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A Million Member Party. New Socialist. A Review.

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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…….

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(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.

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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)

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(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.

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‘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.

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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

Anther US Leftist Backs “pro-working class and anti-imperialist” Marine Le Pen – James Petras.

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Petras, now Backs “Pro-working class and anti-imperialist” Marine Le Pen.

The political confusion created by the entry of ‘Sovereigntist’ language and ideas into the left has not stopped echoing across the world.

Tendance Coatesy has sketched some of the origins of this confusion in France itself, where after the refusal of some on the left to join the Republican Front against the far right,  the latest addition to the ‘anti-anti’ Le Pen camp includes the ‘sovereigntist’ Emmanuel Todd – admired by British Guardian liberals  for his book length rant against Charlie Hebdo.

Todd who voted Jean-Luc Mélenchon in the first round, though was tempted to support the far right, Nicolas Dupont-Aignan, now says that he will abstain on Sunday’s run off.

He refuses to “submit” to servitude. That is, to a Power system run by remote control by financial nu financial inspecteurs, top civil servants and the bankers, all gripped by a spirit of total submission to Germany. (“un système de pouvoir téléguidé par les inspecteurs des finances, la haute administration et le système bancaire dans un état d’esprit de soumission absolue à l’Allemagne. France Soir).

No prizes for  guessing which banker Todd has in mind.

A handful of US leftists far far outdo this.

They are explicit admirers of Le Pen.

After the notorious Diana Johnstone spoke up for Marine Le Pen’s  ‘left wing’ politics on the ‘left-wing’ site CounterpunchJames Petras, has joined the ranks.

The academic, professor of Sociology, active in many leftist causes,  begins an article published on the 1st of May, Twenty Truths about Marine Le Pen,  with this,

Every day in unimaginable ways, prominent leaders from the left and the right, from bankers to Parisian intellectuals, are fabricating stories and pushing slogans that denigrate presidential candidate Marine Le Pen. They obfuscate her program, substituting the label ‘extremist’ for her pro-working class and anti-imperialist commitment. Fear and envy over the fact that a new leader heads a popular movement has seeped into Emmanuel “Manny” Macron’s champagne-soaked dinner parties.

We learn this,

Macron has been an investment banker serving the Rothschild and Cie Banque oligarchy, which profited from speculation and the pillage of the public treasury. Macron served in President Hollande’s Economy Ministry, in charge of ‘Industry and Digital Affairs’ from 2014 through 2016. This was when the ‘Socialist’ Hollande imposed a pro-business agenda, which included a 40 billion-euro tax cut for the rich.

And this,

Le Pen is above all a ‘sovereigntist’: ‘France First’. Her fight is against the Brussels oligarchs and for the restoration of sovereignty to the French people. There is an infinite irony in labeling the fight against imperial political power as ‘hard right’. It is insulting to debase popular demands for domestic democratic power over basic economic policies, fiscal spending, incomes and prices policies, budgets and deficits as ‘extremist and far right’.

And indeed this,

Despite the trends among the French masses against the oligarchs, academics, intellectuals and political journalists have aped the elite’s slander against Le Pen because they will not antagonize the prestigious media and their administrators in the universities. They will not acknowledge the profound changes that have occurred within the National Front under Marine Le Pen. They are masters of the ‘double discourse’ – speaking from the left while working with the right. They confuse the lesser evil with the greater evil.

Ending on a lachrymose note the former leftist, states,

If Le Pen loses this election, Macron will impose his program and ignite popular fury. Marine will make an even stronger candidate in the next election… if the French oligarchs’ judiciary does not imprison her for the crime of defending sovereignty and social justice.

It is only because some people think that rhetoric against “elites”and “global finance”, not to mention “globalisation”, and for national sovereignty and ‘independence’ that anybody could describe the Front National, which is economically pro-business, pro-French national interests, normally on the left described as “imperialist”, laced with vicious cultural nationalism, also normally called racist, that anybody could call them “left-wing”.

Perhaps this is what he means by the  FN’s ‘anti-imperialism’…

t comes as no surprise to learn that Petras has this on his shoulders.

Allegations of antisemitism

In a 2006 article entitled “9/11 Anti-Semitic Conspiracy Theories Still Abound,” the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) criticized Petras’s assertion that there was evidence that Israelis may have known about the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks but withheld the information from the United States government. The ADL also noted Petras’ assertion that “The lack of any public statement concerning Israel’s possible knowledge of 9/11 is indicative of the vast, ubiquitous and aggressive nature of its powerful diaspora supporters.”[12][13]

In a 2009 article, the ADL again criticized Petras, alleging that he blamed the ongoing economic crisis on “Zionist” control over the U.S. government and world events, and alleged that Petras argued that pro-Israel Americans had launched a massive campaign to push the U.S. into a war with Iran. The ADL also alleged that Petras’ allegations included the antisemitic accusation that the American Jewish community controls the mass media and is “bloodthirsty” in its appetite for war.[14] The previous year, Petras alleged that “It was the massive infusion of financial contributions that allowed the [Zionist Power Configuration] (ZPC) to vastly expand the number of full-time functionaries, influence peddlers and electoral contributors that magnified their power – especially in promoting US Middle East wars, lopsided free trade agreements (in favor of Israel) and unquestioned backing of Israeli aggression against Lebanon, Syria and Palestine…No economic recovery is possible now or in the foreseeable future…while Zionist power brokers dictate US Mideast policies.[15][16]

The ADL also cited a 2008 interview in which Petras stated that [U.S.] presidents are at the disposal of “Jewish power” [17] and maintained that Jews represent “the greatest threat to world peace and humanity.”[18] In the same 2008 interview cited by the ADL, Petras stated that “it’s one of the great tragedies that we have a minority that represents less than 2% of North American’s population but has such power in the communications media” and that the reason “why the North American public doesn’t react against the manipulations of this minority…[is] because the Jews control the communications media.”[19] In an 2010 article published in the Arab American News, Petras stated that “For the U.S. mass media the problem is not Israeli state terror, but how to manipulate and disarm the outrage of the international community. To that end the entire Zionist power configuration has a reliable ally in the Zionized Obama White House and U.S. Congress.”

Written by Andrew Coates

May 3, 2017 at 12:33 pm

‘People’s Brexit’ Faced with Disaster.

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“There is a blind refusal to see that a people’s Brexit provides a genuine opportunity for workers to gain confidence, challenge a weak and divided Tory government and elect a left-wing Labour government empowered to see through its socialist commitments.”

Enrico Tortolano and Ragesh Khakhria: Trade Unionists Against the EU.

Emergency Demonstration:

This Monday, 13 March, the Commons will vote on a Labour amendment to the Article 50 bill to guarantee the right of EU citizens to remain in the UK.

The Tories will use any excuse to scapegoat migrants to divide communities and deflect from their own damaging policies. This is a choice between a society for the few who will use the current crisis to justify their position and a society for the many which recognises the vital and important contributions migrants make to the country. Whether we want to remain in the EU or not, we demand the right to remain and freedom of movement for everybody.  

We must show our support as this important issue goes back to the Commons. Join the emergency demonstration at Parliament from 5.30pm on Monday evening.

The government must guarantee the rights of EU nationals to remain in the UK.

People’s Assembly.

In the latest New Left Review Perry Anderson discusses President Trump.

He includes these comments on ‘populism’ in Europe and the Brexit vote.

In the Old World, the principal reason why populism of the right typically outpaces populism of the left is widespread fear of immigration; and the principal reason why this has not carried it to power is greater fear of economic retribution if the euro—detested as an instrument of austerity and loss of sovereignty though it may be—were not just denounced, as it is by populisms of the right and left alike, but actually discarded. In the UK alone, though nowhere near forming a government, a populism of the right did achieve, in the referendum on British membership of the EU, a score exceeding even Trump’s.

The victory of Brexit, Trump announced from the start, was an inspiration for his own battle in the US. What light does it throw on the unexpected outcome of the election in 2016? Fear of mass immigration was whipped up relentlessly by the Leave campaign, as elsewhere in Europe. But in Britain too, xenophobia on its own is by no means enough to outweigh fear of economic meltdown. If the referendum on the EU had just been a contest between these two fears, as the political establishment sought to make it, Remain would have no doubt won by a handsome margin, as it did in the referendum on Scottish independence in 2014.

Over-determining the contest, however, were three further factors.

After Maastricht, the British political class declined the straitjacket of the euro, only to pursue a native brand of neo-liberalism more drastic than any on the continent: first, the financialized hubris of New Labour, plunging Britain into banking crisis before any other country of Europe, then a Conservative-Liberal administration of a draconian austerity without any endogenous equal in the EU. Economically, the results of this combination stand alone. No other European country has been so dramatically polarized by region, between a bubble-enclosed, high-income metropolis in London and the south-east, and an impoverished, deindustrialized north and north-east: zones where voters could feel they had little to lose in voting for Leave, a more abstract prospect than ditching the euro, come what may to the City and foreign investment. Fear counted for less than despair.

The result?

Under the largely interchangeable Labour and Conservative regimes of the neo-liberal period, voters at the bottom end of the income pyramid deserted the polls in droves. But suddenly granted, for once, the chance of a real choice in a national referendum, they returned to them in force, voter participation in depressed regions jumping overnight, delivering their verdict on desolations of both. At the same time, no less important in the result, came the historical difference separating Britain from the continent. The country was not only for centuries an empire dwarfing any European rival, but one that unlike France, Germany, Italy or most of the rest of the continent, never suffered defeat, invasion or occupation in either World War. So expropriation of local powers by a bureaucracy in Belgium was bound to grate more severely than elsewhere: why should a state that twice saw off the might of Berlin submit to petty meddling from Luxemburg or Brussels? Issues of identity could more readily trump issues of interest than in any other part of the EU. So the normal formula—fear of economic retribution outweighs fear of alien immigration—failed to function as elsewhere, bent out of shape by a combination of economic despair and national amour-propre.

Perry Anderson. Passing the Baton. New Left Review. 103. 2017.

Put slightly differently, hatred of foreigners, it was the memory, and the real trace, of imperial grandeur, government cuts and people pissing themselves with loathing of  ‘Brussels’ that fueled the Leave Vote.

I will leave it to supporters of the erudite Anderson to explain how exactly “endogenous austerity”, a feeling of having “nothing to lose”, led to the vote to Leave, without the first and last (both ‘foreign’)  factors condensing into the far from ‘floating signifier’ of Brussels. That was, apparently, crystallised in a “real choice” in the ballot box, though to do what it far from clear.

Oddly comrade Anderson makes no mention of his own, far from brief, writings on how loathsome the Belgium based EU administration is, the architect of a ‘Neo-Hayekian’ neo-liberal order, its prebends and hangers-on, “more opaque than the Byzantine, the European Union continues to baffle observers and participants alike.”

Or indeed that,

The EU is now widely seen for what it has become: an oligarchic structure, riddled with corruption, built on a denial of any sort of popular sovereignty, enforcing a bitter economic regime of privilege for the few and duress for the many.

Perry Anderson. The Greek Debacle. 27.3.15.

It might appear that the focus of the “populism of the right”, against this structure, is, in Anderson’s judgement, justified.

Which leads us to ask: did Anderson back the  vote to  Leave?

And what would be his recipe for regaining control from the ‘oligarchs’ (not a term which he defines, let alone relates to anything resembling Marxist concepts of class and power blocs).

There is little doubt that the ‘left’ Brexiters, the ‘Lexiters’,  agreed with Anderson’s description of the EU ‘oligarchy’ and many were more than forthright in affirming their own ideas of how to restore “popular sovereignty”, in not sovereignty tout court.

One wing drew their own sense of ‘amour-propre’.

The ‘workers’, apparently, free of the neo-liberal EU, would, as Trade Unions Against the EU asserted, “gain confidence” and …through challenges, “elect a left wing Labour Government”… now no doubt able to exercise a fuller ‘sovereignty’.

But first they have to get there….

For the Socialist Party, “anger felt by millions of working class people at the decimation of their living standards, jobs and services has searched for an outlet, and over many years there hasn’t been a mass socialist alternative to channel it.  The Socialist Party predicted that the EU referendum would be used by many as a weapon against the Tory government.”

Only give the Socialist Party the arms and they’ll finish the job…..

Others on the People’s Brexit side unchained their wild hopes on  upsetting of the EU capitalist apple-cart without a clue about anything more than the immediate effect of Leave.

For some these dreams were, briefly, realised.

As the Editor of Anderson’s New Left Review, Susan Watkins, put it, ” Critics of the neoliberal order have no reason to regret these knocks to it, against which the entire global establishment—Obama to Abe, Merkel to Modi, Juncker to Xi—has inveighed.

Or as Tariq Ali put it finely, he was pleased, “that the majority of British voters gave the EU “a big kick in its backside.”

This has not happened.

Trump came, neo-liberalism is mutating into new, capitalist, potentially protectionist, forms, xenophobia got worse, and Labour is not, let’s be tactful, in a position to offer a new Socialist government.

The ruling Tory party has been strengthened, homegrown austerity has got worse,  and few would say that the cost of Brexit is going to be small, for workers who are part of ‘globalised’ cricuits, the ‘left behind’ and all who rely on public services.

Although Lord Islington Ali’s bubble may be as happy as he is at their spiteful gesture, many people on the left, who cherish the internationalist ideals of a  Social Europe  are decidedly not.

Brexit Now.

For those who give advice to the political class the reality of Brexit is about to hit hard:

No more baggy rhetoric about sovereignty and “taking back control”. From now on, those who got us into this situation have to show they can get us out intact by March 2019.

Brexit is about to get real. Yet we are nowhere near ready for it

 From those who give advice to the left:

There was a strong xenophobic and reactionary current in the Leave vote, but also a more politically ambiguous desire to give two fingers to Britain’s ruling elite. The most sensible course for the British left is to try and build bridges between those who opposed Brexit and those who voted for it without embracing the full platform of UKIP, the Tory right, and the Daily Mail.

Neither Washington Nor Brussels. Daniel Finn.

It is generous of Finn to advocate hands across the divide, and the People’s Assembly (that is, the pro-Brexit groupuscule, Counterfire), to follow this up at a grassroots level by calling for people to join with them to protest against the consequences of their Leave vote.

But for many of us, not least the young people who voted to Remain (75% of 18- to 24-year-olds),  and who find it beyond bizarre that any ‘left’ force could back turning the UK into a free-market rat-hole led by those intent on sucking up to Mr Brexit, President Trump, it is hard to see why we should support the tattred remnants of the People’s Brexit.

No amount of symbolical protests is going to change this.

Just to give a flavour…

Both the Lexit Left and the Corbynista Left are arguing that socialists should ‘respect’ the Brexit vote. This argument is false. It is a betrayal of every migrant worker whose status has been threatened by the vote. And it is a massive concession to the racist discourse for which Brexit is now the primary framework.

..

Brexit is being implemented by a hard-right Tory regime that offers permanent austerity, decaying public services, grotesque greed at the top, and mounting poverty and despair at the base. And the clinch-point – in relation to Brexit – is immigration control. May is peddling hard racism as cover for hard austerity.

The EU offers four freedoms of movement – of investment, goods, services, and people. The first three need not concern us because investment, goods, and services are controlled by capital, not us. The key issue at stake for working people is the right of free movement.

Left Unity.  Brexit, Democracy, and Oppression. Neil Faulkner

As Neil says,

“We do not ‘respect’ the vote: we denounce it and we shout our denunciation from the rooftops.”

Left Socialist Revolutionaries Win Backing in Leftist Poll on 1917.

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Socialist Revolutionary Party.

There is a popular  quiz, circulated at the moment on Facebook,  on “Who are you in 1917 Russia? Take our test, “Political Compass of the Revolution,” to find out who you would have been 100 years ago – an Anarchist, a Cadet, a Right SR, a Bolshevik or a member of the Black Hundreds.”

No doubt important international leaders of the proletariat, like Tariq Ali, Alex Callinicos, Lindsey Germain and John Rees, would have found that would have been key advisers of the Bolsheviks, commanders of the Red Army and People’s Commissars.

But many people, and not the least, have found that they would have been Left Socialist Revolutionaries.

This is odd, I’d have expected to turn out a Internationalist  Menshevik.

Or this:

But like many I got, Left SR…..

The SR’s, of all stripes, were in favour of continuing the war.

Apart from that many of their policies were not at all bad.

Notably,

At the 5th All-Russia Congress of Soviets of July 4, 1918 the Left Socialist-Revolutionaries had 352 delegates compared to 745 Bolsheviks out of 1132 total. The Left SRs raised disagreements on the suppression of rival parties, the death penalty, and mainly, the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk.

Then there was this:

The Left SR uprising or Left SR revolt was an uprising against the Bolsheviks by the Left Socialist Revolutionary Party in July 1918. The uprising started on 6 July 1918 and was claimed to be intended to restart the war with Germany. It was one of a number of left-wing uprisings against the Bolsheviks that took place during the Russian Civil War.

But are there more details on who the left SRs were?

LibCom has this interesting article: Literature and the Left Socialist-Revolutionaries.

Revolutionary organizations in Russia in 1917-1921.

At the peak of the political influence the number of organization members were approaching 200 thousands. The Left SRs supported the autonomy of the workers’ councils and the federal structure of the country. They criticized Bolshevik Party for the establishment of the dictatorship.

A very sad fact is that when people talk about the poets and the writers of Russia who accepted and supported Russian Revolution, they immediately associate them with Bolshevism. But supporting Russian revolution and supporting Bolshevism is two different things.

For example, the poet Yesenin was a member of the PLSR and sympathized with Makhno. Yevgeny Zamyatin is an author of the novel “We”, written in 1920. This book is one of the great anti-utopias of the 20th century, along with the works of George Orwell. Zamyatin was subjected to repression in the Soviet Union because of this book. In this novel anti-state rebels are fighting for the “fourth revolution”, which aims to liberate people from the power of the totalitarian state: an allusion to the concept of the “third revolution”, anti-totalitarian anti-Bolshevik Revolution of the Left Socialist Revolutionaries and anarchists.

In 1919, Zamyatin, along with many well-known artists (Block, Remizov, Ivanov-Razumnik) was arrested during the Left SRs strikes in the factories of Petersburg. The Left SRs were not peaceful legal strikers: their struggle was not limited to economic demands, they fought for free elections to the councils and wanted the elimination of the violent political monopoly of the Bolsheviks. Strikes were carried out by radical methods: factory’s Left SRs militia used weapons. While all of these cultural figures were not related directly to the performances of the Petersburg workers, they had a direct link with the Left SRs.

Since 1916, an informal group of “Scythians” began to form around the famous writer Ivanov-Razumnik, which gravitated toward the left wing of the Socialist Revolutionaries. It included Andrey Beliy, Alexander Blok, Klyuev, Lundberg, Forsh etc. In the years 1919-1924 in Russia the Free Philosophical Association, WOLFILA, was patronized by the Left SRs. It worked even with a wider circle of writers, artists, social thinkers. Some of them cooperated in the newspapers published by the Left Socialist-Revolutionaries, “The Banner of Labour” and the magazine “Our Way”.

Of course, we can not say that they were all standing on party positions, although, for example, Ivanov-Razumnik was a member of the Central Committee of PLSR. But all of them in one way or another sympathized with the revolutionary-socialism LSR based on the ideas of self-government and individual freedom. Aleksandr Blok’s poem “Scythians” is a great anthem of the Russian revolution, which is nothing else than a poetic statement of Left SRs program.

If the concept of “revolution” is ever to be cleaned from the USSR flavour, then, perhaps, the work of poets, writers, scientists, philosophers of the Scythians and WOLFILA would become closer and more understandable to many people.

P.S. Important role in the discovery of the influence of the Left SRs on Russian literature belongs to the modern historian Yaroslav Leontiev.

Alexander Blok. The Scythians

Millions are you – and hosts, yea hosts, are we,
And we shall fight if war you want, take heed.
Yes, we are Scythians – leafs of the Asian tree,
Our slanted eyes are bright aglow with greed.Ages for you, for us the briefest space,
We raised the shield up as your humble lieges
To shelter you, the European race
From the Mongolians’ savage raid and sieges.Ages, yea ages, did your forges’ thunder
Drown even avalanches’ roar.
Quakes rent Messina and Lisbon asunder –
To you this was a distant tale – no more.

Eastwards you cast your eyes for many hundred years,
Greedy for our precious stones and ore,
And longing for the time when with a leer
You’d yell an order and the guns would roar.

This time is now. Woe beats its wings
And every adds more humiliation
Until the day arrives which brings
An end to placid life in utter spoliation.

You, the old world, now rushing to perdition,
Yet strolling languidly to lethal brinks,
Yours is the ancient Oedipean mission
To seek to solve the riddles of a sphinx.

The sphinx is Russia, sad and yet elated,
Stained with dark blood, with grief prostrate,
For you with longing she has looked and waited,
Replete with ardent love and ardent hate.

Yet how will ever you perceive
That, as we love, as lovingly we yearn,
Our love is neither comfort nor relief
But like a fire will destroy and burn.

We love cold figures’ hot illumination,
The gift of supernatural vision,
We like the Gallic wit’s mordant sensation
And dark Teutonic indecision.

We know it all: in Paris hell’s dark street,
In Venice bright and sunlit colonnades,
The lemon blossoms’ scent so heavy, yet so sweet,
And in Cologne a shadowy arcade.

We love the flavour and the smell of meat,
The slaughterhouses’ pungent reek.
Why blame us then if in the heat
Of our embrace your bones begin to creak.

We saddle horses wild and shy,
As in the fields so playfully they swerve.
Though they be stubborn, yet we press their thigh
Until they willingly and meekly serve.

Join us! From horror and from strife
Turn to the peace of our embrace.
There is still time. Keep in its sheath your knife.
Comrades, we will be brothers to your race.

Say no – and we are none the worse.
We, too, can utter pledges that are vain.
But ages, ages will you bear the curse
Of our sons’ distant offspring racked with pain.

Our forests’ dark depths shall we open wide
To you, the men of Europe’s comely race,
And unmoved shall we stand aside,
An ugly grin on our Asian face.

Advance, advance to Ural’s crest,
We offer you a battleground so neat
Where your machines of steel in serried ranks abreast
With the Mongolian savage horde will meet.

But we shall keep aloof from strife,
No longer be your shield from hostile arrow,
We shall just watch the mortal strife
With our slanting eyes so cold and narrow.

Unmoved shall we remain when Hunnish forces
The corpses’ pockets rake for plunder,
Set town afire, to altars tie their horses,
Burn our white brothers’ bodies torn asunder.

To the old world goes out our last appeal:
To work and peace invite our warming fires.
Come to our hearth, join our festive meal.
Called by the strings of our Barbarian lyres.

30 January 1918