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Commemorating Jean Jaurès.

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A YEAR has passed since the death of the greatest man of the Third Republic. Events the like of which history has not previously known have welled up almost as if to wash away Jaurès’ blood with new blood and to divert attention away from him and to swallow up even his memory. But even the very greatest events have only partially succeeded in this. In France’s political life a great void has been left behind. New leaders of the proletariat answering the revolutionary character of the new era have not yet arisen. The old leaders only make us remember the more clearly that there is now no Jaurès.

The war has thrown on one side not only individual figures but a whole era with them: the era during which the present leading generation in all spheres of life had been educated and brought up. Today this departed era on the one hand attracts our thoughts by the obstinacy of its cultural heritage, the uninterrupted growth of its technology, science and workers’ organizations; and on the other seems petty and characterless in the conservatism of its political life and in the reformist methods of its class struggle.

After the Franco-Prussian War and the Paris Commune (1870-1871) a period of armed peace and political reaction set in. Europe, if one excluded Russia, knew neither war nor revolution. Capital developed on a mighty scale outgrowing the framework of nation-states and overflowing into the remaining countries and subjugating colonies. The working class built its trade unions and its socialist parties. However the whole of the proletarian struggle of this period was impregnated with the spirit of reformism, of adaptation to the existing order and to the nation’s industry and the nation’s state power. After the experience of the Paris Commune the European proletariat did not once pose the question of the conquest of political power in a practical, that is, a revolutionary way. This peaceful, “organic” character of the era reared a whole generation of proletarian leaders thoroughly steeped in distrust for the direct revolutionary mass struggle.

When the war broke out and the nation-state embarked on its campaign with all its forces armed to the teeth, this generation could without difficulty place the majority of the “socialist” leaders down on their knees. The epoch of the Second International has thus ended with the violent wrecking of the official socialist parties. True they are still standing as monuments to a past age and supported both indirectly and forcibly by the governments. But the spirit of proletarian socialism has fled them and they are doomed to collapse. The working masses who have in the past accepted the ideas of socialism are only now, amid the terrible experience of the war, receiving their revolutionary baptism of fire. We are entering upon a period of unprecedented revolutionary earthquakes. New organizations will be brought to the fore by the masses and new leaders will stand at their head.

The two most outstanding representatives of the Second International have left the scene before the onset of the era of storms and earthquakes: namely Bebel and Jaurès. Bebel died in ripe old age having said everything that he was able to say. Jaurès was killed at the age of 55 in the full flower of his creative energy. A pacifist and a sharp opponent of the policies of Russian diplomacy, Jaurès fought right till the last minute against French intervention in the war. It was considered in certain circles that the war of “liberation” could not commence its march other than by stepping over Jaurès’ dead body.

Jean Jaurès  Leon Trotsky. July 1915

Two important and recommended books on Jaurès

Gilles Candar – Vincent Duclert, Jean Jaurès, Fayard, 2014.

This  biography has set a new standard. Beautifully written, with a proper ‘critical apparatuses’ (not a noted feature of many French biographies or indeed works of political theory), it is the best study of the French socialist leader that I have come across.

Candar (of the Société d’études jaurésiennes  and Duclert (a specialist on the Dreyfus affair) point out that, while never  held office, Jaurès remains one of the most influential figures in the country’s history, revered on all sides. Amongst its many merits the book is illuminating on the general history of the 3rd Republic, from the Dreyfus Affair, in which the Socialist, initially reluctant, was drawn to take the side of those defending not just the unjustly accused by the universal values of human rights, to the separation of state and Church, the foundation of French Laïcité . The authors do not skirt around one issue, which has always irked me, the absence on the French left at the time (indeed up till say, the 1970s…) of any recognition of the importance of feminism. The socialist leader, active in the Second International where these issues were raised more frequently than in France, was they illustrate, was committed to women’s rights, if, as a homme du Midi of the age, he was marked by  patriarchal culture.

Jaurès’ struggle for peace on the eve of the Great War and the ferocious hatred that he inspired on the French nationalist right, today, on the anniversary of Passchendaele has passed, and xenophobia has returned throughout Europe, serve to underline the grandeur of  one of the greatest leaders of international socialism.

Jean-Paul ScotJaurès et le réformisme révolutionnaire, Seuil, 2014.

For many  Jaurès’ socialism is summed up in the phrase, “the republic must be made social“. Scot argues that it  rested on deeper foundations. Tracing his intellectual development the author of unravels a  dialectic between a belief in the reformist (though not ‘revisionist’) belief in  ‘evolution’ and the need for radical change. Taking from Marx the concept of  “évolution révolutionnaire” to bring the two sides together Scot, illustrates this through the socialist leader’s speeches, articles and political career.  Jaurès began as a republican, much as his British counterparts in the late 19th century, started as “radicals”. He became a ‘collectivist’ and republican socialist, but, with his reading and experience began, Scot argues, to offer a perspective  that went beyond the structures of capitalism.

Lucid and always readable this essay ploughs into the world of 19th century socialism. We are spared the details of the rifts between the Marxism of Jules Guesde  and the  Parti ouvrier français,, pure republican revolutionaries (Parti socialiste révolutionnaire),  mutualists, the allemanistes,  the electric ‘integral socialism’ of Benoît Malon, and the wider current of reformism,  (possibilistes)  as Scot underlines Jaurès’ ability, as an “Independent” to bring most of the left together for the creation of the Section française de l’Internationale ouvrière (SFIO, French Section of the Workers’ International), the first French Socialist Party in 1905.

This hopeful essay, which does not skate around  the difficulties Jaurès lyrical French republican side leaves us, but focuses on the profound  problems created by capitalism, is a  tonic against those who imagine that the division between Right and Left  can be wished away by the election of a new President.

 

Written by Andrew Coates

July 31, 2017 at 12:00 pm

English Labour Network, a “Patriotic” initiative.

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Identity Politics?

Jean-Luc Mélelenchon perhaps set a precedent.

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“They nourish national vanity and the love of supremacy by force. “We alone,” they say, each behind his shelter, “we alone are the guardians of courage and loyalty, of ability and good taste!” Out of the greatness and richness of a country they make something like a consuming disease. Out of patriotism–which can be respected as long as it remains in the domain of sentiment and art on exactly the same footing as the sense of family and local pride, all equally sacred–out of patriotism they make a Utopian and impracticable idea, unbalancing the world, a sort of cancer which drains all the living force, spreads everywhere and crushes life, a contagious cancer which culminates either in the crash of war or in the exhaustion and suffocation of armed peace.”

Under Fire: The Story of a Squad, by Henri Barbusse, 1917

Denham and key Corbyn ally join forces for “patriotic” English Labour initiative

A former Labour cabinet minister has joined forces with one of the leading lights of Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership campaign for the launch of a “patriotic” initiative to give English voters a voice.

John Denham, the former communities and local government secretary under Gordon Brown, has set up the English Labour Network in an attempt to help the party win again in the largest of the home nations.

The network aims to build on Labour’s progress in the June general election and allow it to take the seats in the “large towns and small cities”which are necessary to be able to form a government.

It will provide “practical support” rather than be “yet another internal party group lobbying for individual policies or individual candidates”, Denham writes on LabourList today.

George Orwell famously distinguished between patriotism and nationalism. “Nationalism is not to be confused with patriotism. Both words are normally used in so vague a way that any definition is liable to be challenged, but one must draw a distinction between them, since two different and even opposing ideas are involved. By ‘patriotism’ I mean devotion to a particular place and a particular way of life, which one believes to be the best in the world but has no wish to force on other people. Patriotism is of its nature defensive, both militarily and culturally. Nationalism, on the other hand, is inseparable from the desire for power. The abiding purpose of every nationalist is to secure more power and more prestige, not for himself but for the nation or other unit in which he has chosen to sink his own individuality.” (Notes on Nationalism. 1945)

It is unclear if things are so clear cut, we find plenty of people talking sentimentally about ‘their’ nation, places and culture, in good times,  but using these to defend the superiority of their way of life against all others. Or simply giving priority to ‘their’ ain folk. It surely is not a coincidence that the ‘identitarian’ movement in the European extreme right tries to connect the two.

Orwell is nevertheless useful when we realise that it’s issues of power, that is the state, which mark nationalism. Sovereigntist ideas, on the populist right, and sections of the left which try to create their own radical populism, which see the capture of national sovereignty by the ‘people’ as the premise of political success, have a tight link to nationalism. If the right bases itself on the People against a variety of Enemies, from Globalised elites, to migrants, the left version targets Oligarchs and claims to ‘federate’ the people. There is some convergence in  that both could be said to reflect something of  Zygmunt Bauman’s idea that today, in ‘late modernity’  “the settled majority is ruled by the nomadic and exterritorial elite” (Liquid Modernity 2010).

David Goodhart’s The Road to Somewhere (2017), is perhaps  the most recent attempt to put forward this themes in British terms.  His  writing, on  the opposition between ‘somewheres’ and ‘anywheres’, talks of the need for the left to take up the concerns of ‘decent populists’. He argued for the importance of the ‘restless’ anywheres who dominate Labour policy making to take up the concerns of those, who vlaue   “group identity, tradition and national social contracts (faith, flag and family)”. 

Drawing on this feeling for “a particular place and way of life”, in the line of  Blue Labour, along with “work family and community”, the English Labour Network, now proposes the following.

Labour Vision interviews John Denham on launch of English Labour Network. He tells us: “No Labour manifesto in my time has gone as far as this year’s in recognising the political identity of England”

Sam Stopp ” a Labour councillor in the London Borough of Brent and is the Chair of The Labour Campaign to End Homelessness. He has written regularly for LabourList, LeftFootForward, Progress Online and Open Labour. “

  •   Labour has to aim to win England for two reasons. One is that, despite the strength in Wales and the fact we’ve recovered in Scotland, we can’t rely on sufficient MPs from those two nations to give us a UK majority. But the second reason is that it will be harder for Labour to implement policies that will be controversial in England if it doesn’t have an English majority, or is a long way behind the Tories. So we have the aim for an English majority.”
  • The second (point) is a constitutional and democratic point. The Welsh and Scottish Labour parties have a great deal of autonomy from UK Labour, but there is no place in which England is actually discussed. And I think the history says that one of the reasons that England has remained so centralised … and all of the failures to devolve have failed … is that the whole thing is being governed by the interests of Wales and Scotland, rather than the ideas of England. So I think we need to have a clear place for England within the Union and a clear decision on how we’re going to devolve inside England. And that is now long overdue.
  • The third thing”, Denham tells me, “is the cultural one, which is that Labour lags in support among English-identifying voters. Now, that’s going to be particularly critical. If you look at the seats that we need to win at the next election to form a government and the ones that we have to defend if the Tories get their act together, they are largely seats that are actually pretty evenly balanced between leavers and remainers and more of the older, working-class leaver voters than the places that we won at the election. And so to lag behind amongst those voters is very dangerous. And the reason that identity is important is that people want to be respected for who they are.”This is where Denham gets passionate and it seems as though this third issue is the one that stresses him the most. “If somebody feels English”, he goes on, “nobody ever acknowledges that they feel English. It’s a clear way of saying that we don’t understand you, or we don’t know where you’re coming from. The irony is that we live in a society where all sorts of multiple identities are possible, but it’s almost as though Englishness is the one that’s not legitimate. If Labour behaves as though there’s something inherently wrong with being English, we’re never going to reach those voters. When we talk about the importance England and Englishness, nobody is suddenly going to vote for us because of this, but it opens the door to discussions about public services or industrial strategy or austerity or spending and all the other things.”

offers some important critical reflections.

Labour has slipped rightwards on immigration. That needs to change

 

Both Denham and Liam Byrne stress that they want good, not bad, patriotism. But Byrne also asks us not to dwell on “dusty history”, as if the toxic nature of modern jingoism isn’t derived precisely from the predominant chauvinistic version of our nation’s past. It will take more than a half-baked rebranding exercise to deal with these deep-seated issues. After Brexit, the idea that our national identity should be simply celebrated rather than critically re-examined is not only irrational but deeply irresponsible. Currently, the ELN looks more like a triangulating appeal to rightwing voters than a serious project for reimagining and building a more inclusive England, with all the difficult conversations that will necessarily involve.

This is connected to a wider strand of thinking in and around the Labour party that sees xenophobia and racism as confined to a minority of cranks on society’s fringe, with the current high levels of public antipathy towards immigrants being due for the most part to nothing more than the “legitimate concerns” of primarily working-class voters. It’s a view resting on spectacular naivety about the true nature and breadth of prejudice in Britain (which is in no way class-specific), as well as the misconception that it is experience of, rather than prejudice about, immigration that drives this antipathy.

This narrative becomes a shade more sinister when the dubious category of the “white working class” (apparently neglected more due to its whiteness than its class) is elevated to the status of Labour’s “traditional” support – the “core vote” residing in the “heartlands”. One wonders where in the pecking order this leaves the non-white working-class residents of Grenfell Tower, for example. It would be unfortunate if the answer to that question were to be found in the expressions of sympathy one hears from some Labour figures for people “anxious about … the rate of change of communities”. Labour neither has nor deserves a future as the party of those who don’t want black and brown people moving into their street.

We suspect that the problems lie deeper than this.

It is not just the cultural issues Wearing rightly highlights and which make a mockery of efforts to revive a ‘national identity’  from the left.

Brexit has been followed by the attempt of some inside the Labour Party to assert their own brand of sovereigntism.

Calling on support from ‘anger’ of the anti-EU camp, the sturdy “northern working class” to the people of England who have not spoken yet, these forces – they have a name, and that is those within the Lexit campaign, and supporters (who include Labour leadership advisers) wish to mobilise the ‘people’ against any commitment to oppose the Tories’ Hard Brexit. They believe that they can ‘federate the people’ around a new version of the old Alternative Economic Strategy, Keynesian economics administrated by  a ‘captured’ state.

The real difficulty is that the world is too ‘liquid’ economically and culturally, for any radical left  government both to moblise popular enthusiasm and to build the links we need with ‘other’ nationalities, other peoples with their own loves of place and “particular ways of life”, without at the very elast making direct agreements across Europe, inside and outside of the institutional structures of the EU.

A Million Member Party. New Socialist. A Review.

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A Million Member Party. New Socialist. Review.

The churn of news stories about the Labour Party is hard to keep up with. From the exhilaration of the post General Election we have seen the drip feed of hostility to the Jeremy Corbyn and his team return. The sometimes over-the-top admiration of the Leader, that there are problems, above all in the Party’s strategy towards Brexit. Some of the left, bogged down in a war over Momentum, in which few outside limited circles take an interest, perhaps forget that not only is the Party above concerned with beating the Tories but also that some of the debates which took place during the last period, late 1970s to 1980s, that radical socialists had an influence may be returning.

New Socialist, whose name recalls Labour’s 1980s journal (ceased publication 1991), which tried to capture something of that radicalism in serious discussion, has just published on the Web contributions that connect with that past and the potential future. These open-minded and thoughtful articles indicate – it is hard not to guess from familiarity with what’s happening in the Labour Party – a widespread thirst for more than a ‘battle’ in local parties and Conference. They explore a revitalised, re-imagined democratic socialism that is in touch with ordinary people not faction fights. Taking from the best side of the New Left, adding up-to-date approaches – A Million Members is one of the most promising collections of grassroots thinking to appear this year.

Feminism and Labour.

Andrea Marie’s Prefigurative Social Relations takes us back straight away to some of some of the key books of that period, Hilary Wainwright’s Labour: a Tale of Two Parties (1987). She focuses on what is the best-known achievement of Wainwright, Sheila Rowbotham and Lynne Segal’s Beyond the Fragments (1980), introducing feminist concerns into the daily life of the left, and labour movement.  Marie talks of creating “democratic relationships, personal and political, here and now”. The book, it should be underlined, also put an emphasis on “democratic organisation” and control in the economy, not just in ownership but also in the “principles of and details” of production, as well as the state.

For Wainwright, reflecting the view of the Socialist Society we needed a “strong state in relation to powerful institutions and a supportive, decentralised state as regards popular associations and individuals.” The Two Parties ends by asking if Labour, instead of pursing such a course would, post-1987, and Neil Kinnock’s election, would become “Just an Electoral machine”, against what Wainwright referred to as a “party built up from below”, which could stand as a subtitle for the whole of A Million Member Party. (1)

The Editor Tom Gann observes that the legacy of the Kinnock years, not to mention Blair and Brown, means that for existing “Labour the winning of state power is prioritised” By contrast A Million Member Party discusses ideas of a networked party (Torr Robinson), the party as a social movement (Jan Baykara), labour in conversation with the public (oidptg) a census of popular needs (Casper Hughes) as part and parcel of making labour anew, . “the necessary preliminaries of raising and extending socialist consciousness and grass-roots organisation among working people in general.” In this context, some reflection on the successes and failures of social movements, such as the much publicised Occupy!  movement (see Thomas Frank. Yes, but what are you for?  would not be amiss. The experiences of European radical left movements, such as the recent French Nuit debout and the Spanish  Movimiento 15-M, entwined with mass left politics, are certainly even more relevant.

Remaking Labour.

 Bilsborough’s call to reconfigure Labour’s Parliamentary and local politics, that is by selecting new representatives, also raises issues, more sensitively than media fuelled rage over individuals, to deeper problems. As  Marie says, the everyday practices of the Party, the cultures and sedimented institutional practices equally need to be transformed. Many will, doubt that any political party can or should “prefigure” the co-operative social relationships, or Cotterrill, “associative democracy” (a term associated with the late Paul Hirst) that socialists would wish for society to adopt in the future. Politics involve clashes and that is not going to disappear, an indeed have not, as the recent history of ‘another way of organising’ in Podemos indicates . It is much easier to be convinced that neither bureaucratic manoeuvres, no shouty opposition, are not welcome practices. (2)

There are many other important interventions, including a section summed up in the title “desalienation” But economics, and in particular austerity, are the rub. The issues raised by Brexit, and the problem that those inside Labour, on both left and right, who support sovereigntism’, the idea that the UK can ‘go it alone’ in the world, no doubt to return to another 1980s idea, the Alternative Economic Strategy, are not raised. Mark Seddon and Soule put the problem of low pay on the table. This is important. But Tom Blackburn in “Corbynism from Below” made the point earlier on New Socialist: “continuing austerity” looms still larger. Labour’s priorities have to lie with challenging the cuts in budgets, the fiscal tap that is ever-tightening on local government, the cause of the freeze on benefits. These do not just have obvious effects of people’s lives. Austerity is a justification for expanding one of the most undemocratic aspects of the state – the hive off of public goods to private profiteers.

Economic and political power rests on money. Without replacing austerity we have no ground on which to advance the kind of generous democratic socialist politics and culture advocated by A Million Members. However many more card carrying Labour supporters can be recruited…….

*******

 

(1) Pages 256, 264 and the concluding chapter, No7. Labour: a Tale of Two Parties The Hogarth Press. 1987

(2) Associative Democracy is often thought of as an alternative to most forms of socialism as in Associative Democracy. New Forms of Economic and Social Governance. Paul Hirst. University of Massachusetts Press. 1994.

 

 

 

 

 

Jean-Luc Mélenchon, as his own EU Fraud Scandal unrolls, Defends French honour in Vel’ d’Hiv’ roundup of Jews.

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France’s charismatic far-left leader Melenchon embroiled in EU fraud scandal. France 24.

An investigation into alleged misuse of European parliamentary funds by members of a number of French political parties has been extended to include far-left leader Jean-Luc Melenchon, a judicial source said on Tuesday.

The preliminary investigation – already targeting members of France‘s centrist MoDem party, conservative party The Republicans and the Socialist Party – was opened after a member of Marine Le Pen‘s far-right National Front asked the Paris prosecutor to look into the issue.

Le Pen is herself under formal investigation for breach of trust in a separate case on the same subject.

According to Le Parisien daily newspaper, three people who were Melenchon‘s parliamentary aides while he was a member of the European Parliament from 2009 to 2017, are to be investigated.

Being a target of a preliminary investigation or a formal investigation in France does not necessarily lead to a trial.

Melenchon, now a member of the French parliament, leader of the France Unbowed party and a vocal opponent of the government of centrist Emmanuel Macron, denied any misconduct in a weekly briefing on Tuesday afternoon.

In  a Blog post titled Jupiter déraille Jean-Luc Mélenchon offers his own take on the important questions of the day.

He begins with an extended reflection on the role of the French armed forces, and bemoans the loss of national control over the Force de frappe and the provision of military equipment. Pontificating on Macron’s cuts in funding for these ends, on Trump’s Paris visit (against which, perhaps I am wrong, La France insoumise mounted no public protest) and the reception of the r Netanyahu, the Israeli far-right PM, the Man of Destiny wonders if budget cuts are in line with the strategic objectives of France. Not to mention the land’s national independence, threatened, it appears by an “improbable plan de rapprochement militaire avec l’Allemagne”. he speculates that Trump and Macron share the same goals, “Trump et Macron partagent la même vision à propos des alliances et des guerres en Europe.”

Mélenchon’s real beef is that Macron accepted French responsibility for the round-up of French Jews at the  Vel’ d’Hiv’. “dire que la France, en tant que peuple, en tant que nation est responsable de ce crime c’est admettre une définition essentialiste de notre pays totalement inacceptable.” To say it was France, as a people, as a Nation, was responsible for the crime, is completely unacceptable.

No it was not France, but Vichy.

“Non, non, Vichy ce n’est pas la France !”

For those who are surprised this is the standard Gaullist argument.

Wrong or Right.

What is perhaps more objectionable is the effort to outdo Charles Péguy  in lyrical eulogy and a wrathful defence of France.

We should all remember the words of the leader of La France insoumise.

“…qu’on accepte d’en parler avec le souci de l’amour que nous devons à notre pays avant tout autre.”

That one should speak of such things with the concern and with the love that we owe to our country above all others.

 

Written by Andrew Coates

July 19, 2017 at 12:58 pm

Perry Anderson and the French Left After Macron.

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PERRY ANDERSON AND THE FRENCH LEFT AFTER MACRON.

Part Two of a response to The Centre Can Hold.

In Part One of this critique we suggested that Perry Anderson’s analysis of the result of the French elections barely proceeded further than the affirmation that the “centre left” was a lieutenant of capital, that he lacked any notion of the specificity of different French government ‘neoliberal’, pro-capitalist politics, that his account of Macron’s victory was barely more than a tale of how the electorate was hoodwinked by the media and the establishment.

We noted that Anderson’s analysis of the role of France as a ‘hinge’ in the European Union, which he permits himself some meagre speculation on the potential effects of Macron’s Presidency on the EU. If as he claims these changes will be largely ‘cosmetic’, though one would not imagine that measures resulting from France pressure, to ensure debt relief for Southern Europe would not look like face paint to those affected, what is then the role of oppositions? Our conclusion, which dwelt on the radical utopian alternative of Dardot and Laval, suggested the ambitious scope of radical alternatives to the existing EU.

Anderson’s assumptions about the EU underpin much of The Centre Can Hold. One can note that the theme, clearly stated in 2012 against his critics, that Brussels, led by Germany, “corralled” EU members into fiscal “stability. One of his critics, Jan-Werner Müller, offered at that time an account of the “conscious delegation” of powers that constitute the inter-state body. It may be, Müller indicates, that Germany could, if the will were there, shift towards a more open system of EU decision-making. (1) This premise suggests that rather less than a total rejection of the existing institutions – reform – might be possible. That Europe is indeed a changing body is further indicated in the fate of Anderson’s speculation about the Union as “deputy Empire” of the US. Here does this stand now? No doubt the reign of Emperor Trump, who promoted Brexit, requires a further analysis.

The Jargon of Resistance.

But when it comes to looking at French elections perhaps this is not the point. New Left Review, we have to remind ourselves, has turned into the Organ of Resistance. In an Editorial in 2016 we were treated to a lengthy treatise on Left Oppositions (I will not refer to the article on Poetic Resistance in the same issue). Susan Watkins indicated that “in the last few years” “left oppositions started to produced national political projects with an impact at state level”. This covered Greece’s Syriza, Italy’s Five Star Movement (…), Podemos, Jeremy Corbyn, and apparently, Scottish independence campaigners.

Jean-Luc Mélenchon’s 4 million Presidential votes in 2012, as the candidate of the Front de gauche (FdG), a bloc of his own group, the French Communists and leftists involved in groups such as Ensemble, figured on this list. He features equally amongst the “charismatic leaders” with his old style “oratory”. A paragraph, informed by sources which can guess not unfavourable to the leader of what was then the Parti de Gauche (PdG) complained of the Parti Communiste Français (PCF). It was “mummified”, a “ball and chain”, and, over egging this already egg splattered account, amongst the faults of the PCF, “In the National Assembly it regularly supports the Socialist government against the positions of the Parti de Gauche.” Writing in this vein the Mélenchonistas were given star rating, along with the thousands attending Nuit Debout rallies – over the, unmentioned, trade union led millions-strong campaign against the El Khomri labour reforms.

With the NLR condescension Mélenchon was judged “in part” social democratic, but with more ‘heterodox elements” “including sweeping constitutional change – not a social-democratic trait”. Those familiar with the Journal’s views on such issues, will realise that the importance they attach to the calls for a 6th Republic, although the Editor fails to mention that the same banner has been raised by a number of the left inside the Parti Socialiste (2014: Appel de socialistes pour une sixième République).

La France insoumise.

Shift forward a year, the formation of La France insoumise (LFI), the effective end of the Front de Gauche, and the 2017 Presidential elections. Against the ‘pale figure” of Benoît Hamon. We have the Grand Orator Mélenchon standing with the backing of hundreds of thousands of on-line supporters and – on the ground – “groupes d’appui”, organised supporters.

“..the change was more than just organisational. Fascinated for some time by the success of heterodox governments in Latin America, he drew particular inspiration from the example of Rafael Correa in Ecuador, like him a former minister of a social-democratic party, who had pioneered the idea of a ‘citizen’s revolution’, rewriting the constitution, redistributing wealth and protecting the environment. This was the way forward, to abandon the exhausted schemas of the traditional European left for a radically progressive populism, summoning the people to battle against the elites in control of a bankrupt political and economic system. Impressed with the strategic insight of Ernesto Laclau and Chantal Mouffe, encountered in Argentina in 2013, Mélenchon set about applying their lessons at home.”

We pause for a moment to consider this.

A Movement not a Party.

La France insoumise is a “movement”, not a party. Mélenchon declares, “Il peut disposer des moyens d’être représentatif de cet ensemble globalisant quest le peuple en réseau de notre époque That is, it can be a network that represents the people globally in our era. Is it democratic? Le mouvement na pas à être « démocratique » au sens basiste que souvent on donne à ce mot dans les organisations politiques où lon doit alors affronter le climat de confrontation des courants et des textes qui les fondent avec les votes contradictories. The movement is not ‘democratic’ in the the grassroots sense of the word in political parties, where different tendencies and resolutions are presented confrontationally, or with oppositional voting. The movement is as collective as possible (cest d’être aussi collectif que possible) In other words, there is no formal debate over competing views, or, more significantly, any means to do so – LFI operates internally through cyber-space with the direction set by.the leadership. For his supporters Mélenchon is the “embodiment” of the programme; there is no need for opposition to him. Inside La France insoumise there are, as yet, not plans for a place for a democratic opposition or channels for one to exist. It is run, as report after report indicates, by a core of close Mélenchon advisers from the PdG.. (2)

A further pause, La France insoumise its admirers claim, is not a tactic, a political start-up adapted to the new era of personalised politics. But what is it? The organisation is more that symbolically linked to other models – we shall discard the reference to Ecuador (which few will have heard of and which counts for even less than erstwhile evocations of the Bolivarian Revolution in Venezuela), but to Podemos. LFI is not, nevertheless, the product of a French Moviemento 15 Mars, no mass street protests preceded its launch, and only the figure of the producer of Merci Patron François Ruffin stands in for the brief flash of the Nuit Debout square occupations.

La France insoumise was first and foremost the vehicle for Mélenchon’s Presidential ambitions. It was a temporary body, It is secondly an ambitious claim to federate the people into something resembling the left populism of Laclau and Mouffe. Although one should be wary of politicians claiming intellectual authority from fashionable figures (Hamon has also claimed to be influenced by Mouffe: Benoît Hamon, Inspirations au programme), there is more than a little of a demand for “equality and popular sovereignty in LFIs version of agonistic (conflictual) democracy to feel an imprint. In place of class conflict in the sense of a contradiction rooted in a mode of production, classic social classes, we have the opposition between the People (demanding equality and sovereignty) and the Elite/Oligarchy. We have an even more rudimentary opposition between Friend and Foe (Carl Schmitt), beneath this. Political reform, sweeping constitutional change, a citizens insurrection through the ballot box, are designed to clean the institutions of the corruption of the oligarchs and to bring alive the general will inside a new Republic, one that can (and this is repeated) ensure French independence (3)

Le Grand Replacement ..of the Left.

It is finally, a movement whose central strategy is to replace the existing left, not to unite it, not to bring together it for common objectives, but to call for traditional left-wing parties to sod off (dégagez!) For those wishing to pursue this analysis from the numerous criticisms levelled at Mélenchon and LFI, they will find many more critical accounts, so abundant that one might have thought a reference or two might have crossed Anderson’s mind.(4)

LFIs patriotism, and rejection of any reference to class in favour of the conflict between the People and the Oligarchy, can hardly escape the casual observer.

La France insoumise banned red flags and the Internationale for the tricolour and Marseillaise at its meetings, appealing to all patriots regardless of class or age to rise up against the decaying order of the Fifth. Borrowing the cry that drove out Ben Ali in Tunisia, Dégagez!—‘Clear out!’—became the leitmotif of the campaign.”

It takes a strong stomach to digest this, one no doubt fortified by memories of 1950s PCF tricolours and references to national liberation heroine Jean darc. Is there more criticism, at least more than implicit, from Anderson? Perhaps this sentence could still be expanded In reality, the two anti-systemic forces, rather than aggregating to a common populist insurgency, largely cancel each other out. However similar their critiques of the social and economic system, insuperable moral and ideological differences on immigration hold them apart at opposite ends of the political spectrum, where each freely demonizes the other.” Immigration, FN as a ‘scarecrow’ used to rally people behind the Macron and the Republic……..and there it ends…

Or not. Anderson is soon bored by French Politics and drifts back to geopolitical, European, issues. He notes that, “the balance of forces in a  neoliberal but not yet neo-federal system of power militates against dramatic changes”. The final paragraph of The Centre Can Hold talks of the single currency, the Euro, and the possibility of a French exit from it. Recasting monetary union, is, Anderson pats Mélenchon on the back, a “geopolitical” issue, not a technical one. Of that, all we hear that can be brought down to immediate relevance is the question: can there be an effective means to compel Germany to help a reform of the EU?

The future of La France insoumise, as it announces a Convention in the autumn, remains to be analysed. Will it become a real party? Where will it go? Many suggest that Melenchon has still not come to terms with the idea that he will not be President. In the National Assembly, having made a splash, there are strong independent figures in the group of 17   who may have their own ideas about the direction it should take. One thing is certain, neither the PCF (10)  the PS (45 seats), nor the rest of the left, including Hamon’s own new movement, the mouvement du 1er Juillet  nor the extra-parliamentary  left, nor the union federations,  look ready to be “replaced” by Mélenchon. The failure of LFI’s stunt this week, holding on its own, without trade union backing, rallies against Macron’s new labour reforms, indicates the limits of how far its “recuperation” of social movements can go.  (5)

********

(1) After the Event Perry Anderson. Beyond Militant Democracy. Werner Müller. New Left Review. No 73. 2012.

(2) Jean-Luc Mélenchon. Le peuple et le ‘ mouvement ‘ November 2016 

(3) The Democratic Paradox. Chantal Mouffe. Verso. 2005. A much more detailed critique of Laclau and Mouffe’s influence on ‘left-populist’ politics is in preparation. The motif of French independence, militarily, economically, and related themes, such as “producing French”, stand out in the pages of La France insoumise’s programme,  L’Avenir en commun. 2017.

(4) See: La France insoumise – « L’ère du peuple » et « l’adieu au prolétariat » ? jeudi 3 novembre 2016, par JOHSUA Samuel, MELENCHON Jean-Luc Rousset provides the best summary. Mélenchon, France insoumise, populisme : questions sur la séquence électorale 2016-2017 et ses implications ROUSSET Pierre.

(5) La France insoumise se met en chantier – Vers une convention fin octobre ? BESSE DESMOULIERES Raphaëlle

Chartist AGM: Labour, Preparing for Power.

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A political earthquake in Britain has shocked the Tories. Labour made a huge advance in the June General Election while Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership is now unassailable. What will happen next? Theresa May is a wounded Tory leader or ‘a dead woman walking’. The coalition of chaos is unlikely to last long. Another General Election can’t be far off. A hard Brexit and austerity look set to be ditched as part of the Tories survival strategy. So what are the likely scenarios? What must Labour do? What are the tasks for the Left?

Chartist, a journal of the democratic socialist left, held its AGM yesterday in the University of Westminster.

Around 30 people attended, including a significant group of younger activists from Tower Hamlets Momentum.

Buoyed up by the encouraging General Election results, a series of important, open-minded, discussions took place around the aftermath of Brexit. In everybody’s mind was the possibility of a future Labour government.

In the morning John Palmer, former European Editor of the Guardian and a veteran of the radical democratic left, outlined the problems that Brexit brings. From a pro-European stand – John evoked the goal of a social, socialist united Europe – argued that the ‘cliff edge’ strategy of the Theresa May government has reached an impasse. The voice of British capital, muted during the referendum, has begun to be heard, now loudly warning of the consequences of leaving the EU for the economy. How far Labour’s position on Brexit, recognising the result of the Leave vote, and letting the process of leaving proceed relatively unhindered, will be sustainable remains open, above all in view of the support of the majority of Labour members for Remain and the overwhelming pro-European views of young people.

Ann Pettifor, Prime Economics and an Adviser to John McDonnell, focused on Labour’s economic policies. She argued, drawing on her recent book,(The Production of Money. How to Break the Power of Bankers. 2017) that a Corbyn government should boost the economy.  Concerned that Labour appears reluctant to commit to a programme of increased public spending Pettifor explained money creation. Her views, summarised here, Could a Labour government safely borrow to invest and spend? are a programme for radical re-tilting of a left-government.

Speakers from the audience raised issues about the Labour Manifesto’s strengths, and weaknesses, were raised. Its cautious approach, marked in the refusal to challenge the benefits freeze, was, perhaps, it was said, the result of the short-time in which the document was prepared. But for the future much more detailed and thorough-going proposals are needed. Pettifor’s bold approach was, some argued, in need of elaboration and justification.

It is equally the case the role of right-wing, former Blair and Brown supporting MPs who are hostile to any left-wing policies, has played a damaging role in Labour’s attempts to strike out in a new direction, despite the growing popular support for Corbyn and his ideas, often, Pettifor remarked, in advance of the Party.

“On the Brexit issue the problem of Sovereignty remains a live one. The view was expressed that the ‘sovereigntist’ left, whilst only attracting a minority amongst Labour Party members, still retains influence. The reaction of expressed by one of the editors of the ‘flagship of the Western Intellectual left’, New Left Review, that Brexit was a welcome “Big kick up the backside” for the EU, or more overtly nationalist positions, have to be challenged.

Pettifor made the bold claim that it was the loss of democratic power in an earlier phase of globalisation which had led to the rise of the 1930s Fascism and Nazism. The post-War process of globalisation encouraged the rise of extreme-right populism today.

A couple of dissenting voices from the anti-EU quarter aside, Chartist supporters remained committed to the internationalist European project.

But how this can be carried forward remains an open question.

One theme emerged during the discussion, the need for Labour to engage in open policy debate and formation. It was a common thread throughout the day.

In the afternoon, Don Flynn, from a background in the Migrant Rights Network, raised a number of further issues about populism and argued that there may well be radical variants that the left can engage with. Don also expressed caution about Labour’s prospects, “we can still mess things up” he observed.

Julie Ward, Labour Co-Op for North West England made an impassioned speech in favour of the European Union, illustrated by her experience in being able to to promote progressive campaigns through through the Brussels and Strasbourg Parliament. Ward questioned the legitimacy of the Referendum, which had earlier been criticised  as an inappropriate means, in a representative democracy,  to deal with the issue of British membership. The MEP hoped that Brexit may not yet come to pass.

Puru Miah, from the Momentum national committee, described the work of the group’s activists. One feature stuck out, Momentum is in the process of developing a system of canvassing which does more than “register” the opinions of those on the doorstep, but tries to engage with the views of the public.

In the final session Mike Davis reiterated the issue of policy making. Many Chartist supporters are closely engaged in this process, on issues such as Housing, Welfare, local government and migrant rights. While not rejecting the existing system of Policy Commissions it was felt that more transparent ways, based on wider democratic participation,  of making decisions about what becomes part of the Labour Manifesto are a key to a radical reforming Labour government’s success.

One concern was aired: that not all of the Labour Leader’s advisers came from the democratic socialist tradition and were not always open to ideas from quarters outside their circle.

The day’s debates were ably chaired,  and this is not an exaggeration, the content was exceptional.

It is to be hoped that as a vehicle for a variety of democratic socialist, green, and feminist voices, Chartist will play a part not just in campaigning for a Labour victory but in shaping the party’s policies in a left direction.

The following recent article, by a comrade with great experience in the area, Duncan Bowie, comes highly recommended:

Grenfell fire – an indictment of government

Alt-Left Blogs Face Left Critics: the Canary, Skwawkbox, Novera.

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Phil’s latest merits a wide audience.

The Alt-Left: A Critical Appreciation

Among the big winners of the general election are the wave of new blogs collectively dubbed the “alt-left”. You know who I’m talking about. The Canary, Skwawkbox, Novara, Evolve Politics and Another Angry Voice have been singled out by the mainstream as the authentic voices of the new socialism that has seized hold of the Labour Party and powered it to its highest number of votes for 20 years. Despite these blogs being around for some time (AAV since 2010, Skwawkbox 2012) they constitute part of the third age of blogging, which saw outsiders seemingly appear from nowhere to muscle in on online comment. In a short period of time, they have all carved out serious audiences, according to Buzzfeed’s in-depth feature (itself a product of the third wave). How, and why is it – Novara’s Aaron Bastani aside – they are all outsiders? Why didn’t established radical journalists, other socialist blogs, or the regular output of the far left become key artefacts of the Corbynist zeitgeist? It’s because of how this “outsiderness” relates to their content which, in turn, has found substantial audiences.

Novera, Phil comments,  operates in the more traditional field of political analysis. The present Page offers on article that suggests that present outage over Grenfell Tower and the issue of housing, has something in common with the Spanish mass movement, the Indignados,or Movimiento 15-M or which involved millions of people, in protests against the ruling parties’ corruption, incompetence and formed the groundwork for Podemos, although  how the “current wave of indignation will crystallise” in the UK is left open (Britain’s Indignant Moment? Grenfell, Neoliberalism and the New Common Sense).

One can, with regret or not, say that last week’s Day of Rage,  was not much of a sign of such a movement.

Novera also includes a piece by Richard Seymour that offers a sober and pretty decent analysis of the rise of Corbyn in conditions where such protests were absent, or marginal. After the Miliband defeat, “he had an analysis not only of the grimly familiar litany of austerity’s failures but also of Labour’s crisis. He understood it as a crisis of the roots, a failure to connect to the activists and movements without whom Labour was just a professional political elite obsessed with psephology and spin.” Leaving aside the contentious claim that it was “he” Corbyn rather than Team Corbyn, that propelled the successful campaign for the Labour leadership, Seymour points out rightly, that there emerged a “protest movement in itself, attracting enormous rallies of the angry and disaffected Labour base in that  that post-election, “

Unfortunately there is a lot of speculation – wishful thinking would be a better term – in Seymour’s conclusions,  “He (Corbyn) has found hidden reservoirs of support and strength for the Left, raw materials for social transformation. In doing so, he has also exposed the inherent fragility of the supposedly indomitable, terrifying Tory machine, accentuating its inherited crises and long term decline, and potentially hastening the end of its role as a viable party of government.” (Where We Go From Here.)

These examples perhaps pass the line between taking the time to grasp political reality and expressing hopes and wishes for the future, but optimism is often welcome even if the will may overreach itself. One might ask, were one from these quarter, the radical left, if a movement focused on elections, and creating a mass party with some social activism,  is really something new and path breaking in European social democracy? Labour’s programme that while offering a series of reforms and nationalisations, is some respects to the right of this year’s unfortunate French Socialist Presidential candidate, Benoît Hamon, 6,4%, which offered Basic Income, a Europe-wide minimum wage, and the legalisation of cannabis amongst its policies

The Canary, strikingly,   passes well beyond the reality principle, “In one sentence, Corbyn drops a truth bomb that should have the Tories running for the hills.

The phrase is, apparently, “Yes, the £10 an hour living wage, real living wage, is correct and also should apply to all workers, because I don’t think young people eat less than old people – that’s my experience anyway.

Other stories, again from the Canary, live up to the point that, “What they all share is a default (and correct) assumption that the system is rigged and the powers-that-be will conspire, collude, and collaborate to forever gerrymander privilege for themselves and their cronies. The stock-in-trade for the blogs are stories that reinforce this healthy scepticism.”

Witness, the headline, “We’ve been investigating the evidence about the Grenfell fire. And what we’ve found is numbing. 

It is hard to find anything in this article that is not common knowledge, broadcast in the MSM.

Another Angry Voice is  simply what its name gives, enraged:  “Taking back control” by handing control of HS2 to one of three foreign governments.

Evolve Politics is a front for a nationalist ideology, called ‘sovereigntism’ which considers that the British Parliament ‘taking back control’ from the EU, Brexit, is a step forward.

Leaving the single market will unleash the full potential of Corbynism, no wonder the Blairites want to stay in it.

In this version of National Parliamentary Socialism the EU is an obstacle to the left and those who want a ‘soft Brexit’ with the UK in the single market are out to stab Corbyn in the back.

Yet what of the fact that young people and most Labour members backed the EU, including the radical left who supported Another Europe is Possible?

This is is the answer: Brexit, when backed by anti-EU ‘progressives’ is really ‘internationalist’.

Those who claim that the majority of Labour’s new membership backed remaining in the EU so Corbyn had to follow suit fail to grasp the complex dynamics of the situation. If Corbyn had put forward a socialist leave position, it would have reconstituted the party membership on different lines, possibly winning back much of UKIP’s voter base to a progressive position. Many of the progressive remain voters as well, who see the EU in terms of their own feelings of internationalism, of solidarity with workers and young people in other countries, could also have been won to a socialist leave position.

Against the ‘Blairite’ supporters of the EU who “will use the single market as a tool to sabotage Corbyn’s programme”  action is needed.

 This means campaigning for mandatory reselection of the Blairite MPs and a Brexit in the interest of the working class

Now it is not generally a good idea for other bloggers educated in the school of hard-blows that was the UK Left Network – whose ‘style’ makes any of the above look tame –  to comment critically about those  trying to make original points, from the left, about politics. That is the function of Blogs and the wider democratisation of news and opinion that the Web encourages. But Third Age bloggers are no more above criticism than the MSM. We could explore other sites, such as We demand UK, Britain is the People, Little Britain First. PigGate 2, Jeremy Corbyn The People’s PM, Mock the Right, The Daily Politik, Red Labour, Walking the Breadline, The Ragged Trousered Philanderer, Nye Bevan News.

But the ones we have singled out, from Phil’s list have the clearest  ambition to be something that resembles the 1960s and 1970s underground press, to be alternative media. In present conditions they aim as high as to offer their own news.

It’s in this respect that Phil points us to some substantial points made by one Bob Pitt, well-known in this parish.

It is an exceptional, and as Phil says, “forensic” demolition of one site, Skwarkbox.

Skwawkbox — an embarrassment to the Left

The almost uniform hostility that Jeremy Corbyn has faced from the press and broadcast media since his election as Labour leader (only slightly mitigated by the party’s impressive showing in the general election) has given a boost to alternative news media whose declared aim is to defend Corbyn’s politics and nail the lies of the “MSM”. Novara Media, The Canary, Evolve Politics, Another Angry Voice and The Skwawkbox are notable examples.

The influence of these alt-left sites shouldn’t be underestimated. In the run-up to the general election BuzzFeed News reported that they were attracting “enormous audiences”. The Skwawkbox, a one-man operation apparently run by a Labour Party member from Liverpool, featured in a BBC News At Ten report, which stated that “many of his articles go viral, with some achieving hundreds of thousands of readers”.

Comrade Pitt registers this impact on the wider media,

On Saturday, Skawkbox also made the front page of the Daily Telegraph, where it was presented in a rather less favourable light. Taking its cue from the Guido Fawkes website, the Telegraph ran a report titled “Corbyn-backers spread ‘fake news’ about blaze toll”, which attacked Skwawkbox’s coverage of the Grenfell Tower fire. The story was then recycled by the Sunday Express which similarly accused Corbyn supporters of misreporting the tragedy.

Without recounting the full story we note.

On 16 June, in an article headed “Video: Govt puts ‘D-notice’ gag on real #Grenfell death toll #nationalsecurity”, Skwawkbox took up the claim made by grime MC Saskilla on the BBC Victoria Derbyshire programme that the number of victims in the Grenfell Tower fire was far greater than had yet been officially admitted, with as many as 200 people having died.

Skwawkbox used this claim to give credence to rumours that the government was engaged in an attempt to prevent the media reporting the true extent of the disaster: “At the same time, multiple sources told the SKWAWKBOX that the government has placed a ‘D-notice’ (sometimes called a ‘DA Notice’) on the real number of deaths in the blaze.”

When the tale fell apart this was the reaction,

Did Skwawkbox apologise for getting the story wrong and offer assurances that there would be no repetition of this stupid and provocative reporting? You must be joking. Instead, Skwawkbox’s proprietor was stung by the well-deserved criticism of his article into posting an indignant defence of his shoddy journalistic methods. In a quite astonishing display of chutzpah, he declared that he himself had been the victim of “fake news”!

Nowhere, he complained, did he claim that the government had imposed a D-Notice on media coverage of the Grenfell Tower tragedy. He insisted that he had merely raised the possibility that a D-Notice could have been issued. Did he not write “if it is true that the government has issued a D-notice”? Well, yes, he did — but that was immediately followed by the words “and every instinct is screaming that it is”! The author then proceeded on the basis of that assumption to outline his theories about the government’s motives for imposing a media gag.

The former Editor of What Next? and Islamophobia Watch,  covers a few more tall tales and concludes,

But I stopped following Skwawkbox last September after it published ludicrous claims based on dodgy maths about vast numbers of people being excluded from the Labour leadership election (“no fewer than 67,000 eligible voters have not received a vote — over 16% of the Labour electorate”), followed by the baseless accusation of a cover-up by party officials.

That, unfortunately, is how Skwawkbox operates — hyping up stories in order to generate clickbait headlines, with little or no concern for accuracy, often combining this with unsubstantiated claims that the authorities are involved in some sort of conspiracy. The evident purpose of this is to whip up hostility towards Jeremy Corbyn’s political opponents in order to bolster his leadership.

Skwawkbox’s approach is entirely counterproductive. Far from defending Corbyn against right-wing attacks, this irresponsible nonsense just provides ammunition for his enemies, allowing them to portray the Labour leader’s supporters as a bunch of liars and political fantasists. It also degrades the political culture of the left, by sidelining serious analysis and debate in favour of false polemics and crackpot conspiracy theories.

Skwawkbox has a featured post that includes a tweet from an admirer: “This blog is journalism as it should be. True, fair, accurate and in the public interest.” The reality, however, is that Skwawkbox functions as a sort of left-wing mirror image of the right-wing tabloid press, or of alt-right sites like Breitbart News. It employs the same unscrupulous, sensationalist journalistic methods, but for opposite political ends. Skwawkbox appears incapable of grasping that socialist aims cannot be achieved by such anti-socialist means.

Phil by contrast remarks of the alt-left Blogs,

The size of their audience is one reason why they cannot be dismissed with a flick of the polemical wrist. The other is their impact on the political process. Despite the conspiratorial thinking, they have proven effective in cohering armies of social media activists around the Corbyn project. During the election, they inspired and encouraged thousands of peoples to get active in campaigns independently of the herculean mobilisation efforts of Momentum. Those activists are not disappearing either. They’re turning up to constituency meetings in increasing numbers and are steadily making their presence felt. In short, the new blogs top the collective propaganda efforts of established left activism and are helping touch off a mass radicalisation, and that is not to be sniffed at.

This Blog tends to agree with cde Pitt’s critical stand

Conspiratorial thinking, of the kind painfully exhibited in Skwawkbox, and just plain sloppy playing around with facts, is not just to be sniffed at: it is to be opposed.

The Canary gave space to this Opinion in February this year:

Donald Trump is trying a move from Hitler’s playbook, and the media gifted it to him Ben Janaway

At the end is this sentence: We actively invite you to question what you read at The Canary, to follow the hyperlinks we reference, and to search for more information.

Hitler’s playbook is not available on-line.

 

Written by Andrew Coates

June 25, 2017 at 11:50 am