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Posts Tagged ‘French Left

Parisians: We will Remain Drunk and Joyous Faced with the Lovers of Death.

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It is tossed by the waves but does not sink: Paris.

The City’s motto has become the statement of the City’s defiance.


These are more expressions of defiance.

Joann Sfar, aprÚs avoir appris avec effroi la nouvelle des attentats de Paris, a réalisé douze vignettes BD.
The people who died this evening were outside  to live, to drink, to sing. They didn’t know that war had been declared on them.


#PorteOuverte, le hashtag de solidaritĂ© pour se mettre Ă  l’abri Ă  Paris

For more see: What a Charlie Hebdo cartoonist drew after the second Paris terror attack in a year.


Written by Andrew Coates

November 15, 2015 at 11:52 am

AndrĂ© Glucksmann, former Leftist, Nouveau Philosophe, Sarkozy Backer, Dies.

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Mort d’AndrĂ© Glucksmann, le philosophe en colĂšre

Glucksmann’s death was the first item on France Inter this morning.

Agence France Presse states,

Paris, France:  French philosopher Andre Glucksmann, who rose to fame in the 1970s after supporting the Vietnamese boat people, has died at the age of 78, his son said today.

Coming to prominence in the glory days of French intellectual thought in the 1960s, Glucksmann, who died late Monday, famously broke with his Marxist peers and became increasingly right-wing in later years.

In 1979, he rallied the support of fellow philosophers including Jean-Paul Sartre to the cause of the Vietnamese who were fleeing the war in that country.

He later supported US interventions in Iraq and Afghanistan, and lobbied on behalf of Chechen Muslims during their civil war with the Russian government in the 1990s.

“My first and best friend is no more,” wrote Raphael Glucksmann on Facebook.

“I had the incredible chance to know, laugh, debate, travel, play, do everything and nothing with such a good and excellent man.”

This is an excellent, short but important, written, aural, and video, dossier on my favourite Radio Station, France Culture: Mort du philosophe André Glucksmann.

And here: RĂ©Ă©coutez AndrĂ© Glucksmann dans “A voix nue”.

In his student and academic youth André Glucksmann was associated with the left.His Discours de la guerre, théorie et stratégie (1967) and Stratégie et Révolution en France (1968) were translated into English and published in New Left Review.The first was an extended look at, amongst other aspects, classical military strategists, the second was a revolutionary Marxist call and skeleton programme for the French left to take power.

Not an orthodox ‘Marxist-Leninist’ Glucksmann was an active ‘general’ in the, Mao-Spontex’  Gauche ProlĂ©tarienne. After a dispute, in which he took the view that their campaign for “popular justice” in the  Affaire de Bruay-en-Artoi (1972-3) was degenerating towards calls for a public lynching. He and other critics were dismissed as “vipers”. Glucksman distanced himself from the group, which dissolved in 1973.

For most people he will be remembered for the two books he published shortly afterwards,  La CuisiniĂšre et le Mangeur d’Hommes – RĂ©flexions sur l’État, le marxisme et les camps de concentration (1975), and Les MaĂźtres penseurs (1977).

They expressed a fierce critique of Marxism, strongly influenced by the Gulag Archipelago by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn. It asserted that Marx has always despised the peasantry and the “plĂšbe” – the popular masses. The Gulag was a vast disciplinary machine to punish and reform, to break down the people.

The second, taking up a theme from the La CuisiniĂšre, claimed that Lenin’s wish that every Cook could run the State was a disguise for a Marxist will to take control over all aspects of people’s lives. This drive for Mastery, Glucksmann alleged, was the real message of Marxism – not a desire for freedom, but a Will to control. Marx’s categories tried to encompass the world in their “general illumination” and ended up deforming it, Marx, he asserted, loathed the anarchy of the market not because it was wrapped in exploitation, but because it was “anarchy”. All Marxist regimes, he considered, had and would become nationalist, exclusive, intolerant, and murderous, in order to dominate the lives of the masses.

With these publications Glucksmann, as a critic of Marxism,  became, along with Bernard-Henri LĂ©vy, an ubiquitous public figure as one of the late 1970s group of ‘anti-totalitarian’ publicists, promoted as the Nouveaux philosophes.  They extended their attacks from the Gulag to French politics. Nouveaux philosophes were active, as part of a wider “anti-totalitarian front”. They warned of the threat of the French Communist Party (Parti communiste français (PCF)),  coming to power as part of the left coalition,  the Union de la gauche – 1972 – 1977.  Glucksmann’s anti-left fervour did not quickly die down. In 1981 he still feared a possible Communist influence on the Parti Socialiste and backed the independent liberal rightist candidate  Marie-France Garaud against François Mitterrand in the 1981 Presidential election. She received 1,33 % of the vote. Mitterrand’s first government (1981 – 1984), headed by Socialist Prime Minister Pierre Mauroy, drew on 4 Communist Ministers. Not many noticed the first signs of the Gulag.

Subsequent books failed to have the same resonance.  They include Descartes c’est la France (1987), an essay on the Cartesian influence on French thought and culture,  Cynisme et passion (1999), a free-ranging discussion of political feeling in democratic politics,  Le Discours de la haine (2004), which took up, war, terrorism, religion, and ethnic conflict. More books, collections of journalism, and polemics, and earnest appeals to those in the ÉlysĂ©e followed.

In 1986 Guy Hocquenghen placed Glucksmann amongst a list of “renegades” from the left, above all ex-Maoists..He noted, Ma gĂ©nĂ©ration n’a connu qu’un seul type d’intello : l’intello flatteur du Prince.” My generation has known only one type of intellectual: the Price’s toady.” (Lettre ouverte Ă  ceux qui sont passĂ©s du col Mao au Rotary)

Glucksmann was indeed better known as a media-intellectual aspiring to political influence than a writer or a philosopher.

Perhaps one of Glucksman’s best known moments was in 1979, when with Jean-Paul Sartre et Raymond Aron he helped organised support for refugees,  the boat-people,  from Communist Vietnam. Known as  ‘Un bateau pour le Vietnam’ the centre-right president ValĂ©ry Giscard d’Estaing received their requests and acted upon them. 

By the 1980s Glucksmann became one of the best-known figures in the drive for “humanitarian interventions”.

Glucksmann supported military action by the West in Afghanistan and Iraq, and was highly critical of Russian foreign policy, supporting for example Chechen independence.

He, however, was against the Abkhazian and South Ossetian independence from Georgia, arguing that Georgia is essential to maintaining European Union “energy independence,” vis-a-vis Russia, through access to oil and gas reserves in the former Soviet republics: “If Tbilisi falls, there will be no way to get around Gazprom and guarantee autonomous access to the gas and petroleum wealth of Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan, and Kazakhstan” . As proof of Russia’s plans to use energy blackmail, Glucksmann referenced a biting anti-Gazprom satirical song performed at the annual satirical award show “Silver Rubber Boot”, which made jokes like: If the Eurovision Song Contest denies victory to Russia again, we are going to drive to their concert and block their gas with our bodies!. Glucksmann described this song as proof that the Russian people want to cut off gas to Ukraine and Europe. He wrote: Consider a popular song performed by a military choir in Moscow. Its chorus depicts the “radiant future” that Gazprom is preparing: “Europe has a problem with us? We will cut off its gas… The Russian public loves the song.”


Glucksmann’s son, RaphaĂ«l Glucksmann is married to Eka Zguladze, is a Georgian and Ukrainian government official, currently serving as First Deputy Minister of Internal Affairs of Ukraine, the position she assumed on 17 December 2014. She had served as Georgia’s First Deputy Minister of Internal Affairs from 2006 to 2012 and Acting Minister of Internal Affairs in 2012.

In 2007 Glucksman supported Nicolas Sarkozy’s Presidential candidature. In Pourquoi je choisis Nicolas Sarkozy (2007), he cited the candidate’s backing for the Chechens and declared that Sarkozy represented the France of the “heart” (cƓur).

He fell out with Sarkozy over the President’s apparently insufficient opposition to Russia’s President Poutin.

We dedicate this video to the memory of André Glucksmann.

Written by Andrew Coates

November 10, 2015 at 1:00 pm

A State Jew? LĂ©on Blum – David A. Bell on LĂ©on Blum: Prime Minister, Socialist, Zionist by Pierre Birnbaum.

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Blum: a Generous Humanist Socialist, not a “State Jew”.

A State Jew. David A. Bell. Review of LĂ©on Blum: Prime Minister, Socialist, Zionist by Pierre Birnbaum, translated by Arthur Goldhammer.

London Review of Books.

Thanks Jim D.

Bell begins  his review with this, which should give some pause for reflection,

The newspaper Action française habitually referred to LĂ©on Blum, France’s Socialist leader, as the ‘warlike Hebrew’ and the ‘circumcised Narbonnais’ (he represented a constituency in Narbonne). On 13 February 1936, Blum was being driven away from the National Assembly when he encountered a group of ultra-right-wing militants who had gathered at the intersection of the rue de l’UniversitĂ© and the boulevard Saint-Germain for the funeral procession of Jacques Bainville, one of the founders of Action française, a reactionary political movement as well as a newspaper. Glimpsing Blum through the car windows, the militants began shouting: ‘Kill Blum!’, ‘Shoot Blum!’ They forced his car to stop and began rocking it back and forth. Blum’s friend Germaine Monnet, sitting with him in the back, tried to shield him with her body. Her husband, Georges, who had been driving, ran to look for police. But one of the militants managed to tear a fender off the car, used it to smash the rear window, and then beat Blum repeatedly over the head. Only the arrival of two policemen saved his life. They dragged him to a nearby building, where the concierge gave him first aid. The next day pictures of Blum, his head heavily bandaged, appeared in newspapers around the world.

We halt there.

To internationalist socialists Blum is above all known not for his Jewish identity – despite the book – but for his socialist humanist republicanism.

Blum defended French democratic republicanism, from the Dreyfus affair onwards. He was profoundly affected by the “synthesis” of socialism, including the Marxist view of class struggle, with democratic republicanism, that marked the life and work of one of our greatest martyrs, Jean JaurĂšs, assassinated in 1914 by a sympathiser of the far-right,  for his opposition to the outbreak of the Great War. Blum did not, however, play a part in the anti-War left.

That is the context in which we would take the shouts of “kill Blum”.  Political, not ethnic.

Blum was a leading figure amongst the minority of the French Socialists, the SFIO (Section Française de l’Internationale OuvriĂšre), who opposed what became in the 1920s the French Communist Party, the PCF. He was one of those who opposed affiliating the party to the Third International at the CongrĂšs de Tours (SFIO).

Speech at the Socialist Party Congress at Tours, 27 December 1920 (best known under its French title, background Pour La Veille Maison, Text).

This is the crucial objection from the ‘reformist’ (but at this point, still Marxist) democratic socialists to the Third International – the Leninist one.

You are right to declare that the whole party press, central or local, should be in the hands of pure communists and pure communist doctrine. You are certainly right to submit the works published by the Party to a kind of censorship. All that is logical. You want an entirely homogeneous party, a party in which there is no longer free thought, no longer different tendencies: you are therefore right to act as you have done. This results – I am going to prove it to you – from your revolutionary conception itself. But you will understand that envisioning that situation, considering it, making the comparison of what will be tomorrow with what was yesterday, we all had the same reaction of fright, of recoil, and that we said: is that the Party that we have known? No! The party that we knew was the appeal to all workers, while the one they want to found is the creation of little disciplined vanguards, homogeneous, subjected to a strict structure of command – their numbers scarcely matter, you will find that in the theses – but all kept under control, and ready for prompt and decisive action. Well, in that respect as in the others, we remain of the Party as it was yesterday, and we do not accept the new party that they want to make.

To show how radical Blum was at this point, this is how he defended the dictatorship of the proletariat,

Dictatorship exercised by the Party, yes, but by a Party organized like ours, and not like yours. Dictatorship exercised by a Party based on the popular will and popular liberty, on the will of the masses, in sum, an impersonal dictatorship of the proletariat. But not a dictatorship exercised by a centralized party, where all authority rises from one level to the next and ends up by being concentrated in the hands of a secret Committee. … Just as the dictatorship should be impersonal, it should be, we hold, temporary, provisional. … But if, on the contrary, one sees the conquest of power as a goal, if one imagines (in opposition to the whole Marxist conception of history) that it is the only method for preparing that transformation, that neither capitalist evolution nor our own work of propaganda could have any effect, if as a result too wide a gap and an almost infinite period of time must be inserted between taking power as the precondition, and revolutionary transformation as the goal, then we cease to be in agreement.

Bear this in mind: these words are memorised almost by heart by many on the left.

The minority, for which Blum spoke, opposed to the Third International, retained the name, French Section of the Workers’ International. This was significant: it referred to a claim to continue the traditions of the Second International, of Marxist, if moderate and reformist,  inspiration.

Blum offered social reform on this foundation. He led, during the Front Populaire (1936 -38)  a government (as President du conseil) of socialists and radical-socialists, backed by communists from the ‘outside’ and a vast movement of factory occupations and protests,  to implement some of them, on paid holidays, bargaining rights limiting the working week. He had great limitations – one that cannot be ignored is that his government did not give women the right to vote – and his role in not effectively helping the Spanish Republic remains a matter of controversy to this day. Indeed the absence of feminism – as well as a rigorous anti-colonialism (the FP “dissolved” the North African, l’Étoile nord-africaine of Messali Hadj –  in the Front Populaire, is something which should cause a great deal of critical investigation.

The review in the LLB is about a book, and this is what he has to say specifically about it:

Birnbaum, a well-known historian and sociologist of French Jewry, has written a short biography that focuses on Blum’s identity as a Jew, as the series requires. It cannot substitute for the more substantial studies by Joel Colton, Ilan Greilsammer and Serge Berstein, but it’s lively, witty and draws effectively on Blum’s massive and eloquent correspondence. Arthur Goldhammer has, as usual, produced a lucid, engaging English text. Birnbaum seems to have written the book in some haste: he repeats facts and quotations, and makes a few historical slips – France was not a ‘largely peasant nation’ in 1936; Hitler did not annex the Sudetenland in the summer of 1938, before the Munich Agreement. The chapters proceed thematically, highlighting Blum the writer, Blum the socialist, Blum the lawyer, Blum the Zionist and so forth, which produces occasional confusion as Birnbaum leaps backwards and forwards in time. But overall, the book offers a knowledgeable and attractive portrait. If there is a serious criticism to be levelled at it, it doesn’t concern the portrait itself, so much as the way Birnbaum draws on it to make a broader argument about French Jewish identity.

But there are issues of much wider importance in that broader argument which do not depend on discussing that text and its content.

Bell makes two points about his legacy as described in Birnbaum’s book,

As Birnbaum himself repeatedly notes, despite his ‘quintessential’ Frenchness, Blum always expressed pride in his Jewish heritage, often in the highly racialised language of the day. ‘My Semite blood,’ he wrote as a young man, ‘has been preserved in its pure state. Honour me by acknowledging that it flows unmixed in my veins and that I am the untainted descendant of an unpolluted race.’ While he could speak disparagingly of Jewish ritual, he recognised and respected a Jewish ethical tradition. In 1899, in the midst of the Dreyfus Affair, he insisted that ‘the Jew’s religion is justice. His Messiah is nothing other than a symbol of Eternal Justice.’ He went on to identify ‘the spirit of socialism’ with ‘the ancient spirit of the race’ and to comment: ‘It was not a lapse on the part of Providence that Marx and Lassalle were Jews.’ Blum, in short, thought the Jews could change the French Republic for the better by drawing on their own traditions to push it towards socialism.

This attempt to bring up Blum’s references to his Jewish background, even in terms more democratic than Disraeli’s novels, voiced above all by the character Sidonia, owes more to pre-1930s racial romanticism to racialism.

Does this prove Bell’s point that, “The republican model allows strikingly little space for what immigrant communities can contribute to a nation. Visitors to France can see at a glance just how much immigrants have brought to its music, literature, sport and even cuisine. But the republican model treats difference primarily as a threat to be exorcised in the name of an unbending, anachronistic ideal of civic equality. Even in the heyday of the Third Republic, many committed republicans recognised that different ethnic and religious groups could strengthen the republic.”

Yes it does: secularism is freedom for difference, not the imposition of homogeneity.

Blum could be rightly proud of his cultural heritage,as indeed in a ‘globalised’ world of migration many other people from different backgrounds should be, and are, within the democratic framework of secular equality.

There is little doubt that the spirit of nit-picking secularism can be as unable to deal with these backgrounds, as say, state multiculturalism, which treats ‘diversity’ as if this were a value in itself. If the first tends to be hyper-sensitive to, say, reactionary  Islamic dress codes, the second abandons the issue entirely.

But there are far deeper problems than superficial insistence on  Laïcité

The first is ‘Sovereigntist’ efforts to claim secularist universalism for French particularism. This is the rule amongst the supporters of the far-right Front National, historians and writers like Éric Zemmour bemoaning France’s ‘decline’ , though we should underline, not the novelist Houellebecq, who expresses disdain for things, not hate). There are those who call for all Muslims to be expelled from Europe, those  to those milder nationalists of right and left who commemorate “le pays et les morts” (and not anybody else – a return to the culturalist (not to say, racial)  themes of Action française to Maurice BarrĂšs and to Charles Maurras. This is indeed “communalism”.

It is the major threat to French republicanism.

There is also the issue of anti-Semitism in France, woven into another kind of ‘communitarianism’. Alain Soral, his close friend the comedian DieudonnĂ©, popular amongst young people from the banlieue and the more refined inheritors of the Marrausian tradition, the partisans of the  IndigĂšnes de la RĂ©publique, (including those associated in the English speaking world) rant at thephilosĂ©mitisme d’Etat” in France.

It takes all the effort of refined ‘discursive analysis’ from academics to ignore that at its heart this is a current  which indulges in Jew baiting. The mind-set of these people was classically described by Sartre, “« Si le juif n’existait pas, l’antisĂ©mite l’inventerait.» (RĂ©flexions sur la question juive 1946). They indeed spent an enormous amount of time ‘inventing’ the presence of Jews in politics, and giving them influence ‘behind the scenes’.

In words which might have been designed to pander to the world-view of the  IndigÚnes, Bell cites Léon Blum: Prime Minister, Socialist, Zionist,

Blum ‘the first of a new type of state Jew interested in giving greater weight to democratic sentiment within the framework of a socialist project.’ One wonders, though, what Birnbaum might say about a French Muslim politician today justifying an ideological position by reference to Muslim tradition and ethics (or sharia law). Would he have quite so favourable an  opinion? Or might he see the move as a ‘communitarian’ threat to ‘the unifying logic of the nation’ and to ‘French exceptionalism’? It is well past time to recognise that a nation can have many different unifying logics, and that a political model forged under the Third Republic fits the France of the Fifth Republic very badly.

Blum celebrated his Jewish heritage. It is hardly a secret. Nor is his post-war Zionism, or support for Israel, a stand shared in the immediate aftermath of the conflict by the USSR.

But did he become a  man of the  ‘state’ because he was a ‘Jew’, and does this aspect of his person matter politically – that is in terms of the state?

For us LĂ©on Blum is only one of the sources of a generous humanist secularism, but a significant one. That he did not tackle issues like feminism, anti-colonialism, and a host of other issues, goes without saying. But it would be a great shame if his legacy was reduced to being a “State Jew”.

And it could equally be said that republican secularism has many strands, that it is being transformed by the views of secularists from North Africa, the threat of the Islamist genociders of Deash, the mounting oppression in Erdogan’s Turkey, backed by his Islamist AKP, and – no doubt – Israel’s evident failings. Every one of these cases shows that religious law is not any part of a “tradition” that socialists – believers in equality – would recognise.

The logic at work here binds us to our French sisters and brothers, binds internationalists across the globe, in the way that the Je Suis Charlie moment briefly melded our hearts and minds together.

That is perhaps the real ‘end’ of all exceptionalisms.

French Ruling Socialists Hit New Low with “Referendum” on Regional Election Left Unity.

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Des militants socialistes ont installé une urne pour solliciter le vote des passants sur le marché Maubert dans le cadre du référendum sur l'unité de la gauche à Paris le 17 octobre 2015.

French Socialists Resort to Stunts.

The French left is not in good condition.

An opinion poll (12th of October gives the following for the November regional elections,

Nicolas Sarkozy’s party (Les RĂ©publicain, LR), 31%  the Front National (28%), Parti Socialiste (23%).  Front de gauche (5%), les listes EEVL (3%), les listes d’alliance FG/EELV (joint Front de Gauche and Greens, 3%), various far-left confetti (3%), Debout la France, right-wing ‘Sovereigntists’ (3%). 21%  of those polled have yet to give their voting intention.

According to the poll the abstention rate could be as high as 55%.

Le Parti socialiste revendique 250 000 votants à son référendum

This ‘referendum’ – open to all those who sign up a declaration that they back the values of the left, of the ecologists and of the republic  – was held, from Friday to Sunday  in 2 500  polling stations organised by the Parti Socialiste and one could also vote on-line.

Why was it held?

The organisers state,

Face aux divisions, il faut dĂ©fendre l’union car ce sont les rĂ©gions qui agissent pour votre quotidien. Oui, pendant ces 3 jours, chaque voix compte pour pousser Ă  l’unitĂ© de la gauche et des Ă©cologistes !

Faced with divisions, we have to defend unity, because in the regions this is a matter of your day-to-day life. Yes, during these 3 days, every vote counts to push forward the unity of the left and the ecologists.

The reason:

In certain regions the French Greens (Europe Écologie – Les Verts, EELV) have preferred to stand candidates on joint lists with the Front de gauche, with both running independently of the Parti socialiste. This is, for example, the case in Nord-Pas-de-Calais-Picardie,  Provence-Alpes-CĂŽte d’Azur, amongst others.

The Question was this,

« Face Ă  la droite et l’extrĂȘme droite, souhaitez-vous l’unitĂ© de la gauche et des Ă©cologistes aux Ă©lections rĂ©gionales ? »

Faced with the Right and the Extreme-Right, do you want the unity of the left and the ecologists in the regional elections?

51 327 people voted, 135 027  by ballot box and 116 300  on the Net.

The Socialist Party chief, Jean-Christophe CambadĂ©lis (a former ‘Lambertist’ Trotskyist back in the dawn of time), whose mad-cap idea this was, announced, “C’est un succĂšs, c’est le top, pas le flop !

Well, there are allegations of vote-rigging, and other irregularities, but given the whole masquerade is a joke we will let that pass.

Though for those who want to see how the clowning trick has been received on the left, this is a response  Référendum Cambadélis : mi-escroquerie, mi-pitrerie. Guillaume Liégard. Technical faults of this farce: Référendum PS : « Soit ils ont merdé, soit ils affaiblissent la démocratie »

The French Socialist Party is losing members hand over fist.

In May this year it had 131 000 card-holders against 173 486 in 2012 at the CongrÚs de Toulouse. That is a loss of  25%. RMC

Viewed over a longer period this decline is even more serious:

This went from 256 000 in  2007 to 131 000 today, that is 50 %. le Monde.

Areas of the country, such as the North, have been particularly affected by the drop in activism and membership, leading to the observation that the historic base of French socialism in this once industrial and mining region, is evaporating – to the advantage of the Front National.

Another Parti Socialiste manoeuvre, the creation of a satellite ‘green’ party, this weekend (Geddit?) Le Front dĂ©mocrates et Ecologistes!  l’UDE, is unlikely to transform the situation.

That would require a balance-sheet of President Hollande’s policies and, more specifically, his present Prime Minister, Manuel Valls – one of Tony Blair’s last admirers in Europe – and his failure to connect with the left and labour movement.

Showing why important sections of the French Green party choose to align with the Front de Gauche rather than the socialists is fairly simple: they neither support Valls’ social and economic policies, nor those of his (even more right-wing) Emmanuel Macron.

La loi Macron – a set of 308 measures, designed to increase “competitivity” attack “corporatism” – that liberalising measures for the economy centred around getting rid of ‘red tape’ (albour protection to start with) is a good place to start if the PS wants seriously to look into its electoral difficulties. (Ce que contient (dĂ©sormais) la loi Macron)

As in this:  Philippe Martinez (head of the left union federation, the CGT) « Il est temps d’arrĂȘter de faire plaisir au patronat » It’s time to stop pleasing the bosses.

Then, we would move onto the growth of nationalist anti-European, “sovereigntist” ideas which have even had an echo on the left, old fashioned la terre et les morts racism against migrants, refugees and straightforward racism; against North Africans, Africans, Jews, and the “anti-France”.

In conclusion…

I have been asked to write on French left politics a number of times in the last few months.

My reply: it’s too bloody depressing…

Oh and I almost forget the ‘referendum’ results.

First estimates:  89% voted “oui” and backed the PS.


Grace Lee Boggs has passed away: remembering her links with Socialisme ou Barbarie.

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Grace Lee Boggs, Legendary Activist, Dies At 100.

Huffington Post.

Grace Lee Boggs, the child of Chinese immigrants who spent her life actively supporting causes ranging from civil rights and labor to the Black Power and feminist movements, has died. She was 100.

Boggs died Monday morning, a spokeswoman for the Detroit-based Boggs Center confirmed, saying she went “peacefully in her sleep at her home on Field Street in Detroit.”

“Grace died as she lived surrounded by books, politics, people and ideas,” Alice Jennings and Shea Howell, two of Boggs’ trustees, said in a statement.

President Barack Obama — who himself was a community organizer in Chicago in the ‘80s — said he and the first lady were “saddened” to hear of Boggs’ death.“Grace dedicated her life to serving and advocating for the rights of others — from her community activism in Detroit, to her leadership in the civil rights movement, to her ideas that challenged us all to lead meaningful lives,” Obama said in a statement.

Howell, who has known Boggs for more than 40 years and co-founded the Boggs Center, said the centenarian activist spent the entirety of her life pushing people to ask hard questions and challenge the status quo.

Howell pointed to an anecdote Boggs wrote in her 1998 autobiography, Living for Change. “When she was born above her father’s restaurant and cried, the workers in the restaurant said, ‘You should put her on the hillside. She’s just a girl — and she cries too much,’” Howell told The Huffington Post. “[Grace] said she knew from the beginning that the world needed to change.”

Facing significant barriers in the academic world in the 1940s, she took a job at low wages at the University of Chicago Philosophy Library. As a result of their activism on tenants’ rights, she joined the far left Workers Party, known for its Third Camp position regarding the Soviet Union which it saw as bureaucratic collectivist. At this point, she began the trajectory that she would follow for the rest of her life: a focus on struggles in the African-American community.[10]

She met C.L.R. James during a speaking engagement in Chicago and moved to New York. She met many activists and cultural figures such as Richard Wright and Katharine Dunham. She also translated into English many of the essays in Karl Marx‘s Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts of 1844 for the first time. She soon joined the Johnson-Forest tendency led by James, Raya Dunayevskaya and Lee. They focused more centrally on marginalized groups such as women, people of color and youth as well as breaking with the notion of the vanguard party. While originally operating as a tendency of the Workers Party, they briefly rejoined the Socialist Workers Party before leaving the Trotskyist left entirely. The Johnson-Forest tendency also characterized the USSR as State Capitalist. She wrote for the Johnson-Forest tendency under the party pseudonym Ria Stone. She married African American auto worker and political activist James Boggs in 1953 with whom she politically collaborated for decades and moved to Detroit in the same year. Detroit would be the focus of her activism for the rest of her life.

When C.L.R. James and Raya Dunayevskaya split in the mid-1950s into Correspondence Publishing Committee led by James and News and Letters led by Dunayevskaya, Grace and James supported Correspondence Publishing Committee that James tried to advise while in exile in Britain. In 1962 the Boggses broke with James and continued Correspondence Publishing Committee along with Lyman Paine andFreddy Paine, while James’ supporters, such as Martin Glaberman, continued on as a new if short-lived organization, Facing Reality. The ideas that formed the basis for the 1962 split can be seen as reflected in James’ book, The American Revolution: Pages from a Black Worker’s Notebook. Grace unsuccessfully attempted to convince Malcolm X to run for the United States Senate in 1964. In these years, Boggs wrote a number of books, including Revolution and Evolution in the Twentieth Century with her husband and focused on community activism in Detroit where she became a widely known activist.


It was as part of the Johnson-Forest tendency that Grace Lee Boggs developed links with the French group Socialisme ou Barbarie (SouB) best known for the figures of Cornelius Castoriadis and Claude Lefort. Their critical views on the Soviet Union, which the French theorists  called bureaucratic capitalism, and the Americans some form of state capitalism, were in reality not too far apart when it came to the political conclusions they reached.  Both drew a line at any form of support, or ‘defence’, of the USSR.  Both were opposed to Orthodox Communist parties, which SouB tended to consider as arms of the Kremlin.

Their joint concern with power relations inside enterprises, the division between those giving Orders and those carrying them out, and rebellions – often outside, and opposed to, established trade unions – against this, were common themes.  Ties continued through the Correspondence group after its split with Raya Dunayevskaya  – SouB did not have a high opinion of  her exaggerated Hegelian Marxism.

The review that SouB published, Socialisme ou Barbarie,  included the both parts of the American Worker in its issues 1- 8 (1949 – 1951) – That is from   GUILLAUME, Ph.: L’ouvrier amĂ©ricain par Paul Romano 1:78 ROMANO, Paul: L’ouvrier amĂ©ricain (I) (traduit de l’amĂ©ricain) 1:78-89 = The American Worker  STONE, R.: La reconstruction de la sociĂ©tĂ© (II) 8:50-72 = The American Worker. )

The American Worker” was originally published in 1947 by the Johnson-Forest tendency. It was divided into two parts. The first part “Life in the Factory”, was written by Paul Romano, a young worker in one of General Motors’ car plants. It describes the everyday lives of the workers, their (often contradictory) attitudes towards the work, the company, unions, politics, and each other. Part 2 “The Reconstruction of Society” was written by Grace Lee Boggs (pen name Ria Stone).

The text had a significant influence on SouB – described in detail in  Looking for the Proletariat Socialisme ou Barbarie and the Problem of Worker Writing. (2014) Stephen Hastings King.

A theme was the direct recording of what workers experienced in their daily lives and in their confrontations with bureaucrats of all stripes, from bosses, managers, foremen, unions and political parties of the left.

As Floriana Ferro notes,

The fifth chapter of the book shows how the group, through the newspaper Tribune OuvriĂšre, tries to give a voice to the collective at the factory of Renault Billancourt, whose political context is clearly defined in the fourth chapter. Hastings-King points out similarities and differences with another worker newspaper, the Detroit-based Correspondence project. After that, the author writes about Tribune OuvriĂšre and the role that Socialisme ou Barbarie plays in the process of its production, printing, and distribution.

Castoriadis’ indefatigable English translator, David Ames Curtis has also observed that his phrase “reconstruction of society” was borrowed from Grace Lee Boggs. He continues,

Ria Stone (Grace Lee Boggs), “The Reconstruction of Society,” part two of Paul Romano and Ria Stone, The American Worker (Detroit: Bewick Editions, 1972; originally published as a pamphlet in 1947 by the Johnson-Forest Tendency of C. L. R. James and Raya Dunayevskaya—which later became the Correspondence group—the first part of this book was translated for the first eight issues of Socialisme ou Barbarie). Grace Lee Boggs seems to have had a considerable influence on Castoriadis’s positive attitude toward the burgeoning “woman question” in the early Sixties; some her ideas can also be seen to be expressed in the key 1962 internal Socialisme ou Barbarie documents known as “For a New Orientation” (Political and Social Writings, trans. and ed. David Ames Curtis, 3 vols. [Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1988, 1993], vol. 3, pp. 9-26.)

Here are some more connections: Facing reality – CLR James and Grace Lee Boggs.

Facing reality - CLR James and Grace Lee Boggs

François Dosse‘s, Castoriadis, une vie ( 2014) also discusses Grace Lee Boggs’ relations with Socialisme ou Barbarie.

She stayed for 6 months in Paris in 1948 for the 2nd World Congress of the 4th International – as a representative of the Johnson-Forest tendency, .

During that period she met Castoriadis. He credited her with “lifting him out of his European provincialism” and playing a decisive role in his intellectual development. (Pages 111 – 112)

Thanks to Shiraz for signaling this loss.

The Front National Appeals to French Left Intellectuals.

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FN Appeals to Left Sovereigntist Intellectuals.

At the end of September the Front National launched an appeal to “left-wing intellectuals” meeting at the MutualitĂ© (home of large public meetings, roughly a version as the Friends Meeting House in London) held by the weekly, Marianne. Around the philosopher Michel Onfray, RĂ©gis Debray, Alain Finkielkraut, Jean-François Kahn Jean-Pierre ChevĂšnement are to speak.

Under the name of Bertrand Dutheil de La RochĂšre, the Front National launched, on the 24th of September,  an appeal to these people (More details of the background: Le FN lance un appel Ă  “Michel Onfray et ses soutiens”)

Your meeting of 20 October 2015 could be more than an amiable and friendly get together. It could become one of those crucial dates in the history of France. It could be the prelude to the union of the people of France. It is up to you to decide to open an inclusive  discussion between all patriots, all Republicans, all sovereignists. Of course, the self-righteous will deliver anathemas and excommunications. It will be for us to despise the prohibitions laid down by the media-political caste.

The basis of this appeal is on “sovereignty” – that is the defence of the French nation’s power, through its own political institutions to make ‘its’ own decisions.

On this ground there should be, the FN asserts, some degree of common thinking.

The call is for a “une discussion entre tous les patriotes, tous les rĂ©publicains, tous les souverainistes, sans exclusive.”

Open debate between all patriots, all republicans, all sovereigntists, with no exclusions.


As La RochĂšre says

Vous dĂ©noncerez la trahison de tous ces partis qui se rĂ©clament encore de la gauche. Ils ont choisi la mondialisation ultra libĂ©rale au nom de l’Europe. Ils confondent dĂ©sormais l’internationalisme avec les migrations massives qui pĂšsent sur les salaires et qui dĂ©mantĂšlent la protection sociale. Ils ont oubliĂ© d’oĂč vient l’insulte « jaune » que profĂ©raient autrefois les syndicalistes ouvriers contre les briseurs de grĂšve.

You will denounce the treason of the parties who still claim to be on the left. They have chosen ultra-liberal globalisation in the name of Europe. They have confused internationalism with the massive migrations which weigh on the wage earners and which erode social legislation. They forget the origin of the insult “jaune” (yellow) which trade unions used to throw at strike breakers.

I am at a loss here.

One theory is that Jaune comes from a strike of  1899 at  Montceau-les-Mines (SaÎne-et-Loire)  used against a small group of miners, who refused to join in. The strikers smashed the windows of their meeting place, le Café de la mairie. The windows were replaced with yellow paper. Another theory is that comes from the dye colour (sulfur) of strike breakers at another disputes in 1970.

I would however bet, with the degree of possibility bordering on certainty,  that the Front National meant……Chinese…..

There has been a great deal of debate about this appeal.

Those addressed have rejected the idea that they should engage actively with the FN.

Nevertheless it’s not hard to see that RĂ©gis Debray’s essay Éloge des frontiĂšres (2011), to cite one example (his writings on the Nation go back to the 1980s), indicates at least some meeting points on nationalism and the fear of cosmopolitanism and not only globalisation. Alain Finkielkraut signed the petition this year Touche pas Ă  mon Ă©glise a protest against turning churches into Mosques, in actual fact a phenomenon confined to a handful of buildings  – with strong echoes of Maurice BarrĂšs’s defence of “la terre et les morts.” ChevĂšnement has developed a patriotism and a paranoia about the Euro. He has come a long away (as has Debray) from his left-wing days in the 1970s. Jean-François Kahn  who founded Marianne has preferred to accuse the liberal supporters of globalisation ignoring the social issues that have given rise to the FN, and distance himself from any complicity with either the FN (Qui fait le jeu du Front national ?) In short, Kahn would say that excluding the far-right from the national debate is not the way to deal with Marine Le Pen……

Michel Onfray – a home-spun philosopher, known in the anglophone world as an atheist, a hedonist (in the classical sense) but also a libertarian leftist, if not anarchist – has given a greater variety of contradictory responses than Bernard Henri-LĂ©vy on a bad day.


(Hat-tip: Fabienne)

Having read Onfray’s TraitĂ© d’AthĂ©ologie  (2005), which offers a clear attack on the use of religion in politics, from Catholicism to Islamism,  I can only contrast it with the utter confusion of his more recent tomes assembled under the name of La contre histoire de la philosophie (2006 onwards), which barely bear skimming.

The latest in the Onfray saga is in the Nouvel Observateur this week:  Onfray : “Mon problĂšme, c’est ceux qui rendent Marine Le Pen possible

Last week a local councillor, François Meunier, Antony (Hauts-de-Seine) left the Front de Gauche and joined the Front National.

Of more importance was the turn in August of the economist, Jacques Sapir, from the Front de gauche to the Front National. Sapir is a sovereigntist. He has called for left-right unity around opposition to the Euro – a call perhaps not without echoes in the United Kingdom (Quand un Ă©conomiste souverainiste “de gauche” drague le Front National.)

It is important to underline that it is this issue of the ‘Nation’ as the ground of the Republic which acts as a meeting point between ‘left’ and far-Right. That is not ‘migration’ as such, not race, and certainly not LaĂŻcitĂ©.

On the racial  issue a more traditional alignment between Right and Extreme-Right has taken place in the last week when one of Sarkozy’s politicians, Nadine Morano, was removed from a regional election for asserting that France is a country of the “white race”.

Perhaps most significant is the way the Front National has entered the intellectual arena.

This was confirmed a couple days in way that drew the attention of the Financial Times.

France’s National Front (FN), long a pariah on leading university campuses, has secured the right to create a political group at the Paris Institute of Political Studies (Sciences Po), underlining the resurgent far-right party’s willingness to enter the circles of the French elite.

The newly formed group quickly obtained the 120 votes required to gain validation from the prestigious institute during a four-day “recognition” process of all student associations.

It will co-exist with other political groups, including the Socialist party, the centre-right Republicans party and the far-left Front de Gauche.

“The National Front has made a deafening entry at Sciences Po,” tweeted Marine Le Pen, the party’s leader.

The creation of an FN-linked organisation at Sciences Po, a school whose students traditionally lean to the left and whose alumni include the last five French presidents, reflects Ms Le Pen’s desire to become more mainstream. By doing so, she is breaking from her father and FN founder Jean-Marie Le Pen, who positioned the party as an outsider on the fringes of French politics.


Written by Andrew Coates

October 4, 2015 at 11:03 am

Jeremy Corbyn at Burston Rally Calls for Labour to Open up Policy Making to Members.

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Burston Strike Rally.

From SJ Burston Facebook Page

As many as 3000 people have attended the annual Burston Strike Rally in Norfolk – among them Labour leadership contender Jeremy Corbyn.

The rally is held every year to celebrate the longest strike in history which happened in 1914. Then schoolchildren ‘went on strike’ to support their sacked teachers. The strike lasted 25 years. ITN.

Clive Lewis, elected this year as Labour MP for South Norwich, and one of the original Parliamentary backers of Jeremy Corbyn’s bit for leadership, spoke. He called for not let up in our efforts to get Corbyn elected, and the importance of the campaign to bring Labour in line with the mood for changed politics.

Jeremy addressed the rapt crowd. He talked of the need to build on the labour movement’s achievements, of the debt we owe to those who fought for the NHS, for the Welfare State, for legislation like equal pay, health and safety and the human rights act.

The Labour governments of the 1990s had helped with initiatives like Sure Start and more resources for public services. But their achievements had been built on sand: they had accepted the free-market consensus laid down in the Thatcher years.

Unable to confront directly the Conservatories’ call for more austerity, they had not challenged it. Instead of attacking the financial causes of the crisis, the banks, they had accepted the need for cuts, if reluctantly.

Labour had to break with austerity. It had to oppose welfare ‘reform’, from the sanction system to the assault on disabled people’s benefits. It to start backing trade unions and defnding the right to organise, to belong to a union and to strike.

Corbyn outlined plans for a National Investment bank as a pillar of his programme to rid the public sphere of the dead hand of PFI.

One theme of Corbyn’s speech is worth underlining.

He called for opening up Labour’s policy process to the party membership.

This is a subject he frequently focuses on.

I don’t think we can go on having policy made by the leader, shadow cabinet, or parliamentary Labour party. It’s got to go much wider. Party members need to be more enfranchised. Whoever is elected will have a mandate from a large membership.


Those familiar with the present Labour policy process, culminating in the National Policy Forums, will know that it is hard, if not impossible, to influence the Parliamentary leadership’s decisions.

This is how the way they make policy began (Tribune. January 1995. Andrew Coates – ironically encouraged to write this by Peter Hain).

January 1995

The Tendance, who is well acquainted with people who have participated at every stage of the Forum process (and was himself there when it was set up), can give chapter and verse on how the Leader, his office,  and his communications staff have ignored well-thought out proposals on everything from Planning Legislation to Welfare.

It is ironic that it is the very system of rule by the favoured few which introduced the present open election process for the Labour leader.

The right-wing of the party under Blair – the modernisers – have long had the ambition to make Labour into a version of the US Democratic Party.  But it was not just the ingrained cultural cringe of the British political scene towards the US that was the immediate stimulus.

They were impressed by the following changes on European left (the Italian former Communists’ beat them to the change over to ‘Democrats’).

They gained the ear of the party Leader……

Italy 2007:

On 14 October 2007, voters of the Democratic Party (Partito Democratico) were called to choose the party leader among a list of six, their representatives to the Constituent Assembly and the local leaders. The primary was a success, involving more than 3,500,000 people across Italy, and gave to the winner Walter Veltroni momentum in a difficult period for the government and the centre-left coalition. Wikipedia.

This system continues.

Progress published an admiring article in April 2013, by Shamik Das:

The Partito Democratico was the only party to organise primaries both for its leader and its parliamentary candidates, and was the only party without the leader’s name on the ballot paper.

During the leadership primaries, both the eventual winner, Pier Luigi Bersani, and his principal challenger, Matteo Renzi, utilised the web, with the party gaining a strategic advantage. Between June and December 2012, it was the only political party with an online presence, dominating cyberspace – and it is a presence that continues to grow and deliver.

The PD’s primaries’ database stands at an impressive three million contacts (out of an electorate of about 50 million, with turnout  at 75 per cent), a small army the party re-energised and mobilised in the general election. Detailed analysis of the database was undertaken, from people’s professions to backgrounds, knowing where to go, what to ask of them, and how many voters each can contact in turn. Many of these three million people (in a democracy of a similar scale to our own) are recently engaged and spreading the message ever further. Imagine such strength in the UK.

There is also this:

France 2011:

This was the first primary to be open to the general public. In order to participate to the open primary, voters had to meet the following conditions:

  • be registered in the French electoral lists before 31 December 2010 (or for French persons under 18: be 18 at the time of the 2012 presidential election, or be a member of Socialist Party (PS), Radical Party of the Left (PRG), Young Socialist Movement (MJS), or Young Radicals of the Left (JRG); foreigners will be able to vote if they are members of PS, PRG, MJS, or JRG);
  • pay a contribution of minimum €1;
  • sign a charter pledging to the values of the Left: “freedom, equality, fraternity, secularism, justice, solidarity and progress”.

The six candidates participated in three televised debates on 15 September, 28 September and 5 October 2011.

In the first round election day, around 2,700,000 voters cast their ballots: Hollande won 39 percent of the vote, followed by Aubry with 30 percent and Montebourg at 17 percent. Former presidential candidate Royal came in fourth place with 7 percent of the vote.[1]

Second round

On 9 October 2011, after the first results of the first round, Manuel Valls called his voters to cast their ballots in favor of François Hollande; on 10 and 12 October 2011, Jean-Michel Baylet and SégolÚne Royal respectively announced they would support François Hollande. On 14 October 2011, Arnaud Montebourg did not instruct his voters how to vote, although he explained he would personally cast his ballot for Hollande.[82]

François Hollande and Martine Aubry contested a runoff election on 16 October 2011, after a televised debate held on 12 October 2011. Almost 2,900,000 voters participated to the second round: François Hollande won the primary with around 57 percent of the vote, becoming the official candidate of the Socialist Party and its allies for the 2012 presidential election.

In Progress in 2013 Axel Lemarie lauded the French primaries,

n 2011 the French Socialist party embraced the principle of an ‘open primary’ to select its candidate for the presidential election of 2012. This first experiment was a success in terms of both mobilising supporters and gaining media coverage. All registered voters were given the chance to take part in the selection process. In fact, in order to participate voters needed simply to sign a charter pledging allegiance to the values of the left and to pay a symbolic contribution of at least €1; they did not need to be members of the Socialist party. For the first time in France, a presidential candidate was chosen by the general public through a unique democratic and participative process.

More than 9,000 polling stations were open for the first round of the primary both in France and across the world. To ensure maximum legitimacy, an oversight body, comprising a prominent lawyer, a law professor and a specialist in ethics, was charged with registering the candidates, monitoring the elections and announcing the final results. To be declared the winner, a candidate needed to receive more than 50 per cent of the total votes cast. If no candidate received this, a second round was to be organised between the two leading first-round candidates.

Over 2.5 million people voted in the first round and in the second this number rose to around three million. Moreover, the televised debate between the two second-round candidates was a huge success, attracting an audience of around six million viewers, energising the party and dominating political coverage.

Building on this success, the party organised another open primary process for the local elections next March. It was also deemed a success. For example, in Marseilles, 23,440 voters participated in the second round of the primary, which represents around a quarter of those who voted for the Socialist party  during the last local elections in 2008. And it showed how the open primary process can be full of surprises. In the Marseilles contest, former minister Marie-Arlette Carlotti, the favourite to win the primary, was eliminated after the first round.

Impressed by the evidence from Italy and France, and no doubt the silver tongues of the Progress wordsmiths,  Labour came round to adopting their own version of the’ primary’ (they failed to spot one small cloud on the horizon – in France, the left candidate came from nowhere to 17%).

Against the wishes of many in the party, and almost by stealth, the new election system was set up.

Whatever the final results we can imagine that Progress are already celebrating their achievement.