Tendance Coatesy

Left Socialist Blog

Archive for the ‘New Left’ Category

Trump, Virtual Reality (Baudrillard) and Brexit.

with 10 comments

Image result for jean baudrillard

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…..

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Advertisements

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

with 10 comments

Image result for socialist register 2018

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.

******

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

.

Behind the Shawcroft Row: The Labour Party as Social Movement and Political Trade Unionism.

with 13 comments

Image result for labour momentum a social movement

 

The Labour Party as Social Movement and Political Trade Unionism.

In one of his lesser-known works, L’Éternité par les astres (1872) the 19th century socialist insurrectionist Louis-Auguste Blanqui announced that there were millions of stars and worlds like our own. In each of them lived our personal doppelgänger. Those who have reflected on this discovery would deduce that our alter egos would each have minor differences, slightly different points of our view, that would end in distinct narratives about our existence.

Recent events in the Labour Party have brought similar differences about what has happened during a number of events, from goings-on at the National Policy Forum, to the National Executive Committee (NEC). The same meeting the same people, but very different takes on what took place.

The most recent, and, politically, the most important, is the latest NEC meeting. Christine Shawcroft’s dissatisfaction with a decision to submit allegations of anti-semitism to further disciplinary procedure has tumbled over into disagreement about the role of trade union representatives on Labour’s ruling body. She is reported to have expressed the view, amongst other things, that union delegates are unreliable allies of the left. Shawcroft suggested on social media that the Labour-union link should be re-examined. Those hostile to her intervention, and no doubt Momentum, in which the long-standing NEC member is a leading figure, have claimed that she called for a break with the organised working class. Since then everybody has united on keeping the union link (Labour unites behind trade union affiliation).

The row in the wake of these comments takes place against the backdrop of a contest for Labour’s General Secretary. This, a post, unlike, in other European parties (such as the French Parti Socialiste’s similar sounding position) has organisational and not directly political responsibility. The Secretary is appointed by the Party’s upper structure and is therefore, in principle, not an issue that involves the wider membership. But the different candidates, above all Jon Lansman, on the NEC but best known as a founder of Momentum, and Jennie Formby  from the union UNITE, have increasingly been seen in a political light. It is known that Lansman was not happy with a union ‘shoe in’ into the position. What is clear now is that UNITE’s leadership is unhappy with any questioning of their political weight in the party. These, and other issues about the candidacies, have been echoed amongst those Labour activists interested in the future direction of the party.

Momentum: Labour as social movement.

It should be clear that while there are no real differences about the primary need to campaign to get a Labour government elected, and to work out policies to achieve this, the dispute could be seen in the light of some important differences. For some Momentum is not just a pressure group to build support for Labour’s leader Jeremy Corbyn. It is, grandly, a project designed for Labour to gain a “collective transformative” capacity. It may be seen, as Hilary Wainwright put it “having a creative capacity and transformative power” “distinct from (not opposed to) electoral politics”. As such as, “a party as a means of experimenting and prefiguring in the represent” “the relations we envisage in the future”. Less inclined to an extra-terrestrial discovery to rival Blanqui’s, Momentum is seen “grassroots politics” with activists, many of them youthful, pouring energy and enthusiasm into Labour’s campaigns. In this capacity – that is a means to help bolder the party’s capacity to root change in the wider society, – the group is highly welcome. (1)

Momentum’s own difficulties include an ‘on-line’ democracy that critics allege does not function, conferences and decision-making process which resemble the centralised aspect of the equally ‘social media’ and Web hub based La France insoumise (LFI) of Jean-Luc Mélenchon. In its defence it could be said that Momentum is not LFI, out to ‘federate the people’ by means of a virtual political party, but has become an auxiliary of one with the goal of helping Labour get elected. It has avoided becoming embroiled in the worst aspects of left in fighting and sectarian recruitment politics. Momentum, unless one reads Shawcroft’s NEC intervention in the most hostile possible way, has shown no inclination to indulge the – ultra-minority – strain of Judophobia that has become an issue in left politics.

These positive achievements do not prevent another set of concerns at the place of such a body in drawing up lists in local Labour Parties with the sole aim of getting approved candidates elected to internal positions and councillor selections. In some case, Haringey stands out, this is part of a justified and broader effort to change very wong council policies. But in others this polarising practice, right up to clashes over the most minor positions, many complain, overrides debate of policy issues.

Political Trade Unionism.

What has also come to light is that the trade unions have a distinct idea about their role in the Labour Party. The TUC and affiliated unions have always seen the party as a means to get legislation passed in their favour, most recently by some who give priority to restoring collective bargaining in negotiations. Apart from these classical demands some, above all UNITE, have their own ideas about “political unions”.

Andrew Murray, a key figure in Len McClusky’s circle, and a consultant to Jeremy Corbyn, argued in 2014, for rebuilding the left around the People’s Assembly. This national campaign against austerity, Murray noted, drew the unions, ant-cuts activists and left-wingers from Labour and a variety of small left parties, with the objective of creating “rooted movements for change” “re-establishing the basis for mass socialist politics”. Behind this, based on the working class movement, was a strategy to “reclaim Labour” for the left – a prospect Murray saw – in 2014 – that could be thwarted by the “Blairite undead”. (2)

Murray may have his own eccentric ideas about ‘anti-imperialism’, and the positive side of the Soviet past. But, Labour has been largely (not entirely) been wrenched from the Blair/Brown legacy. In this the importance of initiatives such as the People’s Assembly stands out. It was one of the factors that prepared the ground for Corbyn’s election. The alternative strategy, which his article thoroughly took to pieces, of various left electoral challenges, from Left Unity, to the (continuing) Trades Union and Socialist Alliance (TUSC) faded into oblivion.

The problem now is whether the trade union movement, dedicated to achieving goals through electoral power, can sustain a relation with those who see ‘Labour as a social movement’. This is not a just a matter of ‘control’, which unions do not have over Momentum. A central policy issue equally divides the left. Some still see the future in terms of a “People’s Brexit’. Some decades later, on another planet, Tony Benn’s call for “genuine national sovereignty” – is proposed by the Morning Star, and, in a souped up form, by the ‘revolutionary’ remnants of the People’s Assembly reduced to the mouthpiece of the groupuscule Counterfire (The why and what of a People’s Brexit). But it is unlikely that inside the party, in Momentum or anywhere else, apart from the far from dynamic minority of ‘patriotic Labour’ is attracted to this prospect. Many remain strongly opposed to Leave. A few respond to the demand for a new referendum. The compromise over the Customs Union is a stop-gap a more detailed set of policies on Europe remains to be settled.

The differences between Labour-as-a-social-movement and Political Trade Unionism are far from irresolvable. Those, like this writer, who rejoined Labour, are intensely conscious that for Labour to be elected compromises and a great deal of respect is due for those activists, councillors and MPs who have kept membership over the years. Their concerns focus on issues such as the funding for local government, housing, welfare reform and …Europe. It would be better if disputes took place over policy, in a collaborative fashion, and not over jostling for internal positions in the party.

*******

(1) Radicalising the party-movement relationship: from Ralph Miliband to Jeremy Corbyn and beyond. Hilary Wainwright. Socialist Register. 2017. Merlin Press. Beyond the Boundary, Momentum’s role in the #GE2017 Campaign, Puru Miah. Chartist. 277. July/August 2017.

(2) Left Unity or Class Unity? Working class politics in Britain. Andrew Murray. Socialist Register 2014. Merlin Press.

(3) On this aspect of Tony Benn’s politics see: Chapter 6 A Party with Socialists in it. A History of the Labour Left. Simon Hannah. Pluto Press. 2018

A Million Member Party. New Socialist. A Review.

with 4 comments

A Million Member Party. New Socialist. Review.

The churn of news stories about the Labour Party is hard to keep up with. From the exhilaration of the post General Election we have seen the drip feed of hostility to the Jeremy Corbyn and his team return. The sometimes over-the-top admiration of the Leader, that there are problems, above all in the Party’s strategy towards Brexit. Some of the left, bogged down in a war over Momentum, in which few outside limited circles take an interest, perhaps forget that not only is the Party above concerned with beating the Tories but also that some of the debates which took place during the last period, late 1970s to 1980s, that radical socialists had an influence may be returning.

New Socialist, whose name recalls Labour’s 1980s journal (ceased publication 1991), which tried to capture something of that radicalism in serious discussion, has just published on the Web contributions that connect with that past and the potential future. These open-minded and thoughtful articles indicate – it is hard not to guess from familiarity with what’s happening in the Labour Party – a widespread thirst for more than a ‘battle’ in local parties and Conference. They explore a revitalised, re-imagined democratic socialism that is in touch with ordinary people not faction fights. Taking from the best side of the New Left, adding up-to-date approaches – A Million Members is one of the most promising collections of grassroots thinking to appear this year.

Feminism and Labour.

Andrea Marie’s Prefigurative Social Relations takes us back straight away to some of some of the key books of that period, Hilary Wainwright’s Labour: a Tale of Two Parties (1987). She focuses on what is the best-known achievement of Wainwright, Sheila Rowbotham and Lynne Segal’s Beyond the Fragments (1980), introducing feminist concerns into the daily life of the left, and labour movement.  Marie talks of creating “democratic relationships, personal and political, here and now”. The book, it should be underlined, also put an emphasis on “democratic organisation” and control in the economy, not just in ownership but also in the “principles of and details” of production, as well as the state.

For Wainwright, reflecting the view of the Socialist Society we needed a “strong state in relation to powerful institutions and a supportive, decentralised state as regards popular associations and individuals.” The Two Parties ends by asking if Labour, instead of pursing such a course would, post-1987, and Neil Kinnock’s election, would become “Just an Electoral machine”, against what Wainwright referred to as a “party built up from below”, which could stand as a subtitle for the whole of A Million Member Party. (1)

The Editor Tom Gann observes that the legacy of the Kinnock years, not to mention Blair and Brown, means that for existing “Labour the winning of state power is prioritised” By contrast A Million Member Party discusses ideas of a networked party (Torr Robinson), the party as a social movement (Jan Baykara), labour in conversation with the public (oidptg) a census of popular needs (Casper Hughes) as part and parcel of making labour anew, . “the necessary preliminaries of raising and extending socialist consciousness and grass-roots organisation among working people in general.” In this context, some reflection on the successes and failures of social movements, such as the much publicised Occupy!  movement (see Thomas Frank. Yes, but what are you for?  would not be amiss. The experiences of European radical left movements, such as the recent French Nuit debout and the Spanish  Movimiento 15-M, entwined with mass left politics, are certainly even more relevant.

Remaking Labour.

 Bilsborough’s call to reconfigure Labour’s Parliamentary and local politics, that is by selecting new representatives, also raises issues, more sensitively than media fuelled rage over individuals, to deeper problems. As  Marie says, the everyday practices of the Party, the cultures and sedimented institutional practices equally need to be transformed. Many will, doubt that any political party can or should “prefigure” the co-operative social relationships, or Cotterrill, “associative democracy” (a term associated with the late Paul Hirst) that socialists would wish for society to adopt in the future. Politics involve clashes and that is not going to disappear, an indeed have not, as the recent history of ‘another way of organising’ in Podemos indicates . It is much easier to be convinced that neither bureaucratic manoeuvres, no shouty opposition, are not welcome practices. (2)

There are many other important interventions, including a section summed up in the title “desalienation” But economics, and in particular austerity, are the rub. The issues raised by Brexit, and the problem that those inside Labour, on both left and right, who support sovereigntism’, the idea that the UK can ‘go it alone’ in the world, no doubt to return to another 1980s idea, the Alternative Economic Strategy, are not raised. Mark Seddon and Soule put the problem of low pay on the table. This is important. But Tom Blackburn in “Corbynism from Below” made the point earlier on New Socialist: “continuing austerity” looms still larger. Labour’s priorities have to lie with challenging the cuts in budgets, the fiscal tap that is ever-tightening on local government, the cause of the freeze on benefits. These do not just have obvious effects of people’s lives. Austerity is a justification for expanding one of the most undemocratic aspects of the state – the hive off of public goods to private profiteers.

Economic and political power rests on money. Without replacing austerity we have no ground on which to advance the kind of generous democratic socialist politics and culture advocated by A Million Members. However many more card carrying Labour supporters can be recruited…….

*******

 

(1) Pages 256, 264 and the concluding chapter, No7. Labour: a Tale of Two Parties The Hogarth Press. 1987

(2) Associative Democracy is often thought of as an alternative to most forms of socialism as in Associative Democracy. New Forms of Economic and Social Governance. Paul Hirst. University of Massachusetts Press. 1994.

 

 

 

 

 

Perry Anderson and the French Left After Macron.

with 3 comments

Image result for perry anderson

 

PERRY ANDERSON AND THE FRENCH LEFT AFTER MACRON.

Part Two of a response to The Centre Can Hold.

In Part One of this critique we suggested that Perry Anderson’s analysis of the result of the French elections barely proceeded further than the affirmation that the “centre left” was a lieutenant of capital, that he lacked any notion of the specificity of different French government ‘neoliberal’, pro-capitalist politics, that his account of Macron’s victory was barely more than a tale of how the electorate was hoodwinked by the media and the establishment.

We noted that Anderson’s analysis of the role of France as a ‘hinge’ in the European Union, which he permits himself some meagre speculation on the potential effects of Macron’s Presidency on the EU. If as he claims these changes will be largely ‘cosmetic’, though one would not imagine that measures resulting from France pressure, to ensure debt relief for Southern Europe would not look like face paint to those affected, what is then the role of oppositions? Our conclusion, which dwelt on the radical utopian alternative of Dardot and Laval, suggested the ambitious scope of radical alternatives to the existing EU.

Anderson’s assumptions about the EU underpin much of The Centre Can Hold. One can note that the theme, clearly stated in 2012 against his critics, that Brussels, led by Germany, “corralled” EU members into fiscal “stability. One of his critics, Jan-Werner Müller, offered at that time an account of the “conscious delegation” of powers that constitute the inter-state body. It may be, Müller indicates, that Germany could, if the will were there, shift towards a more open system of EU decision-making. (1) This premise suggests that rather less than a total rejection of the existing institutions – reform – might be possible. That Europe is indeed a changing body is further indicated in the fate of Anderson’s speculation about the Union as “deputy Empire” of the US. Here does this stand now? No doubt the reign of Emperor Trump, who promoted Brexit, requires a further analysis.

The Jargon of Resistance.

But when it comes to looking at French elections perhaps this is not the point. New Left Review, we have to remind ourselves, has turned into the Organ of Resistance. In an Editorial in 2016 we were treated to a lengthy treatise on Left Oppositions (I will not refer to the article on Poetic Resistance in the same issue). Susan Watkins indicated that “in the last few years” “left oppositions started to produced national political projects with an impact at state level”. This covered Greece’s Syriza, Italy’s Five Star Movement (…), Podemos, Jeremy Corbyn, and apparently, Scottish independence campaigners.

Jean-Luc Mélenchon’s 4 million Presidential votes in 2012, as the candidate of the Front de gauche (FdG), a bloc of his own group, the French Communists and leftists involved in groups such as Ensemble, figured on this list. He features equally amongst the “charismatic leaders” with his old style “oratory”. A paragraph, informed by sources which can guess not unfavourable to the leader of what was then the Parti de Gauche (PdG) complained of the Parti Communiste Français (PCF). It was “mummified”, a “ball and chain”, and, over egging this already egg splattered account, amongst the faults of the PCF, “In the National Assembly it regularly supports the Socialist government against the positions of the Parti de Gauche.” Writing in this vein the Mélenchonistas were given star rating, along with the thousands attending Nuit Debout rallies – over the, unmentioned, trade union led millions-strong campaign against the El Khomri labour reforms.

With the NLR condescension Mélenchon was judged “in part” social democratic, but with more ‘heterodox elements” “including sweeping constitutional change – not a social-democratic trait”. Those familiar with the Journal’s views on such issues, will realise that the importance they attach to the calls for a 6th Republic, although the Editor fails to mention that the same banner has been raised by a number of the left inside the Parti Socialiste (2014: Appel de socialistes pour une sixième République).

La France insoumise.

Shift forward a year, the formation of La France insoumise (LFI), the effective end of the Front de Gauche, and the 2017 Presidential elections. Against the ‘pale figure” of Benoît Hamon. We have the Grand Orator Mélenchon standing with the backing of hundreds of thousands of on-line supporters and – on the ground – “groupes d’appui”, organised supporters.

“..the change was more than just organisational. Fascinated for some time by the success of heterodox governments in Latin America, he drew particular inspiration from the example of Rafael Correa in Ecuador, like him a former minister of a social-democratic party, who had pioneered the idea of a ‘citizen’s revolution’, rewriting the constitution, redistributing wealth and protecting the environment. This was the way forward, to abandon the exhausted schemas of the traditional European left for a radically progressive populism, summoning the people to battle against the elites in control of a bankrupt political and economic system. Impressed with the strategic insight of Ernesto Laclau and Chantal Mouffe, encountered in Argentina in 2013, Mélenchon set about applying their lessons at home.”

We pause for a moment to consider this.

A Movement not a Party.

La France insoumise is a “movement”, not a party. Mélenchon declares, “Il peut disposer des moyens d’être représentatif de cet ensemble globalisant quest le peuple en réseau de notre époque That is, it can be a network that represents the people globally in our era. Is it democratic? Le mouvement na pas à être « démocratique » au sens basiste que souvent on donne à ce mot dans les organisations politiques où lon doit alors affronter le climat de confrontation des courants et des textes qui les fondent avec les votes contradictories. The movement is not ‘democratic’ in the the grassroots sense of the word in political parties, where different tendencies and resolutions are presented confrontationally, or with oppositional voting. The movement is as collective as possible (cest d’être aussi collectif que possible) In other words, there is no formal debate over competing views, or, more significantly, any means to do so – LFI operates internally through cyber-space with the direction set by.the leadership. For his supporters Mélenchon is the “embodiment” of the programme; there is no need for opposition to him. Inside La France insoumise there are, as yet, not plans for a place for a democratic opposition or channels for one to exist. It is run, as report after report indicates, by a core of close Mélenchon advisers from the PdG.. (2)

A further pause, La France insoumise its admirers claim, is not a tactic, a political start-up adapted to the new era of personalised politics. But what is it? The organisation is more that symbolically linked to other models – we shall discard the reference to Ecuador (which few will have heard of and which counts for even less than erstwhile evocations of the Bolivarian Revolution in Venezuela), but to Podemos. LFI is not, nevertheless, the product of a French Moviemento 15 Mars, no mass street protests preceded its launch, and only the figure of the producer of Merci Patron François Ruffin stands in for the brief flash of the Nuit Debout square occupations.

La France insoumise was first and foremost the vehicle for Mélenchon’s Presidential ambitions. It was a temporary body, It is secondly an ambitious claim to federate the people into something resembling the left populism of Laclau and Mouffe. Although one should be wary of politicians claiming intellectual authority from fashionable figures (Hamon has also claimed to be influenced by Mouffe: Benoît Hamon, Inspirations au programme), there is more than a little of a demand for “equality and popular sovereignty in LFIs version of agonistic (conflictual) democracy to feel an imprint. In place of class conflict in the sense of a contradiction rooted in a mode of production, classic social classes, we have the opposition between the People (demanding equality and sovereignty) and the Elite/Oligarchy. We have an even more rudimentary opposition between Friend and Foe (Carl Schmitt), beneath this. Political reform, sweeping constitutional change, a citizens insurrection through the ballot box, are designed to clean the institutions of the corruption of the oligarchs and to bring alive the general will inside a new Republic, one that can (and this is repeated) ensure French independence (3)

Le Grand Replacement ..of the Left.

It is finally, a movement whose central strategy is to replace the existing left, not to unite it, not to bring together it for common objectives, but to call for traditional left-wing parties to sod off (dégagez!) For those wishing to pursue this analysis from the numerous criticisms levelled at Mélenchon and LFI, they will find many more critical accounts, so abundant that one might have thought a reference or two might have crossed Anderson’s mind.(4)

LFIs patriotism, and rejection of any reference to class in favour of the conflict between the People and the Oligarchy, can hardly escape the casual observer.

La France insoumise banned red flags and the Internationale for the tricolour and Marseillaise at its meetings, appealing to all patriots regardless of class or age to rise up against the decaying order of the Fifth. Borrowing the cry that drove out Ben Ali in Tunisia, Dégagez!—‘Clear out!’—became the leitmotif of the campaign.”

It takes a strong stomach to digest this, one no doubt fortified by memories of 1950s PCF tricolours and references to national liberation heroine Jean darc. Is there more criticism, at least more than implicit, from Anderson? Perhaps this sentence could still be expanded In reality, the two anti-systemic forces, rather than aggregating to a common populist insurgency, largely cancel each other out. However similar their critiques of the social and economic system, insuperable moral and ideological differences on immigration hold them apart at opposite ends of the political spectrum, where each freely demonizes the other.” Immigration, FN as a ‘scarecrow’ used to rally people behind the Macron and the Republic……..and there it ends…

Or not. Anderson is soon bored by French Politics and drifts back to geopolitical, European, issues. He notes that, “the balance of forces in a  neoliberal but not yet neo-federal system of power militates against dramatic changes”. The final paragraph of The Centre Can Hold talks of the single currency, the Euro, and the possibility of a French exit from it. Recasting monetary union, is, Anderson pats Mélenchon on the back, a “geopolitical” issue, not a technical one. Of that, all we hear that can be brought down to immediate relevance is the question: can there be an effective means to compel Germany to help a reform of the EU?

The future of La France insoumise, as it announces a Convention in the autumn, remains to be analysed. Will it become a real party? Where will it go? Many suggest that Melenchon has still not come to terms with the idea that he will not be President. In the National Assembly, having made a splash, there are strong independent figures in the group of 17   who may have their own ideas about the direction it should take. One thing is certain, neither the PCF (10)  the PS (45 seats), nor the rest of the left, including Hamon’s own new movement, the mouvement du 1er Juillet  nor the extra-parliamentary  left, nor the union federations,  look ready to be “replaced” by Mélenchon. The failure of LFI’s stunt this week, holding on its own, without trade union backing, rallies against Macron’s new labour reforms, indicates the limits of how far its “recuperation” of social movements can go.  (5)

********

(1) After the Event Perry Anderson. Beyond Militant Democracy. Werner Müller. New Left Review. No 73. 2012.

(2) Jean-Luc Mélenchon. Le peuple et le ‘ mouvement ‘ November 2016 

(3) The Democratic Paradox. Chantal Mouffe. Verso. 2005. A much more detailed critique of Laclau and Mouffe’s influence on ‘left-populist’ politics is in preparation. The motif of French independence, militarily, economically, and related themes, such as “producing French”, stand out in the pages of La France insoumise’s programme,  L’Avenir en commun. 2017.

(4) See: La France insoumise – « L’ère du peuple » et « l’adieu au prolétariat » ? jeudi 3 novembre 2016, par JOHSUA Samuel, MELENCHON Jean-Luc Rousset provides the best summary. Mélenchon, France insoumise, populisme : questions sur la séquence électorale 2016-2017 et ses implications ROUSSET Pierre.

(5) La France insoumise se met en chantier – Vers une convention fin octobre ? BESSE DESMOULIERES Raphaëlle

‘The Centre Can Hold’: Perry Anderson, French Politics in the Era of Macron, A Critique. Part One.

with one comment

Image result for perry anderson the centre can hold

‘The Centre Can Hold’: Perry Anderson: a Critical Look. 

Part One.

Chaque pensée devrait rappeler la ruine d’un sourire.”

Each thought should evoke the ruin of a smile.

Syllogismes de l’amertume. Emil Cioran.

For Perry Anderson “the revolutionary working class went AWOL somewhere around 1970.”

Roger Scruton. Fools, Frauds and Firebrands. Thinkers of the New Left. (1)

Has the 2017 French Presidential contest, followed by the June Parliamentary elections, redrawn the political map not just in France but also across Europe? Emmanuel Macron’s conquest of the Élysée (66,10% of the vote), in a second round against the far-right Marine Le Pen (33,90%), marginalising the Parti Socialiste (PS), eliminated at the first hurdle with 6,36% and Les Républicains (LR), at, 20.02% is said to have seen off the anti-European Union “populist revolt”. Others talk of his pro- EU “populism of the centre”. Some on the left draw comfort from the respectable score in the initial contest, 19,58% for Jean-Luc Mélenchon of la France insoumise.

The success of Macron’s brand new, ‘start-up’, movement-party, La République en marche (LRM), with 314 seats, and close allies, the MoDems, 47 MPs, out of 577 députés, is overwhelming. Backed by ‘compatible’ deputies from the fragmenting Socialist Party and the Republican centre-right, which now dominates the French lower house, the Assemblée Nationale, illustrates, it is claimed, the obsolescence of the old-party form. To some this has shaken up not just the old French blocs of left and right but introduced a new form of political representation. For Pierre Rosanvallon Macron, and his still-standing opponents, Jean-Luc Mélenchon and Marine Le Pen, are the “personalised”, “direct catalysts of popular aspirations” (Idées. Le Monde. 17.6.17) Introducing Perry Anderson’s The Centre Can Hold (click for full text)  The French Spring. New Left Review’s (NLR) Programme Notes begins rather with political economy. Macron, liberal in economics, and liberal (in the American sense) socially may mark another shift. “Has neoliberalism finally arrived in force in Paris and if so what are the implications for Europe?”

Macron’s journey from liberalising Minister of the Economy (2014 – 2016) in François Hollande’s Socialist Government, some tussles with Prime Minister Manuel Valls – not to mention mass protests against labour reforms – to the entry of the former high-flying Banker and Civil Servant into the gilded chambers of the Élysée, is a tale worth telling. That it did not happen without help, unwilling as much as willing, is recalled. Attacks on finance soon forgotten Hollande had rapidly begun “tilting to business and tailing Berlin”. Nor is the inability of his governments to tackle mass unemployment, poverty, to stand up to EU financial ‘rigour’, forcing the Mediterranean members to suffer the blast of monetary discipline and ‘restructuring’, unchronicled. The President’s manifest failings, low, described in Valérie Trierweiler’s Merci pour ce Moment (2014), and high, beginning with Hollande’s opinion of himself, and the both at the same time, as revealed by Gérard Davet and François Lhomme, are there for all to read, or at least the media’s extracts and commentaries. The outgoing tide of Hollande’s support, the his “self-destruction”, the mass protests and strikes at labour law reform (Loi El Khomri) under PM Manuel Valls, to “please business” – Anderson at least does not finger the EU for that measure – paved the way for the marginalisation of the Parti Socialiste. The transfer of PS card-holders and, above all, notables, to the new Master, was preceded by the mobilisation of an active core behind Macron’s Presidential bid.

Tenebrous back-door manoeuvres

Macron appeared, in short, Anderson affirms, at length, more than a providential “embodiment of all that was dynamic and forward-looking in France”. Behind this public portait, Anderson suggests that not only was their was transfer of allegiances, the use of PS networks, and the development of an establishment cabal behind him, there was a vast media-political operation, with wider business and ‘civil society’ support. Le Canard Enchaîné, with, he notes, close links with the “tenebrous world of back-door manoeuvres” and the “manipulative operations of the French intelligence services” leaked evidence of the abuse of public funds by Macron’s right-wing rival François Fillion. Dubbing the satirical weekly the Great Elector we are treated to Anderson’s lengthy speculations on the origins and motives of those who may have used these leaks to destroy the candidate of Les Républicains.

If Anderson is to be believed, “Macron’s background guaranteeing he would be a business-friendly icon of deregulation of the kind Hollande wanted” the transfer of the President’s claque to a new icon was well judged. The Centre Can Hold describes him marketed as part of “a movement transcending the outdated opposition between Right and Left in France, for the creation of a new, fresh politics of the Centre, liberal in economics and social in sensibility.” Enough people bought the message for an electoral landslide to take place.

Opponents were trounced, deals were made, François Bayrou was squared, the middle class were quite prepared…Anderson has, we can be sure, not revealed more than a fraction of the contents of a hefty shelf of breathless Secret Histories of the 2017 Election Campaign. That the new Boss has been sometimes ungrateful, the Editorial suggests, at least to his one-time Patron, and, we could add, to those, like Valls, with whom he has accounts to settle will doubtless lend piquancy to the narrative.

This entertaining, depressing but far from unprecedented story, is only part of a larger picture. The ‘operation’ succeeded as a consequence of the withering on the vine of the Parti Socialiste’s social base and the political impasse of the party that has failed in recent years to manage more than Léon Blum’s “exercise of power”, without conquering the solid bastions that give a real lever for social change.

The Republic of the Centre.

The NLR Editorial locates the origins of the PS’s difficulties in relief against a long line of attempts to create a Republic of the Centre, a term taken from the widely read. La République du centre (1988). In that book, subtitled, La fin de l’exception française, Pierre Rosanvallon, with François Furet and Jacques Julliard, announced the end of French ‘exceptionalism’, above all the persistence of an electorally and socially significant radical left. For Anderson President Mitterrand “had laid the foundations of a stable Republic of the Centre: no longer dependent on the individual charisma of a national hero who was distrustful of parties, but now solidly anchored in a cross-party ideological consensus that capitalism was the only sensible way of organizing modern life.”

Crucial to this turn was not the “stable republic”, a cross-party consensus and left-right alternation of power, but the left’s acceptance of the market. Since the Mitterrand ‘turn’ in 1982-3, the Socialists have constantly drifted, but they have always been marked by efforts to create a market-friendly liberalising ‘republic’. Anderson does not cite exactly why this change happened, here, or in his previous writings on France, where we learnt that it was ‘neoliberal’ and a “decisive turn towards the logic of financial markets”. Indicating, rather than defining ‘neoliberalism’, with the label Hayek stuck on it too boot, obscures what lay at the origin of their trajectory. (2)

The 1982-3 ‘moment’, a conjuncture that brought together political and economic strategic change with a cultural shift towards the market, remains marked in PS history. The Mauroy government, abandoned a strategy, reinforced with the entry of Communist Ministers in the cabinet, of nationalisations, proactive industrial policy, and increased consumption, came as the first Mitterrand governments failed to reduce unemployment or stimulate growth. Put simply, with the world in recession, going it alone was not working. Warnings of economic disaster starring the President and Prime Minister in the face during the summer of 1982 and the judgement that the franc risked going through the floor, strained the country’s membership of the European Monetary System (EMS) to breaking point. Retrenching at this point was more than a “pause” in reform. The government suddenly dropped all the idea of top-down ‘statist’ economic intervention. The initial wave of nationalisations (which remained in place for the time being, including important parts of the banking system) were not the ‘instrument’ of economic growth and social change. Industry had to be “restructured”, that is modernised at the cost of closures and layoffs; budgets had to restrained. The PS, soon free of a vestigial alliance with the Communists (PCF), came to grips with what they considered the impossibility of ‘Keynesianism in one country’. The “mutation” of modern capitalism was embraced.

What remained of a left-wing ambition beyond clamouring for creative destruction and extolling model entrepreneurs? For Anderson, it was the European ideal. For Mitterrand Europe was France’s future and economics had to follow. The two term President seized on “the inspiring ideal of Europe”, that is, staying within the EMS (European Monetary System). It was in its service that the French were called upon to “liberalise and modernise themselves.”

That the austerity programme in 1983, and the zealous pursuit of ‘modernisation’ under the subsequent PM Laurent Fabius, has marked the governing French left ever since is not in doubt. But the alternative answer, argued by the Minister of Industry, Jean-Pierre Chevènement, for France to “go it alone” outside the EMS, may well have led, as his opponents claimed, to a collapse in the franc, and to France going cap in hand, for help to another international “neo-liberal’ institution, the IMF, with an equally severe plan for budget cuts. A left-winger might well ask about the reaction of the labour movement. From Mitterrand’s victory in 1981 to the policy change, there was little popular activity, and the brief displays of CGT militancy that followed the exit of the Communists from government never rose beyond fragmented protest. (3)

The Construction of Europe.

The Centre Can Hold spills the beans on some more confidential reasoning, “In private, Mitterrand—more candid than his successors—knew what that meant, as he confided to his familiar Jacques Attali at the outset: ‘I am divided between two ambitions: the construction of Europe and social justice. The European Monetary System is a condition of success in the first, and limits my freedom in the second.’ Once the eu was in place, every market-friendly initiative could be extolled or excused as required by solidarity with Brussels.”

Is this another way of saying that French politicians, like political figures across the Continent, put responsibility for the unpopular consequences of market-friendly policies, which they fully support, onto ‘Europe’? Or is it to say that “pooling” sovereignty through the EU had given rise to an “accumulation of powers” by the “elites of the Council and Commission and their subordinates”, as Anderson put it in The New Old World (2009)? Is he suggesting that Keynesianism in one country was a viable option, and should have been pursued, regardless of the absence of mass popular mobilisation, and whatever the consequences for the ERM, and France’s position as the “hinge of the European Union”?

One way of avoiding these hard questions is to call upon the people to speak. That is, to demonstrate that, despite having filled their ears with Brussels’ wax, French politicians, unlike Ulysses, have had difficulty in resisting – much much later – the Sirens of popular discontent. Anderson fills several paragraphs with evidence that the masses recoil at pro-market reform. The Centre right has many object lessons in this, “as Juppé discovered in 1995 and De Villepin in 2006.” He then turns to the more difficult task of explaining how ‘neo-liberalism’ could be introduced.

The Centre-left, by contrast, was a better Lieutenant of Capital. It “was the better equipped of the two blocs actually to introduce neoliberal reforms. Resistance to these was always most likely to come from the popular classes where the larger part of its own social base lay, in particular—though not exclusively—from the trade-unions, where only the collaborationist cfdt could be relied on to swallow virtually anything…..still claiming to represent the injured and oppressed—and interpret their best interests—the PS was in a more favourable position to neutralise such opposition, as Valls’s success in ramming through a labour law to please business in 2016 showed. So too it was no accident that over the years the Centre-Left privatised many more public enterprises than the Centre-Right.” Except, of course, that these policies played sufficiently badly with the “popular classes” to contribute to the mass defection that caused this instrument to shatter. As their electoral disaster and the transfer of support elsewhere, including, Anderson notes, many went to La France insoumise.

Fighting Neo-liberalism.

From this account one might ask what is ‘neo-liberalism’ other than any pro-business policy? And what is the alternative other than the resistance of the masses to these measures? And where did these pro-market measures originate? Are they domestically determined, or can we, as appears to be suggested with the evocation of the ‘European ideal’ assign it to forces within the structures of the EU. The New Old World lists a lack of a common democratic will at the European level, the construction, from these quarters, of a Hayekian “semi-catallaxy” of free markets beneath, and an apparatus removed from accountability and stuffed with “prebends”. This picture looms only faintly over the present article. Even that charge-sheet against “self-satisfied” Europe seems feeble set against, to cite a representative from a mountain of critical literature, the account of a neo-liberal European Union apparatus in Pierre Dardot and Christian Laval’s Ce cauchemar qui n’en finit pas (2016) They talk of a “Empire des normes”, budgets, debts, “le bloc idéologique néolibérale”.

Dardot and Laval’s call for countervailing international democratic coalitions, and an “espace oppositionnel mondial” has so far, been largely unheeded. Yet despite the obstacles, the Union remains an area of “pooled sovereignty” in which national governments, if no longer unanimous about ‘rescuing the nation state’, still enjoy the determining power. That the EU – and Anderson, as we will see, homes in on the future of the Eurozone – can be shaped by political will. That domestic policy formation remains the key to change, that Macron’s decisions matter, and efforts to mould or block them, are at least one of the keys to the success or failure of neo-liberal, or, more simply, pro-business acts and legislation. And what could be the role of an opposition to undo Macron’s plans?

END OF PART ONE.

PART 2 TO FOLLOW: THE LEFT AFTER MACRON.

References.

(1) Page 232. Fools, Frauds and Firebrands. Thinkers of the New Left. Roger Scruton Bloomsbury. 2015.

(2) Prognoses. The New Old World. Perry Anderson. Verso. 2009

(3) See Pages 326 – 333. Les Socialistes français et le Pouvoir. Alain Bergounioux and Gérard Grunberg. Fayard. 2005. Pages 362 – 376. Mitterrand A Study in Ambiguity. Phillip Short. The Bodley Head. 2013.

Psychedelic Bolsheviks.

with 6 comments

Image result for austin powers groovy baby

Psychedelic Bolshevik.

This important letter, in the latest Weekly Worker, amongst many others from esteemed figures in the workers’ movement, such as Steve Freeman (League Against the Corn Laws) , and less esteemed figures, such as the  anti-‘Zionist’  and anti-International ‘Jewish’ bourgeoisie, Gerry Downing,  caught our attention,

 

….we’re living through an election campaign where increasingly the act of thinking has been banned. Even when Corbyn expresses a desire to deal with poverty he is treated as if he has started a George Galloway on Big brother tribute act. The look in the journalists’ eyes seems to suggest the substance of his campaign has been to lap milk out of John McDonnell’s pocket. Words are never neutral and we have become trapped in a whirl of concepts that only serve to mask reality. Middle England is a cage on British politics – nothing but the wet dream of centrists.

Defending Corbyn is a defence of the simplest of all ideas – the idea things could actually be different. This seems banal, but in a world where it is recommended that anyone mentioning taxing the rich should be sent to have their brain bleached with liquid aspiration, and any mention of Marxism is cause for a lobotomy, it seems the only way forward.

But at the same time sowing any illusions in left reformism is a road to despondency, so the idea of a ‘critical vote’ for Labour needs serious consideration. That is why the Psychedelic Bolsheviks will be spraying the walls of Sheffield with posters declaring: “It’s better to rub dog shit in your carpet than rub dog shit in your eye”. Corbyn should don his catsuit and endlessly move his bins, because this is a clear sign of his humanity.

We will be making a poetry-heavy defence of thinking on June 17 with our second annual day school from 12 noon onwards in Norfolk Park, Sheffield – six meetings over one long picnic in the park. We will consider CLR James, the migrant crisis, situationism v surrealism, the election, organisation and spontaneity in the wake of 1917 – all rounded off with some sweet, improvised music.

Psychedelic Bolsheviks
Sheffield

Apparently they have a web site,

Comrade Ronksley of Sheffield Trades Council,

You think that meeting Picaso at Sheffield Fucking Train Station for the 2nd world peace conference gives you the right to have a 4min youtube video… well maybe it does, but who the fuck is Tim Newton and why are they obsessed with you, Art Party and The Human Factor? And while we are on Picaso was it an honour or was he just a self-righteous, wannabe radical? Have you seen this speech, it says nothing: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ya7jkFrvc7k. Of course you’ve seen it you were there.

Picture of a Dove how cliché!

I have been unreliably informed that you believe Sheffield’s trade council is “on it’s arse” and so it is not necessary for us to inform you that this is indeed the case. Your inability to adapt to the victory of the ruling classes neo-liberal ideology, has gutted Sheffield Trades council of any real clout leaving it in the same dead end cul-de-sac the rest of the left is in.

The new left movement can not be born out of the broken fractures of the current left, it must be born out of new resistance while aiming to learn from the mistakes of the old. To put it another way, we refuse to fuck-up in the same way you did, we will find our own way to fuck up.

Having said this we wish to affiliate to Sheffield Trades Council. So allow me to introduce ourselves. We are the Psychedelic Bolsheviks (PB), we believe in classless society, and that abolishment of class must be an act of the working class, we believe that the left has failed to take the link between culture, art and politics seriously, we dream of a society where drugs will be used not as a form of escapism but for pleasure and/or spirituality alone and we believe in WHALES, one of which is called Trollidarity (to troll in solidarity).

We believe that those who do not appreciate (but not necessarily enjoy) Jazz are some of the most backward and reactionary elements of the class, so fuck them.

To conclude, we the Psychedelic Bolshevik (PB) are a historical materialist, pro choice , anti-zionist , ultra – left sympathizing  class conscious organisation of wreck heads.

We believe that our affiliation to the trades council will be beneficial for both parties, we can bring a fresh, if often irrelevant, perspective to a dying organisation. You can provide us with lessons you have learnt from all your fucking mistakes. And together we can end our collective sobriety, and temporarily escape (if you wish of course, this part is not compulsory we understand there a multitude of reasons why people may chose to remain sober, and we respect those).

I hope you have a lovely birthday on the 7th of May.

Solidarity,

Mushroom Watcher of the Psychedelic Bolsheviks (MW-PB)

Written by Andrew Coates

May 21, 2017 at 11:44 am