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New Spat Between Admirers and Critics of Mélenchon on Labour List.

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Mr Virtual 6,3%.

Yesterday le Monde carried two pages around this article:  the fragmented Left Faced with the Challenged of Refoundation.

The principal article talked of the historic defeat of Jean-Luc Mélenchon’s ‘lieu de rassemblement’ (rally) la France insoumise (LFI)  in this year’s European elections, where they got 6,3% of the vote (down from 19% in the 2017 French Presidential Election). It suggested that the undisputed leader of LFI was now concentrating on winning municipal positions off his rivals, the Communists, PCF, who were down even further at 2,49%. The impression given was that the French left was squabbling over crumbs (the literal meaning of emiettée is ‘in crumbs’).

In interview across the page in the daily of a loyal LFI cadre and MP  Alexis Corbière contained only staunch denial of any difficulties – the resignations that followed this collapse, and the accusations of autocratic inner rally running (LFI has no members, only affiliates; it is run as a Party-business) by the Little Caesar in charge. There was a defence of their “populist” strategy of assembling the ‘People’ against the ”Oligarchy’ above the old left right divisions ( Alexis Corbière : « L’alternative, c’est l’oligarchie ou le peuple »).

Le Monde, oddly, was concerned with the French Greens, Europe Écologie, who with Yannick Jadot won 13,48%.

Not a lot in fact but more than anybody else who might be considered on the left, something Jadot is very equivocal about himself – he does not rule our local alliances with  right-wing parties. who accept a Green programme.

While all this has been going on, a few days ago Labour List published the following article:

What Corbynism could learn from France’s Mélenchon

Mckevitt seems to base his knowledge of La France insoumise and its Leader largely on Chantal Mouffe’s book For a Left Populism (2018), and reports of his presence at last year’s The World Transformed.

“This dynamic populist demand, articulated by Mélenchon through a desire to completely remake the French state from “the people” up, exhibits itself in Corbynism through the relatively gradual, procedural and legalistic process of reforming reselection processes. Despite the shared values of democratisation and of a mass membership wrenching control from those with entrenched positions (and the strategic concern of Corbynism to transform the Parliamentary Labour Party), the party structure that Corbynism finds itself channelled through is ultimately limiting to the scope of this demand.

Mélenchon’s left-populism also finds itself in fundamental opposition to what he perceives as the global institutions of neoliberal capitalism.

He concluded, noting that even the Sun had spots – Mélenchon’s ‘Patriotism” and backing for “a radically patriotic interpretation of laïcité, ”  a term or a politics which is not explained.

Nonetheless, Mélenchon provides a template for us to understand the compatibility of a truly radical, anti-establishment structural analysis with a popular left-wing mass movement.

Today we have this reply: Why Labour should reject the politics of Mélenchon

“Beneath the veneer, Mélenchon is a profoundly divisive figure” writes Antony Tucker, “whose attitude to the press, failure to deal with racism on the left and rejection of internationalism should serve as warning, not an example, to our party.”

Tucker outlines Mélenchon’s indulgence of a “sovereigntist” view of the EU – criticisms of its workings based on the way it has undermined French sovereignty,, and promoted ‘German’ interests. he could have mentioned the LFI leader’s initial welcome for the Brexit vote, which still sticks in the craw – as a popular revolt against the EU ‘oligarchs’.

He continues into the murky depths of the Mélechonist milieu, “Mélenchon spends far too much time pandering to the conspiracy theorist fringe of politics.” It would be truer to say that his association with the Gilets Jaunes has created ambiguities of the “red-brown” kind known in the UK, when some of the protesters (notoriously Fly-Rider) have been active conspiracy mongers. This kind of over-claim obscures the problem of real red-brown cross-overs such as Étienne Chouard.

He treats himself to some moral outrage – again without explaining what the term laicite means or what politics it is based on – at the LFI chief’s “radical, authoritarian laïcité

Riding the crest of the this manufactured rage he manages something this writer would have thought impossible, soliciting sympathy for Méluche, ” Mélenchon has spread the sort of vicious conspiracy theories that these people feed off of, and frequently denies France’s role in the Holocaust. ” This conspi theory of its own tries to wash away the fact that all French republican politicians deny the responsibility of the French republic for the anti-republican Vichy regime.

Tucker concludes, in apoplexy, that the “nationalist and xenophobic beliefs that drive Mélenchon” are no model for the Labour Party.

Mr 6,3% might have been a better way of putting the would-be left Populist Federator of the People down.

Then there is the total, sordid, collapse of his admired template, the “Bolivarian Revolution” in Venezuela, and left-populism across South America.

A serious beginning of a critique of Mélenchon” and LFI and is available here: The Death of “Left Wing Populism”.

 

 

 

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Anti-Semitism, Populism, and calls for Labour expulsions – on all sides.

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“Sinister slogan” says Jonathan Freedland.

A comrade at the Chartist AGM said, roughly, this:

“Labour looks like two groups of people who want to expel each other”.

There are good reasons why people should be concerned with the way in which a fringe have broadcast anti-Semitic views.

As in this:

For the background to the man in the story,  Pete Gregson, see: A Stir in the Suburbs.

..the question still remains – does anti-Zionist obsession turn people into loons, or are loons attracted to anti-Zionism?

If people still bury their heads in the sand one can suggest they follow Steve Cook’s Twitter feed

Not to mention the Monster Raving Greenstein’s responses:

 

This does not mean following everybody in the other camp, many of whom seem equally fixated on this issue.

Jonathan Freedland, in the Guardian has made one of many efforts to associate Labour with anti-Jewish hatred  in recent days, claims that Corbyn’s ‘left-wing populism’ leaves the way open for anti-Semitic messages.

The roots of Labour’s antisemitism lie deep within the populist left.

Populism, is a “politics that pits the virtuous mass of ordinary people against a wicked, corrupt elite.” Freeland continues, singling out populist figures such as Nigel Farage, Hungary’s  Orbán and Boris Johnson  bending to the present national populist wind.

But Freedland’s main target is the “huge chunks of the egregious anti-Jewish racism spewed out in left circles and on social media has nothing to do with Israel or Palestine: it’s all bankers and Rothschilds, control of the media and Holocaust denial. Of course, sometimes “Zionism” is deployed as a handy codeword, but today’s anti-Jewish racists have often left the Middle East behind. It’s Jews they’re obsessed with.”

He then plunges further,

Matt Bolton and Frederick Harry Pitts argue that Corbynism’s big move is away from seeing capitalism as a system with its own unalterable dynamics, compelling all within it to operate according to its own logic, to seeing its cruelties instead as the work of malign individuals. “From this perspective,” they write, “capitalist crises, poverty and inequality are wholly avoidable phenomena. They are the result of an immoral minority wilfully using the power of money, financial trickery and ideology to undermine – or, indeed, ‘rig’ – a society based on ‘real’ production which would otherwise work to the benefit of all.”

Such a view of capitalism – focusing on individuals, not structures – doesn’t necessarily end in hatred of Jews: you might blame some other “immoral minority”. But this is the problem with talking endlessly of the “many, not the few” (a sinister slogan which I loathed when Tony Blair was using it). Pretty soon, and especially after the 2008 crash, people will ask: who exactly are this few, working so hard to deny the rest of us our utopia? The antisemite has a ready answer…

Without bothering to discuss what the “populist left” is – examples, one might think spring to mind,  would then go to the best known theorist of left-wing populism, Chantal Mouffe, or to explicitly populist left-wing parties, above all, La France insoumise (LFI) and Podemos. LFI is noted for its sovereigntism – the nationalist road against globalisation. It is Corbyn and his advisers’ tendency to this socialism  in one country, defying the globalised world which is the focus of Bolton and Pitts.

This is a different claim to Freedland’s that the ‘floating signifier’ of immoral minorities washes up in anti-semitism.

No proof for this sweeping claim is offered.

A more common direction is for left-populists, the case for a handful of supporters of Jean-Luc Mélenchon  is to take their national soveriegnty seriously and end up on the National Populist right.

If we look at Labour how many accept the “ready answer” of the anti-semite when Labour’s policy is against anti-semitism?

Like Mouffe (not to mention Ernesto Laclau)  at her most abstract Freedland seems to think it’s enough for a ‘discourse’ to be articulated for it to find a ready audience.

Critics of left-wing populism, including this Blog (cited in Bolton and Pitt’s book, Corbynism: A Critical Approach (2018), oppose the idea that one can pit a federated “people” against the “oligarchy” and the elite,. This is not just because of a belief in the structures of class, and the economics of capitalism, but because socialist and left-wing Enlightenment thinking mean thinking, not emotion, internationalist values, not populist nationalism, plebiscitary rule,  in a left form.

Many would consider that Freedland relies on charged emotions, or as Frédéric Lordon would call them, “affects”,  to carry his argument through.

A similar attempt to associate left-wing populism (not a term barely used by Corbyn supporters, and not that common even in articles in small circulation left magazines), is made by David Hirsch.

Why antisemitism and populism go hand-in-hand

The populist demagogues construct communities of the good and they cast out those who do not fit. The Corbynites call the bad people, the ‘one per cent’, the Zionists, the bankers or the elites. The Brexiters call them betrayers of the will of the people or they denounce those who side with foreign nations and bureaucrats against ‘us’. There is much contempt for the ‘liberal elite’, cosmopolitans, globalists and citizens of nowhere. Populism embraces nostalgic nationalism but it has one eye on a more radical project for the whole of humanity.

That an academic cites no sources  to prove his case to associate Corbyn and the Labour Party in this string of assertions is hardly surprising.

Otherwise known as an “amalgam” (amalgame, “Mélange d’éléments hétérogènes) this is a polemical technique, not an argument.

Academics are adept at making floating signifiers float…

Or to put it another way Hirsch is a conspiracy theory about populism, “Each populism is at heart an irrational conspiracy fantasy” as conspiracy theories.

Labour and anti-Semitism. 

Many people are irked by the charges of anti-semitism.

Lindsey German is – and we say this despite our deep differences – not wrong when she says this in her Weekly Briefing,

Antisemitism exists in the Labour Party and needs to be dealt with (ironically much of the slowness in all this predated the tenure of Jennie Formby). But it needs to be put in perspective and not to be blamed on Jeremy Corbyn who has a lifelong record of anti-racism, including opposing racism against Jews. However, since in particular the attack by Margaret Hodge on Corbyn last year, any such perspective has been abandoned.

Indeed. Labour is not a seed-bed of anti-semitism. Parts – on the evidence small parts – of the party have become the territory that forces hostile to our democratic principles. This should be “dealt with”.

However, German’s following call, from a member of the non-Labour  Counterfire, which spent many years backing red-brown George Galloway, is not helpful.

The Labour left needs to start giving as good at it gets from its enemies or it will lose, argues Lindsey German

I have always been hesitant about the tactic of reselection of MPs, because it has often backfired in the past. But really I see no alternative to the members challenging MPs who constantly attack the leadership and refuse to listen or make any compromise.

Accommodating these people hasn’t worked, so it’s time to replace them with people who respect the leadership and the membership.

Another, much less serious,  and much smaller, groupuscule, Labour Party Marxists, closely connected to Labour Against the Witch-hunt, whose Vice-Chair is the above Greenstein, yesterday endorsed the following approach:

Getting rid of some of the biggest saboteurs in the Parliamentary Labour Party is crucial in the fight to transform the party into a weapon of and for the working class.

So we have two prongs of an appeal, to rid the party of the “populist left”, accused of encouraging anti-Semitism, and the groupuscules calling to expel the right.

Yet.

Boris Johnson is going to be British PM.

This chap is going to be in a key position of influence.

Most of us  intend to spend most of our time fighting them and the hard-right Brexit project.

Just remember: this is the Vice Chair of Labour Against the Witch-hunt:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“My role is consubstantial with the movement.” Mélenchon on Left Populism in Crisis.

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Mon rôle, il est consubstantiel au mouvement.” Mélenchon réaffirme son autorité devant ses militants

Note: consubstantiel sounds as odd in French normal speech as it does consubstantial in English. *

The leader of La France insoumise spoke over the weekend at the “assemblée représentative ” of La France insoumise, chosen by lot, and by special delegates selected by the ‘Movement’, by some inner process,  which some have compared  to Momentum on a bad day.

  • Trinity. The Christian doctrine of the Trinity (from Latin trinitas) holds that God is three consubstantial persons, expressions, or hypostases: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

“My role is consubstantial to the movement.” Mélenchon reaffirms his authority in front of LFI activists

After the defeat of France rebellious in the European elections of May 26, Jean-Luc Mélenchon was slow to speak. Strongly criticized in his ranks, he held this Sunday a speech at the party’s National Convention to respond to his critics and remobilise the troops.

Mélenchon announced that the next local elections in France will be stage in the self-organisation of the People.

But lo!

This morning.

Nouveau coup dur pour Mélenchon, qui perd une cadre de La France insoumise

The former candidate for the European elections and head of the  party training school Manon Le Bretton has announced she is to leave the La France insoumise this Monday, June 24.

Comrade le Bretton denounced the “virulence” of Jean-Luc Mélenchon’s  Sunday speech against critics of the internal workings of the movement.

So much for the predictions of left-populist admirers, the US Jacobin,

The movement’s most recognisable figure has proven adept at bridging internal divides and presenting La France Insoumise’s ideas to a mass audience. Following the European elections Mélenchon has said that he’s reflecting over his political future, fueling speculation that he could step back from the spotlight. “The question,” asks Guiraud, “is do we have someone else who’s able to do this?”

Rebuilding France Insoumise Cole Strangler.

 

Written by Andrew Coates

June 24, 2019 at 12:35 pm

The Death of “Left Wing Populism”.

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“Fashion dies young, ” (La mode meurt jeune) said Jean Cocteau (Le « populisme de gauche » est mort !)

It seems like another epoch.

‘Left wing populism”, the new strategy of the left, was going to sweep all before it.

In the “era of people” the old class divisions were eroded, politics was about moblising, giving a voice to, and joining together the victims of neo-liberal economics against the Oligarchy, the “elite”.

National symbols and a feeling of real  community needed to be retaken by the left.

In  France this reached the point of celebrating the “patriotic” revolutionary tradition of ‘the French’ with ‘left populists’ waving the Tricolore and singing the Marseillaise – as indeed their forebears in the French Communist Party were wont to do in times of popular unity and their own ‘National Fronts’ (1940s onwards).

We were lectured on how French nationalism – no doubt like so many other nationalisms in the eyes of their ‘left’ supporters – is uniquely revolutionary and ‘popular’.

It would not be hard to find the pages written on this, from Chantal Mouffe’s For a Left Populism (2018) to scores of articles on Mouffe, and the (deceased) Ernesto Laclau’s writings on populism.

It was recommended that the British Labour Party take note and develop its own “insurgent” style and politics.

In those distant days (31st of March 2019) the self-styled voice of the American radical left, Jacobin, was full of articles on the topic.

Anton Jäger and Arthur Borriello wrote,

Left populism is the new idiom of radical politics worldwide. It emerged as the answer to the problem of a weak and disorganized working class — but despite its electoral successes…

In contrast to a moribund old left, clinging to antiquated remedies when facing annihilation, left-populism has trimmed its sails to the wind.

Is Left Populism the Solution?

The previous year (2018, how distant it seems now! ) Jacobin’s European editor, Dave Broder boasted, of an event on the fringe at the Labour Party Conference.

Tonight Jacobin will host an event at The World Transformed featuring France’s most popular political leader, France Insoumise’s Jean-Luc Mélenchon. Winning seven million votes in last year’s presidential election, the radical left-winger is today at the forefront of the revolt against Emmanuel Macron’s crisis-wracked government.

He went onto to praise, Mélenchon and his movement’s

 ..success in uniting the oppressed…

The Left Should Welcome Mélenchon

Earlier this year Broder gave a reverential interview to the Leader of la France insoumise in the Jacobin supplement, the UK magazine Tribune.

‘Everyone should know — I am very dangerous’

This Blog has covered the growing crisis in his La France insoumise.

We have discussed this book, Le populisme : le grand ressentiment (2017) and interview (2018) Left-wing populism. A legacy of defeat: Interview with

Fassin had the foresight to say:

The problem with the populist strategy, for the left, is that it’s neither left nor a winning strategy. It was even less so during the latest presidential campaign in France: everyone played that same card at the same time, including Macron, with a rhetoric of ‘centre’ populism!

Today we read on a site of the French radical left close to the independent section of La France insoumise, Ensemble, though increasingly not close to Mélenchon himself, that the strategy of left-wing populism has unravelled right to down to reveal its bleached skeleton.

Le « populisme de gauche » est mort ! 

The economist Cédric Durand and the sociologist Razmig Keucheyan.

After tracing the origins of this strategy to the Latin America left, (an important inspiration for Ernesto Laclau inspiration), and the failures of the ‘Bolivarian Revolution” they state,

..the limits of the model are obvious, and even more so in Europe, where no current claiming “left-wing populism” has been able to gain power. The results of Podemos and La France insoumise in the European elections, accompanied in the Spanish case of very poor local elections scores, sound the death knell of experience.

It forced the left to think about what “people” means today. More complex and diverse, the ‘people’ are no longer those created during  the post-war economic success when the left bloc combined the salaried popular classes and certain fractions of the middle classes, especially intellectual ones. Globalisation, neoliberal Europe and the renunciation of social democracy have blown it up, creating a deadly cleavage between a supposedly protective nationalism and an all-market pseudo-internationalism. The populist strategy has been able to defy the hegemony of the neoliberalized left by jostling amongst the interstices of the historical formations.

But it failed to structure a new social alliance. How to explain the failure?

The summary of the answer to this is that,

The opposition between the 1% and the 99% has perhaps allowed to trigger a political movement and to incarnate it in a leader, but has  prevented it from developing long-term roots.

They argue that the backing for these parties, above all Podemos and La France insoumise,  has been based on too many differing social  constituencies. These are not just fragmented but lack  a consistently defined interest however much a political apparatus tries to “articulate to offer a stable political base.

To put it simply ‘federating’ a variety of ‘democratic’ struggles and social concerns together around a charismatic ‘Leader’ has not paid off.

No strategy based on Laclau’s picture of the rhetorical foundations of society and floating signifiers, or Mouffe’s agonism, and “effects” can hide the results of elections, and the failure to “capture” the – ambitious – Gilets Jaunes revolt to restore the “moral economy” that many very different social categories dream of  asserting faced with President Macron and his own simulacrum of a party, La République En Marche.

Perhaps the substantial part of LFI’s ecosocialism” and green planning (far from their personal property as Benoît Hamon and Génération.s, stand for une écologie humaniste qui prône l’humain au coeur de la réflexion écologisteindicates) can be saved from this wreck……

That is France, but the downward spiral of left populism has wider implications.

Above all Durand and Keucheyan ask,

Why do left-wing populisms prove incapable of dealing with disagreements and bringing pluralism to life? Podemos and La France insoumise are authoritarian structures. A clear-headed assessment obliges us to recognise this.

One party of the answer, which applies to French Left Populism,  is offered here.

In this article Après le départ de Charlotte Girard, «La France insoumise en difficulté»… et après? criticises above all La France insoumise for its “hégémoniste et exclusive ” political practice.

This is a striking observation.

Jean-Luc Mélenchon a été formé à l’école de Pierre Lambert: où qu’il soit passé (y compris comme premier secrétaire de la fédération PS de l’Essonne comme féal mitterrandien), il n’a jamais hésité devant les méthodes brutales, au nom des exigences de l’orientation politique du moment, cette orientation fût-elle éphémère.

Jean-Luc Mélenchon was trained at Pierre Lambert’s |(note, hard-line orthodox Trotskyist, with strongly patriotic/nationalist traits)  school: wherever he went (including as first secretary of the PS federation of Essonne as a loyal supporter of Mitterrand)  he never hesitated before brutal methods In the name of the political demands of the moment, however ephemeral they were.

It was often said that Left Populism was a strategy in a hurry.

It needed to build quickly to overtake and replace  the ‘old’ left, the compromised ‘neoliberals’  those unable to confront globalisation with a viable appeal to “the people”.

Internal democratic structures in such ‘start up’ parties, movement, best called in France’s case a rally, were not that important.

Fat chance….

When they lose votes in elections, when their strategy is in tatters, how else can their difficulties be discussed?

How can a return to alliances of the left bloc, the people of the left be made by charismatic leaders with a direct line of communication to the People?

The obituary of left populism may be premature.

The stakes are high:

Yet the “populist moment” today is the time of national populism of the right and the far-right, helped by political confusionism – the -red-brown ‘left’.

Let’s hope that the left stops listening to those who were so enthusiastic about  left populism only a few months ago reflect.

Beware ! to  anybody in the UK stumbling by chance on Jacobin, left-populist Dave Broder is now praising Jeremy Corbyn….

Update: this is in an interesting analysis of the “chain of equivalences” between La France insoumise and the Front National.

France Insoumise : Ces chauvin(e)s qui nous cassent les couilles.

«l’Insoumission »? C’ est un  « Front ». France ≡ National / Insoumise  ≡ Front.

C’est avec la naissance de la France Insoumise que Mélenchon (qui a passé la plus grande partie de sa vie dans le « socialisme ») et les siens ont abandonné le drapeau rouge au profit du sympathique et vibrant Bleu, Blanc, Rouge. Ils ont aussi abandonné cette vieillerie de l’International au profit de la très moderne Marseillaise. Mélenchon et les siens ne se réclamaient plus de la « gauche » mais du « peuple » en prétendant que le mot gauche est un attrape-tout, qu’il empêche de penser rigoureusement.

It was with the birth of France Insoumise that Mélenchon (who spent most of his life in “socialism”) and his family abandoned the red flag for the sympathetic and vibrant Blue, White, Red. They have also abandoned this old age banner of the International in favour of the very modern Marseillaise. Mélenchon and his people no longer claimed to be on the “left” but on the side of the “people” by claiming that the left word is a catch-all term, that prevents rigorous thought.

See also this (the fall-out continues on a daily basis):

 

Left Populism: La France Insoumise Faces Internal Challenge.

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Mr 6,3% and his European List.

A few days ago I, as a loyal supporter of la France insoumise (along with half a million others who signed up to their free online registration of support) received a notification of their latest ‘conference’ the Assemblée représentative de La France insoumise on the 23rd of June.

The E-Mail invited me to put my name into a hat for the “tirage au sort” (selection by lot) to attend. 160 of us would be chosen by this method, and 80 “representatives” from the “different spaces” (its sounds as odd in French) of the “point de ralliement” of JeanLuc  Mélenchon.

There are no “factions”; indeed no different currents of opinion on an organised basis. There are no bothersome competitive elections, different political platforms or indeed anything more than an opportunity to talk as individuals  about the programme for the upcoming Municipal elections.

One is invited to contribute to the debate with comments on the “Texte programmatique national pour les élections municipales” – as in the good old days when the Parti communiste français invited members, and cells, to express their views on the Central Committee’s documents before the Congrès. Before that is, the CC’s line was adopted unanimously.

Cette assemblée sera composée de 160 insoumis·es tiré·es au sort et 80 représentant·es des différents espaces de La France insoumise. Une première phase du tirage au sort est prévue le mercredi 5 juinVous pouvez vérifier que vous êtes inscrit⋅e aux tirages au sort ici.

This kind of ‘democracy’ may remind some people of how Momentum operates, except that this is a group with MPs, MEP and a whole raft of councillors.

It has long irked many people and been cited as an example of how E-democracy  with a “charismatic” populist leader is no democracy at all.

The idea of a lightening struggle for power, that has no need for long-term structures, has been proved wrong by election results.

Today we learn that leading activists in lFI are speaking out and calling for democratic change inside the movement.

The Huffington Post this Thursday  reports that after last week’s discussion on “left wing populism” dissatisfaction with la France insoumise has moved now onto its internal structures and lack of viable democratic channels.

Si le débat stratégique entre “ligne populiste” et “union de la gauche” a focalisé l’attention la semaine dernière, c’est désormais la gouvernance même de La France insoumise et son manque de démocratie qui sont aujourd’hui pointés du doigt.

Amongst the many reasons why a large section of the Left in France, and elsewhere in Europe, is sceptical about ‘left populism’, is this kind of simulacrum of democracy cobbled together around a “Webocracy”.

The stimulus for this is that today Le Monde published an internal document of LFI in which members of the movement criticise these structures and their poor results (6,3%) in the European elections.

Une note interne à La France insoumise dénonce « un fonctionnement dangereux pour l’avenir du mouvement »

Dans un document que « Le Monde » s’est procuré, plusieurs dirigeants « insoumis » demandent plus de démocratie interne et critiquent sévèrement le mauvais score du parti aux élections européennes.

In a document that le Monde has obtained many leading figures of LFI have asked for more internal democracy and have heavily criticised the poor results of the party in the European elections.

This report gives some details:

Crise ouverte à La France insoumise

This is not the end of the troubles of LFI.

One of their best known intellectual, Thomas Guénolé,  has fallen out with the rally, and has been embroiled in a sexual harassment case brought by a young woman LFI activist.

Today we read this: Thomas Guénolé poursuit La France insoumise en justice

The political scientist is the author of some decent books (Petit guide du mensonge en politique, 2014) and some, in many critics’ view,  less than decent books  – (Islamopsychose 2017).

Guénolé had been active in LFI. He was a candidate on their European list this year, before falling out, drastically with them. He has called hMélenchon an « autocrat », la France Insoumise a « dictatorship », and denounced their “stalinist methods of stifling critics.  Guénolé has been accused of sexual harassment by LFI.

Today he announced that he will see them in court…

 

To cap it all  in le Monde yesterday (print edition) an appeal was published calling to break with the existing structures of the French left (follow my gaze, La France insoumise), in a “big Bang” to create co-operative structures.

It’s launched by Mélenchon’s  nemesis: Clémentine Autain.

Image result for clementine autain

 

Perhaps the Charismatic Leader will now take a back-seat:

The Crisis of Left Populism in France.

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Left Wing Populism Faces French Crisis.

The End of “left-wing Populism”?

On the 11th of May Jean-Luc Mélenchon presided in Marseille over one of his many public rallies. This was one had a new angle. On the 11th of May he had invited the principal ‘left populist’ parties in Europe. An alliance, under the name of Maintenant le Peuple, claiming to be a European Citizens’ Revolution, was backed by his own “point de ralliement”, La France insoumise (LFI), Podemos, the Portuguese left bloc, the Bloco, and parties of the Swedish, Danish and Finish radical left. The immediate plan (while awaiting the “révolution citoyenne en Europe”), was to restructure the left in the European Parliament, inside the GUE/NGL. (See: Elections européennes : La France insoumise, chronique d’un désastre annoncé )

Last Sunday’s European elections saw the Continent’s radical left go from 52 MEPs to 41. Nowhere were the ambitions of the new alliance less answered than in France. Mélenchon’s list led (after considerable internal rumblings about its make-up) by Manon Aubry got 6,3% – below the objective of 11% and well short of Mélenchon’s Presidential score in 2017 of 19, 58 %. Just above the Parti Socialiste-Place Publique list led by 6,2% LFI was well behind the French Green EELV at 13,5%. LFI now has 5 MEPs, EELV 10. 

“No self criticism!” (Ne pas faire de auto-critique) was heard from the movement on the evening as these results came through. This was, predictably, not followed. LFI MP, Clémentine Autain, with an independent base in the bloc of left groupings, Ensemble, made a very public intervention in Le Nouvel Observateur (Clémentine Autain tire les leçons des Européennes).

She observed that La France insoumise was backed by 36% of its voters in 2017 while 57% of Macron’s supporters from that year chose his list and 78% of Marine Le Pen’s have voted for the Rassemblement National. Their “political capital” had been severely eroded.

There was no official response, although Manon Aubry  registered her movement’s activists’ hard work and disappointment, while stating that LFI had still shown that it anchored itself on the political scene. (Déclaration de Manon Aubry)

Clémentine Autain

How had this come about? Autain questioned the left populist strategy of dividing the people into an “us” and the “elites”, including intellectuals and the media. They had built walls rather than bridges. The deputy observed that Mélenchon had railed against those who’d supported a petition to support migrants, while he had let a sovereigntist wing, increasingly nationalist, best known for François Cocq et Djordje Kuzmanovic, off with mild rebukes. That is, until one of them, Andrea Kotarac, made an open appeal to vote for Marine le Pen. This did not show difficulties about the internal democracy of the LFI – a point few would ignore. It shied away from the need not the rebuild the old union of the left but to bring together “le peuple sur une base de gauche “, the people on a left-wing basis.

There are those who claim that LFI lost out by dropping the more forceful aspects of its ‘populism’, their journey from celebrating the Brexit vote (which did not go unnoticed amongst the internationalist anti-Brexit left in the UK), to an ever-increasingly watered down demand to ‘renegotiate’ EU treaties eroded support. Others point to his ill-judged ‘war’ with the media, the hysterical reaction to an investigation into their use of EU funds, his “command and control” approach to his movement (” le but du mouvement de la France insoumise n’est pas d’être démocratique mais collectif”), the feeble participation in its “on line” votes, and  Mélenchon’s irksome traits, above all his tendency to attack in all directions at once. LFI, some estimate looking at internal party consultation rates rather than the massive 500,000 click supporters, may be effectively total 20,000 activists, at most.

In Le Monde yesterday Manuel Cervera-Marcel listed the ‘left populist’ strategy, designed to replace the social democratic and neo-liberal left. Citing Ernesto Laclau and Chantal Mouffe’s approach, for the author it claims to replace the old left/right division by the “people versus the oligarchy”. These parties have a charismatic leader to incarnate the ‘people’ runs parties. They claim to give a voice (‘articulate’) popular demands against these ‘elites’, in LFI terms, “federate the people”). Finally it proposed taking over the ‘floating signifiers’ of the Nation, Security and Order, and giving them a democratic content. (Elections européennes 2019 : « Le recul de la gauche “radicale” ne s’explique-t-il pas par le tournant “populiste” de ces dernières années ? »)

Laclau and Mouffe’s strategy in question.

Cerbera-Marcel suggests that this approach can have immediate electoral benefits but that results, such as the European election defeat of LFI and the shrinking of Podemos in those and Spanish national elections, suggests that short-term popularity can easily be lost.  A much more extensive list of criticisms of the skeleton and the details of this strategy, from the abstractions of Laclau and Mouffe to the practice of left populist parties, above all, La France Insoumise and Podemos has already been made by people on the left. French contributions can be seen in, for example, La stratégie de Mélenchon se discute. Nous-le peuple, eux-les élites : un nouveau populisme de gauche and   Populisme de gauche, du nouveau ? Sur le dernier livre de Chantal Mouffe.

This is not the place to go into details about them. Yet one could usefully begin with Laclau’s efforts to designate forerunners of modern populism amongst the British Chartists. Drawing on the studies of Stedman Jones, Laclau talked of how the “us” and “them” was constructed between the “producers” and “idlers”, Old Corruption Jones, made this relevant point, “The self-identity of radicalism was not at of any specific group, but of the ‘people; or the ‘nation’ against the monopolisers of political representation and power and hence financial or economic power “. That is, it was not capitalism, a system of exploitation, injustice and oppressions, but those “monopolisers” who were at fault. Stedman Jones, Laclau notes, saw how this channelling was warded off by legislative reform. This channelling of democratic demands through political action, within the limited space of restricted, but gradually expanding franchise paralleled the High Victorian separation between the economy and politics. (1)

The People and its Parasitic Other.

One might speculate that the major fault of left populism is to divide the world into the “people” and this parasitic ‘elite’ concentrated in the ‘casta’ giving the impression that capitalist exploitation is created by politics. The ‘logic of populism’ is to unite against them, and to project the hatred talked about by Autain onto this “oligarchy, the source of their problems. One can only register that many Gilets Jaunes have this focus in their demands for a  “moral economy” to meet their needs without any vision of a real change to economic and social structures. (3)

An ever-expanding pile of pamphlets, of which the virulent diatribe against the Macronie (as his critics call the Macron ‘system’) by Juan Branco (Crépuscule. 2019) is by no means the worst, takes up against Corruption. It offers no way of uniting the popular electorate for a positive programme of emancipation. It is the seed-bed for the extreme right’s charges of “conspiracies” against the people, ‘betrayals’ by cosmopolitan elites, Globalism, People-Nations against International Elites. In short, it opens the way through an easy “chain of equivalences” to National Populism.

The principal French national populist party,. Marine le Pen’s Rassemblement National, is a  materialised bearer of Laclau’s abstract ‘rhetoric’ about the People versus the Elites. It is well funded, have hundreds elected figures:

Députés
6 / 577
Sénateurs
1 / 348
Députés européens
20 / 74
Conseillers régionaux
306 / 1 758
Conseillers départementaux
58 / 4 108
Maires
29 / 36 635
Conseillers municipaux
1 533 / 536 519

Anybody playing with the language of populism will run up against their simple, easy to understand, law and order, nationalist, political message. That’s without even looking at the strong “affects” and “libidinal ties” the far-right can draw on to spread its nationalist message to the ‘nationalised’ left populist people.

La France insoumise, far from freeing voters from their grip, may well have given their message an easier ride to first place in the French European elections, at 23,3%

The experience of the Brexit left in the UK confirms that anti-EU populism, even when only a small minority of them have openly endorsed the far-right Brexit Party, is another route to boost the national populists.

As an outside observer one can only commend Autain for her stand. Mélenchon’s strategy, his ‘rally’ (point de ralliement) run top down, a Net Corporation (though its media company failed) with “groupes d’appui’ (branches kept deliberately small to discourage organised disagreement) federating the people without respecting a vibrant internal democracy, his seductive rhetoric, with fewer and fewer listening, is part of a wider problem. As a less than outsider, not as a looker-on, but an active participant in the European left, it has been obvious that the ‘left-populist’ turn was not headed in the right direction. Those who praised Mélenchon, whether academics playing at politics in journals like Jacobin and its subsidiary in the UK, Tribune, or engaged in mass politics, have been misled. We can see in France how rancour is not only a bad starting point, but a way that leaves open national populists and business liberals of the stripe of Emmanuel Macron dominate the show – with of course some Greens who also deny the ‘left right’ division playing on the sidelines.

Autain’s intervention is a good and positive sign. A green socialism, a reformist and a radical socialist way forward, has, many would agree,  to be grounded on gathering together of the left, campaigns and the labour movement, with a generous and appealing vision of the future. 

There remain forces in La France insoumise who wish to contest any such refoundation of the left.

Image may contain: 2 people, crowd and outdoor

 

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  1. Pages 90 -91. On Populist Reason. Ernesto Laclau. Verso. 2005.
  2. Page 104 Languages of Class. Studies in English Working Class History 1832 – 1982. Gareth Stedman Jones. Cambridge University Press. 1983.
  3. In L’économie morale et le pouvoir. Samuel Hayat makes an interesting compassion between E.P.Thompson’s The Moral Economy of the English crowd and the demands of the Gilers Jaunes. In   Le Fond de l’air est Jaune. Seuil. 2019.

National Populism. Roger Eatwell, Matthew Goodwin. Review: A Feast of Gammon.

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Image result for National Populism. The Revolt Against Liberal Democracy. Roger Eatwell and Matthew Goodwin. Pelican. 2018.

A Feast of Gammon.

National Populism. The Revolt Against Liberal Democracy. Roger Eatwell and Matthew Goodwin. Pelican. 2018.

Gammon: This word probably derives from the same original as ‘game’ and gamble, but in Victorian and later slang it meant to impose upon, delude, cheat, or play the game on.”

Brewer’s Dictionary of Phrase and Fable. Millennium Edition.

Gammon:  term used to describe a particular type of Brexit-voting, europhobic, middle-aged white male, whose meat-faced complexion suggests they are perilously close to a stroke.

The term ‘gammon’ is linked to the unhealthy pink skin tone of such stout yeomen, probably because of high blood pressure caused by decades of ‘PC gone mad’, being defeated in arguments about the non-existent merits of Brexit and women getting the vote.

Gammon often make their appearance on BBC’s Question Time jabbing their porcine fingers at the camera while demanding immediate nuclear strikes against Remain-voting areas, people who eat vegetables and/or cyclists.

When gammon appears en masse it is often referred to as a “wall of gammon”.

The first known usage of the term ‘gammon’ to describe the complexion of men of an overly-jingoistic fashion dates from as far back as 1838 in a description of Mr Gregsbury, a Member of Parliament, in Charles Dickens’ novel, Nicholas Nickleby.

Urban Dictionary.

In George Macdonald Fraser’s Flashman novels the word gammon crops up. As Tom Brown’s bully bluffs and wriggles through life, his career is gammon itself. A red-faced liar, and cowardly racialist, the ardent Imperialist is the forebear of today’s British cured ham populists and patriots.

National Populism refers to, in Eatwell and Goodwin’s view, movements that “prioritise the culture and interests of the nation, and promise to give voice to a people who feel that they have been neglected, even held in contempt, by distant and often corrupt elites.” (Page ix) The authors consider what national supporters “feel” about “corrupt elites”, and movements that promote these themes,  have to be taken at face value. They are not going to be called out as gammon, dismissed as irrational, uneducated, racists. They “see their own arguments as moral.” (Page 171)

From UKIP (which has never held direct political power, The French Front National (now Rassemblement National) – also never in government – to President Trump, Viktor Orbán’s Hungary, Matteo Salvini’s La Lega, in power in Italy with the ‘populist’ , Movimento 5 Stelle, the Freedom parties in the Netherlands and Austria, and others, there are common traits. They are populists in the sense that they wish to “make the popular will heard and acted on”, defend the interests of “plain, ordinary people” and wish to replace “corrupt and distant elites”. To these vague, not to say vacuous, words – thin enough – national populism adds one strong term, nationalism. National populists stand out with a “strong emphasis on immigration and ethnic change” (Page 80). Behind this diversity there is a “fairly broad alliance of people without degrees who share traditional values and a cluster of core concerns about their lack of voice, the position of their group relative to others, and in particularly immigration and ethnic change.”(Page 39)

Distrust of politicians, “rapid ethnic change” a fear of relative deprivation, under the effects of “neoliberal globalisation” (whose economics are left hanging in the air) feed national populism. But the perception of a threat of “ethnic destruction” is the pillar of the demand for “national independence and identity”. Concerned to demolish “misleading myths” Eatwell and Goodwin give legitimacy to fears about “hyper-ethnic change”, or in the words of famous polemicist they do not refer to, Renaud Camus, “le Grand Remplacement” (Révoltez-vous! 2015). This is not the biological racism of the 1930s far right or modern race-war fascism. It is more cultural. To use a word already taken into English, it is “identitarian”; “We do not think the term “racism” should be applied solely because people seek to retain the broad parameters of the ethnic base of country and its national identity, even though this can involve discriminating against outside groups. “(Page 75)

Angry White Men.

There is a history to be written about the writers and academics with a taste for the pink meat, the Gammon left and right. Eatwell and Goodwin began by refusing to scorn national populists as “crude bigots and old white men”,  far -from-well-off, uneducated, and marginalised from society. They point out that many of these parties have a degree of backing from the respectable middle-class, women indeed vote for them, as well as workers. France indeed has a whole array of intellectuals on the national populist side, some of whom, like Michel Onfray, Emmanuel Todd, and Jean-Claude Michéa, still claiming a wavering leftist thread, even a belief in ‘common decency’ for their sovereigntist dreams, others, Éric Zemmour at their head, clearly on the nationalist right.

Reviewing National Populism for – inevitably – Spiked, Jon Holbrook misses that point and rejoices at a counterblast against “the elite’s dismissive response” to “angry white men”. (Populism is a struggle for democracyJanuary 2019). Gammonry’s French cousin, the Beauf, the American Jacobin might add, is equally the much-maligned target of loaded put downs. Populism is a fight for democracy against “supra-nationalism”, the “transfer of power to transnational organisations”. Gérard Bras talks of the contempt expressed by liberal opponents of populism. For them it expresses the irrationality of the people, their ignorance and their characteristic whims. (“ exprime l’irrationalité du peuple, son ignorance et son caractère velléitaire”) Citing Jacques Rancière he asserts that the charge of “populism” expresses the contempt that, the ruling “politically correct hold for the ruled, (“le politiquement correct dominant tient les dominés”). As Holbrook puts it, “political correctness empowered liberalism to double down on its traditional fear of majority opinion….” (1)

Image result for beauf cabu

 

There is widespread awareness of what National Populism calls the “dealignment” of politics, the drift away from life-long political loyalties, and the decline of social democratic and left support in Europe. No doubt with this in mind the rival ‘left populist’ Chantal Mouffe has protested against the “demonising of the enemies of the “bipartisan consensus. They express opposition to this globalised neoliberal “oligarchy”, to what she dubs, “post-democracy”, and a push for popular sovereignty – whose limits and shapes remain to be defined. Inheriting strategic thinking about populism begun by her late partner Ernesto Laclau the interlocutor of Jean-Luc Mélenchon and some of the leaders of the (presently splintered) Podemos, proposes a political response. The red-faced masses’ “Xenophobic language”, writes Chantal Mouffe, “could be formulated in a different vocabulary and directed towards another adversary”. (2)

“Critics of the neo-liberal order” welcomed the UK leave vote, the “rising of the North” from the anti-EU “rust belt regions”. This was an authentic working class that turned it back on the Trade Union majority and the Labour Party’s official position. That is the ‘Lexit’, pro-Brexit, lament against internationalists, the “cosmopolitans’ from nowhere. But this book should give food for thought for those crying over the fate of the left-behind.

The message of National Populism,  is that, taking this into account, “we need to talk about immigration”.  How can, Éric Fassin has commented, the same “affects”, the emotions that fuel this conversation amongst supporters of national populism be retranslated into a left-wing populism? The chances are slim. I would say close to zero. What is their demand? Ending migration would come, if not at the top, at least close to it. National ‘preference’? Putting our ‘ain folk’ first, and, above all the Nation’s Sovereignty,. above class and ‘elites’. But then I have met national populists. They were, are, and will be, gammon. And who is leading them? Flashman Farrage, Flashman Rees Mogg and Ultra-Flashman, Boris Johnson. (3)

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  1. Populisme: une enquête philosophique sur un concept insaisissable Review and synopsis of Les Voies du peuple (2018)

  2. Page 23. For a Left Populism. Chantal Mouffe. Verso. 2018.

  3. Page 73 Populisme. Le grand ressentiment. Éric Fassin Textuel. 2017 The term ‘affects’, emotions,  an abomination in both English and French, comes from a reading of Spinoza (a small part of his writings) on the emotions in Frédéric Lordon, La société des affects. 2013. In this context, “By affect I understand affections of the body by which the body’s power of acting is increased or diminished, aided or restrained, and at the same time, the ideas of these affections.” Affect (philosophy).