Tendance Coatesy

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Posts Tagged ‘European Left

Socialist Worker: Racism “not main factor in Brexit Vote” and Brexit backing Trump not same thing as ..Brexit..

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Image result for Trump Brexit

Nothing to do with Brexit, says Socialist Worker Alternative News Factory.

Don’t lump together Brexit and Trump.

Socialist Worker. 21.2.2017.

There’s no shortage of things to be angry about at the moment—especially when it comes to racism and attacks on Muslims and migrants.

It can be hard to keep track of the outrages committed by US president Donald Trump.

And in Britain many politicians think the vote to leave the European Union (EU) is an opportunity to attack migrants and end freedom of movement.

Yet Trump and Brexit are not the same thing—and we shouldn’t lump them together.

There are similarities between the two. They both happened because sections of working class people kicked back at mainstream politicians after decades of attack.

Myths

Some did swallow racist myths pushed from the top of society.

But there is a major difference. There could never be a progressive case for supporting Donald Trump—but there has always been a left wing and anti-racist case against the EU.

Socialist Worker campaigned to leave the EU because it has enforced austerity and locked out refugees fleeing war and poverty.

It’s not true that the main factor behind the Leave vote was racism against migrants—as polls keep showing.

It was a way of punishing the elite and mainstream politicians.

There’s an anti-establishment feeling in Britain that can be turned into resistance.

But to do that means connecting with people’s anger—not dismissing it as racist.

It is no doubt important to emphasise that Trump, who strongly backed Brexit, is not Brexit, nor indeed is he Paul Nuttall, nor was he present, like Nuttall at the Battle of Hastings.

Yet one suspects that the SWP are stung by the loud noises of celebration coming from the Trump camp, and far-rightists around the world, from Marine Le Pen onwards, at the British vote to Leave.

It would be interesting to see the data that shows that the main factor behind the Brexit  was “a way of punishing the elite and mainstream politics.”

It would be also interesting to see a Marxist analysis of the ‘elite’, what class it is, and indeed what an ‘elite’ in the UK is.

It would be perhaps too much to expect an account of how leaving the EU, and attacking migrants’ rights (in the UK and, for UK citizens within continental Europe)  and ending freedom of movement within its frontiers, is going bring borders down and help, “locked out refugees fleeing war and poverty”.

No doubt the “The EU’s Frontex border guards stop refugees entering Europe by land – forcing them to risk their lives at sea.” will disappear as the UK……. sets up its own border guards.

How Brexit  was going to be part of the the fight against austerity by consolidating power in the hands of the right-wingers now in charge of the UK Sovereign state, opening up the way for future trade agreements with the pro-Brexit nationalist Trump, is one of those mysteries of the dialectic.

One that shouting that Trump is not Brexit, and an analysis based on “kicking back” at elites, is not going to unravel.

As for people’s reasons for the Leave vote.

This is a synthesis of many studies (Wikipedia).

On the day of the referendum Lord Ashcroft‘s polling team questioned 12,369 people who had completed voting. This poll produced data that showed that ‘Nearly half (49%) of leave voters said the biggest single reason for wanting to leave the European Union was “the principle that decisions about the UK should be taken in the UK”.”

Lord Ashcroft’s election day poll of 12,369 voters also discovered that ‘One third (33%) [of leave voters] said the main reason was that leaving “offered the best chance for the UK to regain control over immigration and its own borders.”’[8]

Immediately prior to the referendum data from Ipsos-Mori showed that immigration/migration was the most cited issue when Britons were asked ‘What do you see as the most/other important issue facing Britain today?’ with 48% of respondents mentioning it when surveyed.

In the SWP’s Alternative News Factory the third who were plainly anti-migrant have vanished, nor any consideration that this may have been a reason, if not the principal one, for a Brexit vote.

Perhaps the writers for Socialist Worker were asleep when the torrent of anti-migrant propaganda was unleashed in the country.

Now, how exactly  is the SWP going to relate to the “anti-establishment” demand that motivated the others  that “decisions taken in the UK should be taken in the UK” by these people ‘angry at the elites’?

 

Momentum’s Crisis: Serious Debate Breaks Out.

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Image result for chesterfield socialist conference

From Socialist Movement to…..Momentum?

“Momentum exists to build on the energy and enthusiasm from the Jeremy Corbyn for Labour Leader campaign to increase participatory democracy, solidarity, and grassroots power and help Labour become the transformative governing party of the 21st century.”

A common assumption on the Labour Left, so deep rooted that it almost never said, is that the main failure of previous Parliamentary left groupings is that they needed organisation in the country. At the back of their minds I imagine are the “Brains Trusts” set up up in support of Bevan’s ideas in the 1950s, the Campaign for Labour Party Democracy in the 70s and 80s, and the Socialist Movement.

If the first had problems in moblising and co-ordinating with the Parliamentary left around  Aneurin Bevan and his (dispersed) successors, the second was and is a grass-roots body focused on labour constitutional issues (MP re-selection), NEC elections,  the third came closest to the Social Movement model some saw in Momentum.

The Socialist Movement grew out of the Socialist Conferences held in Chesterfield, Sheffiled and Manchester, in the years following the defeat of liners’ strike. Initiators included the Socialist Society, an organisation of left intellectuals including Raymond Williams,  Richard Kuper, and Ralph Miliband, the Campaign Group, a left-wing group in the Labour Party, the Conference of Socialist Economists, and the network generated by the socialist feminist book Beyond the Fragments. The largest conferences were in 1987 and 1988.

The Socialist Movement was open to different left traditions, green as well as red, for exploratory, grassroots debate and research on socialist policy making.

A lot of water has passed under the bridge since then.

Is Momentum A Socialist Conference bis?

Unlike the Chesterfield events, still cresting the ebbing Bennite wave, its role was not clear from the start.

Is ‘participatory democracy’ channeled into supporting Corbyn the Labour Leader?

That would result in the kind of ‘left populism’ attempted by Jean Luc Mélenchon  in La France Insoumise and (in a different more democratic way) Podemos’s Pablo Iglesias, around a rather unlikely figure, who, to his credit has always refused the role of Chief around which everything else revolves.

Or does it mean trying to work in the policy areas that the Socialist Movement tried to think out? Given that Labour seems short of clear policies on a variety of issues – the Welfare state, a recent announcement of a group looking into Basic Income might be one sector where Momentum could contribute?

What structures does it have for this purpose?

Does it mean taking up issues of ‘grassroots power’, which many would take to imply changing the Labour Party’s present make-up with a “movement” that moblises on more than electoral issues?

Or is to be a kind of super Bevanite Brain’s Trust, that Bean never managed to hook up with, that can carry Corbyn’s message from the party into the country?

These are just some of the background issues behind the present crisis in Momentum.

The most recent Workers’ Liberty carries this exchange:  A debate about Momentum   (Solidarity. 15.2.17).

“This explanation by Jon Lansman of recent events in Momentum was circulated in the Campaign for Labour Party Democracy. Since it contains nothing confidential, and is the only political explanation available from the Momentum leadership other than the article by Christine Shawcroft in Labour Briefing (Feb 2017), which we replied to last week, we reprint it here.”

Jon Lansman.

I wanted also to counter the lies and misinformation which are widely repeated by sectarian elements on the Left who wish to turn Momentum from a broad alliance it was intended to be, seeking to maintain the broad centre-left coalition that elected Jeremy Corbyn to support his administration, democratise the party along the lines long advocated by CLPD, and help Labour win elections into a hard-Left organisation reminiscent of the LRC designed to put pressure on Jeremy from the left.

There has been no “coup” within Momentum, though there had been an attempt over the last year by various Trotskyist and other sectarian organisations to use Momentum local groups, often at the cost of driving away non-aligned activists, as a basis for seizing control of regional networks and the former national committee of Momentum. It became very clear how wide the disparity had become between these bodies and the membership of Momentum from the survey conducted in conjunction with a pre-Christmas message from Jeremy Corbyn.

Lansman takes account of what observers have predicted for months, that a National Momentum Conference risked becoming a sectarian bear-pit,

  • We could battle for two months in the run up to a planned national delegate conference narrowly foisted on the national committee — with some delegates who disagreed being forced to vote in favour in spite of having been elected by STV in order to preserve the pluralism of regional representatives, which would inevitably have undermined efforts to maximise left representation at this year’s conference, support local Momentum activists in preparing for CLP AGMs, and mobilise for by-elections and a possible early general election.
  • We could avoid this internal battle, by calling immediate elections for a new national body based on a new constitution reflecting the wishes of members as revealed in the survey and circulated for agreement of members in the way we would have had to do at some point anyway.

Avoiding this predictable fight was the goal.

This is something critics have to grapple with.

Lansman  also notes,

I have personally been subjected to appalling abuse to which it is difficult to respond without simply perpetuating their attempt to personalise “blame” for the alleged wrongs of which they unfairly accuse me. I regret that Martin [Thomas] has chosen to act in this way. I have worked with him within CLPD since the early 1980s. I have done so because he and his colleagues from Socialist Organiser, as his organisation was originally known, showed a genuine commitment to CLPD they never showed to the LRC or any other left organisations in which they pursued the opportunistic self-interested methods we are used to from all Trotskyist sects.

I halt at this point because there is little doubt that Jon Lansman is absolutely right to complain about the abuse.

This is how one of his leading critics, Tony Greenstein, thought by some people to be a “genius” described his action in promoting an on-line survey of Momentum members,  all too recently ( Jon Lansman’s Xmas Punch Could Sucker Corbyn)

There is a reason that dictators have always loved plebiscites.  That is because they get to choose the questions and to frame them in such a way that they get the ‘right’ answer. Most people won’t remember Hitler’s plebiscites on the Rhine and the Saarland but they haven’t had a very good reputation ever since.

Greenstein some might say is a special case, whose vitriol is hurled  at present lie at another target:  Owen Jones – the Final Betrayal – Supporting Zionist Apartheid & the Jewish Labour Movement.  Supporting Israeli Apartheid and the Palestinians is not compatible.

But he is far from alone.

It would take a moment’s Googling to find more abuse.

Now Alan Thomas is, from the AWL, a respected activist and writer, but his reply on this point, is not convincing,

Jon Lansman identifies “sectarian elements” almost entirely with us (“Trotskyists”), but at the same time finds these “sectarians” so numerous among Momentum’s 21,000 members that the clash can be resolved only by abolishing Momentum democracy. At stake here is no “sectarianism” of ours, but the issue of what socialism is and how it can be won.

The liberation of the working class can be won only by a vivid movement where each participant is a lively contributor with her or his own ideas; which is full of bouncy debate; in which even the deepest prejudices and the most revered leaders are subject to question. In a new movement like Momentum, we have reasoned patiently and tactfully, rather than bloviating.

I leave to one side the claims about the AWL, often made by people with their own political – ‘sectarian’ agenda.

The fact is that if we can define sectarians at all – a hard task –  it is that they are loudmouths who are in a permanent storm of self-righteous attack.

Often they come out of the pages of William Hazlitt’s People with One Idea,

People of the character here spoken of, that is, who tease you to death with some one idea, generally differ in their favourite notion from the rest of the world; and indeed it is the love of distinction which is mostly at the bottom of this peculiarity.

Table Talk : Essays on Men and Manners (1821 -22)

Other times they are loyal simply to their faction, with no other loyalties.

Those familiar with the left could write a new essay, People with Too Many Correct Ideas…

One is always the Other Sectarian for a Sectarian…..

But I digress…

There are many other problems about Momentum, but whether they are numerous or not, they are still loud. Shouty. And, in Greenstein’s case – I single him out for his visibility but he is far from alone –  highly unpleasant.

Greenstein and another ‘anti-Zionist’. Gerry Downing, are very active in the Momentum Grassroots Moblising Conference. 

This is what the former says, “Lansman’s Momentum is destined for the knackers yard because without democracy you cannot have a movement.”

More simply many people do not want to become involved in a shouting match between different left groups, or, if it happens on more cordial terms, a struggle for influence.

Alan is nevertheless spot on to comment,

Yet Momentum would have contributed more, not less, if it had actively promoted a left Remain vote, free movement across borders, opposition to Trident renewal. It would be stronger now if its national office as well as its local groups had campaigned in support of workers’ disputes like at Picturehouse, and for the NHS. It would have done better if (as we urged) it had organised a presence at Labour conference 2016. It would be healthier if it had had a proper discussion on left antisemitism (in which Jon Lansman and we would have been broadly on the same side), rather than trying to quell the issue administratively. All those things are not “sectarian” caprices, but would have happened if Momentum had been allowed to develop “normally”, democratically.

This is something that Lansman ignores, many people on the democratic left, and this includes the AWL agree on these policies.

We certainly need a voice for them.

Alan may equally well be often right to say,

The new imposed constitution is out of line even with the (heavily manipulated) online survey over Christmas. That suggested decisions by online voting of all members. Under the new constitution, online votes can scarcely even stall office decisions in extreme cases. Real power rests with the office and with a seldom-meeting “coordinating group” in which only 12 out of 28 or 32 places are elected by Momentum members.

10 January was a coup. Imagine its analogue in general politics: Theresa May declares that, on the strength of a 50%-plus-one majority got in an hour’s emailing round the Cabinet, she is abolishing Cabinet, Parliament, and an imminent general election in favour of office rule plus a future “coordinating group” in which elected citizens’ representatives are a minority. Or, if that’s too much, imagine the analogue in any other left movement. Despite it all, Momentum’s local groups will continue to organise, and I don’t think the panic-stricken officials can stop them.

But the real issue is not an organisational form, and behind that whether this or that factional grouping, or alliance, is competing for power in the structures.

It is what aims and functions  does Momentum have beyond rallying support for Corbyn.

Nothing that’s happened so far has disproved the judgement of many left-wingers that clear goals, from ‘think tank’ policy-formulating (that is as a pressure group within Labour with specific ideas), and a hook between Labour and a variety of campaigns (such as Stop Trump!, or union disputes) already have vehicles in Constituency parties, Trades Councils and other bodies.

Many of us are all in favour of Momentum finding some way out of this dispute, a modus vivendi.

But…..

Momentum includes people like Nick Wrack who state (RETHINKING LABOUR: MORE OF THE SAME OR CHANGE OF COURSE?)

… it is important to recognise that there is a huge difference – a vast chasm – between what is called social democracy and socialism or communism. I use socialism and communism as synonyms for a system that is based on a complete transformation of society, breaking with the present capitalist system and the exploitation of labour to make profit. Socialism is a society based on democratic common ownership of the means of production – land, factories, transport, technology and science. It is a society based on production for social need rather than for private profit.

…..I am now of the opinion that all Marxists should, at the very least, join Momentum. We can play a key role in helping to defend Corbyn and defeating the right. Where possible, therefore, Marxists should also join Labour. This is best done as an organised group, rather than as individuals. The purpose of joining is two-fold: to strengthen the forces in defence of Corbyn and against the rightwing in Labour and the trade unions and to argue for a Marxist ideas in the mass movement around Corbyn. There is no knowing how long this battle may last or what the outcome will be. Those coming into Momentum and into the Labour Party will include thousands of people who simply want change. But many will have no clear idea of what that change should be or how it can be accomplished. Marxists have to engage with the debate. What change? How can it be achieved? What programme is necessary?

So what is he doing trying to join or influence a social democratic party?

Wrack’s position, which is shared by others,  is not so easy to dismiss as the notorious cranks who insult ‘reformists’ , ‘Zionists’ and the rest.

It is, crudely, that Momentum should be a kind of political mill pond for them to fish in to build their ‘Marxist’ line.

Never forgetting the “vast chasm” that separates them from social democracy, that is a very substantial chunk of the Labour Party membership and support.

Written by Andrew Coates

February 17, 2017 at 1:31 pm

Podemos Internal Dispute Ends with Iglesias’ Victory.

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Iglesias saluda ante la mirada de Errejón.

Pablo Iglesias ha ganado el duelo a Íñigo Errejón (El País)

Iglesias lo ha ganado todo: la secretaría general, la dirección y los cuatro documentos que se votaban: político, organizativo, ético y de igualdad. Como secretario general, ha sido refrendado por el 89% de los votos (128.700 sufragios) frente a los 15.700 del diputado autonómico andaluz Juan Moreno Yagüe (10,9%)

Iglesias has won everything…General secretary, the party leadership, and the vote on 4 party documents: on policies  organisation, ethics and equality. As General Secreary he has been elected with 89% of the vote (128,700) faced with the 15,700 of his opponents, the Andalusian regional deputy, Jaun Moreno  Yagüe who got 10,9%.

Background:

Leaders battle for soul of Spain’s Podemos at crucial congress France 24.

Pleading for “unity”, thousands of Podemos supporters gathered Saturday at a decisive two-day meeting in Madrid that could unseat the charismatic leader of one of Europe’s leading far-left parties.

Born in 2014 out of the Indignados anti-austerity protest movement that swept Spain during a severe economic crisis, the party has found itself riven by in-fighting after a meteoric rise to national-level politics.

But on Saturday, party leaders attempted to put these bitter divisions behind them as they took to the stage in a congress centre bathed in purple flags and banners, the colour of Podemos, in an electric atmosphere.

“We have committed many mistakes,” Pablo Iglesias, the party’s charismatic leader and co-founder, said while standing on stage behind huge block letters spelling out “Podemos”.

To wild applause, the 38-year-old added the weekend’s congress should be “an example of fraternity, unity and intelligence”.

Deutsche Welle reported,

The core internal party dispute is whether to stick to a hard-line leftist position, as advocated by Iglesias, or take a more moderate stance and move the party in the direction of the leftist political mainstream, a policy pushed by Errejon.

Iglesias wants to maintain Podemos’ anti-establishment roots and take to the streets again to challenge traditional parties.

Errejon seeks to find a middle ground with the Socialists (PSOE), the second-largest party, in order to influence policy from within the system and broaden Podemos’ appeal to moderate leftist voters.

A three-way coalition of Podemos, PSOE and the liberal Ciudadanos that could have challenged Mariano Rajoy’s ruling conservative People’s Party failed to materialize last year after two inconclusive elections.

A different perspective, which comes directly from a Tendency within Podemos, the Anticapitalistas (connected to the Fourth International),  sees three currents within Podemos.

Iglesias, Errejón, and the Road Not Taken. Josep María Antentas. (International Viewpoint 2017).

“The three factions within Podemos are represented by Pablo Iglesias, Íñigo Errejón, and the Anticapitalistas.”

These three currents all have radically different political projects. We can define Iglesias’s as pragmatic-instrumental populism mixed with impatient Eurocommunism, which differs in form from the original iteration by embracing the prospect of electoral victory. His combination of rebellious rhetoric with a moderate governmental horizon takes the Italian Communist Party’s Berlinguer era “historic compromise” with the Christian Democrats as its primary model — the policy of the historical compromise. Indeed, Iglesias uncritically embraces this legacy, failing to critically assess Syriza’s experience in this context.

We might summarize Iglesias’s proposal as belligerence in opposition, raison d’etat in government. In this sense, he maintains his orientation toward moderation but has realized that Podemos’s strength lies in its appearance as an anti-establishment force. As such, if the party were tamed, it would lose its social base, which Iglesias mainly anchors in the working and popular classes.

Iglesias’s proposal prioritizes electoral and institutional activity. In contrast to his position at Vistalegre, however, social struggle now at least plays a role in the strategy. His fiery discourse and praise for social struggle have created a better environment for radical and movement-oriented ideas within the party. Suddenly, those who had called for something other than the triad of “communication–campaigns–institutions” recognize that the general secretary had been partially converted. No doubt, this is a valuable change of atmosphere.

On the other hand, Íñigo Errejón’s political project is built on constructivist populism and aims to normalize Podemos. It calls for a peaceful transition in which the exhausted traditional parties are replaced with something new, exchanging elites, and very little else. Errejón wants to connect with the generational aspirations of young and middle-aged people, who are frustrated and broken by the crisis.

Errejón and his supporters’ call for “transversality” has swung between a serious discussion about building a new political majority and an excuse to smooth over all traces of radicalism. Behind this core idea lies a project mainly aimed at the middle classes, using post-class rhetoric to emphasize meritocracy and to call for a smooth transition toward a better future. It is focused at an amorphous political center that has become the imagined center of gravity for the people.

The rationale is to attract “the missing ones,” meaning to win over the voters who are not yet convinced that Podemos is trustworthy enough to run the Spanish state. As a result, it takes for granted that current Podemos voters will always remain loyal. However, they are likely to demobilize if the party forgets about them in its quest for respectability.

The Anticapitalistas.

Podemos has at least one other important current: the Anticapitalistas, which has sponsored the Podemos en Movimiento list at the upcoming congress. A key player since the beginning, Anticapitalistas’s strategy has always been to create a party built on the political potential that emerged up after 15-M, not only in terms of the electoral opportunity that had opened but also in terms of the new possibility for radical political and social change. The Anticapitalistas project attempts to synthesize radicalism’s ambition with building a majority.

Anticapitalistas has served as a movement party within Podemos. As such, it opposed the Vistalegre model that tried to transform 15-M’s legacy into electoral victory. It is organized around internal democracy and rank-and-file empowerment, focusing on external campaigns rather than internal quarrels. Its strategic perspective sees victory as a dialectical combination of self-organization, mobilization, elections, and institutional work — something deeper than just winning elections. To build this, Anticapitalistas has emphasized program discussions, which would allow the party to present serious alternative policies. Questions like debt and the banking system have centered these debates, trying to learn from Syriza’s fiasco — something Podemos’s leadership has always refused to do.

Working against the party’s main current since the beginning, this political wing has been central to Podemos’s trajectory, despite its small institutional power which has only weakened after Podemos’s expansion after the 2014 European election when Iglesias and Errejón were on the rise.

The Iglesias’ Triumph leaves a number of problems unresolved.

As Jamie Pastor notes (Etat espagnol. Podemos et le Congrès de Vistalegre II : se refonder sans se dénaturer from the Ensemble site, translated from Viento Sur, linked to the Anticapitalistas) the underlying ‘populist’ strategy of Podemos rests on “constructing a people” facing the ‘elites’ (the famous ‘casta’). Yet in reality they have moved in the direction of giving priority to  opposing the Right (the ruling  PP and Ciudadanos).

Their alliance with the left bloc,  Izquierda Unida, Unidos Podemos  known as Podemos–IU, for the 2016 General Election,  underpins a strategy that aims to assemble the Spanish left, that is focused on electoral majorities,  rather than, some critics allege,  the famous “transversality”.

This concept may be explained in this way,

Transversality can be understood as the act of building majorities. Not electoral majorities per se, but social majorities made up of identities based on common goals; building inclusive identities adapted to today’s society. An example is that of the identity of “working class”, which was a necessary identity when they were organizing to overcome their class conditions 50 years ago, but which is not appropriate to the modern world.

Juan Antonio Gil de los Santos Understanding Transversality: Spain’s Podemos

Podemos’ approach (strongly influenced by the political theorist, the academic  Ernesto Laclau) to ‘constructing the people’ has been over and above this stand, a constant As Pastor states it has become an interchangeable concept with the people (lower case), the nation, and the ‘citizens’ and has tended to give priority to the middle class as a point of reference. (“une idée du « peuple » a été maintenue de manière interchangeable avec « les gens », « la patrie » ou « les citoyens ». Une conception qui a eu comme tendance de privilégier la classe moyenne comme référence).

By treating the ‘working class’ as an identity, this approach draws on a simplified version of Laclau and Chantal Mouffe’s Hegemony and Socialist Strategy (1985).  For those who follow this stand, left politics, in a ‘post-Marxist’ age, is about bringing together a variety of democratic struggles (arising from social contradictions), articulated in a hegemonic project. In more recent times this has come to mean that ‘constructing the People’ takes in a variety of groups antagonistic to the dominant power bloc (la casta…), in a common figure. This is a – hegemony building process of assembling them around a new content in the ’empty signifier’ of democracy, and taking ‘floating signifiers’, such as the People itself) into a movement. One can see that this way of doing politics easily avoids structural issues of class (not necessarily registered as ‘identities’), and lends itself to the worst aspects of Populism, that is, identifying one group (us) as the People, and the ‘others’ as the non or anti-People with no democratic legitimacy.

Or as Pastor argues, drawing on a contradictory set of constituencies and  list of demands to win support for a catch-all party. Some allege that the power of the grassroots, in the celebrated “Círculos” (local assemblies) has been weakened by a leadership which holds controls in a vertical structure presided over by leading ‘strategists’. 

In dealing with Spain’s diverse national groups, they have come up with a concept of “plurinationalité ” but, despite affirmations of the equality between national identities and groups, this “patriotisme plurinational” runs into obvious contradictions.

Above all, we are left, after the aspiration to govern has failed (agreement with the Spanish Socialists, the PSOE has proved impossible, and  undesirable) with the problem of unity around  Iglesias’ “charismatic leadership

Will a ‘populist’  party leader with this overwhelming  mandate be in a mood to tolerate pluralism within Podemos?

Written by Andrew Coates

February 12, 2017 at 1:24 pm

French Presidential Election: Jean Luc Mélenchon and ‘left populism’.

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Image result for melenchon et son hologram

Virtual Mélenchon.

Reuters reports (Sunday),

Far-left firebrand Jean-Luc Mélenchon embraced technology during the launch of his presidential campaign at a rally in Lyon on Sunday, with a 3D hologram of him making his speech appearing at the same time at another rally in Paris.

Mélenchon, wearing a Nehru-style jacket, tried to use the hologram technology give a modern look to his launch, which coincided with that of the far-right leader Marine Le Pen.

Jean-Luc Mélenchon opened his meeting, transmitted by hologram to Paris, with a rousing speech. But it was hard to hide that the selection of the radical green socialist, Benoît Hamon as Socialist Party candidate, has created profound difficulties for the leader of La France insoumise.

After Hamon’s victory the French left is divided. While many welcomed the Socialists’ change in direction, for the majority of Ensemble, an alliance of radical left currents and part of the (nearly defunct Front de gauche), Mélenchon remains central to the left’s prospects in France.

On the Ensemble site Roger Martelli writes of the left’s Presidential candidates, (Gauche : et maintenant ?)

Mélenchon:

Depuis une quinzaine d’années, il est de tous les combats majeurs visant à redonner au peuple sa souveraineté et à la gauche son dynamisme. Son programme, dans la continuité de celui de 2012, reprend la logique « antilibérale » et démocratique qui s’est déployée après le choc de la présidentielle de 2002.

For over 15 years he has been there in all the principal battles which have aimed to return to the people their soveriegnty and to the left its dynamism. His programme, consistent with the (Presidential election) of 2012 (when Mélenchon stood, backed by the Front de gauch left bloc), takes up again the « anti-liberal » and democratic logic used since the shock of the 2002 Presidential elections.

Of Hamon:

Au fond, Benoît Hamon incarne la continuité d’un Parti socialiste qui a accompagné les reculs successifs d’un socialisme devenu hégémonique au début des années 1980. Jean-Luc Mélenchon ouvre la voie d’une rupture dont toute la gauche pourrait bénéficier.

At root Benoît Hamon embodies continuity with a Parti Socialiste which has, since it became hegemonic since the start of the 1980s, has been marked by a succession of backward steps. Jean-Luc Mélenchon opens up the prospect of a radical break, from which all the left could benefit.

Martelli’s reference to “popular sovereignty” raises perhaps one of the most serious problems about Mélenchon’s campaign. The leader of La France Insoumise is not only concerned with “une majorité populaire à gauche”. Or a ” dose” of populism into the left, to re-occupy the field of social division, with a campaign that can express a radical protest vote.

Another Adieu au Prolétariat.

Mélenchon’s ambitions extend far and wide as he asserts the need to replace the traditional strategies of the left.

In a series of writings he has talked about L’Ère du peuple in (the grandly titled)  “époque de l’Anthropocène.” (the ‘new epoch’ in human political geography). In this perspective the old ‘hierarchy’ of struggles, centred on the primacy of the proletariat as a political subject, has been surpassed.

In a short history which takes him from the people as a ” multitude ” (without cohesion), the people/working class, as a demand-making category, we have come to the age of « networks » (réseaux). And, in France, more specifically, as he puts it himself, “réseau de soutien à ma candidature et à son programme”. (Réseaux et mouvements. 7th of January 2017)

The network launched as La France Insoumise is  at the core of the electoral and social strategy. Mélenchon is engaged in an explicit effort to capture (in his terms, form), the People, in opposition to the Oligarchy, financial and globalising. It is not shaped only by economic issues, but the with the wider effects of capitalism in society: marginalisation, social division, the long series of cultural contradictions and demands of the diverse oppressed groups. Above all it aims to “net” the concept of the People, and refound the left as a movement capable of structuring it politically as a force for progressive transformation (details of the programme on their site). Membership of what might be called a permanent “rally” does not require payment, only backing.

Supporters put this project in the same political sphere as Podemos, as a movement that aims to expand the field of democratic mobilisation against the political caste (la casta), more commonly called, in French and in English, the elites.

For this venture, which draws on the writings of Ernesto Laclau and Chantal Mouffe, populism is a political logic. The objective is to unify, to create a radical democratic People, not as (it is asserted) through the forms of exclusion and division, between “us”, on ethnicity or nationality and others.

Citizen-Movement and the Leader.

But, as Pierre Khalfa has observed, the “citizen-movement”, La France Insoumise, charged with this objective, organised in hundreds of “groupes d’appui” (support groups) is not democratic in the sense that political parties are – in principle.  (Le peuple et le mouvement, est-ce vraiment si simple?). There are no organised confrontations between different currents of opinion; disagreements only arise over applying the ‘line’ in local conditions. There is, in fact,the worst form of Occupy style ‘consensus politics”, ruling out by fait real dissensus,  wedded to the decisions of the Chief. It is “JLM who decides”. Or, as Laclau put it, the, “..the “symbolic unification of a group around an individuality” is inherent to the formation of a ‘people’ (Page 100. On Populist Reason 2005. ) (1)

Critics point to the lack of coherence in the definition of the would-be “people” a vast category with many internal conflicts between social groups. They also state that it is also highly unlikely that the ambition to remould populist resentment, expressed and solidly articulated in the Front National’s nationalist attacks on globalisation and a whole range of groups, from Muslims to migrant workers, has struck deep into French political reality. Detaching the  ‘floating signifier’ of the People and putting it to a new use is a hard task. It more probable, and Mélenchon’s comments on Europe, migrant labour and the importance of the French ‘nation’, that it will end up more influenced by nationalism than become an alternative to it. Over everything lingers Pierre Khalfa put it the figure of “l’homme providentiel”, the Man of Destiny(Le populisme de gauche, un oxymore dangereux).

In these conditions it is little wonder that many of the French  left are not just wary of Mélenchon, but actively hostile to his entire project.

It is equally not surprising that elsewhere would-be People’s Leaders, like George Galloway in Britain, have warmed to La France Insoumise.

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(1)Le peuple et le « mouvement. Jean-Luc Mélenchon (2.11.16. Blog).

“Il n’y a pas de carte. Il ne peut y avoir des cotisations mais seulement des participations financières à l’action c’est-à-dire des dons ou des versements réguliers pendant la durée de celle-ci. Il n’y a pas d’autre discipline que celle de l’action, c’est-à-dire celle que chacun s’impose dans l’action individuelle ou collective.” In other words, la France Insoumise is devoted to the “action” of getting votes.

Benoît Hamon, his Victory, and the Renewal of the European Left.

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“Nothing is more powerful than an idea whose time has come. And our time has come.” (France 24)

Benoît Hamon and the Renewal of the European Left.

With 58,88% of the ballot Benoît Hamon’s triumph  in the French Parti Socialiste led ‘Belle Alliance’ primary was decisive (Libération).  The election, whose second round attracted over  2 million voters, was not only a defeat for Manuel Valls – François Hollande’s Prime Minister up till this year.

In his victory speech Hamon announced, “Ce soir, la gauche relève la tête, elle se tourne vers le futur et elle veut gagner.” This evening the left has lifted his head high, looked towards the future, and wants to win.” (Nouvel Observateur)

This victory is first of all a disavowal of the Socialist President’s record in government. Valls lost for many reasons, not least his own record as an authoritarian (a prolonged state of emergency) an inflexible supporter of market economics (labour law ‘reform’).  His harsh words against opposition from an “irreconcilable” left earned him rebukes from the moderate social democratic current, led by Martine Aubry, Mayor of Lille. She ended up backing Hamon. High levels of support for Hamon in the poll came from her region, many other working class areas, and in urban centres, both Paris and its banlieue. It was also strong amongst young people.

The balance-sheet of Valls’ years in power since 2014 is thin: some liberal social reforms (gay marriage, le marriage pour tous), budgetary ‘discipline’, an inability or unwillingness to reform the European Union, and to come to the aid of those, like Greece, who had to submit to austerity and privatisation imposed by the Troika.

Above all in 2016 Prime Minister Valls’ reform of labour laws, la Loi Khomri, which, under pressure from the employers’ federation, weakens employees’ rights (Code du Travail) and unions’ national bargaining power, marked a break with the left and the labour movement. It was opposed by strikes and mass demonstrations. Accompanying them the Nuit Debout movement, organised public occupations and debates on an alternative to “la souveraineté du capital” in the terms of the philosopher and economist Frédéric Lordon, briefly looked as if might parallel the 15 M protests that led to the formation of the Spanish Podemos.

The Loi Khomri was adopted. Active opposition drained away last summer. But one might note that Nuit Debout was not a replication of Occupy Wall Street protests against liberal globalisation. It raised wider issues about what the theorist and others have called the “tyrannie du salariat” – the tyranny of wage labour. Lordon advanced a politics of “affects” (attachment) to new collective sovereignty, “décider en commun” through a participative state. His attempt to illustrate how ‘belonging’ to such a community, that could ‘de-consitutionalise’ the EU and return issues of “political economy” to the national collectivity has been met with criticism from the left. It is equally hard to see what economic sense it makes. The growth of internationalised production and distribution networks, indicates the need for EU and transnational regulation, and, in the longer perspective, European, cross-country, social ownership and labour movements. It is hard to see what is new or, in view of the rise of the sovereigntist right, about promoting national sovereignty. This stand resembles the arguments of the British Brexit left, whose claims, in the age of Trump and new protectionism, are unravelling by the day.  (1)

Hamon views on the French state and the EU are much less abstract. They focus ion a new republic where Parliamentary power is asserted and on a Union in which an economic relaunch is undertaken. By contrast the questions the Nuit Debout radicals raised about the nature and the status of work, “repenser le travail”, have been at the centre of the contest between Hamon and Valls. (1)

Basic Income.

Hamon’s proposal for a Revenu Universal (Basic Income) – to which is added the 32-hour week has caught the most attention. Jean-Marc Ferry calls it “une utopie réaliste” in the sense that it a source of hope that is not beyond legislative possibility.  (Le Monde 25.1.17). But not only the financial realism of paying everybody 750 Euros a month (estimated to cost between 300 and 400 billion Euros), has been questioned. For some (including the union federation the CGT) it undermines the value of work. The satisfaction many feel they accomplish in their jobs and their achievements. Reducing the working week is, on the evidence of the 35-hour week, unlikely to share out employment. Hamon himself has compared the scheme to the French National Health Service, the principal part of La Sécurité Sociale. Everybody rich or poor is entitled to have his or her health protected, and to be treated when ill. A Basic income would protect people from poverty, without the bureaucracy (and local version of ‘sanctions’). It would enable people to explore new employment opportunities, to experiment on their own if they so wish, take risks, while offering a ‘safe home’ in case they don’t succeed.

This far from the liberal idea that Basic Income would replace all social allowances, in the shape of ‘negative income tax’. For social democrats it is, as above, a completion of social protection for some Marxists it would give works extra bargaining power, for supporters of “décroissance” (alternatives to growth), echoing the writings of André Gorz, it is a way of managing the “end of work” in its traditional form. (Anne Chemin. La Promesse d’une Révolution. Le Monde, Idées 28.1.17)

Hamon has offered, then, an innovative way of coming to terms with the spread of information technology and robotics, in which work in the traditional sense is changing and full employment (despite misleading UK figures) may well not be possible.  Philippe van Parijs talks of how Basic Income would help people cope with the increasing ‘fluidity’ of employment – in other words the rise in part-time, short-term, jobs. (Le Monde 25.1.17).  Valls’ alternative, a “decent income” (revenu décent), effectively some strengthening of the lower floor of social protection, struggled to win an audience. Basic Income may not perhaps answer those for whom work is a “form of citizenship”. Nor does it respond to the charge that it would create a form of ‘revenue-citizenships’ that would exclude migrants.

These proposals are only some of the best known of Hamon’s innovative and forward looking programme, which includes a raft of ideas from an  “ecological transition” to the legalisation of cannabis. Hamon’s views on reforming the European Union parallel those of Another Europe is Possible. He promotes an open Laïcité (Secularism) and is strongly anti-racist.  It hardly needs saying that he has promised to repeal the Loi Khomeri.

Socialism and Power.

Alain Bergounioux, the author with Gérard Greenberg of Les Socialistes français et le Pouvoir (2005), has complained that the French Socialists may emerge from the Primary incapable of becoming a “party of government” committed to the “exercise of power”. He warns of following either the path of Jean-Luc Mélenchon whose own rally, La France Insoumise, does not aspire to be in power, but to be a tribune of the people and the centrist Presidential candidate Philippe Macron, and his “parti-enterprise, that seeks power for, one might suggest, his own sake (Le Monde 27.1.17) What is at stake, Bergounioux point out, is the ability, of the Socialists, to form a viable electoral alternative, a role they have fulfilled since François Mitterrand’s victory in 1981. Faced with a tri-polarisation, between Right (François Fillon), far-right (Marine Le Pen), we have a left with its own tripolar divisions, Hamon and Mélenchon and former member of the Socialist Cabinet, Emmanuel Macron. That up to 50 Valls supporters in the National Assembly and Senate are reported to be switching to Macron is not a good sign.

 Yet Hamon comes from currents inside the French Socialist Party (Nouveau Parti Socialiste onwards), which have hotly contested the record of their party in government. Dubbed ‘frondeurs’ (trouble-makers) for their opposition to budget cuts in the first years of the Valls government (in which Hamon served as Education Minister, before being sacked in 2014 for his criticisms) they come from a side of the party which has not accepted the party leadership’s adaption to markets and liberal economics. To cite a distinction well-known to the author of Les Socialistes français et le Pouvoir they are concerned not just with what Léon Blum called the “exercice du Pouvoir” but with the “conquête du pouvoir”, that is the revolution in society’s make up, socialism. The conquest of power implies more than forming a cabinet after an electoral triumph, it requires a social movement and a strategy to change the world. (2)

Strategy.

Does Hamon offer such a strategy? The immediate dilemma of the French Socialists is how to make their voice heard in a coming Presidential election in which they figure as also-runs. Yet an opening and gathering of the left is taking place.   Inroads into the Green party, EELV, and their electorate, already divided about their candidate, Yannick Jadot, who struggles to appear in the opinion polls, can be expected.

Hamon’s victory has already had one result: at 15% of voting intentions he has at a stroke reduced Mélenchon to 10% (a loss of five points). Hamon was selected in a competition in which  2 million voters took part, the leader of La France Insoumise only responded to the Call of Destiny.

Hamon has proposed  that these wings of the left unite, offering  Mélenchon and Jadot places in a future cabinet.

Hamon faces a deeper underlying difficulty, another inheritance from Léon Blum. This is the belief that the French republic already contains the instruments for radical reform that a movement and a party can “capture” and use. In the process the distinction between occupying Ministerial posts and effecting genuine change is blurred. Hamon’s own background as a life-long professional politician, suggests that he will find this legacy harder to overcome. (3)

For the European left, not least the left in the Labour Party, Hamon’s candidacy is welcome news. An experienced politician, fiercely intelligent, whose team offers serious new thinking about socialism, ecology and social issues – often far more forward looking than any other mainstream European left, social democratic or labour, party – is now on the French political stage. He has a message of hope. It will help all us to listen to it.

 

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  • Pages 332 – 225. Frédéric Lordon. La Fabrique. 2015.
  • Page 133. Alain Bergounioux, Gérard Grunberg of Les Socialistes français et le Pouvoir. Fayard. 2005.
  • Page 125. Léon Blum. Un Portrait. Pierre Birnbaum. 2016.

Left Candidate Benoît Hamon Tops French Socialist ‘Primary’.

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Benoît Hamon: Tops Socialist ‘Primary’. 

On Saturday a a joint member of the Labour Party and the French Parti Socialiste, who had been a supporter of President François Hollande, told me that she’d voted for the left candidate Benoît Hamon.

I was surprised, but, in retrospect, this support helped prepare my mind for the news that on the Sunday ‘Primary‘ Hamon beat the recent Prime Minister Manuel Valls, a dedicated ‘social liberal’ and admirer of Tony Blair’s ‘Third Way.

This is the result of the election to decide who will be their Presidential candidate this April in which 1,6 million people took part.

Principal candidates: Benoît Hamon (36,35 %) Manuel Valls (31,11 %). Arnaud Montebourg, 17,52 %.

The others scored much smaller: 6,85 % Vincent Peillon, 3,88 % pour François de Rugy, 1,97 % pour Sylvia Pinel (the only woman, a member of the Parti Radical de gauche) et 1,01 % pour Jean-Luc Bennahmias (the small Green party, the Front démocrate) (le Monde)

This ‘primary’ of the “Belle Alliance populaire”, was originally intended to be open to the whole French left. But as can be seen apart from the Socialists, only two tiny parties of the centre left took part.

Montebourg who is strongly  on the left, has now called for support for Hamon in the Second Round, on the 29th of January.

49 years old Benoît Hamon served under Prime Minister Ayrault government as ministre délégué chargé de l’économie sociale et solidaire. His best known post was as Education Minister under Manuel Valls in 2014, where his efforts to change the organisation of the school year led to opositon from teachers.

Opposed to many of the policies of Prime Minister Valls and calling for a change in his economic strategies (le changement de politique économique) he, and Montebourg, were ejected from the Cabinet in 2014 (Quand Valls raconte comment il a viré Montebourg et Hamon du gouvernement). He then became one of the prominent “frondeurs” who opposed Valls, from his budget plans to the reform of labour laws, in the National Assembly.

Hamon’s key policy is a ‘revenu universal’, Basic Income, paid to all (see: Pro Basic Income candidate set to win Socialist Primary election).

Other proposals include institutional reforms (bring back Parliamentary control over laws, and limiting the power of the executive  to override this), an ecological ‘tax’, a reduction in the use of nuclear power,  a ‘police’ to fight against discrimination, and the legalisation of cannabis.

Above all Hamon has promised to annul the labour reforms introduced by Manuel Valls (abroger la loi travail, dernière grande réforme du mandat).

Hamon, in short has some ideas, clearly on the left, which inspire hope for a better future amongst Socialist supporters.

It is hard not to suspect that Manuel Valls lost ground not only because he promised “more of the same”, that is to continue the policies of his highly unpopular government, but because he has shown himself intensely hostile to the left of his own party. By announcing that there was no room for compromise he went against the grain of PS member accustomed a spirit of compromise, or “synthesis” between different currents in the party. In the run up to the Primary his own backers were prominent in throwing the blame for their disastrous showing in opinion polls on ‘frondeurs’ like Hamon and Montebourg.

Valls meanwhile has declared war on those with illusions in Hamon’s unrealistic programme (Libération Valls le «combattant» part en campagne contre «l’illusion et l’irréalisme»)

If Hamon wins he faces an uphill battle.

Polls give any Socialist candidate less than 10% of the vote in the Presidential contest.

To the left Jean-Luc Mélenchon is polling at between 14 and 15 %

The centre-left , Emmanuel Macron with 24% stands at the threshold of winning enough votes to be able to get to the second round.

Already some ‘social liberal’ socialists are moving towards open support for Macron.

For many on the European left Hamon’s potential candidature is, by contrast, a  welcome sign of ideological renewal.

Official Campaign site.

Le projet

Written by Andrew Coates

January 23, 2017 at 12:29 pm

French Communists and Mélenchon Tear Each Other Apart

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French Communists Called to Submit to the Insoumises.

This year will not only see a Presidential election in France.

Following the results in May there will be elections on the 11 and 18 June for the French legislative body, the Chamber of Deputies

Not only is the French Left divided between the Parti Socaliste and the rest (including Greens), but the radical left is itself split.

Last February Jean-Luc Mélenchon decided, with the backing of his political club, the Parti de Gauche, that he would stand for president. Nobody else was consulted.

He launched La France Insoumise last year. This organisation calls itself a “citizens’ movement”. It is not a party. Anybody can join, membership is free. At the grassroots, the “groupes d’appui” (in form similar to Podemos’ ‘circles’ but with no policy making power) can operate, that is to build support,  as they see fit. Its programme was voted on through the Internet with 77,038 people taking part.  What is not up for voting is the leadership and candidacy of Jean-Luc Mélenchon. Being a member is to identify with the “démarche de Jean-Luc Mélenchon.”

He stands at present at around 14% in the polls. If he may get more support in the ballot box than the enfeebled Socialists, he has little chance of getting to the Second Round of the Presidential election.

This is the general framework for the programme of La France Insoumise.

They stand for a

Sixth Republic; re-distribution of wealth; environmental planning; withdrawal from European treaties; peace and independence; human progress; and “on the borders of humanity” (ocean, space and digital).

Ten leading measures were agreed on in the on-line consultation and a following convention,

Quelque 11 362 votants, signataires de la plateforme jlm2017, ont sélectionné dix propositions pour en faire les principaux axes de leur campagne. « Refuser les traités de libre-échange, Tafta, Ceta et Tisa » est arrivé en tête (48 %), suivi de l’« abrogation de la loi El Khomri » (43,5 %), de la « règle verte » (38,5 %), de la « refondation » de l’Europe et son « plan B » (38 %), de la transition énergétique et la sortie du nucléaire (36 %), de la révocation des élus (35,5 %), du référendum constituant (35 %),de la « protection des biens communs » comme l’air,l’eau, l’alimentation, le vivant, la santé, l’énergie, la monnaie (33,5 %), de la « séparation des banques d’affaires et de détail » et d’un « pôle public bancaire » (31,5 %), et du Smic à 1 300 euros net et la hausse des salaires des fonctionnaires (28 %).

Opposition to free-trade treaties, annulment of the recent labour law reforms (loi El Khomri), a green ‘rule’ (ecological guidelines) , “refounding Europe” (changing the basis of existing Treaties), opposition to Nuclear power and its phased withdrawal, laws to allow MPs to be recalled, legislation to allow popular referendums,  protection of common property, from air, water, life (a reference to ownership of genetic material) food, health, energy, to the currency (??? – give up on that one), break up of direct ties between banks and business, creation of a publicly owned leading bank, a rise of the minimum wage to 1,300 Euros, and a rise in public sector wages.

La France insoumise détaille son projet et son calendrier

This Rally, called by its supporters a ‘movement’, has effectively ended the previous united front of parties to the left of the Socialists.

Mélenchon is now pursing a ruthless strategy for the legislative elections.

As Libération reports today the Communists are not taking his behaviour without hitting back:  Législatives : le Parti communiste se rebiffe face aux injonctions de Mélenchon.

Parfois alliés, parfois opposés, les deux partis de gauche se déchirent sur les investitures des législatives pour lesquelles la France insoumise entend dicter ses conditions.

Sometimes allies, sometimes opponents, the two parties of the left are tearing each other apart over the legislative elections la France insoumise wishes to impose its will.

La France Insoumise has decided to present candidates in every constituency  without bothering to seek agreement with  left parties.

To summarise: France insoumise has decided to stand a candidate in each constituency. This means it is prepared to present candidates against the communists. The latter have voted (by a small majority it’s true) to support Mélenchon in the presidential election. No matter. Jean-Luc Mélenchon has asked the Communist candidates – and all those who wish to ally themselves with him – to sign his “charter”. And to give money to his rally. ANd to follow his group’s wishes on where they may or may not stand.

Without going further into the details there are violent rows about particular constituencies, where Mélenchon is prepared to let the right win if the Communists do not agree to his diktat.

Mélenchon is in fact to the right of the French Communist Party on many issues, notably his approval of Russian intervention in Syria (Comment M. Mélenchon nie le peuple de Syrie et ses droits. le Monde)

He is noted for his intemperate comments (Décidément, Mélenchon est incorrigible! 26 November 2016).

The Candidate of La France Insoumise models himself on the ‘populist’ aspect of Podemos. But he has gone further in the populist direction by making nationalist appeals against the European Union in general, and Germany in particular not to mention talk about “les anglo-saxons”.

One can understand why the French Communists are wary of him.

Written by Andrew Coates

January 17, 2017 at 1:37 pm