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The Fractious Background of ‘left Populist’ Jean-Luc Mélenchon, Guest of ‘The World Transformed” at the Labour Conference.

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Image result for jean luc melenchon populiste charlie hedo

Something Fishy about Mélenchon’s ‘left-Populism’? 

The leader of La France insoumise will soon be in Liverpool.

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

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

The socialist veteran will appear alongside Labour shadow cabinet member Jon Trickett in one of the headline acts of our four-day festival of politics, art and music that has become a mainstay of party conference.

..the real reason for Mélenchon’s invitation to TWT is not because he is Corbyn mark 2. No, it is for the same reason that TWT is happening in the first place: as part of a democratic socialist project to shift power towards the people. The fundamental truth about the two men’s successes is that it’s not about them. It’s about what they, and TWT, represent: the left taking hold of the future.

Mélenchon ‘commands’  15 MPs, there are two allies (Clémentine Autainand Caroline Fiat) from the alliance of small left groups known as Ensemble who form the Parliamentary Group of 17.

The Ensemble site has published material, in the past, highly critical of Mélenchon. In 2016 they put up a text by  Samy Joshua arguing that his strategy of ”federating the people’ dropped the working class for left populism. « L’ère du peuple » et « l’adieu au prolétariat » ?

The World Transformed  continue.

This was encapsulated by their 2017 manifestos. It was Corbyn’s left-wing programme of nationalisation, abolishing tuition fees and improving workers’ rights that precipitated his astonishing rise in the polls. Mélenchon’s similarly dizzying rise stemmed from the bold manifesto, L’Avenir en Commun (A Shared Future), which he put forward with his party La France Insoumise (FI).

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

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

This statement lacks any recognition of a long political past, not only before the Ère  du people replaced class as the defining context of Mélenchonian ideology.

‘Dizzying’ is the is the most unlikely word that comes to mind  when describing Mélenchon’s ascension, to a position of a commanding minority (around 20%) of the electorate, and a  history of stirring up deep antagonisms on the rest of the French left. Amongst the most recent is a virulent reaction to Parti Communiste Français (PCF) criticism of his supporters who advocated tougher immigration policies, and serious doubts about his claims to take a hard-line with the EU if other member states reject the LFI’s position on their own economic sovereignty. (LFI: un des fondateurs critique l’«hégémonie» de Mélenchon et sa «posture électoraliste» sur l’Europe. August 2018)

Jean-Luc Mélenchon’s political career began in the orthodox Trotskyist  current in France known as ‘Lambertist’ after the Leader of a long-standing variety of groups,  Pierre Lambert (real name, Pierre Boussel). As a student he joined, after May 68, the Lambertists, one the most rigid and authoritarian groups on the French left, the ‘Organisation communiste internationaliste (OCI). The future Presidential candidate was head of the local antennae  in  Besançon, between 1974 and 1976.

The present chief of La France insoumise, dropped Leninism for the Parti Socialiste (PS). He became an active Freemason in the Grand Orient de France (GODF). A member of various groups in the Party he ended up creating the ‘Gauche socialiste’ with another former Trotskyist, Julien Dray (from the Ligue communiste révolutionnaire (LCR). He was marked by burgeoning admiration for François Mitterrand. Indeed Mélechon is often called a “mitterrandiste “. For a variety of reasons, starting with the former French Preisdent’s role in the repression of the Algerian insurgency, and culminating in the 1983 turn of Mitterrand’s appointed Cabinet to “rigour” and retreat from radical socialism, this makes him an unlikely hero for those who would transform the world.(1)

Mélenchon left the PS in 2008, wishing, he stated, to draw clear lines with the right of the party and to have complete freedom to pursue his own left-wing course.  Forming the micro-party, the Parti de Gauche (essentially a public version of a Parti Socialiste ‘club’, ambitiously named after the German Die Linke)) in 2008,  Mélenchon entered in a long series of alliances, with forces such as the Parti Communiste Français, and smaller left groups. These culminated in the bloc, the Front de Gauche, which was marked by conflicts, over issues such the composition of electoral lists and his own version of republican laïcité.

With the creation of La France insoumise (LFI) in 2016, he has entered into a “war of manoeuvre” for hegemony over the French left. Some have compared this with the old Communist Party’s wish to impose itself over the whole left, and its tactic as to keep its supporters preoccupied by frenetic activism.

LFI is not a Party but a “movement of individual citizens those who recognise themselves in the line of action offered by JLM “un mouvement de citoyens individuels qui se reconnaissent dans la démarche de Jean-Luc Mélenchon “.

That is, is defined by allegiance to an individual.

LFI has no proper internal democracy at all.

Conferences, such as they are, a rallies in which up to 60% of the ‘delegates’ are chosen by lot from the lists of (on-Line) members who have expressed an interests. The rest are made up from those chosen by  what has been called “la petite caste” around the Leader (A La France insoumise, la démocratie interne fait débat). It’s this caste who take all the decisions.

There are no internal tendencies; on-line voting is on a limited agenda set by the central leadership.

LFI’s best known strategic objective is to “federate the people” against the oligarchy dominating French politics. This, a broad enough aim, “includes” the workers’ movement (that is skipping over the organised union federations, the CGT, CFD,  FO, FSU and SUD), just as it does ‘social movements’, like the late Nuit Debout that occupied French squares  in 2016 (freely translated as Woke Nights).

Critics say that the “people” figures in LFI’s plans as actors to follow the LFI script for the Sixth Republic. More abstractly, their disparate discourses are ‘articulated’ (voiced and linked together), in the words of the theorist of Left Populism Chantal Mouffe, to create a new, potentially hegemonic Collective Will.

It is true that those who enjoy inspiring speeches, lacked with poems, from Victor Hugo to Apollinaire, have much to hear from Jean Luc.

But the nationalist overtones of books like the Le Hareng de Bismarck, (2015 above) which rails against the “Le poison allemand” (German poison)  imposed on Europe, l’opium des riches”, un monstre born on the other side of the Rhine, are hard to ignore.

It is this thinking which leads Dan Davidson to accuse him of a “drive to tap into French patriotism rather than build international working class solidarity” (The British Left Should Be More Critical Of Jean-Luc Mélenchon)

Mélenchon defines himself as socialiste républicain. In French terms this means a belief that the Republic is the prime vehicle for socialism. The Sixth republic, in the ‘era of the People’, needs radical reform. It is hard to see how any of the political reforms proposed bring the state into the hands of the People, there is little in way of socialising ownership under self-management to start with.

As such he puts the Sovereignty of the People/France, at the top of his priorities.

The EU must change or we will leave it, was his reaction (some interpreted this as a welcome at the shock) to the Brexit result.

On international issues he is anything but an internationalist. His priority again is the national interest,  defending the French independent nuclear force outside of NATO.

The Leader of LFI has faced accusations of  conspiracism (he has been known to claim that Daesh  was created by the US) , of complaisance towards Vladimir Putin, and a failure to defend democrats (although he has taken a serious stand in defence of the Kurds)  in Syria. 

He continues to support the Maduro regime in Venezuela.

He should not be welcome at the World Transformed, still less a Labour Conference.

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(1) Covered from his side  in Le Choix de l’insoumission, Jean-Luc Mélenchon, Marc Endeweld. 2016. Less complimentary background is given by another former Lambertist, 68, et Après. Les héritages égarés. Benjamin Stora. Stock. 2018.

 

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Jean-Luc Mélenchon and Friends, accused of ‘anti immigrant’ rhetoric will not go to the Fête de l’Huma.

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 Mélenchon: Virtue Lies in Not Talking to Left Critics.

Ian Brossat nous insulte” : les Insoumis snobent la Fête de l’Huma.”

Exasperated by the criticism of the Communist Party against Mélenchon’s  speech on immigration, La France insoumise will not send a delegation to the Courneuve where the PCF holds the Fête de l’Huma this weekend,  the biggest popular annual event on the French left wrote  in l’Obs yesterday.

Image result for l'humanite fete 2018

 

The cause?

The fall out from Sahra Wagenknecht’s anti-immigration law and order Aufstehen continues to hit the European left as the leader of the French Communists’ (PCF) European List, Ian Brossat, accused the ‘left populist’ party of indulging in anti-immigrant rhetoric.

 

Some flavour of the rancour involved can be seen from this petulant tweet by  apparently a LFI MP.

The Tweet attempts to rebut criticism of LFI slip towards a hard line position on immigration controls by attacking the PCF’s Brossat for referring to his family history,f aced with Nazism. Apart from rounding on Brossat’s  vulgar “insults” the thin-skinned LFI deputy fears, he alleges “incidents”, if they turned up in front of a left audience wider than their own movement.

This is the article LFI object to:

Ian Brossat: “An anti-migrant left does not exist, it’s like a vegetarian lion.

Ian Brossat : “La gauche anti-migrants, ça n’existe pas, c’est comme un lion végétarien”

Extract:

In France, Jean-Luc Mélenchon has changed his line on immigration since the last presidential election. The leader of the LFI proposes on the one hand “to assume the duty of humanity” towards the refugees and on the other hand to “fight against the causes of migrations”.

During his speech in Marseillehe he echoed the idea that immigration is used by employers to put pressure on wages: “Yes, there are waves of migration, yes, they can pose many problems for the countries of the world….. This poses additional difficulties, above all when some exploit the situation to make profits on the backs of the unfortunate  … […] If you read Jean Jaurès and the thinkers of socialism, they have always said: ‘You use immigration to lower the cost of wages, you use it to fight against social gains.’

Brossat had the outrecuidance to object not only to Wagenkecht’s line but to this mealy-mouthed apology for pandering to racism!

Today Libération claims that LFI was simply looking for an excuse not to turn up at an event which they do not run, and where they may bump into people on the left they do not agree with, including those with do not admire Jean-Luc Mélenchon!

Fête de l’Humanité: «Les insoumis ne voulaient pas venir et ils ont trouvé une excuse»

Unsaid – so far – in this row is the belief by more than a few on the French left that LFI is indeed moving in the same direction as Auftsehen’s founders, with its claims to moblise “popular sovereignty against the markets” serving as a cover for much more overtly nationalist politics.

   asserts that they are on the road to a full blown “red-brown” alliance. France Insoumise: une crise à la croisée des chemins bruns

Her controversial article needs to be read in full to judge, but there is little doubt that the present dispute adds fuel to the fire.

 

Written by Andrew Coates

September 15, 2018 at 10:50 am

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

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

‘Disparition’ by Yemeni photographer Boushra al-Moutawakel.

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

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

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

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

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

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

The full law needs looking at it:

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

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

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

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

Man who supported a burka ban to speak at Corbynista festival

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

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

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

Here is the site of The World Transformed 2018.

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

From Tendance Coatesy: (2016).

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

******

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

French Left Leader Backs Secular Freedom Against Religious Garb.

Jean-Luc Mélenchon, Here

On proposals to ban the Burka.

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

To start with it’s obscene.

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

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

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

The aim should be to extend secularism.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mélenchon to Learn from Labour Party “Shining Beacon”.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Angus Satow is an organiser for The World Transformed.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Critics…..

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

On paper it’s a ‘horizontal’ movement.

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

Why?

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

BBC. 28 March 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

……

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

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

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

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

“Therefore they are not welcome,” he added.

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

He and his party condemned her remarks.

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

 

 

 

From French Trotskyism to Social Democracy. “68, et Après. Les héritages égarés. Benjamin Stora” Review.

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68, et Après. Les héritages égarés. Benjamin Stora. Stock. 2018.

The present wave of strikes and student protests in France have drawn comparisons with the stoppages and protests against the 1995 ‘Plan Juppé”. This reform of state health and retirement insurance, including the railway workers’ pensions, struck at the heart of the French welfare state. There is a strong resemblance between this social movement and the opposition of public sector workers and undergraduates to President Macron’s efforts to ‘modernise’ the French rail system and Universities, (Le Monde 28.3.18).

Others, notably in the English-speaking left, have evoked the spirit of ’68. Some on the French ultra-left, who might be considered to inherit a fragment of the soul of that year’s revolts, state in Lundimatin, that they “do not give a toss” (on s’en fout) about the anniversary of the May events. (Nicolas Truong. Le Monde 15.3.18) Rather than commemorate, or organising Occupy or Nuit Debout style alternatives, they will be busy tearing into Macron, speaking truth for the Coming Insurrection. (1)

That section of the far-left is, of course embroiled in the continuation of the Tarnac trial. Others from a close milieu are involved in resisting the clearing of the last self-organised squats at Notre-Dame-des-Landes.

Benjamin Stora’s 68, et Après is written from a standpoint both familiar internationally, the fall out from the crushing defeat of the French left in last year’s Presidential and Parliamentary elections, and one far less well-known, the history of a section of Gallic Trotskyism, the ‘Lambertists’.

It is also an autobiography, from his origins in as a North African Jews, his education, his many years of activism, and university career. Stora  has produced important studies of French Algeria, the war of liberation, and post-independence Algerian history, including the exile of its Jewish population. There is a finely handled account of the tragic death of his daughter in 1992. Stora’s commitment to study the Maghreb did not wholly override political commitment. Opposition to the Jihadists – and be it said, the Military – during the 1990s civil war in Algeria – led to Islamist intimidation. After a small coffin inscribed with words from the Qur’an, and a death threat addressed to Unbelievers, Jews and Communists arrived at his home the historian was forced to leave France and spend time in Vietnam, the occasion for further fruitful reflection on post-colonial societies.

Generation 68

Stora argues that the notion of a 68 ‘generation’ (popularised in Hervé Hamon and Patrick Rotman’s landmark 1987 book of the same name) is misleading. He notes the two volumes lack of attention to his own tradition. A full-time activist in the 1970s the former Lambertist suggests, notably, that his own tendency, whose internal regime and (to put in terms this reviewer, whose background is amongst its left-wing rivals) stifling narrow-minded morality (up to hostility towards feminism and gays), was also part of the post-68 radical movement. This is indeed the case, although not many beyond their circles had a taste for denunciations of “petty bourgeois deviations” and ritual revolutionary socialism. (Page 31) Those familiar with the history will suspect the reason for their absence (one Index reference to Lambert) in Génération. That is, the Lambertists’ call during one of the most celebrated moments of 68, for students to disperse from the Boulevard Saint-Michel rendered, “Non aux barricades” and to go to the workers at Renault, Michel (Night of 10-11th of May). (2)

The history of this highly disciplined current, around the figure of Pierre Lambert (real name Boussel) in 68 known as the Organisation communiste internationaliste (OCI) is long and, to say the least controversial. But their imprint is not confined to the fringes. Lambertists have played an important part in the recently governing Parti Socialiste (PS). Amongst one-time members are the former Prime Minister, Lionel Jospin, and the ex-Socialist  leader of La France insoumise, Jean-Luc Mélenchon.

Stora, like PS General Secretary until last year, Jean-Christophe Cambadélis, was part of a several hundred strong Lambertist faction which joined the PS in 1986. Cambadélis, in his most recent book, Chronique d’une débâcle (2017) makes passing reference to a Trotskyist past (his ability to spot sectarian manoeuvres is undiminished). L’après 68 gives an extensive account of the organisation, from weekly cell meetings, whose minutes were rigorously kept and transmitted to the party HQ, to their exploits in the student unions and ‘mutuals’, friendly societies which play an important part in assuring student health and other forms of insurance.

Stora’s La Dernière Génération d’Octobre (2003) covers, he remarks, the post-68 culture and politics of his time in the OCI. The present volume gives probably more attention to the way in which his faction from this generation moved from full-time Lambertist activism, often paid for by one of the fractured French student unions, the UNEF-ID, in some cases by Teachers’ unions) into the late 1980s Parti Socialiste. Going from a clandestine fraction, led principally by Cambadélis, suspicious of surveillance by a group whose way of dealing with dissidence was not too far off the British WRP’s, they broke with Leninism. This was not just in opposition to the vertical internal regime, and the reliance on the “transitional programme” but, as they saw it, to establish a left-wing force within the democratic socialist spectrum represented in the post Epinay PS.  

A deal reached with Boussel, to avoid the violence and rancour traditionally associated with splits, was soon behind them. Despite the author’s best efforts it fails to disperse the suspicion, which those of us who are, let’s just say, not greatly fond of their tradition, had that some kind of arrangement also took place between Lambert and the PS itself over their entry into the party. (3) 

Inside the Parti Socialiste.

An organised PS current, Convergences socialistes, with all the self-importance that afflicts parts of the French left and academics, they numbered around 400 members. Of these a few moved into open professional politics. As a coherent body it is hard to find much trace of them in the shifting alliances within the PS, although one may find some remaining allies of Cambadélis as he clambered  up the party hierarchy. 

Just how adept former Lambertists could be in the PS game is registered by Stora’s portrait of an individual who had joined the PS some years before, Jean-Luc Mélenchon. The present chief of La France insoumise, with a seat in the senate’s august halls, shared a wish create a new vanguard with his own tendency, the ‘Gauche socialiste’. He was equally  marked by burgeoning admiration for François Mitterrand. This did not go down well. Stora recalled the President’s role in the repression of Algerian insurgents…(Page 49 – 50). In a critique of Mélenchon’s present politics, Stora draws comparisons with the old Communist Party’s wish to impose its hegemony on the left, and keep its activists preoccupied by frenetic activism (Pages 150 – 153).

The root cause of the present  débâcle is  Parliamentary left lost touch with the people, part of an autonomous political sphere. The history of how a section of the radical left made the transfer from revolutionary full-timers to PS MPs and functionaries (and a galaxy of dependent positions) is not unique. It could be paralleled on a smaller scale by the career of the UK Socialist Action in Ken Livingstone’s London Mayor administration. The insulated, amply rewarded, lives of politicians, is, it is often said, one of the causes of the break down of the traditional French parties of right and left. Stora does not neglect his own current’s involvement in the student mutual, MNEF, corruption scandals, (Page 129). Whatever remains of the difference between ‘revolutionaries’ and ‘reformists’ fades into the distance faced with a managerial-bureaucratisation enveloping the current. The same processes, born of their reliance on union positions and opaque funding are not without effects on the remaining loyal Lamberists in the le Parti ouvrier indépendant (POI) , and their split,  the Parti ouvrier indépendant démocratique (POID).

After 68?

Après 68 is above all is a rousing condemnation of the “neo-nationalism” grounded on French “identity” and fear of “decline”. This, from the 2005 European Constitution Referendum (which divided the French left including, Stora notes, some on his section of the radical left)  dominates French politics, left and right, up to its presence in the ‘synthesis’ offered by President Macron. French political space, he observes, no longer dominated by the Parti Socialiste, is open. From 1968, writes both the historian and left winger he keeps two passions, for History (the source of his productive career) and the internationalist defence of those without rights, the desire for a common human civilisation. Staying hopeful that hopes for a new world have not been extinguished, L’après 68 is full of important messages from an old one.

*****

(1) See: A nos Amis. 2014. Le Comité Invisible 2014. Page 64. “Voilà ce qu’il faut opposer à la « souveraineté » des assemblées générales, aux bavardages des Parlements : la redécouverte de la charge affective liée à la parole, à la parole vraie. Le contraire de la démocratie, ce n’est pas la dictature, c’est la vérité. C’est justement parce qu’elles sont des moments de vérité, où le pouvoir est nu, que les insurrections ne sont jamais démocratiques.”

(2) Pages 467– 469. Les Trotskyistes, Christophe Nick. Fayard. 2002.

(3)See for example, the series in le Monde by Nathaniel Herzberg in 1999 on the subject commented on here:  De la « génération » comme argument de vente… A propos d’une série d’articles sur la « génération MNEF ».

Behind the Shawcroft Row: The Labour Party as Social Movement and Political Trade Unionism.

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The Labour Party as Social Movement and Political Trade Unionism.

In one of his lesser-known works, L’Éternité par les astres (1872) the 19th century socialist insurrectionist Louis-Auguste Blanqui announced that there were millions of stars and worlds like our own. In each of them lived our personal doppelgänger. Those who have reflected on this discovery would deduce that our alter egos would each have minor differences, slightly different points of our view, that would end in distinct narratives about our existence.

Recent events in the Labour Party have brought similar differences about what has happened during a number of events, from goings-on at the National Policy Forum, to the National Executive Committee (NEC). The same meeting the same people, but very different takes on what took place.

The most recent, and, politically, the most important, is the latest NEC meeting. Christine Shawcroft’s dissatisfaction with a decision to submit allegations of anti-semitism to further disciplinary procedure has tumbled over into disagreement about the role of trade union representatives on Labour’s ruling body. She is reported to have expressed the view, amongst other things, that union delegates are unreliable allies of the left. Shawcroft suggested on social media that the Labour-union link should be re-examined. Those hostile to her intervention, and no doubt Momentum, in which the long-standing NEC member is a leading figure, have claimed that she called for a break with the organised working class. Since then everybody has united on keeping the union link (Labour unites behind trade union affiliation).

The row in the wake of these comments takes place against the backdrop of a contest for Labour’s General Secretary. This, a post, unlike, in other European parties (such as the French Parti Socialiste’s similar sounding position) has organisational and not directly political responsibility. The Secretary is appointed by the Party’s upper structure and is therefore, in principle, not an issue that involves the wider membership. But the different candidates, above all Jon Lansman, on the NEC but best known as a founder of Momentum, and Jennie Formby  from the union UNITE, have increasingly been seen in a political light. It is known that Lansman was not happy with a union ‘shoe in’ into the position. What is clear now is that UNITE’s leadership is unhappy with any questioning of their political weight in the party. These, and other issues about the candidacies, have been echoed amongst those Labour activists interested in the future direction of the party.

Momentum: Labour as social movement.

It should be clear that while there are no real differences about the primary need to campaign to get a Labour government elected, and to work out policies to achieve this, the dispute could be seen in the light of some important differences. For some Momentum is not just a pressure group to build support for Labour’s leader Jeremy Corbyn. It is, grandly, a project designed for Labour to gain a “collective transformative” capacity. It may be seen, as Hilary Wainwright put it “having a creative capacity and transformative power” “distinct from (not opposed to) electoral politics”. As such as, “a party as a means of experimenting and prefiguring in the represent” “the relations we envisage in the future”. Less inclined to an extra-terrestrial discovery to rival Blanqui’s, Momentum is seen “grassroots politics” with activists, many of them youthful, pouring energy and enthusiasm into Labour’s campaigns. In this capacity – that is a means to help bolder the party’s capacity to root change in the wider society, – the group is highly welcome. (1)

Momentum’s own difficulties include an ‘on-line’ democracy that critics allege does not function, conferences and decision-making process which resemble the centralised aspect of the equally ‘social media’ and Web hub based La France insoumise (LFI) of Jean-Luc Mélenchon. In its defence it could be said that Momentum is not LFI, out to ‘federate the people’ by means of a virtual political party, but has become an auxiliary of one with the goal of helping Labour get elected. It has avoided becoming embroiled in the worst aspects of left in fighting and sectarian recruitment politics. Momentum, unless one reads Shawcroft’s NEC intervention in the most hostile possible way, has shown no inclination to indulge the – ultra-minority – strain of Judophobia that has become an issue in left politics.

These positive achievements do not prevent another set of concerns at the place of such a body in drawing up lists in local Labour Parties with the sole aim of getting approved candidates elected to internal positions and councillor selections. In some case, Haringey stands out, this is part of a justified and broader effort to change very wong council policies. But in others this polarising practice, right up to clashes over the most minor positions, many complain, overrides debate of policy issues.

Political Trade Unionism.

What has also come to light is that the trade unions have a distinct idea about their role in the Labour Party. The TUC and affiliated unions have always seen the party as a means to get legislation passed in their favour, most recently by some who give priority to restoring collective bargaining in negotiations. Apart from these classical demands some, above all UNITE, have their own ideas about “political unions”.

Andrew Murray, a key figure in Len McClusky’s circle, and a consultant to Jeremy Corbyn, argued in 2014, for rebuilding the left around the People’s Assembly. This national campaign against austerity, Murray noted, drew the unions, ant-cuts activists and left-wingers from Labour and a variety of small left parties, with the objective of creating “rooted movements for change” “re-establishing the basis for mass socialist politics”. Behind this, based on the working class movement, was a strategy to “reclaim Labour” for the left – a prospect Murray saw – in 2014 – that could be thwarted by the “Blairite undead”. (2)

Murray may have his own eccentric ideas about ‘anti-imperialism’, and the positive side of the Soviet past. But, Labour has been largely (not entirely) been wrenched from the Blair/Brown legacy. In this the importance of initiatives such as the People’s Assembly stands out. It was one of the factors that prepared the ground for Corbyn’s election. The alternative strategy, which his article thoroughly took to pieces, of various left electoral challenges, from Left Unity, to the (continuing) Trades Union and Socialist Alliance (TUSC) faded into oblivion.

The problem now is whether the trade union movement, dedicated to achieving goals through electoral power, can sustain a relation with those who see ‘Labour as a social movement’. This is not a just a matter of ‘control’, which unions do not have over Momentum. A central policy issue equally divides the left. Some still see the future in terms of a “People’s Brexit’. Some decades later, on another planet, Tony Benn’s call for “genuine national sovereignty” – is proposed by the Morning Star, and, in a souped up form, by the ‘revolutionary’ remnants of the People’s Assembly reduced to the mouthpiece of the groupuscule Counterfire (The why and what of a People’s Brexit). But it is unlikely that inside the party, in Momentum or anywhere else, apart from the far from dynamic minority of ‘patriotic Labour’ is attracted to this prospect. Many remain strongly opposed to Leave. A few respond to the demand for a new referendum. The compromise over the Customs Union is a stop-gap a more detailed set of policies on Europe remains to be settled.

The differences between Labour-as-a-social-movement and Political Trade Unionism are far from irresolvable. Those, like this writer, who rejoined Labour, are intensely conscious that for Labour to be elected compromises and a great deal of respect is due for those activists, councillors and MPs who have kept membership over the years. Their concerns focus on issues such as the funding for local government, housing, welfare reform and …Europe. It would be better if disputes took place over policy, in a collaborative fashion, and not over jostling for internal positions in the party.

*******

(1) Radicalising the party-movement relationship: from Ralph Miliband to Jeremy Corbyn and beyond. Hilary Wainwright. Socialist Register. 2017. Merlin Press. Beyond the Boundary, Momentum’s role in the #GE2017 Campaign, Puru Miah. Chartist. 277. July/August 2017.

(2) Left Unity or Class Unity? Working class politics in Britain. Andrew Murray. Socialist Register 2014. Merlin Press.

(3) On this aspect of Tony Benn’s politics see: Chapter 6 A Party with Socialists in it. A History of the Labour Left. Simon Hannah. Pluto Press. 2018

Mélenchon: War of Manoeuvre Against the ‘Media Party’.

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Mélenchon out on a ‘War of Manoeuvre’.

Age-old whinges of politicians against the Media has taken a new turn in France.

Joining together in common complaints,  Jean-Luc Mélenchon of the left-wing ‘populist’ La France insoumise (LFI), far right, Marine  Le Pen  and  hard right leader of the ‘Républicains, (LR) ‘ Laurent Wauquiez, that is all the principal French political parties outside the ruling ‘centrist’ Macron La France en marche,  bloc, , have declared a veritable ‘war’ on the media (Mélenchon, Le Pen et Wauquiez déclarent la guerre aux médias. Le Monde 1.3.108)

Jean-Luc Mélenchon has his own gripes, about reports regarding his party-rally’s dodgy  financial accounting during the Presidential campaign.

For those willing to wade through his verbose Blog Mélenchon wrote on the 26th of February a defence of Wauquiez against the Media pack, or, more grandly, the “media party” (parti médiatique) and its put up jobs against his good self and LFI (Le coup monté du «service public» contre la «France Insoumise»)

Describing the public radio services he suggested comparisons with CIA disinformation, “une sorte de CIA médiatique”, a campaign organising “coups” (coups » déstabilisateurs) The media in effect is behind charges against his good self  and the said dodgy accounts.

Faced with the hatred (la haine) of the media, the leader of LFI remarked that he does not believe in the personal dignity of those behind these plots, engaged in preventing people to think freely ( Je ne crois pas à la dignité personnelle des gens qui montent de telles opérations). The only task left for the dignified leader was to….

Well there is this:

Maverick Mélenchon: French far-left launches its own web TV

Unfortunately the project has come a cropper.

Eviction de la rédactrice en chef, départ de Noël Mamère et couverture du conflit syrien: Le Média dans la tourmente. (20 Minutes)

The head of this operation, Aude Rossigneux, was booted out  in conditions which remain unclear, but essentially linked to her inability to do Mélenchon’s bidding.

The real scandal which has erupted is over the web television coverage of Syria, with Mélenchon’s favoured place-people refusing the broadcast “sensationalist” images of the siege of Goutha. ” Le correspondant libanais du Média, Claude El Khal, refuse de diffuser les images des bombardements de la Ghouta orientale, en Syrie, et parle de meurtres commis par la rébellion.” That is, a refusal to show images of the bombing of Ghouta  yet giving plenty of space to murders committed by the armed opposition.

There is a summary of further developments yesterday, including a whole group of people resigning from the venture, here:  Le Média perd des soutiens Aurélie Filippetti, Patrick Pelloux ou encore François Morel « regrettent » d’avoir soutenu à son lancement la webtélé proche de La France insoumise.  SOURCE AFP

Not to be outdone the uncontested leader of La France insoumise has now theorised his stand in Gramscian terms.

Mélenchon théorise la « guerre permanente » contre « le parti médiatique  (le Monde).

According to Abel Mestre   Mélenchon is engaged in a Gramscian version of a “war of manoeuvre”, a frontal assault, against the “media party”. Mestre cites this LFI strategy in terms taken from Chantal Mouffe and Ernesto Laclau. That is,  a confrontation between the ‘People’  and the ruling ‘Caste’ (a word which sounds as out-of-place in ordinary, dare I say, ‘popular’  French, la caste, as it does in English).

Perhaps my Gramsci is a bit rusty but I thought that “War of Manoeuvre” is a struggle of force, comparable to a military insurrection in the fight for political power. We may modify it to mean any open struggle between classes, not simply revolutionary/counter-revolutionary struggles but it remains a harsh, militant, line of action.

Some might say that framing  Mélenchon’s tiff with the French media in terms of an open battle between two camps, a ‘war’ , is, to say the least,  pretentious.

It certainly does not look as if this strategy is paying off in terms of the “war of position”, the ambitions of a party to gain a degree of hegemony in society through its influence and ideas.

Update: Dossier,La France insoumise : objectifs politiques, les media et Le Média

Written by Andrew Coates

March 3, 2018 at 1:08 pm