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Miguel Abensour. 1939 – 2017. Radical Left ‘Insurgent Democracy”.

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Miguel Abensour. 1939 – 2017.

The radical left-wing political philosopher Miguel Abensour passed away on April the 22nd. From a Jewish family, and a childhood spent hidden from the Vichy regime in the countryside, Abensour began to teach political science in 1962. The young teacher, who had early discovered the division between “friends” and “enemies”, remained haunted not only by the experience of Nazism, but also by Stalinism. (1)

The Algerian war of independence and de Gaulle’s Fifth Republic saw the young university teacher’s involvement in the anti-bureaucratic and anti-capitalist left. Abensour’s ideas were influenced by Castoriadis and the review Socialisme ou Barbarie (1949 – 1967) During the sixties he was as founder of Utopie, whose other best known figure was Jean Baudrillard. The title of the journal could stand for a life-long interest in utopian thought, from Thomas More, William Morris, Walter Benjamin the anthropologist Pierre Clastres who speculated on societies without states, to Ernst Bloch and the Frankfurt School. He admired Hannah Arendt, her critique of totalitarianism, the destruction of pluralism, and her writing on the “hidden treasure” of the direct democracy of the workers’ councils. Unlike those, who in the wake of François Furet’s Penser la Révolution française (1978) saw in all radical revolutions the germs of totalitarian tyranny, he continued to defend a Marxist inflected “insurgent democracy”.

Tributes to Abensour have described his contributions to other journals, such as the 1970s anti-totalitarian Textures (to which Castoriadis and Claude Lefort contributed), and his publishing work in the collection, Critique de la politique.

La Démocratie contre l’État

Abensour’s La Démocratie contre l’État (2004) remains his most significant contribution to the independent critical left. Subtitled Marx et le moment machiavélien it is a reflection on Marx and Machiavelli. The work is informed by J.C.A Pocok’s account of how the Florentine’s idea of political Virtue might impose on Fortune and the form of the republic and Fortune, with sociology of liberty (The Machiavellian Moment. 1975). In the discussion of Marx Claude Lefort’s reading of Machiavelli come to the fore. For Lefort the description of the class divisions in Italian city-states, perennial conflicts, a refusal to be commanded or to be oppressed, were the foundation of liberty (Le Travail de l’oeuvre Machiavel. 1972/1986).

But Lefort, Abensour observed, had not stayed there. The former Socialisme ou Barbarie member’s defence of “démocratie sauvage”, heterogeneous movements for human rights, fights for legal rights in the sense also advanced by E.P.Thompson. After the 1970s vogue for ‘anti-totalitarianism’ in France Lefort had moved further into considering that “democratic revolution” could be focused around the “lieu vide” of power, the acceptance that there is a way of institutionalising contestation, pluralism, in a political place that remains “empty. That is, unoccupied by individuals, forces or ideas that impose a single social order. In other words, democratic societies are grounded on the acceptance of division. By contrast Abensour defended Marx. Against the charge that he wished to end this ambiguity in a society of total transparency and harmony. Marx did not imagine a return to ancient republicanism, a world of public lives under constant surveillance and ‘unity’. Insurgent democracy fuelled by such as sense of class conflict, closer to the spirit of anarchy, the “withering away of the state”, not only refuses totalitarianism, but also the structures of the state. Abensour thus rediscovered the possibility of radically new “espaces d’invention, d’évasion” – disorder that Lefort had turned away from. (2)

At a time when National Sovereignty is brandished by those who wish to occupy the space of democratic power, when the ‘federated’ People replaces for Class, and some would wish to claim the ‘independence’ of the Nation against the ‘Elites’ and ‘Oligarchs’, Abensour’s insurgent democracy stands as a rebuke to the narrow goals of populism, right or left. Yet perhaps there is some virtue in keeping the reins of power out of the hands of a single General Will. Those on the British left, now offering to fight to the last French person against Le Pen and Macron, might also reflect on those, like Michael Abensour, who have had more fecund dreams of a utopian future without domination and Sovereignty. He deserves to be as widely read as possible.

(1) Les guerres d’Abensour.

(2) Page 184. La Démocratie contre l’État le Felin. 2004


Written by Andrew Coates

April 28, 2017 at 11:45 am

André Gorz. Une Vie. Willy Gianinazzi. Review.

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André Gorz. Une Vie. Willy Gianinazzi. La Découverte. 2016.

Over the last few weeks Socialist Party contender for the Presidential ‘primaries’, Benoît Hamon, has raised the idea of a “revenu universal d’existence’ (Basic Income) paid to all. Hearing this many people would have remembered the name of André Gorz. The Vienna born but France based journalist, social theorist, and green socialist activist, whose influence extended far beyond the francophone world, promoted this idea from the 1990s onwards. That is, “a guarantee of sufficient income, independent of the duration of labour (which can only decrease), and perhaps independent of work itself”. (1)

Hamon’s left-wing rival Arnaud Montebourg dismissed the idea as a social “cataplasme” (sticking plaster). The right-wing Manuel Valls It is an unrealistic recipe for a something-for-nothing society. Editorialists pointed to the costs and the seeming acceptance that France was fated to remain a society of high unemployment (le Monde 17.1.17). But the proposal, whose paternity was not directly acknowledged, illustrates how Gorz exploration into the changing economy, the world of work, and non-work, ecology, and social philosophy, remains a fruitful source of reflection about the development of capitalism.

Willy Gianinanzzi, a researcher in far left and labour movement history, has written the first biography of André Gorz (1923 – 2007). Closely tied to his subject’s concerns the book displays deep affection for its subject and a perceptive guide to his writings and ideas.

André Gorz was Vienna born, as Gerhart Horst, of an authoritarian Jewish father – said to have declared that he “nothing against Hitler except his anti-Semitism” – and a non-Jewish mother. He left for Switzerland in 1939 to avoid conscription in the National Socialist led army. His German validated Baccalaureate passed he studied chemistry at an Engineering school in French speaking Lausanne. Gorz opted, permanently, for the French language – even to the point, Gianinanzzi points out – of refusing to speak German until the last decades of his life.


Gorz developed an interest in Philosophy and writing, recounting his early experiences in fictional form in Le Traître (1958). Immediately after the War’s end, with a developing attraction to existentialism, in 1946 Gorz attended in Lausanne one of the many talks given by Simone de Beauvoir and Sartre. He became politically engaged in the pacifist and “minimalist” (world government) movement.

From this time on André Gorz, as he came to name himself, would pursue a career in journalism, closely bound to his political commitments. From the late 50 onwards Gorz wrote for a variety of magazine and journals that existed on the burgeoning French independent, ‘third worldist’ and new left. L’Express (opposed at the time to the Algerian war), France Observateur (forerunner of the Nouvel Observatuer), and was on the Editorial Board of Les Temps Modernes. From this point on Gorz mixed with, or at least met with, many of the central personalities in the 1960s radical left, from Marcuse to Cohn-Bendit as well as centre-left media figures like the editor of the Nouvel Obs’, Jean Daniel.

One of the most interesting sections of Une Vie (L’automation et la nouvelle classe ouvrière Chapter 7) is devoted to the early sixties debate over “neo-capitalism” and the “new working class”, terms associated with the sociologist Alain Touraine, and Serge Mallet. Gorz became a supporter of the idea that automation has transformed ‘Taylorism’ and ‘Fordism’. A new group of qualified workers, technicians, existed who were competent to take over running enterprises. With this social base, classical forms of trade unionism could be extended to demands for ‘autogestion” self-management. In this vein, a vision of realisable set of measures to create “economic sovereignty” as the foundation of democratic socialism, Gorz collaborated with the new left Parti Socialiste Unifié, and wrote Stratégie ouvrière et néocapitalism (1964) and Le Socialisme difficile (1967). Both of these books had an impact beyond the borders of the Hexagone.

Gorz became equally known in the English-speaking world, as translations appeared including sympathetic articles on Sartre. To Gorz the Critique de la Raison Dialectique made history intelligible and offered a picture of the “only true model of ‘voluntary co-operation’ …the fused group”. If this might be considered a paradigm of self-management Gorz was also engaged with the social barriers to such change set out Marx’s theory of ‘alienation. The view that capitalist “heteronomy” – the domination of technical reason external to people’s needs – remained an important part of Gorz’s writing throughout his life.

In the midst of the 68 events Gorz remained committed to “revolutionary transformation of the present society by means of a range of intermediary objectives. In 1972 he discovered ecology, and what Gianinazzi, calls “matérialisme naturaliste.” Gorz published in the French green journal, Le Sauvage and produced Écologie et liberté (1977). Scarcity, as Sartre indicated in his Critique was a natural limit to development. Concerns about the danger of upsetting natural conditions led Gorz to back the green campaign against nuclear power. Pursuing his support for self-management he, like Cornelius Castoriadis extended the principle to wider social autonomy. He became interested in the writings of Ivan Illich, not just on “de-schooling society” but on the ‘abolition of work’. Gianinazzi suggests that the reason for the failure for the two to meet and make common causes lay in an angry exchange in the left press (“la polémique oiseuse” Page 211). One doubts if the founder of Socialisme ou Barbarie would have accepted a debate on the foot of equality with a professional journalist, least of all one advocating “intermediary objectives”.

Farewell to the Working Class.

Gorz’s best-known book is Farewell to the Working Class (1981). A Facebook friend suggests that most people never get beyond the title of this interesting, if contentious, study. It did indeed attack the “cult” of the Worker. But its analysis of the evolution of work is perhaps best seen not in relation to Marx’s theory of the revolutionary potential of the proletariat but to the earlier hopes placed in the self-management capacities of the “new working class”. The end of the traditional socialist project of emancipating the working class, that is its positive capacity to challenge ‘heteronomy’, had, according to Gorz,  foundered in this class’s inability to master complex networked “post-industrial” production.

Next to the shirking privileged layer of skilled employees was a growing mass of unemployed and marginalised workers. “This non-class of ‘non-workers’ “has no transcendent mission, no unity beyond the experiences of those who compose it, no prophetic aura, no promise or capacity to reconcile the individual with the social, self and society. It is ‘the possible social subject of the struggle for work-sharing, generalized reduction of work time, gradual abolition of waged work’. In Critique of Economic Reason (1998) Gorz defined the autonomous sphere as the realm of non-commodity activities. (2)

Socialism became part of a wider movement against capitalist rationality. It was entwined with ecology as “Ecosocialism.” He joined with the “décroissance” movement to question the whole basis of economic growth. Yet his social concerns did not fade was. As  Gianinazzi illustrates Gorz dropped the hostility he showed to Basic Income in Farewell. In the 1980s he co-operated with Maurice Pagat, the ebullient and – some considered – eccentric founder of the Syndicat des chômeurs (union of the unemployed). He became part of the Basic Income European Network (BIEN). His last work concerned the impact of information technology, and his L’Immatérial. Conassiance, valeur et capital (2003). It was said to be close to the Italian ‘post-autonomist’ theorists Paulo Virno and Tony Negri’s reflections on the Grundrisse and the ‘general intellect.” (Pages 311 – 312).

Lettre à D.

Une Vie closes with a portrait of Gorz’s final days. The writer’s wife, Dorine, had suffered for many years from great pain. She would never recover her health. Writing in the sublime Lettre à D Gorz described their profound love (Love letter that sealed a death pact). They could not bear to live separated, still less would he wish to follow her hearse to the Crematorium. Faced with this suffering, they had decided to “depart” together.

In September 2007 the couple jointly left the world.

On the final pages  Gianinazzi asks us not to cover Gorz with adulation but to consider his works as materials to help create “une civilisation désirable de l’après capitalisme et l’après croissance” (post growth). That is the best testimony to the value of André Gorz that one could give.

André Gorz. Une Vie is highly recommended and will without doubt be translated swiftly.


(1) The New Agenda. André Gorz. New Left Review. 1990.1/81.
(2) Misreading Gorz. Finn Bowring. New Left Review 1/27/ 1996.

Badiou: Sokal Style Spoof (Canular) of Badiou Studies Hits Le Monde.

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Badiou: raves against ‘Machinations’ Behind Spoof of his Oeuvre. 

Alain Badiou et le réveil de la farce (1) was published over a full page in Le Monde des ideés yesterday (full article only available on-line to subscribers)

It explores the amusing – we are still laughing – hoax carried out on the prestigious Badiou Studies by two genial pranksters  Philippe Huneman and Anouk Barberousse (see:  Un « philosophe français » label rouge. Relecture tripodienne d’Alain Badiou).

Mediapart, reports Badiou being struck by  « l’ignorance totale de [son] œuvre que révèlent les manœuvres de deux ratés de la philosophie qui s’égarent dans leurs minuscules machinations » – the complete ignorance displayed in this work, which revealed the manoeuvres of two philosophical failures engaged in nanoscopic machinations.

The Le Monde article cites one reaction: that the jape was a way of avoiding a serious debate on Badiou’s august philosophy.

It would indeed be a mighty task to do so, but the parody was targeted at the respectful attention ‘cultural studies’ (as Le Monde puts it) gives to anything spread with enough of Badiou’s speculations.

We will simply ask: by what ‘truth procedure” can  anybody impose as a “grid” this ontology, as cited by the admirable Retraction Watch)?

Sets are what gendering 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 ontological 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.

Badiou is said to have originated his ideas in Althusser’s anti-humanism.

So, regardless of his later use of set-theory (rather than, say Athusser’s ‘Spinozist’ monist ontology of substance) it is “useful” (quotation marks) to ask in what sense is there a “theoretical practice” at work? What  raw material do Badiou and his acolytes employ? Or to put is more clearly: what are their ’empirical’ (more quotation marks) material – their data?

The underlying impression is that Badiou uses a picture of who the world is structured – the ground of existence – which comes from his own head. Assuming that he is not a new Pythagoras and sees numbers in stones and stars (and perhaps refuses to eat beans) one would like to know how this theory relates to the central aspect of Badiou’s politics: not the structures of Events (though we would like to know how their uniqueness is more unforeseeable hapexes, (that is wholly new occurrences, from apparently ‘nowhere’) that is Humean aetiology), but how set theory operates in history, and in the Idea.

Badiou’s “‘pure doctrine of the multiple” (with very obvious echoes of Mao-Tse-Tung’s writings on ‘Dialectics’) presents exactly the problems – that it can be simply imposed on material – that the parody of  Ontology, Neutrality and the Strive for (non) Being (Benedetta Tripodi) was designed to illustrate.

That is, a group of ideas that can be spread without any rigour or regard to reality, in an academic text which ‘consecrates’ the authority of the Master, Badiou.

In case anybody does not believe that  Badiou’s ideas are deeply problematic see the Wikipedia entry.

Badiou uses the axioms of Zermelo–Fraenkel set theory to identify the relationship of being to history, Nature, the State, and God. Most significantly this use means that (as with set theory) there is a strict prohibition on self-belonging; a set cannot contain or belong to itself. This results from the axiom of foundation – or the axiom of regularity – which enacts such a prohibition (cf. p. 190 in Being and Event).


These sets are, in line with constructible ontology, relative to one’s being-in-the-world and one’s being in language (where sets and concepts, such as the concept ‘humanity’, get their names). However, he continues, the dominations themselves are, whilst being relative concepts, not necessarily intrinsic to language and constructible thought; rather one can axiomatically define a domination – in the terms of mathematical ontology – as a set of conditions such that any condition outside the domination is dominated by at least one term inside the domination. One does not necessarily need to refer to constructible language to conceive of a ‘set of dominations’, which he refers to as the indiscernible set, or the generic set. It is therefore, he continues, possible to think beyond the strictures of the relativistic constructible universe of language, by a process Cohen calls forcing. And he concludes in following that while ontology can mark out a space for an inhabitant of the constructible situation to decide upon the indiscernible, it falls to the subject – about which the ontological situation cannot comment – to nominate this indiscernible, this generic point; and thus nominate, and give name to, the undecidable event. Badiou thereby marks out a philosophy by which to refute the apparent relativism or apoliticism in post-structuralist thought.

Let us jump from this can ask: how can we ‘decide upon the undecidable event’, tied by a kind of Sartrean commitment (fidelity)  to the supreme Events of Communism?  What indeed are the Events in question, their concrete structures which leave such deep traces that the furnish the material for his “hypotheses” – of Communism?

In the extremely clear dialogue in Que faire ? Dialogue sur le communisme, le capitalisme et l’avenir de la démocratie, d’Alain Badiou et Marcel Gauchet, (Philosophie Editions 2014) All the set theory, all the set of dominations, all the generic sets, fall away. Badiou simply repeats that, er well, the Revolution and specifically the Chinese Cultural Revolution (given or take some minor quibbles about this or that decision taken at the time), remains a fixed point of reference and hope for Communism.

Since many would strongly dispute that the Cultural Revolution was a Communist Event, the basis on which he elaborates his “communist hypothesis”.  That by contrast it was created by a faction fight between various  nationalist and Stalinist bureaucrats , and the highly dubious ‘communist’ Mao, Badiou has to answer on the terrain of History. As illustrated at length in the writings of  Pierre Ryckmans (28 September 1935 – 11 August 2014), who also used the pen-name Simon Leys, and who had an enormous effect on the European radical left in the 1970s, though apparently not on Badiou. (1)

A settling of accounts with that blood-stained History is something Badiou has never done.

All he can do is to repeat, when presented with these and other facts, is  that, “la démocratie, sous sa forme parlementaire, interdit tout changement d’ampleur ” – parliamentary democracy banishes all form of substantive change.”

Many leftists would not see the commands of the Great Helmsman as an alternative to democracy tout court.

Anouk Barberousse and  Philippe Huneman are therefore right to highlight the abstract absurdity of a system based on a system based on an ontological  system.

If anything they are too kind about Badiou’s groupuscule’s past.

The second comment in the article comes from le Monde’s  Julie Clarini. She asks whether the hoax is not part of a fight within the radical left (gauche radicale).

Indeed it is – here. Badiou decides on the ‘Event’ of the cultural revolution. His practice (which Wikipedia registers only in his ephemeral L’organisation politique) goes back to the subject of this Blog post below – not to mention the Tendance’s own political background as a Marxist and leftist opponent of the kind of ‘Maoism’ Badiou stood for.


(1) Laurent Joffrin, (Libération) with whom we do not always agree, probably almost never agree with,  makes this salient summary of this appalling position,

On se permettra donc de rappeler, sur le même ton de légèreté, que cet amusant «bond en avant», lancé par Mao pour mettre en œuvre son «hypothèse communiste», a déclenché l’une des plus terribles famines que la Chine ait jamais connues, pendant laquelle, sans doute pour se donner un air d’anticonformisme révolutionnaire, les familles affamées mangeaient des écorces, des rideaux ou des excréments et, dans certains cas, encore plus distrayants, mangeaient leurs jeunes enfants pour survivre. Au total, on estime que la politique de Mao à cette époque a causé la mort de plus de vingt millions de personnes, sur lesquelles on passera rapidement dans le souci de ne pas gâcher l’ambiance. Comme le dit Badiou en parlant de Mao et de son régime, «les caricatures sont tellement faciles».

Put briefly Laurent remarks that the jolly old Great Leap Forward alone resulted in intense suffering and countless millions of deaths.

 So here is a look at the ‘Marxist-Leninist’ past of Badiou:

Badiou: Deleuze, Guattari and the ‘fascisme de la pomme de terre’.

Guattari and the ‘fascisme de la pomme de terre’.

Alain Badiou’s political philosophy is, apparently, grounded on singular situated truths and potential revolutions. Fidelity to the invariant truth is a matter of procedure. What he calls an ‘Idea’’ has three basic elements, “a truth procedure, a belonging to history and individual subjectivation”. Authenticity, we might say were we admirers of Sartre’s philosophy, hangs in there.

This has a range (to put it as its most modest) of applications. But Badiou is best known for his politics (which are not renowned for their modesty).

On the Chinese ‘Cultural Revolution’, the professor has aroused controversy time and time again by giving a positive, glowing, account (“at any rate from 1965 to 1968” although he does not give the exact day of the week in this time-span) of this “political truth”. (1) These have had local, indeed spatial, moorings, no doubt, for example, in Maoist re-education camps as well as some time in Shanghai. There is the also the possibility of becoming a “militant for the truth”, perhaps, one might hazard, exemplified in the acts of the Union des communistes de France (marxiste-léninistes), the UJM (M-L) founded in 1969 by Alain Badiou and others whose names, sadly or not, few can recall or care about.

On the issue of Communism the professor has declaimed that the “Idea of communism, subjectivation constituted the link between the local belonging to a political procedure and the huge forward march towards its collective emancipation. To give out a flyer in a marketplace was also to mount the stage of History” (2) In the light of, er, recent and not so recent events, Badiou is not enthusiastic about the State’s ability to deliver Communism. A True Communist Event occurs only when it is “subtracted from the power of the State. “ Yet he notes with pleasure that Mao “had begun” to deal with this issue, incarnated by Stalin, “in a number of his writings” – which Badiou has commented on “guided by the eternity of the True.” (3)

Alain Badiou is perhaps reticent, for reasons which will become apparent,  to mention that he too has mounted History’s stage. He too has experience of the “vigorous subjective existence of the communist hypothesis.” Indeed as Francis Dosse’s biography Gilles Deleuze Félix Guattari. Biographie Croisée (2009) illustrates in a fascinating snapshot, it was indeed “vigorous”.

In the journal of the UJM (M-L) Cahier Yénan (No 4. 1977) Badiou attacked the celebrated joint work of Deleuze and Guattari, L’anti-Œdipe as “vulgar moralisers”, and for ignoring the scientific teachings of Marxism-Leninism. The second piece under the pseudonym of Georges Peyrol, was titled, Le fascime de la pomme de terre. Badiou observed that the pair were “pre-fascists”. Badiou frothed at the metaphor of the “rhizome”, to grasp the tentacles of multiple being, the proliferation of social shoots (most celebrated in their Mille plateaux1980). The Ontologist detected a parallel with Lin Biao’s revisionism, the One that dived into Two, had subtly become the One that symbolised the Tyrant. (4)

Revisionists!Pre-Fascists! During the 1970s these words did not just hang in the air in the Vincennes campus where both Badiou and Deleuze taught. Tendance Coatesy has already recorded the history of the oh-so-sage Professor’s Maoist troops during that period. Their efforts to imitate the Shanghai Commune included their assaults on another ‘revisionist’, Maria Antonitta Macciocchi. In this instance a colleague ran the intimidation from the same department of philosophy.

At the beginning the hostile M-L claque’s presence ensured that the lectures ended early. Later they would try to disrupt Deleuze’s lectures by claiming that a student union meeting to back a workers’ struggle was being held; other times the more erudite mentioned the bogey-name of Nietzsche (Deleuze’s 1963 study on whom no doubt proving by its title alone proof of serious pre-fascism). The admirers of the Little Red Book also assailed others, Jean-François Lyotard, and François Châtelet.

The stunts of the little band of Badiou’s Marxist-Leninists petered out as the decade proceeded. That has its own history, one which awaits Badiou to tell with anything resembling the truth.

When Deleuze passed away in 1995, Badiou, Dosse recounts, gave him a “vibrant homage.” He considered himself a “worthy successor” of Deleuze in his present Chair, on condition that one read him in the light of the “bonne philosophie” (the right philosophy). According to Dosse Badiou revealed that in 1991 he had proposed to Delueze to hold a public exchange of views (at the time when one of the Deleuze’s best-known works, What is Philosophy, was published). This was refused but as the resulting correspondence, giving reasons for this refusal, was apparently important. He equally refused to let this be published, which left Badiou with material he could not render public.

The book which did get to the printers, is Badiou’s, Delueze. La Clameur de l’Être (1997). It no doubt interests those fascinated by the obscurity of a (until very recent) apologist for the Khmer Rouge, and a conformed admirer of the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution. What rankles Dosse is that Badiou baldly repeats a much earlier idea: that Deleuze’s philosophy centres on the ONE, “C’est la venue de l’Un, renommé par Delueze l’Un-tout, que se consacre, dans sa plus haute destination, la pensée.” (5) In other words, he repeated, at the core of this ‘study’  the ridiculous claims he made back in the days of Cahier Yénan dressed up in more elliptical and pretentious language. He further – we note ourselves –  charged that Deleuze was something of a Stoic – which to many people has more than w whiff of his old ‘cultural revolution’ or more exactly Gang of Four  thinking about attacking ‘Confucius’.

Still, at least he didn’t call him once more a ‘pre-fascist’.

That’s Badiou for fidelity, hein?


(1) Page 2. The Idea of Communism. Alain Badiou. In The Idea of Communism. Edited Costas Douzinas & Slavoj Žižek. Verso. 2010. (2) Page 4. Badiou. Op cit. (3) Page 10.  Badiou. Op cit. (4) Pages 432 – 434. Francis Dosse Gilles Deleuze Félix Guattari. Biographie Croisée La Découverte. 2009 (5) Page 435. Dosse Op cit.

Everything (mostly) that you wanted to know about the politics of the fraud Badiou here: Révolution culturelle : Alain Badiou, le Grand Prestidigitateur.CLAUDE HUDELOT

This is worth noting, although it includes a link to Badiou’s evasive responses, Editor Calls Badiou a “Frozen Dinosaur”

Badiou is no stranger to Maoist militancy of his own. When he worked at the same university as Gilles Deleuze, he declared Deleuze an “enemy of the people” and would bring groups of fellow Maoists to disrupt the class.

About 12 years ago I wrote a lengthy critique of Badiou’s Ethics and his tendentious claims about the universalism of Saint Paul.  Unfortunately it’s in a format I can’t Blog with. But believe me, there is a more, a lot more, to say…


Written by Andrew Coates

April 10, 2016 at 11:15 am

Toby Abse on Toni Negri, ‘Storia di un comunista’, Milan, 2015.

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Comrade Toby Abse and myself has a long discussion about Tony Negri and this book recently.

We went through issues about his political background such as Negri’s unwillingness  to accept political responsibility for the violent side of Potere Operaio and Autonomia Operaia.

The resemblance between these two organisations’  refusal (and possible Bordigist influence) and  the French Socialisme ou Barbarie (SouB)  group’s refusal to participate in any form of election (including voting in French works committees, comités d’enterprises) also came up. I mentioned that SouB had integrated a significant slice of the French ‘Bordgist’ (ultra-left anti-parliamentarian anti-Stalinist communists) movement, the Fraction Française de la Gauche Communiste Internationale. In Toby’s review another group, the Johnson–Forest Tendency appears to have influenced Negri – as indeed it did SouB.

We turned to the thorny issue of actual real violence.

It is worth citing this section from Toby’s earlier What Next Article,  The Professor in the Balaclava: Toni Negri and Autonomist Politics. (2002)

The two concrete instances he gives of Negri inciting others to commit criminal acts on his behalf have a definite ring of truth; they are precisely the sorts of crime one can imagine amoral academics engaging in. Firstly, when Negri lived in Milan, he used to send the young autonomi he regularly received in his house out to the nearest bookshop to steal all the books that interested him. Secondly, and rather more seriously, he asserted his power in Padua University by getting his “reactionary” colleagues kneecapped, and then used to theorise in his usual jargon-ridden style that “the levels of the use of force of counter-power have been exemplified by the punishment of teachers who are particularly zealous in anti-proletarian initiatives: Galante, Santo, etc”.30

Somebody who behaved like this was not fit to hold a university post in Italy or any other country. Anybody who thinks that having your colleagues kneecapped by hit squads in balaclavas can be placed on a par with, for instance, Robin Blackburn offering verbal support to some students who tore down gates at the LSE in 1969, has lost contact with the real world. Autonomia may not have been a fully-fledged terrorist organisation like the BR or Primea Linea, but it was renowned for its systematic thuggery and intimidation. Professor Negri was far too busy writing to have ordered all the actions carried out by these half-educated young thugs whom he regarded as superior to the organised working class, but he dictated the general line.

Then there is this:

Negri led a double life, at least until his arrest in April 1979, but even in recent years there is a rather unnerving compartmentalisation or dissociation that marks his life and work, and perhaps helps to explain how a man who felt no compunction about leaving his long-time comrades and loyal disciples to face lengthy prison sentences in Italy whilst he lived it up in Paris can now have the sheer effrontery to present himself as a revolutionary theoretician for the new century and babble about “the irrepressible lightness and joy of being communist”, as he puts it in the final words of Empire.

Now it’s worth noting, and we discussed this, that I personally was involved with a year-long (circa 1985) study group in Paris of about 7 people in which Negri was an important member. This circle, Dissensus, debated the new forms of market ideology that were gripping Europe and turning social democracy rightwards in the 1980s. was a spin-off from a larger club formed by Negri’s close friend, Félix Guattari , under the name of Papageno, itself part of the body with the title of a joint Gauttari-Negri book, Les Nouveaux espaces de liberté.

In my experience Negri was open-minded, wore his status lightly, was interested in serious discussion of left theory and practice in the wake of the rise of neo-liberalism and the failures of post-68 lefts. In post-meeting cheap meals and drinks in the Quartier Latin he would chat with others as equals. The only thing that stood out was his absolute undying hatred of the Italian magistratura  (the magistrates), which was not exactly surprising.

Having read a number of Negri’s books, beginning with the one cited above, and continuing with (in French) Marx au-delà de Marx, to Empire, and the debate on this joint work with Michael Hardt),  and beyond (see Wikipedia for more), right up to the writings and discussion in the on-line journal Multitudes, I dissent from Toby’s considered judgement that they are, with a few exceptions in his earlier autonomist attempts to reach out with some kind of practice to working class movements,  utterly worthless tripe.

The Tendance does, nevertheless, adhere to Negrism, nor, in particular to spiritual babble, which in our discussion I considered  to result from Negri’s debt to Christian phrase-mongering, about the ‘lightness’ of being a communist.

As I hope everybody else is, I am disgusted by academics’ efforts (which would include other academics, notably Alain Badiou) to refuse to own up to the violent consequences of their rhetoric.

Last hurrah of a psychopath

Toni Negri, ‘Storia di un comunista’, Milan, 2015, pp 608, €18, reviewed by Toby Abse.

Toni Negri’s 608-page autobiography is a predictably strange, and in places virtually unreadable, document.1 The 82-year-old author is rumoured to be in declining health and is certainly obsessed by death (particularly pp9-15). He seems to have been assisted in unspecified respects by a named editor – Girolamo De Michele, a 54-year-old philosopher and novelist, who, as far as I am aware, has no particular connection with Negri’s autonomist circles.

This summarises the editing faults of the present work.

Given the vast number of both academic authors and political activists referred to in the course of this somewhat prolix text, it is a great pity that it has no index at all – not even the usual Italian Indice dei nomi (index of names). One would hope that, if an English-language edition ever appears, there might be some attempt to remedy this, in line with the editorial apparatus that seems to have been attached to the English-language versions of his earlier autobiographical works referred to below.

Whilst the overall structure of the work is conventional, leading from Negri’s birth in 1933 to his famous arrest on April 7 1979, with only very occasional and very brief references to the rest of his life, such as his friendly chats in prison with “the comrades of the Red Brigades” (pp476-77), the chronological flow is frequently interrupted by very lengthy summaries of the many books and articles that he wrote at various points in his first 45 years, including his tesi di laurea (final-year undergraduate dissertation).

I am not familiar with Italian publishing but I can say that this kind of sloppy editing is far from unknown in French books of a similar genre.

This is particularly important,

Negri himself first entered politics not as a socialist or a communist, which would have been the logical outcome of his family background as he chooses to present it, but in the Gioventu Italiana di Azione Cattolica and various Catholic youth and student organisations linked to the Christian Democracy (DC). Whilst the trauma of his brother’s death might have explained a totally apolitical turn towards detached scholarship, it does not account for Negri’s actual path of deep involvement with the DC – the overwhelmingly dominant political force in the Veneto during the 1950s – whose student affiliates, in which Negri played such a prominent role would generally have been stepping stones to a parliamentary career in the DC.

Negri now claims to have joined the Partito Socialista Italiano (PSI) in October 1956 (p128),5 although he does not claim to have been very active in the PSI until 1959, when he was elected to Padua’s municipal council, showing none of his later total abhorrence for any involvement in electoral politics. Negri claims that he lost his religious faith some time before abandoning Catholic student politics. He then sought, and succeeded in gaining a permanent university post at a very early age – as he puts it, “The Paduan chair is prestigious and Toni has conquered it early: he is the youngest Italian professor and he is good – friends and enemies recognise it” (p275). He consciously cultivated friendly relations with powerful academics and displayed no leftist inclinations whatsoever, so it seems reasonable to characterise the young Negri as an extremely ambitious opportunist and careerist rather than a ‘communist’ in any sense of that word.

Whilst Negri rapidly moved left after 1960, becoming involved with far-left journals – first Renato Panzieri’s Quaderni Rossi(Red Notebooks) and then Mario Tronti’s Class Operaia(Working Class) – even by his own accounts he seems always to have lived a strange double life right up to his arrest in 1979. He completely dominated the Institute of Political Science at Padua University, whose staff he filled with his own cronies in the manner of the classic Italian academic barone, whilst leading increasingly extreme political groups, which after 1969 were ever more deeply involved in illegal activities.

The contradictions of this double life have given rise to deep suspicion in some quarters – most notably on the part of the British journalist, Philip Willan, who suggests some link with both the Italian and American intelligence services.6 Willan infers that Negri’s intense hostility towards the PCI would have served the interests of the CIA during the 1970s. Negri’s book has very little to say about any American links – with the obvious exception of small groups that had emerged out of CLR James’s ‘Johnson-Forrest tendency’, whose ideological influence on early operaismo (workerism) has long been known.

Whilst one could put a sinister construction on Negri’s presence in autumn 1960 at an Italian conference organised by the Rockefeller Foundation, immediately after his return from a journey to the Soviet Union with some members of the PCI and PSI leftwingers, it seems much more likely this was pure academic careerism.

Whether there were links or not is unlikely ever to be clarified, and like so many murky features of Italian political life remains an intriguing though fruitless speculation.

This is of wider more directly political interest,

However, whatever praise has to be accorded to Negri’s tireless activity in the 1960s, his political role in the 1970s as the main leader of, first, Potere Operaio (1969-73) and then Autonomia Operaia (1973-79) were completely destructive in terms of the far left, let alone the general interests of the working class as a whole. Neither group would ever engage in electoral work of any kind, whether at the municipal or parliamentary level, and they increasingly moved away from mass action, as it might be generally envisaged in terms of strikes, workplace occupations or peaceful demonstrations, towards the advocacy of some form of armed or insurrectionary action without anything approaching majority support in the working class. Potere Operaio resembled the Communist Workers Party of Germany (KAPD) or the more putschist elements of the early Communist Party of Germany (KPD) involved in episodes like the March Action of 1921, whilst Autonomia was much closer to Bakunin, with its cult of rather pointless, almost random violence and idolisation of the lumpenproletariat.

Given the way Negri, in the mid-1970s abandoned the somewhat obsessively factory-based politics of operaismo for nebulous rhetoric about the ‘social factory’ and the operaio sociale (a phrase that is best not translated as ‘social worker’, as some rather farcical Anglophone accounts have done in the past), the poisonous venom with which he still writes about the groups that rejected hard-line operaismo in favour of a more community-based approach and became Lotta Continua in 1969 is astonishing.8 Discussing Lotta Continua or its predecessors, first he writes of “a populist tendency of Catholic and socialist origin” (p357) and then he polemicises even more viciously: “I had undervalued the presence in the coalition around Sofri at Turin of a profoundly anti-Marxist animus that was descended from a still deeper anti-communist tension of Catholic or socialist origin” (p357). Given his own dubious Christian Democratic political past, the sheer chutzpah of this attack on Lotta Continua beggars belief.

This religious legacy may rankle with some Negri’s supporters.But as somebody all too familiar with Catholic references – not just from the French left (which has its social catholic wing) but from direct acquaintance with Italian leftists from the very background just mentioned, it is a clear as day in Negri’s own writings.

Perhaps it is why he attacks Lotta Continua with some vigour. His own debt to this way of thought, studing his writings with its imagery, is hard to ignore. And not just through the references to Saint Francis. Me, I liked Roberto Rossellini’s Francesco, giullare di Dio, though find it rather fey. Fey is the right word for a lot of Negri’s slogans, which tend to disguise and distract from an otherwise serious analysis.

A critical balance-sheet of the Autonomist movement and those years – and there are many, and of these politics and theories, and there are many – has tended to be submerged in an uncritical celebration which began with the ‘anti-globalisation’ movement, and no doubt continues in those quarters now in need of inspiration as their own ‘moment’ fades into historical obscurity.

Negri’s enduring narcissism and total lack of any self-awareness is best exemplified in his grandiose explanation of his own leadership role in Potere Operaio:

Why did I agree not only to construct Potere Operaio, but to be its secretary? I believe through a sort of ‘ethic of service’, through a strange lack of arrogance – very far distant from the presumed arrogance that they will attribute to me later on. I was 36, the others at most 25 … I had studied so much, the others who were much younger much less … I had studied a lot, always in an interdisciplinary manner, doing theory in the American manner – a little philosophy, much history, a fair amount of Marxism and political economy, a lot of political science, enough law. Moreover, I had behind me a university institute that could sustain a good part of the theoretical work that Potere Operaio required (p375).

One cannot imagine even the SWP’s ‘Red Professor’, Alex Callinicos – not a modest man by many accounts – making quite such hyperbolic claims.

Then again there is this,

When he indulges yet again in his now habitual rant against his colleague at Padua, professor Angelo Ventura, for having assisted the prosecutor and the Digos (special branch) to build a case against him in 1979 (p589), he refuses to acknowledge the kneecapping inflicted upon Ventura by the Paduan autonomi – presumably his students wearing the balaclavas he found so entrancing10 – in 1979. It would be hard to dodge any responsibility for it, given the way he ruled the roost in the university – doubtless what was really meant by “the objective is always singular and transparent”.

The article – which has to be read in full – in the Weekly Worker, written by an activist and intellectual who knows the subject inside out,  comes highly recommended

See again here.


Further Note:   a failure to acknowledge responsibility for the thuggery of your own thuggish student followers are also a feature of Alain Badiou’s career, ”

Revisionists!Pre-Fascists! During the 1970s these words did not just hang in the air in the Vincennes campus where both Badiou and Deleuze taught. Tendance Coatesy has already recorded the history of the oh-so-sage Professor’s Maoist troops during that period. Their efforts to imitate the Shanghai Commune included their assaults on another ‘revisionist’, Maria Antonitta Macciocchi. In this instance a colleague ran the intimidation from the same department of philosophy.

At the beginning the hostile M-L claque’s presence ensured that the lectures ended early. Later they would try to disrupt Deleuze’s lectures by claiming that a student union meeting to back a workers’ struggle was being held; other times the more erudite mentioned the bogey-name of Nietzsche (Deleuze’s 1963 study on whom no doubt proving by its title alone proof of serious pre-fascism). The admirers of the Little Red Book also assailed others, Jean-François Lyotard, and François Châtelet.

The stunts of the little band of Badiou’s Marxist-Leninists petered out as the decade proceeded. That has its own history, one which awaits Badiou to tell with anything resembling the truth.

Badiou: Deleuze, Guattari and the ‘fascisme de la pomme de terre’.

Negri, in contrast to Badiou, has never been a supporter of the Khmer Rouge and an uncritical admirer of the Great Cultural Revolution as one of the Communist Invariants.

Written by Andrew Coates

March 4, 2016 at 1:21 pm

Should We Ditch Multiculturalism? Response to Kenan Malik.

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Kurdish Fighters for Humanity.

Should We Ditch Multiculturalism?

The 100th Anniversary of the genocide of the Armenians was on Sunday the 5th of April. Le Monde reminded us that it “was in the name of Jihad that the Ottoman Empire entered the war against the Entente on the 1st of November 1914. It was also in the name of Holy War that the massacre of the Armenian Christians took place.” (Génocide des Arménians. Gaïdz Minassian. 4.4.15).

Few will need reminding of the echoes Minassian’s words evoke today. On Sunday Pope Francis and Justin Welby the Archbishop of Canterbury spoke to a much larger audience than their religious constituencies when they deplored the exactions Christians faced across the world today. The carefully weighed dignity of these speeches does not need underlining. Their martyrs are humanity’s martyrs.

Another intervention was made on Sunday by Kenan Malik in the Observer (Diversity and Immigration are not the problem. Political courage is. 5.4.15). Malik is not afraid to confront the issue of Jihadism. While most Muslims are integrated and “proud to be British” (83%) there is a problem. He writes that official multiculturalism is based on the idea of constructing Britain as a “community of communities”. The resulting state strategy pushes people into boxes, “as if each were distinct homogeneous whole”. In this move, the “most conservative figures came to be accepted as the authentic voice of minority groups.” Government run multiculturalism has fostered a “parochial sense of identity”. In these conditions “a small group of Muslims”, have found an “identity and an authentic Islam in Islamism.”

The Observer article describes another form of identity politics in the rise of UKIP. Some of Farage’s supporters (not least his activists) are “hard-line racists”. But the party’s wider support comes “from people whose hostility towards immigrants or Islam is shaped less by old-fashioned racism than by a newfangled sense of fear and insecurity.” “Euroscepticism, nationalism, opposition to immigration and populism” have a strong appeal for the ‘left behind’, the “disadvantaged and economically secure” as Robert Ford and Matthew Goodwin have argued (Revolt on the Right. Explaining Support for the Radical Right in Britain. 2014).

Malik explains this in terms of his criticism of multiculturalism, “Once class identity comes to be seen as a cultural attribute, then those regarded as culturally different have come to be viewed as threats.” The ‘Polish builder’ or the ‘Bangladeshi neighbour’ come to symbolise the menacing forces of globalisation.

Despite the appeal of this picture it is not at all clear that one can explain the attraction of Jihadism in purely British terms. Every European country has a different set of policies towards communities of immigrant origin. France has, to say the least, not adopted multiculturalism. There are nevertheless Islamists, from a spectrum that goes from ‘conservatives’ (the polite British way of saying reactionary when it comes to Islamic politics) aligned to the Muslim Brotherhood and other groups, a variety of Salafist forces, to those (crossing over to) active Jihadists. Those recruited to fight for the Islamic State, Daesh, come from across the continent, and from elsewhere. This includes North Africa, including democratic Tunisia, countries whose politics and culture are criss-crossed with Europe’s.

Like Jihadism the rise of UKIP cannot be explained in purely British terms. The strong vote for the French Front National in the country’s elections has indicated a similar ‘left behind’ constituency. Identical language is used to explain the FN’s support in France: a protest at “post-industrial society” a loss of references, a wounded nationalism. (Le FN perce dans de nouveaux territories. Le Monde. 25.3.15.)

Malik has already tied these themes together. In A search for identity draws jihadis to the horrors of Isis, he argued in March,

Identity politics has, over the last three decades, encouraged people to define themselves in increasingly narrow ethnic or cultural terms. A generation ago, “radicalised” Muslims would probably have been far more secular in their outlook and their radicalism would have expressed itself through political organisations. Today, they see themselves as Muslim in an almost tribal sense, and give vent to their disaffection through a stark vision of Islam.

These developments have shaped not just Muslim self-perception but that of most social groups. Many within white working-class communities are often as disengaged as their Muslim peers, and similarly see their problems not in political terms but through the lens of cultural and ethnic identity. Hence the growing hostility to immigration and diversity and, for some, the seeming attraction of far-right groups.

Racist populism and radical Islamism are both, in their different ways, expressions of social disengagement in an era of identity politics.

There are specific influences at work in Britain. In From Fatwa to Jihad. The Rushdie Affair and its Legacy (2009) Malik filled in the details about how “conservative figures” came to be seen as leaders of Muslim communities. It was protests against Salmon Rushdie’s Satanic Verses. “What it really catalysed was a transformation of Islamism in Britain. The Rushdie affair provided an opportunity to bring order to the chaos of the fissiparous Islamist landscape – and for Islamists to stake a claim for the leadership of British Muslims and to present themselves as their true representatives.”(Page 123)

If Malik asserts that today’s jihadists are ‘estranged’ from their communities, others would argued that there are overlaps between these forms of Islamist politics and the violence of Al-Queda and ISIS. Awareness of the differences between the different strands of these movements should not prevent us from noting that some groups function as ‘paserelles’ between open and clandestine Islamism. Above all the emphasis on this form of religious politics, by definition identitarian, exclusive and intolerant, indicates a constituency for the central demands of rule by the Qur’an and the Sharia alone – the core of violent jihad. The Islamist project has taken the form of areas in which the ‘Sharia’ is enforced in a limited territory, to the ambition to restore a much large ‘Caliphate’. In Europe the practice of Islamists, notably Salafists, has been to attempt to create their own ‘micro-powers’  in which their form of ‘justice’ is preached, and, if possible put into practice.

Islamism and the Left.

A lot of water has passed under the bridge since the publication of the Satanic Verses. But one issue has remained constant: demands for “group right.” The response of British Muslims to the massacres at Charlie Hebdo and the Kosher Supermarket were in general restrained. The small number of Moslems who raised calls in the name of this right to ban offence to the image of the Prophet marched to general indifference. They had little of the impact of the Rushdie protests – not least, as the British state does not seem at present anxious to recognise their ‘leadership’. It was left to self-proclaimed liberals and socialists to make the loudest clamour about the weekly’s ‘racist’ and ‘pornographic’ cartoons.

Why is this? As Michael Walzer has remarked, (Islamism and the Left. Dissent. Winter 2015.)

I frequently come across leftists who are more concerned with avoiding accusations of Islamophobia than they are with condemning Islamist zealotry. This is an odd position with relation to the Muslim world today, but it makes some sense in Western Europe and possibly also in America, where Muslims are recent immigrants, the objects of discrimination, police surveillance, sometimes police brutality, and popular hostility. I have heard Muslims called the “new Jews.” That’s not a helpful analogy, since Muslims in today’s Western Europe have never been attacked by Christian crusaders, expelled from one country after another, forced to wear distinctive dress, barred from many professions, and slaughtered by Nazis. In fact, right now, some Muslim militants are among the chief purveyors of anti-Semitism in Europe (they get a lot of help from neo-fascists in France and Germany and other countries, too.

He continues,

All these left responses to Islamist zealots—identification, support, sympathy, apology, tolerance, and avoidance—look very strange if we consider the actual content of their ideology. Jihadi opposition to “the West” should provoke serious worry on the left before any other response. Boko Haram began with an attack on “Western-style” schools, and other Islamist groups have undertaken similar attacks, especially on schools for girls. Values that the zealots denounce as “Western” are very much in contention here: individual liberty, democracy, gender equality, and religious pluralism.

And makes this telling point,

But individual liberty, democracy, gender equality, and religious pluralism aren’t really Western values; they are universal values that first appeared in strong, modern versions in Western Europe and the Americas. These are the values that pretty much define the left, which also first appeared in its strong, modern version in Western Europe and the Americas. The left is an eighteenth-century invention, an invention of the secular Enlightenment.

Without following the argument in details an important response has to be made to Walzar’s critic, Andrew March, who notes this,

A first dimension is a consideration of the way the Islamist challenge to post-Enlightenment left principles might cause those on the liberal left to rethink their core commitments. The model here is Marx’s critique of bourgeois rights in “On the Jewish Question,” the ur-text for all subsequent leftist skepticism about formal rights, legal equality, and individual negative freedom. There are, of course, hard and soft versions of this. A hard version dismisses rights and parliamentary democracy tout court as bourgeois fictions that obstruct rather than advance emancipation. A softer version merely cautions us against seeing the achievement of rights, representative democracy, and negative freedoms as the final victory rather than as a necessary first step toward deeper forms of freedom and solidarity.

Speaking as somebody from the ‘real left’ (apparently something these academics are fond of arguing the toss about) I agree with Walzer. I have no truck with ‘post-Enlightenment’ readings of human rights. I will stop following March’s argument at this point to make this clear, Marx’s early writings, strongly influenced by the notion that ’emancipation’ was something ‘beyond’ the individualism of bourgeois society, failed to grapple with their enduring material appeal. But the issue of the value of rights was taken up by the 19th century left and embodied in the programmes of many parties, including one of the most dogmatic, the Parti Ouvrier Français (founded 1880). Marx’s later writings include sterling defences of human rights, as Robin Blackburn’s An Unfinished Revolution: Karl Marx and Abraham Lincoln (2011) indicates. They show a separation between right and power – the demands for what should be, and the actual state or government called on to deliver these declared needs. Embodied, or crystalised in substantial form, they are the backbone of the socialist and social democratic movement – as the fight over the British Welfare State demonstrates.

This applies equally to the ‘imperialist’ powers and the Islamic pro-states, to capitalism and to the (former) Stalinist regimes. Walzer emphasises Islamism for the obvious reason that it offers no possible mechanism for the translation of universal rights into power. March’s other arguments fall apart because they do not look at the importance this now holds for international politics and for the left. They are perhaps the best existing example to show that Claude Lefort’s description of a ‘totalitarian society’ as the ‘People as One’ is seriously flawed. The Islamist apparatus of power-knowledge, of surveillance, of discipline and punishment,  is the People Under the Vice-Regenency of God ( L’Invention démocratique,1981). Demands for human rights sound the trumpet of their defeat.

The flaws of the left’s position on Islam were dramatically shown in the way concern about Islamopobia has been allowed to over-ride support for democratic universal rights It is not only been the unedifying spectacle of those still trying to fish for Moslem souls for their groupuscules. The response to the massacres at Charlie Hebdo and the Hyper-Casher tainted the left up its intellectual pinnacles. New Left Review has put on its website virulent attacks on French laïcité that evoke memories of the hatred of secularists – ‘laïcards’ – and Republican universalism expressed pre-Great War by Action française. Perhaps it is no coincidence that some of the Review’s authors are associated with the American Counterpunch which has seen fit to publish material questioning the innocence of Dreyfus….

Our Response.

It a different response it is important that the left responds firmly to the ‘fear and insecurity’ created by violent Islamism. This is not because of UKIP supporters’ ‘concerns’: it is to stand up for our sisters and brothers in every country where Jihadists threaten them. Few people on the left will deny that Western intervention in the Middle East has been a disaster. The UK government’s appeal to ‘British values’, apart from sounding hollow, is not an answer to a global problem. Freedom and democracy, fighting oppression and exploitation, have universal appeal. It is urgent that we stand with those fighting Islamism, and its foreign supporters, on the ground, above the heroic struggle of the Kurdish people. There is little clearer than this battle: rights and equality against genocide and slavery. These principles and objectives, which are secular and uniting, releasing us from communalist boxes, are the only ones which can confront Islamism and UKIP and the rightward – xenophobic – moving political landscape.

Malik notes the decline of the “economic and political power of the working class”. But the labour movement, in the broad sense, still has some substance in Britain. It is up to up those who are part of it to make its weight felt. Tackling austerity, bring people together for a programme of social advance may help make inroads into the constituency of the left behind. Should we then, to bolster our politics, drop all reference to multiculturalism – or more exactly the institutional policies of ‘community relations’ in the UK? Ought we instead “defend diversity and immigration”? There is little doubt that official multiculturalism is bogged down in the type of politics that has fed reactionary identity politics. But multicultural facts are not to be opposed. That in this sense it operates as  simply another word for diversity.

It’s hard to see Malik’s demands making their way to party manifestos, or onto demonstration placards. It is also far from obvious that this response that will be able to influence the wider public, left alone official policy. But there are hopeful signs for a broader change in politics that may contribute to giving them some substance.

The disgust many feel at the failure of some on the left to take a stand in favour of the anti-racist anti-fascist Charlie Hebdo, not to mention on the public murders of our Bangladeshi comrades by Islamists, the groundswell in favour of backing our Kurdish sisters and brothers, show some basis for a different approach. Diversity and the defence of immigration are part of that stand. Pro-European and world-wide internationalism another. We shall honour the martyrs by this fight. We will not let their deaths pass in silence.

Charlie Hebdo is Back and Kicking! Rumour that British Left will be on Future ‘Une’.

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The Pack is on Charlie’s Heels Again!

More than a month after two gunmen attacked French satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo’s offices in Paris, killing 12 people, the newspaper’s newest issue is due to be released on Wednesday as it resumes publication.

The paper rushed out a “survivors’ issue” the week after the shooting, which took place on January 7. Since then, however, Charlie Hebdo has been absent from newsstands.

“We needed a break, a rest… There were those who needed to work again straight away, like me, and those who wanted to take more time,” says Gérard Biard, the publication’s new chief editor. “So we reached a compromise, and agreed on February 25… to start off again on a weekly basis.”

If the cover of Charlie Hebdo’s next issue says anything, it’s that it will be business as usual at the publication. It features an illustration of a range of political and religious figures, including former French president Nicolas Sarkozy, a jihadist and the pope, as a pack of rabid dogs over the headline, “… Here we go again!”

France 24.

On France-Inter this morning the new editor of the trusty and much-liked weekly, Gérard Biard, expressed concern that their cartoons sparked more indignation today than in the past.

Phooey! We would like to see more outrage!

There is a rumour that the British Left will figure on a future Cover with the same theme as today’s issue.

Tariq Ali, clothed in a dead-sheep, will lead the charge against the lovable Charlie mutt.

Ten Afghan Arabi sheep were sacrificed to make this coat.

Behind him follows the SWP’s Alex Callinicos, in his Scarlet Pimpernel outfit,  and Unite Against Fascism’s leadership, dressed in altar girl and boy costumes.

SWP Leader Prepares to Rescue Dusky Maidens from Charlie’s Evil Grasp. 

Unite Against Fascism: ‘Shocked’ By Charlie’s Blasphemy.

Will Self, snorting cocaine, will be arm-in-arm with Assad Ali, Seumas Milne, George Galloway  and Salma Yaqoob.

Will Self: Heavyweight Critic of Charlie Hebdo. 

Talking of heavy-weights (former) in the background one can glimpse Sebastian Budgen with one of his family’s excellent Hampers – they kept him popular during his years at Greyfriars.

Budgen at Greyfriars.

Robert Kurz: a Theorist Now Making his Mark in the English-Speaking World?

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Reading Marx in the 21st century-Robert Kurz


In the latest Historical Materialism there are two articles on Robert Kurz (24 December 1943 – 18 July 2012) was a German Marxist philosopher, social criticism publicist, journalist and editor of the journal Exit!. He was one of Germany’s most prominent theorists of value criticism.  His works have yet to be translated into, and published in, English.

They are worth signaling.

The late Robert Kurz was one of the principal theorists of ‘the critique of value’ in Germany. This paper uses the recent release of a collection of his essays in French translation and his posthumously published Geld ohne Wert [Money without Value] (2012) as a starting point for a discussion of the critical project that Kurz undertook over a period of 25 years. Kurz was exemplary in returning to the most radical insights of Marx, even when these went against some of the other ideas of the master. He was an ardent proponent of a crisis theory of capitalism: that the categories of the capitalist mode of production have reached their ‘historical limit’ as society no longer produces enough value. On this basis Kurz argued that none of the proposals for dealing with this crisis within the framework of capitalism are feasible. Kurz demonstrated that the basic categories of the capitalist mode of production, such as money, are not universal but that they developed at the same time, towards the end of the Middle Ages, with the invention of firearms and the states’ need for money that this fuelled. In Geld ohne Wert, Kurz asserts that money in pre-capitalist societies was not a bearer of value but a representation of social ties. He wonders whether, with the current crisis, we are seeing a return to a form of money without value, but now within the framework of a social sacrifice to the fetishistic form of mediation. The paper concludes by suggesting that Kurz has not yet reached a wider public outside Germany because for many his ideas still prove too radical to face.


Satanic Mills: On Robert Kurz  Author: Esther Leslie

A critical overview of the contribution of German Marxist Robert Kurz (1943–2012), focussing in particular on The Black Book of Capitalism: A Farewell to the Market Economy (first ed. 1999) and War for World Order: The End of Sovereignty and the Transformations of Imperialism in the Age of Globalisation (2003). This review explores the genesis and the main tenets of Kurz’s theory – especially his concept of value, the automatic subject, crisis and anti-Semitism – and tracks how they are mobilised in his writings over time. It also touches on the legacy of these ideas in political groups such as the Anti-Germans.

Both articles are of great interest and importance.

Kurz seems, to put it mildly, a tosser.

He seemed to think that anybody that didn’t hold to his idea that the critique of the ‘value form’ revealed  an incipient crisis was wrong.

But then I am an Althusserian who has always loathed ‘Wertkritik’.

Mind you Esther, an ex-SWP loyalist, seems to think he was also wrong because he was opposed to Islamism.

So he couldn’t have been all bad.

There is one minor point.

Can I be, no doubt not the first, to mention that apart from what Esther thinks is his unique contribution to the topic, there is another Black Book of Capitalism: the title of a French book, Le Livre Noir du Capitalisme (The Black Book of Capitalism) a French (collectively edited) book published in 1998 which has an entry in the English language Wikipedia. It was a major media event with an impact in the Hispanic speaking world.

Kurz’s Schwarzbuch Kapitalismus: ein Abgesang auf die Marktwirtschaft (The Black Book of Capitalism: A farewell to the market economy) published in 1999 passed almost unnoticed outside of the German speaking sphere.

One can read one of his articles here:  Reading Marx in the 21st century-Robert Kurz

Written by Andrew Coates

December 31, 2014 at 1:08 pm