Archive for the ‘New Left’ Category
“Trotskyism is being studied as never before” The Brent Soviet.
“But we want to speak frankly to you, comrade Trotsky, about the sectarian methods which we have observed around us and which have contributed to the setbacks and enfeebling of the vanguard. I refer to those methods which consist in violating and brutalising the revolutionary intelligence of those militants – numerous in France – who are accustomed to making up their own minds and who put themselves loyally to the school of hard facts. These are the methods which consist in interpreting with no indulgence whatever the inevitable fumblings in the search for revolutionary truth. Finally, these are the methods which attempt, by a colonisation directed from without, to dictate to the labour movement attitudes, tactics or responses which do not come from the depths of its collective intelligence. It is in large part because of this that the French section of the Fourth International has shown itself absolutely incapable not merely of reaching the masses but indeed even of forming tried and serious cadres.”
Marceau Pivert to Trotsky. 1939 (Where is the PSOP Going? A correspondence between Marceau Pivert, Daniel Guerin and Leon Trotsky)
With Trotskyists about to take over the Labour Party there is interest in the ideology and politics of this current on the left.
One figure we have yet to hear mention is Michael Pablo one, of many but by far the best known, party names of a revolutionary usually called Michel Raptis. The most reviled Trotskyist of the post-war period, he has been accused of being the father of lies, liquidationism, and revisionism of all stripes and spots. In fact his ideas and career are important to anybody concerned with Trotskyism: an illustration of its worst faults and some of its better features.
It will come as no surprise that Tendance Coatesy, as with many other leftists, owes a political and ideological debt to this outstanding individual. That his principal orthodox Trotskyist enemies were Gerry Healy, Pierre Lambert and James Cannon – all po-faced right-wing authoritarians – one cannot but help but like Pablo.
This should be borne in mind even if we accept that the fundamental premises with which he, and all Trotskyists, worked, that the Soviet Union, the Eastern Bloc, and China, not to mention countries like Cuba, had, by revolution or by bureaucratic imposition, become ‘non-capitalist’ social formations, part of a fundamentally new stage in history has been proved false. And that it’s hard to avoid acknowledging the erosion of the related belief, that ‘building revolutionary parties’ on the models laid down by Lenin and Trotsky was a realistic strategy to help create socialist societies in the capitalist world, and overthrow the Stalinist bureaucratic ‘deformations’ in these non-capitalist countries.
The term Pabloism was first used during the splintering of Trotskyism in the 1950s. It referred to a set of positions advanced by Michael Rapitis during debates within the Fourth International, principality Pablo’s view that the “objective” growth of Stalinist-led ‘workers’ states’ ‘degenerated’ and deformed) meant that they had to have a strategy towards the mass Communist parties that could capture their base. He was accused of ‘liquidating’ the Trotskyist ‘programme’ as an independent point of reference outside of these parties.
Since many of his opponents had their own strategic alliances inside social democratic parties that disguised their true ‘programme’ (Gerry Healy’s pre-Socialist Labour League group in Labour ‘The Club‘, the original home of most UK ‘Trotksyist’ organisations and groupuscules) , not to mention collaboration with right-wing anti-Communist elements backed by American funds (in France, in the union federation Force Ouvrière) this accusation looks bad faith. More serious criticisms stem from the claim that Stalinist forms of Communism were a kind of ‘leap’ into a better form of society which Trotskyists should back (from the outside) and influence (from the inside).
The noise and fury (cited above) around such disagreements can only be understood by referring to earlier disputes which set the pattern for Trotskyist polemics that has endured to this day.
This process of raucous fractures and splits which can be traced back to the 1930s, notably in France. Despite the widespread impression that American Trotskyism, above all the US Socialist Workers’ party, was the lodestar of the movement, French Trotskyism was the centre of the Fourth International and many of the original parties – a country with (in the 1912 foundation, larger than the Socialist SFIO), and form 1936 ownwards a significant political player) a large Communist party to boot, and a deep-rooted socialist and communist tradition that sets it off from America. Before looking at what ‘Pabloism’ is we have to begin there.
One of the first Trotskyist groups in that country was the la Ligue communiste founded in 1930. By the latter half of the decade there were already three main Trotskyist tendencies in the Hexagone (French Trotskyism) .
They were all organised around strong personalities: long embedded leadership is an enduring feature of Trotskyism (French Trotskyism)
- Raymond Molinier et Pierre Frank of the GAR (groupes d’action révolutionnaire who published the et La Commune which became in 1936 Parti communiste internationaliste (PCI).
- Pierre Naville ,who following Trotsky’s instructions had booted out Molinier early on. Their paper La Vérité and La Lutte de classes which became Lutte ouvrière (no real link to modern group of the same name), the organ of the Parti ouvrier internationaliste (POI, créé en 1935 which (follow this closely) the official section of the Quatrième Internationale. U A part of this group became involved in the Parti socialiste ouvrier et paysan (PSOP) of Marceau Pivert, until unceremoniously booted out for Trotskyist factionalism.
- Yvan Craipeau, Fred Zeller (a leader of the Jeunesses socialistes who had created a Trotskyist faction in the Socialist Party, (the SFIO) until also booted out for factionalism, and Jean Rous créent les Jeunesses socialistes révolutionnaires around the paper Révolution.
Zeller’s Témoin du siècle (2000) outlines some of their disagreements. Perhaps it is most revealing on how the Trotskyists behaved after the ‘french turn’ which saw them joining the French Socialists, the SFIO.
Zeller describes their activists lecturing people on the First Congresses of the Third International and Trotsky’s line on the Chinese Revolution. Not surprisingly not everybody was impressed with these no doubt kindly meant lectures. They were kicked out of the party of Léon Blum after, amongst other things, a sustained campaign to build workers’ militias. For Trotsky the “La révolution française a commencé” with the wave of strikes that accompanied the election in 1936 of the Front Populaire you understand (Trotsky, Ou Va La France 1934 – 8, particularly the section on the ” milice ouvrière ” in Socialisme et lutte armée.)
In his Mémoire d’un dinosaure trotskiste (1999) Yvan Craipeau describes the various positions Trotsky took on French politics,, from ‘entryism’ in the SFIO as the bolchevik-léniniste tendency, to efforts to influence Marceau Pivert’s “Gauche révolutionnaire” both while it remained in the Socialist party, and later (see above) when it was the independent Parti socialiste ouvrier et paysan (PSOP). founded in 1938. Pivert memorably replied to Trotsky about their efforts at hectoring instruction, that his party members “are accustomed to making up their own minds ” and that they “put themselves loyally to the school of hard facts” – not Trotsky’s international prognostics.
Trotsky replied by, behind his back, describing Pivert (as described by Zeller) as a false revolutionary in the mould of a provincial school teacher.
The entire history is of bitterness and great complexity (one I am familiar with in case anybody wants a Trainspotter lesson…). People wishing the investigate further should begin with these two books and look at this Wikipedia entries: Trotskisme en France. French Trotskyists.
But all this ill-will was a mere foreshadowing of the later splits in the Trotskyist movement.
To jump from those years: the key issues in the 1954 split included entryism (which Pablo advocated inside the mass Communist parties and well as social democracy) and this,
Pablo’s elevation of the “objective process” to “the sole determining factor” reducing the subjective factor (the consciousness and organization of the vanguard party) to irrelevance, the discussion of “several centuries” of “transition” (later characterized by Pablo’s opponents as “centuries of deformed workers states”) and the suggestion that revolutionary leadership might be provided by the Stalinist parties rather than the Fourth International—the whole analytic structure of Pabloist revisionism emerged. The Genesis of Pabloism.
Pablo indeed took seriously the prospect of a Third World war. In these conditions he backed, and enforce, this entryist strategy known as ” entrism sui generis ” inside (where possible) Stalinist Communist parties, and just about everything that moved on the social democratic left. This meant not just concealing membership of the Trotskyist movement, even to the point of point-bank denial of any link. Famously as the text above states he considered that it might take decades of such underground work for their efforts to bear fruit.
Apart from its inherent implausibility the prospect of ‘centuries’ of clandestine burrowing away seemed to consign the Trotskyists to the fate of the Marranos, ‘converted’ Jews who ostensibly submitted to Catholicism but practised their faith in secret.
The strategy had little impact in the Communist parties – in contrast to long-term and independently initiated entryism in the British Labour Party by Trotskyists (the secretive and bureaucratic ‘Militant’ group) who were distant from his Fourth International.
After winning support for these policies, and even a degree of power over the International, helped by the departure of Healey, Lambert and Canon (cited above) Rapitis by the end of the same decade plunged into a new cause: anti-colonialism and the ‘Arab Revolution’. He lost control of the Fourth International to Ernest Mandel and Pierre Frank. He retired from it in the mid-sixties.
Romance about epochs of hidden revolutionary labour aside, the idea of working within the French Parti communiste français (PCF) was, even at the time, in view of the party’s top-down structure and intolerant culture, ill-thought out and profoundly misjudged. It was equally parasitic on the success of the party being ‘entered’ (as indeed the experience of the Labour Party indicates).
Nevertheless French Trotskyism emerged more openly on the 60s political scene when a group of young Communist students, led by Alain Krivine, founded the independent Jeunesse communiste révolutionnaire in 1966. (1) Pablo did however put heart and soul in supporting the anti-colonial struggle in Algeria (a fight in which Krivine was also engaged) and was imprisoned for gun running to the independence fighters. He had a brief period of influence in the post-independence (5th of July 1962) Front de Libération Nationale, (FLN) notably on the leader Ben Bella (1916 – 2012) promoting the ideas of self-management. The Houari Boumédiènne, 1965 military coup put paid to that. (2)
The later politics of Pablo’s the Tendance marxiste-révolutionnaire internationale (TMRI), and its French affiliate, the Alliance marxiste révolutionnaire (AMR) centred around the primacy of self-management. They embraced the project of a ‘self-managed’ republic, took up themes such as feminism (in the mid-sixties), supported anti-colonial revolutions (without neglecting as their consequences unravelled, the necessary critique of ‘anti-imperialist’ national bourgeoisies), and defended democratic politics against Stalinism and orthodox Trotskyism. Pablo’s writings translated into English include a collection of his articles (Michel Raptis, Socialism, Democracy & Self-Management: Political Essays 1980 and his first-hand studies of workers’ control during the Allende government in Chile (Revolution and Counter Revolution in Chile by Michael Raptis. 1975) – another experience cut short by a bloody military coup.
In the 1970s its members joined the Parti Socialiste Unifié, a French New Left party with over 30,000 members, hundreds of councillors during the late 60s and early 1970s and 4 MPs in 1967. Later the AMR was involved in other left alliances, all within the traditions of workers’ self-management and New Left causes, participative democracy feminism, gay rights, green issues. By the 1980s the TNR, operated on a collegiate rather than a ‘Leader’ basis (and numbered outstanding figures such as Maurice Najman). It helped keep alive the ideas of workers’ control during the political triumph of neoliberalism. I was close to them in the 1980s (and attended one of their World Congress, the 8th) as a member of the Fédération pour une gauche alternative where we worked with the PSU in its final years.
Movements, that place ecological issues within the context of popular control, talk of new forms of democracy, owe something to those in the PSU and other New Left groups of the sixties and seventies across Europe. The TMRI was part of these currents, less and less concerned with building a revolutionary ‘party’ than with the interests of the movements themselves. (3) It could be said to have been a practical answer to the critique of Trotskyism offered by Claude Lefort of the group, Socialisme ou Barbarie in the 1950s. Lefort once asked, why, without the kind of material basis of a Stalinist state or even a trade union administration, did all Trotskyist groups reproduce the bureaucratic forms of these apparatuses?One response is, yes, “liquidationism”, being part of the wider movement and not a self-styled ‘vanguard’.
Pabloism’s legacy continues. It is one of many influences inside the French ‘alternatifs’, left social- republicanism, and the (left-wing of) the Front de Gauche (Ensemble) and more widely in the European and Latin American left.
Although a small number of ‘Pabloites’ re-joined the ‘Mandelite’ Fourth International (already moving away from Trotskyist ‘orthodoxy) in the 1990s most evolved away from ‘Trotskyism’ towards broader forms of democratic socialism and New Left radicalism. Some even became part of the French Greens (at the time known as Les Verts), while most, as indicated, merged into the broader left.
As the political landscape has radically changed since the fall of Official Communism and the entrenchment of neo-liberal economists and social policies in most of the world those associated with this current have been involved in a variety of left parties and campaigns. Pablo’s anti-colonialism hardly meets the challenges we face today. But the democratic strand of workers’ self-management remains perhaps, a strand which retains its relevance in the emerging ideas and policies of the left, including within the Labour Party..
Unlike ‘entryism’ and dogmatic Trotskyism….
(1)One of the best accounts of this and Krivine’s background is in Hervé Hamon, Patrick Rotman, Génération, les années de rêve, Paris, Seuil, 1987. For 68 itself: Patrick Rotman et Hervé Hamon, Génération, T.2 Les années de poudre, Paris, Le Seuil, 1988,
(2)The best biographical introduction to Michel Raptis: on the Lubitz Trotskyanet – here
(3) A reliable sketch of the French affiliate of the TMRI, the AMR, is available here: Bref aperçu de l’histoire du courant “pabliste” ses suites et sespériphéries en France 1965-1996. A journal from this tradition is Utopie Critique.
Back to the Beginning…..
We were always too incompetent and self-obsessed to do damage. The real threat comes from the Gramscian legions of the dull
“My main aim as a university revolutionary at York was (I now confess) to do down the rival International Marxist Group…The difference was emphasised by the names of our newspapers — ours was Socialist Worker, theirs was Red Mole. Our contest once led us both to seek recruits at the Kit Kat factory, where they distributed (I am not making this up) a special publication called The Chocolate Mole. “
Hitchens sternly warns,
And so the real revolution in the Labour party, which most of Fleet Street has never understood, was inflicted not by Trotskyists, but by the legions of the dull — Eurocommunists who realised Bolshevism was obsolete, quietly captured think tanks and policy committees, and used the apolitical figure of Tony Blair as the front for a Gramscian cultural, constitutional, educational and sexual revolution, whose greatest triumph was to capture the Tory party as well as the Labour party.
Hitchens may be right. Hhis brand of illiberalism (and sovereigntism, a trait he shared with many an erstwhile leftist, here across the Continent), “embracing equality and diversity, the unmarried family, globalism and open borders,” may risk disturbing “thousands of great cattle, reposed beneath the shadow of the British oak, (who) chew the cud and are silent.”
.Whether there was a Gramscian struggle for hegemony that resulted in the defeat of his traditionalists remains to be seen.
One recent event may indicate that these forces have not won…er Europe…..er…Referendum.
One would have thought Hitchens would have embraced the anti-European Leave campaign, and, perhaps in an ecumenical spirit, found himself glad to be on the same side as the his former comrades in the SWP, not to mention the Militant – Socialist Party in England and Wales, rallying, like UKIP and the Tory Right to defend “our” land against the Globe. He should surely be bathing in the joys of victory.
Thatcherite Gillingham is Top Author on Verso ‘internationalist’ reading list on EU.
Verso books, the publishing wing of New Left Review, has”put together an essential reading list of books that critically engage with the debate from a perspective of internationalism.”
At the top of the pile of books is this:
The EU: An Obituary — John Gillingham
In this pithy, rigorously argued book, leading historian John Gillingham examines a once great notion that soured long ago. From its postwar origins through the Single Market and to the troubles of the present, Gillingham explains how Europe’s would-be government became a force for anti-democratic centralization and inept policy-making. The EU: An Obituary is an urgent call to the political Left, Right, and Center (sic) to set things right before it is too late.
The Guardian review of the book by Christopher Kissane is headed
The Thatcherite historian argues that the EU is defunct, a relic of the postwar decades. But would an unfettered Europe be a better place?
Euroscepticism creates some strange bedfellows. Many rightwing nationalists view the EU as a Trojan horse of unstoppable multiculturalism. Some on the left see its focus on the single market as institutionalised “neoliberalism” and austerity. And some “neoliberals” such as Gillingham see it as a relic of the postwar decades that binds free markets in red tape. Gillingham is not a typical author for the radical-left publishing house Verso – presumably at least one commissioning editor there has Eurosceptic leanings. From all sorts of angles, the EU seems to be the sick man of Europe.
This is Gillingham’s prognostic,
Only a fool would venture to predict how the official institutions of Europe will become unglued, unravel, fall apart, or simply evaporate into thin air. The list of possible scenarios is innumerable. A reasonable guess would be, however, that Brexit will trigger the process of decomposition and reconfiguration. If past events can serve as a guide to the British referendum planned for 23 June, the tide will shift in favour of the anti-EU cause.
Only a fool…..
Recent polls have swung decisively in favour of the Leave campaign. Behind this shift in sentiment is a reality of awesome significance: Cameron’s promise of a better deal for Britain has little meaning in respect to an EU in disarray, which is untrustworthy, falling behind economically, and unable or unwilling to deliver on its commitments. At the rock-bottom level, moreover, a sovereign national political system, like Britain’s, based on the supremacy of parliament, is incompatible with the existence of a supranational entity, whose leadership remains – in spite of everything – unwavering in its determination to create a European state.
“Gillingham is University of Missouri Board of Curators Professor at University of Missouri and was Professor of History there until 2007. He has authored books on European integration, heavy industry in the Third Reich and the economy of Belgium under Nazi occupation. Gillingham is listed in Marquess’s Who’s Who in America and has received numerous awards and recognitions.”
Meanwhile back on the left, away from Verso and the (formerly) ‘New Left’ Review.
In a mix of left-wing political perspectives, Labour’s Shadow Chancellor joined former Greek finance minister Yanis Varoufakis, Green Party MP Caroline Lucas, Labour MP Clive Lewis and journalist Owen Jones, among others, to make their case for remaining in, but overhauling the current European Union.
They were speaking at a rally called Vote In – Another Europe is Possible, at London’s Institute of Education on Saturday.
Mr McDonnell told the gathering that there is a movement across Europe to respond to the challenge of democratically transforming the EU, and also attacked the Tories for dragging the referendum debate “into the gutter”.
He said: “We have the opportunity to regroup the referendum debate away from Tory Brexit and into a debate on a democratic Europe.
“A Europe that is not just possible but is urgently and vitally needed – where we can say yes, we are proud of being British, but we are also proud of the European future we have created.”
He also lambasted the Tories and said the EU referendum debate on the right is “disfiguring political discourse” and causing people to become “tired of the ranting hysteria”.
“(Boris) Johnson’s comparisons of the EU to the Third Reich and (David) Cameron’s claims of impending World War Three, they just beggar belief,” he said.
“We cannot let the right drag this debate into the intellectual gutter.”
He said it is the job of those on the left, and the progressives, to now “step in and save the debate”.
The Labour MP for Hayes and Harlington also said the problems faced by the UK are transnational problems with transnational solutions.
“How can we turn a blind eye to the City of London effectively acting like a funnel to offshore tax havens for the taxes of transnational corporations and super rich?” he said.
“Public funding is not just needed in this country but right the way across Europe,” he added.
“We know that if we clamp down here, the tax evaders will avoid us and will move elsewhere.
“That’s why European agreements are necessary and which form the basis for global agreements to track down and confront tax evasion and avoidance.
The Another Europe is Possible tour started at the UCL Institute of Education in central London on Saturday. Momentum, the Labour-supporting network, also joined Corbyn in launching a platform called Your Referendum to boost grassroots campaigning for remain.
A vote by Momentum’s national committee, a poll of Momentum’s supporters and a YouGov poll of Corbyn-supporting Labour members have all overwhelmingly backed remain.
Momentum said Your Referendum was inspired by the US presidential candidate Bernie Sanders’ campaigning methods of providing tools for volunteer-led organising.
In a statement, the group said: “Your Referendum is Momentum’s effort to take the toxic Brexit debate out of Westminster and the TV studios and into our communities, with the hope of reaching leftwing and younger voters, who polls say are less likely to turn out although they tend to support remain.”
The national organiser for Momentum, James Schneider, said: “Through the Your Referendum platform and the activities of local Momentum groups, we hope to encourage more activism, engage more people actively in the EU debate, and mobilise the harder to reach young or leftwing voters, who are turned off by Stronger In’s defence of the status quo.”
Other rallies as part of the tour will involve trade unionists and the Labour MP Clive Lewis at cities including Bristol, Birmingham, Sheffield and Manchester.
Critical Notes on ‘New Left Oppositions’. Susan Watkins. Editorial. New Left Review. Second Series No 98. March/April 2016.
“Respectful of NATO, anti-austerity, pro-public investment and (more guardedly) ownership, sceptical of ‘free trade’: as a first approximation, we might them new, small, weak social democracies.”
The Editorial of New Left Review (NLR – accessible here), devoted to “left oppositions”, and “new lefts” offers a sketch of the common background of some very diverse political phenomena. With a mixture of gloom and wishful thinking Watkins outlines the legacy of the late 90’s “late-90s alter-globo movements” “wrong-footed by the harsher international climate of the war on terror”. But, she then turns to how European anger at the handling of the economic crisis, the collapse of the centre-left, Third Way, parties, and a “blowback” against Western intervention, street protests, such as Spain’s Indignados have, she observes, been followed by the arrival of new forces on the electoral stage.
It is with little surprise that we learn that the NLR list of the contemporary ‘left oppositions’ includes Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership win in the Labour Party, the Spanish Podemos, and Jean-Luc Mélenchon’s Parti de Gauche (PdG). The US is also affected, as Bernie Sanders’s strong challenge inside the Democratic Party indicates. More surprising is the inclusion of Beppe Grillo’s Movimento Cinque Stelle, which Watkins admits, not everybody considers on the ‘left’. Events and elections, she continues, have not only brought these forces to prominence, in the ballot box, Parliaments and amongst citizens, they have given rise to new “national political projects”.
A common trait, the Editorial observes, of these political green shoots, is the rise of ‘charismatic’ leaders, from Pablo Iglesias, Corbyn, Mélenchon, to Grillo. Exactly what the ‘authority’ given by this ‘gift of grace’ is, and how these personalities carry it out, is not explored. Grillo is notoriously the entrepreneur of his own ‘post-modern’ far from immaterial party-business. Iglesias heads up, to his numerous critics, a vertical pyramid party-structure He indulges himself in ‘populist’ efforts to lead the people ‘beyond’ left and right.
Mélenchon: électron libre.
Jean-Luc Mélenchon won 11.10% in the 2012 first round of the French Presidential election. He leads a ‘party’, the Parti de gauche (PdG) founded in 2009 with other former members of the Parti Socialiste. It remains stuck in the mould of a Parti Socialiste ‘club’, a tendency (at its height well below 10,000 members) centred on a ‘chief’. Its inability to develop has been caused less by the absence of popular protests, the electoral system or “laïciste horror of the headscarf” thwarting its appeal to the ‘banlieue’, than his abrasive personality, which has created a crop of internal divisions to boot. Mélenchon, his many ill-wishers allege, has a vision of himself as a Man of Destiny, with populist and nationalist ambitions far beyond a “sovereign, alter-globalist, multi-polar defence force”.
Inside the Front de gauche (FdG), which allies the PdG with a number of left groups in an electoral bloc, it is not only the Communists of the Parti Communiste Français (PCF,138,000 members) but leftists from Ensemble (2,500), who have found it impossible to work with this électron libre (1). Sensing little support the leader of the PdG spurned the idea of presenting himself before the Front’s supporters and the wider left in ‘primaries’ to select a Presidential candidate. Mélenchon has effectively ditched the PdG for a supporters’ network. He is running for President in 2017 with an on-line based team, with some success in the opinion polls. Nevertheless this venture into political cyberspace has had considerably less of an echo in the Nuit Debout ‘mouvance’ (too heterogeneous to call a movement), which is showing signs of both intellectual renewal in a multiplicity of directions and splintering. The CGT led workers’ spearhead of the wider national campaign against the “El Khomri” labour laws and the wider weekly strikes and marches have largely passed Mélenchon by.
Labour’s leader is, by contrast, a Parliamentary chief with a tiny group of MP supporters, and a mass party with a democratic membership structure and large trade union input. If he won the leadership ballot by a landslide, in a campaign of public meetings which created a “dynamic of their own”, Momentum, Watkins solemnly informs us, is a “somewhat diluted version of the 1980s Labour left”, an “organised adversary” of the ‘Blairite faction, Progress. Few perhaps will recall a mass membership 1980s Labour Left, or of any comparable “parallel structure” to dilute from. Fewer still will remember the Labour Party since George Lansbury (Labour leader from 1932 – 35) headed by anybody who had anything resembling Corbyn’s background in the 1980s/1990s London Labour Left.
Corbyn, like Sanders, is, we learn, “squarely within the social-democratic tradition” – which fortunately covers everything from Eduard Bernstein, Karl Kautsky, Jean Jaurès, to Harold Wilson. In short, the Editorial dispenses with the customary term, democratic socialism, by which a majority of Corbyn supporters, and Mélenchon’s, would identify in opposition to the compromised ideas that contributed to the policies of the Blair and Brown governments. Are there signs that instead after the ‘retreat from social democracy’ there may be a renewal in a very different directions taking place. Watkins calls the combination of anti-austerity programmes, and scepticism about free trade – not mentioning the defence of social and workers’ rights, the fights for a publicly owned public administration and services – and a failure to confront head-on NATO (on what, Syria?) “weak”.
We might then ask: what exactly is the ‘non-social democratic left’? If Grillo, instead of new forms of democratic socialism, is part of the answer, then what kind politics is that?
Readers will no doubt remain on tenterhooks waiting for the latest radical left model to emerge. In the interim the constraints, self-created or inherited, within which these lefts operate are ignored. Are the furiously hostile forces deployed against them, visible every moment in the British media to be ignored? Watkins casts cautious compromise to the winds. She smiles at Grillo’s no-nonsense Vaffanculo(s), scowls at the French Communists’ local electoral deals to retain control of their remaining municipal bastions (what is the threat of the Marine Le Pen or Nicolas Sarkozy to her?), soundly admonishes Corbyn for his “embrace of the discredited Blair-Brown Labour right” and offers Iglesias advice on a tactical abstention, allowing a possible future PSOE-Ciudadanos government coalition “a chance to demonstrate that it cannot work”.
As we have indicated Watkins offers the skimpiest, and often misleading, outline of the party structures and personalities which support the new left “projects” she attempts to grapple with. Oppositions equally fails to investigate the underlying problem thrown up by the more radical movements that appear to remain her benchmark. That is, their inability to develop more than general declarations within the ‘anti’ globalisation protest, that would make them more than a protest against the subsequent Western interventions and security clamp-downs. If Podemos may be able to show that the PSOE cannot work, what indicates that their alternative can? While we are waiting, the proliferation of an identity politics and culture of the ‘populist’ or sovereigntist right, which this Sunday came within a hair’s breath of winning the Austrian presidency, indicates the need for ideas and strategies capable of understanding and confronting nationalism and xenophobia now. (2)
Shocks and Turncoats.
It is on this issue that Oppositions is most wanting. The thought that calls a position on the EU referendum vote a “tactical” decision allows only a Leave or abstention as “left” options. The hope that a Leave vote would be a “salutary shock “ to the “trans-Atlantic oligopoly” and a Conservative Party in “disarray” is gratuitous irresponsibility. The nationalist and xenophobic Carnival of Reaction of the debates on the EU is paraded every-day. A Brexit win would bring not just Tory division but the politics of the most reactionary people in the country to power.
The Editorial is deeply insulting to the majority of the left, the democratic socialist left, who support staying in the EU not just out of self-protection against our most forthright and dangerous class and political enemies, but as an arena where common cause can be made with our comrades across the continent. That is, a place of hope and co-operation not of austerity and repression. To top it all, Oppositions attacks all of us through its words against the much-liked Owen Jones. The author of Chavs “turned his coat” for changing his mind, very publicly and very honestly explaining why, and backing Remain with the campaign Another Europe is Possible. The Editorial’s language in this instance is, not to mince words, despicable.
(1) Mélenchon candidat à la présidentielle : il tourne le dos à l’histoire de la gauche. Philippe Marlière. February 2016
(2) These two weaknesses were signalled by the critic of their French expressions, Phlippe Raynaud in L’extrême gauche plurielle. Tempus. 2006. Whatever one’s views on his generally hostile analysis, these points are if anything more relevant today than a decade ago.
Then raise the workers’ bomb on high,
Beneath its cloud we’ll gladly die,
For though it sends us all to hell,
It kills the ruling class as well.
The Workers’ Bomb.
(See: Posadist Paul Memes.)
Paul Mason is at the centre of new controversies, about his left politics, and about his support for nuclear weapons.
This is what he says about the former. (Paul Mason Blog).
As to Mr Osborne’s claim that I am “revolutionary Marxist” it is completely inaccurate. I am radical social democrat who favours the creation of a peer-to-peer sector (co-ops, open source etc) alongside the market and the state, as part of a long transition to a post-capitalist economy. There’s a comprehensive critique of Bolshevism in my latest book, Postcapitalism: A Guide to Our Future.
Paul Mason was, we are informed, a member of the groupuscule, Workers Power, now better known amongst the masses for its ‘revolutionary’ Labour Party journal Red Flag.
Paul Mason’s book PostCapitalism: A Guide to Our Future (2015) uses many Marxist concepts (echoing Ernest Mandel on Kondratiev waves as in Long waves of capitalist development: the Marxist interpretation. 1980). This is the idea that capitalist development and crises, innovation and stagnation, are long-term cycles (we are on the downward one at present).
The core of PostCapitalism is a reflection, often interesting, on “immaterial”labour, and the development of postcapitalism, a form of social order and economics, within capitalism itself, fostered by the (apparent) central role of information in the economy, civil society, and the state. His key concept is “networks v hierarchies”. This is a belief that that there is an inherent desire for a “beyond” capitalism in the search for human autonomy, although since he does not appear to have read Castoriadis or the current inspire by his works he would not use this term. He asserts, however clear tendencies in the direction of the current of thought that began with the 1950s/early 60s review Socialisme ou Barbarie, and now has an influence on radical European ecologists”Eventually, work becomes voluntary, basic commodities and public services are free and economic management becomes primarily an issue of energy and resources, not capital and labour.” It is important to note that in this objective everybody (as the Castoriadists would say) has an ‘interest’ in the ‘project’ – farewell then to the central agency of the working class and labour movement. (1)
That Mason has drawn on rather more radical politics and ideology than ‘radical social democratic’ ideas in the distant past (2011/12) can be seen in the book that preceded PostCapitalism. His Why It’s Kicking off Everywhere, The New Global Revolutions, uses the ‘autonomist’ idea of the ‘multitude’ – rather than just everybody – amongst other terms, to express the growth of resistance to the existing state of affairs. The multitude is the many against the few, Empire, or, in ‘populist’ form, the ‘elite’.
“the political theory that influenced the events of 2009-11” was Autonomism. They “had theorised very clearly the idea of a struggle between the ‘general intellect’, the suppressed human being and capitalist legal norms.” One can see that this offers at least one vehicle to express opposition to economic policies, to inequality, to lack of power. The ability to share and form new agencies of opposition has been made stronger by a technological and social order that needs instant, unrestricted, communication.
To Mason there are signs of the “emancipated human being” emerging “spontaneously from within the breakdown of the old order”. The illumination of the multitude can be seen in the “act of taking a space and forming a community” – from Tahrir Square to Wall Street. This showed “the deployment of digital communications at work, in social life, and now in the forms of protest.” But in the tradition Mason refers to, there are more sceptical strands. Capital and the state can colonise such “smooth spaces” (democratic and equal areas) and make them “striated” (integrated into established exploitation and power) is less obvious (A Thousand Plateaus. Gilles Deleuze. Félix Guattari. 2003)
This is the theoretical background:
These theorists considered that globalisation and ‘Empire’ (its political-economic inter-tangling) were creating a new ‘nomadic’ (Félix Guattari) form of resistance: the “multitude”. (Multitude. Michael Hardt, Antonio Negri 2004) Negri, Hardt and others from the ‘autonomist’ tradition considered that in contemporary capitalism, the “general intellect” and ‘immaterial labour” (production and communication by the manipulation of symbols) were centre stage. Paulo Virno described post-Fordism as a “communism of capital”, “A communality of generalised intellect without material equality.” (A Grammar of the Multitude. 2004.)
For Hardt and Negri a general figure, made up of “all the diverse forms of social production”, emerges. This the multitude. It is “an open and expansive network in which all differences can be expressed freely and equally, a network that provides the means of encounter so that we can work and live in common.” It is a “living alternative” to the domination of Capital and Empire – the entangled economic, “biopolitical” and sovereign rule of Nations. This ‘network’ is the future paradigm for revolutionary change, its imprint flourishes everywhere, its future open.
Negri and Hardt observed examples of this operating, in the anti-globalisation campaigns of the 1990s, and early new century. Such resistance showed up most famously in the Mexican Zapatistas, and, travelling down to a region where revolts never died down, in the rest of Latin America. For John Holloway, building on several decades of similar work, there was a world-wide “Scream of refusal” of people refusing to accept Capital and the State (Crack Capitalism. 2010).
Negri also talked of how the proletariat was enlarged, giving it “productive functions that were once typical of the middle class” (Goodbye Mr Socialism. 2008). May 68 was only the “first revolt of the post-Fordist and cognitive proletariat” against global capitalism. Europe was not resigned to the rule of business. 1996 saw France explode in nation-wide union-led strikes and protests against neo-liberal public reforms that brought down Alain Juppé’s Cabinet (though not the President). Many at the time saw that as defining set back for neo-liberalism. Negri enlarged the field of class conflict to the “precariat”, the partially employed and often unemployed, and saw this as a social factor behind the 2006 “local insurgencies” in the French banlieues.
No doubt Mason has changed the distant time of 2012, when it must be underlined that these ideas circulated in a rich broth of concepts, emotions, and reports. For the present it is indeed hard to see how his more recent belief (in Postcapitalism) that the pro-business Scottish Nationalist party, dedicated to looking after its “ain folk” or claim that the populist leader centred (Pablo Iglesias) and hierarchically organised Podemos represents a ‘network’.
Mason’s views on the Bomb are now the centre of interest, not all of it of the most serious quality.
This is his call:
Vote for renewal of a Trident-capable force of four submarines, while retaining the right move from CASD to a CASD-capable submarine force, subject to parliamentary approval. At the same time, if the Scottish government votes to scrap Trident, Labour should advocate the removal of the base from Faslane to a base in England.
Labour cannot un-invent its unilateralist wing, and it must listen to those who took to the streets calling for it to scrap Trident. Having listened, it must offer them something more important: a Labour party ready to rule; a government ready to break the cycle of failed expeditionary wars; which can fight terrorism effectively and stabilise NATO’s relationship with Russia in Europe.
To do this Labour needs more than just a position on Trident. It needs a defence doctrine.
- a conventional force designed around Britain’s NATO mission in Europe, to deter potential Russian aggression and to facilitate the major powers of Western Europe taking charge of stabilising the region, rather than having to jump to the demands of immature democracies of Eastern Europe.
- an enhanced anti-terror capability pre-authorised to operate on British soil in the face of a Mumbai-style attack, and whose surveillance and intelligence operations come under increased democratic scrutiny.
Since neither Mason nor the Tendance are defence experts, or indeed have views of any depth on these topics, we leave it to others to comment.
Meanwhile we intend to have a good laugh.
(1) Recent books on this which are worth reading include: Manuel Cervera-Marzal, Eric Fabri (dir.), Autonomie ou Barbarie. La démocratie radicale de Cornelius Castoriadis et ses défis contemporains, éditions du Passager clandestin, 2015. Cornelius Castoriadis et Claude Lefort : L’expérience démocratique 2015. François Dosse, Castoriadis, une vie, La Découverte, 2014. Cornelius Castoriadis ou l’autonomie radicale Broché – 23 avril 2014
Staff T-Shirt in Craft-Beer and Quinoa Hoxton Bistro.
This recently appeared: Badiou Studies Volume Four, Number One. Ontology, Neutrality and the Strive for (non)Being Benedetta Tripodi. Universitatea Alexandru Ioan Cuza, Iasi, Romania.
Unfortunately, as this just published piece explains, Un « philosophe français » label rouge. Relecture tripodienne d’Alain Badiou, the article is a pastiche and satire – albeit with serious intent.
Which reminds us of this: the Sokal Affair.
The Sokal affair, also called the Sokal hoax, was a publishing hoax perpetrated by Alan Sokal, a physics professor at New York University and University College London. In 1996, Sokal submitted an article to Social Text, an academic journal of postmodern cultural studies. The submission was an experiment to test the journal’s intellectual rigor and, specifically, to investigate whether “a leading North American journal of cultural studies – whose editorial collective includes such luminaries as Fredric Jameson and Andrew Ross – [would] publish an article liberally salted with nonsense if (a) it sounded good and (b) it flattered the editors’ ideological preconceptions”.
The article, “Transgressing the Boundaries: Towards a Transformative Hermeneutics of Quantum Gravity“, was published in the Social Text spring/summer 1996 “Science Wars” issue. It proposed that quantum gravity is a social and linguistic construct. At that time, the journal did not practice academic peer review and it did not submit the article for outside expert review by a physicist. On the day of its publication in May 1996, Sokal revealed in Lingua Franca that the article was a hoax, identifying it as “a pastiche of left-wing cant, fawning references, grandiose quotations, and outright nonsense … structured around the silliest quotations [by postmodernist academics] he could find about mathematics and physics.
Last autumn the ‘peer reviewed’ academic journal Badiou Studies called for papers for a special issue, “towards a queer badiouian feminism “.
The merry pair, Anouk Barberousse & Philippe Huneman, sent their text off and it was accepted.
We hear that the learned Badiou Studies has just now rumbled the prank.
Badiou is, as they observe, highly regarded not just in France (where he is at the pinnacle of a certain academic establishment, while being cordially loathed by those in different camps) but in the world of Cultural Studies, Film Studies, White Studies, Heritage Studies, Postcolonial Studies and one could add Verso books who publish his ponderings. Terry Eagleton has called him The Greatest Philosopher since Plato and St Ignatius of Loyola” – the latter no doubt not without a ring of a certain ‘truth regime’.
Badiou is also known for his ‘Maoist’ past, his support for the Khmer Rouge, and the bullying of other leftist and academics by his 1970’s groupusucle the Union des communistes de France marxiste-léniniste (UCFml).
He remains unwavering in his glorification of the Chinese Cultural Revolution. This apparently is one of the Events that demonstrate the Truth of the Communist Idea to which he remains faithful.
As Barberousse and Huneman remark, most of Badiou’s admirers like his politics – his ‘Communist Hypothesis’ – while grasping little or nothing of his metaphysics (“Badiousiens « politiques » se satisfont de savoir que cette métaphysique est profonde, mais ils n’y comprennent rien.”)
Their approach is the following,
Aussi incroyablement irritantes que puissent être certaines des postures d’Alain Badiou, entre mégalomanie et violence verbale réminiscence des plus belles heures de feu la gauche prolétarienne, c’est sa place et son aura intellectuelles qu’il s’agit de déconstruire ici. Nous n’avons pas tant voulu produire une argumentation à charge, qu’une illustration par l’absurde de certaines failles dans son système de positions comme dans l’engagement de ses sectateurs.
As unbelievably irritating as certain of Alain Badiou’s posturings may be, between megalomania and a verbal violence which recalls the incandescence of the glory days of the gauche prolétarienne (French ultra-Maoist group of the early 1970s), its his position and intellectual aura which we aimed to deconstruct. We did not want to produce a charge-sheet but show by illustration the absurdity of certain weak points in his system and seize them with a pair of secateurs.
Pour clarifier le projet Tripodi, il faut tout d’abord décrire en
They contest what is in effect a legitimation of philosophy by an abstract ontology (une légitimation pour la métaphysique du philosophe). Or to be more clearly, the idea that you can produce a rational picture of the world by intellectual fiat while concealing the many difficulties it involves.
The parody is designed to undermine the foundations on which the ontology of the ‘Master’ rests, its use to determine how social relations work, how radical politics can be based, and, apart from anything else, is highly amusing.
The ‘paper’ Ontology, Neutrality and the Strive for (non)Being begins:
As established by Badiou in Being and Event , mathematics – as set theory – is the ultimate ontology. Sets are what gender in g processes by reactionary institutions intend to hold, in contradiction to the status of the multiplicities proper to each subject qua subject. This tension between subjectivity and gender comes to the fore through the lens of the ‘count as ‘one’, the onto logical operator identified by Badiou as the fluid mediator between set belonging and set existence. After having specified these ontological preliminaries, this paper will show that the genuine subject of feminism is the “many” that is negatively referred to through the “count as one” posited by the gendering of “the” woman. Maintaining the openness of this “many” is an interweaving philosophical endeavour. It is also a political task for any theory receptive to the oppressive load proper to the institutions of sexuation, as deployed through modern capitalism that is, any queer theory. In its second step, the paper will therefore expose the adequacy of the Badiousian ontology to provide theoretical resources for articulating the field of a genuine queer nomination. It will finally appear that “non gender” structurally corresponds in the field of a post capitalist politics of the body to what Francois Laruelle (1984) designated as non philosophie within the field of metaphysics.
This is priceless.
“To sum up, non-gender cannot but only be thought of, by a radical philosophical gesture, as a supplement of this philosophy itself. As such a supplement, non gender hasto be where philosophy is not meant to be, even when it shows instead of saying(according to the well known Wittgensteinian distinction) or, shows through its non saying that this situation is a non situation, or, in Badiousian words, that we have the situation of a condition that is a non condition.”
What matters to this truth is a faithfulness to the “many” that was unnamed but arising in the event of feminism. It is the faithfulness to the Impensé of the gendering institutions proper to late capitalism – in other words, a faithfulness to the (non) gender (Bersanti 1987; Magnus 2006). Here, we reach the limits of what philosophy – conceived of in Badiousian terms, as exposing the conditions of an authentic event of truth through the subjectification of a subject– can frame, or, more generally, can utter.
The suggestion that Jacobin was about the publish an interview with Benedetta Tripodi has been denied.
Caesar of the French Left?
France’s Socialist President François Hollande, and his Prime Minister Manuel Valls continue to try to grapple the results of last December’s regional Elections.
In the first round the Front National (FN) came first, with 27.73% of the vote, the right, Union de la droite, 26,65%, and the Parti Socialiste (PS) led Union de la gauche, 23,12%. The Greens, Europe Écologie-Les Verts (ELEV) and the Front de gauche (FdG), totaled 9,57%, a figure which hides deep divisions between ecologists who stood on joint lists the FdG, and those who stood on their own, often with the clear intention of aligning with the Socialists come what may.
Opinion polls indicate that the far-right’s Presidential candidate, Marine Le Pen, for the 2017 elections, remains popular enough for a possible second round contest between her party and the right. That conservative wing, Les Républicains (LR), has yet to decide its own candidate. A contest in a “primary” between former President Nicolas Sarkozy (today again embroiled in the legal process over the finances for his 2012 bid for re-election), Alain Juppé, and François Copé, has brought out divisions over Sarkozy’s efforts to appeal to the FN’s electorate by calling for a clamp down on immigration and respect for France’s “Christian roots”. Many simply do not want another term of Sarkozy in office. At present Juppé appears favoured by LR supporters (Le Monde. 16.2.15).
Last week’s Cabinet reshuffle – in the hands of the President – can also be seen as a response to the FN’s popularity. Socialist Prime Minister, Manuel Valls has faced opposition to the State of Emergency and plans to deprive those convicted of terrorist offences of French nationality. 92 deputies in the National Assembly voted against the latter measure, including many from the PS. Inside the governing party, the ‘frondeurs’, those opposed to their own party’s direction, from the liberalisation of labour laws, to the post November Paris massacre clamp-down, are not present in the new government. Nor is the moderate left, with the doubtful exception of former PM Jan-Marc Ayrault, now Foreign Minister.
Greens on verge of Disintegration.
The most striking aspect of the new Cabinet is the entry of three ecologists, including the EELV’s national secretary, Emmanuelle Cosse. The Green Party had left the government with the appointment of Valls – one of the few French politicians to admire Tony Blair and the ‘Third Way’ – in 2014. Without consulting their colleagues the new Ministers negotiated their individual return. They obtained as a reward the promise of a local referendum on the controversial project to build an airport at Notre-Dame –des-Landes. A Poll indicated that three quarters of French electors are unhappy with the make up of the new government, including 50% of the Greens. 59% considered the entry of the ecologists in the Cabinet was a bad thing. 80% were not convinced by François Hollande’s intervention announcing the changes. (le Point).
The Greens, already suffering from disputes over local alliances with the FdG in the regional contest, the halving of their vote in those elections, are now split again. Inside the EELV opponents of this move have not hesitated to talk of the new Ministers’ “treason”. (Le Monde 13.2.15) The June national party Congress promises to be stormy, with the organisation fragmenting.
The viability of sustaining an independent Green Party in France is now in doubt. Their electorate, described as BoBo – bourgeois-bohemian – with much of its base in Fair Trade buying, ecological sensitive, socially liberal, sections of the urban middle classes, crosses over with the PS’s. It is suggested that the Socialists will attempt to capture what they can of the EELV and, in line with long-standing practice with small groups in its periphery, reduce it to a satellite of the party. The evolution of the overtly ‘social liberal’ German Die Grünen appears probable for the section of the ELEV that is now prepared to co-operate with the market friendly Valls. Without, it must be said, much of the liberalism – as indicated by the resignation of the human rights defender, Justice Minister Christiane Taubira. Those who worked with the FdG in the Regional elecitons may well feel that they want a more clearly independent left-wing party.
To the left of the Socialists the Front de gauche (FdG) is also in trouble. Less than brilliant results in November have not prevented Jean-Luc Mélenchon from announcing, off his own back, his Presidential candidacy. He hopes to repeat, if not better, his score as candidate in 2012 when he obtained 11% of the vote. But with time pressing he had no time for the difficult negotiations for the wider left backing that marked that campaign. Like the EELV Ministers he did not consult his partners in that left Bloc. Mélenchon states that now he does not need the permission of any party to stand.
The Parti Communiste Français (PCF) was swift to point out this lack of consultation. (Jean-Luc Mélenchon prend un raccourci vers l’élection présidentielle. L’Humanité.12.2.15). It bypassed their attempts to organise a « primary » of all the left to select a Presidential challenger. Support for this idea, opposed equally by Fançois Hollande, has drawn fierce criticism from PM Valls. He dismisses critics of his government’s multiple failures – unable to reduce unemployment – the refusal to accept more than 30,000 Syrian refugees, and legitimate concerns about civil liberties that do not come from those who could be accused of complacency towards Islamist Reaction – as the views of the « irreconcilable » left unable to represent the « general interest » (Manuel Valls trace une frontière à l’intérieur d’une gauche «irréconciliable» Libération. 16.2.15)
The other relatively significant section of the FdG, Ensemble, (an alliance of the radical left, including Trotskyists and self-management red/green tendencies) does not wish to burn the bridges with Mélenchon and calls for a new political vehicle for the left. Its spokesperson, Clémentine Autain, observes that this act has « buried » the Front de gauche. This view is shared by the former comrades of many Ensemble members, the Nouveau Parti anti-capitaliste (NPA), who, no doubt in great sadness, saw it as the end for this left alliance. (Front de Gauche : Fin de l’histoire en 2017. Sandra Demarq. 10.2.15.)
This decision to act “outside of the structure of parties” was reached on the basis of what can only be called unbridled ambition. Mélenchon is the leader of a small party, the Parti de gauche (PG) of a few thousand members, little more than a political ‘club’ of ‘friends’ of a faction chief, of a type well known inside his former home, the PS. French comrades do not describe their self-importance with warmth. The PCF has over 120,000 card-carriers, a real union base, and, perhaps more significantly, the votes of those elected officials needed for a Presidential nomination. It might not please our British or other European left friends, but the PCF is a serious force on the French left with a decent left-wing programme, which in contrast to its UK counterpart, stands for a social Europe and, in recent years, has taken action, for democratic and social rights.
Jean-Luc Mélenchon as Saviour?
Philippe Marlière, a former Mélenchon supporter, describes his political evolution as “La chevènementisation de Jean-Luc Mélenchon » (Medipart. 15.2.15.) Marlière refers to the 1970s leader of the PS left, Jean-Pierre Chevènement, who has made the journey from Marxist inflected plans for workers’ control and a nationalised economy, to his present ” republican” defence of French national sovereignty. His article, which has received wide coverage, talks of the PdG chief’s windy generalisations, his ‘self-parody’ in the role of a lone fighter. Mélenchon has become a “souverainiste autoritaire ” out to defend the citizens of France from their domestic and foreign foes.
Instead of a left of ” social transformation”, or of class struggle, the leader of the PG, as Caesar, has taken to addressing the French People. Mélenchon’s denounces the political ‘caste’ (echoing Podemos). He claims that the source of national problems lies in European Treaties. The campaign calls for a “citizen revolution” to create a New Republic. On this basis he built up a fan base amongst Internauts (40,000 supporters on his site) and the campaign (here) claims over 200 local groups of supporters. Polls give him over 10% favourable opinions. But…we shall see. The Inrocks (16.2.15.) comments that the Mélenchon launch on Monday, filled with histrionic rhetoric, bore comparison with the 2012 campaign. It illustrated Marx’s comments on the repetition of history, first as Tragedy, Second time as Farce.
From the Socialists to the FdG, to this Populist splash, the French Left looks as if it will be unable to win in 2017.
In the next article the Tendance will turn to the roots of the failures of the French radical left, from the FdG to the Nouveau parti anticapitaliste, passing by the great bust up in the ‘Lambertist’ current.