir par Fayol

Looking Further from the Gates of Power than Ever.

“la vertu est cette capacité à mettre en adéquation les principes qu’on applique dans sa vie avec ceux qu’on voudrait voir appliquer au plus grand nombre au benefice de tous”

Virtue is the faculty to be able to properly line up the principles that you apply in your life with those that you would like to see applied to the greatest number of others to the benefit of all.

Jean-Luc Mélenchon. De La Vertu.2017.(1)

Tout commence par la mystique, par une mystique, par sa (propre) mystique et tout finit de la politique.”

Everything begins in mysticism, by a mystique, one’s own mystique, and ends in politics.”

Notre Jeunesse. Charles Péguy. 1910 – 11. (2)

Jean-Luc Mélenchon, writes Chantal Mouffe, is a successful left-populist. He has channelled a feeling of being “left behind” and the “desire for democratic recognition” away from the far-right. Mélenchon’s Rally, la France insoumise (LFI) has been able to “federate all the democratic struggles against post-democracy”. Like Jeremy Corbyn his “anti-establishment discourse” “comes from the progressive side”. (3)

Mélenchon has ambitions grander than picking up the votes of La France périphérique, the ‘somewhere people’ stranded on the margins in the age of globalisation. He seeks support in that direction. LFI’s reaching out to protests against the rise in engine fuel, backed by the far-right Rassemblement National (ex-Front National) – despite previous green commitment – underlines the approach. But the goal of the movement is to create the multitude, the common people, are transformed into a People by collective action. The fight against the “oligarchy” the push for equality, what remains of class struggle, the deeply rooted “anthropological” need for sovereignty, are woven together into a vision adequate to the ecological demands of a planet under threat. (4)

Out with Class Based Parties!

In these conditions the old class based “party forms” of the left have consigned the left to a dwindling “archipelago”. Their vertical structures correspond to the old Taylorist and Fordist forms of work. The emergence of the dissatisfied People, broader than the traditional working class, as a category, a potential political subject, facing the financial Oligarchy rends them obsolete. Horizontal on-line debate makes the old ‘rigid’ democratic procedures out of date. His movement, a “brand (“label”) is a vehicle for common action. It is not (his quotation marks) “démocratique”, with different tendencies, factions, or even votes on opposing motions at conferences of elected party representatives from branches. It is, in line with these social changes, a “movement”, in which its politics are visible, and through which supporters are involved not by old-fashioned voting but through selection by lot to participate, to a degree decided by their own wishes, in the grand replacements of the old politics of La France insoumise. (5)

It was hard not to be reminded of this vision when listening to the radio station, Europe  1 this morning. The news began with the results of an opinion poll which put LFI’s list for the 2019 European elections in free-fall, down to  11% (drop of 3%)  three and a half points above the Parti Socialiste (7,5%if Ségolène Royal lead their list, otherwise 6%)   Its follows surveys which indicated that, after his public exhibition of petulant rage over an investigation into the Movement’s finances, Mélenchon himself has lost 7 points in personal popularity though some polls put the loss higher at a drop in 15% amongst those who voted for him in the Presidential elections (Jean-Luc Mélenchon dégringole de 7 points). Marine Le Pen’s  Rassemblement national  (ex-Front National) meanwhile is scoring the same, around 20%,  as La  République en Marche of Emmanuel Macron.

L’enfance d’un chef.

The coup de grâce came with an interview with Mélanie Delattre et Clément Fayol, the authors of a book, to be published this week, on Mélenchon and La France insoumise. Mélenchon : Aux portes du pouvoir.This attempts to unravel “le système Mélenchon” It began with a description of LFI as a “business” (Chef d’entreprise et anticapitaliste), and its Leader’s considerable personal fortune. The canny homme d’affaires prefers, they allege, to squirrel away money in a variety of companies rather than reward his long suffering staff. We were then treated to a sketch of its internal ‘operations’, tightly controlled by those in the ‘club’ around the leadership.

Next, the authors asserted, far from being a ‘new type of open to all, a” participative” structure, it is ruled by ‘Trotskyist’ organisational practice – that it a very special kind of ‘Trotskyism’, the Lambertist centralist type which brooks no opposition. They managed to suggest that his screaming and foot stamping against those officials and police agents trying to investigate some of the secrets of this “business” was a premeditated piece of theatre. In short, the accusation is that Mélenchon has retained the political practice of his youth inside one of the most sectarian narrow-minded nationalist (both of its two existing splinters advocate Frexit) French left currents.

Finally, the interview raised the issue of Jean Luc’s long-standing membership of the Freemason, Grand Orient lodge. This, for those wishing to pursue further, may be compared to the deceased leader of Mélenchon’s former faction Pierre Lambert, who enjoyed a life- time friendship with one of the founding figures of French Trotskyism in the 1930s, Fed Zeller, who passed from the Fourth International to the same loge…(6)

To their credit after his tantrum and disrespect for republican legality the French freemasons have suspended Mélenchon and some have asked for his expulsion (Des francs-maçons veulent éjecter Jean-Luc Mélenchon du Grand Orient à cause de son attitude lors des perquisitions).

Where does this leave  La France insoumise?

Many people have the impression that their intellectual support was from the kind of academic or student who, had they been born at the time, would have admired Péguy. That is, a kind of faith in the capacity of socialism to effect a cultural and spiritual renewal beyond sordid (‘post-democratic’) politics. One can see them warming to the nationalist exaltation of Le Mystère de la Charité de Jean d’Arc (1908) It is to be doubted if they would have belched at the author’s railing at “bourgeois cosmopolitanism” and hatred of Jaurès’ Teutonic socialism. (7) The might well have had a sneaking admiration for the Camelots du roi, armed with lead-weighted canes against rootless youpins. If few would accuse Mélenchon of anti-semitism, LFI, we are informed is none too fond of George Soros, and as for Germans….

Rather than awaiting the Second Coming the supporters of Mélenchon  expect a laïque  révolution citoyenne and the Sixth republic led by the genial LFI Chief – any day now…

The painful realisation that Mélenchon’s ‘mystique’ is evaporating and that they have ended up in the sordid world of less than virtuous politics will be a hard to manage…

Mélenchon aux portes du pouvoir,  published at the end of the week, looks set for the leftist must-read list….

  1. Page 136. Jean-Luc Mélenchon avec Cécile Amar. Editions de l’Observatoire. 2017
  2. Page 115. Charles Péguy. Notre jeunesse. Folio Essais. Gallimard. 1993.
  3. Pages 22 – 23. Chantal Mouffe. For a Left Populism. Verso. 2018.
  4. Le Peuple et son conflit. Pages 142 – 147. Jean-Luc Mélenchon L’ère du Peuple. Pluriel. 2017 (new edition).
  5. Le Peuple et son mouvement. Pages 148 – 156. Op cit.
  6. Fred Zeller. Témoin du siècle. Du Blum à Trotsky au grand Orient de France….Fayard. 2000
  7. This is how he described the German influence on the politics of Jean Jaurès: “une sorte de vague cosmopolitisme bourgeois vicieux et d’autre part et très particulièrement et très proprement un pangermanisme, un total asservissement à la politique allemande, au capitalisme allemand, à l’impérialisme allemand, au militarisme allemand, au colonialisme allemand.”(P 1259) .Charles Péguy: Oeuvres en Prose. 1909 – 1914. Tome ll. Bibliothèque de la Pléiade. Avant-proposes et notes. Marcel Péguy. 1961.
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Sanders and Varoufakis to launch ‘Progressive International’ “Green, Radical Left and……..Liberal”?

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Nobody could accuse them of lacking ambition!

Sanders and Varoufakis to Launch Progressive International

Yanis Varoufakis, former Greek finance minister, and Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders are teaming up to launch a new initiative for common international action by progressives.

Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders is teaming up with former Greek finance minister Yanis Varoufakis to formally launch a new “Progressives International” in Vermont on Nov. 30, Varoufakis said in Rome on Friday.

Varoufakis, who made the announcement during a Friday press conference in Rome, told BuzzFeed News they were also inviting incoming Mexican president Andrés Manuel López Obrador to join the new movement. (López Obrador spokesperson Jesús Ramírez told BuzzFeed News he had received no “formal invitation” to “join a “progressive international” front.)

Varoufakis described the initiative in part as an attempt to counter the work that Steve Bannon, who also made an appearance in Rome last month, has been doing to help nationalists forge a united front in elections for the European Union’s parliament next spring. Varoufakis also accused immigration critics like Italian Deputy Prime Minister Matteo Salvini and German Interior Minister Horst Seehofer of being part of an extremist alliance.

“The financiers are internationalists. The fascists, the nationalists, the racists — like Trump, Bannon, Seehofer, Salvini — they are internationalists,” Varoufakis said. “They bind together. The only people who are failing are progressives.

Sanders and Varoufakis Announce Alliance to Craft ‘Common Blueprint for an International New Deal’

The pair hopes to promote a “progressive, ecological, feminist, humanist, rational program” for not only Europe, but the entire world

After arguing in a pair of Guardian op-eds last month that a worldwide progressive movement is needed to counter the unifying rightwing “that sprang out of the cesspool of financialized capitalism,” former Greek Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis announced in Rome on Friday that he and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) plan to officially launch “Progressives International” in the senator’s state on Nov. 30.

Varoufakis told BuzzFeed News that the movement aims to challenge an emerging extremist alliance of nationalist political figures—from immigration critics such as Italian Deputy Prime Minister Matteo Salvini and German Interior Minister Horst Seehofer to President Donald Trump’s ex-White House Chief Strategist Steve Bannon, who is working to garner voter support for rightwing parties ahead of the May 2019 European Parliament elections.

“The financiers are internationalists. The fascists, the nationalists, the racists—like Trump, Bannon, Seehofer, Salvini—they are internationalists,” Varoufakis said. “They bind together. The only people who are failing are progressives.”

As Sanders wrote in the Guardian, “At a time of massive global wealth and income inequality, oligarchy, rising authoritarianism, and militarism, we need a Progressive International movement to counter these threats.” Warning that “the fate of the world is at stake,” the senator called for “an international progressive agenda that brings working people together around a vision of shared prosperity, security, and dignity for all people.”

Varoufakis, denouncing the global “brotherhood” of financiers and “xenophobic rightwing zealots” who foment divisiveness to control wealth and politics, said in the Guardian that those who join the movement “need to do more than campaign together,” and proposed the formation of “a common council that draws out a common blueprint for an International New Deal, a progressive New Bretton Woods.”

In addition to the forthcoming progressive alliance—which incoming Mexican president Andrés Manuel López Obrador, or AMLO, will reportedly be invited to join—Varoufakis is leading the campaign efforts of European Spring, a new progressive political party, for the upcoming European Parliament elections.

As a European Democratic Socialist – and leftist – it is hard to know what the  term “progressive” means.

In our Continent, the word still has associations with the old Communist Parties and their fellow travellers, often called ‘progressives’. Or, to put it simply, progressive was used to embrace a broad swathe of potential allies. For very obvious reasons this usage is not just out of fashion today, it leaves a bad taste in the mouth.

More recently. the right-wing of Labour (Progress) , and Emmanuel Macron, are fond  of calling themselves ‘progressives’ .

Both of these usages would put off many left-wingers for a start!

The word reeks.

Yet, apparently in the US ‘progressive’ is  linked to the most liberal wing of the Democrat Party.

I believe that in its origins in US political thought  progressive refers to a broad stream of thinkers, from Transcendentalists such as Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau, to advanced liberals like John Dewey and, more recently Barack Obama.

If it has any meaning the word appears to signify,  “support for or advocacy of improvement of society by reform””, which does not get us very fa.Not when just about privatising fiddle in the UK is called a “reform” for the better.

Still, ‘reform’ could, at a pinch, be extended with more hopeful connotations, to the left, including Sander’s wing of the Democrats.

The Democratic Socialists of America use the word, “the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) is the largest socialist organization in the United States. DSA’s members are building progressive movements for social change while establishing an openly democratic socialist presence in American communities and politics.”

The European Spring alliance promoted by the Greek former Finance Minister certainly is “progressive” in this sense.That is, if one talks up ‘movement’enough to include self-important commissions and top-heavy public events.

This ‘alliance’ was built originally by DiEM25:

DiEM25 is a pan-European, cross-border movement of democrats.

We believe that the European Union is disintegrating. Europeans are losing their faith in the possibility of European solutions to European problems. At the same time as faith in the EU is waning, we see a rise of misanthropy, xenophobia and toxic nationalism.

If this development is not stopped, we fear a return to the 1930s. That is why we have come together despite our diverse political traditions – Green, radical left, liberal – in order to repair the EU. The EU needs to become a realm of shared prosperity, peace and solidarity for all Europeans. We must act quickly, before the EU disintegrates.

But how many on the left, who  identify with the various strands of democratic socialism, would wish to be in an alliance with liberals? Or indeed, for all the fact that there is  larger constituency who identify with the US Sanders left, or are at least encourage by the fact that it exists, at all, how many  would wish to drop their allegiances to parties like the British Labour Party, and the very long list of European left parties, to join up with a movement headed by these  two individuals on the strength of a few articles in the Guardian?

Assuming that they have read them…..a brief trawl in the French language reveals no trace of this ‘international’ to begin with.

The European Spring Alliance, of “democrats of all political persuasions” does not seem to have much of a basis either.

Their support, such as they are, include (indeed is limited to) for France  Nouvelle Donne.

We are informed the party was named after the US ‘new Deal’ (which is not how I would translate a term normally referring to a ‘new fact*), an experience far from the forefront of the French Left’s collective memory.

Nouvelle Donne is  a classic French political ‘club’, around Pierre Larrouturou. He and his friends have  spent a couple of decades on the fringes of the Parti Socialiste (unsuccessfully bidding for influence  as a ‘current’) and the French Greens, to mention only a few. It has had two elected figures, David Derouet,  who was the Mayor of Fleury-Mérogis until 2017 and Fabienne Grébert, a regional councillor in the Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes.

A more serious force, Génération.s, (which claims, optimistically, 60,000 members), one MP, three MEPs and one Senator, was founded by former French Socialist Presidential candidate  Benoît Hamon (6.36% of the vote in the first round), also forms part of the  DiEM25 sponsored European Spring.
That is, after trying for an alliance with the French Greens (EREV) and,  and various leftist  strands described as “« altereuropéennnes »..At one point Mélenchon offered him negotiations .

Two days ago we learnt that Hamon has called his own list of “citizen candidates” outside of the old party machines. He is now  negotiating with the centre-left intellectual Raphaël Glucksmann in the tradition of Michel Rocard (he is also the son of the New Philosopher André Glucksman).

Le mouvement Générations fondé par Benoît Hamon a lancé lundi un appel à candidatures citoyennes pour une liste aux élections européennes située “en dehors des vieux appareils partisans”, une initiative compatible avec la création de “Place publique” par Raphaël Glucksmann

Européennes : Générations de Benoît Hamon lance un appel à candidatures citoyennes

Génération-s may maintain links with The European Spring (though it is unlikely the presence of Nouvelle Donne is welcome).

Facing at least 5 (f not more)  other left-wing or green lists in next year’s European elections, very few people give Hamon’s group and allies much of chance of winning seats.

Experienced commentators (that is, my good self) predict Hamon is going nowhere.

The forces that could be brought together by this new international could include the European Spring. This, at least according to Wikipedia involves  such strange bedfellows as the substantial  Czech Pirate Party the Danish Green splinter party, Alternativet and a Spanish initiative Actúa which seems largely a discussion and networking group (“un espacio de reflexión, debate cívico e intervención política”) outside  the main force of the left, Podemos. Not to mention others…. I’d lay a hefty wager they are not part of the central core of the European left….

Any residual sympathy one might have for this lot evaporates at the sight of this list of supporters behind DiEM25:

Nor is this just a matter of a few signatures:

The more I find out about this, the less I like it:

Tue 10, 2018, 
Update: * Nouvelle Donne according to my trusty Petit Robert, means the, snappy, ” new hand of cards “.

Written by Andrew Coates

October 30, 2018 at 6:21 pm

Novra Media’s James Butler Laments British Labour’s Failure to Read Perry Anderson and Tom Nairn.

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Image result for anderson nairn for socialism

Latest Woke Book for Corbynistas. 

Top Jeremy Corbyn supporter: Britain’s problem is failure to execute the rich

Speaking on Monday for a video on the pro-Jeremy Corbyn media site Novara Media, a Novara founder explained why socialism hasn’t found a natural base in British society.

According to James Butler, “the great problem of British politics is that we never had a successful bourgeois revolution so we never executed all of these people. And therefore they remain in this kind of continual alliance that is extremely powerful between land wealth and a nascent bourgeois. It means that the structure of British politics is weirdly deformed as opposed to the standard European political model.”

Not only this but this!

(Last year…)

On #NovaraFM, Nina Power joins James Butler to talk about ‘decapitalism’ – from severed heads to sovereignty to contemporary anticapitalism and more.

Comrades were not slow to point to the errors in Cde Butler’s analysis.

We, notably Kylie and George, have delved into the depths of the Nairn-Anderson thesis, that Britain “never had a successful bourgeois revolution”.

This are some modest fruits of our research.

There is, about them, the air of an inverted Podsnappery.

“We Englishmen are Very Proud of our Constitution, Sir,” Mr. Podsnap explained with a sense of meritorious proprietorship: “It was Bestowed Upon Us By Providence. No Other Country is so Favoured as This Country …”

“And other countries,” said the foreign gentleman. “They do how?”

“They do, Sir,” returned Mr. Podsnap, gravely shaking his head; “they do – I am sorry to be obliged to say it – as they do.”

But now the rôles are reversed. Mr. Podsnap (who has swelled to engross all British culture over the past 400 years) is being arraigned in his turn.

“And other countries,” said Mr. Podsnap remorsefully. “They do how?”

“They do,” returned Messrs. Anderson and Nairn severely: “They do – we are sorry to be obliged to say it – in Every Respect Better. Their Bourgeois Revolutions have been Mature. Their Class Struggles have been Sanguinary and Unequivocal. Their Intelligentsia has been Autonomous and Integrated Vertically. Their Morphology has been Typologically Concrete. Their Proletariat has been Hegemonic.”

E.P. Thompson

The Peculiarities of the English  (1965)

Since that time many people have been influenced by the debates arising from François Furet’s Penser la Révolution Française (1978).

Many in New Left Review have taken the view that by criticism the paranoiac ultra-nationalist Terror during the French Revolution, and finding some parallels with the Terror in the Bolshevik Revolution, was a key marker in the French intelligentsia’s’ turn against Marxism in the 1970s

Others, who have read the book (really a collection of essays) for themselves,  see a critique of the ‘stage’ theory of bourgeois revolutions. That is the view that only a “proper” political Revolution,with some bloodshed (see Butler) on the model of 1789 can clear the way for a bourgeois society with its appropriate state.

For Marxists the most striking aspect of his essays  is that they pointed out, like Thompson, that there was not one model for the bourgeois revolution, or for the coming of bourgeois society.

There is little doubt that Furet was inclined to hint that the Jacobins foreshadowed, in some way, the Bolsheviks. That the belief that they incarnated “popular sovereignty” and the ‘General Will’ (an object which has never been sighted in the flesh) and convinced of their own Virtue, had something in common with the belief that Lenin’s party embodied the progress of history and the will of the Proletariat. More broadly he signalled how the Jacobin version of direct democracy – restricted to ‘active citizens’ – facilitated their ‘machine’ open to the evocation of this General Will against dissent.

Furet  central point is that the terror and the hysterical fear of ‘aristocratic plots’ cannot be explained away by adverse ‘circumstances’, the need to defend France against foreign intervention, and domestic armed opposition.

Whether the explanation for the repression, the Guillotine, and the ferocity of the revolutionaries,  lies in proto-totalitarianism or in the historically far from unique paranoia of a state of siege, remains an issue for historians.

Jacobin rule, the power of the original Commune de Paris, was overthrow with only token resistance. With a broken jaw a screaming and whimpering Robespierre was guillotined on 10 Thermidor (28th of July 1794).

But to return to Anderson and Nairn.

Nicos Poulantzas commented,

The characteristic conclusions of Anderson and Nairn follow from this short passage, which must seem strange to anyone who has been concerned with British political problems. For in their analysis, what Marx called ‘the most bourgeois of nations’ presents the paradoxical situation of a capitalist formation ‘typical’ in its origin and evolution, within which, however, the bourgeois class has almost never taken the ‘pure’ role of the hegemonic or dominant class. Because of its ‘aborted’ revolution between the 15th and 18th centuries, the bourgeois class did not succeed in changing the objective structures of the feudal state, and remained in practice a class politically dominated until its ‘absorption’ within a ‘power bloc’ belatedly formed by the landed aristocracy.

This aristocracy, by imposing its cultural and ideological hegemony on the British social formation as a whole, remained permanently the determinant class within the structures of political domination of this capitalist society. [6]

The bourgeois class, having missed its vocation as the hegemonic class, did not succeed, as in France, in structuring a ‘coherent’ ideology of its own which could be the dominant ideology in this formation: the ruling ideology of English society as a whole was the ‘aristocratic’ ideology.

MARXIST POLITICAL THEORY IN BRITAIN

More critiques of this false route:

 The Pristine Culture of Capitalism 

Ellen Meiksins Wood on the Nairn-Anderson thesis and the Bourgeois paradigm

The Nairn-Anderson theses, which sparked a wide-ranging and fruitful debate in particular with the historian E. P. Thompson, were elaborated in the 1960s and 1970s in the pages of the New Left Review. Their principal object was to explain the ‘origins of the present crisis’, at a time when Britain appeared to be unique among capitalist countries in its pattern of industrial decline. Some twenty years later, that debate was revived in a context of international crisis and restructuring of capital, which tended to mask any particularly British disorder. This was also a time when the dominant capitalist economy of the earlier period – the United States – began to reproduce the pattern of decline that once seemed peculiarly British. The powerful and influential Nairn-Anderson theses, constructed in the sixties to explain the British decline by tracing it to its historical roots, were called upon to defend not only their explanation of a specifically British disease but also the very notion of its specificity. At the same time, there has emerged a movement for constitutional reform in Britain, whose leading proponents (especially those associated with ‘Charter 88’) subscribe to something very much like the Nairn-Anderson thesis about the incompleteness of Britain’s bourgeois revolution and the immaturity of its bourgeois democracy.

The original Nairn-Anderson theses rested on two principal assumptions: that the British decline was special and unique, and that these specific disorders were traceable to the priority, and consequent incompleteness, of capitalist development in Britain, where a fundamentally unchallenged early capitalism emerged under the auspices of a landed aristocracy instead of a triumphant urban bourgeoisie, lacking the complete sequence of bourgeois revolutions which on the Continent produced more ‘rational’, bourgeois states. This still agrarian and aristocratic capitalist class experienced no need completely to transform the social order and its cultural supports, while the immature bourgeoisie never seized hegemony over the process of ‘modernization’, leaving British industrial capital permanently dwarfed by more primitive commercial and financial forms of capital. An essential corollary of this thesis was that other, late-developing capitalist countries were not subject to the same disorders because they were more ‘modern’ and their bourgeois revolutions more complete.

These major assumptions were later modified in various ways by each of the original authors. Perry Anderson argued in ‘The Figures of Descent’ that the British case may have prefigured a more universal pattern, already replicated in the United States and show­ing signs of ‘its ultimate generalization throughout the advanced capitalist world’. At the same time, he accepted the view, most boldly expressed by Arno Mayer, that the ‘ancien regime’persisted throughout Europe well into the twentieth century, implying that the ‘backwardness’ of Britain is not in itself so exceptional.  Tom Nairn went even further than Anderson or Mayer in his claims for the persistence of the ancien regime in Europe. We may, he suggested in his remarkable book on the British monarchy, only now be ‘living in the first decades of true capitalist ascendancy’ – which he identifies with the triumph of an industrial bourgeoisie and the formation of a state to match.

So Britain is apparently unique neither in its ‘backwardness’ nor even, perhaps, in the pattern of its crisis. Indeed, if Nairn in particular is right in postponing the definitive triumph of capitalism to the 1970s, his theses seem to be in need of substantial adjust­ments: the decade which, according to Nairn, saw the decisive victory of capitalism was also marked by the replication elsewhere of precisely those patterns that supposedly signal a peculiarly British disease – most notably in a capitalist country with none of Britain’s archaic residues.

Perry Anderson’s ‘The Figures of Descent’ concludes by pointing to the signs that the British pattern may become universal through­out the advanced capitalist world. At the same time, he still regards the British instance as specific, in the nature, timing and scale of its decline as well as in the poverty of the instrumentalities available to British capitalism for reversing its industrial decadence. The question for him must be whether the original historical explanation can withstand the generalization of British ‘backwardness’ to include all the capitalist countries of Europe.

The simple option of generalizing his British explanation, so that the universal ‘backwardness’ and uneven development of Europe is invoked to account for the general crisis, is clearly unacceptable to Anderson, not just because it leaves unexplained the American case, which so far has shown the most pronounced inclination to follow the British example, but also because there really are significant specificities in the British case which remain to be explained. Anderson stresses, for instance, the particular scale of British industry, the inclination to favour small-scale production of consumer goods over heavy industry, the resistance to the concentration and centralization of capital and production, and the disproportionate weight of Britain’s investment abroad. There remains, too, a particular cultural configuration which, as Ander­son has argued in the past, sets Britain apart from the general culture and intellectual life of Wes tern Europe, and which, accord­ing to Tom Nairn, has left Britain with a national identity defined by the archaic forms of the monarchy and pre-capitalist ideologies of class.

If other capitalist economies are destined eventually to suffer a similar fate, and if the archaic remnants of Britain’s past must be situated in a larger context of European backwardness, Anderson seems to be suggesting, the particularities of the British decline can still be explained by the peculiarities of its ancien regime. While the Nairn-Anderson theses must be further specified to provide an explanation ‘at a lower level of individuation’ which spells out the specificities of the British ancien regime in contrast to other persis­tent antiquities, the original theses remain fundamentally intact, argues Anderson, vindicated in the court of history.

Yet, these modifications aside, it is possible that two distinct theses have from the beginning competed for primacy in Anderson’s account of British history. Because the two theses tend to be interwoven in his work, the distinctions are not immediately evident; but it is possible to separate out the principal strands.

Thesis 1 (which, on the whole, appears to be dominant) depicts a precocious capitalism and a ‘mediated’ bourgeois revolution, a capitalism stunted by its aristocratic and agrarian origins, the absence of a clear antagonism between bourgeoisie and aristocracy and the failure of the bourgeoisie to escape its subaltern position or to transform the state and the dominant culture. In contrast, Continental capitalisms benefited from more complete and unme­diated bourgeois revolutions, and from clear contradictions between bourgeoisie and aristocracy which issued in a decisive triumph of the bourgeoisie and its thorough transformation of archaic political and cultural superstructures. The relative failures of Britain and the successes of other capitalisms have to do with the premature and incomplete development of the former and the greater maturity of the latter.

Thesis 2 (which could be, though it is not, detached from the dominant thesis and made to stand on its own, with some extrapolation) again begins with a precocious capitalism, but this time the critical factor is not the persistence of the ancien regime so much as the absence of obstacles to the development of this early and unchallenged capitalism. Here, the defects of contemporary British capitalism are ascribed to the advantages it derived from its head­start. It is not simply a matter of first to rise, first to decline, nor even a question of antiquated material infrastructures. The argument is rather that Britain’s early and unrivalled evolution as a capitalist power left it bereft of the means to reverse the decline once set in train, while other European capitalisms were, at least for a time, better equipped. Early English capitalism never faced the need to establish institutions and practices to enhance or accelerate development – for example, certain kinds of state intervention or administrative skills; and its slow and ‘natural’ industrial revolu­tion, unlike, say, the later German process of industrialization, generated no need for ‘the “bureaucratic” creation of a widespread, efficient system of technical education’. So have ‘the triumphs of the past become the bane of the present’.

These two theses do, of course, overlap and are not entirely incompatible; but there are significant differences, not all of which can be reconciled. Thesis 2 (early leadership) can more easily accommodate the persistence of the ancien regime throughout Europe, but Thesis 1 (incomplete bourgeois revolution) could in principle survive the postponement or prolongation of Continental bourgeois revolutions. Thesis 2, however, can explain the replication of British patterns elsewhere, which Thesis 1 cannot. For example, in Thesis 2, although Britain would remain unique because of its early and unchallenged origins, other capitalisms, emerging later and attaining dominance in a more competitive setting, might still reproduce the effects of leadership, ‘trapped and burdened by its past successes’.  The recent history of American capitalism illustrates how a period of dominance can eventually produce its own competitive disadvantages, not least because leaders can for a time make profits without developing productive forces. According to Thesis 2, the priority of British capitalism, its very early leadership, would still account for relatively greater disadvantages, and no later leadership could exactly reproduce the effects of earlier dominance; but in this version, the successes and failures of any capitalist economy have more to do with the conditions of competition than with the persistence of, or ruptures with, a pre-capitalist past.

She continues,

In other words, Thesis 2 could accept, as Thesis 1 cannot, that archaic forms are not necessarily incompatible with a dynamic capitalism -as the examples of Germany and Japan have so vividly demonstrated. The second thesis could even entertain the possi­bility that there may be circumstances in which the survival of archaic forms can promote, rather than impede, capitalist develop­ment -for instance, the availability of bureaucratic state-forms whose interventions can override the inherent contradictions of ‘pure’ capitalism, or the persistence of cultural forms that under­write the deference of workers. Indeed, the first successors of early English capitalism may more exactly fit the case of capitalist development conducted under ‘pre-modern’ auspices, as post­absolutist states responded to the competitive challenge and the example of English capitalism (sometimes also benefiting from the availability of English capital and technology). It was precisely in such cases more than in Britain that a dynamic capitalism could develop prematurely, in advance of fully ripe indigenous conditions and even adapting pre-capitalist relics to the needs of capitalist development.

The two theses, to put it another way, differ in their underlying conceptions of capitalism: the first is predicated on an unambiguously progressive capitalism which, left to its natural logic, will always promote industrial advance and a ‘rational’ state; the other acknowledges the contradictions inherent in the system. The first must attribute failures to the incompleteness of capitalist development; the second can ascribe them to the inherent weaknesses of capitalism itself. It is worth adding that Thesis 2, the early-leadership thesis, is more compatible with arguments put forward by E.P. Thompson in the original debate, and less subject to his persuasive charge that Nairn-Anderson operated with an abstractly idealized model of a ‘Bourgeois Revolution’ drawn – somewhat tautologically – from the experience of Other Countries.

Much of the discussion that follows here will be conducted against the background of the Nairn-Anderson theses, though not always in direct debate with them, sharing their basic premise that the priority of British capitalism provides a key to its current condition, and drawing on their insights about British history and culture, but not necessarily arriving at the same conclusions.

One major point remains indisputable. Britain – or rather England – was the world’s first capitalist society, and its priority profoundly affected its future development. There can be little doubt that its specific course of development left British capitalism singularly ill-endowed to undertake the kind of restructuring, notably the concentration of capital and production, required in the later conditions of international competition. But these facts are susceptible to more than one interpretation. If English capitalism was the first, and hence also the only one to emerge, as it were, spontaneously and not in response to external competitive press­ures from more ‘modern’ states, it is undoubtedly true that this ‘organic’ evolution left archaic forms in place instead of sweeping them away in a series of revolutionary onslaughts. But it may also be true, and for the same reason, that capitalism was more deeply rooted and its laws of motion more firmly established here than elsewhere, transforming the substance while preserving old forms -new wine in old bottles.

This is the decisive point:

Is Britain, then, a peculiar capitalism or is it peculiarly capitalist? That question is no less significant for an understanding of capita­lism in general than for an interpretation of British history in particular. It makes a very great difference whether the flaws in the world’s first capitalism and its pattern of industrial decline are the weaknesses of immaturity and incompleteness, specific to a peculiar case of arrested development, or the inherent contradictions of the system itself.

It may turn out that many of the qualities attributed to the incomplete development of British capitalism belong rather to capitalism as such, while the apparently more complete bourgeois revolutions elsewhere represent deeper continuities with a pre­capitalist past, and even that those continuities have sometimes benefited other European capitalisms. We may also find that, while Britain is indeed remarkable for its attachment to archaic forms and its tendency to revive – or even to invent- obsolete antiquities, and while these forms undoubtedly play an important ideological role, continuities with a pre-capitalist past are here more formal and symbolic than the structural continuities that connect other European states (without the symbolic trappings) to their ‘pre-modern’ antecedents.

There are certain conventional hallmarks of modernity, associated with the bourgeois paradigm, which have been absent in Britain and present in its principal historic rivals – in particular the so-called ‘rational’ or ‘modem’ state, with corresponding traditions of political discourse and cultural forms. It will be argued here that the emergence of these hallmarks in Continental Europe did not signal the maturity of ‘bourgeois’ or capitalist forces but on the contrary reflected the continuing strength of pre-capitalist social property relations. In fact, the appearance of ideas commonly associated with the advent of the modern state – certain conceptions of indivisible sovereignty and nationhood, for instance – testify as much to the absence of ‘modernity’, and indeed the absence of a unified sovereignty and nationhood, as to their presence in reality. The principal case is France, which has given the world its domi­nant model of ‘bourgeois revolution’ and the birth of modernity.

Conversely, what are taken to be the conventional signs of a ‘modern’ state and political culture were absent in England not because the English state was backward or because English capita­lism was deviant and immature. On the contrary, these absences signalled the presence of a well-developed capitalism and a state that was evolving in tandem with the capitalist economy. What England lacked in political discourse it possessed in historical reality. In Britain, then, there has been no fatal disjuncture between a capitalist economy and a political-cultural ancien regime suspended in time somewhere around 1688. On the contrary, the formation of state and dominant culture has been inextricably bound up with the development of capitalism, conforming all too well to its economic logic and internal contradictions. Britain may even be the most thoroughly capitalist culture in Europe.

 

Written by Andrew Coates

October 24, 2018 at 12:54 pm

Samir Amin (1931 – 2018) – from the Critique of Capitalist Development to the Rejection of Political Islam.

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Image result for samir amin

Samir Amin, (1931 – 2018).

Tribute to Professor Samir Amin

This Sunday, August 12, 2018 we learned, with great sorrow and sadness, of the passing the eminent development economist Professor Samir Amin on the eve of his 87th birthday. An illustrious thinker, the late Samir Amin leaves behind a wealth of economic thought on developing economies that he has inspired since the early sixties by his many publications and thought-provoking conferences.

As its Director for 10 years (1970 – 1980), IDEP is particularly touched by the passing of one of its pioneer-directors who made an indelible mark in the history of IDEP through his accomplishments in training and research in the domains of development planning and economy management in Africa. His astute leadership enabled the institute to gain and strengthen its identity in the delivery of capacity development and research programs that were strongly tailored to fight against underdevelopment.

With Samir Amin, IDEP gained momentum and is proud to be continuing on with this momentum, almost forty years later, in delivering on its mandate of building the capacity of African countries to effectively plan for their development and efficiently manage their economies.

In this sad moment, we offer our condolences to his family and to the African continent, to which he has always devoted himself with remarkable zeal and dynamism.

United Nations Economic Commission on Africa.

In French (Amin was Franco-Egyptian):

Mort de l’économiste Samir Amin, figure de l’altermondialisme

Par LIBERATION, avec AFP — 

“UN BAOBAB EST TOMBÉ” : SAMIR AMIN, LE THÉORICIEN DU DÉVELOPPEMENT INÉGAL, EST MORT  l’Humanité.

Samir Amin, l’économiste du Sud, est mort Le Monde.

“Le Franco-Egyptien s’est illustré par son analyse critique du système économique mondial et par son engagement en faveur des pays du Tiers-Monde.”

Like many I first came across Amin through the debate on capitalism and underdevelopment.  My introduction was  ‘Unequal Development: An Essay on the Social Formations of Peripheral Capitalism‘ (1976 ). This was one of many books in which he developed the idea that, “how accumulation in advanced capitalist countries prevents development, however that may be defined, within the peripheral social formations, usually referred to as “underdeveloped” countries. Samir Amin ranks among those who realize the necessity not merely to comprehend the growing crisis of world capitalism, as it manifests itself within individual nation states, but also at the world level.”

A lucid and memorable tribute is given in Red Pepper,

Nick Dearden looks at the theories of one of Africa’s greatest radical thinkers

Samir Amin (1931-2018) was one of the world’s greatest radical thinkers – a ‘creative Marxist’ who went from Communist activism in Nasser’s Egypt, to advising African socialist leaders like Julius Nyerere to being a leading figure in the World Social Forum.

Samir Amin’s ideas were formed in the heady ferment of 1950s and ’60s, when pan-Africanists like Kwamah Nkrumah ran Ghana and Juliuys Nyrere Tanzania, when General Nasser was transforming the Middle East from Amin’s native Egypt and liberation movements thrived from South Africa to Algeria.

Africa looked very different before the International Monetary Fund destroyed what progress had been made towards emancipation and LiveAid created a popular conception of a continent of famine and fecklessness. Yet through these times, Amin’s ideas have continued to shine out, denouncing the inhumanity of contemporary capitalism and empire, but also harshly critiquing movements from political Islam to Eurocentric Marxism and its marginalisation of the truly dispossessed.

Global power

Amin believed that the world capitalism – a rule of oligopolies based in the rich world – maintains its rule through five monopolies – control of technology, access to natural resources, finance, global media, and the means of mass destruction. Only by overturning these monopolies can real progress be made.

This raises particular challenges for those of us who are activists in the North because any change we promote must challenge the privileges of the North vis-à-vis the South. Our internationalism cannot be expressed through a type of humanitarian approach to the global South – that countries in the South need our ‘help to develop’. For Amin, any form of international work must be based on an explicitly anti-imperialist perspective. Anything else will fail to challenge structure of power – those monopolies which really keep the powerful powerful.

Along with colleagues like Andre Gunder Frank, Amin see the world divided into the ‘centre’ and the ‘peripheries’. The role of peripheries, those countries we call the global South, is to supply the centres – specifically the ‘Triad’ of North America, Western Europe and Japan – with the means of developing without being able to develop themselves. Most obviously, the exploitation of Africa’s minerals on terms of trade starkly favourable to the centre will never allow African liberation, only continual exploitation.

This flies in the face of so much ‘development thinking’, which would have you believe that Africa’s problems come from not being properly integrated into the global economy which has grown up over the last 40 years. Amin believes in fact Africa’s problem stem from it being too integrated but in ‘the wrong way’.

In fact, as long as the monopolies of control are intact, countries of the centre have had few problems globalising production since the 1970s. Sweatshop labour now takes place across the periphery but it hasn’t challenged the power of those in the North because of their control of finance, natural resources, the military and so on. In fact, it has enhanced their power by reducing wages and destroying a manufacturing sector that had become a power base for unionised workers.

So there is no point whatever in asking countries of the centre to concede better trading relationships to the peripheries. Amin is also concerned at environmental activism which too often becomes a debate about how countries of the centre manage their control of the world’s resources, rather than challenging that control. It is vital that Northern activists challenge the means through which the ruling class in their own society exerts control over the rest of the world.

Amin’s views on political Islam brought him to the attention of many secularists, including this Blogger.

Political Islam in the Service of Imperialism 2007.  Monthly Review.

On an initial reading he offered a rigorous critique of Islamism.

All the currents that claim adherence to political Islam proclaim the “specificity of Islam.” According to them, Islam knows nothing of the separation between politics and religion, something supposedly distinctive of Christianity. It would accomplish nothing to remind them, as I have done, that their remarks reproduce, almost word for word, what European reactionaries at the beginning of the nineteenth century (such as Bonald and de Maistre) said to condemn the rupture that the Enlightenment and the French Revolution had produced in the history of the Christian West!

On the basis of this position, every current of political Islam chooses to conduct its struggle on the terrain of culture—but “culture” reduced in actual fact to the conventional affirmation of belonging to a particular religion. In reality, the militants of political Islam are not truly interested in discussing the dogmas that form religion. The ritual assertion of membership in the community is their exclusive preoccupation. Such a vision of the reality of the modern world is not only distressing because of the immense emptiness of thought that it conceals, but it also justifies imperialism’s strategy of substituting a so-called conflict of cultures for the one between imperialist centers and dominated peripheries.

The exclusive emphasis on culture allows political Islam to eliminate from every sphere of life the real social confrontations between the popular classes and the globalized capitalist system that oppresses and exploits them. The militants of political Islam have no real presence in the areas where actual social conflicts take place and their leaders repeat incessantly that such conflicts are unimportant. Islamists are only present in these areas to open schools and health clinics. But these are nothing but works of charity and means for indoctrination. They are not means of support for the struggles of the popular classes against the system responsible for their poverty.

On the terrain of the real social issues, political Islam aligns itself with the camp of dependent capitalism and dominant imperialism.

It is the latter assertion, which straightforwardly answers  the false assertion that Islamism contains a kind of sublimated ‘anti-imperialism’ which is attractive. This was clearly sensed by his critics who tried to claim that the reactionary nature of political Islam was hidden behind a “welfare” vision of society. While in many ways this seems strange perspective today in the light of the rule of Daesh,  Turkey may make the case for a synthesis between authoritarian populism and Islamist welfarism.

There were and are equally clear difficulties in claiming that  Islamism was in some unexplained manner not “really”anti-imperialist. Yet various forms of actually existing Islamism were engaged in armed combat with….imperialism well before they began murdering civilians outside of their own lands.

In the debate in Monthly Review that followed Amin was criticised in Analyzing Political Islam. A Critique of Traditional Historical Materialist Analytic by  2009

The point is that if the left is ever to become serious in challenging militant/political Islam, it has to move past and dump its heavy baggage of Eurocentrism and the careless analysis of political Islam. The current wave of militant Islam is a force to reckon with, and dismissing it as reactionary—true as it may be—is unhelpful. Yes, militant Islam has an extremely narrow ideological view of Islam, and an exceedingly oppressive vision of societal change, especially concerning the treatment of women.

This vision is not shared by the vast majority of Muslims in Afghanistan, Egypt, Indonesia, Pakistan, and even India. That being said, this dominant obscurantist current of political Islam in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Pakistan is also locked in military/guerilla combat with U.S. imperial power and client states in the region.

But here’s the rub, militant Islam is also supported by people in these respective regions not, as mentioned earlier, because they support its vision of a Muslim “welfare state” rather, the support is because the United States is seen as ruthless, anti-Islam imperial occupier. Alongside, people in these states are also very tired of the tactics of Islamists, especially as they terrorize and target unarmed and uninvolved people. Overwhelming numbers in Muslim-majority states would like the Islamists to disappear, just as they would also wish the same for U.S. imperial presence and the client regimes that rule over them. If this complexity could be grasped, it may enable people on the left as well Western political leaders and the media to desist from homogenizing the makeup of entire Muslim-majority societies as reactionary or obscurantist.

Similarly, the popular anti-imperialist sentiment in Muslim majority states should not be confused with the actions of militant Islamists, which are not anti-imperialist. Militant Islam is conceived and imagined in the present, current context. It is, therefore, a “modern” manifestation that posits its own version of the Islamic “welfare state” for the current conjuncture to rival the Western capitalist state and Enlightenment notions of modernity. Understanding militant Islam in its current context will only enable the development of a coherent strategy of opposition and an alternative non-Eurocentric vision of society.

Comments on Tariq Amin-Khan’s text

Amin defended this analysis, focusing on how different forms of political Islam could be simultaneously ‘modern’, that is a part of a globalised world, and backward-looking, with their textual and ritual evocations of utopias.

Political Islam is a modern phenomenon. Tariq does not see that this was my thesis. All of the ideological, political and social movements of the “modern” world (i.e., of actually existing capitalism, which is both globalized and polarizing, thus imperialist by nature) are modern, because they are inseparable from capitalism. Bourgeois democratic liberalism, whether conservative or reformist, socialisms (social democracy, historical communisms), fascisms, ethnocentrisms (or para-ethnic movements), the nationalisms of the imperialist powers, the nationalisms through which dominated peoples express their resistance, movements of “religious renaissance” in all their forms, be it liberation theology, apparently “fundamentalist” revivals, both Christian and others, and new sects, all these movements are “modern”.

But it is not sufficient to understand them simply as modern. Even more, it is necessary to choose between them and identify those which move society forwards and, on the basis of a critique of capitalist modernity, participate in inventing socialist modernity.

As for the ‘welfarist’ aspect of political Islam,

the fact that the movements inspired by such formulations have recruited their rank and file from the most disadvantaged classes does not change the reactionary utopian character of these formulations. I include political Islam (even political Islams, in the plural), but also political Hinduism, political Buddhism, North American Christian fundamentalism, new sects and others, in this large family of illusions, apparently attached to the past (but in fact modern) and able to mobilize the “poor” in certain circumstances. Their success, like at the present moment, is the result of the failure of the relevant (socialist) lefts to oppose capital’s offensive, which has seized the historic opportunity provided by the erosion and then collapse of the progressive forces that had formed the world after the Second World War.

Amin was nevertheless primarily interested in the geopolitical game.

Describing the Middle East he stated in his original article on Political Islam that,

The region of the Greater Middle East is today central in the conflict between the imperialist leader and the peoples of the entire world. To defeat the Washington establishment’s project is the condition for providing the possibility of success for advances in any region of the world. Failing that, all these advances will remain vulnerable in the extreme. That does not mean that the importance of struggles carried out in other regions of the world, in Europe or Latin America or elsewhere, should be underestimated. It means only that they should be part of a comprehensive perspective that contributes to defeating Washington in the region that it has chosen for its first criminal strike of this century.

This view, which puts the conflict between ‘imperialism’ and the rest of the world, became more trenchant as the years went by.

During the Arab Spring he out the two, secularism and anti-imperialism, together and declared,

The ongoing U.S. project of military control over the planet by its armed forces, supported by their NATO lieutenants, the erosion of democracy in the imperialist core countries, and the medievalistical rejection of democracy within Southern countries in revolt (taking the form of “fundamentalist” semi-religious delusions disseminated by political Islam, political Hinduism, political Buddhism) all work together toward that dreadful outcome. At the current time the struggle for secularist democratization is crucial for the perspective of popular emancipation, crucial for opposition to the perspective of generalized barbarism.

2011: An Arab Springtime?

But imperialism came to play its role.

Counterpunch summarised his opinions in 2017.

A main pillar of Amin’s thought is that far from battling political Islam, the NATO and US have enabled such regional movements as a divide and conquer approach to maintaining power. This critique upends the dominant narrative of Uncle Sam’s war on terror as a noble pursuit.

According to Amin, since the 2003 US invasion of Iraq, the lone superpower has been spurring a “permanent civil war between Shiites and Sunnis, Arabs and Kurds.

What does all this mean?

Amin writes: “US armies have protected those who subsequently had to take the direction of the Daesh (or ISIL), the Caliph himself!”

In Russia and the Long Transition from Capitalism to Socialism, Amin presents a thought-provoking interpretation of Russian history in the global system. It involves geography and history and of course human agency.

He considers the Czarist Empire and the colonial empires, quite different. Further, Amin considers Lenin and Stalin and the Ukrainian crisis, the latter of which constitutes no small threat to widening armed conflict.

Russia remains a pivotal nation on the world stage, in spite of its capitalist restoration. Its importance as a counterbalance to the imperialism of the Triad (US, Europe and Japan) is Amin’s special focus, and for good reason.

For many  the belief that US was involved in the rise of Daesh seems an unproven and tied to conspiratorial claims about the  ‘sponsorship’ of the Islamic state made by supporters, amongst others, of the Assad regime.

Amin also made claims about the “le coup d’état euro-nazi de Kiev ” and, giving a name to the US involvement, stated that the Hillary Clinton had founded ISIS, “A ce propos la presse aux Etats Unis a reconnu que l’accusation portée par D. Trump à savoir que Hilary avait activement soutenu la mise en place de Daesh – était fondée.” (Samir Amin; l’élection de Donald Trump (25 / 11 / 2016) (1)

Amin, it might be said, failed to keep up with developments inside  Islamism. He ignored the self-driven ideological causes and nature of the Deash genocidal and totalitarian regime. There is a disregard for the weight of doctrine. There is no serious analysis of its relation to earlier forms of political Islam and the ideologies of radical Salifist currents that were drawn to jihad. There is nothing on the buds of tyrannical  “micro-powers” of Islamism dispersed across the world including within the ‘West’ and the way in which these can become ‘proto-states’ in trying to create a racist misogynist Caliphate.

In short, neither the ‘global jihad’ nor the blood-drenched reality of Islamist rule in Iraq and Syria, the Taliban and Boko Haram, the jihadis of the Maghreb and Mali,  and the Somalian killers, can be explained only in terms of geopolitical rivalries, or, as a regression to a pre-Enlightenment ‘utopia’ in modern political and technological armed dress.

Louis Proyect reflects on some of these issues here:  Samir Amin, dependency theory, and the multipolar world

Amin’s defence of a “multi-polar world” was nevertheless a positive vision of the future.

Beyond US Hegemony: Assessing the Prospects for a Multipolar World

A genuinely multipolar world will become a reality only when the following four conditions have been satisfied.

  •  Real advances towards a different, ‘social’ Europe, and hence a Europe that has begun to disengage from its imperialist past and present and to embark on the long transition to world socialism. Evidently this implies more than a mere exit from Atlanticism and extreme neoliberalism.
  • The prevalence of ‘market socialism’ in China over the strong tendencies to an illusory construction of ‘national capitalism’, which would be impossible to stabilize because it would exclude the majority of workers and peasants.
  •  Success of the countries of the South (peoples and states) in rebuilding a ‘common front’. This is also essential to provide the leeway for popular classes to impose ‘concessions’ in their favour and to transform existing systems of rule, replacing the dominant comprador blocs with new ‘national, popular and democratic’ blocs.
  •  Advances at the level of national and international legal systems, harmonizing respect for national sovereignty (including moves from state to popular sovereignty) with respect for all individual and collective, political and social rights.

Amin opposed the Muslim Brotherhood root and branch, “We should not just look at the Muslim Brotherhood as a political Islamist power but as a backward movement that rejects workers movements and social justice, preferring to talk about charity as a form to ensure their control over the people,” he once said, according to al-Ahram.” The New Arab.

Dearden puts Amin’s contribution best in these paragraphs,

Perhaps Amin’s central thesis is somewhat obvious, but it’s often forgotten – that a true revolution must be based on those who are being dispossessed and impoverished. But he goes further in undermining the assumption that any thinking emerging from the South will lack enlightenment, or that a lack of enlightenment should be excused.

He believes the Enlightenment was humanity’s first step towards democracy, liberating us from the idea that God created our activity. He has caused controversy in his utter rejection of political Islam. This ideology, embedded for example in Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood, obscures the real nature of society, including by playing into the idea that the world consists of different cultural groups which conflict with each other, an idea which helps the centre control the peripheries.

 

 

***********

(1) Again, opinion is perfectly manipulated on the subject. Jihadism is only the inevitable product of the triad’s continued support of reactionary political Islam inspired and financed by Gulf wahabism. The exercise of this so-called Islamic power is the best guarantee of the total destruction of the ability of societies in the region to resist the dictates of liberal globalization. At the same time, it offers the best pretext for giving the appearance of legitimacy to NATO’s interventions. In this regard the press in the United States acknowledged that Donald Trump’s accusation – that Hillary had actively supported the establishment of Daesh – was well founded.” Samir Amin Blog.

The Independent Backs Referendum on Brexit Deal.

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Image result for Left anti-=Brexit tour

 

Britain in the EU is the best chance to constrain the power of big money and big business.

Amongst continuing chaos on the Brexit right and left this is worth flagging up: how some of the leading ideologues of Leave are now becoming disaster theorists.

In the Great Deception (643 pages long, long) Christopher Booker (who is also a climate change denier) and Richard North argued that that British membership in the EU is a “slow-motion coup d’etat” with an “agenda of subordination” to invasive centralised regulation that is economically harmful to the UK. “an entirely new form of government, one which was supra-national’ beyond the control of national governments, politicians or electorates” Everything else would become subordinate to this entity.

Those who have plodded through its weary pages, and bothered to retain more than the name of Jean Monnet (there are 3 other apocalyptic horsemen, Arthur Salter, Altero Spinelli and Paul-Henri Spaak), will probably remember only that the project the authors refer to was a United States of Europe. 

And that it was doomed, “…like the vision of Le Corbusier and a much grander scale, it would eventually leave a great devastation behind it: wasteland from which it would take many years for the peoples of Europe to emergence.”

The Great Deception, Can the European Union survive? Christopher Booker. Richard North. 2017 ‘Referendum’ Edition (First published 2005).

It seems, nevertheless, that now it’s the Brexit victory that can claim to have created a desert and called it their peaceful victory.

As both authors now say.

Theresa May’s Brexit proposal is so detached from reality that it can only end in disaster. CHRISTOPHER BOOKER (1)

It is this context which makes the Independent’s call today make sense.

The referendum gave sovereignty to the British people, so now they deserve a final say on the Brexit deal

Independent.

Morally, emotionally even, another referendum is needed to help bind up the wounds of the past two years

The Independent today launches a campaign to win for the British people the right to a final say on Brexit. Come what may in the months ahead, we maintain our commitment to our readers to retain balance and present many different points of view. But on this subject we believe a referendum on the final deal is right. We do so for three reasons.

First, amid the chaos of recent months, one thing has become increasingly clear: Theresa May’s approach – and indeed the chaos in parliament – is not working. We are simply not close enough to resolving so many big issues about which people care so much. The enormity of the task, the contradictions in both major parties and the ferocious divisions in their ranks have now stretched our parliament to its limits, to the point where the impasse leads us ever closer to an “accidental” Brexit, as foreign secretary Jeremy Hunt most recently acknowledged, without a deal.

Second, sovereignty rests with the people – the people should have the opportunity to finish what they began, to pause and consider whether they still want to go ahead with the Brexit course we’re on, just as they would any other major decision in their lives.

Third, while there are questions about the validity of another referendum – shouldn’t the original outcome be delivered? – we clearly know more now than we did in 2016, amid such deeply flawed campaigns on both sides. Ignoring these shortcomings and ploughing on regardless is a far bigger problem for democracy. Faced with the current turmoil in our politics, and with dangers ahead coming into focus, it is surely undemocratic to deny people a chance to express their opinion afresh.

The Independent also publishes this important commentary on Corbyn’s Labour Brexit speech by Nick Dearden, director of UK campaigning organisation Global Justice Now.

It makes many of the points those backing The Left Against Brexit would make, but is too sanguine about the lingering influence amongst the Labour leadership of the view that Parliament, embodying Popular Sovereignty, can effectively work socialist wonders free from the kind of pooled sovereignty the EU works with. Those Corbyn listens to include influential voices from the ‘British Road to Socialism’ tradition which believes not only that, but that the EU is a particularly hard form of what used to be known (pre-Trump) as “neo-liberalism”.

Corbyn was brave enough to tackle the reasons why people voted for Brexit – and now he’s being savaged for it.

Nick Dearden

The real criticism you might make of Corbyn’s speech is that it’s not radical enough. After all, much of this analysis is common sense in many parts of Northern Europe where “industrial strategy” and “economic intervention” have not been dirty words for the past four decades. But Corbyn pushes the envelope, for instance insisting that those businesses who benefit from government intervention must be held to account for their levels of pay equality, for their climate impacts, for what happens in their supply chain.

This couldn’t be further from Donald Trump’s vision of the world. In fact, Corbyn explicitly eschews Trump’s protectionist trade wars. But, as economist Dani Rodrik consistently argues, if you want low tariffs and an open economy without high levels of inequality and poverty, you must have strong regulation on big business, coupled with high levels of investment and welfare. The alternative is a free-for-all for big money.

That’s what we’ve lived through in Britain – a “market knows best” approach in which all that mattered was slashing regulation and liberalising the economy. That’s what drove Brexit, and indeed it’s what is driving far-right votes in the US and elsewhere. Sadly, it’s not being listened to by the government because the hard Brexit being successfully pushed by Liam Fox and Jacob Rees-Mogg would turbocharge this model.

I want the EU to survive because I believe it can fulfil the dream of some of its founders to promote peace and equality. I want Britain in the EU because I believe it’s the best chance to constrain the power of big money and big business, to fight climate change, and to offer an alternative to the rise of Trumpism. That’s why I’m speaking at the Left Against Brexit tour in Liverpool tonight.

But it is a fantasy to think the EU can do any of this without serious top-to-bottom transformation. The EU has embraced far too much of the “market knows best” philosophy – often pushed by the British government. As a result it is coming apart at the seams, and before too long, Brexit will be the least of Brussel’s worries.

That’s why the policy direction Corbyn announced yesterday should not be seen as an attack on the EU. Rather it gives much-needed direction for the union as a whole. Only a Europe which embraces some of the changes set out by Corbyn yesterday has a hope of surviving. There is no going back to the day before the EU referendum— we either embrace fundamental economic reform, or we lose to the false promises of the growing far right.

John Rogan  signals this useful thread on the issues the speech dealt with.

Corbyn Backs Britain and a Labour Brexit: “Build it in Britain Again.”

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“Build It In Britain Again”.

“Labour leader outlines UK-first strategy as he sets out plan for post-Brexit industrial revival”

Corbyn’s Full Speech

Because Labour is committed to supporting our manufacturing industries and the skills of workers in this country we want to make sure the government uses more of its own money to buy here in Britain.

The state spends over £200 billion per year in the private sector.

That spending power alone gives us levers to stimulate industry, to encourage business to act in people’s interests by encouraging genuine enterprise, fairness, cutting edge investment, high-quality service and doing right by communities.

But to ensure prosperity here we must be supporting our industries, making sure that where possible the government is backing our industries and not merely overseeing their decline.

These are some further statements:

A Labour Brexit could provide real opportunities as well as protections for our exporters.

It’s not just that our new customs union would provide the same benefits that we currently enjoy in the EU’s customs union but our exporters should be able to take proper advantage of the one benefit to them that Brexit has already brought – a more competitive pound.

After the EU referendum result the pound became more competitive and that should have helped our exporters.

But they are being sold out by a lack of a Conservative Government industrial plan which has left our economy far too reliant on imports.

And,

The rise of finance is linked to the demise of industry.

Between 1970 and 2007 finance sector output grew from 5 per cent to 15 per cent of total economic output.

Manufacturing meanwhile decreased from 32 per cent to 12 per cent.

The next Labour government will rebalance our economy so that there is prosperity in every region and nation.

We will do this by setting up a national investment bank and a network of regional development banks to provide capital to the productive, real economy that secures good skilled jobs.

This speech coincides with the publication in New Left Review of an ambitious study of Corbyn’s political and economic strategy by Robin Blackburn, Older readers may recall that the author was once active in coming along to left wing meetings.

There is much wishful thinking on Blackburn’s views on how to “enhance popular resistance to, and potential control over, the accumulation process.” and promote democracy and popular superintendence of the social surplus and how it is invested.”

But more immediately relevant is a description of the policy advisers behind the Labour Leader and his ally, John McDonnell.

McDonnell’s economic advisory team has seen some turnover but seems to have reconsolidated since the 2017 election, with 39-year-old James Meadway, former senior economist at the NEF, playing a central role.

At the NEF, Meadway’s paper ‘Why We Need a New Macro-Economic Strategy’ portrayed the UK as ‘chained to a dysfunctional, over-exposed financial system that is symbiotically linked to a weak real economy’—‘a weak economy sucks in imports, requiring finance; a continual demand for financing helps support a bloated financial system’, leaving policy-making overly vulnerable to investors’ demands.

‘The key to breaking the grip of austerity is to undermine the financial sector’, Meadway argued. ‘The key to undermining the financial sector, in turn, is to reinforce the real economy.’ Tools to shrink and reshape the financial sector could involve debt cancellation and breaking up the banks. Those for strengthening the productive economy included not only the orthodox notion of a State Investment Bank—the state-owned Royal Bank of Scotland could be used to finance projects with clear public objectives—but also more unconventional policies: injections of Quantitative Easing cash directly into real economic activity, such as financing Dieter Helm’s £500bn project for green infrastructure: ‘used wisely and sparingly’, popular QE could be ‘a major blow against the domination of private finance over public economic outcomes’.

Robin Blackburn. The Corbyn Project. New Left Review. No 11. May/June 2018.

To get a flavour of this we cite the following -from the recommendations in Why we Need a New Macro-Economic Strategy.

Introduce capital controls. By making movements of capital in and out of the UK more expensive, they become less desirable, reducing speculation Measures like an emergency tax on capital inflows; unremunerated reserve requirements; legal restrictions on derivatives positions and restrictions on overseas ownership of residential property could manage the flows of capital to attract more stable investments.

We note (which Blackburn does not) the following conclusion from a histrionic denunciation of the EU by the same Meadway in 2015.

For those in the UK, two things are necessary. First is to support all those resisting new austerity measures, whatever the presumed character of the government. Second, to reject Britain’s continued membership of the EU. It is simply not possible for anyone in good conscience to offer their support to an institution so manifestly and comprehensively opposed to democracy and committed to enforcing neoliberalism – whatever the price paid by its victims. Internationalism demands that we do whatever we can to undermine the European institutions. In our own referendum, on British membership of the EU, the left must vote No.

James Meadway. Counterfire 2015.

There are many people advising John McDonnell, including those, whom out-of-touch Robin Blackburn appears not to have heard of,  like Prem Sikka (Tax-haven transparency won’t stop money laundering in Britain Guardian May 2018) and those he has, Ann Pettifor (although there are good  grounds for believing she has not had had any results for her advocacy of radical Keynesianism).

One can see Sikka’s concerns (part of a group studying the issues)  in Corbyn’s phrases about the need to  “chase dodgy money out of the financial system” ,  “Getting the dirty money out of the City of London” and a ” financial transaction tax”.

But there is little doubt that Meadway’s argument for a “productive” economy, within a national framework has an echo not just with the Shadow Chancellor but with Corbyn and his advisers, Andrew Murray, and his spokesperson, Seamus Miline.

Or, that is the conclusion one draws from today Corbyn speech: titled Build it in Britain.

It is hard to see how any of the proposals, hard to give a concrete form other than a wish to give British companies priority in government procurement and contracts, fulfill this ambition,

“It is about changing course so that people feel real control over their local economy and have good jobs that produce a consistent rise in pay and living standards, in every part of the UK.”

But there are deeper economic problems:

This is a good summary.

Corbyn went full Trump in his latest speech about the benefits of Brexit – from an economic standpoint, that’s alarming.

Ben Chu

The Resolution Foundation this week shows incomes for the worst off in Britain are no higher than they were 15 years ago. Reshoring low-value manufacturing will not help such people, and will not restore depressed communities to economic health.

The reason for the record drop in the pound on the night of the referendum was a rush of expectation across financial markets that the UK economy will be considerably weaker outside the EU’s single market and customs union. There’s no long-term economic benefit implied in the currency slump – only cost.

Yet, in fairness to Corbyn, it’s not mad to suggest that a weaker pound should be providing a short-term lift for manufacturing firms. Even the Bank of England has suggested that UK manufacturers have been in something of a “sweet spot”, with sterling weak but Britain still, for now, remaining in the EU’s economic institutions.

More troubling are Corbyn’s comments on imports. “We’ve been told that it’s good, advanced even – for our country to manufacture less and less and instead rely on cheap labour abroad to produce imports, while we focus on the City of London and the finance sector,” he lamented.

There’s nothing wrong with promoting a rebalancing of the UK economy away from its 30-year over-reliance on finance. Yet the implication that the UK would benefit from churning out manufactured products domestically that are currently made in the developing world is nonsense.

New research from the Resolution Foundation this week shows incomes for the worst off in Britain are no higher than they were 15 years ago. A major part of the reason is that low-skilled men have seen their weekly hours collapse. Reshoring low-value manufacturing will not help such people. Nor will it restore depressed communities to economic health. That is the kind of con artist’s fantasy that Donald Trump has been spinning to US steel workers in the American rust belt.

The only sensible and feasible vision for the future of UK manufacturing is a high value added one, using skilled workers, cutting-edge equipment and, if necessary, foreign investment and expertise.

Corbyn’s reference to “cheap labour abroad” smacks of the beguiling creed of economic nationalism. His remarks may not be explicitly anti-foreigner but they are still resonant of Trump-style tirades against corporate outsourcing.

Labour List makes the following point which should be underlined:

The key words “cheap labour” were taken out of context to make it seem as if Corbyn had blamed migrant workers for the UK’s economic woes. This is what he actually said: “We’ve been told that it’s good, even advanced, for our country to manufacture less and less and to rely instead on cheap labour abroad to produce imports while we focus on the City of London and the financial sector.” He was talking about imports made abroad with cheap labour, not cheap labour here in the UK.

Claude Lanzman director of the ‘Shoah’ dies aged 92: A Great Voice for the Just Passes.

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Image result for claude lanzmann france 24

Claude Lanzmann has died in Paris at the age of 92.

Esteemed French journalist, ‘Shoah’ director Claude Lanzmann dies aged 92.

Agence France Press.

laude Lanzmann, the esteemed French journalist and director of the acclaimed Holocaust documentary ‘Shoah’, died at his Paris home on Thursday at the age of 92.

“Claude Lanzmann died at his home. He had been very, very weak for several days,” a spokeswoman for publishing house Gallimard told AFP.

Lanzmann was the chief editor of “Les Temps Modernes”, the ground-breaking literary review founded by philosophers Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir after World War II.

Lanzmann was a friend of the philosophers, and famously became involved with De Beauvoir while working as Sartre’s secretary. He was 26 and De Beauvoir was 44.

The golden couple of French intellectual life had a famously open relationship, and enjoyed – and endured – a number of similar love triangles.

Lanzmann went on to make the acclaimed Holocaust documentary ‘Shoah’, the nine-and-a-half hour epic which is, for many, the most haunting film made about the murder of six million Jews during World War II.

The chronicle took Lanzmann 11 years to make and is his best-known work.

Lanzmann was born November 27, 1925 in the Bois-Colombes suburb north of Paris. His Jewish parents immigrated to France from Eastern Europe where they raised Claude, his sister Evelyne, and younger brother Jacques.

His first act of resistance as a Jewish schoolboy in wartime France was to refuse to write an essay in praise of its collaborationist leader Marshal Petain. He later took to the hills to join fighters in central France ambushing German patrols as part of the Mouvement Jeunes Communistes de France (MJCF), a political youth organization close to the French communist party.

Review, 2011.

Le Lièvre de Patagonie. Claude Lanzmann. A Review, Sartre, de Beauvoir, Israel.

Andrew Coates.

Le Lièvre de Patagonie. Claude Lanzmann. Gallimard 2009 (Paperback 2010)

Claude Lanzmann (born 1925) is the director of Shoah (1985), the landmark film on the Holocaust. Against the documentary’s theme of methodically organised death, his title, Le Lièvre de Patagonie, evokes the Hare, a symbol of fertility and renewed life (the original ‘Easter Bunny’). Lanzmann’s book, he states, was written with this animal constantly in mind.

In Shoah while Rudolf Vrba talks off-camera of his escape from the Birkenau extermination camp there is a shot of a hare sliding under the barbed wire. Lanzmann likes the creatures, he respects them as noble, and if there were transmigration of souls he would wish to be reincarnated as one. Glimpsing one of a legendary South American species in his car’s headlights in Patagonia signalled the moment that he felt fully in the land, vrais ensemble (truly together). The hare is a sign of a vital leap to freedom that infuses his own “joie sauvage” (wild happiness). It is this incarnation that constantly springs to Lanzmann’s mind as he unravels this account of his life.

Le Lièvre de Patagonie is a record of Lanzmann’s out-of-the-ordinary intellectual, political and creative career, infused with joy, and sadness. It passes from the youthful résistant, to the culture and commitments that led him to Jean-Paul Sartre, and a “quasi-maritale’ companionship with Simone de Beauvoir (from 1952 to 1959). A contributor from 1952 onwards to Les Temps Modernes (publisher’s site here) he provides an important first-hand account of this review’s active support for anti-colonialism during the Algerian war for independence.

The memories are much more than a record of events; they are an affirmation of his beliefs, and loyalties. Lanzmann’s commitment to Israel, expressed in the partisan documentary Pourquoi Israel (1970) remains at the heart of his being. In Le Monde last year Lanzmann was cited saying that, “Je suis d’autant propalestinien que je suis pro-israélian, et récroproquement” (I am as pro-Palestinian as I am pro-Israeli and the other way around). But there is little doubt that his empathy for the Jewish state marks his recollections the more, making the author a rare living defender of the left’s post-War support for Israel.

Lanzmann does not just feel an affinity, as somebody with a secular-Jewish cultural background, with Israeli people. He considers that he is, despite the intensity of his French culture (to the depths of his prose). He remains “Français de hazard, pas du tout ‘de souche’” – French by chance, not of French stock. (Page 330) The Jews are “mon peuple”.

Visiting the new state in 1948 Lanzmann found that compared to real Israelis, who had their country in their “os et le sang” (bone and blood) he was “un elfe” who weighed nothing. He has always, without Biblical faith, been astonished and full of “admiration” for the Jewish religion (Page 730). Such opinions (and his eulogy  of  Israel’s army in the film Tsahal, 1994), are in Lanzmann’s marrow. To this extent his praise of the Hebrew state’s military is  impossible to forgive or forget.  

La Guillotine.

Lanzmann begins with the words, “La guillotine – plus généralement la peine capitale et les différents modes d’administration de la mort – aura été la grande affaire de ma vie” – the Guillotine – and more widely capital punishment and the different forms of meeting out death – will be the main concern of my life. An adolescent trip to the cinema in the late ‘thirties to see L’affaire du courier de Lyon (under the post-Revolutionary ‘Directory’) was his introduction to the horror of watching an innocent executed. The view of the scaffolding around the  blade, and the fact that the sentence was carried out in public, preoccupied him for months.

Lanzmann is haunted by tortures, by Hitler and Stalin’s mass murders, Goya’s Fusilamentos del 3 de Mayo, and the hostages that Islamists put to death and record like “films pronographiques”. His life was dedicated to standing for right against repression. The national liberation struggle in Algeria was met by French repression, which included the death penalty. Lanzmann and de Beauvoir worked with the lawyer Jacques Vergès to defend the condemned under this threat. He campaigned for the Catalan anarchist, Salvador Puig Antich, condemned by the Caudillo to die by the garrotte in 1974.

This was not just the indignation of the righteous. It was bound to Lanzmann’s own past. Under the Occupation in 1943 while studying at the lycée Blaise-Pascal, at Clermont-Ferrand (in the Auverne) he decided to join the Resistance. He became involved with the Communist Party (PCF). The former school student was soon amongst maquisards in the Haute-Loire, and a member of the FTP (Communist, Francs-tireurs et partisans). For refusing to carry out a suicidal mission – transporting weapons through German controlled areas – the local PCF put him under sentence of death.

Escaping this fate Lanzmann resumed his education in post-war Paris, in the prestigious “hypokhâgne” at Louis-le-Grand (preparatory course for the elite French ‘Grandes écoles’). The PCF were active in the college. Undaunted he approached the secretary of the school’s Communist cell to ask that the “sentence de mort prononcée contre moi par le Parti” be carried out (Page 207) The official, later a well known left Socialist politician, Jean Poperen, did not, on this occasion, as the representative of the Party of the “75,000 shot”, add another number to the total.

There is so much rich detail, often supplied at a tangent with the unities of space, time and action, in Le Lièvre de Patagonie that the linear narrative of Lanzmann’s life is sometimes hard to keep steadily in mind.  There is his troubled family background. There is his period as a proto-academic, enraptured by Sartre’s trilogy, Les Chemins de la liberté (1945), studying Hegel, and so poor he stole books from the shop of the Presses Universitaires de France, to resell – until memorably caught and disgraced.

There is Lanzmannteaching in post-War Berlin at the Freie Universität, where he exposed much of the teaching staff’s unrepentant National Socialism. There is the moving story of his actress sister, Évelyne, who was Gilles Deleuze’s lover, and then, after acting in Sartre’s plays, became his lover, only to later commit suicide in 1966. And there is the meeting with De Beauvoir, le Castor, holidays across Europe, and their political activism.

Little emerges  in Le Lièvre on Les Temps Modernes’ relations with International Communism, or on Sartre’s judgement that a friendly stand towards the PCF was a “means of access” to the French working class. By contrast there are interesting accounts of Lanzmann’s role in the activities of the group around Sartre and de Beauvoir during the Algerian war, which came to dominate the country’s political life during the 1950s. By the end of that decade their alliance with the Algerian fighters for independence, led to what became known as ‘third worldism’. They stood up for anti-colonialism in the hardest conditions, risking their lives to defend Algerian prisoners, and the rights of North Africans. All who has signed the celebrated Manifeste de 121(1960) which called for those conscripted in the French army to refuse to serve in Algeria were under threat. Jobs were lost, and Sartre’s flat was attacked with plastic explosives.

In 1958, with 4 more years of the Algerian war to go, Lanzmann was a journalist (writing for France Dimanche as well as Les Temps Modernes). As a man of the left he, like Sartre and de Beauvoir, made his own pilgrimage to ‘socialist’ lands. He visited North Korea and China as part of an organised delegation (with Western Communist participation). In the land of Juche and “pression stalinienne…effrayante” (fearful Stalinist pressure) Lanzmann had a fleeting contact with a Korean woman, more a Brief Encounter (which he evokes to describe the fleeting tryst) than an affair. China, though more relaxed, offered the less compelling charms of an interview with French-speaking Chen Yi, Foreign Affairs Minister, on the country’s geopolitical strategy.

Third-Worldism.

The Sartre-Beauvoir circle embraced Third-Worldism (though the author of the Second Sex appears never to have been wholly convinced. This was most marked in their relations with the Algerian resistance. While Sartre and de Beauvoir replaced interest in the old Soviet bloc, for Cuba, and in 1960 they did some safe revolutionary tourism there, it was Lanzmann who got closest to its dangerous side.

A small number of people on the French left had worked closely enough with the Algerian revolutionaries, the Front de Libération Nationale (FLN) to become “porteurs de valises” (carrying arms for them). While far from engaged in the armed struggle Lanzmann met the FLN in person, in its Tunisian bases. It was there that he encountered Franz Fanon, the renowned theorist of anti-colonialism (and today largely, if remembered, largely appropriated by Anglophone ‘post-colonial’ studies).

Sartre would write the Preface, as Fanon requested, for The Wretched of the Earth (1964). He asserted that “The native cures himself of colonial neurosis by thrusting out the settler through force of arms” “For in the first days of the revolt you must kill; to shoot down a European is to kill two birds with one stone, to destroy an oppressor and the man he oppresses with one stone”. That is, the, highly contestable, claim that the physical fight for freedom is the route to cathartic self-assertion.

Despite his unwavering anti-colonialism Fanon seemed equally aware of the FLN’s internal disputes, the occasion for a different kind of catharsis, a purging of emotions onto any human object to hand. These were, he alluded to Lanzmann, were ferocious, though “secret”. His interlocutor sensed that the Martinique himself “connaissait la peur” (knew fear) (Page 492). With good reason, Lanzmann observes. The FLN and its supporters, not to mention ordinary Algerians, were the victims of a terrifying level of repression, with 500,000 troops at under French command, and special units prepared to use torture, while the French Algerian ultras, in the Organisation Armée Secrète (OAS) rained down terror against all Maghrebin rebels (including those on the French left deemed supportive of them).

The Algerian National Liberation Front, (FLN) and its army’s (ALN) cadres were responsible for extreme acts of violence against their nationalist opponents (the Mouvement pour le triomph des libertés démocratiques, MTLD) and civilian critics. They suffered from vicious quarrels inside the apparatus, and readily resorted to force to settle disputes. On top of this were rivalries between clans, and ethnic groups, Arabs and Kabyles. The reality showed that violence was not a vehicle for liberation and therapy.

For Lanzmann, however, the need to back the struggle meant a self-imposed silence (with an eye to possible FLN reaction). He therefore kept information about the use of terror inside the liberation movement to himself. He wrote nothing, and said nothing (Page 501). One must say however that Simone de Beauvoir in 1963 did not hesitate to cite Fanon’s allusions to “les dissensions, les intrigues, les liquidations, les oppositions…” without seeming bound by a revolutionary omerta, even if she gave no details. (La force des choses. Vol ll.) An element of religious conservatism, including support for polygamy, was already manifesting itself.

After Independence in 1962 there were retributions against real and alleged collaborators with the French that exceeded France’s 1945 épurations. The socialist aspects of the Algerian revolution did not last long. The FLN’s military wing, under Boumediene, soon took charge of an independent nation and laid the foundations for an authoritarian state run for the benefit of its rulers and their clients.

Lanzmann barely touches on this: he is more concerned that early promises of friendship (by a certain Captain Bouteflika) with Israel were not kept. An Independent Algeria announced that it would send 100,000 men to liberate Palestine. As a sign of the times, Fanon’s widow had re-married, to a militant anti-Israeli, whose views she adopted to the extent of wanting Sartre’s famous Preface to The Wretched of the Earth suppressed, – after the philosopher had signed a 1967 petition, following the 6 Day War backing Israel. The balance-sheet was not positive, “Je croyais qu’on pouvait vouloir en même temps l’indepéndence de l’Algérie et l’existence de l’État d’Israël. Je m’étais trompé.”(Page 505) – I believed one could wish for an independent Algeria and the existence of the Israeli state at the same time. I was wrong.

Israel and 68.

For years Lanzmann was convinced, despite his own experience of the French Communist Party’s cynicism and treachery during the 2nd World War, and what he knew at the time (still less at present) about the dark-side of Stalinism, that the USSR was “le ciel sur ma tête” – the sky over my head (Page 546) That this gradually evaporated seems less significant, as we have just indicated, than what he saw massing against Israel. That was a real menace: to destroy the Jewish state.

It is forgotten today that many on the left shared Lanzmann’s views in the late sixties. In 1967 he edited a special issue of Les Temps Modernes where Arabs and Jews debated with relative good-will. Sartre, during the Six Day war, and the Yom Kipper war, backed Israel. Sartre naturally is better remembered for another standpoint. During his period of close association with the Mao-Spontex Gauche Prolétarienne (GP), he became pro-Palestinian. As Lanzmann notes, with regret, the ageing thinker wrote in La Cause du Peuple a strident defence of the Munich massacre, saying that “Dans cette guerre, la seule arme dont disposent les Palestiniens est le terrorisme.” – the only arm which the Palestinians have at their disposal is terrorism. (Page 573)

Lanzmann attempts to explain, and even to explain away, Sartre’s violent streak. He notes that Sartre’s Preface to The Wretched of the Earth, which outdid Fanon’s psychological justification of aggression, appears to have been an exercise in “philosophie concrète” (concrete philosophy) and conceptual clarity Which seems a roundabout way of saying he didn’t really mean to endorse mass killings and cruelty in any form. As evidence, Lanzmann claims that there were some concrete limits Sartre posed to European terrorism.

Lanzmann believes that it was largely Sartre’s influence that prevented the French far-left from passing to full-scale terrorism on the German or Italian model (Page 575), though in fact, a small group did travel in this direction, and became the 1980s band, Action Directe. It’s true, he indicates, that Algeria has seen a state and society long bathed in “le sang des innocents” (the blood of innocents). It’s also the case that post-Munich, nationalist Palestinian terrorism has been supplanted by Islamist mass murder. This, and the US-led armed interventions the world over, illustrate that violence is a spiral not a release.

One wonders how far one push responsibility for this acceleration of ferocity, or its dampening it down, onto any philosopher, however cretinous or emollient his rhetoric may be. Like Fanon’s assertion that FLN fighters were busy absorbing Sartre’s Critique de la raison dialectique (Page 493), to make such claims is to use arguments of an astonishing légèrté.

One will not find much in Le Lièvre on the controversy surrounding Sartre’s secretary, and one-time GP supporter, Benny Lévy. De Beauvoir had her say in La Cérémonie des Adieux (1981). Whether the future Talmudic student determined the utterances of the Universal Intellectual or not, without his influence it hard to see how Sartre moved from this ultra-revolutionary stance to his support for the 1979 ‘Boat for Vietnam’ campaign – to save people from Vietnamese Communism. It is hard perhaps to see Lanzmann seizing the spirit that drove the Gauche Prolétarienne, from strident ultra-leftism to the anti-communist (with a small ‘c’) apostasy of many of its leading figures, in the first place.

May 68, the French gauchistes’ genitor, Lanzmann witnessed from the “extérieur”. He was an outsider from another generation (Page 570). More than that he appears never to have seized the fact that Sartre’s philosophy, even in its Marxisante form in the Critique de la raison dialectique (written 1956 – 8) had been become not just unfashionable, but unintelligible to much of the post-68 left. While the novels, literary criticism and some of the plays (Les jeux sont faits, 1947 and Les mains sales, 1948)are as bright as new pennies, Sartre’s philosophy has not worn well. The focus of the memoirs shifts completely away from talking about disgreeable topics.

Lanzmann as the ‘sixties ended had begun to be more and more concerned with one thing: defending Israel. He recounts how he came to produce the film Pourquoi Israel (with no question mark). This work continues to cause controversy. Having never seen the picture it is impossible to judge the description in Le Lièvre. Yet, according to the author, it was the spring-board for one of the last century’s greatest documented oral history, Shoah.

Researching, filming and producing Shoah was exceptionally arduous. The film consists of interviews, people left to speak for themselves as participants and witnesses of the greatest genocide of the 20th century. It aims to indicate those who were slaughtered, to show their traces, to hear the echo of their voices. It would be no exaggeration to say that the screening of the nine and a half  hour long documentary mediation on the Holocaust, which took place on British television some years back, was a major political and ethical event. As a measure of its impact the Biblical and Rabbanic word Shoah, catastrophe, disaster, extermination, used to describe the Holocast, has passed into current usage in many languages. Given the enormity of what it refers to it would be better for the pages of Le Lièvre de Patagonie to speak for themselves than to be described here.

The shattering experience of producing Shoah gives an edge to what is already for many a defining moment in their understanding of the Endlösung. After De Beauvoir’s death Lanzmann finally became the Editor of Sartre’s old journal (1986) marking another significant moment in an exceptional biography.

A Major Biographical Memoir.

Claude Lanzmann’s classical prose provides a luminous structure to a complex biography. Le Lièvre de Patagonie is beautifully wrought, and offers a description of that part of the French left which gravitated around Les Temps Modernes. It sheds light on some of the key moments of modern French political and intellectual history, the ideas, relationships, culture and feelings of the circle around Sartre and de Beauvoir, above all their participation in the campaign in support of Algerian independence. For these reasons alone it is of outstanding importance.

Less compellingly the book tries to present a case for Israel. It is unlikely to convince those (like myself) who are, while reluctant to be ‘anti’ Israelis, see little admirable in a state with a confessional, ultimately ethnic, basis. Not everyone has a strong urge to feel a part of a national “souche” (stock). Lanzmann’s passionate beliefs and emotional tissue cannot cloud critical judgement. States are to be judged on political not affective grounds. On democratic, military and human rights criteria Israel is severely wanting. One is equally unmoved by its description of the politics of Les Temps Modernes. As with the declaration of love for Israel, it does not convert those unable to fall under an emotional spell.

For all the beauty of Le Lièvre de Patagonie, on this matter at least, one could say that the Lanzmann’s retrospective gaze casts little light on such heat.

A tribute, a bibliography and a filmography appears on the site of Lanzmann’s publisher, Éditions Gallimard.

Disparition de Claude Lanzmann.

Disparition de Claude Lanzmann

Guardian:  Claude Lanzmann obituary

Director of Shoah, the epic film about the Holocaust presented through individual testimony