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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.

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(1) Les guerres d’Abensour.

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

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Written by Andrew Coates

April 28, 2017 at 11:45 am

Yanis Varoufakis: DiEM25 Launched In Berlin, “Europe will be democratised, or it will disintegrate.”

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Official site:  DiEM25

‘Erratic Marxist’ takes on ‘confederacy of myopic politicians’

Former Greek finance minister Yanis Varoufakis has launched a pan-European movement designed to “democratize” the EU within a decade. Naomi Conrad reports from Berlin. Deutsche Welle.

Tuesday’s event at Berlin’s imposing Volksbühne, famous for its long tradition of radical left-wing productions, had been long sold out. Yanis Varoufakis, a self-proclaimed “erratic Marxist” who promised to take on the European Union was the reason for the rush.

It was his “duty” to do so, he told a packed audience. Otherwise, the EU would “disintegrate”.

The economics professor rose to fame when he was appointed as finance minister by Greece’s left-wing Syriza party last year. He famously clashed with his German counterpart Wolfgang Schäuble, as he tried to defy German-backed European austerity policies.

Finally, with a third bailout on the table, which imposed further rather than less austerity measures, Varoufakis resigned his post and broke with Syriza.

But now the economist turned maverick politician is trying to reclaim the political arena with Berlin launch of his grassroots pan-European movement. Varoufakis calls the movement “a broad coalition of radical democrats,” which intends to “democratize” the European Union – and indeed revolutionize the 28-member bloc.

Former Greek finance minister Yanis Varoufakis has launched a new pan-European umbrella group that aims to pull together leftwing parties, grassroots protest movements and “rebel regions” from across the continent.

….

He was joined on stage by leader of the left-wing party “Die Linke,” Katja Kipping, British MP Caroline Lucas and Irish MEP Nessa Childers, among others.

The movement is not without its critics: In an open letter published on his website, Sven Giegold, a member of the European Parliament for the Green Party, called Varoufakis’ comments “disrespectful and populist.” He also slammed the manifesto for lacking transparency, pointing out that it was unclear who decided on the final version of the document.

But nevertheless, the number of those who signed up to the petition continued to grow on Tuesday evening. By late evening, more than 3,200 people had signed up.

The Guardian reports.

At the launch on Tuesday night, Varoufakis said that the new DiEM25 movement would “shake Europe – gently, compassionately, but firmly”. “Europe will be democratised, or it will disintegrate, and it will do so quite fast”, the self-described “erratic Marxist” said, warning of a return to a “postmodern version of the 1930s”.

The evening at Berlin’s Volksbühne theatre, also featured speeches from Barcelona’s mayor, Ada Colau, British Green MP Caroline Lucas, representatives of Germany’s Blockupy movement, as well as musician Brian Eno, philosopher Slavoj Žižek and WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange. “When parliaments become theatres, we have to turn theatres into parliaments”, said Miguel Urbán Crespo, an MEP for Spain’s Podemos party.

In an article published in the Guardian last week, Varoufakis said the DiEM25 group would lobby for more transparent processes in European decision-making, including live-streaming of council meetings and full disclosure of trade negotiation documents.

“Our medium-term goal is to convene a constitutional assembly where Europeans will deliberate on how to bring forth, by 2025, a full-fledged European democracy, featuring a sovereign parliament that respects national self-determination and shares power with national parliaments, regional assemblies and municipal councils”, said the economist academic, who resigned from government in July last year after a series of run-ins with other European finance ministers.

“One simple, radical idea is our motivating force: to democratise Europe in the knowledge that the EU will either be democratised or it will disintegrate at a terrible cost to all.”

In the run-up to its launch, DiEM25 drew some criticism from activists, some of them asking whether it represented an agenda already covered by other pro-transparency and anti-austerity party groups in the European parliament. Sven Giegold, a German Green MEP, called Varoufakis “populist and disrespectful” in an open letter. In another open letter, a Blockupy activist criticised DiEM25 for charging €12 (£9.30) for its launch event.

DiEM25: Der Zerfall Europas muss gestoppt werden

Neue Bewegung beginnt Debatte über Demokratisierung der EU von unten / Warnung vor neuem Nationalismus.

Neues deutschland

This is important:  A Critique Of Yanis Varoufakis’ Democracy In Europe Movement (DiEM25)  on 9 February 2016.

Before reading this it is well to bear in mind that Fazi avoids the potentially dangerous trap of talking about “sovereignty”.

How many gallons of pen, Biro and printers’ ink have been spilt over the idea of that a sovereign ‘general will’  is the basis  of democracy will never be counted. As a philosophical construct it has never been pinned down. It took a liberal Benjamin Constant to point out in the 19th century that Rousseau’s concept had never been seen in the flesh for all its rampages in the mouths of politicians  (Principes de politique applicables à tous les gouvernements représentatifs1815). The sovereignty of Nations should have gone the way of Sovereigns. That it s a Monster, something we glimpse out of the corner of the eye in books, is all too rapidly seen when rears its head as a blood spitting beast in Wars. Its use is doing intolerable damage to debate about the European Union.

Democracy, the free capacity to make, through majorities, through voting,  collective decisions, is about majorities, and mundane institutions, not abstractions, nations and Sovereignty.

As a democratic Marxist this Blog tends to agree with Hal Draper,

Marx and Engels always saw the two sides of the complex of democratic institutions and rights which arose under bourgeois democracy. The two sides corresponded to the two classes which fought it out within this framework. One side was the utilization of democratic forms as a cheap and versatile means of keeping the exploited masses from shaking the system, of providing the illusion of participation in the state while the economic sway of the ruling class ensured the real centres of power. This was the side of the “democratic swindle”. The other side was the struggle to give the democratic forms a new social (class) content, above all by pushing them to the democratic extreme of popular control from below, which in turn entailed extending the application of democratic forms out of the merely political sphere into the organization of the whole society.

Here is Fazi:

…much as I share the movement’s spirit, I also consider its strategy and general goals – as presented in the manifesto and in various interviews by Varoufakis – to be rather problematic, for reasons that I will try to explain. The idea that the European Left should aim for a radical, progressive overhaul of Europe’s institutions – rather than their rejection – is not new, of course, and has actually been the consensus among European progressive/leftist movements all throughout the crisis – and still i.s, I would imagine, despite the recent rise of left-wing euro-scepticism.

Discussing the problems of ‘oligarchic capture’, which Fazia argues affects the European Parliament even more than the already compromised national ones, he observes that cultural and linguistic differences exacerbate the problems in Europe. He then states, ” any debate about the ‘parliamentarisation’ of the EU needs to take into account the crucial difference between the formal electoral-representative process and true popular control”. He notes the ” lobbying and to the revolving doors issue – not just between big businesses and regulatory agencies but also between big businesses and elected offices.”

“In general terms, they point to a wider crisis of electoral-representative democracy. It is widely agreed that in recent decades we have witnessed a ‘hollowing out’ of democracy and sovereignty at the national level. In the long-established democracies of Western Europe, electoral turnouts are in decline and membership is shrinking in all major parties. This is particularly evident in Europe, for obvious reasons. Colin Crouch coined the term ‘post-democracy’ to describe this new normal, defined as a society that continues to have and to use all the institutions of democracy, but in which they increasingly become a formal shell, and the energy and innovative drive pass away from the democratic arena and into small circles of a politico-economic elite. There are generally two ways of framing this phenomenon. One is that this is a somewhat inevitable – one may even say ‘natural’ – result of economic and political internationalisation, which has seriously eroded the ability of individual countries to decide their own destinies, and thus of national electoral-representative systems to formulate a general will that can bend the institutions of public power to sovereign ends. According to this narrative, the shift – in the European context – from a multiplicity of (increasingly powerless and non-sovereign) national democracies to a single (and truly sovereign) European supranational democracy is inevitable, whether we like it or not.

This really is a big issue. But internationalists have no way of avoiding the issue: is super, or supra-national democrcay possible?

But there is another way of framing of the shift towards post-democracy. And that is that this isn’t the inevitable consequence of ‘global dynamics’ but – as acknowledged even in the DiEM25 manifesto – the result of an explicit process of ‘depoliticisation’ aimed at removing macroeconomic policy from democratic control and putting crucial areas of administration – such as monetary and fiscal policy – outside of political contestation. In this sense, the EMU can be considered the most extreme form of depoliticisation ever attempted. According to this narrative, the depoliticisation of individual nation states – including through a self-imposed reduction of their ‘sovereignty’, understood as the expression of popular will  – can be understood as a way to roll back the democratic and social/economic gains that had previously been achieved by subordinate classes. If that is the case, are we sure that further ‘democratising’ the institutions of the EU/EMU is truly the best way forward?

I am not sure about “post democracy”, undemocratic would be a better term.

Moreover, even if we accept that the failure of national electoral-representative systems is a historically determined fact and that there is no alternative to democratising the EU – that is, if we accept DiEM25’s basic premise – I would question the effectiveness of the movement’s ‘pan-European’ strategy. DiEM purports to change Europe’s system of governance ‘from the outside’ – i.e., at an institutionally non-existent pan-European level – but effectively all the major decisions are still taken at the inter-governmental level. This means that, realistically speaking, any serious structural change – such as a true ‘democratisation’ of the system – requires national governments agreeing to such a change. If not, how else? And if so, isn’t a strategy that deems the national level to be politically irrelevant – as implied by Varoufakis – inevitably doomed to fail? Isn’t there a risk of creating a pan-European movement that is culturally relevant but politically marginal?

Or, to put it bluntly: what political forces can DiEM25 muster behind itself?

Before pointing to the need to read the full well-thought out article these are some crucial issues Fazia points to,

DiEM25’s manifesto offers little insight as to the position that European progressive movements should take with regard to the authoritarian, top-down ‘federal’ integration being proposed and pursued by the EU establishment (exemplified by Schäuble’s proposed ‘fiscal union’, for example). Would Varoufakis agree with the notion that any further integration should be considered desirable only if, when, and to the extent that it is accompanied by the enhancement of popular control at a local, national, and supranational level, and that the current processes of top-down integration should be opposed?

Finally, DiEM’s approach takes the survival of the EU/EMU for granted. But that remains to be seen. By concentrating on the reform of existing European institutions, isn’t there a risk for the Left of finding itself dangerously unprepared in the face of an unforeseen implosion of the monetary union? Especially if we take into account that there is little reason to believe that Germany and the other countries of the ‘ordoliberal bloc’ would yield to a reform of the EMU in a more Keynesian, progressive direction, even in the unlikely event that we could get a sufficient number of countries to back such a proposal. If such a situation should emerge, the most likely outcome would be a German exit from the monetary union (leading to a possible collapse of the entire currency system).

 Which leads back to the issue already signaled: the need for a left majority in Europe remains in the shadow of an embedded policy of monetary orthodoxy.

How to shatter that is, to say the least, a major problem.

One thing is certain: in the UK leaving the European Union with an even more entrenched orthodox economic framework intact with the hard-right even more in the ascendant,  will make challenging it much much harder.

Meanwhile this French commentator, CÉDRIC ENJALBERT, (Philosophie Magazine) sees the DiEM25 movement as an extension of Kant’s Enlightenment Cosmopolitanism and Project for Perpetual Peace:

L’ex-ministre des finances grec Yánis Varoufákis lance un nouveau mouvement européen. DIEM25 entend revitaliser l’espoir démocratique en Europe en fédérant les consciences politiques de la société civile sur le continent, dans l’esprit cosmopolitique du projet de paix perpétuelle hérité des Lumières.

Written by Andrew Coates

February 10, 2016 at 2:05 pm

Syria: A Must-Read from the Democratic Left.

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A Must-Read signaled by the  Beloved Comrade Entdinglichung (Here.)

 

Interview with Abdalaziz al-Khair, leading figure of the National Coordination Body for Democratic Change, Syria

 

 
16 May 2012: Abdulaziz al-Khair was a leading member of the Communist Action Party. He was persecuted and had to live underground for more than ten years. He was arrested and tortured in 1992, sentenced to 22 years and released in 2005. In 2007 he participated in founding the “Left Assembly”, which included the Communist Action Party, the Kurdish Left Party, the Body of Syrian Communists, the Marxist Democratic Assembly and the Coordination Committee of the Members of the Syrian Communist Party – Politburo.

Q: You founded the “National Coordination Body’’ with the aim of taking part in the popular movement and to represent it. How did this movement emerge? Why did its demands radicalize into overthrowing the regime?

The popular movement is in fact a political revolution, the result of a long political history. The objective conditions have been mounting to transfer the dynamics of this movement from the intellectual space to society at large. We were astonished nevertheless. It was similar to what we had been dreaming of, even though it came about in a different form. The mass movement does not follow routine classifications and preconceptions. It is not a revolution of workers or peasants or organized political forces. This has confused many, for the history of the political movement in Syria is one of organized forces, not of spontaneous masses as in the case of Egypt. The spontaneity of the recent movement came as a surprise to the Syrian people as well as to the regime and the opposition. Nobody had believed in the possibility of such an event. Therefore the regime considered it a conspiracy. The political forces dealt cautiously with it while some sectors of society are still undecided which side to take.

It is a revolution of the middle and lower classes. But the vacuum caused by decades of oppression, isolating the people from politics, led to an obvious organizational weakness of the parties or rather their remnants. Many are even not aware of the existence of these parties and their struggles. Add to this the absence of real unions that would represent their members’ interests. What does exist are mere union skeletons subordinated to the ruling power. These unions do not defend the interests of their members. Independent civil organizations are absent, as a result of the long-term repression. Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Andrew Coates

May 26, 2012 at 11:16 am

Senegal: Coming Presidential Elections Meet Protests.

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Senegal’s African Renaissance, Built by North Koreans.

Has the Arab Spring spread southwards?

Violent protests in Senegal, at President Wade standing for re-election, are likely to continue after this (BBC),

“Senegal’s highest court has dismissed opposition appeals and confirmed that President Abdoulaye Wade can run for a third term in office.

The Constitutional Council said the 85-year-old president was not bound by a two-term limit because his first term began before the rule was introduced.

There were violent protests after Friday’s original ruling that Mr Wade could stand in the February poll.

The court also barred singer Youssou N’Dour from standing.

Two other opposition candidates also lost appeals against Friday’s court rulings blocking them from standing in the February 26 election.

The court had argued that it could not verify many of the signatures Mr N’Dour had gathered to support his candidacy.

The ruling was a “constitutional coup d’etat”, the singer said.

“Senegal and its people are sick. We have been betrayed by this shameful decision. I say shameful because neither the will of the Senegalese people nor the opinions of experts in constitutional law have been heard. Mr Wade has imposed his will and won the day,” Mr N’Dour said.

Security has remained tight in Dakar following Friday’s clashes between opposition supporters and government troops.

Opposition parties and activists met on Sunday before the Constitutional Council’s final decision was made public. They said they would continue with “national resistance” against Mr Wade’s bid.”

The most up-to-date news is from Radio France Internationale: Here.

Wade’s Presidency – he was elected as a liberal (both economic and social)  who would break the mould of years of Socialist Party dominance. He has proved incapable of solving the country;s economic problems. He  has veered in an authoritarian direction. Wade has become increasingly vainglorious.

Senegal is not a dictatorship.

There is an abundance of political parties, from the right, to the far left – here.

Jeune Afrique reports on the background in depth,

Considéré comme l’une des valeurs montantes de la vie politique au Sénégal, candidat pour la deuxième fois à l’élection présidentielle sous les couleurs du Parti pour le socialisme et la démocratie, Benno Jubël (FSD/BJ), le député-maire de Saint-Louis, 47 ans, mobilise ses troupes depuis son QG du quartier de Bopp à Dakar. Tout comme les autres opposants, Cheick Bamba Dieye remet en cause la validité de la candidature du président sortant Abdoulaye Wade et l’invalidité de celle du chanteur Youssou N’dour..

Benno Jubël of the  Parti pour le socialisme et la démocratie,  (FSD/BJ), 47 years old, is the deputy Mayor of Saint-Louis, and one of the rising stars of Senegalese politics. He has been mobilising his troops from his HQ at Bopp, Dakar. Like other oppositional figures he questions the legality of the existing President Abdoulaye Wade’s candidature, and the refusal to accept the candidacy of the singer, Youssou N’dour..

The rest of the article is well worth reading.

Written by Andrew Coates

January 30, 2012 at 12:07 pm