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Macron, Un Président Philosophe. Brice Couturier. The Anti-Populist Progressive? Review.

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Macron, Un Président Philosophe. Aucun des ses mots n’est le fruit de hasard. Brice Couturier. Editions l’Observatoire. 

An interview which broke with the deferential traditions of the 5th Republic made the French headlines all week. On Sunday the 15th of April the journalists Jean-Jacques Bourdin and Edwy Plenel questioned the head of state for two hours on the balance-sheet of his administration. Elected with a sweeping majority for the party La République en marche, he defended a policy of immediate reforms, from the rail service, to higher education. Macron “listened” to the anger of opponents – the railway workers, students, aeroplane pilots, functionaries, and the squatters occupying the ZAD at Notre-Dame-des-Landes. But republican norms had to be respected. Universities were victims of “professionnels du désordre” (le Monde 17.4.18).

As the exchange got underway Plenal, the anti-Macron founder of the independent Mediapart, and a former member of the Ligue Communiste Révolutionnaire, interrupted. “You are not our Teacher, and we are not your pupils”. An Editorial in Le Monde the previous day talked of Macron as a pedagogue ready to lecture, regardless of the wishes of his audience, until he had completed his lesson. (Macron au cours préparatoire. 14.4.18) Excluding the possibility that the President was unaware of his interlocutor’s troublemaking potential one assumes that a snappy put down far from a chance part of the course.

The Anti-Populist Progressive? 

But what syllabus is France’s President instructing us from? This is far from an issue limited to the Hexagone. There are policies on the European Union. Macron’s “camp progressiste” has stimulated interest amongst homeless supporters of the Third Way, Die Neue Mitte, and the liberal centre. For many of these people Macron represents a successful ‘anti-populist’ unifying force.  Much of the French left, which saw many transfers from the right of the Parti Socialiste (PS) and allied figures, to the new President’s camp, by contrast, announced immediately after his victory that this was a Presidency for the wealthy, for the ‘elite’. For former Socialist Minister Anicet Le Pors, he is “mandated” by international finance, the ruling circles of the EU, the bosses, the administrative technocracy, show business, and nearly all the media. (April 2018. Le Monde Diplomatique)

With the present unrest attracting attention the English-speaking left has been quick to label Macron a neo-liberal, a spin of Tony Blair and Thatcher, out to attack the labour movement and impose markets on the public sphere. The ‘bromance’ with Donald Trump over Syria adds force to the comparison with the former British Prime Minister.

Perry Anderson, in a peremptory post-election account, went deeper. Adorned in best periodic style, he suggested that the “neoliberal reformation of France”, attempted for over three decades, had been impeded on different sides by the constituencies of right and left. Macron, in effect, cut through the various knots tiring up the centre left and right, and formed a real “bloc bourgeois” ready to carry out a liberalisation of the economy, and free up entrepreneurial energy. (1)

But some clarity is needed about the beast in power. There are already plenty of books about the President, and the electoral campaign that swept him to the Élysée. But what is his ideology, beyond carrying out his neoliberal “mandate”? ‘Macronism’ appears a less promising candidate than Thatcherism or even the rebarbative Blairism. A suggestion by Régis Debray that – the reader will have guessed this – that the Head of State represents Americanisation, with a ‘Protestant’ twist (see below), this does not take us far. It might be better said that his ideology is something picked up and stuck together as the result of an academic, administrative, business and political career.

In Macron, un président philosophe, Courtier who has a solid academic, and media background, and a less firm commitment to a form of left wing liberalism, offers us a series of insights into this broad picture. As he indicates, the former assistant to the philosopher Paul Ricœur, graduate of French elite Political and Administrative colleges, Finance Inspector, Rothschild Banker, and Minister under François Hollande, offers rich intellectual pickings. Blair, the erudite few may recall, had the lecturer Peter Thompson at Oxford, and the lessons of reciprocity from John Macmurray, behind his Christian socialism. Macron has somebody, Ricœur, a thinker with a Protestant backdrop, whom people have often heard of, if not read.

The President, we learn, has many many more figures in his hinterland. French books have a vexing lack of indexes. It would be hard work to list every sage cited in un Président philosophe, they range from Hegel, Marx, Carl Schmitt, Nietzsche, Peter Sloterdijk, Joseph Schumpeter, Michael Young (meritocracy), to Jürgen Habermas. This only follows the reference-laden writings and speeches of the book’s subject.

From Ricoeur to Saint Simon. 

It would be useful to boil this down to the essential. To begin with here is the debt to Paul Ricœur. For Courtier he offered the germs of an “identitié narrative” from the individual to the nation, to history. The use for a President of certain ideas about France, recently indicated in recognition to the importance of the legacy of Catholicism, is obvious. Macron has, in other words, considers cultural legacies, the presence of memory, to hold the country together – a view whose originality or interest is not immediately apparent.

Next Macron can be compared to Saint-Simon, the prophet of a society run by “industrials” and “intellectuals”. In this vein he is said to consider globalisation as a system of fluxes to be organised and regulated (Page 253). Finance, the mark of neo-liberalism, is to be channelled to the long-term greater good.

If Macron is a believer in capitalism he acknowledges it is not a system that works smoothly, if with great effort, like some building a planetary network of Saint-Simonian canals. There are moments of creative destruction (Schumpeter), clearing out the old inefficient enterprises, bureaucratic burdens and the “corporatism” of organised labour. ‘Progressive’ states, and the transnational European project, are needed to both facilitate and harness this process. .

Finally, there is building European Sovereignty, and the problems that globalisation creates. Courtier refers to David Goodhart in outlining the problems France faces. (3). Can Macron bring together the France of the “zones péripheriques”, the old working class far from the elite, and the metropolitan “gagnants de la mondialisation” (winners of globalisation), regarded as Macron’s core backing, if not electorate, together? (Pages 291 -2)

The difficulty of reconciling the “somewhere’ salt-of-the-earth folk and the – scorned – “nowhere” cosmopolitans would appear hard for somebody identified with the (however misleadingly) with the latter “bobos”. The task of bringing integration against the ‘identitarians’ of the far-right and those who assert the absolute right to multicultural difference, by the “modèle republican français” appears equally arduous. The often reverential, if not hagiographical tone of Un président philosophe, does not help resolve the difficulties. The use of Goodhart to bolster his opinions indicates a rightward slant with no countervailing force. 

The philosophical commentator Alain famously declared that when somebody says that they are neither right nor left, he is sure of one thing – that they are not of the left. Macron is always careful to declare that he is of the right and the left. But there is a little indication of the latter. Pierre-André Taguieff has represented him as the herald of “successful globalisation”, a Europe in which France would be a “nation-start up” and the “État-enterprise”. To decipher the business-talk Anglicisms that pepper Macron’s speech is to confirm this view.

Managerialism, Saint-Simon, Schumpeter, both far from any conception of “bottom up” democracy, political or economic, and a homeopathic communitarian philosophy suggested by Courtier’s reading of Goodhart, do not make an attractive picture of France’s President. If this is what “progressivism” has become in Europe, than it is doubtful if it will attract many enthusiasts beyond France, and certainly not from left-wingers (3)

The European Project and the left.

In the article cited above Anderson pins the ultimate root of this strategy on the European Project. In the trickle down from his approach, others seize on every obstacle to the EU – Brexit included – as an advance against neo-liberalism. Today’s French strikes and protests – regardless of their specific causes or aims – are considered part of this movement.

But the real issue for the French left, in the aftermath of their defeat, may be said to have been whether Macron could be opposed by the “left populist” strategy of Jean-Luc Mélenchon’s La France insoumise (LFI), to ‘federate the people” against the “elite” or by a new “left bloc” based on alliances between the parties (now stretching from the remains of the PS, Benoît Hamon’s group, the PCF, LFI and its allies, what is left of Les Verts, Nouveau Parti anticapitaliste, NPA) with the social forces presently fighting the wave of Macron reforms. This, as Stefano Palombarini suggested last June, would require an internationalist strategy towards changing the EU that breaks from the populist drift to ‘sovereigntism’. (4)

It is said that with his steam-roller reforms Macron has now been abandoned by whatever support he had from the ‘reformist’ liberal left. That after a year’s presidency he has veered towards authoritarianism  to “jacobinisme vertical”. Whether this is true or not the left is not united. There is no indication that the largest group in the French National Assembly, LFI, at the moment engaged in a “war of movement” to capture hegemony over the left, intends to explore this possibility. It might still be said, that to wrestle the European issue out of the hands of the Macrons and the existing EU system of governance, while fighting the sovereigntists, remains the key issue for our continent’s left, in all its diversity, strengths and weaknesses.

****

(1) The Centre Can Hold. Perry Anderson. New Left Review. No 105. May/June 2017. See: L’Illusion du Bloc Bourgeois. Bruno Amable. Stefano Palombarini. Raisons d’agir. 2017. Speculation that François Hollande and his immediate circle played a part in Macron’s Presidential ascension has waned with the publication of memories reproaching his one-time protégé for his actions.

(2) The Road to Somewhere. The Populist Revolt and the Future of Politics. David Goodhart. Hurst & Company. 2017.

(3) Page 283. Macron: miracle ou mirage? Pierre-André Taguieff. Editions l’Observatoire. August 2017

(4) Face à Macron, la gauche ou le populisme? Stefano Palombarini

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From French Trotskyism to Social Democracy. “68, et Après. Les héritages égarés. Benjamin Stora” Review.

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68, et Après. Les héritages égarés. Benjamin Stora. Stock. 2018.

The present wave of strikes and student protests in France have drawn comparisons with the stoppages and protests against the 1995 ‘Plan Juppé”. This reform of state health and retirement insurance, including the railway workers’ pensions, struck at the heart of the French welfare state. There is a strong resemblance between this social movement and the opposition of public sector workers and undergraduates to President Macron’s efforts to ‘modernise’ the French rail system and Universities, (Le Monde 28.3.18).

Others, notably in the English-speaking left, have evoked the spirit of ’68. Some on the French ultra-left, who might be considered to inherit a fragment of the soul of that year’s revolts, state in Lundimatin, that they “do not give a toss” (on s’en fout) about the anniversary of the May events. (Nicolas Truong. Le Monde 15.3.18) Rather than commemorate, or organising Occupy or Nuit Debout style alternatives, they will be busy tearing into Macron, speaking truth for the Coming Insurrection. (1)

That section of the far-left is, of course embroiled in the continuation of the Tarnac trial. Others from a close milieu are involved in resisting the clearing of the last self-organised squats at Notre-Dame-des-Landes.

Benjamin Stora’s 68, et Après is written from a standpoint both familiar internationally, the fall out from the crushing defeat of the French left in last year’s Presidential and Parliamentary elections, and one far less well-known, the history of a section of Gallic Trotskyism, the ‘Lambertists’.

It is also an autobiography, from his origins in as a North African Jews, his education, his many years of activism, and university career. Stora  has produced important studies of French Algeria, the war of liberation, and post-independence Algerian history, including the exile of its Jewish population. There is a finely handled account of the tragic death of his daughter in 1992. Stora’s commitment to study the Maghreb did not wholly override political commitment. Opposition to the Jihadists – and be it said, the Military – during the 1990s civil war in Algeria – led to Islamist intimidation. After a small coffin inscribed with words from the Qur’an, and a death threat addressed to Unbelievers, Jews and Communists arrived at his home the historian was forced to leave France and spend time in Vietnam, the occasion for further fruitful reflection on post-colonial societies.

Generation 68

Stora argues that the notion of a 68 ‘generation’ (popularised in Hervé Hamon and Patrick Rotman’s landmark 1987 book of the same name) is misleading. He notes the two volumes lack of attention to his own tradition. A full-time activist in the 1970s the former Lambertist suggests, notably, that his own tendency, whose internal regime and (to put in terms this reviewer, whose background is amongst its left-wing rivals) stifling narrow-minded morality (up to hostility towards feminism and gays), was also part of the post-68 radical movement. This is indeed the case, although not many beyond their circles had a taste for denunciations of “petty bourgeois deviations” and ritual revolutionary socialism. (Page 31) Those familiar with the history will suspect the reason for their absence (one Index reference to Lambert) in Génération. That is, the Lambertists’ call during one of the most celebrated moments of 68, for students to disperse from the Boulevard Saint-Michel rendered, “Non aux barricades” and to go to the workers at Renault, Michel (Night of 10-11th of May). (2)

The history of this highly disciplined current, around the figure of Pierre Lambert (real name Boussel) in 68 known as the Organisation communiste internationaliste (OCI) is long and, to say the least controversial. But their imprint is not confined to the fringes. Lambertists have played an important part in the recently governing Parti Socialiste (PS). Amongst one-time members are the former Prime Minister, Lionel Jospin, and the ex-Socialist  leader of La France insoumise, Jean-Luc Mélenchon.

Stora, like PS General Secretary until last year, Jean-Christophe Cambadélis, was part of a several hundred strong Lambertist faction which joined the PS in 1986. Cambadélis, in his most recent book, Chronique d’une débâcle (2017) makes passing reference to a Trotskyist past (his ability to spot sectarian manoeuvres is undiminished). L’après 68 gives an extensive account of the organisation, from weekly cell meetings, whose minutes were rigorously kept and transmitted to the party HQ, to their exploits in the student unions and ‘mutuals’, friendly societies which play an important part in assuring student health and other forms of insurance.

Stora’s La Dernière Génération d’Octobre (2003) covers, he remarks, the post-68 culture and politics of his time in the OCI. The present volume gives probably more attention to the way in which his faction from this generation moved from full-time Lambertist activism, often paid for by one of the fractured French student unions, the UNEF-ID, in some cases by Teachers’ unions) into the late 1980s Parti Socialiste. Going from a clandestine fraction, led principally by Cambadélis, suspicious of surveillance by a group whose way of dealing with dissidence was not too far off the British WRP’s, they broke with Leninism. This was not just in opposition to the vertical internal regime, and the reliance on the “transitional programme” but, as they saw it, to establish a left-wing force within the democratic socialist spectrum represented in the post Epinay PS.  

A deal reached with Boussel, to avoid the violence and rancour traditionally associated with splits, was soon behind them. Despite the author’s best efforts it fails to disperse the suspicion, which those of us who are, let’s just say, not greatly fond of their tradition, had that some kind of arrangement also took place between Lambert and the PS itself over their entry into the party. (3) 

Inside the Parti Socialiste.

An organised PS current, Convergences socialistes, with all the self-importance that afflicts parts of the French left and academics, they numbered around 400 members. Of these a few moved into open professional politics. As a coherent body it is hard to find much trace of them in the shifting alliances within the PS, although one may find some remaining allies of Cambadélis as he clambered  up the party hierarchy. 

Just how adept former Lambertists could be in the PS game is registered by Stora’s portrait of an individual who had joined the PS some years before, Jean-Luc Mélenchon. The present chief of La France insoumise, with a seat in the senate’s august halls, shared a wish create a new vanguard with his own tendency, the ‘Gauche socialiste’. He was equally  marked by burgeoning admiration for François Mitterrand. This did not go down well. Stora recalled the President’s role in the repression of Algerian insurgents…(Page 49 – 50). In a critique of Mélenchon’s present politics, Stora draws comparisons with the old Communist Party’s wish to impose its hegemony on the left, and keep its activists preoccupied by frenetic activism (Pages 150 – 153).

The root cause of the present  débâcle is  Parliamentary left lost touch with the people, part of an autonomous political sphere. The history of how a section of the radical left made the transfer from revolutionary full-timers to PS MPs and functionaries (and a galaxy of dependent positions) is not unique. It could be paralleled on a smaller scale by the career of the UK Socialist Action in Ken Livingstone’s London Mayor administration. The insulated, amply rewarded, lives of politicians, is, it is often said, one of the causes of the break down of the traditional French parties of right and left. Stora does not neglect his own current’s involvement in the student mutual, MNEF, corruption scandals, (Page 129). Whatever remains of the difference between ‘revolutionaries’ and ‘reformists’ fades into the distance faced with a managerial-bureaucratisation enveloping the current. The same processes, born of their reliance on union positions and opaque funding are not without effects on the remaining loyal Lamberists in the le Parti ouvrier indépendant (POI) , and their split,  the Parti ouvrier indépendant démocratique (POID).

After 68?

Après 68 is above all is a rousing condemnation of the “neo-nationalism” grounded on French “identity” and fear of “decline”. This, from the 2005 European Constitution Referendum (which divided the French left including, Stora notes, some on his section of the radical left)  dominates French politics, left and right, up to its presence in the ‘synthesis’ offered by President Macron. French political space, he observes, no longer dominated by the Parti Socialiste, is open. From 1968, writes both the historian and left winger he keeps two passions, for History (the source of his productive career) and the internationalist defence of those without rights, the desire for a common human civilisation. Staying hopeful that hopes for a new world have not been extinguished, L’après 68 is full of important messages from an old one.

*****

(1) See: A nos Amis. 2014. Le Comité Invisible 2014. Page 64. “Voilà ce qu’il faut opposer à la « souveraineté » des assemblées générales, aux bavardages des Parlements : la redécouverte de la charge affective liée à la parole, à la parole vraie. Le contraire de la démocratie, ce n’est pas la dictature, c’est la vérité. C’est justement parce qu’elles sont des moments de vérité, où le pouvoir est nu, que les insurrections ne sont jamais démocratiques.”

(2) Pages 467– 469. Les Trotskyistes, Christophe Nick. Fayard. 2002.

(3)See for example, the series in le Monde by Nathaniel Herzberg in 1999 on the subject commented on here:  De la « génération » comme argument de vente… A propos d’une série d’articles sur la « génération MNEF ».

Mélenchon: War of Manoeuvre Against the ‘Media Party’.

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Mélenchon out on a ‘War of Manoeuvre’.

Age-old whinges of politicians against the Media has taken a new turn in France.

Joining together in common complaints,  Jean-Luc Mélenchon of the left-wing ‘populist’ La France insoumise (LFI), far right, Marine  Le Pen  and  hard right leader of the ‘Républicains, (LR) ‘ Laurent Wauquiez, that is all the principal French political parties outside the ruling ‘centrist’ Macron La France en marche,  bloc, , have declared a veritable ‘war’ on the media (Mélenchon, Le Pen et Wauquiez déclarent la guerre aux médias. Le Monde 1.3.108)

Jean-Luc Mélenchon has his own gripes, about reports regarding his party-rally’s dodgy  financial accounting during the Presidential campaign.

For those willing to wade through his verbose Blog Mélenchon wrote on the 26th of February a defence of Wauquiez against the Media pack, or, more grandly, the “media party” (parti médiatique) and its put up jobs against his good self and LFI (Le coup monté du «service public» contre la «France Insoumise»)

Describing the public radio services he suggested comparisons with CIA disinformation, “une sorte de CIA médiatique”, a campaign organising “coups” (coups » déstabilisateurs) The media in effect is behind charges against his good self  and the said dodgy accounts.

Faced with the hatred (la haine) of the media, the leader of LFI remarked that he does not believe in the personal dignity of those behind these plots, engaged in preventing people to think freely ( Je ne crois pas à la dignité personnelle des gens qui montent de telles opérations). The only task left for the dignified leader was to….

Well there is this:

Maverick Mélenchon: French far-left launches its own web TV

Unfortunately the project has come a cropper.

Eviction de la rédactrice en chef, départ de Noël Mamère et couverture du conflit syrien: Le Média dans la tourmente. (20 Minutes)

The head of this operation, Aude Rossigneux, was booted out  in conditions which remain unclear, but essentially linked to her inability to do Mélenchon’s bidding.

The real scandal which has erupted is over the web television coverage of Syria, with Mélenchon’s favoured place-people refusing the broadcast “sensationalist” images of the siege of Goutha. ” Le correspondant libanais du Média, Claude El Khal, refuse de diffuser les images des bombardements de la Ghouta orientale, en Syrie, et parle de meurtres commis par la rébellion.” That is, a refusal to show images of the bombing of Ghouta  yet giving plenty of space to murders committed by the armed opposition.

There is a summary of further developments yesterday, including a whole group of people resigning from the venture, here:  Le Média perd des soutiens Aurélie Filippetti, Patrick Pelloux ou encore François Morel « regrettent » d’avoir soutenu à son lancement la webtélé proche de La France insoumise.  SOURCE AFP

Not to be outdone the uncontested leader of La France insoumise has now theorised his stand in Gramscian terms.

Mélenchon théorise la « guerre permanente » contre « le parti médiatique  (le Monde).

According to Abel Mestre   Mélenchon is engaged in a Gramscian version of a “war of manoeuvre”, a frontal assault, against the “media party”. Mestre cites this LFI strategy in terms taken from Chantal Mouffe and Ernesto Laclau. That is,  a confrontation between the ‘People’  and the ruling ‘Caste’ (a word which sounds as out-of-place in ordinary, dare I say, ‘popular’  French, la caste, as it does in English).

Perhaps my Gramsci is a bit rusty but I thought that “War of Manoeuvre” is a struggle of force, comparable to a military insurrection in the fight for political power. We may modify it to mean any open struggle between classes, not simply revolutionary/counter-revolutionary struggles but it remains a harsh, militant, line of action.

Some might say that framing  Mélenchon’s tiff with the French media in terms of an open battle between two camps, a ‘war’ , is, to say the least,  pretentious.

It certainly does not look as if this strategy is paying off in terms of the “war of position”, the ambitions of a party to gain a degree of hegemony in society through its influence and ideas.

Update: Dossier,La France insoumise : objectifs politiques, les media et Le Média

Written by Andrew Coates

March 3, 2018 at 1:08 pm

Revolution against Reform. Jules Guesde. L’anti-Jaurès? Jean-Numa Ducange. Review.

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Revolution against Reform. Jules Guesde. L’anti-Jaurès? Jean-Numa Ducange. Armand Colin. 2017.

“17th of January 1911. Dinner with Guesde. The way we will make the Revolution. Dictatorship for 4 days. During these four days we will post an appeal to the peasants and the workers across France: a reduced working day and double pay. During these four days a movement will spread throughout France such that nothing will be able to abolish the new regime. During these four days the papers will be suppressed.

Marcel Cachin. (1)

Jules Guesde (1845 – 1922) was one of the founders of a current that became the first French Marxist Party, the Parti ouvrier, PO, (1879). If people on the left outside of France have heard of the leader of a body, which marked the entry of socialism into the country’s local government and Parliament and represented an ‘orthodox’ strain of thought in the Second International, they probably know three things about him.

The first is that Guesde was the ‘Marxist’ referred to when Marx said, “I am not a Marxist”.

The second is that he was accused of sectarianism to the point that he was nicknamed, a ‘Torquemada in Lorgnettes” (‘Torquemada à lorgnon’)

The third, and the most important, is that there was famous debate in 1900 between Guesde and the French socialist leader, Jean Jaurès, known as the “two Methods”. The public expression of a deep dispute, held in Lille 1900, before an audience of 8,000, centred on the entry of independent socialist Alexandre Millerand into the 1899 government of “ Défense républicaine” led by Waldeck-Rousseau.Jaurès defended Millerand’s act, in the name of the need to stand by republican liberty in the face of the reactionary groundswell around the Dreyfus Affair. Guesde denounced it as a betrayal of the class based socialism.

Jean-Numa Ducange’s biography of Guesde is a, successful, attempt to understand the socialist leader “in his time”. The author, a specialist in the history of French and German speaking lefts, goes deeply into the context of Guesde’s political career. Amongst its many virtues is its account of the much wider range of issues at stake in the clash between Jaurès and Guesde. Ducange covers the socialist leader’s life, from pro-Commune republican, member of the “collectivist” current that differentiated socialists from both legalist and radical republicans, intransigent Marxist, to his participation as Minister without portfolio in the 1914 government of Défense National in 1914, against “Prussian imperialism”, and opposition to the adherence of the Socialist Party (SFIO) to the Third International in 1920.

From the Commune to the Parti Ouvrier.

Jules Bazile, who took his mother’s name to become Guesde, entered politics as a supporter of the Paris Commune, authentic patriots fighting the Republican traitors whose repression of the insurgents carried out the work of the Prussian invaders. His support led to exile, contact with anarchism. A return to France, under police surveillance, was marked by the evolution of the most radical republicans towards the workers’ movement and the creation in 1877 of the journal L’Égalité – taking the most socialist of the words of the Revolutionary device. This left voice was important enough for the state to react. Shortly before the Parti Ouvrier’s creation, in 1878, his “subversive” writings earned him a stay in the prison of Saint-Péalgie.

Ducange covers his development from that date. Guesde was a journalist and an activist. But it was as a skilled and inspiring orator that Guesde made his mark – an outstanding trait which the British socialist, Belfort Bax would note, decades later. (3) L’anti-Jaurès? not only captures the socialist leader’s ability to hold different audiences spellbound, but that Guesde never produced anything paralleling the works of the German socialist movement, the SPD, his model of organisation. Instead he wrote popularising propaganda pamphlets, a Marxism of a simplicity that often annoyed Marxists of the rank of Frederick Engels (Page 52).

Guesde was a factionalist, convinced of “one” truth against other socialists, frequently accused of sectarianism, and opposed to a variety of other left-wing currents, from the ‘possibilists’ of Paul Brousse and Benoît Malon, the left-wing Allemanists, of Jean Allemane, to the independent socialists, best known through the figure of Jean Jaurès. That did not prevent the Guesdist Parti ouvrier français (POF as the PO became in 1893) from developing roots in the North of France, and his own election as a deputy for Roubaix-Wattrelos in 1893.

Which brings us to the debate with Jaurès over the role of elections, Parliament, and the Millerand controversy. Ducange begins with the events of 1889 when the socialist deputy accepted a post in a government of National Defence, led by Waldeck Rousseau, which also contained the notorious murderer of the Communards, General Gaston de Galliffet. Jaurès was in favour, as a move to protect the Republic against the anti-Semitic and anti-democratic right defended this decision.

The background, the Dreyfus Affair, was omnipresent. Guesde had eventually supported the Dreyfus cause, although only against “militarism”. His own organisation, Ducange observes, had published in its regional press articles of an anti-Semitic tone (“relents antisémites”) while not being systematically filled with hatred of the Jews. This was within a context in which the national party denounced this hatred. (Page 97) He adds that the notorious Jew baiter Édouard Drumond believed that Guesde was sympathetic to his cause, but that no agreement between them ever occurred. Other historians, notably Zeev Sternhell, have gone further and state that some sections of the POF were “overtly anti-Semitic” (3)

The Second International was opposed to Millerand’s decision although left  vague “certain conditions” (which later became even more open) in which being part of such coalitions might be possible. As it grew the controversy became connected to the wider dispute about “revisionism”, begun in Germany with the publication in Germany by Eduard Bernstein of attacks on the Marxist “breakdown” theory (the inevitable ruin of capitalism), dialectics, and the axiom that class struggle is the motor of socialist politics

In these terms, the support Jaurès (at the time temporarily outside Parliament) gave to working with a bourgeois-republican government was a harbinger of a strategy based on piecemeal reform. Whether Jaurès, or any French socialist, ever thought in terms of how capitalism might “adapt” rather than collapse is far from clear, since they largely avoided economics. But it might be argued that reformists, very possibly Jaurès but certainly Brousse, saw socialism in very diluted way. That is, less in terms of a new mode of production, forged out of forces growing within it – the proletariat – over its ruins, but as a kind of gradual increase in the strength of the workers’ movement reflected in government legislation. Rosa Luxemburg talked of his “confusion.” For her it was not a partial conquest of the bourgeois state by the socialists, but the conquest of the socialists by the bourgeois state. To extend her point one could see “legal-reformism at work amongst the defenders of Millerand. (4)

Ducange recounts the way in which this dispute became part of the general ‘revisionism’ debate. But the 1900 Lille stage was not inhabited by actors in the same drama. A great deal of opposition (reflected in the cries from the audience) to Millerand came from those who loathed Gallifet – for good reason as the memories of one the leaders of the non-Marxist radical left, Jean Allemane, who suffered greatly after the Commune, and was exiled to New Caledonia testify (Mémoires d’un communard: des barricades au bagne.1906).

For  Jaurès defending Millerand was a matter of being against Nationalism and Reaction (“contre le nationalisme, contre la réaction”).  Guesde defended the orthodox view, represented in the German SPD, that elections and Parliamentary work were part of a general preparation for socialism, which rested on class struggle. Support for republican democracy, not The Republic, was the means, not an end in itself. Another feature is that Guesde did not only pour scorn on collaboration with the bourgeoisie and the Republic. In defence of intransigent class independence he drew on an analogy with the revolutionary bourgeoisie on the eve of the French revolution. Should the grand bourgeoisie have defended the ancien régime, hoping to reform it but by bit, he asked? No. The socialists, class against class, should take the Bourgeois Bastille as their bourgeois forerunners took the feudal Bastille. (Les deux methods conférence / par Jean Jaurès et Jules Guesde, à l’Hippodrome lillois. 1900)

Guesde, like his British counterparts in the Social Democratic Federation (SDF) was sceptical about trade unionism, a largely defensive form of struggle.  Neither did his class struggle correspond to the creation of a kind of popular ‘will’ against capitalism, that Rosa Luxemburg detected in mass strikes. The time had to be ‘right’ for revolution, which was not imminent. The reference to a united bourgeoisie, which overthrew the French feudal system in 1789, as a model for socialist tactics, would find only a limited audience today.

 The SFIO.

Guesde himself came to compromise, at least in accepting unity with the new socialist party in 1905, inside a party, Parti socialiste, section française de l’Internationale Ouvrière (SFIO), This brought him together with Jaurès and the majority of other socialists, but in a ‘citizens’ party’ with no organic links with the trade unions.

How is that Guesde could be so hostile to reformism, and the republic, and yet turn into an ardent defender of France in 1914? One of the strengths of L’anti-Jaurès is that it helps explain this. Some germs of this could be seen in such turns as his backing for French colonialism in the 1900s – a project for a ‘socialist’ colony in Morocco. The socialist leader’s earlier criticism of interventions overseas began to seem on a par with the arguments of late 19th century British radicals against imperial wars, on the grounds of cost and damage to French domestic interests.

But there are deeper reasons to think that the reaction of 1914 was far from foreign to his deeper beliefs. Guesde’s early refusal (1884) to prefer the French Republic to other forms of bourgeois rule was not rooted in a rejection of the Nation. (Page 50) Guesde, announcing in 1893, that to be socialist “’c’est également être patriote” was, during his backing for the Commune, against the Prussians. During the conflict he became as hostile to peace moves – though defended the rights of those who opposed the war – as he had earlier been to reformist socialism. French socialism, like socialisms elsewhere, then as now, has never completely separated itself from the problem of nationalism.

Jules Guesde is an achievement. It is written with easy clarity. Apart from the life itself it offers final illuminating chapters on the way its subject has been considered since his death in 1922. After a period in which Guesdism was a dominant set of ideas in the (non-Communist) SFIO, up to  Léon Blum‘s leadership,  he has been  largely revilled. The biography  opens up afresh a period of socialist history which, with the debates on fundamental issues, has assumed, with the collapse of the French left, great importance today.

If one comes away with a general picture of Guesde that falls well short of admiration there is this: his last “proposition de loi”, in 1919, as a deputy in Parliament, was to launch a law to establish full civil, political and economic equality between men and women. (Page 166) French women had to wait until April 1945 to get the right to vote…

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  1. Carnets, Marcel Cachin. Cites at Page 141. Jules Guesde. L’anti-Jaurès? Jean-Numa Ducange. Armand Colin. 2017. Whether or not Cahin, who as a leading figure in the 1920s French Communist Party (whose creation Guesde opposed had a special reason to remember this simplistic claim by Guesde this has strong echoes of earlier republican revolutionary belief in the rapid triumph of their cause. Compare: “l’armée, la magistrature, le christianisme, l’organisation politique, simples hais. L’ignorance, bastion formidable. Un jour pour la haie; pour le bastion, vingt ans. “The army, the legal system, Christianity, political structures, just hedges. Ignorance, a mighty bastion. One day for the hedge, twenty years for the bastion. Auguste Blanqui. Page 151. Auguste Blanqui. Textes Choisis. Les Classiques du peuple. 1971
  2. Page 132. Reminiscences and Reflections of a Mid and Late Victorian, Ernest Belfort Bax. 1918. Reprint: Augustus M. Kelly. 1967.
  3. Page 239. La Droite révolutionnaire. Zeev Sternhell Editions du Seuil. 1978. 
  4. Page 251. Jean Jaurès Gilles Candar, Vincent Duclert. Fayard. 2014. See also, Rosa Luxemburg on Socialist Tactics. Rosa Luxemburg. Translated by Rida Vaquas, Clarion Editor. And   Les Hommes Révoltés. Les origins intellectuelles du réformisme en France (1871 – 1917). Emmanuel Jousse.Fayard. 2017.

Written by Andrew Coates

January 22, 2018 at 2:53 pm

The Origins of Reformism: Les Hommes Révoltés. Les origins intellectuelles du réformisme en France (1871 – 1917). Emmanuel Jousse.

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Les Hommes Révoltés. Les origins intellectuelles du réformisme en France (1871 – 1917). Emmanuel Jousse. Fayard. 2017.

Reforms, reformism, and socialism, are words so familiar on the left that few pause to unpick their meaning. In the wake of the Russian Revolution the critique of ‘reformism’ in the name of that conquest of power was adopted by Western Communist Parties and more widely adopted by other sections of the radical left. In France, Jousse begins Les Hommes révoltés, the “passion révolutionnaire” of the left could be considered an overwhelming force, in opposition to “raison réformatrice”. Reasoned reforms, government acts to improve social conditions onwards, were considered second best, or worse, in comparison to the total transformation of society.

Revolutionary ardour, at its peak in the identification of the Bolsheviks and Jacobins formed the “architecture” of the 20th century French left. It may have faded; its ‘moral primacy’ tainted by Stalinism. Yet, as Marc Lazar, who introduces the present work, has remarked, the imprint of the “culture communiste” remains. (1) Some of this residual scepticism towards promised reforms is not, one might consider, always a bad thing. One of the consequences of the defeat of the Presidency of François Hollande, and his avowedly reformist Socialist team, by Emmanuel Macron and his movement En marche! is to throw – the previous and the incoming President’s record justifies, the term ‘reform’ again into discredit.

Reformist Origins.

Les Hommes révoltés is about the roots of socialist reformism. That is, it gives the term meaning by showing the development of reformisms on the French left before the Leninist scission took place.. It is an historical reconstruction of the early years of French socialism when the movement took shape in a recognisably modern form, when themes of sexual equality, workers’ rights social protection and welfare were first advanced. It is also about the politics very un-modern Third Republic in which women had no vote, workers’ could not freely organise, and there was nothing resembling social security. A ‘notable’ dominated Republicanism dominated the political culture and a Right that could trace their symbols and culture back to the 18th century.

The study, developed from a doctorate, offers a richly documented account of key moments in the development of the French left. It is “contextualist”, inspired by the methods of Quentin Skinner, to recreate the conventions in which these figures developed their ideas, and carried out their political acts. Against a backdrop of dominant republicanism on the left, the 1870s saw more radical forces, socialists, coalesce around ‘collectivism’, and then torn apart by the fall-out from disputes in the First International, and their own ideological differences. Marx’s name sometimes appeared as something of a battle cry, or hissing-and-by word, rather than a serious doctrinal dividing line. Jousse indicates, though has no need to set out at length, that French socialism, like its counterparts in British radicalism and the labour movement, had its socialist and republican writers and no pressing need to refer to Marxism,

In this lucidly set out framework Jousse introduces portraits of figures, some unfamiliar to many on the left today, such as the ‘possibilist’, Paul Brousse, Benoît Malon, editor of La Revue Socialiste, and one of Marx’s first translators but also the advocate of a non-Marxist “socialisme intégrale”. In later parts of the book there is a sustained account of the first, controversial French Socialist Minister Alexandre Millerand. There are many appearances from Jean Jaurès. Towards the end the Minister of Armaments in the War-time Union Sacrée, Albert Thomas, whose connections with the educated elite and proto- ‘think-tanks’ marks him out, in Jousse’s eyes, as not too distant to contemporary reformist politicians.

For those already partly familiar with the disputes that pre-existed and followed the creation of the Parti Ouvrier français (POF) in 1879, any detailed account may seem daunting. That, for its brief united life (3 years), it was not a party in the modern sense but a federation of different currents and local groups adds to the potential for getting lost. (2)

But Jousse is adept in separating the wheat from the chaff. Some description of the 5 tendencies that emerged in the initial stages of French socialism is on any judgement inevitable. While the centre of gravity is Brousse’s reformist and non-Marxist Fédération des travailleurs socialistes de France (FTSF), other actors appear, Guesdists (after Jules Guesde, the leader of the ‘orthodox’ Marxists)) the Allemanists (after Jean Allemane, federalist working class revolutionaries), the supporters of Éduouard Vaillant (who owed something to the last representative of the pure ‘insurrectionist’ tradition, Auguste Blanqui) and the ‘independents’ whose best known figure was Jean Jaurès. Their history is followed up to and after the creation of the unified socialist party the SFIO, in 1905.

Les Hommes Révoltés is also a guide to the potentials these politicians, activists and thinkers offered, within the supple contours of French socialism. The importance of “public services”, which the ‘reformist’ wing began to create wherever they could, offers a thread which connects to democratic socialists today. Not so appealing perhaps are the writings of from the period, as shown in the rarity of enduring texts beyond the articles that appeared in the Revue Socialiste. Malon’s books may indicate why. A British writer at the time described, not inaccurately to one who has ploughed through it, the Histoire du socialisme (1882), as “a crude heap of undigested theories”. (3)

While, as the author underlines, the prospect of a French Labour Party emerging from the organised workers’ movement never got off the ground, the various socialist parties has close links with trade unions. These included affiliations with the multiplicity of trade and craft associations, as well as less warm relations with ‘mutualists’ and the cooperative movement who were often, in the tradition of Proudhon, hostile to political parties as such. Despite their splits the French left had by the following decades succeeded in winning council seats wider social influence, and it had entered the National Assembly.

Le Cas Millerand.

Another is the account of the Alexandre Millerand controversy, the entry of a self-proclaimed reformist socialist into a government of Republican Defence during the fall-out from the Dreyfus Affair. That the same Cabinet contained, Gaston de Galliffet, the butcher of elderly Communards in 1871, was far from a “légende noire”. It was a living memory for many French socialists, including survivors of the Commune such as Vaillant. A large part of the socialist movement recoiled from this appointment.

Jousse traces a whole series of differences that underlay the row. These involved opposing stands on how to defend republican legality – Dreyfus – against the anti-Semitic right, to the necessity of compulsory ‘mandating’ of socialist MPs At the same time this point of principle tended, Jousse emphasises, to be confounded with wider questions within the international socialist movement. Was Millerand a French Bernstein, a “revisionist”? The fact that pure Marxist economics, rather than a general vision of class struggle, played a marginal, if any, part in French socialist politics, still less the Bernstein controversy over capitalist “break-down” and the capacity of capitalism to adapt and continue developing the productive forces, and should have ruled the comparison doubtful.

By contrast there is little doubt that the reformists, Millerand at the fore, did have something in common with the German revisionists. They preferred improvements in the here and now to promises about the future. Jousse manages to establish Millerand’s work in his post as Minister of Commerce and Industry, labour reforms within the limited competence of a “non-Régalian”, that is, without independent powers and budgets post. He set up a network of committed advisers and operated closely with trade unions and co-operative associations. As such his work was not seen by all the socialist grass roots as “treason” (Page 250) On the evidence presented, the wide social basis of this support, cannot be dismissed, as Leninists used to do, as the “aristocracy of labour”.

This, is we are to believe Les Hommes Révoltés was perhaps a first effort at establishing a socialism capable of putting ideas into practice. It used the tools of solid research and the ability to listen to voices on the ground. Lacking the practitioners’ own words – he notes that Millerand’s text Le Socialisme réformiste francais (1903) barely measures up to the British Fabian’s own self-consciousness of this role, he constructs on himself. That is, that an “open socialism”, found in this reformist past,  needs something of Jürgen Habermas’ programme of agreement and rational discussion. That debate can be the ground for advancing the common good in a socialist direction through government – local and national – action.

A more sceptical reader might point to the way that key figures in French reformist socialism, from Millerand to the Minister for Armaments, Albert Thomas, were not known for impassioned rationality during the patriotic hysteria of the Great War. One might add that there is a short distance from technical help to technocrat, and that a public domain free of the operation of constraints on rationality of private profit and irreconcilable passions still has to be created.

Landmark.

Les Hommes Révoltés is a landmark in studies of socialist history. It is elegantly written with the clarity that shows the French language at its best. In his opening words and conclusion Jousse also attempts to establish the moral credentials of socialist reformism, in the tradition of Albert Camus’ l’homme révolté (1951) from which his present study draws its name. That is, the stand (“la pensée du midi”, the anti-authoritarian thought of the South)) that revolt against existing conditions, for a better world, has to be wedded to respect for others, the central value of individual autonomy and choice, and above all a refusal to sacrifice lives in the name of History or in a civil war. Whatever else, these are inspiring, thoughtful, goals.

****

(1) Conclusion. Le communisme une passion française. Marc Lazar. Perrin. 2005. For the clearest identification between the most radical moment of the French Revolution and Bolshevism see: Bolchévisme et Jacobinisme. Albert Mathiez. 1920.

(2) On the formulation of the famous programme of that party, generally ascribed to the dominant influence of Marx and Engels, he suggests that the pair may have served only as one inspiration amongst others (Pages 97 – 99) It could be that some further details on the troubled past between Brousse and Marx – including the reformist’s anti-authoritarian anarchist original dislike of Marxism – would help clarify the stakes at hand. . The importance of this research can be seen in that the Penguin Edition of Marx’s Writings, The First International and After. Political Writings Volume 3. 1974, asserts Marx’s authorship Page 376. The programme which contains key references to democratic liberties in its ‘minimum’ section, has long represented a thread is often cited by Marxists who defend human rights.

(3) Page 403. The Choice of Books. Frederic Harrison  1886.

Written by Andrew Coates

December 15, 2017 at 4:00 pm

The Defeat of the French Left: Chronique d’une Débâcle. 2012 – 2017. Jean-Christophe Cambadélis.

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Chronique d’une Débâcle. 2012 – 2017. Jean-Christophe Cambadélis. L’Archipel. 2017.

How could the French Socialist Party, (Parti Socialiste, PS) fall from the political heavens to the nether depths? Jean-Christophe Cambadélis, was until the 18th of June PS General Secretary of the  opens his Chronicle with this question. 

Cambadélis has no need to dramatise. The political force which broke decades of right-wing rule with the election of François Mitterrand in 1981, helped nudge the previously front-running Communists to second place, and then the sidelines. Until this Spring it has dominated France’s left, culturally and politically,  for forty years, running the country for up to twenty of them, and has been in charge of many levels of local and regional administration. 

Yet this April and May saw a humiliating PS score of 6,35% for Benoît Hamon in the first round of the Presidential elections. It was followed by the reduction of the PS Parliamentary representation from 280 to 31 seats. Cambadélis lost his own Paris constituency.  During the campaign, sensing coming an electoral rout, and fearing the strength of Marine Le Pen, leading members called for going beyond traditional political divisions. That is, he suggests in the book,  meant the revival of a long-standing call for alliances with the centre-right – perhaps, in British terms, seen as the equivalent of the Liberal Democrats (Page 119). In the event, outgoing Socialist Prime Minister, Manuel Valls, vocally backed a vote for Emmanuel Macron. Others also welcomed his ‘parti-enterprise’ En Marche! They glimpsed, as the Chronique observes, in the former Minister of the Economy under François Hollande, a “planche de salut” (last hope) as defeat loomed. (Page 118)

Their defection did not stop there. Two Ministers of the newly elected President Philippe Cabinet, Gérard Collomb and Jean-Yves Le Drian, are former leading Socialists. The PS’s Presidential candidate, Benoît Hamon, left the party and created the Mouvement du 1er Juillet with ecological policies and ambitions to create a new “common House” for the left. Supported by a number of regional elected figures he was joined last week by two resigning PS Euro-deputies.

Some of the answers lies in the difficulty of the left internationally, where from Latin America to Europe, the “progressives” have not been able to sustain reforming politics in power (Chili is the most recent example), even to mount effective opposition in more than a handful of countries, such as Britain.

But the French case is particular. The disaster for “la gauche du gouvernement’, that is a party which has been capable of governing the country, has taken place amongst a wider fragmentation of France’s left. It marks the end, as Cambadélis puts it, of a “cycle” which began with the creation of modern Parti Socialiste at the Congrès d’Epinay in 1971 and the “stratégie d’alliance” of different lefts. (Page 39) We have a “moral” defeat, where elected politicians have come to think not in terms of strategy but of “careers” in which power has become just an end in itself. (“une simple fin en soi.” Page 10) For those who see a silver lining in the result of Jean-Luc Mélenchon, 9.58% and his 17 elected representatives in the Assemblée Nationale, this is of less importance, but Cambadélis gives reasons why the left internationally should not celebrate their presence without reservation.  

With these opening remarks in mind the present book tries to rise above a settling of accounts (a charge many reviewers have made) to consider the failings of the left, both the camp of and his opponents, with the context of wider issues about the future of the French left. It is both narrative and analysis. The Chronique is also very acute account from somebody with a reputation for a “fine political nose”. 

 How Many Divisions?

The French left is famous for its division between a nominally ‘revolutionary’ radical left-wing and a ‘reformist’ wing. Yet during the  period of the Gauche plurielle under Lionel Jospin (1997 – 2001), – which ended in its own splintering – many sections worked together. In this decade, by contrast, the left was divided from the moment François Hollande’s Presidency began in 2012.

The forces at that point aligned in the Front de gauche, notably the Parti Communiste français (PCF), and Mélenchon’s ‘club-party’ the Parti de gauche,  were unwilling to offer it support. The PS’s own opposition, the ‘Frondeurs’, largely but not exclusively drawn from its left, began to act in earnest in the 2014. They took their criticisms of policy to Parliamentary votes and hampered legislation to the point where direct decrees, in the leadership’s view, forced upon them. Most of their only serious left allies, the Green EELV, left when Manuel Valls became PM in 2014 and the government’s “social liberalism” policies became anathema to the left.

But it was Jean-Luc Mélenchon, by  founding La France insoumise (LFI) – a would-be  mass movement with a large virtual Web membership, who fundamentally divided the left. Whether one has more sympathy for Mélenchon or not, it is certain that he has not been out to accomplish is a new “union of the left”. The  theme of “dégagisme”(get out!), a French version of the ‘anti-caste’ strategy of Podemos and other ‘populists, has run through the wider politics of “federating the people”. LFI demands that the whole ‘rotten’ political establishment be removed. That this includes the entire Parliamentary left beyond les insoumises – loudly in the case of the PS and as near as they can publicly say it about the PCF reflects a belief, which Cambadélis hammers home, that only the Sovereign People, that is, themselves, can restore political virtue through a new, 6th, Republic, a theme taken up by Mélenchon in the modestly titled de La Vertu (2017).

Cambadélis calls Mélenchon the “fils du lambertisme et du mitterandisme” (Page 10) This is a helpful reminder not only of the Leader of LFI’s past in one of the most dogmatic, and patriotic French Trotskyist currents, and his cult of the former French President, but of the author’s own background as a student activist member of Pierre Lambert’s OCI, and 1980s transfer to the PS with the benevolence of the Élysée….

Betrayal? 

Yet how has this anti-system left grown? Why has the legacy of 5 years of Socialist Party rule been so toxic, even beyond the traditional quarters ready to cry “betrayal”?

On the balance sheet of 5 years in office Cambadélis tries to find some glimmers of hope. There was a dignified Presidential reaction to the Islamist slaughters that have soiled Europe and above all France in the last years. He attempted some international initiatives to fight Jihadism in Africa and seek peace elsewhere. His Prime Ministers, Ayrault  and Valls, introduced gay marriage, a dialogue on the environment, a faltering reduction in unemployment, better growth rates, and the start of efforts to deal with high rates of national debt. He is less tender towards the proposal to remove French nationality from those accused of terrorism Cambadélis is equally less than sympathetic towards the labour reforms, la Loi El Khomri, largely on the grounds of its unilateral implementation – now pursued by the in-coming Macron.

The Chronique claims there was some effort to control Finance on a European level (in banking), and having kept Greece within the Euro (Page 171) There is nothing to support the idea, held to by some English speaking left-wingers, that French domestic policies – that is the failure to confront ‘neoliberalism’, a tax on the hyper-wealthy aside – are either forced upon them by the EU, or that France subordinates its governance to the construction of Europe.

None of this adds up to a sustainable case for the successes of Hollande presidency, or the Prime Ministers of Ayrault and Valls. Some welcome reforms, some moves towards economic improvement, contestable international interventions, and, nothing to promote the security and rights of working people, the unemployed – very little reform except in the sense of reshaping,  that is weakening existing labour legislation. In short, nothing to shout proudly about from the rooftops.

This lack of reforming deeds, democratic socialist egalitarian economic policies, an equivocal stand on civil liberties, symbolise don the permanent state of emergency, are one aspect of the problem, The other is that Hollande’s ‘method’ appears to have boiled down to an inability to left events dominate his action, wrapped in an immense capacity for self-satisfaction at his residence at the Élysée.

The smugness that lead the President, during his term of office, to sanction the publication of the interminably lengthy Un Président ne devrait pas dire cela (2016), full of causally wounding comments about his colleagues and the tossed our phrase, “il faut un hara-kiri pour le PS”.  stems from this complacency. He engaged in – slatternly – affairs. For those – and they are numerous – uninterested in the details of politics his partner, Valérie Trierweiler’s  enraged response in Merci pour ce moment (2014) gave an unpleasant insight into the man. Amongst many flaws he was not unafraid to patronise the working class poor, the “sans dents” (toothless). Few would be those who would shed a tear over the subsequent ‘Hollande-Bashing’. The two publications rendered him un-re-electable,  a fact which the Head of State took a long time to recognise.

A 5-year term of a President, who wished to be “normal” in abnormal times, was marked by deciding not to decide, and “absence de sens” (page 176) and on the hoof decision-making. This culminated in letting Macron create his own party straight under Hollande’s nose, in the belief that it would weaken the moderate right. (Page 185) In the meantime the Chronique endorses from the beginning to the end the view of many observers that the PS had become addicted to exercising power for its own sake. This attitude was present, equally,  within the ranks of their within their allies during the first years of government. The green EELV  turned from a party into a vehicle for the individual careers of its deputies (Page 177)

Hamon: Green Party Campaign, Green Party Score.

Benoît Hamon’s victory in the Socialist ‘Primary’ momentarily gave a ray of hope for the party. His Pour la Génération Qui Vient (2017) promised to free the land from the “liberal nightmare” a “democratic awakening”, Citizens’ Initiatives, a human centred approach to the technological revolution, and apart from green policies, he advocated Universal Basic Income.

Why then did the Socialists lose so badly? The ex-General Secretary is harsh on Presidential candidate Hamon. He accuses him of waging a “solitary” campaign, unable to bring together people outside of his circle, not even talking about the world of work – that is appealing to trade union support. The winner of the PS Primary snubbed his own party. He accuses Hamon of wanting to be the leader of an alternative alliance of the left of the Socialists with the Greens and acting accordingly. (P 110) He allowed Mélenchon, with whom he claimed to have few disagreements, to appear, as polls began to show that La France insoumise was ahead, to be the most useful to vote for. He was simply not Presidential, and….he spurned Cambadélis’ own construction, la Belle Alliance Populaire (a grouping of tiny ‘progressive parties’ behind the PS)….

The Chronique has a pithy way of explaining the disastrous the result. With Hamon’s “Green Party” campaign, you got a “Green Party score (“campagne d’écologiste, score d’écologiste” Page 111)

Cambadélis makes a strong case when he argues, from electoral arithmetic, that the French left will not win power back from Macron without unity, or some kind of alliance. This holds however narrow the President’s political support is (as indicated by the massive abstention rates). Or that  strategy of confronting important social layers in the interests of flexible business and ‘modernisation’  is likely to bring about deep conflict. It does not matter that his ‘party’  is virtual’ or his cadres from the upper scale on the class structure. To win you, to build an alternative majority, the left cannot wait for Macron to fail. It is through unity, the capacity to work together, that left parties with democratic structures (he recommends his own…) should work towards.

Left Futures?

Is this probable? Mélenchon, the “orator” the Chavez of Saint-Germain, can laugh at the “coffin” of the defeated PS but, “En brisant volontairement et unilatéralement l’unité des forces de gauche pour prétendre au monopole du peuple, il rend la reconquête impossible”(Page 17) In deliberately and voluntarily breaking the unity of the forces of the left, and claiming to have a monopoly of the People, he has made the Reconquest impossible. 

It would be pleasant to say that this obstacle can be overcome. But, given the PS’s understandable reluctance to reject its entire record of government, and given Mélenchon’s own self-image, it does not look probable that this political log-jam is going to clear in the near future. Perhaps as a girondin believer in decentralisation Cambadélis could pin his hopes on a united front from below

Anti-racism, secularism, and the fight against anti-semitism today.

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Freedom, Democracy and Secularism.

In the 1990s a section of the anti-racist left in Britain developed a critique of multiculturalism. Groups involved included the Southall Black Sisters and secularist leftists both in the UK. The main reason for this critical stand was the view that ‘community relations’ had become managed by the state.

While praiseworthy efforts were made to tackle inequalities, , and we welcomed legislation to outlaw discrimination,  the approach had some fundamental laws. We argued that multiculturalism far from being opposed to racialism, was the institutionalisation of ‘difference’ through that is funding and promoting ‘community leaders’.  In fact it could be seen as the twin of racist efforts to exclude minority groups by making these distinctions the basis for policies.

Arun Kundnani  for the Institute for Race Relations put it in 2002 (THE DEATH OF MULTICULTURALISM) summarised this view.

While multiculturalist policies institutionalised black culture, it was the practice of ethnicised funding that segmented and divided black communities.

The state’s strategy, it seemed, was to re-form black communities to fit them into the British class system, as a parallel society with their own internal class leadership, which could be relied on to maintain control. A new class of ‘ethnic representatives’ entered the town halls from the mid-1980s onwards, who would be the surrogate voice for their own ethnically defined fiefdoms. They entered into a pact with the authorities; they were to cover up and gloss over black community resistance in return for free rein in preserving their own patriarchy.

It was a colonial arrangement, which prevented community leaders from making radical criticisms, for fear that funding for their pet projects would be jeopardised. Different ethnic groups were pressed into competing for grants for their areas. The result was that black communities became fragmented, horizontally by ethnicity, vertically by class.

This, by Alana Lentin, outlines the position in 2004,

Multiculturalism or anti-racism?

The “top–down” nature of multiculturalist policy–making is illustrated by modern British experience where – as Paul Gilroy’s 1992 essay “The End of Anti–Racism” points out – local governments in the early 1980s instigated it in reaction to the nationalism of Conservative central government. However, the policy’s cultural focus destroyed the autonomous, highly politicised anti–racism of the local “race committees” established in the 1970s in reaction to the far right and institutional racism.

Moreover, the multicultural model is vulnerable to the charge that it uncritically endorses the image of enclosed, internally homogeneous cultural groups, each taking its place in a “mosaic” of equal but different communities – and so ignores both group heterogeneity and the fact that members of minorities often identify with a hybridity of cultural references , including that of the dominant society.

More importantly, multiculturalism’s exclusive focus on culture can present an apolitical picture of “minority” experience and agency that evades the daily realities of institutionalised racism. This emphasis on culture lies at the heart of the problem of multiculturalism, and – I would argue – makes it an unworthy prize for progressive voices now seeking to reclaim it.

Some of those who took this stand were also secularists. That is, we were wary of what we saw as a growing tendency: the acceptance of these divisions on religious grounds.

A  key moment for those who combined this critique with a broader  secularism, had been the defence of Salman Rushdie against the Iranian ‘Fatwa’ in 1989. Reactionary religious, Muslim, demonstrations that included book burnings,  took place in the UK. As Wikipedia notes, “The City of Bradford gained international attention in January 1989 when some of its members organised a public book-burning of The Satanic Verses, evoking as the journalist Robert Winder recalled “images of medieval (not to mention Nazi) intolerance”

After 9/11 there was an explicit shift from ethnic representation towards a ‘multi-faith’ approach. In a process which closely parallels changes in France –  brilliantly analysed in La fabrique du musulman by Nedjib Sidi Moussa (2017) – religion became the obligatory badge of ‘community’.

Pragna Patel of Southall Black Sisters wrote in 2008,  Defending secular spaces

The current drive towards ‘cohesion’ represents the softer side of the ‘war on terror’. At its heart lies the promotion of a notion of integration based on the assumption that organising around race and ethnicity encourages segregation.

At the same time, in the quest for allies, it seeks to reach out to a male religious (largely Muslim) leadership, and it thereby encourages a ‘faith’ based approach to social relations and social issues.

This approach rejects the need for grassroots self organisation on the basis of race and gender inequality but institutionalises the undemocratic power of so called ‘moderate’ (authoritarian if not fundamentalist) religious leaders at all levels of society.

The result is a shift from a ‘multicultural’ to a ‘multi-faith’ society: one in which civil society is actively encouraged to organise around exclusive religious identities, and religious bodies are encouraged to take over spaces once occupied by progressive secular groups and, indeed, by a secular welfare state.

A similar line of criticism was  taken in 2010  in Rumy Hasan’s Multiculturalism: Some Inconvenient Truth. 

However, in the wake of the events of 11 September 2001, multiculturalism morphed into “multifaithism”, resulting in religion-based identity. This fourth phase, Hasan argues, represents multiculturalism’s failure.

Multiculturalism qua multifaithism is the source of all evils. Ironically, initiated as a way of combating racism, multiculturalism has become hostage to special interests represented by community leaders as well as politicians eager to secure votes.

It is a violation and distortion of the democratic ideal of universal rights because it accords privileges to ethnic-religious communities; it increases segregation and ghettoisation; it fans sectarian hatred within communities; it leads to social harm as it restricts or prevents intimate contact with members of the larger society, who feel alienated as a result; it triggers right-wing extremism among “whites” and “chauvinistic faith-based organisations”; it fosters resistance to “mainstream” culture as well as “psychological detachment”, a condition of being in, but not of, British society.

More important, Hasan sees multicultural policy as a successor to the old imperial divide-and-rule strategy. This means that the state remains aloof from serious social problems that occur within immigrant communities, which it shields by accepting their claim to cultural specificity.

Rumy and Southall Black Sisters’  conclusion is that the defence of secular equality is the best alternative.

Many on the British left, by contrast, have focused exclusively on ‘Islamophobia’. That is the view that prejudice against Muslims, that is people, is identical with hostility to a religion, Islam. Far from challenging multi-faithism they embraced it. The political party Respect, founded in 2004, announced that it was the Party for Muslims. While not a Muslim Party as such  A “local election flyer printed in 2004 featured the slogan “George Galloway – Fighting for Muslim Rights!

It was also ‘anti-Zionist’ “According to the party’s national council member Yvonne Ridley  speaking at London’s  Imperial College in February 2006, Respect “is a Zionist-free party… if there was any Zionism in the Respect Party they would be hunted down and kicked out.”

Following Naz Kahn’s appointment as Respect’s women’s officer in Bradford in October 2012, it emerged that Kahn had recently commented on Facebook that “history teachers in our school” were and are “the first to start brainwashing us and our children into thinking the bad guy was Hitler. What have the Jews done good in this world??” David Aaronovitch in The Jewish Chronicle wrote: “‘What have the Jews done good in this world?’ clearly means ‘The Jews do only bad’. The Jews haven’t suffered as much as they say they have, but insofar as they have suffered it’s their own fault and, in any case, they have gone on to inflict equal or more suffering on others. That’s ‘the Jews’ as a group, not ‘many Jews’, ‘some Jews’ or ‘a few Jews.'”[157] Ron McKay, Galloway’s spokesman, said Kahn’s comments had been written shortly before she joined Respect, on an “unofficial site” (the Respect Bradford Facebook page), and that she “now deeply regrets and repudiates that posting.”

Wikipedia.

Respect is an extreme example.

But many other forces on the left have had difficulty with dealing with ‘anti-Semitism’, that is hostility to Jewish people. This is  not least because many of those professing support for ‘Islam’, the galaxy of Islamist groups, and (as indicated in the present case in Bradford), some individuals from the left, not least those involved with the Respect Party, have expressed views which are hostile to Jews.

These are not just casual prejudices.

They reflect, in some cases, religious hatred, but more commonly are part of a ‘conspiracy’ outlook on the word, usually linked to the ‘anti-imperialism of fools’ which sees ‘Zionism’ are the root of the world’s problems.

It is a an utter shame that it took a right-wing weekly to print this article.

France, one out of two racist acts are anti-Semite: En France, l’antisémitisme « du quotidien » s’est ancré et se propage (le Monde. 2.11.17)

Below is an important text from the comrades of Ni Patrie Ni Frontièrs. which may help shed some light on the problems involved.

While France has a a different imperial history to Britain, and migration from its former colonies is not the same, some of the same difficulties have arisen.

The clearest distinction is that while French secularism is part of the political establishment, state, political parties, administration and culture, of the country. Some secularist supporters take an arid view, which is entangled with the same kind of  nationalist stans which in the UK is claimed for ‘British values’.

But….

There is the same shift from ethnicity to religion.

There is the same inability of sections of the left to confront Islamism and ethno-religious politics.

By contrast a  minority of the critical French left has, over the years, developed a stand with close parallels to that of the British, and Irish left (which has its own particular battles to fight) secularists outlined above.

It is to the credit of the critical sections of the French anti-racist left that they have been able to steer a course between the State Secularism of the defenders of a mythicised  Republic and the reactionary cultural turn of those who fail to tackle with the use of religion as a market for ‘identity’.

The case of Tariq Ramadan which crystallises many of these issues of religion and identity, with some crying Islamophobia, and others suspecting the hand of ‘Zionists’ behind the affair, perhaps illustrates a further difference.

In France the accusations of rape against the Oxford Professor, the best known promoter of Islam in the French speaking world, are front page news.

In the UK the extremely serious claims  barely ruffled any feathers.

Ramadan was allowed to continue teaching until the start of last week.

It is worth noting that it was Gita Sahgal who comes from the original Southall Black Sisters was the initiator a petition calling for Ramadan’s removal. A petition, which le Monde registered with the article in Oxford’s student paper, Cherwell, (“A la suite de la publication de cet article, une pétition a été lancée, suivie de la mise en congé de l’enseignant.) and has yet to be mentioned in the British media.

The Economist seems about the only UK source to have registered its full importance.

Tariq Ramadan, a star of Europe’s Muslim intelligentsia, confronts accusations of rape

The Oxford professor, who denies the allegations, has taken a leave of absence

To get a sense of the shockwave these developments have triggered, it helps to understand Mr Ramadan’s unique position in the Islamic firmament, as somebody with a high profile both in academia and on the Muslim street.

His Egyptian grandfather, Hassan al-Banna, was the founder of the global Muslim Brotherhood, yet he strongly denies that his own thinking is merely a reiteration of Brotherhood ideology. His theology is quite conservative but he insists that far from self-segregating, European Muslims should play an active role in society. He has suggested that there is a natural role for Muslims as part of a broad-left anti-capitalist coalition.

In 2004 he was unable to take up an academic post at America’s Notre Dame university because the authorities refused his application to enter and work in the United States. He fought a long legal battle to gain admission to that country, which he finally won in 2009. He has held high-profile public debates with famous atheists and secularists including Ayaan Hirsi Ali and the late Christopher Hitchens. He has condemned suicide bombing and other terrorist acts such as the murderous attack onCharlie Hebdo, the French satirical weekly. But he also calls for understanding of Muslim grievances, whether in Europe or Islam’s heartlands. He denounced Charlie Hebdo for publishing drawings which upset an already “stigmatised” Muslim community.

The discourse of Mr Ramadan is very traditional, in the sense of paying close attention to Islam’s founding texts, and very hip and modern, as befits somebody who is well attuned to the anti-establishment politics of the 21st century. For young Muslims in the West who are defensive of their identity but want to move on from their parents’ traditional culture, that is a winning combination.

That’s why the outcome of Mr Ramadan’s saga will be followed closely, from the ivory towers of Oxford to the streets of Brussels and Marseille.

Independent anti-racism.

To give a flavour of the views of the independent anti-racist  section of the French Left, Ni Parti Ni Frontièrs, whose Yves Colman is already familiar to readers of this Blog, here are some links.

The first indicates the similarities and differences between the countries’  independent left-wing secularist  anti-racist movements.

The second takes up the Ramadan case.

The most obvious symptom of this evolution is the quasi hegemony of “competitive memories”, so called “double standards”, which inspired many analyses. Since around 2005 various minorities compare their status to others, starting with the Jews’ status. In France the recognition of the specificity of the Judeocide, but also the full involvement of the French state has only emerged in the early eighties, after
immense anti-racist struggles. But less than thirty years later, these fights have disappeared from the collective memory; fascists have imposed a truncated memory in which Jews are, falsely, presented as “privileged” by state anti-racist policies since 1945. All the victories (the historical recognition of the genocide and teaching of the Judeocide in schools, for example), are transformed into “problems”, into
“symptoms” of a support for Israel, or into an attempt to mask other forms of racism.

Harvey Weinstein, Dominique Strauss-Kahn et Tariq Ramadan : un « parallèle » absurde au sous-texte antisémite

Written by Andrew Coates

November 12, 2017 at 1:44 pm