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For a Left Populism. Chantal Mouffe. Review: “Neither Left nor Successful”.

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Left Populism, “Neither Left nor Successful”.

For a Left  Populism. Chantal Mouffe.  Verso. 2018

Review: Andrew Coates.

(From the Latest Chartist Magazine.)

Chantal Mouffe and her partner Ernesto Laclau published Hegemony and Socialist Strategy in 1985 She begins For a Left Populism on the “challenge represented by the ‘populist moment’ by referring to the “incapacity of left politics” during the 1980s to grapple with post-68 movements, from the women’s movement to ecology. Anything that could not be thought of in class terms had been rejected. They offered, she states, an alternative, which became associated with the monthly, Marxism Today, against this “class essentialism”. It focused on bringing these new social forces into a left project, the “radicalisation of democracy”. There were angry debates on the left about these claims, focused around the authors’ ‘post-Marxism’ and the importance of class in left politics.

The world has changed. Today Mouffe argues that neoliberalism, austerity, and “oligarchisation”, has brought down living standards and eroded popular sovereignty. The political system is hollowed out. It is “post-democracy”, a term she takes from Colin Crouch and Jacques Rancière (La Mésentente. 1997). A paradigm of ‘consensus’ around the value of the free-market marks Western societies. There is little more detail about what is ‘post’ democratic in the new millennium’s elections, political competition for government and the possibilities for public debate opened up by social media.

How this differs from the previous consensus around the Keynesian welfare state, known in Britain during the 1950s as ‘Butskellism’, is not explored. The thrust is that social democratic and Labour Parties, notably during Tony Blair and Gordon Brown’s premierships, accepted the legacy of Margaret Thatcher. As part of this ‘hegemonic’ package they put concern for the Taxpayer over generous public spending. New Labour agreed that privatisation of state functions and industries were “what works”. They aimed at competing on the global market. .

After the 2007 financial crisis people across Europe began to question the belief that these policies brought them any benefit. Those “left behind” by austerity in the wake of the baking crisis and globalised economies, demanded “democratic recognition”. Many Mouffe says, have turned to anti-establishment populist parties of the right, or have expressed their unhappiness through backing the Hard-Right project of Brexit in the UK European Referendum.

The message of For a Left Populism is, “To stop the rise of right-wing populist parties, it is necessary to design a properly political answer through a left populist movement that will federate all the democratic struggles against post-democracy.” She commends the Spanish Podemos, Jean-Luc Mélenchon’s La France insoumise (LFI) and Labour under Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership, for “left populist strategies.” 

For a Left Populism draws on many, often very abstract, ideas that Mouffe has developed since the 1980s. This include her writings on Carl Schmitt, Claude Lefort, Jürgen Habermas (amongst many others) and  ‘agonistic democracy”. This is a concept which puts conflict and dissensus at the heart of democratic debate. Conflict, she argues, are the keynotes of pluralist democracy. This is an idea familiar from less elevated works. Bernard Crick’s In Defence of Politics (1964, and later editions) made a vibrant democratic socialist case for the importance of open disagreement and debate for the democratic left. Crick also wrote on how Machiavelli saw “liberty arising from conflicts.” (Introduction to The Discourses. Niccolò Machiavelli. 1970)

For a Left Populism talks about constructing a “collective will”. Left populism, she asserts, draws into its orbit by a “chain of equivalences” a variety of progressive demands, open citizenship. This is the ‘construction of the People”, a collective political agency, “ opposing the ‘people’ against the ‘oligarchy’. For this to work Mouffe follows the late Ernesto Laclau. There has to be “some form of crystallisation of common affects, and affective bonds with a charismatic leader… “ One can see the attraction for Jean-Luc Mélenchon who has made sure that there is no “so-called” democratic opposition in his Web-Platform based movement. It is a “lieu de Rassemblement” (rallying point) not a political party. (1)

Mouffe’s left populism also, centrally, draws on the “libidinal investment at work in national – or regional – forms of identification”…” National identities should be left to the right.  Instead of leaving the field to national populists there should be another outlet, “mobilising…. around a patriotic identification with the more egalitarian aspects of the national tradition.”

Much of this approach to nationalism is drawn out from the tangled thickets of Frédéric Lordon. The French theorist developed from some of  Spinoza’s ideas a picture of the importance of ‘affects’, which he illustrated as attachments of people to national identities, and, above all, nation states. La Société des affects (2013). Lordon, a supporter of Mélenchon has faced charges of nationalism himself. Chantal Mouffe’s French critics have not been slow to point out to the emotional ‘affects’ of voters motivated by anti-immigrant feeling. These are neither legitimate concerns nor are those who have them likely to drop their views to join a left-wing Collective Will. (2)

Since For a Left Populism was published Mélenchon’s Movement has stagnated and declined in polls, down below 10% of voting intentions for the coming European Elections. It has faced a series of internal crises, centring on the lack of democratic decision-making. Marine le Pen appears to have had more of an impact in the Gilets Jaunes uprising than the leader of La France insoumise. After poor regional election results in Andalusia and declining support Podemos, has suffered a serious split. Her interlocutor, Iñigo Errejón (Podemos, In the Name of the People. Iñigo Errejón. Chantal Mouffe. 2016) is now aligned with Más Madrid, a catch-all progressive alliance. Pablo Iglesias is said to project a long-term alliance with the Spanish socialists, the PSOE. The radical left “Anticapitalista” current is in outright opposition.

The problem with left populism is, as Éric Fassin has remarked, is that, “it’s neither left nor a winning strategy.”  Perhaps we should follow his advice and concentrate on creating broad and effective democratic socialist parties and not on ‘federating’ the “people”. (Populisme: le grand ressentiment. 2017) (3)

 

*****

  1. À propos du mouvement «La France insoumise» Jean-Luc Mélenchon. C:\Documents and Settings\Compaq_Owner\My Documents\À propos du mouvement «La France insoumise» Jean-Luc Mélenchon.htm
  2. Populisme de gauche, du nouveau ? Pierre Khalfa
  3. See also: Left-wing populism.A legacy of defeat: Interview with Éric Fassin Radical Philosophy. 2018. For an overview of Mouffe and Fassin see Jacobin, Can There Be a Left Populism?Jacob Hamburger. There is much to say on the intellectual structure of the ‘affects’ argument, and the abstract account by Mouffe construction of the ‘people’ in a counter-hegemonic direction through relations of equivalence which he does not. Hamburger however makes the valdi points that ‘left populism’ is hard to pin down as one thing (the gulf between Sanders and Corbyn alone is immense, and Podemos and La France insoumise) but fails to deal with anything like the different party structures. One can also see that the “degree of porosity between left and right” is politically fraught with dangers, as, even if minority, Gilets Jaunes red-brown cross-overs indicate. One would also prefer an account which focuses on sovereigntism, national independence as a rampart against neoliberalism, something Jacobin writers have themselves embroidered into a ‘left populism’.

 

As the attraction of ‘left populism’, which is still influential in publications such as New Left Review, and the American Jacobin, and other pro-Brexit groups, wanes,  this important article also in the latest Chartist, continues the argument:

THE DANGER OF LEFT NATIONALISM IN THE UK AND EUROPE

Extract:

A recent book on Corbynism by Frederick Harry Pitts and Matt Bolton argues that its key components lie in “seeing the world as constituted essentially of nations” and “posing the nation against global and international capital”. But, the authors point out, the search for sovereignty is destined to fail, not least because “we live in a world structured by capital, a social relation which exists as a world market, from which single states cannot abdicate, no matter how hard they try”. Not only is this emerging aspect of Corbynism pitting itself against the tide of history, but it also produces political rhetoric that shares territory with the nativist Brexiteer right wing. In casting the ‘national community’ as the primary community for whom the left speaks, and in describing not only global flows of capital but also of people as threat to this primary community, the left has clearly contributed to racist othering of migrant workers. Which is why some of Corbyn’s speeches on Europe have drawn praise from the likes of Nigel Farage.

Corbynism’s emerging left nationalism is treading the same path as parts of the French and German left. As far back as 2016 Sahra Wagenknecht of Die Linke challenged Chancellor Angela Merkel’s decision to accept more than one million refugees, calling for limits on entry. In an environment where the far right is stoking fears about ‘violent’ immigrants with fake news and conspiracy theories, Wagenknecht has called for the deportation of any refugees who ‘abuse’ German hospitality: a call in complete contravention of the UN 1951 Refugee Convention, and one that drew praise from the far right Alternative für Deutschland.

Continue Reading.

 

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National Populism. Roger Eatwell, Matthew Goodwin. Review: A Feast of Gammon.

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Image result for National Populism. The Revolt Against Liberal Democracy. Roger Eatwell and Matthew Goodwin. Pelican. 2018.

A Feast of Gammon.

National Populism. The Revolt Against Liberal Democracy. Roger Eatwell and Matthew Goodwin. Pelican. 2018.

Gammon: This word probably derives from the same original as ‘game’ and gamble, but in Victorian and later slang it meant to impose upon, delude, cheat, or play the game on.”

Brewer’s Dictionary of Phrase and Fable. Millennium Edition.

Gammon:  term used to describe a particular type of Brexit-voting, europhobic, middle-aged white male, whose meat-faced complexion suggests they are perilously close to a stroke.

The term ‘gammon’ is linked to the unhealthy pink skin tone of such stout yeomen, probably because of high blood pressure caused by decades of ‘PC gone mad’, being defeated in arguments about the non-existent merits of Brexit and women getting the vote.

Gammon often make their appearance on BBC’s Question Time jabbing their porcine fingers at the camera while demanding immediate nuclear strikes against Remain-voting areas, people who eat vegetables and/or cyclists.

When gammon appears en masse it is often referred to as a “wall of gammon”.

The first known usage of the term ‘gammon’ to describe the complexion of men of an overly-jingoistic fashion dates from as far back as 1838 in a description of Mr Gregsbury, a Member of Parliament, in Charles Dickens’ novel, Nicholas Nickleby.

Urban Dictionary.

In George Macdonald Fraser’s Flashman novels the word gammon crops up. As Tom Brown’s bully bluffs and wriggles through life, his career is gammon itself. A red-faced liar, and cowardly racialist, the ardent Imperialist is the forebear of today’s British cured ham populists and patriots.

National Populism refers to, in Eatwell and Goodwin’s view, movements that “prioritise the culture and interests of the nation, and promise to give voice to a people who feel that they have been neglected, even held in contempt, by distant and often corrupt elites.” (Page ix) The authors consider what national supporters “feel” about “corrupt elites”, and movements that promote these themes,  have to be taken at face value. They are not going to be called out as gammon, dismissed as irrational, uneducated, racists. They “see their own arguments as moral.” (Page 171)

From UKIP (which has never held direct political power, The French Front National (now Rassemblement National) – also never in government – to President Trump, Viktor Orbán’s Hungary, Matteo Salvini’s La Lega, in power in Italy with the ‘populist’ , Movimento 5 Stelle, the Freedom parties in the Netherlands and Austria, and others, there are common traits. They are populists in the sense that they wish to “make the popular will heard and acted on”, defend the interests of “plain, ordinary people” and wish to replace “corrupt and distant elites”. To these vague, not to say vacuous, words – thin enough – national populism adds one strong term, nationalism. National populists stand out with a “strong emphasis on immigration and ethnic change” (Page 80). Behind this diversity there is a “fairly broad alliance of people without degrees who share traditional values and a cluster of core concerns about their lack of voice, the position of their group relative to others, and in particularly immigration and ethnic change.”(Page 39)

Distrust of politicians, “rapid ethnic change” a fear of relative deprivation, under the effects of “neoliberal globalisation” (whose economics are left hanging in the air) feed national populism. But the perception of a threat of “ethnic destruction” is the pillar of the demand for “national independence and identity”. Concerned to demolish “misleading myths” Eatwell and Goodwin give legitimacy to fears about “hyper-ethnic change”, or in the words of famous polemicist they do not refer to, Renaud Camus, “le Grand Remplacement” (Révoltez-vous! 2015). This is not the biological racism of the 1930s far right or modern race-war fascism. It is more cultural. To use a word already taken into English, it is “identitarian”; “We do not think the term “racism” should be applied solely because people seek to retain the broad parameters of the ethnic base of country and its national identity, even though this can involve discriminating against outside groups. “(Page 75)

Angry White Men.

There is a history to be written about the writers and academics with a taste for the pink meat, the Gammon left and right. Eatwell and Goodwin began by refusing to scorn national populists as “crude bigots and old white men”,  far -from-well-off, uneducated, and marginalised from society. They point out that many of these parties have a degree of backing from the respectable middle-class, women indeed vote for them, as well as workers. France indeed has a whole array of intellectuals on the national populist side, some of whom, like Michel Onfray, Emmanuel Todd, and Jean-Claude Michéa, still claiming a wavering leftist thread, even a belief in ‘common decency’ for their sovereigntist dreams, others, Éric Zemmour at their head, clearly on the nationalist right.

Reviewing National Populism for – inevitably – Spiked, Jon Holbrook misses that point and rejoices at a counterblast against “the elite’s dismissive response” to “angry white men”. (Populism is a struggle for democracyJanuary 2019). Gammonry’s French cousin, the Beauf, the American Jacobin might add, is equally the much-maligned target of loaded put downs. Populism is a fight for democracy against “supra-nationalism”, the “transfer of power to transnational organisations”. Gérard Bras talks of the contempt expressed by liberal opponents of populism. For them it expresses the irrationality of the people, their ignorance and their characteristic whims. (“ exprime l’irrationalité du peuple, son ignorance et son caractère velléitaire”) Citing Jacques Rancière he asserts that the charge of “populism” expresses the contempt that, the ruling “politically correct hold for the ruled, (“le politiquement correct dominant tient les dominés”). As Holbrook puts it, “political correctness empowered liberalism to double down on its traditional fear of majority opinion….” (1)

Image result for beauf cabu

 

There is widespread awareness of what National Populism calls the “dealignment” of politics, the drift away from life-long political loyalties, and the decline of social democratic and left support in Europe. No doubt with this in mind the rival ‘left populist’ Chantal Mouffe has protested against the “demonising of the enemies of the “bipartisan consensus. They express opposition to this globalised neoliberal “oligarchy”, to what she dubs, “post-democracy”, and a push for popular sovereignty – whose limits and shapes remain to be defined. Inheriting strategic thinking about populism begun by her late partner Ernesto Laclau the interlocutor of Jean-Luc Mélenchon and some of the leaders of the (presently splintered) Podemos, proposes a political response. The red-faced masses’ “Xenophobic language”, writes Chantal Mouffe, “could be formulated in a different vocabulary and directed towards another adversary”. (2)

“Critics of the neo-liberal order” welcomed the UK leave vote, the “rising of the North” from the anti-EU “rust belt regions”. This was an authentic working class that turned it back on the Trade Union majority and the Labour Party’s official position. That is the ‘Lexit’, pro-Brexit, lament against internationalists, the “cosmopolitans’ from nowhere. But this book should give food for thought for those crying over the fate of the left-behind.

The message of National Populism,  is that, taking this into account, “we need to talk about immigration”.  How can, Éric Fassin has commented, the same “affects”, the emotions that fuel this conversation amongst supporters of national populism be retranslated into a left-wing populism? The chances are slim. I would say close to zero. What is their demand? Ending migration would come, if not at the top, at least close to it. National ‘preference’? Putting our ‘ain folk’ first, and, above all the Nation’s Sovereignty,. above class and ‘elites’. But then I have met national populists. They were, are, and will be, gammon. And who is leading them? Flashman Farrage, Flashman Rees Mogg and Ultra-Flashman, Boris Johnson. (3)

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  1. Populisme: une enquête philosophique sur un concept insaisissable Review and synopsis of Les Voies du peuple (2018)

  2. Page 23. For a Left Populism. Chantal Mouffe. Verso. 2018.

  3. Page 73 Populisme. Le grand ressentiment. Éric Fassin Textuel. 2017 The term ‘affects’, emotions,  an abomination in both English and French, comes from a reading of Spinoza (a small part of his writings) on the emotions in Frédéric Lordon, La société des affects. 2013. In this context, “By affect I understand affections of the body by which the body’s power of acting is increased or diminished, aided or restrained, and at the same time, the ideas of these affections.” Affect (philosophy).

Podemos Splits between the Errejón Camp and Iglesias’ as ‘Left Populism’ Fractures.

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Podemos in Major Split.

Left wing populism’ in Europe is fracturing.

The strategy of unity the ‘people’ against the ‘elite’ the ‘caste’ is has not succeeded in unifying the left in the European countries where it has had the greatest impact.

In France we have this:

Now in Spain Podemos, which unlike La France insoumise has a real democratic internal life and national political leaders of some independent statue, has split.

(From Mike P)

Íñigo Errejón, best known to English language readers as the subject of an interview-book with Chantal Mouffe (In the Name of the People.  2016) stopped belonging to the Unidos Podemos parliamentary group on Monday afternoon. (El País. 22.1.19)

The division was announced a few days ago,

Íñigo Errejón, a top official at the group that he helped transform from an anti-austerity movement into a national force with parliamentary and institutional presence, on Thursday announced his decision to run for the Madrid regional premiership at the May election in alliance with Más Madrid, the party created by the mayor of the Spanish capital, Manuela Carmena.

El País, which few would suspect of sympathy for Podemos, also publishes a  column which announces that

La ventana de oportunidad que alumbró el nacimiento de Podemos se ha cerrado definitivamente

The window of Opportunity opened at the birth of Podemos has closed definitely.

Del 15-M al 26-M 

The above article, which refers to game theory and the Prisoner’s dilemma, point out that in these conditions the lack of co-operation may mean that neither will win.

Here are some extracts from an overview of this dispute:  (El País, 18.1.19)

Podemos founders go their separate ways ahead of Madrid elections

Pablo Iglesias confirms party split and says he is saddened by the surprise news that his colleague Iñigo Errejón will run with the Madrid mayor in May

On January 17, the fifth anniversary of the creation of Podemos, two of its leading founders publicly confirmed the fracture of the left-wing party.

Íñigo Errejón, a top official at the group that he helped transform from an anti-austerity movement into a national force with parliamentary and institutional presence, on Thursday announced his decision to run for the Madrid regional premiership at the May election in alliance with Más Madrid, the party created by the mayor of the Spanish capital, Manuela Carmena.

Podemos Secretary General Pablo Iglesias said he was “saddened” by the surprise news, and wished Errejón “good luck building his new party.” He also confirmed that Podemos will be running with a candidate of its own at the May election, in direct competition with his former colleague.

A Marcos notes that their disagreements go back some time.

The differences between Iglesias and Errejón go back to 2016, when the former decided to join forces with the United Left (IU) in the general election. A few months later, in February 2017, Podemos held a congress to renew the party leadership and Errejón headed a current defending different political goals from those championed by Iglesias, whose views ultimately won out.

Then, in May of last year, Errejón ran in party primaries to find a candidate to the Madrid regional premiership. He won the nomination, but new problems arose when his first choice as a running mate was overlooked and a different person named without his prior knowledge or approval.

With four months to go before Spain holds local and regional elections, Madrid is not the only place where Podemos is running into trouble. In the northwestern region of Galicia, its En Marea coalition is breaking up. In Cantabria, the party is currently headed by an interim management committee. And in Barcelona, primaries will determine whether Podemos runs in the municipal elections with Mayor Ada Colau once again.

In May of last year, Iglesias survived a confidence vote when he put his leadership to the test after being heavily criticized for purchasing a €600,000 country house in Galapagar, a town northwest of Madrid, with his partner Irene Montero.

English version by Susana Urra.

There is more on this here:

From best pals to rivals: Merciless duel rages over the future of Podemos

(2017)

And here:

In the meantime today Podemos has seen fit to cause trouble for the Socialist led government by refusing to vote for legislation on housing and rents.

Podemos complica la vida al Gobierno en el Congreso

This development casts doubt on the ideas put forward by the best known theorist of Left Populism, Chantal Mouffe,

..this is the political strategy that I call “left populism”. Its purpose is the construction of a collective will, a “people” whose adversary is the “oligarchy”, the force that sustains the neoliberal order.

It cannot be formulated through the left/right cleavage, as traditionally configured. Unlike the struggles characteristic of the era of Fordist capitalism, when there was a working class that defended its specific interests, resistances have developed beyond the industrial  sector. Their demands no longer correspond to defined social groups. Many touch on questions related to quality of life and intersect with issues such as sexism, racism and other forms of domination. With such diversity, the traditional left/right frontier can no longer articulate a collective will.

To bring these diverse struggles together requires establishing a bond between social movements and a new type of party to create a “people” fighting for equality and social justice.

We find such a political strategy in movements such as Podemos in Spain, La France Insoumise of Jean-Luc Mélenchon, or Bernie Sanders in the US. This also informs the politics of Jeremy Corbyn, whose endeavour to transform the Labour party into a great popular movement, working “for the many, not the few”, has already succeeded in making it the greatest left party in Europe.

 

Populists are on the rise but this can be a moment for progressives too 

Many would say that the first basis of constructing a “collective will” is to have some unity on the left.

To construct a left.

This is obviously not the result of the politics of either La France insoumise or, now, Podemos. Podemos, naturally, as the Spanish press points out, has its own concerns, and difficulties, in recent electoral contests, such as in Andalusia.

More broadly Éric Fassin has summed up the central problems of ‘left wing’ populism during this debate (extracts).

Left-wing populism A legacy of defeat: Interview with Éric Fassin

 Is it a good strategy? Does it work?

……

The problem with the populist strategy, for the left, is that it’s neither left nor a winning strategy. It was even less so during the latest presidential campaign in France: everyone played that same card at the same time, including Macron, with a rhetoric of ‘centre’ populism! Of course, my argument is not just about France. The same considerations apply to the United States. But another dimension becomes apparent there, thanks to the availability of racial data. Trump’s success is not so much among working-class voters in general, but more specifically among the white working class. In a left-wing populist strategy, the racial dimension of the Trump vote is underestimated, and the class dimension is overestimated – whereas it now seems clear that his critique of the establishment was always just an illusion.

….

Beyond differences, left-wing populisms share the same premise: replace the opposition between right and left by the one between ‘us’ and ‘them’, people from below and elites from above. Obviously, the caste is less numerous than the people: ‘we are the 99% and they are the 1%.’ Indeed. But then, how come it’s so difficult for left-wing populists to reach a majority in elections? This is why we need to differentiate sociology and politics – and not conflate them as populism tends to do. If the working class voted according to their common interest, clearly the left would be flourishing today. That is not the case.

….

Politics is not just about elections. But I think that populism itself is defined by an electoral project. Mélenchon is first and foremost a former and probably future candidate running for presidential elections. So, indeed, there is more to politics than elections; but my little book was written in a context of elections, as an attempt to reclaim the opposition between right and left at a time when the populist illusion seeks to define the terms of debate far beyond elections.

 

The discussion, which is much longer, has to be read as a whole.

I highly recommend Éric Fassin’s clear and short, Populisme: le grand ressentiment (2017) which Radical Philosophy says is being translated into English (the point above about constructing a left “construire une gauche” is taken from the conclusion).

Image result for Populisme: le grand ressentiment

For a broader international starting point the Wikipedia entry  Left-wing populism is good.

 

Mélenchon and la France insoumise in Free-fall.

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Mélenchon : Aux portes du pouvoir par Fayol

Looking Further from the Gates of Power than Ever.

“la vertu est cette capacité à mettre en adéquation les principes qu’on applique dans sa vie avec ceux qu’on voudrait voir appliquer au plus grand nombre au benefice de tous”

Virtue is the faculty to be able to properly line up the principles that you apply in your life with those that you would like to see applied to the greatest number of others to the benefit of all.

Jean-Luc Mélenchon. De La Vertu.2017.(1)

Tout commence par la mystique, par une mystique, par sa (propre) mystique et tout finit de la politique.”

Everything begins in mysticism, by a mystique, one’s own mystique, and ends in politics.”

Notre Jeunesse. Charles Péguy. 1910 – 11. (2)

Jean-Luc Mélenchon, writes Chantal Mouffe, is a successful left-populist. He has channelled a feeling of being “left behind” and the “desire for democratic recognition” away from the far-right. Mélenchon’s Rally, la France insoumise (LFI) has been able to “federate all the democratic struggles against post-democracy”. Like Jeremy Corbyn his “anti-establishment discourse” “comes from the progressive side”. (3)

Mélenchon has ambitions grander than picking up the votes of La France périphérique, the ‘somewhere people’ stranded on the margins in the age of globalisation. He seeks support in that direction. LFI’s reaching out to protests against the rise in engine fuel, backed by the far-right Rassemblement National (ex-Front National) – despite previous green commitment – underlines the approach. But the goal of the movement is to create the multitude, the common people, are transformed into a People by collective action. The fight against the “oligarchy” the push for equality, what remains of class struggle, the deeply rooted “anthropological” need for sovereignty, are woven together into a vision adequate to the ecological demands of a planet under threat. (4)

Out with Class Based Parties!

In these conditions the old class based “party forms” of the left have consigned the left to a dwindling “archipelago”. Their vertical structures correspond to the old Taylorist and Fordist forms of work. The emergence of the dissatisfied People, broader than the traditional working class, as a category, a potential political subject, facing the financial Oligarchy rends them obsolete. Horizontal on-line debate makes the old ‘rigid’ democratic procedures out of date. His movement, a “brand (“label”) is a vehicle for common action. It is not (his quotation marks) “démocratique”, with different tendencies, factions, or even votes on opposing motions at conferences of elected party representatives from branches. It is, in line with these social changes, a “movement”, in which its politics are visible, and through which supporters are involved not by old-fashioned voting but through selection by lot to participate, to a degree decided by their own wishes, in the grand replacements of the old politics of La France insoumise. (5)

It was hard not to be reminded of this vision when listening to the radio station, Europe  1 this morning. The news began with the results of an opinion poll which put LFI’s list for the 2019 European elections in free-fall, down to  11% (drop of 3%)  three and a half points above the Parti Socialiste (7,5%if Ségolène Royal lead their list, otherwise 6%)   Its follows surveys which indicated that, after his public exhibition of petulant rage over an investigation into the Movement’s finances, Mélenchon himself has lost 7 points in personal popularity though some polls put the loss higher at a drop in 15% amongst those who voted for him in the Presidential elections (Jean-Luc Mélenchon dégringole de 7 points). Marine Le Pen’s  Rassemblement national  (ex-Front National) meanwhile is scoring the same, around 20%,  as La  République en Marche of Emmanuel Macron.

L’enfance d’un chef.

The coup de grâce came with an interview with Mélanie Delattre et Clément Fayol, the authors of a book, to be published this week, on Mélenchon and La France insoumise. Mélenchon : Aux portes du pouvoir.This attempts to unravel “le système Mélenchon” It began with a description of LFI as a “business” (Chef d’entreprise et anticapitaliste), and its Leader’s considerable personal fortune. The canny homme d’affaires prefers, they allege, to squirrel away money in a variety of companies rather than reward his long suffering staff. We were then treated to a sketch of its internal ‘operations’, tightly controlled by those in the ‘club’ around the leadership.

Next, the authors asserted, far from being a ‘new type of open to all, a” participative” structure, it is ruled by ‘Trotskyist’ organisational practice – that it a very special kind of ‘Trotskyism’, the Lambertist centralist type which brooks no opposition. They managed to suggest that his screaming and foot stamping against those officials and police agents trying to investigate some of the secrets of this “business” was a premeditated piece of theatre. In short, the accusation is that Mélenchon has retained the political practice of his youth inside one of the most sectarian narrow-minded nationalist (both of its two existing splinters advocate Frexit) French left currents.

Finally, the interview raised the issue of Jean Luc’s long-standing membership of the Freemason, Grand Orient lodge. This, for those wishing to pursue further, may be compared to the deceased leader of Mélenchon’s former faction Pierre Lambert, who enjoyed a life- time friendship with one of the founding figures of French Trotskyism in the 1930s, Fed Zeller, who passed from the Fourth International to the same loge…(6)

To their credit after his tantrum and disrespect for republican legality the French freemasons have suspended Mélenchon and some have asked for his expulsion (Des francs-maçons veulent éjecter Jean-Luc Mélenchon du Grand Orient à cause de son attitude lors des perquisitions).

Where does this leave  La France insoumise?

Many people have the impression that their intellectual support was from the kind of academic or student who, had they been born at the time, would have admired Péguy. That is, a kind of faith in the capacity of socialism to effect a cultural and spiritual renewal beyond sordid (‘post-democratic’) politics. One can see them warming to the nationalist exaltation of Le Mystère de la Charité de Jean d’Arc (1908) It is to be doubted if they would have belched at the author’s railing at “bourgeois cosmopolitanism” and hatred of Jaurès’ Teutonic socialism. (7) The might well have had a sneaking admiration for the Camelots du roi, armed with lead-weighted canes against rootless youpins. If few would accuse Mélenchon of anti-semitism, LFI, we are informed is none too fond of George Soros, and as for Germans….

Rather than awaiting the Second Coming the supporters of Mélenchon  expect a laïque  révolution citoyenne and the Sixth republic led by the genial LFI Chief – any day now…

The painful realisation that Mélenchon’s ‘mystique’ is evaporating and that they have ended up in the sordid world of less than virtuous politics will be a hard to manage…

Mélenchon aux portes du pouvoir,  published at the end of the week, looks set for the leftist must-read list….

  1. Page 136. Jean-Luc Mélenchon avec Cécile Amar. Editions de l’Observatoire. 2017
  2. Page 115. Charles Péguy. Notre jeunesse. Folio Essais. Gallimard. 1993.
  3. Pages 22 – 23. Chantal Mouffe. For a Left Populism. Verso. 2018.
  4. Le Peuple et son conflit. Pages 142 – 147. Jean-Luc Mélenchon L’ère du Peuple. Pluriel. 2017 (new edition).
  5. Le Peuple et son mouvement. Pages 148 – 156. Op cit.
  6. Fred Zeller. Témoin du siècle. Du Blum à Trotsky au grand Orient de France….Fayard. 2000
  7. This is how he described the German influence on the politics of Jean Jaurès: “une sorte de vague cosmopolitisme bourgeois vicieux et d’autre part et très particulièrement et très proprement un pangermanisme, un total asservissement à la politique allemande, au capitalisme allemand, à l’impérialisme allemand, au militarisme allemand, au colonialisme allemand.”(P 1259) .Charles Péguy: Oeuvres en Prose. 1909 – 1914. Tome ll. Bibliothèque de la Pléiade. Avant-proposes et notes. Marcel Péguy. 1961.

Rancière: ‘Post Democracy’, Populism, and Anti-Anti-Populism (Part One).

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‘Rancière: ‘Post Democracy’, Populism, and Anti-Anti-Populism.

Part One.

Maint fleur épanche à regret,

Son parfum doux comme un secret,

Dans les solitudes profoundes.”

Many a flower regretfully
Exhales perfume soft as secrets
In a profound solitude.

 

Le Guignon. Les Fleurs du mal. Charles Baudelaire. (1)

Introduction.

Jacques Rancière has become a reference point in radical aesthetic theory. Over the last two decades his writings have a committed audience, a larger group of spectators, and have helped inspire some optimism about allying artistic experimentation with emancipatory politics. (le Monde 6.7.18)  The irruption of “dissensus”, upturning existing communities of the creation and reception of arts, (the “partage du sensible” in a “sensus communis”), offers glimpses of “festivals of the future”. (2)

Across the left Rancière is best known as a champion of the politics of the “principle of equality”, “the equality of anyone at all with anyone else”. This, the only universal in politics, is the perpetual up-setter of apple carts. Perhaps his most ambitious target is a vehicle that might be better called a juggernaut. This is “post-democracy”. Pierre Rosanvallon has observed that he was one of the first to employ this term. “Post-democracy”(“post-démocratie”) has replaced the classical active ‘subject’ and agent of politics, effaced before the technical regulation of society – in the interests of those who hold economic power. (La contre-démocratie. 2006). As Rancière has stated, “Post-democracy is the government practice and conceptual legitimisation of a democracy after the demos, a democracy that has eliminated the appearance, miscount, and dispute of the people and is thereby reducible to the sole interplay of state mechanisms and combinations of social energies and interests.” (3)

Can the egalitarian figure of the People overturn the rule of the experts steeped in managerial science, neo-liberal economics, and the crafts of PR, presiding over post-democracy?  Is neoliberal post-democracy, as Rosanvallon has recently stated, so dominant, diffuse and elusive that the one is restricted to making its workings known?  (Le Monde. 31. 8. 18) Rancière places his hopes in a revived Demo. As he said in 2017, “the point today is trying to think a form of political organisation as really creating a new form of people. Because person is not the reality that parties represent, it is the reality that they create. The problem is whether we can create a new kind of people, a people of equals who have the possibility to put the capacity of anybody at work.” (4)

Rancière, then, is a critic of “Ètats oligarchiques”, based on the rule of – liberal – law that excludes Popular Sovereignty, and a voice on the side of the People. The late Ernesto Laclau’s On Populist Reason (2005) welcomed his “rediscovery of the People”, while flagging up his differences, with the French writers references to the “irreducible heterogeneity” (as Rancière calls it, “a multiplicity of experiences of equality, freedom or emancipation”) of popular struggle. Including those whose fight for equality flowers in “profound solitude.”(5)

Disagreements are more clearly signalled in public discussion with Laclau in 2015. Rancière asserted, “at least in European countries the representative principle of the state is completely integrated into the oligarchic mechanisms that it reproduces. It certainly does not function as a means for building a popular will.” This puts him at odds with the intramundane translation of Laclau’s ideas, put into strategic form by his partner Chantal Mouffe as ‘left populism’. Based on “federating the people”, bringing together their diverse interests and backgrounds into a unity that displaces the post-democratic consensus managed by the ruling political class, this has had some influence on European politics.  Spain’s Podemos and Jean-Luc Mélenchon’s La France insoumise (LFI) have paid attention to this perspective. Key advisers have borrowed from Laclau’s theoretical tool-box. It would be rash nevertheless to make the bolder claim that these politicians are the earthly incarnation of the abstractions of On Populist Reason and, other, far less accessible works. Mouffe’s most recent book, For a Left Populism (2018) restricts herself to quoting Rancière’s description of “post-democracy”. The debate has halted there for the moment. (6)

Populism.

Rancière is also known for his article, L’introuvable populisme (2011), which criticised, pell-mell, “elite” contempt for the rough masses, secular French republicanism, and the racialism of the French state. Éric Fassin, Pierre Dardot and Christian Laval, include these aspects of Rancière in discussion of both Populism and post-democracy. (7)

In this year’s Socialist Register James Foley and Pete Ramand find comfort for their opinions on the potential of Referendums for outsiders (including the left) to express themselves in the earlier La Haine de la démocratie (2005).  Pouring scorn on the denial of the French vote on the 19th of May 2005 against the EU Constitution, Rancière wrote on the theme he was to take up in L’introuvable populism, “Populism is the convenient name under which is dissimulated the exacerbated contradiction between popular legitimacy and expert legitimacy”.  Railing against “les oligarches, leurs savants et leurs idéologues” who despise the masses, in this instance those opposed to backing the EU plan, as ignorant “populists”. This theeme is repated many time in his writing, “‘populist’ is very much part of this arsenal used by the intellectual world, the world of the dominant.” This is, in some eyes, a way of avoiding talking about what exactly this particularly “heterogeneous” people. Indeed he is obdurate enough to claim that “it was clearly a democratic question and that was in the forefront.” In reality during that contest the ‘non’ to the Constitution included the whole of the French extreme right and many on the left marked by ‘elitist’ republicanism’ and nationalism. (8)

And yet… Rancière is best described as an ‘anti-anti-populist’. The ‘elite’ horror of mass direct intervention in political life, turning upside down the consensus of established politics, is the principal contradiction. “Cold racism”, he asserts on the universal basis of French experience, is generated by the ‘secular’ state. Laws entrenching secularism (that is, laïcité), endorsed by the Republican left, which affect ‘Moslems’, terms no doubt requiring no further explanation – highlight a wider form of contempt. But is, the “new racism coming from the top of the State” the end of the problem? The successes of right-wing ‘populism’, up to the extreme right, in the electorates of many countries, can hardly be obscured as they parade in the light of day. Is it only a ‘secondary contradiction’ amongst the people, a fabrication by ‘elites’, another shadow game in post-democracy, or, as most would imagine, a profound and rooted political problem?  Any answers are, at best, obscured by Rancière’s polemical gambit. That is, the principle  – frequent if never explicitly put – that one often needs to “reverse”, turn upside down, two poles to get a hold on how the elusive post-democratic society is operating. The election in Sweden this September suggests that one should turn this round again. We have to look at the ‘popular’ basis for mass backing for racist parties.

Radical Democracy.

That said, does Rancière contribute to grasping the world described as “post-democratic” and offer any useful ideas about creating democratic equality? Alex Dimorivić offers a hook into his work: the thinker is a champion of “Radical democracy ll, a stand that flavours democratic aspirations through “dissensus, argument, conflict and antagonism.” To approach Rancière’s politics through the lenses of left-wing radical democracy is to place him within, as he might put it, to join a sensus communis that is potentially intelligible to a broad left audience.  Rancière certainly does not follow those who are attempting to construct and channel the ‘People’ into a political organisation under the guidance of left populist theory and charismatic Leader. In the 2017 French Presidential election he called for a “non candidate”, and encouraged of independent forms of popular democracy beyond the “false choice” in the ballot box.   It would appear that the last thing the principle of equality would endorse is, transposing the words of The Philosopher and His Poor, a Party-Movement dedicated to training actors “in the art of becoming historical agents.”  (9)

Can Rancière offer light, as Étienne Balibar has stated, on the roots of his own principle of “égaliberté”, equality-liberty? That is that by pushing the drive for recognition by those without a stake in society into broader political thinking (including the worlds of Theory and Philosophy….)? He may of thinking through the concepts of freedom in the mould of radical egalitarianism, and add some spice about the pitfalls of integration into the ways things have been set up till now. Balibar’s pwn democratic experimentation, has explored the blind spots (“angles morts”) of Marxism. Rancière’s independent take (and criticisms) of pictures of the “democratic revolution”, and “political emancipation” associated with Claude Lefort.

Ideas of  “equality-liberty” may open up further avenues that bring the “principle of equality” into a wider range of issues, from human rights to the shape of the welfare state and education.  The critic of the Western military imposition of “infinite justice” is far from an opponent of all concepts of human right. Indeed he is a keen supporter of the struggles stemming from those who have no part in society (“la part des sans-part”), and their fight for rights that emerge beyond the framework of nation, peoples and classes. Those influenced by Claude Lefort tend to be over-wary of the threat of totalitarianism; Rancière has a profound tendency to ignore the issue altogether.  A certain balance, or, dare I say it, ‘anglo-saxon’ (as French writers misleadingly call us) pragmatism would suggest that that each writer may illuminate the other. (10)

But – this is a repeated warning  – often the language is very abstract. This is not only a matter of the terms employed. Slavoj Žižek point out that Rancière’s account (the ‘non-foundation’) of The Political (le politique) and Politics (la politique) structurally avoids the importance of the critique of political economy. One can extend this insight. Anybody educated in the history of the labour movement and the left will find the bald assertion of the importance of a “non-sociological” concept of the working class,  “a kind of symbolical invention of the collective”, offered without substantial documented detail, grating.  It is not only these difficulties that should concern us. Whether his take can contribute to any definite political project is equally far from clear. As Frédéric Lordon has remarked – he is far from the first to do so – the golden moments of democratic energy, real politics, are for Rancière brief and rare. The “police”, the administration of post-democracy, soon brings the masses to order. (11)

 

**********

Part 2, from the  La leçon d’Althusser (1975) La Nuit des prolétaires. Archives du rêve ouvrier, (1981), Le Philosophe et ses pauvres, (1983) to the overview offered by Pratiquer l’égalité  Anders Fjeld (2018) passing through, amongst others Dissensus: On Politics and Aesthetics (2010), Chronicles of Consensual Times (2010)…….

 

References :

 

 

  1. Translation by William Aggeler, The Flowers of Evil (Fresno, CA: Academy Library Guild, 1954). The lines, criticsm assures us, echo, “Full many a flower is born to blush unseen, And waste its sweetness on the desert air.” Thomas Gray. Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard. The following may extend the relevance to Rancière’s project, “Some Village Hampden that with dauntless breast, The little tyrant of his fields withstood, Some mute inglorious Milton here may rest, Some Cromwell guiltless of his country’s blood”.
  2. On the new links between aesthetics, politics and “other ways of living”, “Entre esthétique et politique les frontières deviennent poreuses.” Le Monde. 6.7.18). One of the best texts with which to begin reading his views on art is Chapter 3. Aesthetic Separation, Aesthetic Community. The Emancipated Spectator, Jacques Rancière. Translated Gregory Elliott. Verso. 2009. See the invaluable Translator’s Introduction to, Jacques Rancière’s Politics of Perception Gabriel Rockhill to The Politics of Aesthetics. The Distribution  of the Sensible. Jacques Rancière. Continuum. 2005. In French there is this useful short overview:  Stéphane Roy-des-rosiers. Introduction approfondie à l’esthétique de Jacques Rancière.  On the wider importance of his views on aesthetic judgement, see the Introduction to Rancière’s Sentiments. David Panagia Duke University Press. 2018.
  3. Page 15. Rancière, Disagreement. Originally published as La Mesentente: Politique et philosophie, copyright 1995 Editions Galilee. Translated Julie Rose. University of Minnesota Press. 1999. On Post-democracy: Page 267. La contre-démocratie. Pierre Rosanvallon. Seuil 2006. Rosanvallon states that Rancière was probably the first to use the expression “post-démocratie” in La Mésentente. The line cited is from the English translation, Page 102. Disagreement. Op cit. The term is also known through the work of  Colin Crouch. See Colin Crouch. Coping with Post-Demcoraccy.(Fabian Society. No Date) Is there a liberalism beyond social democracy? By Colin Crouch. Policy Network , 5 May 2011
  4. .Pages 19-20 A coffee with Jacques Rancière beneath the Acropolis Babylonia. January 2018.
  5. “Concluding Remarks” On Populist Reason. Ernesto Laclau. Verso 2005. Don’t they represent us? A discussion between Jacques Rancière and Ernesto Laclau. 2015. Translated by David Broder, from El Diario. Page 13. For a Left Populism. Chantal Mouffe. Verso 2018.
  6. L’introuvable populisme in Qu’est-ce qu’un people? Alain Badiou, Pierre Bourdieu, Judith Butler, Georges Didi-Huberman, Sadri Khiari, Jacques Rancière. La Fabrique
  7. Pages 17 – 18. Populisme: le grand ressentiment. Èric Fassin. Èditions Textuel. 2017. In the Conclusion: Ce Cauchemar qui n’en finit pas. Comment le néolibéralisme défait la démocratie. Pierre Dardot, Christian Laval. .La Découverte. 2016.
  8. In fear of Populism: Referendums and neoliberal democracy. James Foley Pete Ramand. Pages 87 –88 Rethinking Democracy  Socialist Register 2018. Merlin. La Haine de la démocratie. Jacques Rancière La Fabrique. 2005 Page 120. Europe: The Return of the People, or of Populism? 2016 (Verso site’s translation). In fact faced with the Brexit vote all he could do was mumble about  a reaction to the (EU) “denial of democracy, a denial which the European bureaucracy itself embodies. Then there is the aspect that is about relating to the other, relations with foreigners. “
  9. Radical Democracy and Socialism. Alex Dimorivić. Socialist Register 2018. Merlin 2018. On more details on this ‘non-candidacy”, such as they are, see Jacques Rancière, La Grande Table: Revaloriser la démocratie avec Jacques Rancière. France Culture. (3.5.17)“Les logiques représentatives génèrent un système d’alternance de partis qui se ressemblent de plus en plus.”:”La seule campagne significative à mon sens est précisément une campagne pour la non-présidence.” “Il reste possible d’envisager des formes d’institutions réellement démocratiques et non axées sur la question de la lutte du pouvoir.” “La vraie question est celle du choix lui-même : nous assistons à une élection de la dépossession.” “Un peuple n’existe pas par lui-même : c’est le résultat d’un certain nombre d’éléments, d’un processus politique.” “Il y a un combat à mener contre les idéologies ouvertement réactionnaires et élitistes, et un autre contre les fausses évidences.” The Philosopher and His Poor, ed. Andrew Parker, co-trans. John Drury, Corinne Oster, and Andrew Parker (2004) original edition. Le Philosophe et ses pauvres, Fayard, 1983 a crucial transtional point which will be taken up further).
  10. The translation “counting the uncounted” (counting , décompte) is used in From Universality to Equality Badiou’s critique of Rancière. Jeff Love and Todd May (Clemson University) Symposium: Canadian Journal of Continental Philosophy. (Web) Most of the article is taken up with demolishing one of the most arrogant claims a world class egotist has ever made, Alain Badiou has asserted that in this approach to equality Rancière simply borrowed his own concept of “nomination” – in a grand ontology which few can fathom – to signal out the moment of resistance that marks the ‘non-part’ rebellion. Rancière’s own, respectful, account of Badiou’s concept of ‘fidelity” is discussed at a level of enormous abstraction in, “Jacques Rancière A propos de L’Etre et l’Evénement d’Alain Badiou. le cahier du Collège international de philosophie.n° 8 octobre 1989 (éd. Osiris) A courageous effort to render into English the decent obscurity of the learned language in this essay on Badiou is offered by David Broder, Time is nothing other than intervention”—Jacques Rancière on Alain Badiou’s Being and Event. Verso Site.
  11. The link is underlined by Balibar right at the beginning of this work, “il faut que s’affirme une légitimité de la lutte, ce que Jacques Rancière appelle la part des sans-part, qui confère une signification universelle à la revendication du « décompte » de ceux qui ont été maintenus en dehors du « bien commun » ou de la « volonté générale” Ouverture: l’antimonie de la citoyenneté. In Étienne Balibar. La Proposition de l’égaliberté. Essais politiques. 1980 – 2009/ Actuel Marx. PUF 2010. Étienne Balibar, L’Illimitation démocratique. Martin Deleixhe. Michalon Éditeur. 2014. Page 293. Of Lefort’s writings on these issues see particularly. Essais sur le politique. Claude Lefort. Seuil. 1986. L’invention démocratique. Fayard, 1981/1994.  Page 75. Amongst many references to this take on human rights see: What is the Subject of the Rights of Man? In Dissensus: On Politics and Aesthetics (2010) The Lesson of Rancière. Slavoj Žižek. In: The Politics of Aesthetics. The Distribution of the Sensible. Op Cit. Structures et affects des corps politiques. Frédéric Lordon. La Fabrique. 2012.

 

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

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Review “Populism and Socialist Democracy” 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

******

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

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Populism, Popular-Democratic Fronts and Tim Farron.

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Tim Farron: New Populist Front – but don’t invite Gays!

Older left-wingers will remember the group, the Democratic Left.

It was the official heir of the Communist Party of Great Britain (CPGB) and grew out of the magazine Marxism Today.

We have written on some of the theories and politics behind this group, Stuart Hall, Thatcherism, and Marxism Today (also published in North Star. June 2013).

One of the principal criticisms of the current that became the Democratic Left, was its its willingness to dissolve any form of class politics into a very nebulous form of “democratic alliance”. In the case of Stuart Hall this took the shape of looking for “new constituencies for change” to win over a hegemonic majority opposed to the ‘National Popular” configuration that cemented the electoral  the base of Margaret Thatcher’s ‘authoritarian populism”.

The idea that there is an alternative, progressive, type of populism, is not new. The present rise in the intellectual  popularity of “populism” on the British left, articulated in a “democratic” left-inflected way, woes something to another influence on the Democratic Left, the “post Marxism” of Ernesto Laclau, and, to a lesser extent Chantal Mouffe (she has since adopted a form of left republicanism or “agonistic pluralism” *).

Laclau developed the idea out of his studies of Latin America, including Peronism, and a critique of the Althussarian  and Poulantzian position on the class grounds of ideology. Ideology is something which only take a class alignment in specific configurations of discourse. This leaves open the possibility of “democratic” as well as reactionary forms of populism. That is ” the basis of populism in the creation of “empty signifiers”: words and ideas that constitute and express an “equivalential chain”. This “equivalential chain” is made possible only when a list of unfulfilled political demands create a ‘logic of equivalence” between them. ” To translate: populism can become ‘popular’ when the frustrated masses fuse their demands (through what mechanism?) together.

Like Castoriadis’ concept of the “social imaginary” this appears to encourage a great deal of political creativity. Unfortunately it also allows politicians to ‘creatively ‘ make alliances and launch campaigns around demand with whoever seems to advance their cause. It is also suggested that it lets political parties and activists lose sight of the need to give a voice to clear interests – like class – and to make “socialism” such a flexible ‘democratic’ signifier that it loses all specific meaning.

We hear that Laclau has had an impact of Podemos and (we are surprised at this) the more seriously left-wing Syriza (Why Ernesto Laclau is the intellectual figurehead for Syriza and Podemos In the Spanish case it appears to mean appealing to the “masses” against the “elites”, the “political caste” (la casta), and claims to have gone “beyond” the “old” divisions between left and right.

In a British left-wing  version, advanced by, amongst others,  Owen Jones, left populism appears to mean pandering to anti-European fears. It can, in fact, mean just about anything that is “popular”

This is the end result of the (soon to dissolve) Democratic Left:

The Democratic Left stated a belief in a pluralist and socialist society “incompatible with the structures and values of capitalism.” Beginning as a political party, it decided not to stand candidates but instead to support tactical against the Conservatives at the 1992 General election and soon become a non-party campaigning organisation. DL campaigned on modernising unions, including Unions21; anti-racism and cultural diversity; democratising Britain, including Make Votes Count; social exclusion and poverty, including the Social Exclusion Network; focussing on coalition building, and operating in effect as a ‘socialist anti-Conservative front’.

Wikipedia.

Hard-line critics of this approach dismissed it as an end to class politics, without any solid basis in society, and (for Trotksyists) a renewed “popular frontism”, without specific socialist politics.

The Democratic  Left withered away during the early Blair years, though we hear that some of them are still around in the New Politics Network (always something ‘new’…) and the journal Soundings.

We were reminded of these ideas when we read Red Pepper in June.

Many of the SNP candidates in the last election were chosen from or influenced by this movement, even though the movement is autonomous from the SNP. They have come to Westminster not with a nationalist but an anti‑austerity and pro-democracy agenda. As George Kerevan, now MP for East Lothian, said in the last issue of Red Pepper: ‘Watch out for SNP campaigners south of the border. If there are anti-austerity demonstrations in London, I will be there.’

He’s not alone. And although with Cameron in office there is probably little that he and his fellow SNP activists can achieve through sitting in Westminster and sticking to conventional procedure, there is much that a progressive anti-austerity alliance of MPs, including from Plaid Cymru, the Labour left and the victorious Green Caroline Lucas, can contribute to amplify the voices and demands of the movement across the country.

Hilary was once a critic of the Democratic Left and Marxism Today…..

It will be interesting to see this ‘populist’ left reacts to this generous offer:

Tim Farron, the Liberal Democrat leader, began his first day in office by calling for progressive groups on the left to come together to forge a joint agenda on key constitutional issues such as electoral and Lords reform. He also revealed that defence of civil liberties, more social housing, climate change and continued UK membership of the European Union will be the primary issues on which he first intends to define his leadership.

This seems one of the – many – stumbling blocks to this new alliance (Guardian).

The new Liberal Democrat leader, Tim Farron, on Friday night repeatedly avoided answering whether he regarded gay sex as a sin during a live television interview.

Just one day into his role as party leader, in an interview with Cathy Newman on Channel 4 News, Farron was asked whether he personally believed, as a Christian, that homosexual sex was a sin.

After replying that as liberals it was not “our views on personal morality that matter”, Farron said that to “understand Christianity is to understand that we are all sinners”.

* See the readable On the Political. Chantal Mouffe.  2005 and the, less readable, Agonistics: Thinking The World Politically. Chantal Mouffe. 2013.