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

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

Part One.

Maint fleur épanche à regret,

Son parfum doux comme un secret,

Dans les solitudes profoundes.”

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

 

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

Introduction.

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

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

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

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

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

Populism.

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

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

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

Radical Democracy.

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

References :

 

 

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

 

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As Controversy Rages on Boris Johnson, Jean-Luc Mélenchon, Backer of the Burqa Ban, is invited to Momentum Labour Fringe.

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Image result for Photo by Yemeni photographer Boushra al-Moutawakel.

‘Disparition’ by Yemeni photographer Boushra al-Moutawakel.

Boris Johnson should be kicked out of Conservative party for burka comments, Muslim peer demands.

Plenty of people have commented on the words of former Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, the Conservative Party’s relationship to Islam, not to mention those who’ve joined in, with glee at the opportunity to attack the prejudices revealed amongst the Tories and their supporters.

In a different vein I began writing on the wider European and international context of the controversy this morning.

Johnson may speak for a ‘liberal’ attitude peppered with a  few rude words (personally I find his handling of the Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe case, prisoner of the Islamic Republic of Iran far far worse).

An obvious point to begin with is that  that the Danish Social Democrats,  Socialdemokraterne, backed the public ban on the burqa,

“The Liberal, Conservative and Danish People’s parties all voted in favour of the bill, as did the opposition Social Democrats with the exception of MP Mette Gjerskov, thereby securing the majority.” The Local. 

The full law needs looking at it:

Another issue would be the silence of most of the people now shouting about Johnson faced with this: (March 2018): Iranian woman who removed headscarf jailed for two years. “Prosecutor says woman took off obligatory hijab in Tehran street to ‘encourage corruption’.”

But, to return to the issue of the burqa in general,  France, the best known secular country,  has, with the support of many sections of the left, prohibited the full face veil since 2011 (Loi interdisant la dissimulation du visage dans l’espace public.The bill was passed by the National Assembly by a vote of 335–1.

Amongst the left who backed the ban was Jean-luc Mélenchon, vocal in his enthusiasm for Laïcité, secularism.

It did not take long to draw some connections here, and the Spectator had got there before me:

Man who supported a burka ban to speak at Corbynista festival

Jean-Luc Mélenchon. The French socialist veteran who ‘inspired the European left with his radical campaign for the presidency in 2017’ will be speaking to a Momentum-heavy crowd at the event. And what is his view on Muslim dress? Well, it turns out he has advocated a full face veil ban, as well as stating that the burkini was ‘a provocation’ – and the ‘fruit of a Salafist religious offensive’:

‘It is not impossible or contrary to public freedoms and fundamental rights to legislate on dress practices if the defence of public order and human dignity justifies it. The complete concealment of the face is problematic from this dual point of view. It prevents any recognition of the persons concerned, which disturbs public order. And it also deprives them of social existence and undermines their physical and moral integrity which puts into question the dignity of the human person. It is therefore on this double basis that the law could affirm the obligation to have the face discovered in all public places.’

The Spectator gives no source for this quote but it a pithy and accurate summary of the views of the leader of La France insoumise (LFI).

Here is the site of The World Transformed 2018.

As a service to those attending the rally here are Some further indications of his stand:

From Tendance Coatesy: (2016).

Jean-Luc Mélenchon on the Burkini : “C’est une provocation”.

Dans Le Monde d’aujourd’hui, JLM condamne les “militantes provocatrices en burkini”.  Michelle Guerci.

«L’instrumentalisation communautariste du corps des femmes est odieuse. C’est un affichage militant, mais quand on est l’objet d’une provocation, mieux vaut ne pas se précipiter dedans […] La masse des musulmans est excédée par une histoire qui les ridiculise. Valls a eu tort d’en rajouter. »

The ‘communitarian’ * exploitation of women’s bodies is vile. It’s a militant badge, but even so when we are the target of a provocation the best thing to do is not to get involved…The majority of Muslims are frustrated by this row, which makes them look ridiculous. Valls (Prime Minister) is wrong to add to it.

Il ressort de cette interview que JLM, ne condamne ni les maires qui ont pris ces arrêtés, ni Manuel Valls qui les a soutenus,  ni la droite sarkoziste qui a orchestré cette campagne, ni le gouvernement qui laisse faire (3), mais des femmes accusées d’instrumentaliser leur propre corps ou de l’être par leurs maris, pères, cousins… Bref la fameuse COMMUNAUTE.

It is apparent in this interview that JLM neither condemns the Mayors who have instituted these by-laws, nor Manuel Valls (Prime Minister) who backs them, nor the (ex-President) Sarkozy’s right-wing which has orchestrated the campaign, nor the the government which has allowed this to happen, but the women involved, who have used their own bodies, or have been ‘used’ by their husbands, their fathers, their cousins…to put it simply, the famous “community”.

Le burkini est le fruit d’une offensive religieuse salafiste qui ne concerne qu’une partie de l’islam […] La question politique à résoudre reste celle du combat des femmes pour accéder librement à l’espace public.

The burkini is the product of a Salafist religious offensive which only affects a part of Islam….There still remains the political issue of women’s struggle for free access to the public sphere.

Michelle Guerci points out that the Burkini is in fact a relatively new phenomenon, which would itself be prohibited under the rule of severe Wahhabist codes.

******

When the law banning the bukha was first debated in 2010 this post was on Tendance Coatesy.

French Left Leader Backs Secular Freedom Against Religious Garb.

Jean-Luc Mélenchon, Here

On proposals to ban the Burka.

What is wrong with the Burka (voile intégral) ?  “D’abord parce qu’il est obscène.”

To start with it’s obscene.

“Si l’objet de la nouvelle loi est bien de garantir la liberté, l’égalité et la dignité de toutes les femmes qui vivent sur notre territoire, d’autres mesures seraient opportunes dans ce cadre.

If the object of the new law is  to guarantee freedom, equality and dignity of all women who live in our land, there are other measures which should be taken within this structure.

The Parliametary Left should amend the law (he is a Senator).

The aim should be to extend secularism.

It is time to impose the principle of ‘mixing’ (that is women and men should allowed to be together) in all public places. Today this principle is not guaranteed by law, even in schools.

For example, one cannot accept the rule that reserves certain hours in swimming pools for one gender. Or that certain types of sport should be reserved for one gender.

Finally, if the legislators are really coherent they should extend secularism to French overseas territories and to Alsace Moselle (where there is still recognition of religion as part of the state and the education system).

The LFI chef has not dropped his hostile views on Islamic ‘modest’ dress, as can be seen in this furious attack on his opinions on the veil  in 2017.

Sur la question du voile, les propos choquants de Jean-Luc Mélenchon dans « L’émission politique »

During the 2017 Presidential elections the (now)  Candidate for the  Élysée emphasised his backing for banning the burka (voile intégral).

Jean-Luc Mélenchon est pour l’interdiction du voile, s’il est intégral, mais n’envisage pas de légiférer s’il ne l’est pas.

And in May 2018 the LFI leader criticised the fact that the new leader of the student union Unef, Maryam Pougetoux,, who has a veil, comparing it to himself advertising religion by wearing an enormous cross.

Mélenchon sur le voile de la présidente de l’Unef à la Sorbonne : “C’est comme si j’arrivais avec une énorme croix”.

Many people will be uncomfortable with legislation on the issue of the face-veil, the burqa.

And with La France insoumise’s vision of a top-down administered secularism.

But from that to go and speak of this as if it’s simply a fashion choice, or worse, ‘celebrating’ it as a sign of diversity, is both insulting and reactionary.

The blood-stained tyrannies which have enforced this dress remind us that it is not, in the view of some currents of Islam, a ‘choice’ but an obligation.

As Terri Murray has put it, Why feminists should oppose the burqa.

The claim that covering yourself up in public is an empowering choice insults the intelligence and dignity of women everywhere, just as the theological claim that the burqa is a necessary defence against predatory male sexuality insults Muslim men insofar as it treats them as fundamentally incapable of responsibility for their sexual behaviour.

The reason Western feminists (male or female) object to seeing women in burqas is not that we can’t tolerate diversity, but that the burqa is a symbol of patriarchal Islam’s intolerance of dissent and desire to contain and repress female sexuality.

Without challenging the burqa we cannot challenge the oppressions it is bound up with.

At the minimum it is hard to disagree than nobody in a public function should  enforce their religious ideas of “Purity” and sexual segregation through the display of this oppressive costume.

New Row on Antisemitism Looms as Jean-Luc Mélenchon to speak at Labour conference Momentum fringe.

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« La révolution citoyenne a déjà commencé » - L'interview des interview

Mélenchon to Learn from Labour Party “Shining Beacon”.

Why we’ve invited Jean-Luc Mélenchon to The World Transformed

Next month, The World Transformed will be welcoming Jean-Luc Mélenchon to speak at its Labour conference fringe. The French politician who inspired the European left with his radical campaign for the presidency in 2017 won more than seven million votes. Since then, despite only commanding 17 MPs in the National Assembly, Mélenchon has emerged as the main resistance to the neoliberal ‘Jupiterian’ presidency of Emmanuel Macron.

It was the promise of a Sixth Republic, based on the principles of justice and democracy, which saw young and old flock to Mélenchon’s campaign. Likewise, Corbyn promised a constitutional convention as part of his quiet political revolution. Both seek to distribute power to the people.

Shifts in political power will, however, achieve little without an attendant transfer in economic power. The resurgent left is based above all on one thing: the return of class to politics. As Corbyn put it in a speech last month, Labour is back as the party of the working class. Mélenchon was at the heart of recent protests against Macron’s zombie neoliberal ‘reforms’ targeting the once-powerful French public sector (particularly rail workers). Both would repeal restrictive trade union laws, move to protect people from precarity and rebuild national industry following the ravages of neoliberalism.

Corbyn’s Labour is a shining beacon to the left, in Europe and beyond. As parties across Europe, including the PS, suffer from Pasokification, a resurgent Labour demonstrates the need for a strong, socialist alternative to a decaying neoliberalism.

Mélenchon’s presence is not simply a result of similarities between him and Corbyn. It is a sign of a rising internationalist left building socialism from the grassroots. In learning from and debating with one another, as TWT allows us to do, we can help build a world for the many, not the few.

Angus Satow is an organiser for The World Transformed.

Was the promise of a 6th republic in France the cause which attracted French voters to back the – failed – candidacy of Mélenchon in 2017?

Is a British “constitutional Convention” capable of bringing about a “citizens’ revolution”?

Can we see the invitation to one section of the fragmented and divided French left a sign of building “socialism from the grassroots”?

Can we say that a new left being created through a return to class politics?

French trade unionists, in the ‘intersyndicale’ (joint unions committee which led the recent strikes against Macron’s plans for the country’s railway service will no doubt be pleased to hear from The World Transformed  that their efforts were overshadowed by Mélenchon’s efforts on their (and his)  behalf.

Those who follow French politics will perhaps ask questions about the ‘grassroots democracy’ inside Mélenchon’s rally, La France insoumise.

It declares that it is not a party but a “un mouvement de citoyens individuels qui se reconnaissent dans la démarche de Jean-Luc Mélenchon “, a movement of individual citizens who identify with the approach laid out by Jean-Luc Mélenchon.

A bit like Momentum’s claim to be supporters of Corbyn rather than the Labour Party itself...

At ‘conferences’ (‘Convention, December 2017) of the movement up to 60% of the “delegates” were chosen by lot and the others by a process which makes the old British Tory Party’s way by which leaders ’emerged’ look transparent.

There were no clashes between opposing motions, or organised currents of political opinion.

There is however plenty of ‘cyber-democracy’ (votes for all on a narrow spectrum of pre-prepared ideas) …tweets, FB groups and Memes….

Critics…..

Unsurprisingly there is dissatisfaction with the way things are run inside this Rally (A La France insoumise, la démocratie interne fait débat).

On paper it’s a ‘horizontal’ movement.

In reality, critics say, that it is “vertical” with decision-making in the hands of Mélenchon’s key advisers.

LFI’s strategy is often called  ‘left populist’, drawing on sources such as Chantal Mouffe’s extensive writings (the latest, For a Left Populism. 2018).

It is said that they are engaged in a ‘Battle for hegemony’. At  present they have not in a long-term ‘war of position’ but a frenetic ‘war of movement’ against not just Macron, the ‘elite’, and ‘the media’, but to win leadership over the rest of the French left and ‘federate the people”.

There are many other things to say, such as Mélenchon’s continued support for the Maduro regime in Venezuela, his dreams of a Bolivarian revolution, and a position on the European Union that while formally pro-European keeps slipping into assertions of French sovereignty,  sovereigntism than the pro-Other Europe views of many Labour members.

In their favour it must be said that LFI’s most recent proposals in migration have included a defence of asylum seekers and an ambitious plan to cope with global migration. Propositions alternatives au projet de loi sur l’immigration et l’asile. 28th of May 2018.

 

The real problem is that the invitation to  Mélenchon’ is probably going to get embroiled in the Labour row over anti-semitism.

Why?

Mireille Knoll: Crowds jeer French far-right, far-left leaders after ‘anti-Semitic’ murder.

BBC. 28 March 2018

France’s far-right and far-left leaders have been booed during a Paris rally after a Jewish woman was killed in what is being treated as anti-Semitic crime.

Marine Le Pen of the National Front (FN) and Jean-Luc Mélenchon of France Unbowed joined the silent march, defying wishes of Jewish groups.

The groups accuse the two parties of having anti-Semites in their ranks – a claim denied by both organisations.

Mireille Knoll, 85, was stabbed and then burnt in her Paris flat on Friday.

As a child in 1942, she evaded the notorious Vel d’Hiv round up of some 13,000 Jews in Paris, who were then deported to Nazi death camps.

Two men have been held and placed under formal investigation over her murder.

……

On Wednesday, Ms Le Pen and Mr Mélenchon met a hostile reception from a number of protesters marching from Paris’s Place de la Nation to Ms Knoll’s apartment in the east of the French capital.

The two political leaders had to leave the rally as tensions threatened to boil over. Ms Le Pen later rejoined the protest, the AFP reports.

Ahead of the rally, Crif, an umbrella organisation of France’s Jewish groups, asked the far-right and far-left politicians not to join the event.

“Anti-Semites are over-represented in the far-left and the far-right, making those parties ones that you don’t want to be associated with,” Crif director Francis Kalifat told RTL radio.

“Therefore they are not welcome,” he added.

This dispute has long-standing roots:   including the LFI leader’s charge against the Crif’s “aggressive communitarianism” )Le communautarisme du Crif est particulièrement agressif”   Mélenchon et le Crif, un désamour de longue date. In return the CRIF has, in the past, made claims (strongly contested)  that Mélenchon  was in some manner implicated in anti-semitic demonstrations that followed public protests over Israeli attacks on Gaza in 2014, (” les complaisances de Jean-Luc Mélenchon pour les manifestations antisémites de l’été 2014). The Communist daily, l’Humanite   was the venue where the accusations of anti-semitism have continued to surface, firstly in a column by Jean Rouaud, and then, in his defence, by its Director, Patrick Appel-Muller. (Quand Jean-Luc Mélenchon est accusé d’antisémitisme dans L’Humanité. Marianne. 13.12.2017).

The controversy, with obvious echoes in present day UK disputes, centred over the language used.

 

Many, while they would perhaps not always agree with the wording of the leader of LFI’s criticisms of Israel, find some of the claims of the CRIF hard to swallow. It is  hard to imagine that somebody who comes from the tradition of Laïcité (as this Blog does) and who has never shied away expressing his hostility to  anti-semitism, can be accused of….. anti-antisemitism

No doubt it did not help that he referred to his opponents in the CRIf as “la secte CRIF on his Blog in the article L’antisémitisme et « La France Insoumise ».

Nor that his ‘republican’ patriotism lead him not long ago to deny that “France”, that is the French republic, was responsible for Vichy anti-Jewish legislation and complicity in Nazi war crimes.

This kind of language and disassociation is hard to echo outside of France.

As an illustration of his position on these issues Mélenchon expressed his “total opposition” last year when one of the MP’s of his rally, La France insoumise (LFI),  Danièle Obono., expressed her support for the anti-semitic racist groupuscule, le Parti des Indigènes de la République (PIR):  Mélenchon met les choses au clair avec le Parti des indigènes de la République.

He and his party condemned her remarks.

It is doubtful nevertheless that in the present climate that we will see a rational – favourable or critical – reception of Mélenchon when he addresses a Labour and Momentum audience.

 

 

 

Claude Lanzman director of the ‘Shoah’ dies aged 92: A Great Voice for the Just Passes.

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Claude Lanzmann has died in Paris at the age of 92.

Esteemed French journalist, ‘Shoah’ director Claude Lanzmann dies aged 92.

Agence France Press.

laude Lanzmann, the esteemed French journalist and director of the acclaimed Holocaust documentary ‘Shoah’, died at his Paris home on Thursday at the age of 92.

“Claude Lanzmann died at his home. He had been very, very weak for several days,” a spokeswoman for publishing house Gallimard told AFP.

Lanzmann was the chief editor of “Les Temps Modernes”, the ground-breaking literary review founded by philosophers Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir after World War II.

Lanzmann was a friend of the philosophers, and famously became involved with De Beauvoir while working as Sartre’s secretary. He was 26 and De Beauvoir was 44.

The golden couple of French intellectual life had a famously open relationship, and enjoyed – and endured – a number of similar love triangles.

Lanzmann went on to make the acclaimed Holocaust documentary ‘Shoah’, the nine-and-a-half hour epic which is, for many, the most haunting film made about the murder of six million Jews during World War II.

The chronicle took Lanzmann 11 years to make and is his best-known work.

Lanzmann was born November 27, 1925 in the Bois-Colombes suburb north of Paris. His Jewish parents immigrated to France from Eastern Europe where they raised Claude, his sister Evelyne, and younger brother Jacques.

His first act of resistance as a Jewish schoolboy in wartime France was to refuse to write an essay in praise of its collaborationist leader Marshal Petain. He later took to the hills to join fighters in central France ambushing German patrols as part of the Mouvement Jeunes Communistes de France (MJCF), a political youth organization close to the French communist party.

Review, 2011.

Le Lièvre de Patagonie. Claude Lanzmann. A Review, Sartre, de Beauvoir, Israel.

Andrew Coates.

Le Lièvre de Patagonie. Claude Lanzmann. Gallimard 2009 (Paperback 2010)

Claude Lanzmann (born 1925) is the director of Shoah (1985), the landmark film on the Holocaust. Against the documentary’s theme of methodically organised death, his title, Le Lièvre de Patagonie, evokes the Hare, a symbol of fertility and renewed life (the original ‘Easter Bunny’). Lanzmann’s book, he states, was written with this animal constantly in mind.

In Shoah while Rudolf Vrba talks off-camera of his escape from the Birkenau extermination camp there is a shot of a hare sliding under the barbed wire. Lanzmann likes the creatures, he respects them as noble, and if there were transmigration of souls he would wish to be reincarnated as one. Glimpsing one of a legendary South American species in his car’s headlights in Patagonia signalled the moment that he felt fully in the land, vrais ensemble (truly together). The hare is a sign of a vital leap to freedom that infuses his own “joie sauvage” (wild happiness). It is this incarnation that constantly springs to Lanzmann’s mind as he unravels this account of his life.

Le Lièvre de Patagonie is a record of Lanzmann’s out-of-the-ordinary intellectual, political and creative career, infused with joy, and sadness. It passes from the youthful résistant, to the culture and commitments that led him to Jean-Paul Sartre, and a “quasi-maritale’ companionship with Simone de Beauvoir (from 1952 to 1959). A contributor from 1952 onwards to Les Temps Modernes (publisher’s site here) he provides an important first-hand account of this review’s active support for anti-colonialism during the Algerian war for independence.

The memories are much more than a record of events; they are an affirmation of his beliefs, and loyalties. Lanzmann’s commitment to Israel, expressed in the partisan documentary Pourquoi Israel (1970) remains at the heart of his being. In Le Monde last year Lanzmann was cited saying that, “Je suis d’autant propalestinien que je suis pro-israélian, et récroproquement” (I am as pro-Palestinian as I am pro-Israeli and the other way around). But there is little doubt that his empathy for the Jewish state marks his recollections the more, making the author a rare living defender of the left’s post-War support for Israel.

Lanzmann does not just feel an affinity, as somebody with a secular-Jewish cultural background, with Israeli people. He considers that he is, despite the intensity of his French culture (to the depths of his prose). He remains “Français de hazard, pas du tout ‘de souche’” – French by chance, not of French stock. (Page 330) The Jews are “mon peuple”.

Visiting the new state in 1948 Lanzmann found that compared to real Israelis, who had their country in their “os et le sang” (bone and blood) he was “un elfe” who weighed nothing. He has always, without Biblical faith, been astonished and full of “admiration” for the Jewish religion (Page 730). Such opinions (and his eulogy  of  Israel’s army in the film Tsahal, 1994), are in Lanzmann’s marrow. To this extent his praise of the Hebrew state’s military is  impossible to forgive or forget.  

La Guillotine.

Lanzmann begins with the words, “La guillotine – plus généralement la peine capitale et les différents modes d’administration de la mort – aura été la grande affaire de ma vie” – the Guillotine – and more widely capital punishment and the different forms of meeting out death – will be the main concern of my life. An adolescent trip to the cinema in the late ‘thirties to see L’affaire du courier de Lyon (under the post-Revolutionary ‘Directory’) was his introduction to the horror of watching an innocent executed. The view of the scaffolding around the  blade, and the fact that the sentence was carried out in public, preoccupied him for months.

Lanzmann is haunted by tortures, by Hitler and Stalin’s mass murders, Goya’s Fusilamentos del 3 de Mayo, and the hostages that Islamists put to death and record like “films pronographiques”. His life was dedicated to standing for right against repression. The national liberation struggle in Algeria was met by French repression, which included the death penalty. Lanzmann and de Beauvoir worked with the lawyer Jacques Vergès to defend the condemned under this threat. He campaigned for the Catalan anarchist, Salvador Puig Antich, condemned by the Caudillo to die by the garrotte in 1974.

This was not just the indignation of the righteous. It was bound to Lanzmann’s own past. Under the Occupation in 1943 while studying at the lycée Blaise-Pascal, at Clermont-Ferrand (in the Auverne) he decided to join the Resistance. He became involved with the Communist Party (PCF). The former school student was soon amongst maquisards in the Haute-Loire, and a member of the FTP (Communist, Francs-tireurs et partisans). For refusing to carry out a suicidal mission – transporting weapons through German controlled areas – the local PCF put him under sentence of death.

Escaping this fate Lanzmann resumed his education in post-war Paris, in the prestigious “hypokhâgne” at Louis-le-Grand (preparatory course for the elite French ‘Grandes écoles’). The PCF were active in the college. Undaunted he approached the secretary of the school’s Communist cell to ask that the “sentence de mort prononcée contre moi par le Parti” be carried out (Page 207) The official, later a well known left Socialist politician, Jean Poperen, did not, on this occasion, as the representative of the Party of the “75,000 shot”, add another number to the total.

There is so much rich detail, often supplied at a tangent with the unities of space, time and action, in Le Lièvre de Patagonie that the linear narrative of Lanzmann’s life is sometimes hard to keep steadily in mind.  There is his troubled family background. There is his period as a proto-academic, enraptured by Sartre’s trilogy, Les Chemins de la liberté (1945), studying Hegel, and so poor he stole books from the shop of the Presses Universitaires de France, to resell – until memorably caught and disgraced.

There is Lanzmannteaching in post-War Berlin at the Freie Universität, where he exposed much of the teaching staff’s unrepentant National Socialism. There is the moving story of his actress sister, Évelyne, who was Gilles Deleuze’s lover, and then, after acting in Sartre’s plays, became his lover, only to later commit suicide in 1966. And there is the meeting with De Beauvoir, le Castor, holidays across Europe, and their political activism.

Little emerges  in Le Lièvre on Les Temps Modernes’ relations with International Communism, or on Sartre’s judgement that a friendly stand towards the PCF was a “means of access” to the French working class. By contrast there are interesting accounts of Lanzmann’s role in the activities of the group around Sartre and de Beauvoir during the Algerian war, which came to dominate the country’s political life during the 1950s. By the end of that decade their alliance with the Algerian fighters for independence, led to what became known as ‘third worldism’. They stood up for anti-colonialism in the hardest conditions, risking their lives to defend Algerian prisoners, and the rights of North Africans. All who has signed the celebrated Manifeste de 121(1960) which called for those conscripted in the French army to refuse to serve in Algeria were under threat. Jobs were lost, and Sartre’s flat was attacked with plastic explosives.

In 1958, with 4 more years of the Algerian war to go, Lanzmann was a journalist (writing for France Dimanche as well as Les Temps Modernes). As a man of the left he, like Sartre and de Beauvoir, made his own pilgrimage to ‘socialist’ lands. He visited North Korea and China as part of an organised delegation (with Western Communist participation). In the land of Juche and “pression stalinienne…effrayante” (fearful Stalinist pressure) Lanzmann had a fleeting contact with a Korean woman, more a Brief Encounter (which he evokes to describe the fleeting tryst) than an affair. China, though more relaxed, offered the less compelling charms of an interview with French-speaking Chen Yi, Foreign Affairs Minister, on the country’s geopolitical strategy.

Third-Worldism.

The Sartre-Beauvoir circle embraced Third-Worldism (though the author of the Second Sex appears never to have been wholly convinced. This was most marked in their relations with the Algerian resistance. While Sartre and de Beauvoir replaced interest in the old Soviet bloc, for Cuba, and in 1960 they did some safe revolutionary tourism there, it was Lanzmann who got closest to its dangerous side.

A small number of people on the French left had worked closely enough with the Algerian revolutionaries, the Front de Libération Nationale (FLN) to become “porteurs de valises” (carrying arms for them). While far from engaged in the armed struggle Lanzmann met the FLN in person, in its Tunisian bases. It was there that he encountered Franz Fanon, the renowned theorist of anti-colonialism (and today largely, if remembered, largely appropriated by Anglophone ‘post-colonial’ studies).

Sartre would write the Preface, as Fanon requested, for The Wretched of the Earth (1964). He asserted that “The native cures himself of colonial neurosis by thrusting out the settler through force of arms” “For in the first days of the revolt you must kill; to shoot down a European is to kill two birds with one stone, to destroy an oppressor and the man he oppresses with one stone”. That is, the, highly contestable, claim that the physical fight for freedom is the route to cathartic self-assertion.

Despite his unwavering anti-colonialism Fanon seemed equally aware of the FLN’s internal disputes, the occasion for a different kind of catharsis, a purging of emotions onto any human object to hand. These were, he alluded to Lanzmann, were ferocious, though “secret”. His interlocutor sensed that the Martinique himself “connaissait la peur” (knew fear) (Page 492). With good reason, Lanzmann observes. The FLN and its supporters, not to mention ordinary Algerians, were the victims of a terrifying level of repression, with 500,000 troops at under French command, and special units prepared to use torture, while the French Algerian ultras, in the Organisation Armée Secrète (OAS) rained down terror against all Maghrebin rebels (including those on the French left deemed supportive of them).

The Algerian National Liberation Front, (FLN) and its army’s (ALN) cadres were responsible for extreme acts of violence against their nationalist opponents (the Mouvement pour le triomph des libertés démocratiques, MTLD) and civilian critics. They suffered from vicious quarrels inside the apparatus, and readily resorted to force to settle disputes. On top of this were rivalries between clans, and ethnic groups, Arabs and Kabyles. The reality showed that violence was not a vehicle for liberation and therapy.

For Lanzmann, however, the need to back the struggle meant a self-imposed silence (with an eye to possible FLN reaction). He therefore kept information about the use of terror inside the liberation movement to himself. He wrote nothing, and said nothing (Page 501). One must say however that Simone de Beauvoir in 1963 did not hesitate to cite Fanon’s allusions to “les dissensions, les intrigues, les liquidations, les oppositions…” without seeming bound by a revolutionary omerta, even if she gave no details. (La force des choses. Vol ll.) An element of religious conservatism, including support for polygamy, was already manifesting itself.

After Independence in 1962 there were retributions against real and alleged collaborators with the French that exceeded France’s 1945 épurations. The socialist aspects of the Algerian revolution did not last long. The FLN’s military wing, under Boumediene, soon took charge of an independent nation and laid the foundations for an authoritarian state run for the benefit of its rulers and their clients.

Lanzmann barely touches on this: he is more concerned that early promises of friendship (by a certain Captain Bouteflika) with Israel were not kept. An Independent Algeria announced that it would send 100,000 men to liberate Palestine. As a sign of the times, Fanon’s widow had re-married, to a militant anti-Israeli, whose views she adopted to the extent of wanting Sartre’s famous Preface to The Wretched of the Earth suppressed, – after the philosopher had signed a 1967 petition, following the 6 Day War backing Israel. The balance-sheet was not positive, “Je croyais qu’on pouvait vouloir en même temps l’indepéndence de l’Algérie et l’existence de l’État d’Israël. Je m’étais trompé.”(Page 505) – I believed one could wish for an independent Algeria and the existence of the Israeli state at the same time. I was wrong.

Israel and 68.

For years Lanzmann was convinced, despite his own experience of the French Communist Party’s cynicism and treachery during the 2nd World War, and what he knew at the time (still less at present) about the dark-side of Stalinism, that the USSR was “le ciel sur ma tête” – the sky over my head (Page 546) That this gradually evaporated seems less significant, as we have just indicated, than what he saw massing against Israel. That was a real menace: to destroy the Jewish state.

It is forgotten today that many on the left shared Lanzmann’s views in the late sixties. In 1967 he edited a special issue of Les Temps Modernes where Arabs and Jews debated with relative good-will. Sartre, during the Six Day war, and the Yom Kipper war, backed Israel. Sartre naturally is better remembered for another standpoint. During his period of close association with the Mao-Spontex Gauche Prolétarienne (GP), he became pro-Palestinian. As Lanzmann notes, with regret, the ageing thinker wrote in La Cause du Peuple a strident defence of the Munich massacre, saying that “Dans cette guerre, la seule arme dont disposent les Palestiniens est le terrorisme.” – the only arm which the Palestinians have at their disposal is terrorism. (Page 573)

Lanzmann attempts to explain, and even to explain away, Sartre’s violent streak. He notes that Sartre’s Preface to The Wretched of the Earth, which outdid Fanon’s psychological justification of aggression, appears to have been an exercise in “philosophie concrète” (concrete philosophy) and conceptual clarity Which seems a roundabout way of saying he didn’t really mean to endorse mass killings and cruelty in any form. As evidence, Lanzmann claims that there were some concrete limits Sartre posed to European terrorism.

Lanzmann believes that it was largely Sartre’s influence that prevented the French far-left from passing to full-scale terrorism on the German or Italian model (Page 575), though in fact, a small group did travel in this direction, and became the 1980s band, Action Directe. It’s true, he indicates, that Algeria has seen a state and society long bathed in “le sang des innocents” (the blood of innocents). It’s also the case that post-Munich, nationalist Palestinian terrorism has been supplanted by Islamist mass murder. This, and the US-led armed interventions the world over, illustrate that violence is a spiral not a release.

One wonders how far one push responsibility for this acceleration of ferocity, or its dampening it down, onto any philosopher, however cretinous or emollient his rhetoric may be. Like Fanon’s assertion that FLN fighters were busy absorbing Sartre’s Critique de la raison dialectique (Page 493), to make such claims is to use arguments of an astonishing légèrté.

One will not find much in Le Lièvre on the controversy surrounding Sartre’s secretary, and one-time GP supporter, Benny Lévy. De Beauvoir had her say in La Cérémonie des Adieux (1981). Whether the future Talmudic student determined the utterances of the Universal Intellectual or not, without his influence it hard to see how Sartre moved from this ultra-revolutionary stance to his support for the 1979 ‘Boat for Vietnam’ campaign – to save people from Vietnamese Communism. It is hard perhaps to see Lanzmann seizing the spirit that drove the Gauche Prolétarienne, from strident ultra-leftism to the anti-communist (with a small ‘c’) apostasy of many of its leading figures, in the first place.

May 68, the French gauchistes’ genitor, Lanzmann witnessed from the “extérieur”. He was an outsider from another generation (Page 570). More than that he appears never to have seized the fact that Sartre’s philosophy, even in its Marxisante form in the Critique de la raison dialectique (written 1956 – 8) had been become not just unfashionable, but unintelligible to much of the post-68 left. While the novels, literary criticism and some of the plays (Les jeux sont faits, 1947 and Les mains sales, 1948)are as bright as new pennies, Sartre’s philosophy has not worn well. The focus of the memoirs shifts completely away from talking about disgreeable topics.

Lanzmann as the ‘sixties ended had begun to be more and more concerned with one thing: defending Israel. He recounts how he came to produce the film Pourquoi Israel (with no question mark). This work continues to cause controversy. Having never seen the picture it is impossible to judge the description in Le Lièvre. Yet, according to the author, it was the spring-board for one of the last century’s greatest documented oral history, Shoah.

Researching, filming and producing Shoah was exceptionally arduous. The film consists of interviews, people left to speak for themselves as participants and witnesses of the greatest genocide of the 20th century. It aims to indicate those who were slaughtered, to show their traces, to hear the echo of their voices. It would be no exaggeration to say that the screening of the nine and a half  hour long documentary mediation on the Holocaust, which took place on British television some years back, was a major political and ethical event. As a measure of its impact the Biblical and Rabbanic word Shoah, catastrophe, disaster, extermination, used to describe the Holocast, has passed into current usage in many languages. Given the enormity of what it refers to it would be better for the pages of Le Lièvre de Patagonie to speak for themselves than to be described here.

The shattering experience of producing Shoah gives an edge to what is already for many a defining moment in their understanding of the Endlösung. After De Beauvoir’s death Lanzmann finally became the Editor of Sartre’s old journal (1986) marking another significant moment in an exceptional biography.

A Major Biographical Memoir.

Claude Lanzmann’s classical prose provides a luminous structure to a complex biography. Le Lièvre de Patagonie is beautifully wrought, and offers a description of that part of the French left which gravitated around Les Temps Modernes. It sheds light on some of the key moments of modern French political and intellectual history, the ideas, relationships, culture and feelings of the circle around Sartre and de Beauvoir, above all their participation in the campaign in support of Algerian independence. For these reasons alone it is of outstanding importance.

Less compellingly the book tries to present a case for Israel. It is unlikely to convince those (like myself) who are, while reluctant to be ‘anti’ Israelis, see little admirable in a state with a confessional, ultimately ethnic, basis. Not everyone has a strong urge to feel a part of a national “souche” (stock). Lanzmann’s passionate beliefs and emotional tissue cannot cloud critical judgement. States are to be judged on political not affective grounds. On democratic, military and human rights criteria Israel is severely wanting. One is equally unmoved by its description of the politics of Les Temps Modernes. As with the declaration of love for Israel, it does not convert those unable to fall under an emotional spell.

For all the beauty of Le Lièvre de Patagonie, on this matter at least, one could say that the Lanzmann’s retrospective gaze casts little light on such heat.

A tribute, a bibliography and a filmography appears on the site of Lanzmann’s publisher, Éditions Gallimard.

Disparition de Claude Lanzmann.

Disparition de Claude Lanzmann

Guardian:  Claude Lanzmann obituary

Director of Shoah, the epic film about the Holocaust presented through individual testimony

Fragmentation of the French Left: Génération.s, ( Benoît Hamon, former Socialist presidential Candidate) holds its first Conference.

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Benoît Hamon: “le mouvement anti-identitaire.”

Benoît Hamon stood as the candidate for the French Socialist Party (PS) and the ‘belle alliance populaire’ in the 2017 Presidential elections. He was selected by a Primary, in which 2 013 743 people voted in the final run off. Hamon’s victory 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” and to launch a “democratic awakening”, Citizens’ Initiatives, and a  human centred approach to the technological revolution. Apart from green policies, he advocated Universal Basic Income.

In the contest Hamon received a humiliating 6,36 % of the vote. In the following contest for Parliament he lost his seat in Yvelines, eliminated in the first round with only 22,59 %.

Critics of his campaign, such as PS Secretary Jean-Christophe Cambadélis criticised his  “solitary” campaign, which was unable to bring together people outside of his circle, and 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. Hamon, he said wanted to be the leader of an alternative alliance of the left of the Socialists with the Greens and acting accordingly. (Chronique d’une Débâcle. 2012 – 2017. Jean-Christophe Cambadélis. L’Archipel. 2017.)

With Hamon’s “Green Party” campaign, you got,  Cambadélis said, a “Green Party score (“campagne d’écologiste, score d’écologiste” Page 111)

The Socialists  suffered deep depression after many of their members and allies left to back Emmanuel Macron (his ‘treason’ still rankles with François Hollande). Those with some will to continue are torn into mutually recriminating factions, and have only 30 MPs.

Hamon and his allies created their own party. Most of the Young Socialists ( MJS) joined as well as former MPs, and councillors from the left of the PS.

Wikipedia has a useful entry in English,

Génération.s, le mouvement (English: Generation.s, the movement) is a French political party created on 1 July 2017[2] by Benoît Hamon who, according to its founder, aims to “Refound and gather the left”[3] in France. Sometimes rendered Géneration(s) or Génération·s, it was formerly named Mouvement du 1er Juillet (1st July Movement), and has also been known by the short name M1717.

Its foundation follows the sharp decline of the Socialist Party in the 2017 presidential election, where Benoît Hamon was a candidate, and the legislative elections, in which he lost his seat as a deputy.

The movement presents itself as an initiative to assemble the forces of the left in France.[3] The political ideologies it supports are European federalism, ecosocialism, and democratic socialism.[4]

The new party claims to have 60 000 members and a thousand or so local committees.

But their profile in national politics is uncertain.

The weekend Convention, attended by up to 1500  activists  discussed alliances with Yanis Varoufakis, and the DIEM25 for the next European elections. Negotiations with what remains of the French Green party, the EELV., have not gone well. La France insoumise, engaged in its own battle for ‘hegemony’ on the left, under the leadership of  JeanLuc Mélenchon were sniffy. But the genial leader has now offered a “pact of non-aggression”. Which is very kind of him.

The  response from Hamon’s side, whose target is not hard to guess, made mention of not aligning with “ left-wing nationalism” (le Monde)

There is talk of an agreement with the PS… (Après un an d’existence, Génération.s cherche sa place à gauche).

In the meantime Hamon’s party has called for a new ‘humanist’ response to populism and the politics of identity, “ On veut être le mouvement anti-identitaire » his right hand man, Guillaume Balas has stated. (Génération.s cherche un nouveau souffle « humaniste »)

More information:  Le Manifeste de Génération·s.

Discours de Benoît Hamon à la convention nationale de Génération•s le 1er juillet 2018

France: Emmanuel Macron’s ‘Reforms’ to Continue on Track?

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Protest Against Macron Calls for General Strike. May 2018.

Is France’s President Emmanuel Macron about to win his battle against the rail strikers?  

Last Friday after the French National Assembly the Senate passed legislation reforming the country’s railway system, the SNCF by 245 against 82. The principal change is that from an “établissement public à caractère industriel et commercial (EPIC) » to « société anonyme (SA) ». That is, it will become a limited company, which will remain under public ownership.

No new recruit will benefit from the existing ‘statut’, the terms and conditions, of existing employees. This open the way for the end of free travel for employees, lower pay, more worker ‘flexibility, and the abolition of the right to retire at 55 for train drivers. A principal argument behind these, and other changes, is that the public railway company must resolve its debt problem to be competitive.

There will be competition between the rail-service and other companies, extending the existing opening to freight. There are suggestions (Spinetta report) that some unprofitable branch lines may be done away with. Maintenance will also be open to private companies (l’Humanité. 15.6.18). From 2019 regional services will be affected and in 2020 the TGV will, leaving the position around Paris in the l’Ile-de-France to be clarified between 2023 and…..2039.

These changes follow European Union directives on public debt and competition. They have been issued with the agreement of the counties of the EU, dominated by supporters of the marketisation of public services, and not from some hidden Brussels cabal.

Strikes, strongly supported by those working for the SNCF, against the ‘reform’ began on the 3rd of April, co-ordinated by the ‘intersyndical’ of rail unions (CGT, UNSA, SUD, CFDT, and FO). As collective bargaining begins in the light of the new law stoppages continue, intended to weigh on the negotiations. Despite suggestions that the ‘reformist’ unions (such as the CFDT) might reach a conciliatory agreement on their own this has not yet happened. What looks likely happen as talks get underway is that strikes will become reduced to a means of pressure for the best possible outcome, within this framework.

Despite a parallel conflict in Air France and a student movement, including militant occupations, against the reform called ORE (“d’orientation et de réussite des étudiants”) which gives universities the power to set admission criteria and rank applicants , a ‘social movement’ against Macron’s moves has not taken off. The wider public appears not to have identified with the fight of the cheminots (rail workers) as they did in 1997. Jean Luc-Mélenchon has stated that while he is drunk with his own self-satisfaction,  59% of those polled have a ‘negative’ opinion of the President. But ‘marées populaires” ‘ (tidal waves of protesters) at demonstration of solidarity with the strikers by his rally-party, have failed to flood the streets.  La France insoumise, the radical left, and other parts of the fragmented green, Communist and socialist left, trade unionists and students, have not created an ‘ insurrection  citoyenne’. Many of the public, lukewarm at the defence of what much of the media has presented as “special interests”  do not identify with the strikers.

Macon now feels free to tackle the welfare state. He has complained about the “pognon de dingue” (daft amount of dosh)  spent on welfare, suggesting wholesale changes in the benefit system. Replacing the complex French pension system with a uniform regime is in his sights. At the same time today it’s confirmed by right wing Economy Minister, Bruno le Maire, that the les Aéroports de Paris, la Française des Jeux (National Lottery) and Engie (unsurprisingly an energy firm) will be privatised (France’s Le Maire set to unveil inflammatory privatisation bill.)

It is sometimes suggested that Macron poses as ‘above’ left and right to cover his neoliberal policies. But is the struggle against neo-liberal globalisation what it was at the turn of the new millenium? The nature of ‘liberal’ policies, when not only European countries like Italy, Poland and Hungary, displaying signs of the less attractive side of anti-liberalism, but the US is engaged in trade wars that strike up the pillars of what was assumed to be ‘globalisation ‘ is in a state of flux. It is all very well for Mélenchon to shout that the President is an “EXTRÊME-LIBÉRAL”. But that part of the French left, including sections of La France insoumise, like other currents in Europe, including Britain, consider that ‘socialist’ version of ‘sovereigntism ‘ that is national control of the economy, is the answer to the difficulties created by years of market reform and liberalisation only adds to the confusion.

The French President himself claims to be a « progressive » both of the « right, the centre, and the left ». (Macron, un président philosophe. Brice Couturier. 2017) Put in less exorbitant langue he is, in effect, claiming the mantle of the 5th Republic, designed by de Gaulle to make the Head of State appear « above » parties and social divisions. Taking this further Macron presents his fight against workers and social rights as a struggle against outdated ‘ corporatism ‘.

A more bogus sets of political assertions would be hard to find. Saint-Simonian top-down technocratic reforms are the opposite of changes inspired by grassroots democratic struggle. But until there is a left united enough to challenge Macron and the domination of the National Assembly by his La République En Marche!  they will be hard to put down.

Paris May Day: Trade Unions Prevented from Marching by Black Bloc Violence.

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Image result for Paris May day le black bloc

Black Bloc Halts Trade Union May Day in Paris.

In Paris on Tuesday, the traditional trade union parade was deflected and then dispersed even before arriving in the Place d’Italie because of violent incidents.

A Paris mardi, le traditionnel défilé syndical a été dévié puis s’est dispersé avant même d’arriver place d’Italie à cause de violents débordements.

(Libération)

The march was slowed to a halt by a large group of demonstrators clad in black, with many wearing balaclavas and some with gas masks, who broke into a chant of “Everyone detests the police” on the Austerlitz bridge across the Seine. The Paris police prefecture estimated the size of the group at 1,200 so-called “black bloc” protesters.

Some 276 protesters were arrested, 109 of whom remained in custody as of Tuesday night, police said, adding that 31 businesses had suffered damage, two of which had been set ablaze.

France 24.

The traditional autonomist  tactic of trying to take over the head of the march this year led to a  burst of exceptional violence.

Antifas, black blocs, anars : ce « cortège de tête » qui a fait dérailler le 1er-Mai syndical  (le Monde)

The French media refers to them as “masked casseurs”, (casseurs encagoulés). That is those who riot and smash things up, from casser, to smash, to shatter, to break.

Initially one of the best known figures of the French left,   Jean-Luc Mélenchon  (la France insoumise) claimed that they were ” issus de “bandes d’extrême droite”. (bands from the far right).

He has since recognised his error, directing his opprobrium for the  “fils à papa” (daddys’ boys, spoiled brats) who smashed up the MacDonald’s (Les Black blocs cassent le 1er mai: Jean-Luc Mélenchon admet s’être trompé en désignant les “fachos“)

The anarchist movement properly speaking, FA, la CNT, CGA and AL , had its own peaceful march in the afternoon. (le Monde libertaire).

About 2,000 people attended.

Background (2016),  Tonino Serafini.

«Pour les autonomes, l’objectif est de rendre visible une guerre invisible»

The Ministry of the Interior calls them “ultra-leftist” or “anarcho-autonomous ” activists ,but they generally reject any form of categorization. They meet and often act on affinity (some sociologists speak of “amilitants”). These are often students who take part in actions in support of undocumented migrants or against police repression. They try to integrate their libertarian political ideal in all spheres of their life, making sure to be perfectly autonomous, that is to say, to depend neither on the State, nor on an owner, nor of an employer to subsist. There are many who live in community squats where they grow, for example, their food to spend money as much as possible.

Most of them are outside the classical political spectrum and see themselves as neither left nor right. From their point of view, far-left organisations are part of the “system”, the “Empire” to use their terminology. They themselves categorically refuse to participate directly or indirectly in this society, and thus despise political parties such as trade unions. Between them, they are called “totos”, in reference to the autonomous movement.

What are the historical origins of this movement?

The autonomous movement appeared in Italy in the 60s and developed in France on the ashes of May 68 to take various forms, the most famous will lead to Direct Action. Today, these groups are of course no longer at such a level of violence, even if injured police officers and broken windows are now challenging public opinion.

More than a movement, the autonomists form a movement, an informal network crossed by many divergences, and whose members do not share any fixed ideological corpus, apart from their libertarian aspirations. They do not have a clear political line. The debates between them are quite lively: some refer to Marx, while others are part of an anarchist doctrine.

What relationship does the autonomous movement have with violence? Is it a key element of their political strategy?

Autonomous women generally see violence as the only possible answer to the violence of the “Empire”. The main objective of this violence is to make visible to everyone the invisible war that is going on according to them in our societies. That’s why they incorporate protests, usually covered in dark, masked outfits – the so-called Black Blocks – to generate maximum disorder by confronting the police, whom they see as the “guardians of the peace of the rich “. They are difficult to approach: they are as suspicious of journalists as they are academics who they say are part of the system.

This is a very broad-brush introduction.

For the views of those involved, cretinous as they are, see:

Suite aux menaces proférés par Delpuech Michel, préfet de police de Paris, à l’encontre de la manifestation du 1er mai, le service de la communication du « cortège de tête » diffuse ce communiqué.

1ER MAI – COMMUNIQUÉ DE PRESSE DU CORTÈGE DE TÊTE

Essentially it says they would react to the “provocation délibérée” by Paris Police Chief, Delpuech Michel. The Head of the March (oh how we giggled…) said they wished to rise beyond the levels of May 68 attacks on property, and the traditional attacks on estate agents, car dealers, banks and insurance companies (no mention of the all important globalising bus shelters!) They ended with a call for an invasion of the Latin quarter when the May Day demo ended.

Very funny.

You can ‘ave a further laugh by following this lot: La coordination contre la répression et les violences policières .

Meanwhile the NPA ( Nouveau Parti anticapitaliste) has some sympathy with destroying McDos, perhaps reviving the thwarted dreams of the days of the early ’70s Front communiste révolutionnaire (urban guerrillas?)

Si nous ne partageons pas la politique des groupes autonomes, nous comprenons la colère grandissante d’une partie de la jeunesse, qui fait face à la violence sociale et policière dans sa vie quotidienne. C’est du gouvernement que vient la responsabilité de la confrontation actuelle.

If we don’t share the strategy of the autonomists, we understand the growing anger amongst young people, who live confronted with  police violence in their daily lives. It’s the government that bears the responsibility for the present violence…..

Malgré les violences policières, la mobilisation se poursuit

And they wonder why people do not trust the NPA…..

Between 143.500 people took part in May Day marches  210.000 in France.

Written by Andrew Coates

May 2, 2018 at 12:19 pm