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

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

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

Marcel Cachin. (1)

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

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

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

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

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

From the Commune to the Parti Ouvrier.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 The SFIO.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Written by Andrew Coates

January 22, 2018 at 2:53 pm

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

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

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

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

Reformist Origins.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Le Cas Millerand.

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

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

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

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

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

Landmark.

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

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

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

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

Written by Andrew Coates

December 15, 2017 at 4:00 pm

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 How Many Divisions?

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

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

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

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

Betrayal? 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hamon: Green Party Campaign, Green Party Score.

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

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

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

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

Left Futures?

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

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

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

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Freedom, Democracy and Secularism.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Multiculturalism or anti-racism?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wikipedia.

Respect is an extreme example.

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

These are not just casual prejudices.

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

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

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

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

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

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

But….

There is the same shift from ethnicity to religion.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Independent anti-racism.

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

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

The second takes up the Ramadan case.

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

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

Written by Andrew Coates

November 12, 2017 at 1:44 pm

Jean-Luc Mélenchon and Le Parti communiste français (PCF), Skirmishes Continue.

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https://pbs.twimg.com/media/DJ_Jfk7XkAIo4QE.jpg:large

The traditional  Fête de L’Humam a vast popular event, 550, 000 strong,  organised around the left daily lHumanité, was by all accounts a great success.

But politics did not stop for the music and gastronomy.

Amongst the debates that took place the disputes between the  Parti communiste français (PCF) and La France insoumise (LFI), which claims to be leading opposition to the government of Emmanuel Macron.

A la Fête de « L’Humanité », le PCF et La France insoumise règlent leurs comptes

Pierre Laurent, the national secretary of the  PCF, made a number of critical comments in the direction of Jean-Luc Mélenchon, the leader of La France insoumise. He referred to the simplistic slogans of “« les sirènes dégagistes” , the sirens of “get out”!, away with the old guard,  launched by Emmanuel Macron, Marine Le Pen  and Jean-Luc Mélenchon during the Presidential elections.

Laurent defended his party’s decision to vote against Le Pen in the second round of the contest, in contrast to Mélenchon who refused to back the ‘republican front’ against the far-right.

Mélenchon was not present, he is on tour offering his opinions to the French colonial citizens of Martinique.

But some of his supporters, including the Deputy Eduard Coquerel, were displeased at any criticism of their Leader. Coquerel called Laurent’s speech “violent and contemptuous” and that he and his friends had not come to the Fete with this spirit in their hearts.

Laurent however intends to participate, with a PCF ”delegation’ at the ” Marche contre le coup d’Etat social ” organised by La France insoumise (LFI)   on the  23rd of  September. Despite this the Communist leader, while attacking the new President and his policies,   continues to question Mélenchon’s self-assigned role as the “Leading Opponent” (premier opposant) of Macron. (le Monde)

A further report on Laurent’s criticisms of  Mélenchon’s ‘solitary strategy’ here:  La guerre des étoiles à la fête de l’Huma  (Libération).

*******

One of the most recent critiques of La France insoumise and its’ populism’ come the libertarian left here:

Populisme ? « La recette de la France insoumise est usée » CORCUFF Philippe, GRAULE Pauline

In this interview Corcuff states that  Mélenchon’s rally uses the theorists of radical ‘left populism’, Ernesto Laclau and Chantal Mouffe  as a source of  “légitimité intellectuelle” to back up his claim to be the “leader” in the construction of the “People”.

 Classical Marxism rested on the basis of challenging people’s frustrations into a project of ending exploitation  through positive measures. LFI he notes, faces two  major pitfalls,   moblising resentment against the “oligarchy” around the dead end of conspiracy politics “conspirationnisme”  or devoting themselves to an electoral ‘reformist’ strategy which  is not designed, or capable,   of transforming society in depth.

Amongst the 500,000 people who have clicked on the Internet and joined LFI (for free, I am, incidentally, a ‘member’), there are many different kinds of people, although, Corcuff  notes, there is little sign of any significant “popular”, that is working class and poor, voice in their campaigns.

There remains some hope, Corcuff concludes, amongst the capacity of local groups, independent of the leadership, who may through their own initiatives create something.  But over the last 20 years, starting with the experience of the Nouveau Parti anticapitaliste (NPA), new movements on the French left have not lasted. and we will see what happens with LFI.

 

 

La Fabrique du Musulman. Nedjib Sidi Moussa: ‘Manufacturing Muslims’.

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La Fabrique du Musulman. Nedjib Sidi Moussa. Libertalia. 2017.

In the wake of the Tower Hamlets foster care furore Kenan Malik has written of the “inadequacy of all sides to find an adequate language through which to speak about questions concerning Muslims and Islam.” (Observer. 3.9.17) This inability to talk seriously about these issues as shown in the prejudiced press coverage, risks, Kenan argues, shutting down criticism of outing people in “cultural or faith boxes” and “blurring the distinction between bigotry against Muslims and criticisms of Islam”.

La Fabrique du Musulman (Manufacturing Muslims) is an essay on very similar dilemmas about “La Question des Musulmans” in French political debate. Moussa tackles both the “box” theory of faith and culture, and efforts by those taken by the “anti-imperialism of fools” to align with the “petite bourgeoisie islamique” and form alliances with Islamist organisations starting with the issue of ‘Zionism’. In 147 pages the author does not just outline the left’s political bewilderment faced with the decomposition of the classical working class movement. He pinpoints the “confusionnisme” which has gone with its attempts to grapple with the problems of discrimination against minorities in the Hexagone – its relations with forces with ideologies far from Marxism or any form of democratic socialism.

Indigènes, Race War and the US left. 

Moussa is the binational son of revolutionaries who supported Messali Hadj in the Algerian War of National Liberation. As the offspring of those who backed the losing side in a war that took place before independence, between the Messalists and the victorious FLN, who will not be accepted as French, he announces this to underline that he does not fit into a neat ‘anti-colonial’ pigeonhole (Page 11). He  examines the roots and the difficulties created by the replacement of the figure of the ‘Arab’ by that of the ‘Muslim’. Furthermore, while he accepts some aspects of ‘intersectionality”, that is that there many forms of domination to fight, he laces the central importance of economic exploitation tightly to any “emancipatory perspective” rather than the heritage of French, or other European imperialism. (Page 141).

La Fabrique is an essay on the way the “social question” has become dominated by religious and racial issues (Essai sur la confessionnalisation et la racialisation de la question sociale). The argument of the book is that the transition from the identity of Arab and other minorities in France from sub-Saharan Africa to that of ‘Muslim’ has been helped by political complicity of sections of the French left of the left in asserting this ‘heritage’. In respects we can see here something like an ‘anti-imperialist’ appropriation of Auguste-Maurice Barrès’ concept of “la terre et les morts”, that people are defined by their parents’ origins, and fixed into the culture, whether earthly or not. This, with another conservative view, on the eternity of race struggle, trumping class conflict, has melded with various types of ‘post-colonial’ thought. This is far from the original “social question” in which people talked about their exploitation and  positions in the social structure that drew different identities together as members of a class and sought to change the material conditions in which they lived.

In demonstrating his case La Fabrique is a critique of those opponents of the New World Order but who who take their cultural cue from American enemies of the “Grand Satan” and descend into ‘racialism’.  (Page 18 – 19) In this vein it can be compared with the recent article, “American Thought” by Juraj Katalenac on the export of US left concepts of “whiteness” as a structure of oppression reflecting the legacy of slavery (Intellectual imperialism: On the export of peculiarly American notions of race, culture, and class.) No better examples of this could be found than Moussa’s targets –  former Nation of Islam supporter Kémi Séba, “panfricanist” and founder of Tribu Ka, condemned for anti-Semitism, and a close associate of the far right, recently back in the news for burning African francs, and the Parti des indigènes de la République (PIR).

The PIR’s spokesperson Houria Bouteldja, offers a picture of the world in imitation of US Black Power lacing, in his best known text, diatribes against Whiteness (Blanchité) and laments for the decline in Arab virility, more inspired by Malcolm X and James Baldwin than by the nuances of Frantz Fanon. In the struggle for the voice of the indigenous she affirms a belief that commemorating the memory of the Shoah is, for whites, the “the bunker of abstract humanism”, while anti-Zionism is the “space for an historic conformation between us and the whites”. Bouteldja is fêted in Berkley and other ‘post-colonial’ academic quarters, and given space in the journal of what passes for the cutting edge of the US left, Jacobin. (1)

La Fabrique outlines the sorry history of the PIR, highlighting rants against integration, up the point that Bouteldja asserts that the wearing the veil means “I do not sleep with whites” (Page 51). The discourse on promoting ‘race’ is, Moussa, is not slow to indicate, in parallel to the extreme right picture of ‘racial war’. He cites the concept of “social races” offered by Tunisian exile and former Trotskyist, Sadri Khiari on a worldwide struggle between White Power and Indigenous Political Power (“Pouvoir Blanc et la Puissance politique indigène”) (Pages 60 – 61). Moussa notes, is the kind of ideology behind various university-based appeals to “non-mixité”, places where in which races do not mix. One can only rejoice that Khiari has not fused with Dieudonné and Soral, and – we may be proved wrong – no voice on the left France yet talks of a “transnational Jewish bourgeoisie” to complement the picture, and demand that Jews have their own special reservations in the non-mixed world.

Many of the themes tackled in La Fabrique are specifically French. Britain, for example, has nothing resembling the concept of laïcité, either the recognition of open universalism, or of the more arid arch-republicanism that has come to the fore in recent years. The attempts at co-operation, or more formal alliances with Islamists, and the sections on various moves, between opportunism and distance of those in and around the Nouveau Parti anticapitaliste (MPA),  intellectuals of the ‘left of the left’,  and the ambiguities of Alternative Libertaire on the issues, though important in a domestic context, are not of prime interest to an international audience. (2) Other aspects have a wider message. The convergence between ‘Complotiste’, conspiracy theories, laced with anti-Semitism, circulating on the extreme-right and amongst reactionary Muslims, finding a wider audience (the name Alain Soral and the Site, Egalité et Reconciliation crops up frequently), including some circles on the left, merits an English language investigation. There are equally parallels with the many examples of ‘conservative’ (reactionary) Muslims who, from the campaign against Gay Marriage and equality education (“la Manif pour tous”), have become politically involved in more traditional right-wing politics, and the beurgeois, the prosperous Islamic market for Halal food and drinks. 

Islamogauchistes.

In one area there is little doubt that we in ‘Anglo-Saxon’ countries (a term in the book that jars), that is the English speaking world, will find the account of alliances between sections of the left and Islamists familiar, So familiar indeed that the names of the Socialist Workers Party, Respect and the Stop the War Coalition (StWC) are placed at the centre of the debate about these agreements, from the 2002, 2007 Cairo Conferences Against US and Zionist Occupation (Page 74), attended also by Hezbollah, Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood (MB), to the definition of Islamophobia offered by the Runnymede Trust (Page 87).

If one can criticise Moussa in this area it is not because he does not discuss the details of the failure of the SWP and the forces in Respect and the StWC have failed to carry out Chris Harman’s strategy of being “with the Islamists” against the State. The tactic of being their footstools collapsed for many reasons, including, the SWP’s Rape Crisis, the farce of Respect under George Galloway, and was doomed in the Arab Winter not just after the experience of MB power in Egypt, Ghannouchi and Ennahda in Tunisia and, let us not forget but when the Syrian uprising pitted the Muslim Brotherhood against Assad, Daesh was born, and the British left friends of ‘reformist’ Islamism lapsed into confusion. If the Arab ‘patrimonial states’ remain the major problem, there is a growing consensus (outside of groupuscules like Counterfire) on the British left that actually existing Islamist parties and movements are “deeply reactionary”. (3)

To return to our introduction: how can we talk about Islam and Muslims? We can, Moussa suggests, do without the use of the term ‘Islamophobia’ to shout down criticism of the ‘sacred’. The tendency of all religious believers to consider that their ideas make them better than everybody else and in need of special recognition cannot be left unchallenged. They need, “libre examen…contre les vérités révélés, pour l’émancipation et contre l’autorité”, free investigation against revealed truths, for emancipation against authority (Page 143). There should never be a question of aligning with Islamists. But systemic discrimination, and economic exploitation remain core issues. It is not by race war or by symbolic academic struggles over identity that these are going to be resolved. La Fabrique, written with a clarity and warmth that gives heart to the reader. Whether all will follow La Fabrique and turn to the writings of Socialisme ou Barbarie and the Internationale situationniste to find the tools for our emancipation remains to be seen. But we can be sure that in that “voie” we will find Moussa by our side.

*****

(1) Pages 66 – 67, Les Blancs, les Juifs et nous. Houria Bouteldja. La Fabrique. 2016. In discussing Fanon few who read him can ignore his sensitive complexity. For example, did not just discuss the ‘fear’ of Black sexuality amongst whites, but the dislike of North Africans for “les hommes de couleur”, as well as efforts by the French to divide Jews, Arab and Blacks. Page 83. Peau noire masques blancs. Frantz Fanon. Editions du Seuil. 1995.

(2  La Fabrique du musulman » : un défaut de conception. Alternative Libertarire. Droit de réponse : « La Fabrique du musulman », une publicité gratuite mais mensongère. Alternative Libertaire.

(3) See on the history of the period, Morbid Symptoms. Relapse in the Arab Uprisings. Gilbert Achcar. Saqi Books. 2016.

Macron’s Government Launches New Labour ‘Reforms’, Protests Already Planned.

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First Demo Against Macron’s ‘Reforms’, 12th of September.

Macron’s government unveils controversial labour reforms.

France 24.

After meeting with trade unions on Thursday, the French government unveiled President Emmanuel Macron’s controversial labour reforms, vowing to “free up the energy of the workforce” by making it easier for employers to hire and fire.

French Prime Minister Édouard Philippe and Labour Minister Muriel Pénicaud met with trade unionists on Thursday before publicly unveiling the labour reform measures, which are detailed on some 200 pages.

The highly anticipated and controversial labour reforms, a centerpiece of Macron’s election pledge, are aimed at creating jobs.

The changes will be implemented via executive order, allowing Macron to avoid a lengthy parliamentary debate. The overhaul will be adopted by the government in September and must then be ratified by parliament, where the president’s La République en Marche (Republic on the Move) party has a large majority.

..

Criticism from trade unions

Right after the announcement of the reforms, some unions voiced criticism, denouncing measures that they perceive to be more favourable to companies than to employees.

Philippe Martinez, secretary-general of the CGT trade union, lashed out Thursday, saying, “All our fears have been confirmed and the additional fear is obvious and has been written: It’s the end of the working contract.” He qualified the reform as “old recipes which will not change the lot of the people.”

The communist-backed CGT has opposed the changes outright and is set to mobilise its supporters on September 12 for a street protest. Jean-Luc Mélenchon, the far-left leader of France Insoumise (Unbowed France) and a fierce opponent to Macron, is organising another protest on September 23.

France’s biggest private sector union, the CFDT, declared itself “disappointed” but said it would not be calling its members to join the CGT’s planned street protest on September 12.

Nevertheless, the CFDT is unhappy with the level at which dismissal awards in France’s labour courts will be capped, and unhappy with a section of the reforms in which employers will be allowed to negotiate directly with staff in companies with fewer than 20 workers.

The boss of the hard-left Force Ouvrière (FO) union, Jean-Claude Mailly, said he disagreed with some of the changes, but like Berger suggested he would not recommend his members join street protests.

Meanwhile, François Asselin, president of France’s confederation of small and medium-sized companies, the CPME, has praised the reform for being “particularly pragmatic”.

The CGT wants their Day of Action and Strikes  to be the occasion to begin a serious moblisation against Macron’s ‘reforms’. (La CGT veut faire du 12 septembre la journée « contre la réforme du code du travail »)

To the lack of support from the two other main union federations  there is also  this.

La France insoumise (LFI), 17 deputies strong, to repeat, is organising its own demonstration on the 23rd of September, without the unions and any other group on the leftJean-Luc Mélenchon appelle à un “rassemblement populaire” contre la réforme du travail le 23 septembre à Paris.

Macron has already seized on this to declare that Mélenchon   is claiming not just to be the only real opposition to the President but also to be a “rival to the trade unions”. (Mélenchon à la tête de l’opposition ? Une chance, selon Macron.  Le président de la République estime que le leader de la France insoumise se pose en “rival des syndicats” sur la réforme du Code du travail. RTL)

Whether this division exists, or whether the LFI march will have any impact, is not at all sure.

A few days ago the Parti communiste français PCF, which has 11 MPs, and close ties to the CGT,  expressed reservations about this division amongst left parties. Their  leader Pierre Laurent contented himself with noting a “lack of respect” (manque de respect) in the way LFI operates (le Monde. 26.8.17). A young member added, ” that for LFI “everything is built around his personality and his inner circle (tout est construit autour de sa personne et de sa garde rapprochée – literally his “bodyguard”).

One thing is clear: the serious campaign will be launched by the Unions.

By contrast LFI declares that they are leading the movement, ” «Nous proclamons en septembre la mobilisation générale contre le coup d’Etat social»” – we declare in September that there will be a mobilisation in September against the social coup d’Etat by Macron.. La France insoumise suggests that Mélenchon may soon be called for government if Macron is defeated, and they are ready to govern is need be. ” Jean-Luc Mélenchon affirmait ainsi : «Nous sommes prêts à gouverner demain s’il le faut” (Des «élections anticipées», nouveau credo de La France insoumise. Libération).

The wags are already laughing at this one:

 

In the meantime…

For the best analysis of these reforms seems Gérard Filoche:  Leurs mensonges sont énormes, Ils font le pire, ils ont passé le code du travail à l’acide