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

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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.

 

 

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(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.

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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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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

A Party with Socialists in it. A History of the Labour Left. Simon Hannah. A Democratic Socialist Review.

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A Party with Socialists in it. A History of the Labour Left. Simon Hannah. Pluto Press 2018.

(This review article appears in the latest Chartist magazine).

The election of Jeremy Corbyn as leader of the Labour Party in 2015 victory and his re-election in 2016 have been followed a number of pacy biographies. There have larger number of efforts to explain the victory, often as part of a global rise of “outsider” politics. By contrast Simon Hannah’s A Party with Socialists in it, is an account of the North Islington MP’s leadership within the long history of the Labour left inside the party.

An issue hangs over A Party with Socialists in it. There may be socialists in Labour but can Labour become a vehicle for socialism? The late Ralph Miliband, Hannah observes, came to consider the party unfit for socialist purpose, unable to create a “radically different social order” (Postscript to Parliamentary Socialism. 1973)

The Labour Party, Hannah states, was created as a Broad Church designed to represent the “entire labour movement”. He suggests that the seating is arranged around two wings. There is the ‘transformative’ current – the socialist left – which aims to change society radically, facing sustained opposition from the Establishment. Seated separately have been the ‘integrative’ battalions in the Parliamentary party and major trade unions. Outside and inside office, they try to avoid friction by making peace with the Powers that Be.

A Party with Socialists in it ably covers more than a century of differences between right and left from the foundation of the Labour Representation Committee in 1900 onwards – a vast sweep. But historical reminders are often extremely relevant.

To explain the background to Blair and Brown’s modernising project it is useful to look at the 1950s ‘revisionist’ debate, between figures such as Anthony Crosland and Aneurin Bevan. This centred on the balance between social and private ownership and making property serve “social purposes”. In the 1970s this again became a live issue. While the first stirrings of the neo-liberal privatisation agenda could be seen inside the Conservative Party, Labour appeared to be rethinking the “balance” between public and private in the opposite direction.

Alternative Economic Strategy.

The Alternative Economic Strategy (AES) came onto the Labour agenda. Stuart Holland’s version of the AES aimed to create a “new public ownership and social controls in the meso-economic sector”. It included nationalising the 25 top manufacturing companies to “harness the market power of big league firms”. Along with planning and rights to workers’ participation, it aimed to tackle inefficiency, to create jobs and end the decline in British profits and competitively. Hannah notes that the AES included protectionist measures. (Strategy for Socialism. Stuart Holland. 1975)

As Hannah notes, capitalists were unlikely to welcome the AES without ferocious opposition. Wilson, the figure of the ‘integrationist wing of the party, never intended this to happen. Only a shadow of the AES, a National Enterprise Board, that helped prop up some failing enterprises and the Bullock Report’s plans for corporatist works’ councils, “torpedoed” by the unions themselves, remained. (Pages 146 – 152) Avoiding ruffling the established powers ended with accepting an austerity programme in response to IMF demands. For Hannah this was “capitulation to international finance”. Efforts to bring together companies and workers through ‘Social Contract” wage restraint ended in the 1979 Winter of Discontent.

The 1980s rise and fall of ‘Bennism’, and the narrowly thwarted deputy leadership bid in 1981, saw the left rally around the former Cabinet Minister. Benn’s socialism, in Hannah’s account, was that of a “constitutionalist political reformer”. He based his ambitions on “genuine national sovereignty” and wider democracy including extra-parliamentary activism. Some saw this as a transformative ground for socialist activism; others considered that it placed too great a hope in a reformed Parliamentary system. It encouraged the belief that if the levers of the Labour Party were won, a sovereign left government could detach itself from the world economy, and bodies such as the IMF and implement the discarded AES. This idea remains popular on the left amongst those who wish for an independent Britain ‘taking back control’ from the European Union. 

Hannah surveys the left’s defeats in the 1980s. The first pitched battle was on the question of inner-party democracy (Page 164) The Chapter The Broad Church Collapses is valuable in covering with a critical eye on the main players, the inward looking and often fractious activities of the Campaign for Labour Party Democracy (CLDP) and the Labour Coordinating Committee (LCC).

Neil Kinnock’s modernising ambitions, a move to the centre, are widely said to have foreshadowed the 1990s dominance of Tony Blair’s team. Did Neil Kinnock isolate the left only by ditching radical policies and purging organised factions? (Page 197) Certainly Kinnock’s moves to remove policy making from Conference and NEC control were important to activists.

Forward March of Labour?

Others suggest that the search for policies adapted to the new constituencies appearing with ‘post-Fordist’ times played a part in the modernising agenda. A fierce inter-left polemic took place on the decline in the power of the industrial working class. (The Forward March of Labour Halted? 1981) Ideas about a post-Fordist production or a postmodern world may have had a limited appeal. But wholesale industrial run down, the defeat of the miners’ strike, and the wholesale closures that followed, saw the pillars of the labour movement disappearing. .

There were efforts to develop a response through new left policies in the late 80s, notably at the Socialist Movement Chesterfield Conferences called by Tony Benn, the Socialist Campaign Group and the Socialist Society, including Labour left journals and radical non-Labour forces. They attempted to learn from the experiences of municipal socialism shut down by Thatcher and the balance-sheet of the 1980s class conflicts. This initiative merits more coverage than the many pages devoted to the expulsion of the Militant platoons that claimed to represent the socialist vanguard

The Blair leadership appeared to cut off any chance of these Labour left or these ideas continuing as a serious ‘transformative ” current in the party. Leo Panitch and Colin Leys, dedicating their book to the independent left-wing academic, concluded, at the zenith of New Labour, that the “route to socialism does not lie in transforming the Labour Party” (The End of Parliamentary Socialism 1997).

Nevertheless the mid-1990s the Centre Left Grassroots Alliance (CLGA), broke the ‘sealed tomb’ of the left under Tony Blair, and in 1998 got 4 left-wingers elected to the Labour’s NEC. The CLGA was broader than the CLDP or, Labour Briefing. There is no account of the role in the CLGA of Labour Reform and other ‘soft left’ forces, including Tribune and contributors to the present magazine.

Progressive Umbrella. 

Blair and Brown may have ended in a progressive umbrella hard to distinguish from a liberal desire to inject justice over market outcomes. Yet they were not only an acceptance of the neoliberal consensus but also a response to its appeal and to changing class configuration. Their relaxed attitude to finance and acceptance of privatising public services, not to mention participation in the invasion of Iraq, were disasters. The Third Way ideology was vapid cover.

But not every single policy was unwelcome, as can be seen as Universal Credit replaces Tax Credits. Stealth redistribution, nevertheless, means little as the modernisers’ centre-ground has dried up. There is little space for Labour in a “neo-liberal” consensus following the 2007-8 banking crisis. Accepting Conservative austerity plans, apparently eternal fiscal features means attacks on bedrock public services. Put simply, why indeed should the majority pay for their mistakes?

Hannah states that the 1940s left tended to assume that their main disagreements with the Labour leadership was over the speed of change, not over principles. The collapse of the Ecumenical endeavour during the Blair-Brown years, largely put an end to this way of thinking. For many on the left the turn to “social liberalism” cut the ground under the feet of any common endeavour.

In the light of this those who had given up on transforming the Labour Party would also deserve a mention, not least because many of them are now against party activists. A Party has nothing about the short-lived Socialist Alliance (its main challenge in the 2001 election, with derisory votes), Respect (George Galloway MP), or the more recent Left Party. All of these bodies involved Labour left-wingers. Many could offer not entirely happy experiences of working directly with left-factions and the larger Leninist groups which shape their take on Corbyn’s Labour left and Momentum. This gap contrasts with the large space devoted to Militant. No doubt it was “witch-hunted” but Militant’s top-down discipline and claims to lead the socialist fight have long limited its impact within the Labour left and more recent attempts to form electoral alternatives to the party.

Another initiative, which Hannah could have mentioned, is that the People’s Assembly movement of protest against austerity united trade unionists, the Labour and non-Labour left with a wide range of activists. The status of affiliated supporters allowed many to have a voice within the party, which it was easy to transfer into full membership after Corbyn’s election.

It is striking that British Labour is alone amongst established European left parties to have undergone change in the wake of Corbyn’s victory, perhaps indicating that its structures are not such an obstacle to the left after all.

An “invaluable account”.

A Party is an invaluable account not just of the history of the Labour left but of the future prospects of the Corbyn leadership. Hannah ends with hope that ‘capitalist realism’ is ending. Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership may open up many possibilities As John McDonnell puts it in his Introduction, Labour can be a “genuinely transformative party”.

Momentum, in this view, is not just an effective electoral machine to support Jeremy Corbyn. It helps extend Labour’s influence amongst the public, and tips towards being a social movement for change. It would be to equip the practical idealists with the Parliamentary muscle to carry open-minded socialist ideas into effect. If Labour came to power would it also be needed to counter business and right wing attempts to sabotage the project? Could it develop a new better, version of the AES that avoids its pitfalls? The alternative, offered by the factionalising remnants of the modernisers, is an attempt to jump on a ‘progressive’ bandwagon driven by French President Emmanuel Macron. It is a bit of everything, except a realistic way of tackling a decade of government austerity.

Postscript 2nd of June.

 

The present Labour Party debate and splits on the fall-out from Brexit can can be seen in the light of the lingering influence of the ‘Bennite’ claim that the objective of the party should be ““genuine national sovereignty”. Those , a shrinking but still influential current,  advocating a ‘People’s Brexit’,  with the bare bones of a 20th century version of an national Alternative Economic Strategy, seem to reproduce the same difficulties and, in their sovereigntism, fall well short of an internationalist democratic socialist goal.

Trump, Virtual Reality (Baudrillard) and Brexit.

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A Prophet Whose Time Has Come.

Andy Warhol once said that in the future everybody will be famous for 15 minutes.

The Tendance has a view that now everybody’s theory is true for 15 months.

The cultural critic Jean Baudrillard had the view that under the present stage of capitalism “the simulacrum precedes the original and the distinction between reality and representation vanishes. “Simulacres et Simulation 1981).

Apart from Baullroard’s claim that “The Gulf War Did Not Take Place ” which asserted,

Saddam liquidates the communists, Moscow flirts even more with him; he gases the Kurds, it is not held against him; he eliminates the religious cadres, the whole of Islam makes peace with him … Even … the 100,000 dead will only have been the final decoy that Saddam will have sacrificed, the blood money paid in forfeit according to a calculated equivalence, in order to preserve his power. What is worse is that these dead still serve as an alibi for those who do not want to have been excited for nothing: at least these dead will prove this war was indeed a war and not a shameful and pointless hoax …

That is about all most of us can recall about his ideas (and I have a pile of his books from the 1980s).

This week has had ample proof of the Baudrillardian thesis  that simulacra have taken over from reality.

First we had large numbers of people, particularly in America, claim that far-right Tommy Robinson is some kind of martyr slung into the gaols of the British state by the regime.

It was not very amusing to see them put out pictures of the well-liked and respected Mayor of London Sadiq Khan with a hangman’s noose over ‘Tommy’.

Then we had the lighter spectacle of President Trump holding a top summit with Kim Kardashian, whose claim to fame is that she has a large bum,  on reforming the American penal system.

 

Now we have  ‘neoliberal’ Trump’s trade war with Europe and the rest of the world.

Europe, Canada and Mexico are planning retaliatory moves after President Trump imposed tariffs on steel and aluminium imports to the US.

The European Union issued a 10-page list of tariffs on US goods ranging from Harley-Davidson motorcycles to food products.

It also plans to challenge the move at the World Trade Organisation.

Mr Trump claimed the tariffs would protect US steelmakers, which were vital to national security.

BBC

Or as this  cartoonist (Belgium) put it today (bringing the two events together)

Mr Brexit, as Trump styled himself, has let down his friends on the UK right who thought they were going to negotiate a special deal.

In return for letting Chlorinated chicken, Cornish pasties made in Houndstown Texas, and GM crops, into Britain they would be able freely  to export to America.

The left for a long time has claimed that US capitalism is the engine of neo-liberal globalisation, that it works to demolish barriers between national capitals, production and exchange.

Apparently not so!

This leaves the backers of a ‘People’s Brexit’ in a bit of a quandry.

Will they back a UK government that follows Trump’s lead and imposes tariffs to protect national industry?

FIghting the free flow of capital……

Which reminds me of the other event that did not take place in the last few days: Roseanne Barr went from claiming to be a socialist to Trump supporter. to backing Tommy Robinson…..

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Rethinking Democracy, Edited by Leo Panitch and Greg Albo. Socialist Register. 2018. Review.

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Review “Populism and Socialist Democracy” 

Rethinking Democracy, Edited by Leo Panitch and Greg Albo. Socialist Register. 2018. Merlin Press. 

(This appears in the latest issue of Chartist May/June 2018 no 292).

For Leo Panitch and Greg Albo “the social revolution of building capacities for self government” is more important than gaining state power. “Actually existing liberal democracy” is entangled with anti-democratic institutions. The 2018 edition of the Socialist Register explores the potential of “socialist democracy” against reactionary “populist appeals in the name of defending ‘our’ democracy’”. In doing so some contributors see merit in forms of ‘left-populism’. 

The electoral appeal of democratic socialist ideas – they cite Jeremy Corbyn and Bernie Sanders – inner-party democracy and social struggles have come to the fore. Ramon Ribera Fumaz and Greig Charnock offer a valuable account of the ‘citizens’ revolution’ attempted by Barcelona en comú (BeC). But, away from its ideology and programme, what of the political history of BeC’s ally, Spain’s national Podemos, from personalities to strategic difficulties? The electoral bloc that has enabled the Portuguese left to win power and govern successful, involves not just ‘new’ forces but some old ones, including the Socialists and the very old Portuguese Communist Party (PCP)

Do neoliberal elites ‘fear’ democracy? A number of contributors work with Jacques Rancière’s ‘anti-institutional’ picture of radical democracy. The French theorist claimed that Western elites, are believers in technocratic competence, and have a veritable hatred of the demos. James Foley and Pete Ramand detect this in a fear of referendums. Rancière claimed that the No vote in the 2005 French Referendum on a European Constitution was a major set back to those who wished their “science” to be acclaimed by the masses (La Haine de la démocratie. 2005).

That popular consultation witnessed a division on the French left, inside both radical and reformist camps. It was between those supporting national sovereignty and those who favoured European unity, however imperfect. (1) The rejection of the European Constitution only happened with the help of the votes of the far-right Front National, and conservative ‘Sovereigntists’. The result, many say, strengthened not democracy but appeals to France, the Nation, not just by the right but also by left-wing French politicians. After eventual French endorsement, the EU went ahead with its plans anyway.

Denis Pilon’s ‘Struggle over Actually Existing Democracy’ offers critique of ‘proceduralist’ democracy. Alex Demiorović considers Radical democracy, from Miguel Abensour (1939 – 2017) who was indebted to  council communism, Rancière, to the familiar figures of Ernesto Laclau and Chantal Mouffe. Adepts of abstract theory will find much to mull over.

Do these theorists offer “innovative democratic strategies”? Should we consider one of the few concrete ideas offered by Rancière, who looked to Periclean Athens and found public office open to selection by lot? The French La France insoumise (LFI) led by Jean-Luc Mélenchon,  uses this procedure widely, including for selecting a majority of delegates to its Conferences. It means that there are no formal currents, organised differences of opinion, inside his movement. This is even less attractive than the “consensual” decision-making imposed in the Occupy! movement.

The ‘fear’ of populists of the left and the right fails to look into why socialists may oppose populism. It is not disdain of the great unwashed, but differences over the claim that there is left-wing potential in the present ways the “people” can be mobilised against the ‘elite’.

Donald Trump once declared, “The only important thing is the unification of the people – because the other people don’t mean anything.” Can the People become Sovereign on conditions that they are hurled against the ‘not-People’?

Foley and Ramand take on board Perry Anderson’s critique of the ‘vagueness’ of the term elite, and the idea that this is the Enemy. Three contributions on the media also register another side of his doubts, the way it neglects the way hegemonic ideas gain acceptance. They offer useful insights into the role of the media in constructing ruling class hegemony. The revelations about Cambridge Analytica indicate that grand ideas, from Laclau and Mouffe, about the Enemy, and the need for democratic dissensus, may be less attractive in the face of manipulated hatred. The benefits for the equally elusive People in this form of politics are less than evident.

This fear of Others perhaps sums up right-wing populism, and mass conservative ideas, too neatly. If liberals, or the very different European left, turn to Othering the rightwing Populists – and why not? – it is because their policies place them as Corporate ventriloquists. Martijn Konings brings us back to the importance of economic rationality. He indicates how a “commitment to the speculative logic of risk” continues to be attractive to some voters. It can, paradoxically, be worked into appeal to the People. While many during the Brexit Referendum claimed to defend our Home against the outside, the neo-liberal wing of the Brexit campaign offered to make Britain a free entrepreneur on the world stage. Trump embodies both at the same time: he is a free-marketer and determined opponent of open markets.

Rethinking Democracy is thought provoking rather than answer-offering. The accelerating crisis of most of European social democracy is now provoking reflection and soul-searching. Recent elections have left Italian socialists of all stripes voiceless, the Dutch Labour Party has been overtaken by the Greens, and, after the long-signalled melt down of the Parliamentary left, the anti-populist President Macron and his La République en marche (LRM) holding all the reins of power. There is much to think about.

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See (1) Pages 135 – 4. 68 et Après. Les heritages égarés. Benjamin Stora, Stock,. 2018.

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