Tendance Coatesy

Left Socialist Blog

Posts Tagged ‘French Left

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

with 4 comments

Image result for Chronique d’une Débâcle. 2012 – 2017. Jean-Christophe Cambadélis.

 

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

Advertisements

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

with 4 comments

Related image

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.

leave a comment »

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’.

with 8 comments

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.

with 3 comments

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

 

Bernard-Henri Lévy rages against « Le Monde diplomatique »

leave a comment »

Image result for bernard henri levy caricature

 

Bernard-Henri Lévy is a kind of Human Rights French Tariq Ali. A man who’s an expert and a view on every political event on the planet,  and a few more things beside. On the left with with Ali we only have his political vacillations,  early recognition of  ‘democratic socialist’ Boris Yeltsin, voting for the Liberal Democrat Party, pious rage against Charlie Hebdo, punditry on the Middle East, yelps of joy at Brexit, and this,

At present we hear that Ali is advising President Maduro of Venezuela on how to defeat the US imperialists.

Advice to Venezuelan masses: run for the hills!

It is true that Lévy  has a lot more contortions on what passes for his conscience, from support for the Islamist Mujahidin in Afghanistan, the defence of IMF Chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn  to writing a series of preposterous books.

Unlike Ali some people take him seriously.

He claims to have influenced President Nicolas Sarkozy which may well be true.

Background.

Lévy first shot to fame as a leading ‘new philosopher’ in the late 1970s.

This group which accused Marxism of being a cover for Mastery, and the root of the Gulag was important at the time, though largely forgotten today. I read Lévy ‘s attack on  Stalinism, which for him included the entire Marxist left,  La Barbarie à visage humain   (1977) in the early 1980s and cannot say that it had the slightest effect on me, unlike André Glucksmann’s Les Maîtres penseurs (1977) La Cuisinière et le Mangeur d’Hommes – Réflexions sur l’État, le marxisme et les camps de concentration (1975). The first book, is troubling. It brought home the tragic reality of the drive to make society fit Stalinism.  If it  stands  as a weaker book than the historically and theoretically more rooted, Un Homme en trop. Essai sur l’archipel du goulag de Soljénitsyne, ( 1975) by Claude Lefort,  Glucksmann raised important issues about the way the regime treated the ‘pleb’. The Master Thinkers is full of wild generalisations about the will to power and the apparatuses put into place to make ‘Marxism’ a reality, but it is still worth reading on a wet afternoon.

BHL’s  L’Idéologie française (1981) essentially accused all French political traditions of being tainted by fascism. Wikipedia notes (mildly), that “l’ouvrage a été fortement critiqué en raison de ses distorsions avec la réalité historique et de son ton grandiloquent.” the work was strongly criticised because of its distortion of historical reality and its grandiose tone.”

It is rubbish.

Like many I lost interest in the books, the one on Sartre, translated into English gives one  a taste of “grandiloquent” on a massive scale,  but sitll read his articles.

Its hard not to: they appear all over the French media as does the man himself.

It would be an error of judgement to get too involved in anti-Lévy outrage, there’s some pretty dodgy people who have an obsession with him for reasons (see his name…) which are pretty obvious.

Lévy  did nevertheless back Charlie Hebdo in their hour of need (In Praise of Blasphemy,)which shall not be forgotten.

Still,  the latest feud looks interesting.

The following appears in the latest (September)  print edition of Le Monde diplomatique. 

Bernard-Henri Lévy enragé contre « Le Monde diplomatique »

Bernard-Henri Lévy’s attack on Le Monde diplomatique on 20 July continues a long-running feud. In 2013 Bernard-Henri Lévy was condemned for ‘complicity in public diffamation’ by a Paris court after an earlier such attack. That has not stopped him publishing another broadside, titled ‘The shame and poverty of Le Monde diplomatique’, in Le Point.

Serge Halimi.

Déjà condamné, le 23 avril 2013, par la 17e chambre correctionnelle de Paris, pour « complicité de diffamation publique » après s’en être pris au Monde diplomatique,Bernard-Henri Lévy récidive. Il vient ainsi de consacrer la totalité de sa chronique hebdomadaire du Point (20 juillet 2017) à un texte rageur qui ressasse ses vieilles calembredaines, en titrant cette fois son propos « Misère et déshonneur du “Monde diplomatique” ».

A;ready sentenced, on the 23rd of April 2013, by the 17th chambre correctionnelle de Paris for ” involvement in public slander”, after having having attacked le Monde Diplomatique Bernard-Henri Lévy  has repeated his offence. It has just devoted the whole of his weekly column in Le Point (20th of July) to a raging polemic, titled, Misery and Dishonour of Le Monde Diplomatique,  which rehashes the same nonsense.

Full article through above link.

Le Monde Diplomatique is certainly not without its faults, with  one of the editors, Bernard Cassen  (also slandered by Lévy in 2010) who has    background in tiersmondisme (third-worldism). Many of its contributors are aligned to the more archly ‘republican’ side of the French left. It ahs published Seumas Milne, which is not considered a good sign. But it has recently begun to print articles by people like comrades Owen Jones and  Paul Mason.  It also carried a sterling attack by no less than the Editor, Serge Halmi,  on the darling of the US identitarian ‘left, the Indigènes de la République ( Ahmadinejad, mon héros).

 

Here is the dossier of articles on the man himself.

My favourite is The Man Who has Never Been Wrong:  Lhomme qui ne s’est jamais trompé », par Pierre Rimbert, janvier 2010.

Here is the article, which Lévy’s little helpers have translated into unusual – for Lévy texts –  clear English.

The Shame of Le Monde diplomatique

PARIS – Le Monde diplomatique, which has no editorial connection to the newspaper Le Monde, is not well known outside France. In a way, that is too bad, because it is typical of the French intellectual and journalistic scene – typical, too, of the brand of populism checked by Emmanuel Macron’s election, but which remains deeply rooted in France.

This article came about because of the recent appearance on the website of Le Monde diplo, as the monthly is known in France, of a “dossier” containing “20 years of archives,” “freely accessible,” concerning me. But “me” as Don Corleone, oligarch, mystifier, the devil incarnate, and a “significant” representative of the French “system.”

 I will not dwell on the details of this trove of obscure articles, which, for the most part, I had not seen before.

I will not attempt to correct – at least not right now – the mind-boggling falsehoods, nonsense, and petty insults that make up this grotesque and pitiful affair, which has caused a minor uproar in France.

But I will not forgo sharing my opinion of this monthly, to which, during the 1974-1975 Portuguese revolution, I submitted one of my first dispatches, but which today retains nothing of Le Monde except shareholders, nothing diplomatic except the word, and nothing respectable except the memory of its distant founders.

One should know, for example, that Le Monde diplo is one of the last places in France where Tariq Ramadan, ideologist of the Muslim Brotherhood, who sees the hand of the intelligence services behind the Islamist attacks in Toulouse and Brussels, is still considered an authority. In a piece dated April 3, 2016, a former Le Monde diplo editor, Alain Gresh, and others, called Ramadan’s voice one that “carries weight in poor neighborhoods” and to which “young people listen.”

One should know that all manner of conspiracy theories are often uncritically echoed. In a talk to the Friends of Le Monde diplomatique in Montpellier, in May 2010, Professor Annie Lacroix-Riz endeavoredto prettify the fascistic myth of the synarchism of the secret elite. Holocaust denier Jean Bricmont was long responsible for Le Monde diplo’s reviews of anti-American and anti-Zionist books. Frédéric Lordon, a sort of younger clone of Marxist thinker Alain Badiou, offers a chic variant, maintaining that it is no more absurd to see plots everywhere than not to see them anywhere, and that there is indeed a conspiracy of “the dominant” to blind the “dominated.”

Response to such articles as,

Bernard-Henri Lévy’s plan for the French left

Lévy’s pet hates.

In his latest book (1) Bernard-Henri Lévy lists “laboratories brewing atrocities”. This list features, in order of appearance:

 Hugo Chávez, “whose anti-neo liberal rhetoric recalls ‘fascist or Nazi-style regimes’ according to Latin-America’s bishops”.

 Etienne Balibar, Daniel Bensaïd, Pierre Bourdieu and Jacques Derrida, held responsible for the “widely publicised rediscovery… of a theoretician, driven by his hatred of free markets to espouse Nazism: Carl Schmitt. He is presented as the saviour of a left that has lost its bearings.”

 Slavoj Zizek and Peter Sloterdijk: “A significant number of European intellectuals have wholeheartedly embraced this curious, indeed hallucinatory, notion that a Nazi thinker [Schmitt] could rescue the left from its current problems. Heidegger used to say that only a god could save us. Now, echoing the idea, this leftwing fringe repeats that only a Nazi can save us.”

 Emmanuel Mounier and Jean-Marie Domenach: “The idea [attributed to them] that the real danger was not the Soviet Union, but the United States, not communism but Americanism, resurfaces among the ideologists of the new right in the 1980s, and then in all the neo-Nazi sects, mentioned above, such as Nouvelle Résistance, and finally in [France’s] National Front.”

 Le Monde diplomatique: “An editorial of Le Monde diplomatiqueexplaining that America … has found a secret weapon for ‘domesticating souls’… almost exactly the same words as Drieu la Rochelle (2) used …. Or here again, in the same issue … the foul stench arising from the condemnation of the ‘cosmopolitan establishment of bankers and corporate lawyers’ that dominates the US, and therefore the world. Maurras (3), or nowadays Le Pen, would say the same… In yet another article, by Loïc Wacquant and Pierre Bourdieu … how can one not react to the disturbing similarities with another strain of anti-Americanism, the one and only true variety, hatched by Arthur Moeller Van den Bruck, the man who invented the idea of the Third Reich.”

 Michael Moore’s film Fahrenheit 9/11 “was no more than a variation on the old isolationist, populist, ultra-nationalist and chauvinistic ideas of Pat Buchanan and other rightwing US extremists”.

 Harold Pinter: “You would think you were listening to Pinter, Chomsky, Bourdieu or a neo-Trotskyist. But no. The nerve, the investigative style, the obsession with manipulation … it all brings us back, I fear, to the ravings of the tsarist police fabricating its famous fake that supposedly proved Jewish domination of the world.”

 Noam Chomsky: “this maniacal negationist”.

 Olivier Besancenot and the Attac organisation: “Why have we never heard any of them, ever, telling us what they think about Iran’s president Ahmadinejad, who repeatedly says that he dreams of annihilating Israel?”

Referring to Lévy’s publications in 1979, Cornelius Castoriadis found “a good sample of devious Stalinist techniques”. This is a severe criticism, particularly as Lévy claims to write “without any sense of controversy”, though “I do of course simplify”, and even suggests the reader “look at things calmly and with a cool head”. He sees himself as being “trained, I think, to be curious and respectful”.

Lévy defends the US industrialist Henry Ford, who inspired Adolf Hitler. As Lévy himself acknowledges, his commitment to the cause of Darfur brought him into contact with “an increasing number of Islamic militants, sometimes even Islamists, linked in particular to Farrakhan’s Nation of Islam.” (The preacher Louis Farrakhan is, among other things, an anti-semite.)

Perhaps it would be most effective to refer Lévy to his own writings: “Sometimes, overwhelmed by exhaustion or disgust, it is just too hard to go on. What is the point in trying to make someone see reason, when they just will not listen?” Just so.

Written by Andrew Coates

August 31, 2017 at 11:35 am

Commemorating Jean Jaurès.

with 4 comments

A YEAR has passed since the death of the greatest man of the Third Republic. Events the like of which history has not previously known have welled up almost as if to wash away Jaurès’ blood with new blood and to divert attention away from him and to swallow up even his memory. But even the very greatest events have only partially succeeded in this. In France’s political life a great void has been left behind. New leaders of the proletariat answering the revolutionary character of the new era have not yet arisen. The old leaders only make us remember the more clearly that there is now no Jaurès.

The war has thrown on one side not only individual figures but a whole era with them: the era during which the present leading generation in all spheres of life had been educated and brought up. Today this departed era on the one hand attracts our thoughts by the obstinacy of its cultural heritage, the uninterrupted growth of its technology, science and workers’ organizations; and on the other seems petty and characterless in the conservatism of its political life and in the reformist methods of its class struggle.

After the Franco-Prussian War and the Paris Commune (1870-1871) a period of armed peace and political reaction set in. Europe, if one excluded Russia, knew neither war nor revolution. Capital developed on a mighty scale outgrowing the framework of nation-states and overflowing into the remaining countries and subjugating colonies. The working class built its trade unions and its socialist parties. However the whole of the proletarian struggle of this period was impregnated with the spirit of reformism, of adaptation to the existing order and to the nation’s industry and the nation’s state power. After the experience of the Paris Commune the European proletariat did not once pose the question of the conquest of political power in a practical, that is, a revolutionary way. This peaceful, “organic” character of the era reared a whole generation of proletarian leaders thoroughly steeped in distrust for the direct revolutionary mass struggle.

When the war broke out and the nation-state embarked on its campaign with all its forces armed to the teeth, this generation could without difficulty place the majority of the “socialist” leaders down on their knees. The epoch of the Second International has thus ended with the violent wrecking of the official socialist parties. True they are still standing as monuments to a past age and supported both indirectly and forcibly by the governments. But the spirit of proletarian socialism has fled them and they are doomed to collapse. The working masses who have in the past accepted the ideas of socialism are only now, amid the terrible experience of the war, receiving their revolutionary baptism of fire. We are entering upon a period of unprecedented revolutionary earthquakes. New organizations will be brought to the fore by the masses and new leaders will stand at their head.

The two most outstanding representatives of the Second International have left the scene before the onset of the era of storms and earthquakes: namely Bebel and Jaurès. Bebel died in ripe old age having said everything that he was able to say. Jaurès was killed at the age of 55 in the full flower of his creative energy. A pacifist and a sharp opponent of the policies of Russian diplomacy, Jaurès fought right till the last minute against French intervention in the war. It was considered in certain circles that the war of “liberation” could not commence its march other than by stepping over Jaurès’ dead body.

Jean Jaurès  Leon Trotsky. July 1915

Two important and recommended books on Jaurès

Gilles Candar – Vincent Duclert, Jean Jaurès, Fayard, 2014.

This  biography has set a new standard. Beautifully written, with a proper ‘critical apparatuses’ (not a noted feature of many French biographies or indeed works of political theory), it is the best study of the French socialist leader that I have come across.

Candar (of the Société d’études jaurésiennes  and Duclert (a specialist on the Dreyfus affair) point out that, while never  held office, Jaurès remains one of the most influential figures in the country’s history, revered on all sides. Amongst its many merits the book is illuminating on the general history of the 3rd Republic, from the Dreyfus Affair, in which the Socialist, initially reluctant, was drawn to take the side of those defending not just the unjustly accused by the universal values of human rights, to the separation of state and Church, the foundation of French Laïcité . The authors do not skirt around one issue, which has always irked me, the absence on the French left at the time (indeed up till say, the 1970s…) of any recognition of the importance of feminism. The socialist leader, active in the Second International where these issues were raised more frequently than in France, was they illustrate, was committed to women’s rights, if, as a homme du Midi of the age, he was marked by  patriarchal culture.

Jaurès’ struggle for peace on the eve of the Great War and the ferocious hatred that he inspired on the French nationalist right, today, on the anniversary of Passchendaele has passed, and xenophobia has returned throughout Europe, serve to underline the grandeur of  one of the greatest leaders of international socialism.

Jean-Paul ScotJaurès et le réformisme révolutionnaire, Seuil, 2014.

For many  Jaurès’ socialism is summed up in the phrase, “the republic must be made social“. Scot argues that it  rested on deeper foundations. Tracing his intellectual development the author of unravels a  dialectic between a belief in the reformist (though not ‘revisionist’) belief in  ‘evolution’ and the need for radical change. Taking from Marx the concept of  “évolution révolutionnaire” to bring the two sides together Scot, illustrates this through the socialist leader’s speeches, articles and political career.  Jaurès began as a republican, much as his British counterparts in the late 19th century, started as “radicals”. He became a ‘collectivist’ and republican socialist, but, with his reading and experience began, Scot argues, to offer a perspective  that went beyond the structures of capitalism.

Lucid and always readable this essay ploughs into the world of 19th century socialism. We are spared the details of the rifts between the Marxism of Jules Guesde  and the  Parti ouvrier français,, pure republican revolutionaries (Parti socialiste révolutionnaire),  mutualists, the allemanistes,  the electric ‘integral socialism’ of Benoît Malon, and the wider current of reformism,  (possibilistes)  as Scot underlines Jaurès’ ability, as an “Independent” to bring most of the left together for the creation of the Section française de l’Internationale ouvrière (SFIO, French Section of the Workers’ International), the first French Socialist Party in 1905.

This hopeful essay, which does not skate around  the difficulties Jaurès lyrical French republican side leaves us, but focuses on the profound  problems created by capitalism, is a  tonic against those who imagine that the division between Right and Left  can be wished away by the election of a new President.

 

Written by Andrew Coates

July 31, 2017 at 12:00 pm