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Notre histoire intellectuelle et politique. 1968 – 2018. Pierre Rosanvallon. Review.

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Notre histoire intellectuelle et politique. 1968 – 2018. Pierre Rosanvallon. Les Livres du Nouveau Monde. 2019.

History, writes Pierre Rosanvallon, has meted out a long series of disappointments, and still bites at our neck. One of France’s leading public intellectuals, who began his career working in the secularised, once Catholic, trade union, the CFDT, developing their radical approach to autogestion, self-management, Notre Histoire starts with reflections on the ordeals of politics today.

The shades of the defeat and marginalisation of the French left, with Macron wiping the floor of the left in the Presidential contest of 2017, the once-governing Socialists down to just above 6% in the 2019 European elections, and the populist left of Jean Luc-Mélenchon at 6,3%, hover for the reader of a book originally published last year, at the start, the middle, and the end of these pages. Yet, the author, asserts, despite the widespread feeling of powerlessness, the left should not wallow in pessimism, however lucid. Beyond sterile political managerialism, and posturing Rosanvallon aims to offer a renewed effort towards a “perspective émancipatrice”

The present volume is a balance-sheet of decades of public intervention, above all, post 1981, in the French governing left, and more books and articles than one cares to count. Rosanvallon “combines positions in the power in the academy, prominence in the media, patronage in publishing; enjoys close connections with the worlds of business and politics” Perry Anderson continued in 2009, a social liberal “embellishing the new”, and engaged in a “work in progress” towards a “liberal future”. (1)

One of the many merits of Notre Histoire is to put that angle firmly in its place. Rosanvallon lays claim to the influence of Cornelius Castoriadis on his 1970s work for the CFDT and development of ideas about autogestion, and close relations with the Socialisme ou Barbarie (SouB) thinkers. His approach to labour history was influenced by E.P.Thompson and Gareth Stedman Jones and History Workshop. He was informed by Michel Foucault’s ideas on liberalism as a “une technologie politique”, and the writings of Jacques Rancière, André Gorz and Marcel Gauchet. Rosanvallon, fortified with these influences, could he be conveniently classed amongst the hysterical anti-Marxist nouveaux philosophes. Not does Rosanvallon refuse to called an ‘anti-Marxiist, but for him totalitarianism was a wider phenomenon of modernity, marked by the abolition of politics as an autonomous realm, and a disregard for democratic processes.

The critique of totalitarianism, began by another SouB writer, Claude Lefort, did not imply a sense of self-satisfaction with liberal democracy The liberalism which he began to defend could be better seen in terms of the image of sovereignty as an “empty place”, which all can compete to occupy. There is a permanent revolution in democratic invention, ‘indeterminate” (that is, never fixed) propelled by movements and demands for rights and recognition. Rosanvallon’s writings, on “counter-democracy” far from waddling off into ever more complex sovereignties, are intended to offer this radical supplement. This is far from the “anti-political” liberalism of the unfettered free-market.

Second Left.

The Second Left (deuxième gauche), with which Rosanvallon was identified with in the 1970s – an “organic intellectual” – had a more immediate target, the “social-étatism” of the French Communist Party (PCF), and sections of the French Socialist Party, (PS). Yet, as he recounts, in the 1980s, during François Mitterrand’s Presidency, neither the statists nor his own side, from the CFDT to Michel Rocard, succeeded in imposing their ideas. Rocard took stock of economic reality and backed the turn to “rigour” in the 1983 turn from the PS’s plans for a Keynesian national relaunch. Yet this “realism” became a kind of “religion” for this current, at the expense of any plans to change to society (Page 207). As Prime Minister from 1988 to 1981, Rocard began France’s ambitious decentralisation programme, and made steps toward an inclusive universal social security system. But the Second Left itself, in the wake of the CFDT’s dropping of autogestion and socialism, no longer existed as a coherent political force to confront the challenges of neoliberalism. Following others he paints a picture of the PS clinging to Europe as the theatre for their ambitions, a – flawed – construction that compensated for the lack of national ambition. This limited their approach to democratic and social issues. (Pages 217 – 219).

Notre Histoire would no doubt be the cause for some cackling in pro-Brexit New Left Review circles if it remained fixed at this point. But Rosanvallon has another narrative, of wider importance, the rise of sovereigntism. From leader of the PS’s marxisant CERES to government Minister Jean-Pierre Chevènement developed a “republicanism” from 1986 onwards in Socialisme et République which gradually obliterated all reference to socialism. This went with a return to the Nation, and the ponderings of Régis Debray on the soul of France and the manes of Gaullism.

Notre Histoire observes that the rediscovery of republicanism could also be found visions of “civic republicanism” described by the historians of ideas such as John Pocock and Quentin Skinner – reprised more recently by Chantal Mouffe. Yet this was not an academic detour. Identifying globalisation (with a heavy accent on ‘Americanisation’) and the European Union, this current has developed a defensive and restrictive concept of secularism (‘Laïcité’), a conservative vision of education, and a fundamentalist stand on sovereignty. (Page 256) Chevènement now is part of a small movement, Le Mouvement républicain et citoyen, (MRC), whittled down to The Republic defended against all.

The ‘anti-68’.

Rosanvallon outlines the “pensée anti-68” which parallels the retreat of this part of the left (including his old comrade, Marcel Gauchet) to ideas that seem closer to the anti-cosmopolitan right than to an emancipatory left. The writings of Christopher Lasch on the “culture of narcissism”, influential in France, and Lipovetsky’s critique of hypermodernism and individualism (a coupling, some would say, ignores that writer’s more optimistic moments), writers on the breakdown of community and traditional solidarity, the left-behind in La France périphérique, and the critique of the “rights culture” are cited to indicate an anti-68 “populism”. Perhaps it is in this nébuleuse that one can see some of the most significant “passerelles” (bridges) between the left and national populism. It does not take long to see parallels amongst the British ‘left’ supporters of the Full Brexit and their Brexit Party members.

Others will no doubt go through Rosanvallon’s approach to neoliberalism, informed by a reading of Foucault on ‘governmentality’. The concept that emerges at the end, of an “individualisme de singularité” casts some light on a key aspect of modern politics, the decline of mass class based parties and trade unionism. The weakening of collective negotiation goes in hand with patterns of work, making inequalities both more resented (directly experienced), and less easy to see in terms of people as groups. He writes, “le peuple”, the people, is henceforth the plural of a vast collection of different “minorities”. (Page 410)

Anderson, we have already noted, dismissed Rosanvallon. Apart from his pretensions, so distant from those of the one-time Editor of New Left Review, to international stature, he writes, apparently, is “somewhat priestly”. This is not a trait this reviewer has noticed, and he has at least seven of the author’s books. They are fluent, thought-provoking, aware of debates rarely taken up in France (such as British post-war discussion on equality and socialism) and a mine of information. One would like to follow his lectures he now gives as a member of the Collège de France. Anderson is not alone in scorning all reference to ‘liberalism’. Claude Michéa, accused of reneging on his SouB roots, now the manufacturer of grumpy populist books on common decency and the left-behind, calls the alliance between liberalism, internationalism, and socialism, one of the founding faults of French socialism. Others, who have learnt much from Rosanvallon’s writings on democracy,  for all their, at time, sweeping history, would disagree. The present work, studded with a marked degree of intellectual honesty,  indicates many reasons why. (2)

Facing up to National Populism.

How these insights enable us to face up to national populism is far from clear. Solidarity and national protectionism may look appealing to fragmented minorities. Rosanvallon only announces a possible “conceptualism” of populism, not a new emancipatory project. By contrast though, the “democratic revolution” outlined by Claude Lefort and developed in different ways by writers such as Étienne Balibar as “unlimited democracy” may offer the basis of an alternative. Not shutting down, not borders, not the sovereignty of referendums and chiefs – or PMs – but the popular ‘counter-democracy’ movements like Another Europe is Possible try to embody, indicate that nationalism can be fought. How successfully, we have yet to see. Democracy, as Lefort said, is “indeterminate”. On the horizon we see that Thomas Piketty has just published a new tome, Capital et Idéologiewhich includes proposals for reform and transform the European Union. The fight continues…..

*****

(1) Pages 208-9. The New Old World. Perry Anderson. Verso. 2009.

(2) La Gauche et le Peuple : lettres croisées. Flammarion 

 

See:  Une aventure intellectuelle par Jean-Yves Potel

and, amongst many other  reviews,  Pierre Rosanvallon : bilan d’étapes Jean BASTIEN

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Brexit: the Slippery Slope of Left Sovereigntism, from Modern Monetary Theory to Spiked.

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An Ideology Now at the Centre of UK Politics.

Sovereigntism, the assertion of unique national sovereignty,  is at the centre of British divisions over Brexit.

In French  souverainisme has been used for some time to describe hostility to the European Union (“Doctrine des défenseurs de l’exercice de la souveraineté nationale en Europe”) expressed by parties and intellectuals from the extreme right to the left. There is even a party, “République souveraine” led by Djordje Kuzmanovic .

During the presidential campaign of 2002, Jean-Pierre Chevènement, who had founded the radical left  Centre d’études, de recherches et d’éducation socialiste CERES in the 1970s, had been a Socialist Minister in the first Mitterrand government, and served under Prime Minister Lionel Jospin, presented himself as the “man of the nation”, above  partisan cleavages. As an opponent of the Maastricht Treaty, Jean-Pierre Chevènement  appealed in the new millennium to a new Gaullism of the left. In many respects Chevènement can be seen a trail-blazer for the evolution of socialists from a kind of Marxism on the left of the French Parti Socialiste (CERES, responsible for the claims that they would create a “rupture” with capitalism) critics of Mitterrand’s ‘modernising turn’ in the 1980s (expressed on the journal En Jeu)  to, outside the Socialists, republican socialism (1992, Mouvement des citoyens (MDC),  to openly nationalist sovereigntist politics which calls for an aligmement of La France insoumise with these right-wing anti-globalisation ‘patriots’. In this vein in 2015 he participated in the debates organised by the hard right Debout la France.

 The former socialist has even endorsed a degree of protectionist economics.

Sovereigntism can in this career alone be seen as a major source of political confusionism.

It rests on the idea that there is an entity called the ‘nation’, and the people, which, like Rousseau’s General Will, exists beyond all the different classes and political factions of a country. Populism, the claim to strand for the ‘real’ people against the ‘elites’ who frustrate their will, out of the self-interest of the oligarchies. In place of international bodies such as the European Union,  a sovereign Parliament, can solve all the problems in the land, by exercising full power.

Left sovereigntism claims that the same machinery, if captured by the right party, can do what it likes. With power in the hands of a left Labour Party,a People’s Brexit, a Lexit,  can “Bring back control” to the people.

Sovereigntism blurs the political lines and leaves the way open to more resolute forces who occupy the same terrain, all claiming to “take back control”. It has helped open the door to,

Exclusive nationalism and nativism, identity politics, critiques of globalisation and internationalism, and calls for democratic re-empowerment of the demos have converged politically on a new locus of inflated territorial, indeed ‘border’ sovereignty, aligning the call of ‘taking back control’ on behalf of a radically re-defined community (‘we’) with a defensive re-territorialisation of power along existing fault lines of nation-statism.

Populism, Sovereigntism, and the Unlikely Re-Emergence of the Territorial Nation-State. Aristotle Kallis. 2018.

Red-Brown Spiked (Italy: Salvini speaks to the gut of the nation) writer Thomas Fazi is perhaps one of the best known people who have argued for a “progressive vision of national sovereignty“.

History attests to the fact that national sovereignty and national self-determination are not intrinsically reactionary or jingoistic concepts – in fact, they were the rallying cries of countless nineteenth- and twentieth-century socialist and left-wing liberation movements. Even if we limit our analysis to core capitalist countries, it is patently obvious that virtually all the major social, economic, and political advancements of the past centuries were achieved through the institutions of the democratic nation state, not through international, multilateral, or supranational institutions, which in a number of ways have, in fact, been used to roll back those very achievements, as we have seen in the context of the euro crisis, where supranational (and largely unaccountable) institutions such as the European Commission, Eurogroup, and ECB used their power and authority to impose crippling austerity on struggling countries.

In a book written with William Mitchell Reclaiming the State, Fazi has argued, as an uncritical notice on the Counterfire site states, that,

The authors suggest that the left needs to provide a powerful alternative to neoliberalism, based around the state reasserting its supremacy over markets, and using its monopoly power over currency creation to introduce policies that favour the great majority. The insights provided by Modern Monetary Theory (MMT) show how such an alternative strategy is possible for countries with their own sovereign currencies, but is not available for those who have ceded their power to supranational agencies (e.g. Eurozone nations who have relinquished monetary control and placed it in the hands of the ECB).

Fazi continues to push the line.

It is as plain that as Boris Johnson sets out the only actually existing Brexit plans, that ‘taking back control’ is a smokescreen for hard right attacks on rights and deference to the stronger – US – partner in any independent trade deals.

But what of this plan for monetary control?

Modern  Monetary Theory (MMT)  – this writer has attended lectures on it and read some of less technical materiel – offers at first sight an appealing alternative to financial austerity.

Now James Meadway, an left wing economist,offers some devastating criticisms of NMT. He also sheds light on the reactionary politics behind the idea, politics which help to explain by Fazi now appears  in  the Red Brown Spiked.

This is his case:

James Meadway Interview: “There are ways to end neoliberalism globally that are not progressive, and this will (increasingly) be the terrain the left is fighting on.”

James Meadway is a former advisor to Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell. Previously, he was the Chief Economist at the New Economics Foundation and he is currently writing a book on left wing economics. In his interview with this website, he outlines the principles of Corbynomics, discusses a Green New Deal and explains why he thinks MMT would be such a misstep for the left.

Meadway outlines with appealing clarity the economic strategy of the Labour Party.

John McDonnell summarised the aim when he said “we want nothing less than an economy that is radically fairer, more democratic, and more sustainable, where the wealth of society is shared by all.” As the Shadow Treasury team has developed that since September 2015, I’d say the principles are:

– A rejection of the neoliberal premises that private ownership and markets will always be the best way to organise society;

– A belief that deep changes are required for our economy to begin to move it in a direction that benefits the great majority, including making it more sustainable;

– The principle that ownership and control of productive resources are the decisive factors determining economic outcomes, and that both should be decentralised, democratic, and collective as far as possible.

Instead of rhetoric about elites and globalisation, Meadway  offers a basis for a critique of ‘neoliberalism’,

I’d argue this shift in production relations – transferring ownership and reasserting the power of capital over labour – is at the core of neoliberalism in practice, but it can sit alongside the continued provision of welfare and other “consumption” provision by the state, in one form or another.

Labour, he argues, has begun to tackle this with the first Manifesto under the new left leadership.

So to the extent that the 2017 manifesto aimed to restore spending cuts and improved public service provision, it was essential – the damage done by austerity since 2010 has been both appalling, and entirely unnecessary – but not radically transformative. To the extent the 2017 manifesto went further, and posed the issue of correcting the colossal error of privatisation, it was more radical, because it began the process of reversing forty years of neoliberalism, but it didn’t point at something beyond what is common enough across the developed world. Likewise, [Labour’s] £250bn National Transformation Fund would be a huge increase in public investment for the UK, but would move us to around the average level of investment (relative to GDP) of the developed economy OECD group. To a significant extent, Corbynomics is Make Britain Normal Again.

Furthermore,

The second, underlying even this, is the transformation of ownership. This is more than only correcting the mistakes of the past by reversing 1980s and 1990s privatisations: it means broadening the scope of collective – not government – ownership across the whole economy, from renewable energy production (which, given the technologies we have, will largely need decentralisation), to worker ownership, to areas that we’ve only just begun to think about, like data. There are huge opportunities here to break out of the zero-sum games that neoliberal capitalism is forcing us into.

The interview is recommended to anybody with a serious interest in Labour economic policies, proving some solid foundations have been built. 

The core of the interview is taken up by a critique of Modern Monetary Theory.

In an a earlier article in Tribune, Against MMT, Meadway stated,

Unfortunately, however, MMT’s reassertion of a number of macroeconomic truths has been swamped by its distinctive contribution to theory — which is a rehabilitation of what is known as chartalism. Chartalism holds that money receives its value fundamentally as a result of its use to pay taxes — that, in the words of leading chartalist Georg Knapp, ‘money is a creature of law’. This is dubious as a historical claim, since money has existed in many different forms throughout history, and only some of those forms have arrived with the stamp of the state — and dubious as a description of reality today, since most money is created by private banks when people take out loans, whose relationship to the state is (at most) indirect.

This is the crucial political aspect:

MT’s grand claim is that money derives its value from its ability to pay taxes and, therefore, governments can exercise ‘monetary sovereignty’ by setting the value of money as they see fit. But the economy is not an island, it cannot be isolated from others in this way. Trade matters, as do the financial relationships between different economies — and both of those will depend on the value of the different currencies that economies use. MMT understates the amount these relative values can vary over time. As anyone using the pound since the Brexit referendum will have seen, these variations can be quite large. Countries running a deficit on their current account (meaning, broadly, that they import more than they export, counting goods, services, and flows of income) like the UK — which has a deficit funded from abroad — will always be vulnerable to demands for foreign currency that they cannot immediately meet. This is a significant impediment to sovereignty.

Meadway  concludes,

Worse yet, in a country so profoundly and obviously overstretched internationally, with a major financial centre that we know to be a major vulnerability, MMT promotes a blasé indifference to the real relationships of power and patronage that sustain the world economy. To the extent that it disorientates activists, peddling simplistic monetary solutions to complex problems of political power, it is a barrier to a genuinely transformative Labour government. We need to build an organised and educated mass movement that can see the problems such a government might face. MMT cannot help us do this — in fact, it will hinder us in that mission.

Without pretending to grasp the technical details it is clear that McDonnell  would not have spent so much time consulting respected advisers on taxation reform if the Shadow Chancellor believed that using MMT would magic away the problems of raising revenue for Labour’s spending plans.

This is more in the line of the introduction to this post.

Meadway states,

There’s something I didn’t cover in Tribune, but the underlying politics of MMT are worth spending some time on. The core MMT policy agenda has strikingly little to do with the left: support for dollar dominance; indifference (at best) to redistribution from the rich through taxation (usually argued as taxing the rich being “unnecessary”); and labour market authoritarianism via the so-called “Job Guarantee”. There’s not much in here that is recognisably of the left, if we think the left is basically about freedom and equality – there’s quite a different political tradition at work.

This comes through in many different ways. For instance, Bill Mitchell and Thomas Fazi described it (in Reclaiming the State, p.10) as “tragic” that the left adopted the causes of anti-racism, women’s rights, and LGBT rights in the late 1970s. Worse, they claim this is as “equally tragic” as the acceptance of neoliberalism by parts of the left over the same time period. Now this is reactionary garbage, however you look at it, and should be firmly rejected – but it’s an important indicator as to where MMT is coming from.

MMT is not an authentic programme of the left; it’s a programme for economic nationalism that, currently, is trying to attach itself to the left. Historically, economic nationalism has arrived in left or right variants, and there has been slippage from one side to the other. So at different times MMT’s proponents have used different arguments to gain a hearing – claiming in the 1990s that a “Job Guarantee” would help drive down wages, for instance, whereas now they claim the Job Guarantee is a good way to deal with climate change. MMT advocates are reportedly advising Matteo Salvini in Italy, and Bill Mitchell thinks his government should “lead” other European countries. Mitchell and Fazi approvingly cite the monetary policy of Nazi Germany before the war in their book. I could generously call all this a bit slippery. There are ways to end neoliberalism globally that are not progressive, and this will (increasingly) be the terrain the left is fighting on.

Put simply, neither industry  nor money can be successful in modern attempt to create autarkies, worlds self-sufficient for themselves.

Does this monetary sovereignty lead to autocratic regimes?

That is far from established but it looks as if it lacks the capacity to perform the miracles Fazi and his side claim for it.

But as for slippery slopes, Fazi’s support for the Full Brexit, and now, collaboration with Spiked, shows he is already on one.

 

National Populism: Trump to Boost Farage as Brexit Party Support Surges.

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What do want? “Smash the System”! 

These figures predict the beginning of a political earthquake.

One might say that such a tectonic shift in support cannot happen.

There are good grounds for scepticism.

But…

Fast backwards to France a couple of years ago.

Since the French elections of 2017 the victory of President Macron and its aftermath have seen the traditional parties of left and right nearly wiped off the map.

The first round of the Presidential contest saw the former ruling Parti Socialiste get 6,36% for its candidate, Benoît Hamon. For the traditional right,

François Fillon scored a respectable 20,01%. Jean-Luc Mélenchon, for the “movement” or “point de ralliement” la France insoumise, got 19,58%. The context went into the second round with a duel between Emmanuel Macron and   Marine Le Pen, which ended in Macron’s victory at 66,1% over the far-right Le Len getting 33,9%.

In the legislative elections held afterwards Macron’s party and allies won 348 seats. The left (Socialists, Communists and La France insoumise) was reduced to 44 deputies.

This is the result of this year’s European elections which saw, in France, the left further reduced (only the Socialists, PS, and La France insoumise LFI won seats) the ‘neither right nor left’ Greens (EELV) win MEPs, and the traditional right (Les Républicains, LR)  also lose heavily. The results were again dominated by Macron’s party and Le Pen’s rally (RN).

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Some  features stand out.

The first is the marginalisation of a splintered left.

If people have been “freed” from the slavery of their traditional allegiances,  in  Christophe Guilluy’s words, “Le grand marronnage des classes populaires” (Le Crépuscule de la France d’en haut, 2018) their new home is not in any renewed democratic politics.

Far from creative grass roots politics, or a new kind of left, we had the success of Macron’s ‘start up’ Business party.

This is its internal structure, “La République En Marche! considers every person who submits identification information (date of birth, email, full address and telephone, number) and adheres to the party’s charter to be an adherent.” The English Wikipedia entry neglects to go further into how LRM  operates, “les décisions viennent d’en haut, il y a une commission d’investiture sans que les militants ne votent…”,   Decisions come from above, there is a commission of investiture (selection of candidates) without activists voting. (see Structure )

It is a “movement”, like Mélenchon’s La France insoumise, run top down by a coterie of professionals in communication and in liaison with the Parliamentary group  around the Leader (with all the authority in this case of the President)  with no internal democratic decision making, only online “consultations”.

The Third is that if the “gilets Jaunes”, whose main rallying call has been for Macron to Resign, have not created an alternative out of their “assemblies”, or one that is invisible to anybody but their more gushing admirers, from the UK’s National Populists of left and right, and some romantic leftists.

I the European elections it was the Rassemblement national (RN), ex Front national (FN) who came first. This party has a tiny, 38 000 official membership. It has a structure, said originally to be inspired by the French Communist Party, of a an executive bureau, a political bureau and a central committee, now know (since 2018) as the ‘national council.”

Is that the kind of political melt-down we are facing in the UK.

Richard Seymour, in no less an organ than the New York Times observes.

.Long underestimated, Mr. Farage has done more than any politician in a generation to yank British politics to the hard, nationalist right. He is one of the most effective and dangerous demagogues Britain has ever seen.

Seymour notes the most relevant aspect of the Brexit Party’s model, which has been widely commented on:

Farage has spotted an opportunity: a new political model, inspired by the Five Star Movement in Italy. A “digital platform” that harnesses the free labor of its “users,” allowing them “participation” through content-sharing and online polls, rather than rights. Parliamentary democracy is slow at the best of times, and these are not the best of times. Such platforms, however, introduce volatility to the system. Dropping UKIP, a traditional membership party, he launched something like a venture capitalist start-up, with crowdfunders rather than members, and a chief executive rather than a leader.

Unlike older party models, it doesn’t invest in lasting infrastructure. It is nimble-footed, expert at gaming social media — the stock market of attention. It won the battle for clicks, and made a killing in this election. Such online frenzies are akin to destabilizing flows of hot money, forcing legacy parties to adapt or die. But when Parliament is so weak, its legitimacy so tenuous, they can look like democratic upsurge.

If the poll today there is more than a “online frenzy” happening.

The M5S,  Movimento 5 Stelle may or may not be a “model” for some.  I doubt if Macron or Mélenchon’ would see it that way and Podemos, while partially inspired, has at least some democratic framework.

Most significantly M5S, with an unstable record of support (32,7% of the vote in 2017 Parliamentary elections, 17,1% in this year’s European elections, in coalition with the far-right Lega, has, with its deputy PM   Luigi Di Maio paved the way for the hold on power of his fellow deputy PM,  the National Populist Matteo Salvini.

Yet the issue of Democracy apparently remains at the centre of the Brexit Party’s claim to Speak for the People, for National Sovereignty, and for a Hard Brexit.

Usefully highlighting the core of the operation Seymour does see off this self-serving claim by Claire Fox:

She heralds this ” “start of a new politics”

In Spiked the former RCP activists continues: Claire Fox on what’s next for the Brexit Party and her journey from Marxist to MEP.

when I was in the RCP many moons ago – and the past really is a different country – I was always a democrat, a supporter of liberty, agency and sovereignty, so I don’t think I’ve travelled that far.

I somehow felt that if I could do anything to rescue the democratic potential of the 2016 vote, then I would. So in that sense, it has been a journey. But the journey was not so much from revolutionary communism to standing next to Farage, but from commenting on events to taking on that responsibility.

Her Boss continued in this vein.

The Brexit Surge

Engaging the ignored masses, tapping their democratic insights, genuinely drawing their convictions and concerns and beliefs into the heart of the political sphere – this is now the key task of everyone who is committed to the idea of Brexit, democracy and radical political change in this country.

Brendan O’Neill

But…..if you’re not democratic inside your ‘party’, if you leave things to the Farage coterie, how can you be democratic in the country?

Seymour concludes,

The quintessential City trader and apostle of cutthroat competition, he is exploiting our democratic crisis to remake politics in his own image.

Shift forward to today’s headlines.

Image result for Nigel Farage and Donald Trump newspaper front page

Is the Brexit Party also fascist?

For the moment we take this into account:

Counterfire, John Rees, So-called Marxists and Brexit.

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“Genuine Marxists” with their one-time Best Friend.

Amongst many other things Brexit has divided the left.

The Parliamentary Labour Party, and the large number of people in Britain who have left-wing politics, from social democratic ideas, left liberalism, green politics, and all the varieties of democratic socialism have seen different views on the European Union become the burning political issue of our time.

The Marxist left has also been split.

What seemed like the majority view of both the non-Labour Leninist left and – it was assumed – the Labour left was a position extremely  hostile to the EU. Tony Benn had even described the UK as a “colony” of the EU, and this flight of fancy was not his alone.

The Referendum showed that there was a strong section of the radical left, including those who identify with the Marxist tradition, who stood for a Remain Vote. Today many are organised in the campaign, Another Europe is Possible, whose support goes from the Labour grass-roots group, Open Labour not far from the Party’s centre, the Green Party, to the Party’s Left, the democratic socialist Chartist, supporters of Momentum, to more radical groups, such as Socialist Resistance and the Alliance for Workers’ Liberty. Left Unity has also given its backing to Another Europe. From Another Europe there is equally Labour for a Socialist Europe, which produces valuable material relating to Party debate. The allied initiative, Love Socialism Hate Brexit, has attracted Labour MPs, like Clive Lewis and Lloyd Russell-Moyle.

The Lexit, pro-Brexit, Left, has grouped around The Full Brexit, an alliance of Family Faith and Flag Blue Labour, sovereigntists, The Communist  Party of Britain, Spiked contributors , the odd maverick Green, and supporters of the Revolutionary Socialist Counterfire. The Full Brexit’s recent troubles over Eddie Dempsey, and, now Paul Embery, opponents of “rootless cosmopolitans” illustrate the difficulties many on the left would have in working with this body, let alone its anti-EU politics.

Now, from the above Counterfire, ignoring such mundane issues, John Rees offers the left a masterclass on Marxism.

Marxists, so-called Marxists, and parliamentary socialists

He begins by citing this,

The only sensible reaction to the accusation by the Tory right that Jeremy Corbyn is “a Marxist“ is the one that Karl Marx himself gave. In response to some of his own would-be followers in France he said: “all that I know, is that I am not a Marxist”.

Marx was referring to Jules Guesde the leader of the French ‘Marxist’ tendency which became the Parti Ouvrier, and, after another name change, eventually became, in 1905, part of the first substantial french socialist party, the : Section française de l’Internationale ouvrièreSFIO.

A little further down Rees gives another “famous quotation” from Engels, on French socialism to support his politics,

“We have never called you anything but ‘the so-called Marxists’ and I would not know how else to describe you. Should you have some other, equally succinct name, let us know and we shall duly and gladly apply it to you.”

He states of this (Engels To Paul Lafargue At Le Perreux. London, 11 May 1889)

What was it that produced such a scathing remark from Engels? It was the idea, current among Marx and Engels’ French supporters, that support for reforms was just a trick meant to lure workers into more radical politics once they had seen such demands fail.

Marx and Engels would have none of it. They took seriously the demands for reform that arose from the working-class movement and inscribed them as basic demands in their own programme. They wanted them achieved because they knew that both the struggle to attain them, and any successes that were achieved, would strengthen the working class movement in practice and ideologically.

Rees, to put it simply, is  misleading. The exchange had a meaning only within its time of writing and does not refer to “reforms” in general.

Engels’ letter was in the context of one of the divisions that marked, and still mark, French socialism, and international socialism. That is between those who stand for internationalism, what would now be called universal human rights, and those tempted by National Populism.

This arose during the “Boulangist Movement” and the letter is about the ambiguous attitude of Marx’s son-in-law, who had expressed sympathy  for this nationalist upsurge.

Mitchell Abidor offers and excellent introduction to this episode, a mass movement around Georges Boulanger, a former general in the French army, General Boulanger and the Boulangist Movement.

The movement that had grown around Boulanger’s name was perhaps the first of its kind, a combination of royalists, Bonapartists, Republicans, socialists, and Blanquists. If it resembles any movement in this strange mix of followers it is Peronism, which was also able to attract followers from all ends of the political spectrum around the figure of a general. And like Peronism, Boulangism was able to do this because it can justly be said of the man at the heart of it that, like Gertrude Stein’s Oakland, there was no there there.

It is hard not to see some modern parallels,

Populism, nationalism, defense of the rights of workers; everything was in place for the birth of the movement that would bear the general’s name.

And,

From 1888-1889 Boulanger went from victory to victory, winning elections in seven different districts. Blanquists, the most intransigent of revolutionaries (but who were not immune to the temptations of nationalism and anti-Semitism) , were to say that with Boulanger “the revolution has begun,” and that Boulangism is “a labor of clearing away, of disorganizing the bourgeois parties.” So close were the ties between the extreme left and Boulangism that the police were convinced that secret accords had been drawn up between the two forces. And though the official Blanquist bodies were split as to how far they’d go in following Boulanger, it is a fact that the Boulangist movement’s strongest electoral showing was in the Blanquist strongholds in Paris. Indeed, throughout France, it was in working class centers that Boulanger garnered his greatest successes.

The Engels text in full reads,

We have never called you anything but ‘the so-called Marxists’ and I would not know how else to describe you. Should you have some other, equally succinct name, let us know and we shall duly and gladly apply it to you. But we cannot say ‘aggregate’, which no one here would understand, or anti-Possibilists, which you would find just as objectionable and which would not be accurate, being too all-embracing.

It continues,

What we need are letters from Paris, sent direct to the Star, bearing the Paris postmark and refuting the Possibilist calumnies which appeared in Saturday’s and Tuesday’s editions, namely, that Boulé’s election campaign was run on Boulangist money, that Vaillant had acted as an ally of the Boulangists, etc. I should say that you could do this perfectly well without ruffling your newly-found dignity as the one and only Catholic Church in matters connected with French Socialism.

Apart from Engels notably not criticising Lafargue’s misguided enthusiasm for Boulanger, what else does this refer to?

It is first of all, about the Guesdist tendency’s war with the “possibilitists” of Paul Brousse leader of the  Fédération des travailleurs socialistes de France and with Édouard Vaillant a former Commmard, and ‘Blanquist’  elected a Municipal Councillor in 1884 in Paris

Engels backed the desire of his friend for an independent workers’ party – unlike the Possibilistes, and by extension municipal socialists of all stripes,   who turned from intransigent socialism and  were ready to compromise with the Parliamentary (and Municipal)  Republican left in order to achieve reforms.

But this leaves open the issue of what position should have been taken to Boulangism, a view, which Lafargue  was, unfortunately, to clarify further in a far from progressive direction.

As Abidor says,

We can multiply the number of quotations from those on the left who either supported Boulangism or refused to openly or uncompromisingly oppose it. Paul Lafargue, the great socialist leader and theoretician, who in 1887 wrote a bitingly mocking article on Boulangism, also wrote to Engels that “Boulangism is a popular movement that is in many ways justifiable.” The followers of the other great Marxist if the generation, Jules Guesde, wrote that “the Ferryist danger being as much to be feared as the Boulangist peril, revolutionaries should favor neither the one nor the other, and shouldn’t play the bourgeoisie’s game by helping it combat the man who at present is its most redoubtable adversary.”

He continues,

But not everyone on the left was willing to go along with or refuse to block the Boulangist juggernaut. Jean Jaurès wrote that Boulangism is “a great movement of socialism gone astray,” and the Communard and historian of the Commune P-O Lissagaray was a motive force behind the Société des Droits de l’Homme et du Citoyen, which was formed to combat Boulangism and defend democracy, uniting in the group socialists, republicans, students and Freemasons.

This episode is described in greater detail in Les Hommes Révoltés. Les Origines Intellectuelles du réformisme en France (19721 – 1917) Emmanuel Jousse. 2017. Pages 150 – 152.

The campaign against Boulanger “« empêcher la réaction césarienne. » (halt the Caesarist Reaction!) attracted the support not only Paul Brousse and Vailliant  but the radical left ‘Allemanists” of Jean Allemane a trade unionist,  and veteran of the Paris Commune exiled to hard labour in New Caledonia, and Prosper-Olivier Lissagaray, the author of the still valuable History of the Paris Commune of 1871, an event in which he participated.

In other words, the salt of the earth.

After Boulangism dispersed, left supporters of Boulangism were still churning out books justifying their alliance.

Pàtil-Emile Laviron claimed that the anti-Boulangist campaign has meant an alliance with the parliamentary establishment and neglect of the class struggle (“Oubliant leur principe de la lutte des classes, ils entrèrent dans la coalition parlementaire des radicaux et des opportunistes. Boulangisme et Parlementarisme.” 1888)

In Les antisémites en France : notice sur un fait contemporain 1892  Mermeix (Gabriel Terrail) claimed that right-wingers and anti-semites were merely ‘infiltrators” in the movement. The General had popularised the ideas of socialism, (“Le général Boulanger a donc puissamment aidé l’esprit public à évoluer vers le socialisme”).

This may not help sort out the ‘genuine’ Marxist sheep from the reformist Goats, but it does raise some contemporary issues about national populism and anti-antisemitism…

In some respects one can that an alliance against a serious hard-right nationalist project, Brexit, springs to mind….means marching with, though not supporting, a variety of groups with this goal, though not others, in common.

It is hard to tell, but one could ask if more than one section of the Full Brexit would have had some sympathy with General Boulanger. who stood for the “real” France, the “real” workers” against the cosmopolitans.

What would Galloway have done…..?

Written by Andrew Coates

April 9, 2019 at 12:51 pm

French left daily, L’Humanité, fights for survival

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Back  l’Humanité!

Introducing this article I will make one reference.

During the siege of Kobani, in 2014, when all seemed lost, and the Kurds stood alone against the genociders of ISIS, the French Communist Daily had a reporter and a photographer on the spot. 

Vendredi, 12 Décembre, 2014

Dans l’Humanité Dimanche : Notre envoyé spécial, Pierre Barbancey, et le photographe Frédéric Lafargue ont passé 10 jours à Kobané avec les combattants kurdes qui défendent cette ville stratégique du Kurdistan de Syrie contre les assauts de Daesh. Ils racontent le quotidien de la guerre et la résistance farouche de ces femmes et de ces hommes qui a suscité un élan de solidarité international obligeant, malgré le jeu trouble de la Turquie, la coalition anti-Daesh à intervenir pour bombarder les positions islamistes. Mais les combattants kurdes ont encore besoin d’aide pour l’emporter.

Our special correspondent, Pierre Barbancey, and the photographer Frédéric Lafargue spent 10 days in Kobané with the Kurdish fighters who defend this strategic city of Kurdistan of Syria against the assaults of Daesh. They recount the daily life of the war and the fierce resistance of these women and men, which has given rise to a surge of international solidarity that, despite Turkey’s troubled game, compels the anti-Daesh coalition to intervene to bomb Islamist positions. But Kurdish fighters still need help to win.

Like many this writer was deeply affected by the front-line reports.

Today the Guardian has this excellent article:

Hard-left newspaper issues plea to subscribers with court to rule in insolvency case.

The venerable French communist newspaper L’Humanité is fighting bankruptcy, with even rightwing politicians taking out subscriptions to help keep it afloat.

The 114-year-old daily has appealed to readers to support its “great battle” to continue publishing as a court prepares to rule next week on whether it can be saved.

The paper was founded in 1904 by the French socialist leader Jean Jaurès and became the official paper of the French Communist party after 1920. It was an important player in the French press after the second world war, but daily sales have fallen from hundreds of thousands of copies at its height to about 30,000 copies today.

The French government’s system of giving direct and indirect state subsidies to all press titles has benefited L’Humanité, and successive French presidents have sought to ensure the title kept going until now. Its Italian equivalent, L’Unità, folded two years ago.

But the paper’s falling advertising revenue and declining sales have pushed it into crisis. With insolvency proceedings under way, the title is struggling to find solutions.

L’Humanité’s editor, Patrick Le Hyaric, told the Guardian the paper had “an extremely heavy cash-flow problem” because of production costs, falling advertising and subscriptions that do not plug the gap.

He told a court hearing last week it was important to find a way for the paper to continue publishing even if the receivers were called in.

…..

The paper, which employs 200 people, has made an urgent appeal for subscriber support in recent weeks and high-profile supporters from the arts and politics will gather at an event in Paris next month.

Julien Dive, a Picardy politician from the rightwing Les Républicains party, was one of several figures on the right who made a donation and subscribed. He argued it was important to protect a variety of views in media and what he called a “monument of the French media landscape”. He said the paper’s coverage was always “impassioned and different” and it was important for people to read views they didn’t necessarily agree with.

«Laisser mourir “l’Humanité” reviendrait à affaiblir la presse de qualité.» Jérôme Lefilliâtre.

It is not just that the daily was founded by Jean Jaurès.

It is not just that they stood with the Kurds against the Islamist genociders.

This is an issue of press pluralism, the continued presence of a real newspaper of the left.

Back l’Humanité !

LA MOBILISATION POUR SAUVEGARDER L’HUMANITÉ PREND CORPS

Written by Andrew Coates

February 4, 2019 at 12:37 pm

Gilets Jaunes Menace Rape and Beat up Journalists.

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Gilets jaunes : de nombreux journalistes agressés dans plusieurs villes

Comrade Journalist Attacked by the Gilets Jaunes. 

As the Gilets Jaunes movement is in its death throes, they have turned on the media.

The Local reports.

Reporters Without Borders on Sunday called on those who speak for France’s “yellow vest” protesters to condemn numerous attacks and threats against journalists across the country during the latest round of anti-government demonstrations.

“A turning point has been reached,” Christophe Deloire, secretary-general of the Paris-based media rights watchdog, told the BFM television channel.

“We are facing a very serious situation which is threatening to get worse,” he said, after reporters were beaten, kicked and threatened with rape during Saturday’s rallies.

“We call on the spokespersons of the ‘Yellow Vests’ to solemnly condemn increasing violence against journalists during demonstrations,” he tweeted.

Threats of rape:

This is one of their acts, a journalist put in serious danger.

 

Here is the worst, which is described as an attempted lynching.

Those in the UK who wish to imitate this movement have made a serious error.

 

Written by Andrew Coates

January 14, 2019 at 1:38 pm

Anti-Semites and Racists take the lead in Gilets Jaunes Protests.

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Gilets Jaunes preparing to the do the racist “quenelle” on the steps of Montmartre.

Background:

Anti-semitic and hard-right “entryism” has been obvious from the beginning. Dieudonné, a serially convicted anti-semite, appeared beside, Mathieu Seurot, one of the principle figures of the movement in the south west, as early as November 19th. A placard which appeared briefly last week on a gilet jaune held roundabout in the south was stuffed with anti-semitic and anti-masonic references including the letters “SS”.

..

One of the leaders of this group of yellow vests, Eric Drouet, a 33 years old truck driver from Melun east of Paris, was arrested in Paris yesterday. He is accused of carrying a concealed weapon, a cosh or truncheon. His supporters say that the weapon was planted by police.

The yellow vests have wide public support. This is already receding and could begin to collapse after the disgraceful incidents on Saturday. Anti-semitism exists in France on both the right and left but holocaust denial and Jew-baiting rings loud alarm bells in the majority of the population.

I think readers of this blog, who know that I lived in Montmartre , and hold the place and the people very deeply in my heart, will realise just how obscene I find this:

Les manifestants ont chanté ce samedi matin à Montmartre ce signe de ralliement antisystème mais aussi antisémite, popularisé par Dieudonné. L’humoriste antisémite peut jubiler

(Thanks to the French comrades who signalled this)

It is not alone.

 

Un camion bulgare caillassé puis poursuivi pendant 12 kilomètres par des Gilets jaunes à Rouen

 

You can guarantee that supporters of the Gilets Jaunes, in the UK do not register this.

French Yellow Vests fight on, and new forces join the movement

by Charlie Kimber.

 

 

Written by Andrew Coates

December 27, 2018 at 1:30 pm