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Rancière: ‘Post Democracy’, Populism, and Anti-Anti-Populism (Part Two: Cultural Revolutions).

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Rancière, Part Two. Cultural Revolutions.

“La rhétorique est une parole en révolte contre la condition poétique de l’être parlant. Elle parle pour faire taire. Tu ne parleras plus, tu ne penseras plus, tu feras ceci, tel est son programme.”

Rhetoric is a language in revolt against the poetic state of the speaking being. It talks in order to silence. You shall not speak further; you shall not think further, you shall do this, that’s its programme.

Rancière, Le Maître Ignorant. 1987 (1)

What is the substance of Rancière’s work? Rancière is a critic of the “post-democratic” world of the capitalist present. In this sense ‘anti-anti-populism’ is principally a sign that he welcomes dissatisfaction and protests against a world ruled by the “self-regulation of capital” and the “painless elimination of politics by consensus” Dissensus  “a logic of disruption” “ a process of equality” can enter the scene, an upset to the “consensual order”.

Can we give examples of these moments of dissensus having a real impact? Is Rancière one of those, like the editors of New Left Review, who reacted with all the glee of second childhood at the Brexit result as a blow to the ‘neo-liberal consensus’? The thought seems to have crossed his mind. But it hard to imagine that he sees the triumph of UKIP and the Tory Right, as the advance of a “communism of multitudes”. Are – marginal – egalitarian challenges to ‘post democracy’, such as the Occupy! or Nuit Debout movement better vehicles? Perhaps. He has also celebrated the mingling of artistic forms, protests, modern dance, films by Pedro Costa and Wang Bing, strikes over the organisation of the working day and demands for free time, to register only some examples. (Le Monde 6.6.18) Which, one could say, sounds more like a post-André Breton Manifesto for Nonconformist Equalitarian Taste than service to any political or economic Revolution.

There is no account of the critics of the attention-seeking tendencies of the Occupy! Movement, or of the anti-democratic implications of its own “consensus” decision-making. Yet…..one also hardly needs reminding that Rancière is always on the watch for the moment when these efforts fall apart, leaving only the egalitarian impulse intact.

These contradictory lines of thought indicate some reasons why Rancière’s writings are hard to get to grips with. On top of this his prose is often sarcastic (anti-populists recite “psalms”)  – his admirers call them “ironic”. The title of the book above, the Ignorant Master, evokes the Maître Penseurs, the Master thinkers, a term the New Philosopher André Glucksmann used against Marxism. Rancière hammers home a message through rhetorical anaphora, the marked repetition of words and phrases – his supporters might say they lend it maximum effect. He rages for egalitarianism in opaque literary French with a distinction between le politique (government as such, which he calls “la police”) and la politique (conflict/dissensus). This is intelligible to those – not necessarily every reader – familiar with the later Foucault’s use of the term ‘Police’ to embrace the wider social order, and Claude Lefort’s distinction between the two French nouns in his essay Permanence du théologico-politique (1981). Such instances indicate how his ideas and their presentation could be compared to a geological structure in which many types of sediment have left their trace.   (2)

Slavoj Žižek offers a handle on how to look into these strata. Rancière “…belongs to the field one is tempted to define as ‘post-Althusserian’: authors like Balibar, Alain Badiou, up to Ernesto Laclau, whose starting position was close to Althusser. The first thing to note here is how they are all opposed to the most elaborated ‘formal’ theory of democracy in contemporary French thought, that of Claude Lefort.” Althusser and the act of breaking free from him, is, it has been argued, looms over much more of Rancière’s career. His commitment to intellectual equality, “emancipation”, political equality against the Post-Democratic Elite, and the aesthetic theorising about the egalitarian potentials of the “sensible” can perhaps be made more intelligible by beginning with his defiance of this Teacher Žižek’s critique of the enthusiasm of the “post-Althussarians” for “pure politics” will occupy Part 3. (3)

Rancière’s entry into the annals of Theory began with some éclat. His contribution to Lire le Capital marked participation in one of the key moments in 20th century Marxist thought. (Le concept de critique de la critique de ‘économies politiques des Manuscrits de 1844 au capital. 1965) Some have suggested, generously, that the text – often appearing to be at the stage of seminar notes – is a significant account of Marx’s theory of alienation and “commodity fetishism”. It only came out in English publication in this millennium (2011), long after the better-known sections by Louis Althusser and Étienne Balibar. Their impact does not appear diminished by the absence of Rancière’s pages from earlier circulation in the Anglophone world. The fourth volume, by Pierre Macherey (who has had a career as a critic and theorist of “literary production”) and Roger Establet (who went on to write on the capitalist education system) on the presentation and outline of Capital, was disinterred at the same time. Few seem to have noticed. (4)

Althusser’s project involved, Gregory Elliott has stated, a “critique of existing Marxism in its entirety”. Reading Capital may appear a key text in deciphering the hieroglyphics of capitalist appearance, bringing out the “unseen” mechanisms producing the visible surface. It aimed to stake out exploration of the “continent of history” with new eyes. Others may consider it a conceptual clarification that offered tools that could be developed through concrete studies. Following the philosophical essays in Althusser’s Pour Marx (1965) it aimed to bring conceptual developments, free from the “dogmatism” left by Stalinism inside the Communist movement, to the “science of history”, historical materialism, Elliot underlines that the “thrust” was a Marxism “amenable to rectification and capable of yielding new knowledge” (a view underlined in the Introduction to Pour Marx). Whether Lire le Capital itself formed part of the armoury of the theoretical struggle against a multitude of enemies, from the lingering Stalinists and the liberal Italian, wing, to the theorists of Marxist-Humanism, inside the Communist Party, or was primarily a research project, an end in itself, remains disputed, notably by Balibar.  (5)

Rancière became independently visible, both in France and elsewhere, as an egalitarian, and contrarian, through a polemic on this project, La leçon d’althusser (1974). This was a wide-ranging foray against the Marxist “education” from on high offered by the patron of the circle that produced Lire le Capital, Louis Althusser. The object was wider than the domain of Marxist research. His angle was that the former teacher at the elite École Normale Supérieure (ENS) had (undeniably) extended the interventions of Pour Marx and the writing of Lire le Capital to open participation in internal PCF politics and factional disputes.

La leçon d’althusser.

In La leçon d’althusser (1974) Rancière extended his questioning of the ‘revisionist’ Party line to Althusser’s alleged contempt for the student actors in the 1968 événements. The reasons for this dissatisfaction were clear. Rancière was not just an alumnus of Theory but was also a graduate of these political struggles in, the no doubt weighty, area of student politics. This was the fight against the “ revisionist” Parti Communiste Français (PCF) inside its own campus organisations.  In that role he had been an editor of the mid-sixties Cahiers marxistes-léninistes. Althusser had anonymously written an article for the publication and had encouraged this turn, up to certain, crucial points, until they had begun to create an independent anti-PCF groupuscule and, above all, during May 68. Having lent his weight in their battle against the Parti Communist Français (PCF); when the crunch came Althusser had turned his back on them when they engaged in action outside the Party’s control to merge with the mass struggle.

For Rancière the lesson of Althusser was wrapped up in that moment. The Party bore responsibility for thwarting the revolutionary possibilities of May 68. It had connived in the return to bourgeois rule. Althusser, in his response to the events had connived in its reaction and offered a justification of Order.  In his own shift towards the class struggle in philosophy around the defence of materialism, he had retreated to authorised, or at least permitted, intellectual disputes between ‘idealism and materialism’. (Lénine et la philosophie. 1972) The claim to wage the “ class struggle in theory” masked the inability to fight the class struggle when it happened in practice. For Rancière Althusser had rationalised traditional education. He had ended up by boiling down the class struggle to the clash between true (Marxist) ideas and false (bourgeois) ones. Rancière asked if such intellectuals, placing themselves on the side of a party apparatuses, talk about class struggle on behalf of the workers and the oppressed? Had there ever been in the corridors of the ENS a kind of revolutionary university of Yenan operated by his former mentor?

Rancière included a text (Pour Mémoire, 1969) that asked why Althusser has not considered the institution as one of the “appareils idéologiques” of the state.  Althusser’s 1970s drift into defending the “class struggle in theory”, and his pallid (since, top-down) view of Ideological State Apparatuses skirted around the topic. However it was inside the ‘knowledge’ taught that probably that La Leçon made the most telling points. Althusser’s version of ‘Marxism Leninism’ lacked, Rancière continued, an account of how the original Bolshevik party strategy and the apparatus with which it ruled the USSR, may have contributed to the “reconstitution des formes capitalists de la division du travail”.

Today’s readers would observe that the suggestion that the Cultural Revolution launched by Mao in 1966 offered another path, a “left critique” of Stalinism in practice looked thin then, and thinner now. Rancière’s own attack on this use of Mao, which halted at the description of the USSR as “social fascist”, were equally skeletal. The positive lessons that the Cultural Revolution offered for a challenge to the division of labour are seldom evoked today.  (6)

Althusser took note of Rancière’s  “acerbic” book. In L’avenir dure longtemps (1992) he remarked that the bone of contention was about his wish to remain inside the PCF. He respected the decision of his ‘disciples’ to go directly to the workers, and create a new independent body, the Union des Jeunesses Communiste marxistes-léninistes (UJCm-l).Yet the Communists had real ties with the proletariat, not just in elections, but also through the mass membership of the PCF aligned CGT union federation who had been amongst the few workers to go to the Sorbonne to support the students. (7)

La Gauche Prolétarienne.

Rancière, while he was in ‘Marxist-Leninist’ circle around Althusser, along with Macherey and Balibar, was of different cohort to those, like Robert Linhart and Benny Lévy who did not just split into a propaganda group outside the Party. They tried to engage directly in mass politics. Many of them became full-time activists. With hindsight one might say that May 68 showed not just the PCF’s fear of an uncontrolled uprising, and its unforeseeable consequences. It indicated equally the inability of the left, and (one could add) particularly this left to mobilise enough support to pose a genuine revolutionary challenge. La Gauche Prolétarienne (GP) founded in 1969 was at the time of the publication of La Leçon (1974) in the after-shock of self-dissolution, (November 1973) after some spectacular stunts.

People radicalised by the experience of May 68 led the GP, the result of a link-up between the ‘M-L’ current and some individuals from the broader ‘anti-authoritarian’ leftism that had emerged, such as the Movement Mars-22. From promoting the “all powerful” theory of Marxism-Leninism against Revisionism, it went outwards to the people. The GP was an effort to reach out to the anti-authoritarian spirit of students and young workers in revolt against trade union bureaucracy. Its project was to move with the spontaneous revolt of the masses (hence the nickname, Mao-spontex) but to harness it in a more coherent form.  Was it a Leninist organisation, knit together by democratic centralism, rested on a vertical chain of command?  The GP, tried, it is said, to break this division of political labour through its own practice. Rancière skirts around this issue. His attitude in La Leçon d’Althusser towards the GP’s efforts could be summarised as while the project was “abstract” “at least they tried to do something”. It was an experience from which those involved could look at their politics and culture while the “great unifying syntheses” of leftism on the wider political scene were collapsing.

For all its marginality the short history of the GP is as ample an object in the resilience of traditional hierarchy as Althusser’s Theory. Rancière, it is said, had had links but was not directly involved in the group. Yet he could have asked about the efforts to combat the “division of labour” in the GP. Accounts indicate that it was an intense and pronounced failure. The decision to dissolve the group was made from the top. The unpleasant internal regime and political misjudgements of the GP are widely seen to have contributed to the distaste for left-wing activism that condensed in the 1970s “anti-totalitarian moment”. Famously in Tigre en papier (2002) Olivier Rolin (former head of their proto-armed wing) described the leader of the Gauche Prolétarienne, known as Pierre Victor – that is, Benny Lévy – as the Grand Dirigent, Gédéon, He had “un pouvoir littéralement hypnotique.” There are many tales about clashes around this Authority, and within the central leadership. One of the most contentious arose during divisions over “popular justice”. This confronted the issue of what Rancière would later call the Police, not just in the ordinary sense of the word, but to what he considers to be the wider order-forming elements of society. It would be of interest to hear of his views on “tribunaux populaires” that would carry out class justice, and offer a direct “populist” challenge up to “prosecution” and punishment, not excluding executions. (8)

Althusser did go onto ask questions about the party apparatus. In Ce qui ne peut plus durer dans le Parti communiste (1977). Much of this intervention relates to the conflicts inside the PCF over the 1970s Union de la gaach,. Of more lasting significance, Althusser expressed deep doubts about the PCF’s ‘vertical’ structure of the PCF which partitioned ordinary members from one another and reproduced the leadership’s omnipotence and its  ‘religious conception of the Truth’ that reigned in the Politburo.”  It needs hardly underlining that taking this stand against the leadership of a party still scoring up to 20% of the vote took some genuine political courage. (9)

Rancière’s own questioning of Leninist political structures was more diffuse. As a bystander increasingly remote from activism, in La Leçon he had asked,  “How could we discuss the “ expression autonome de la révolte “ without being trapped in the distance and authority of theory? These issues, of how revolutionary groups could function democratically, or not, remains one of importance for all left political parties. Nevertheless is egalitarian ‘discussion’, the open to all those who speak, the knot from which oppositional politics are born? Is the entire mechanism of “representation”, from the Marxist party’s claim to stand “for” the workers, to the ‘bourgeois’ practice of election through the isolation of the voting booth (the ‘isoloir’ in French) substitutes for democracy?

These thoughts were never followed up by a call for a new form of left political organisation. Nor was there any serious consideration of parties as a crucial focus for politics. Indeed one could say that Rancière’s career, right up till the present moment, is marked by an avoidance and condemnation of organised politics. But what is there beyond the “autonomy of revolt” if not some kind of political body?

Les Révoltes Logiques.

Rancière, Althusser observed, went on to write some “remarkable” works on the dreams and projects of early workers’ movement. Named Les Révoltes Logiques (LRL), Rimbaud’s poetic cry against the rationalist ‘Democratic order’ imposed after the crushing of the Paris Commune, it published papers about popular struggles.   For some LRL intended to parallel the Maoist practice of sending members to work in factories (les Établis). The Review is said to have paid attention to revolts themselves and at first sight looks marked by “spontanéisme”. This angle, in opposition to the gradualism and tranquillity of the evolution of mentalities advanced by the Annals school, was interlaced with the denial that any Party any Official Voice, even one purporting to represent the labour movement, could speak for the people’s diversity. « il n’y a pas de voix du peuple. Il y a des voix éclatées, polémiques, divisant à chaque fois l’identité qu’elles mettent en scène » In this sense  it was neither Maoist, nor a search for a new subject – a unified « plèbe » that replaced the proletariat . The collective lasted from 1975 – 1985, although the review stopped appearing in 1981.  (10)

This voyage into the continent of History discarded the Marxist pretension to uncover the hidden mechanisms that create classes. It was not out to discover workers on the Royal road to modern socialist politics. Rancière’s (un-translated) Louis Gabriel Gauny. Le philosophe plébéien (1983) is one of its results. These fragments from the ‘memory of the people’ rescue works of a Plebeian Socrates. They include  “Opuscules cénobitiques” (a reference to early Christian ‘communist’ communities). They include reflections on the Prison of the Workplace run by “conseils de vampires”. Reflections on industrial production recall Michel Foucault’s Panopticon nightmare, not least because Gauny talked of a  “centre panoptique” while discussing the workers who build prison cells. Gauny also discourses on the “palingenesis (rebirth) of souls”. We are invited to discard the condescension of distance. Yet it is not easy to see the spirit of the enlightenment in Gauny’s theosophical vision of Diogenus and Jean the Baptist glimpsing the “cité future”. In short, the ideas offered by Gauny, and his striving to be somebody outside of his labouring existence, will strike most readers as strange and barely readable.  (11)

Proletarian Nights.

La nuit des prolétaires (1981), which features Gauny amongst a cast of toilers dreaming of emancipation, has found a larger audience. This was, it was asserted, the fruit of a break with both official ‘positivist’ labour history, and the rising Parti Socialiste endorsed (Mitterrand came to power in 1981) version of the left and labour movement. It aimed to explore the fringes of life, independent friendships and associations, snatches of out of work dreams and hopes where the embers of revolt burned What this meant is far from clear, but it appears to have signalled that Rancière aimed for something more than facts, to rescue from oblivion forgotten narratives of rebellion. Admirers claim that it was a voyage into the in-between, the borderlands, where the experience of exploitation and oppression led to attempts to build a better life.

One might expect a fresh look at ‘history from below’ in at odds with the dominant tradition of leftist writing to break the mould of our received perceptions. But if the above remarks have not already forewarned the reader, anybody anticipating a contribution to the ‘making of the French working class’ in La nuit des prolétaires (1981) will be disappointed Of hard-fought strikes, political campaigns, or, to use the words of E.P.Thompson, the poetry and labour of those “working people” who had “nourished…with incomparable fortitude, the Liberty Tree”, there is little sound.  A few glimpses into how worker organisations worked only appear after careful reading. The book, the result of some research in the archives, recounts the afterthoughts, the dreams of special group of toilers, writings and activities of 19th century Saint Simonian adepts of the Proto-socialist New Christianity and Icarian ‘communist’ workers.

Sutar Misha describes this, “instead of a social history of changing forms of work, organisations, or cultural practices, (it is) a history of the collision of arguments and fantasies that occupied a few hundred workers between 1830 and 1851.” To these reveries, and some engagement in associative life, the historical background, the 1848 Second Republic and the aftermath of Louis Bonaparte, is only legible by reference to a chronology attached at the end of the book.  Although there is an effort to avoid the retrospective condescension towards the ideas of the time, if the “principle of organisation” is discussed, it is sketchy. And, always given, in terms of these visionaries readiness to breach the borders between the “ proletariat “ and “bourgeois” utopian speculation.

If Nights of Labour shrivels when compared with the masterpieces of labour history, then this “extra labour” account of nights of non-labour of weary workers was never intended to enter the lists of traditional labour history radical or not. What is it? It is equally not without faults proper to its execution, and in terms of its own ‘egalitarian’ claims to present a new dimension of the past smothered by previous interpretations.. The book has been – abundantly – criticised for failing to distinguish between what the workers said, and Rancière’s own, abundant, opinions. Perhaps one might consider it a roman, a work of imaginative literature?A literary defence that it was written in a “style indirect libre” gives us little hope for greater clarity.  Had Rancière, in this and other ventures of the period, offered a breakthrough in ‘non-positivist’ mode – the word is certainly appropriate, ‘workerist’ history to stand on its own right?  Few, if any,  have followed its direction. Perhaps somebody could seek out  traces of this work.

Le Maître Ignorant.

Rancière’s next effort in the history of 19th century radicalism came with his free rendering of the work and opinions of the pedagogue Joseph Jacotot (1770 – 1840) offered perhaps his most celebrated template for real democratic practice. To Rancière the “méthode Jacotot” grounded on the equality of intelligence, both tried to emancipate minds, and to challenge authority beyond the schoolroom or lecture hall. (Le Maître Ignorant Cinq leçons sur l’émancipation intellectuelle, 1987)

A supporter of the French Revolution, and an educator under both the Directory and the Empire, Jacotot, lecturer in physics and Chemistry, moved to Belgium under the Second Restoration. Working as a teacher of French literature at the State University of Louvain the  Frenchman was faced with Dutch speaking students. He began his course, helped by the presence of an interpreter,  with a bilingual edition of the 18th century novel Télémaque by Fénelon, an appealing (and syntactically uncomplicated) fantasy full of ancient Greek mythology. Without explanations they proceeded to translate and comment on the text. whose description of the utopian kingdom (a « communist monarchy , if marked by ..slavery and a strict hierarchy of functions) of Salente (chapter X) was an early Enlightenment favourite. Rancière asserted in Les nuits that it remained a manual amongst 1820 and 1830s philanthropists and autodidacts, wishing to instruct the proletariat. Although about the only thing most of us know about the context of the short novel is that it was a veiled criticism of Louis the XIV it not endured as classic of subversion. No doubt some British workers read Sir Thomas More’s Utopia (1516)  which has more political merit, and is more widely acknowledged a source of communist thinking, though that also imagines a society with slaves and draconian punishment. (13)

These considerations (not discussed) apart, the novices’ apparent success, on Jacot’s own account, demonstrated the equality of intelligence. But the lesson was not that he had found a new means of teasing out people’s inner talents through a (rather presumptive) exercise in the Socratic – maieutic – method. It all began with a recognition that everyone can learn on their own – and a heavy dose of repetition. For Rancière, it is a stage on the way to indicate that, “L’égalité ne se donne ni ne se revendique, elle se pratique, elle se vérifie” This may be freely translated as Equality is not something given, nor is it something that is demanded, it is something that is proved in practice (14)

For many writers on Rancière, le Maître was a crucial moment in his thought. David Panagia states that, “Jacotot matters to Rancière in the same way that he mattered to the Communards of the Paris Commune: he matters because Jacotot develops an account of equality that refuses the propriety of judgment as a condition of political participation by refusing a priori common standards, including the common standard that to be an eligible participant in politics one must have a faculty of judgment.” But what conclusions can one draw from this? Anders Fjeld in Jacques Rancière Pratiquer l’eqalité (2018) suggests that at first sight the conceptual framework developed in the Maitre Ignorant could serve as a template for Rancière’s political work. But…intellectual and political emancipation are not the same.  (15)

This leads us to our  next section: from Le Philosophe et ses pauvresLa Mésentente La Haine de la démocratie,  and beyond…….

 

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References :

 

  1. Page 53. Le Maître ignorant: Cinq leçons sur l’émancipation intellectuelle, Fayard 1987.
  2.  “I know English people who I consider advanced, intellectual people, who say they are rather pleased that it was a Leave vote. I think you absolutely cannot simply reduce the Remain side to progress and universalism and the Leave side to backwardness. I think that you have to understand that with this type of vote there are lots of reasons why people might have voted for it. There is a reaction against foreigners because they are foreigners, but then again there are two very different aspects to the European question. There is the part that is about European power, the excessive power that is accountable to no one. We can speak of a denial of democracy, a denial which the European bureaucracy itself embodies. Then there is the aspect that is about relating to the other, relations with foreigners. So I think that in this situation there are two totally different kinds of question. I think that having this kind of referendum is to mix these questions up, in a rather systematic way. But of course it was not the people from below but the government and Mr. Cameron who did that, trying to divert, we might say, a democratic aspiration into an identitarian one.”  Europe: The Return of the People, or of Populism?  See Claude Lefort Essais sur le politique : xixe et xxe siècles, Paris, Seuil, 1986 (Collection Points. 2001) On Foucault and the Police “The ‘police apparatus’ is linked to the ‘state apparatus’; to the ‘centre of political sovereignty’, it works within the ambit of ‘disciplinary power’ and is a productive as well as a limiting apparatus. As early as in Madness and CivilisationFoucault defines police as “the totality of measures which make work possible and necessary for all those who would not live without it . . .” (p. 46). Again “Down to the end of the ancient regime, the term ‘police’ does not signify at least not exclusively the institution of police in the modern sense; ‘police’ is the ensemble of mechanisms serving to ensure order, the properly channelled growth of wealth and the conditions of preservation of health in general’ (Power/Knowledge p. 170). Thus police has as its main function the production and protection of wealth and protection of general conditions of health (which is obviously related to the first two functions). The production of wealth function includes all kinds of “economic regulation (the circulation of commodities, manufacturing processes, the obligations of trades people both to one another and to there clientele)”. The protection of wealth function is constituted of the ” ‘measures of public order’ (surveillance of dangerous individuals, expulsion of vagabonds and if necessary beggars and the pursuit of criminals” (ibid. p. 170). The production and protection of health function includes the “general rules of hygiene (checks on the quality of foodstuffs sold, the water supply and the cleanliness of streets)” [ibid. pp. 170-171].Police function…
  3. The use of rhetoric in Rancière’s writing a waits if Roland Barthes, but a simply glance through four pages (85 – 89) devoted to populism and the 2005 French EU Constitution referendum in 2005 in La Haine de la démocratie. Jacques Rancière. La Fabrique. 2005) Permanence du théologico-politique (1981) In Claude Lefort, Essais sur le politique. XIXe – XXe siècles. Editions du Seuil.  1986.
  4. The Lesson of Rancière. Slavoj Žižek. In: The Politics of Aesthetics. The Distribution of the Sensible The Politics of Aesthetics. The Distribution of the Sensible. Jacques Rancière. Continuum. 2005. The following is influenced by the invaluable framework offered to introduce his writings in Rancière: Pratiquer l’égalité. Anders Fjeld.   Éditer. 2018
  5. See Pages 223 – 226. La leçon d’althusser. Gallimard. 1974 See the account, of the theoretical issues at stake and biographical intersection of Rancière and Althusser, in The Detour of Theory. Gregory Elliott. Brill. 2006. Pages 22 and 25. Althusser’s Solicitude. George Elliott. In The Althusserian legacy. Edited by E. Ann Kaplan and Michael Spinker. Verso 1993.  More widely Conditions, limites et conséquences de l’intervention philosophique dans la conjoncture Althusser à l’épreuve de Rancière Eva Mancuso. 2013. More widely see the dossier in Radical Philosophy: The Althusser–Rancière Controversy Archive.
  6. Pages 271 and 191. La Leçon d’Althusser. Was Rancière the originator of the Althusserian theory of Ideological State Apparatuses? He has stated this and it  is reflected in Reviewing Rancière. Or, the persistence of discrepancies Bruno Bosteels. Radical Philosophy. 170. 211. Perhaps the most obvious point is that while there may be some relation between the ideas, Rancière had no picture of “Interpellation” or sense of how and why these institutions “reproduce” social relations. Rancière’s principal claims, about ideological struggle during the Great Cultural Revolution, have not worn well, unless of course one considers mass bureaucratic violence and repression to be beneficial forms of socialist ideological struggle. For Balibar’s view on the mixture of motives behind Reading Capital see Page 15: Étienne Balibar, L’Illimitation démocratique. Martian Deleixhe. Michalon. 2014.
  7. The whole of chapter 5 of The Detour of Theory. Gregory Elliott. Is devoted to this issue. He notably stated, “ a concrete critique, one which exists in the facts, in the struggle, in the line, in the practices, their principles and their forms, of the Chinese Revolution. A silent critique, which speaks through its actions, the result of the political and ideological struggles of the Revolution, from the Long March to the Cultural Revolution and its results. A critique from afar. A critique from ‘behind the scenes’” (Althusser cited, Page 231) Elliott charitably remarked that, “For over a decade, Althusser was caught up in the Parisian illusion of the epoch.” (Page 353) Amongst “post-Althusserian” theorists Alain Badiou still holds to such Noble Lies about the Cultural Revolutions. Rancière could criticise Althusser’s use of Mao, and his avoidance of looking at the nature of the USSR, but not ask whether the “verbiage” of human rights could have applied to the Cultural Revolution. Pages 196 – 7 La Leçon op cit.
  8. Pages 221 – 225. L’avenir dure longtemps Louis Althusser. Stock/IMEC. 1992.
  9. Page 42. Olivier Rolin Tigre en Papier. Seuil, 2002 Of the voluminous literature on the GP and popular justice Pages 237 – 8. Les Maoistes. Christophe Bourseiller. Plon. 2008. If it necessary  I should point out that the  writer of the present article comes from a very different ‘gauchiste’ tradition. Some details on the workings of the inner circles of the GP and its leader’s bizarre political trajectory, from Mao to the Torah in this fine study: Philippe Lardinois, De Pierre Victor à Benny Levy, de Mao à Moïse ?, Luc Pire, 2008
  10. See Althusser. The Detour of Theory. Gregory Elliott. New Left Review.
  11. On RL see: David Amalric & Benjamin Faure. Réappropriation des savoirs et subjectivations politiques: Jacques Rancière après Mai 68. Dissensus. 2011. « a) « Ni conscience d’une avant garde instruite par la science ni systématisation des idées nées de la pratique des masses. b)Ni l’un ni le multiple : un sujet unifié de l’histoire (la classe ouvrière) ou la multiplicité irréductible des luttes. c) Ni le plein ni le vide : la pleine positivité théorique et sociologique de la classe ouvrière ou la négativité destructrice de la subjectivité rebelle. » In A Thorn in the Side of Social History: Jacques Rancière and Les Révoltes logiques Mischa Suter. Research Centre for Economic and Social History, Zurich. 2012. it is suggested that “établissement and enquête”, the Maoist practice of establishing members as workers and “inquiry” marked the journal. “Au « on a raison de se révolter » de la Gauche prolétarienne, la revue substitue l’attention portée à la révolte, « Nous aurons la philosophie féroce ». In Révoltes logiques, 1975-1981 Vincent Chambarlhac.
  12. Page 73. Louis Gabriel Gauny. Le philosophe plébéien La-Découverte-Maspero. 1983.
  13. Jacques Rancière. La nuit des prolétaries. Plurielle. 2012 Paperback
  14. Page 40 Jacques Rancière. La nuit des prolétaires.Le Maître ignorant: Cinq leçons sur l’émancipation intellectuelle, Fayard 1987 More on this study: Sur « Le maitre ignorant »
    It goes without saying that this tale of instant learning is not widely accepted. See French Wikipedia entry for links on this: Le Maître ignorant. 

  15. Page 7. Rancière’s Sentiments. David Panagia Duke University Press. 2018. Page 53. Jacques Rancière. Pratiquer l’égalitie Anders Fjeld. Michalon.. 2018.
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Written by Andrew Coates

October 9, 2018 at 1:21 pm

Hal Draper and Socialism from Below.

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Image result for The "dictatorship of the proletariat" from Marx to Lenin (

Hal Draper (1914 – 1990) remains a seminal influence on Marxists.

Along with Maximilien Rubel (1905 – 1996, probably less known in the English speaking world) he offered a strongly democratic interpretation of Marx and Marxism based on serious historical and textual study.

Draper’s unraveling of the historical and political origins and use of the term ‘dictatorship of the proletariat’  (The “dictatorship of the proletariat” from Marx to Lenin 1987) is something many turn to whenever the issue of the Russian Revolution comes up.

His  Anatomy of the Micro-Sect (1973) while situated firmly within the context of the marginalised US left and, in this Blog’s view wildly and wrongly indulgent towards Lenin himself, offers insights into the way many small left-wing factions operate across the world.

In this important article Joel Geier offers an overview of Draper’s contribution to the left and not just on those who call themselves ‘revolutionaries’ or indeed agree with his interpretation of Marxism.

Hal Draper’s contribution to revolutionary Marxism

The piece is long but this extract gives some of the flavour.

Fifty-one years ago the Berkeley Independent Socialist Club published Hal Draper’s The Two Souls ofSocialism.1 Of the hundreds of radical pamphlets published in the 1960s, Two Souls has had perhaps the longest-lasting impact. Appearing at a time when various forms of top-down versions of socialism—social democracy, Stalinism, and Maoism—were in vogue, its emphasis on workers’ self-emancipation set it clearly apart. Moreover, Draper did not merely reintroduce genuine Marxism to a new generation; in its originality and clarity, Two Souls—and the subsequent work that elaborated in detail on his arguments—presented a different way of looking at the world, at socialism, and at competing ideologies.

Traditional interpretations maintained that the essential divisions in the socialist movement were between reform and revolution, pacifism versus violence, and democracy versus authoritarianism. Two Souls took a somewhat different angle, namely, that “throughout the history of socialist movements and ideas, the fundamental divide is between Socialism-From-Above and Socialism-From-Below,”2thus introducing the vocabulary, narrative, and ideas of socialism from below as the contemporary representation of revolutionary Marxism.

The unifying feature of the many varieties of socialism from above, Draper argued, is distrust or opposition to the working-class’s potential to recreate society based on its own initiative. Socialism from above, Draper specified, is the idea that socialism “must be handed down to the grateful masses in one form or another, by a ruling elite not subject to their control in fact.”3 Distrust of the mass’s ability to rule and denial of democratic control from below are the core tenets of the many variants of socialism from above that have dominated the history of the socialist movement.

The heart of socialism from below is the understanding that “socialism can be realized only through the self-emancipation of activated masses in motion, reaching out for freedom with their own hands, mobilized ‘from below’ in a struggle to take charge of their own destiny, as actors (not merely subjects) on the stage of history.”4 These few words summarize what Draper would later work for decades to restore and defend as the heart of revolutionary Marxism in his analysis of the entire body of Marx’s political writings, as presented in numerous articles, as well as in his indispensable, magnificent multivolume series, Karl Marx’s Theory of Revolution (KMTR).

A major thesis of Two Souls was that social democracy and Stalinism, the two major self-styled socialisms from above, despite their real and obvious differences, both identify socialism with the statification of the economy, and both reject workers’ democratic rule as the foundation of socialism. Long before Stalinism, Eduard Bernstein, the theoretical father of social-democratic reformism, was the first to revise Marxism to eliminate working-class self-emancipation from its essence, substituting “superior educated” parliamentary representatives for the “uninformed masses” as the agency for socialism. Social democracy and Stalinism, whose advocates strongly denied their similarities, were the dominant radical ideologies that divided the socialist movement during Draper’s political life, which was split between those who supported “democratic” Washington or “socialist” Moscow. These constrained political choices debilitated the working-class movement long before the wrecking operations of neoliberal capitalism began.

Read the full article on Socialism From Below in the International Socialist Review.

Those who are very far from enthusiasts for Trotsky or ‘revolutionary’ Marxism but who are democratic Marxists have learnt a lot from one of the best socialist writers of the 20th century.

Written by Andrew Coates

October 7, 2018 at 12:41 pm

Rancière: ‘Post Democracy’, Populism, and Anti-Anti-Populism (Part One).

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‘Rancière: ‘Post Democracy’, Populism, and Anti-Anti-Populism.

Part One.

Maint fleur épanche à regret,

Son parfum doux comme un secret,

Dans les solitudes profoundes.”

Many a flower regretfully
Exhales perfume soft as secrets
In a profound solitude.

 

Le Guignon. Les Fleurs du mal. Charles Baudelaire. (1)

Introduction.

Jacques Rancière has become a reference point in radical aesthetic theory. Over the last two decades his writings have a committed audience, a larger group of spectators, and have helped inspire some optimism about allying artistic experimentation with emancipatory politics. (le Monde 6.7.18)  The irruption of “dissensus”, upturning existing communities of the creation and reception of arts, (the “partage du sensible” in a “sensus communis”), offers glimpses of “festivals of the future”. (2)

Across the left Rancière is best known as a champion of the politics of the “principle of equality”, “the equality of anyone at all with anyone else”. This, the only universal in politics, is the perpetual up-setter of apple carts. Perhaps his most ambitious target is a vehicle that might be better called a juggernaut. This is “post-democracy”. Pierre Rosanvallon has observed that he was one of the first to employ this term. “Post-democracy”(“post-démocratie”) has replaced the classical active ‘subject’ and agent of politics, effaced before the technical regulation of society – in the interests of those who hold economic power. (La contre-démocratie. 2006). As Rancière has stated, “Post-democracy is the government practice and conceptual legitimisation of a democracy after the demos, a democracy that has eliminated the appearance, miscount, and dispute of the people and is thereby reducible to the sole interplay of state mechanisms and combinations of social energies and interests.” (3)

Can the egalitarian figure of the People overturn the rule of the experts steeped in managerial science, neo-liberal economics, and the crafts of PR, presiding over post-democracy?  Is neoliberal post-democracy, as Rosanvallon has recently stated, so dominant, diffuse and elusive that the one is restricted to making its workings known?  (Le Monde. 31. 8. 18) Rancière places his hopes in a revived Demo. As he said in 2017, “the point today is trying to think a form of political organisation as really creating a new form of people. Because person is not the reality that parties represent, it is the reality that they create. The problem is whether we can create a new kind of people, a people of equals who have the possibility to put the capacity of anybody at work.” (4)

Rancière, then, is a critic of “Ètats oligarchiques”, based on the rule of – liberal – law that excludes Popular Sovereignty, and a voice on the side of the People. The late Ernesto Laclau’s On Populist Reason (2005) welcomed his “rediscovery of the People”, while flagging up his differences, with the French writers references to the “irreducible heterogeneity” (as Rancière calls it, “a multiplicity of experiences of equality, freedom or emancipation”) of popular struggle. Including those whose fight for equality flowers in “profound solitude.”(5)

Disagreements are more clearly signalled in public discussion with Laclau in 2015. Rancière asserted, “at least in European countries the representative principle of the state is completely integrated into the oligarchic mechanisms that it reproduces. It certainly does not function as a means for building a popular will.” This puts him at odds with the intramundane translation of Laclau’s ideas, put into strategic form by his partner Chantal Mouffe as ‘left populism’. Based on “federating the people”, bringing together their diverse interests and backgrounds into a unity that displaces the post-democratic consensus managed by the ruling political class, this has had some influence on European politics.  Spain’s Podemos and Jean-Luc Mélenchon’s La France insoumise (LFI) have paid attention to this perspective. Key advisers have borrowed from Laclau’s theoretical tool-box. It would be rash nevertheless to make the bolder claim that these politicians are the earthly incarnation of the abstractions of On Populist Reason and, other, far less accessible works. Mouffe’s most recent book, For a Left Populism (2018) restricts herself to quoting Rancière’s description of “post-democracy”. The debate has halted there for the moment. (6)

Populism.

Rancière is also known for his article, L’introuvable populisme (2011), which criticised, pell-mell, “elite” contempt for the rough masses, secular French republicanism, and the racialism of the French state. Éric Fassin, Pierre Dardot and Christian Laval, include these aspects of Rancière in discussion of both Populism and post-democracy. (7)

In this year’s Socialist Register James Foley and Pete Ramand find comfort for their opinions on the potential of Referendums for outsiders (including the left) to express themselves in the earlier La Haine de la démocratie (2005).  Pouring scorn on the denial of the French vote on the 19th of May 2005 against the EU Constitution, Rancière wrote on the theme he was to take up in L’introuvable populism, “Populism is the convenient name under which is dissimulated the exacerbated contradiction between popular legitimacy and expert legitimacy”.  Railing against “les oligarches, leurs savants et leurs idéologues” who despise the masses, in this instance those opposed to backing the EU plan, as ignorant “populists”. This theeme is repated many time in his writing, “‘populist’ is very much part of this arsenal used by the intellectual world, the world of the dominant.” This is, in some eyes, a way of avoiding talking about what exactly this particularly “heterogeneous” people. Indeed he is obdurate enough to claim that “it was clearly a democratic question and that was in the forefront.” In reality during that contest the ‘non’ to the Constitution included the whole of the French extreme right and many on the left marked by ‘elitist’ republicanism’ and nationalism. (8)

And yet… Rancière is best described as an ‘anti-anti-populist’. The ‘elite’ horror of mass direct intervention in political life, turning upside down the consensus of established politics, is the principal contradiction. “Cold racism”, he asserts on the universal basis of French experience, is generated by the ‘secular’ state. Laws entrenching secularism (that is, laïcité), endorsed by the Republican left, which affect ‘Moslems’, terms no doubt requiring no further explanation – highlight a wider form of contempt. But is, the “new racism coming from the top of the State” the end of the problem? The successes of right-wing ‘populism’, up to the extreme right, in the electorates of many countries, can hardly be obscured as they parade in the light of day. Is it only a ‘secondary contradiction’ amongst the people, a fabrication by ‘elites’, another shadow game in post-democracy, or, as most would imagine, a profound and rooted political problem?  Any answers are, at best, obscured by Rancière’s polemical gambit. That is, the principle  – frequent if never explicitly put – that one often needs to “reverse”, turn upside down, two poles to get a hold on how the elusive post-democratic society is operating. The election in Sweden this September suggests that one should turn this round again. We have to look at the ‘popular’ basis for mass backing for racist parties.

Radical Democracy.

That said, does Rancière contribute to grasping the world described as “post-democratic” and offer any useful ideas about creating democratic equality? Alex Dimorivić offers a hook into his work: the thinker is a champion of “Radical democracy ll, a stand that flavours democratic aspirations through “dissensus, argument, conflict and antagonism.” To approach Rancière’s politics through the lenses of left-wing radical democracy is to place him within, as he might put it, to join a sensus communis that is potentially intelligible to a broad left audience.  Rancière certainly does not follow those who are attempting to construct and channel the ‘People’ into a political organisation under the guidance of left populist theory and charismatic Leader. In the 2017 French Presidential election he called for a “non candidate”, and encouraged of independent forms of popular democracy beyond the “false choice” in the ballot box.   It would appear that the last thing the principle of equality would endorse is, transposing the words of The Philosopher and His Poor, a Party-Movement dedicated to training actors “in the art of becoming historical agents.”  (9)

Can Rancière offer light, as Étienne Balibar has stated, on the roots of his own principle of “égaliberté”, equality-liberty? That is that by pushing the drive for recognition by those without a stake in society into broader political thinking (including the worlds of Theory and Philosophy….)? He may of thinking through the concepts of freedom in the mould of radical egalitarianism, and add some spice about the pitfalls of integration into the ways things have been set up till now. Balibar’s pwn democratic experimentation, has explored the blind spots (“angles morts”) of Marxism. Rancière’s independent take (and criticisms) of pictures of the “democratic revolution”, and “political emancipation” associated with Claude Lefort.

Ideas of  “equality-liberty” may open up further avenues that bring the “principle of equality” into a wider range of issues, from human rights to the shape of the welfare state and education.  The critic of the Western military imposition of “infinite justice” is far from an opponent of all concepts of human right. Indeed he is a keen supporter of the struggles stemming from those who have no part in society (“la part des sans-part”), and their fight for rights that emerge beyond the framework of nation, peoples and classes. Those influenced by Claude Lefort tend to be over-wary of the threat of totalitarianism; Rancière has a profound tendency to ignore the issue altogether.  A certain balance, or, dare I say it, ‘anglo-saxon’ (as French writers misleadingly call us) pragmatism would suggest that that each writer may illuminate the other. (10)

But – this is a repeated warning  – often the language is very abstract. This is not only a matter of the terms employed. Slavoj Žižek point out that Rancière’s account (the ‘non-foundation’) of The Political (le politique) and Politics (la politique) structurally avoids the importance of the critique of political economy. One can extend this insight. Anybody educated in the history of the labour movement and the left will find the bald assertion of the importance of a “non-sociological” concept of the working class,  “a kind of symbolical invention of the collective”, offered without substantial documented detail, grating.  It is not only these difficulties that should concern us. Whether his take can contribute to any definite political project is equally far from clear. As Frédéric Lordon has remarked – he is far from the first to do so – the golden moments of democratic energy, real politics, are for Rancière brief and rare. The “police”, the administration of post-democracy, soon brings the masses to order. (11)

 

**********

Part 2, from the  La leçon d’Althusser (1975) La Nuit des prolétaires. Archives du rêve ouvrier, (1981), Le Philosophe et ses pauvres, (1983) to the overview offered by Pratiquer l’égalité  Anders Fjeld (2018) passing through, amongst others Dissensus: On Politics and Aesthetics (2010), Chronicles of Consensual Times (2010)…….

 

References :

 

 

  1. Translation by William Aggeler, The Flowers of Evil (Fresno, CA: Academy Library Guild, 1954). The lines, criticsm assures us, echo, “Full many a flower is born to blush unseen, And waste its sweetness on the desert air.” Thomas Gray. Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard. The following may extend the relevance to Rancière’s project, “Some Village Hampden that with dauntless breast, The little tyrant of his fields withstood, Some mute inglorious Milton here may rest, Some Cromwell guiltless of his country’s blood”.
  2. On the new links between aesthetics, politics and “other ways of living”, “Entre esthétique et politique les frontières deviennent poreuses.” Le Monde. 6.7.18). One of the best texts with which to begin reading his views on art is Chapter 3. Aesthetic Separation, Aesthetic Community. The Emancipated Spectator, Jacques Rancière. Translated Gregory Elliott. Verso. 2009. See the invaluable Translator’s Introduction to, Jacques Rancière’s Politics of Perception Gabriel Rockhill to The Politics of Aesthetics. The Distribution  of the Sensible. Jacques Rancière. Continuum. 2005. In French there is this useful short overview:  Stéphane Roy-des-rosiers. Introduction approfondie à l’esthétique de Jacques Rancière.  On the wider importance of his views on aesthetic judgement, see the Introduction to Rancière’s Sentiments. David Panagia Duke University Press. 2018.
  3. Page 15. Rancière, Disagreement. Originally published as La Mesentente: Politique et philosophie, copyright 1995 Editions Galilee. Translated Julie Rose. University of Minnesota Press. 1999. On Post-democracy: Page 267. La contre-démocratie. Pierre Rosanvallon. Seuil 2006. Rosanvallon states that Rancière was probably the first to use the expression “post-démocratie” in La Mésentente. The line cited is from the English translation, Page 102. Disagreement. Op cit. The term is also known through the work of  Colin Crouch. See Colin Crouch. Coping with Post-Demcoraccy.(Fabian Society. No Date) Is there a liberalism beyond social democracy? By Colin Crouch. Policy Network , 5 May 2011
  4. .Pages 19-20 A coffee with Jacques Rancière beneath the Acropolis Babylonia. January 2018.
  5. “Concluding Remarks” On Populist Reason. Ernesto Laclau. Verso 2005. Don’t they represent us? A discussion between Jacques Rancière and Ernesto Laclau. 2015. Translated by David Broder, from El Diario. Page 13. For a Left Populism. Chantal Mouffe. Verso 2018.
  6. L’introuvable populisme in Qu’est-ce qu’un people? Alain Badiou, Pierre Bourdieu, Judith Butler, Georges Didi-Huberman, Sadri Khiari, Jacques Rancière. La Fabrique
  7. Pages 17 – 18. Populisme: le grand ressentiment. Èric Fassin. Èditions Textuel. 2017. In the Conclusion: Ce Cauchemar qui n’en finit pas. Comment le néolibéralisme défait la démocratie. Pierre Dardot, Christian Laval. .La Découverte. 2016.
  8. In fear of Populism: Referendums and neoliberal democracy. James Foley Pete Ramand. Pages 87 –88 Rethinking Democracy  Socialist Register 2018. Merlin. La Haine de la démocratie. Jacques Rancière La Fabrique. 2005 Page 120. Europe: The Return of the People, or of Populism? 2016 (Verso site’s translation). In fact faced with the Brexit vote all he could do was mumble about  a reaction to the (EU) “denial of democracy, a denial which the European bureaucracy itself embodies. Then there is the aspect that is about relating to the other, relations with foreigners. “
  9. Radical Democracy and Socialism. Alex Dimorivić. Socialist Register 2018. Merlin 2018. On more details on this ‘non-candidacy”, such as they are, see Jacques Rancière, La Grande Table: Revaloriser la démocratie avec Jacques Rancière. France Culture. (3.5.17)“Les logiques représentatives génèrent un système d’alternance de partis qui se ressemblent de plus en plus.”:”La seule campagne significative à mon sens est précisément une campagne pour la non-présidence.” “Il reste possible d’envisager des formes d’institutions réellement démocratiques et non axées sur la question de la lutte du pouvoir.” “La vraie question est celle du choix lui-même : nous assistons à une élection de la dépossession.” “Un peuple n’existe pas par lui-même : c’est le résultat d’un certain nombre d’éléments, d’un processus politique.” “Il y a un combat à mener contre les idéologies ouvertement réactionnaires et élitistes, et un autre contre les fausses évidences.” The Philosopher and His Poor, ed. Andrew Parker, co-trans. John Drury, Corinne Oster, and Andrew Parker (2004) original edition. Le Philosophe et ses pauvres, Fayard, 1983 a crucial transtional point which will be taken up further).
  10. The translation “counting the uncounted” (counting , décompte) is used in From Universality to Equality Badiou’s critique of Rancière. Jeff Love and Todd May (Clemson University) Symposium: Canadian Journal of Continental Philosophy. (Web) Most of the article is taken up with demolishing one of the most arrogant claims a world class egotist has ever made, Alain Badiou has asserted that in this approach to equality Rancière simply borrowed his own concept of “nomination” – in a grand ontology which few can fathom – to signal out the moment of resistance that marks the ‘non-part’ rebellion. Rancière’s own, respectful, account of Badiou’s concept of ‘fidelity” is discussed at a level of enormous abstraction in, “Jacques Rancière A propos de L’Etre et l’Evénement d’Alain Badiou. le cahier du Collège international de philosophie.n° 8 octobre 1989 (éd. Osiris) A courageous effort to render into English the decent obscurity of the learned language in this essay on Badiou is offered by David Broder, Time is nothing other than intervention”—Jacques Rancière on Alain Badiou’s Being and Event. Verso Site.
  11. The link is underlined by Balibar right at the beginning of this work, “il faut que s’affirme une légitimité de la lutte, ce que Jacques Rancière appelle la part des sans-part, qui confère une signification universelle à la revendication du « décompte » de ceux qui ont été maintenus en dehors du « bien commun » ou de la « volonté générale” Ouverture: l’antimonie de la citoyenneté. In Étienne Balibar. La Proposition de l’égaliberté. Essais politiques. 1980 – 2009/ Actuel Marx. PUF 2010. Étienne Balibar, L’Illimitation démocratique. Martin Deleixhe. Michalon Éditeur. 2014. Page 293. Of Lefort’s writings on these issues see particularly. Essais sur le politique. Claude Lefort. Seuil. 1986. L’invention démocratique. Fayard, 1981/1994.  Page 75. Amongst many references to this take on human rights see: What is the Subject of the Rights of Man? In Dissensus: On Politics and Aesthetics (2010) The Lesson of Rancière. Slavoj Žižek. In: The Politics of Aesthetics. The Distribution of the Sensible. Op Cit. Structures et affects des corps politiques. Frédéric Lordon. La Fabrique. 2012.

 

World’s Oldest Trotksyist Group Denounces “Witch hunt by liberals against Trump.”

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Image result for the militant socialist weekly us trotsky

An Honourable Past.

The American Socialist Workers Party is the world’s oldest Trotskyist group.

Old enough to be mentioned by George Orwell. (1)

It was founded at the end of 1937.

Their paper, The Militant (the original one) goes back to 1928.

The writings of its leading figure at the time, James Patrick “Jim” Cannon (1890 – 1974), form the basic reading of Trotskyists to this day.

Many know the pages of the History of American Trotskyism, 1928–38, Report of a Participant and The struggle for a proletarian party  (1943) practically (or literally) by heart.

It should be made clear that this Blog comes from a very different, European, background, associated with the sterling figure of Michael Pablo, (1911 – 1996) somebody Cannon opposed root and branch in the 1953 – 4 split in the Trotskyist movement’s largest international grouping, the Fourth International (FI).

Apart from its role in the upper levels of the FI (not formally affiliated due to US law)  the US SWP was directly engaged in various parts of the world wide movement.

The US SWP had a small group, called The Tendency, inside the International Marxist Group during the 1970s.

Uncharitably called a ‘cult’ by well-wishers such as the writer of this post and his mates, they formed the basis for the present Communist League.

Their best known figure is  Jonathan Silberman who hit the headlines not long ago when he in 2015 he announced his intention of standing for the London May contest. (Communist spells out policy to compete in next year’s mayoral election).

Alas, he did not stand.

But Peter Clifford stood for them in the 2017 General Election in Manchester Gorton where he won 27 votes.

If one multiplies this by the number of constituencies in the UK this makes a more impressive sounding 17550 potential votes for the Communist League.

For those interested one may see people selling the US paper cited below on their stall at demos, next to felt-tip written placards produced by a teenage creative writing class.

Yes, everybody who comes these currents have evolved over the years.

The US SWP, according to many reports, has evolved the most.

This marks a further stage in their development:

Witch hunt by liberals against Trump a danger to workers

As President Donald Trump continues to win support for improvements on jobs and production and in foreign policy, the liberal media, Democrats and some Republicans are trying to breathe life into their waning efforts to overturn the 2016 election and drive him from office. They have seized on the conviction of his former campaign manager Paul Manafort, a plea bargain by Trump’s former lawyer Michael Cohen, and the president’s decision to revoke ex-CIA boss John Brennan’s security clearance.

After some dreary stuff we get to the meat, the real ‘low down’ as they say…

Assaults on free speech and freedom of assembly are being carried out today. They’re being organized by a layer of Trump’s liberal opponents, like Maxine Waters, who urges mob attacks on government officials to hound them from public life.

In a series of coordinated editorial columns, the liberal owners of some 350 newspapers around the country claimed the president was attacking press freedom when he tweets about fake news.

But Trump’s remarks have nothing to do with imposing constraints on the press. More and more of these papers have given up any pretense at printing “news,” instead running article after article arguing with Trump and calling him a liar.

As they trade conjectures about the effects the court rulings on Manafort and Cohen, and “treason” calls by Brennan, will have, most bourgeois commentators agree there’s little chance Trump will be indicted or successfully removed from office.

Their conclusions? All out for the Democrats in 2018! And, if they have to, against Donald Trump in 2020.

The Socialist Workers Party is fielding candidates across the country, speaking out about the capitalist rulers’ assaults on working people and the oppressed, and championing labor battles and social protests. The party explains that the road forward is for the working class to break with all the parties of the capitalist rulers and chart a course to take political power into their own hands.

**********

(1) “Although in some places, for instance in the United States, Trotskyism is able to attract a fairly large number of adherents and develop into an organized movement with a petty fuehrer of its own, its inspiration is essentially negative.” Notes on Nationalism. George Orwell. Polemic, No.1, October 1945.

For a good article on the relations between Orwell and Trotskyism see:  George Orwell: a literary Trotskyist? Anna Chen

Written by Andrew Coates

August 26, 2018 at 12:58 pm

Samir Amin (1931 – 2018) – from the Critique of Capitalist Development to the Rejection of Political Islam.

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Image result for samir amin

Samir Amin, (1931 – 2018).

Tribute to Professor Samir Amin

This Sunday, August 12, 2018 we learned, with great sorrow and sadness, of the passing the eminent development economist Professor Samir Amin on the eve of his 87th birthday. An illustrious thinker, the late Samir Amin leaves behind a wealth of economic thought on developing economies that he has inspired since the early sixties by his many publications and thought-provoking conferences.

As its Director for 10 years (1970 – 1980), IDEP is particularly touched by the passing of one of its pioneer-directors who made an indelible mark in the history of IDEP through his accomplishments in training and research in the domains of development planning and economy management in Africa. His astute leadership enabled the institute to gain and strengthen its identity in the delivery of capacity development and research programs that were strongly tailored to fight against underdevelopment.

With Samir Amin, IDEP gained momentum and is proud to be continuing on with this momentum, almost forty years later, in delivering on its mandate of building the capacity of African countries to effectively plan for their development and efficiently manage their economies.

In this sad moment, we offer our condolences to his family and to the African continent, to which he has always devoted himself with remarkable zeal and dynamism.

United Nations Economic Commission on Africa.

In French (Amin was Franco-Egyptian):

Mort de l’économiste Samir Amin, figure de l’altermondialisme

Par LIBERATION, avec AFP — 

“UN BAOBAB EST TOMBÉ” : SAMIR AMIN, LE THÉORICIEN DU DÉVELOPPEMENT INÉGAL, EST MORT  l’Humanité.

Samir Amin, l’économiste du Sud, est mort Le Monde.

“Le Franco-Egyptien s’est illustré par son analyse critique du système économique mondial et par son engagement en faveur des pays du Tiers-Monde.”

Like many I first came across Amin through the debate on capitalism and underdevelopment.  My introduction was  ‘Unequal Development: An Essay on the Social Formations of Peripheral Capitalism‘ (1976 ). This was one of many books in which he developed the idea that, “how accumulation in advanced capitalist countries prevents development, however that may be defined, within the peripheral social formations, usually referred to as “underdeveloped” countries. Samir Amin ranks among those who realize the necessity not merely to comprehend the growing crisis of world capitalism, as it manifests itself within individual nation states, but also at the world level.”

A lucid and memorable tribute is given in Red Pepper,

Nick Dearden looks at the theories of one of Africa’s greatest radical thinkers

Samir Amin (1931-2018) was one of the world’s greatest radical thinkers – a ‘creative Marxist’ who went from Communist activism in Nasser’s Egypt, to advising African socialist leaders like Julius Nyerere to being a leading figure in the World Social Forum.

Samir Amin’s ideas were formed in the heady ferment of 1950s and ’60s, when pan-Africanists like Kwamah Nkrumah ran Ghana and Juliuys Nyrere Tanzania, when General Nasser was transforming the Middle East from Amin’s native Egypt and liberation movements thrived from South Africa to Algeria.

Africa looked very different before the International Monetary Fund destroyed what progress had been made towards emancipation and LiveAid created a popular conception of a continent of famine and fecklessness. Yet through these times, Amin’s ideas have continued to shine out, denouncing the inhumanity of contemporary capitalism and empire, but also harshly critiquing movements from political Islam to Eurocentric Marxism and its marginalisation of the truly dispossessed.

Global power

Amin believed that the world capitalism – a rule of oligopolies based in the rich world – maintains its rule through five monopolies – control of technology, access to natural resources, finance, global media, and the means of mass destruction. Only by overturning these monopolies can real progress be made.

This raises particular challenges for those of us who are activists in the North because any change we promote must challenge the privileges of the North vis-à-vis the South. Our internationalism cannot be expressed through a type of humanitarian approach to the global South – that countries in the South need our ‘help to develop’. For Amin, any form of international work must be based on an explicitly anti-imperialist perspective. Anything else will fail to challenge structure of power – those monopolies which really keep the powerful powerful.

Along with colleagues like Andre Gunder Frank, Amin see the world divided into the ‘centre’ and the ‘peripheries’. The role of peripheries, those countries we call the global South, is to supply the centres – specifically the ‘Triad’ of North America, Western Europe and Japan – with the means of developing without being able to develop themselves. Most obviously, the exploitation of Africa’s minerals on terms of trade starkly favourable to the centre will never allow African liberation, only continual exploitation.

This flies in the face of so much ‘development thinking’, which would have you believe that Africa’s problems come from not being properly integrated into the global economy which has grown up over the last 40 years. Amin believes in fact Africa’s problem stem from it being too integrated but in ‘the wrong way’.

In fact, as long as the monopolies of control are intact, countries of the centre have had few problems globalising production since the 1970s. Sweatshop labour now takes place across the periphery but it hasn’t challenged the power of those in the North because of their control of finance, natural resources, the military and so on. In fact, it has enhanced their power by reducing wages and destroying a manufacturing sector that had become a power base for unionised workers.

So there is no point whatever in asking countries of the centre to concede better trading relationships to the peripheries. Amin is also concerned at environmental activism which too often becomes a debate about how countries of the centre manage their control of the world’s resources, rather than challenging that control. It is vital that Northern activists challenge the means through which the ruling class in their own society exerts control over the rest of the world.

Amin’s views on political Islam brought him to the attention of many secularists, including this Blogger.

Political Islam in the Service of Imperialism 2007.  Monthly Review.

On an initial reading he offered a rigorous critique of Islamism.

All the currents that claim adherence to political Islam proclaim the “specificity of Islam.” According to them, Islam knows nothing of the separation between politics and religion, something supposedly distinctive of Christianity. It would accomplish nothing to remind them, as I have done, that their remarks reproduce, almost word for word, what European reactionaries at the beginning of the nineteenth century (such as Bonald and de Maistre) said to condemn the rupture that the Enlightenment and the French Revolution had produced in the history of the Christian West!

On the basis of this position, every current of political Islam chooses to conduct its struggle on the terrain of culture—but “culture” reduced in actual fact to the conventional affirmation of belonging to a particular religion. In reality, the militants of political Islam are not truly interested in discussing the dogmas that form religion. The ritual assertion of membership in the community is their exclusive preoccupation. Such a vision of the reality of the modern world is not only distressing because of the immense emptiness of thought that it conceals, but it also justifies imperialism’s strategy of substituting a so-called conflict of cultures for the one between imperialist centers and dominated peripheries.

The exclusive emphasis on culture allows political Islam to eliminate from every sphere of life the real social confrontations between the popular classes and the globalized capitalist system that oppresses and exploits them. The militants of political Islam have no real presence in the areas where actual social conflicts take place and their leaders repeat incessantly that such conflicts are unimportant. Islamists are only present in these areas to open schools and health clinics. But these are nothing but works of charity and means for indoctrination. They are not means of support for the struggles of the popular classes against the system responsible for their poverty.

On the terrain of the real social issues, political Islam aligns itself with the camp of dependent capitalism and dominant imperialism.

It is the latter assertion, which straightforwardly answers  the false assertion that Islamism contains a kind of sublimated ‘anti-imperialism’ which is attractive. This was clearly sensed by his critics who tried to claim that the reactionary nature of political Islam was hidden behind a “welfare” vision of society. While in many ways this seems strange perspective today in the light of the rule of Daesh,  Turkey may make the case for a synthesis between authoritarian populism and Islamist welfarism.

There were and are equally clear difficulties in claiming that  Islamism was in some unexplained manner not “really”anti-imperialist. Yet various forms of actually existing Islamism were engaged in armed combat with….imperialism well before they began murdering civilians outside of their own lands.

In the debate in Monthly Review that followed Amin was criticised in Analyzing Political Islam. A Critique of Traditional Historical Materialist Analytic by  2009

The point is that if the left is ever to become serious in challenging militant/political Islam, it has to move past and dump its heavy baggage of Eurocentrism and the careless analysis of political Islam. The current wave of militant Islam is a force to reckon with, and dismissing it as reactionary—true as it may be—is unhelpful. Yes, militant Islam has an extremely narrow ideological view of Islam, and an exceedingly oppressive vision of societal change, especially concerning the treatment of women.

This vision is not shared by the vast majority of Muslims in Afghanistan, Egypt, Indonesia, Pakistan, and even India. That being said, this dominant obscurantist current of political Islam in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Pakistan is also locked in military/guerilla combat with U.S. imperial power and client states in the region.

But here’s the rub, militant Islam is also supported by people in these respective regions not, as mentioned earlier, because they support its vision of a Muslim “welfare state” rather, the support is because the United States is seen as ruthless, anti-Islam imperial occupier. Alongside, people in these states are also very tired of the tactics of Islamists, especially as they terrorize and target unarmed and uninvolved people. Overwhelming numbers in Muslim-majority states would like the Islamists to disappear, just as they would also wish the same for U.S. imperial presence and the client regimes that rule over them. If this complexity could be grasped, it may enable people on the left as well Western political leaders and the media to desist from homogenizing the makeup of entire Muslim-majority societies as reactionary or obscurantist.

Similarly, the popular anti-imperialist sentiment in Muslim majority states should not be confused with the actions of militant Islamists, which are not anti-imperialist. Militant Islam is conceived and imagined in the present, current context. It is, therefore, a “modern” manifestation that posits its own version of the Islamic “welfare state” for the current conjuncture to rival the Western capitalist state and Enlightenment notions of modernity. Understanding militant Islam in its current context will only enable the development of a coherent strategy of opposition and an alternative non-Eurocentric vision of society.

Comments on Tariq Amin-Khan’s text

Amin defended this analysis, focusing on how different forms of political Islam could be simultaneously ‘modern’, that is a part of a globalised world, and backward-looking, with their textual and ritual evocations of utopias.

Political Islam is a modern phenomenon. Tariq does not see that this was my thesis. All of the ideological, political and social movements of the “modern” world (i.e., of actually existing capitalism, which is both globalized and polarizing, thus imperialist by nature) are modern, because they are inseparable from capitalism. Bourgeois democratic liberalism, whether conservative or reformist, socialisms (social democracy, historical communisms), fascisms, ethnocentrisms (or para-ethnic movements), the nationalisms of the imperialist powers, the nationalisms through which dominated peoples express their resistance, movements of “religious renaissance” in all their forms, be it liberation theology, apparently “fundamentalist” revivals, both Christian and others, and new sects, all these movements are “modern”.

But it is not sufficient to understand them simply as modern. Even more, it is necessary to choose between them and identify those which move society forwards and, on the basis of a critique of capitalist modernity, participate in inventing socialist modernity.

As for the ‘welfarist’ aspect of political Islam,

the fact that the movements inspired by such formulations have recruited their rank and file from the most disadvantaged classes does not change the reactionary utopian character of these formulations. I include political Islam (even political Islams, in the plural), but also political Hinduism, political Buddhism, North American Christian fundamentalism, new sects and others, in this large family of illusions, apparently attached to the past (but in fact modern) and able to mobilize the “poor” in certain circumstances. Their success, like at the present moment, is the result of the failure of the relevant (socialist) lefts to oppose capital’s offensive, which has seized the historic opportunity provided by the erosion and then collapse of the progressive forces that had formed the world after the Second World War.

Amin was nevertheless primarily interested in the geopolitical game.

Describing the Middle East he stated in his original article on Political Islam that,

The region of the Greater Middle East is today central in the conflict between the imperialist leader and the peoples of the entire world. To defeat the Washington establishment’s project is the condition for providing the possibility of success for advances in any region of the world. Failing that, all these advances will remain vulnerable in the extreme. That does not mean that the importance of struggles carried out in other regions of the world, in Europe or Latin America or elsewhere, should be underestimated. It means only that they should be part of a comprehensive perspective that contributes to defeating Washington in the region that it has chosen for its first criminal strike of this century.

This view, which puts the conflict between ‘imperialism’ and the rest of the world, became more trenchant as the years went by.

During the Arab Spring he out the two, secularism and anti-imperialism, together and declared,

The ongoing U.S. project of military control over the planet by its armed forces, supported by their NATO lieutenants, the erosion of democracy in the imperialist core countries, and the medievalistical rejection of democracy within Southern countries in revolt (taking the form of “fundamentalist” semi-religious delusions disseminated by political Islam, political Hinduism, political Buddhism) all work together toward that dreadful outcome. At the current time the struggle for secularist democratization is crucial for the perspective of popular emancipation, crucial for opposition to the perspective of generalized barbarism.

2011: An Arab Springtime?

But imperialism came to play its role.

Counterpunch summarised his opinions in 2017.

A main pillar of Amin’s thought is that far from battling political Islam, the NATO and US have enabled such regional movements as a divide and conquer approach to maintaining power. This critique upends the dominant narrative of Uncle Sam’s war on terror as a noble pursuit.

According to Amin, since the 2003 US invasion of Iraq, the lone superpower has been spurring a “permanent civil war between Shiites and Sunnis, Arabs and Kurds.

What does all this mean?

Amin writes: “US armies have protected those who subsequently had to take the direction of the Daesh (or ISIL), the Caliph himself!”

In Russia and the Long Transition from Capitalism to Socialism, Amin presents a thought-provoking interpretation of Russian history in the global system. It involves geography and history and of course human agency.

He considers the Czarist Empire and the colonial empires, quite different. Further, Amin considers Lenin and Stalin and the Ukrainian crisis, the latter of which constitutes no small threat to widening armed conflict.

Russia remains a pivotal nation on the world stage, in spite of its capitalist restoration. Its importance as a counterbalance to the imperialism of the Triad (US, Europe and Japan) is Amin’s special focus, and for good reason.

For many  the belief that US was involved in the rise of Daesh seems an unproven and tied to conspiratorial claims about the  ‘sponsorship’ of the Islamic state made by supporters, amongst others, of the Assad regime.

Amin also made claims about the “le coup d’état euro-nazi de Kiev ” and, giving a name to the US involvement, stated that the Hillary Clinton had founded ISIS, “A ce propos la presse aux Etats Unis a reconnu que l’accusation portée par D. Trump à savoir que Hilary avait activement soutenu la mise en place de Daesh – était fondée.” (Samir Amin; l’élection de Donald Trump (25 / 11 / 2016) (1)

Amin, it might be said, failed to keep up with developments inside  Islamism. He ignored the self-driven ideological causes and nature of the Deash genocidal and totalitarian regime. There is a disregard for the weight of doctrine. There is no serious analysis of its relation to earlier forms of political Islam and the ideologies of radical Salifist currents that were drawn to jihad. There is nothing on the buds of tyrannical  “micro-powers” of Islamism dispersed across the world including within the ‘West’ and the way in which these can become ‘proto-states’ in trying to create a racist misogynist Caliphate.

In short, neither the ‘global jihad’ nor the blood-drenched reality of Islamist rule in Iraq and Syria, the Taliban and Boko Haram, the jihadis of the Maghreb and Mali,  and the Somalian killers, can be explained only in terms of geopolitical rivalries, or, as a regression to a pre-Enlightenment ‘utopia’ in modern political and technological armed dress.

Louis Proyect reflects on some of these issues here:  Samir Amin, dependency theory, and the multipolar world

Amin’s defence of a “multi-polar world” was nevertheless a positive vision of the future.

Beyond US Hegemony: Assessing the Prospects for a Multipolar World

A genuinely multipolar world will become a reality only when the following four conditions have been satisfied.

  •  Real advances towards a different, ‘social’ Europe, and hence a Europe that has begun to disengage from its imperialist past and present and to embark on the long transition to world socialism. Evidently this implies more than a mere exit from Atlanticism and extreme neoliberalism.
  • The prevalence of ‘market socialism’ in China over the strong tendencies to an illusory construction of ‘national capitalism’, which would be impossible to stabilize because it would exclude the majority of workers and peasants.
  •  Success of the countries of the South (peoples and states) in rebuilding a ‘common front’. This is also essential to provide the leeway for popular classes to impose ‘concessions’ in their favour and to transform existing systems of rule, replacing the dominant comprador blocs with new ‘national, popular and democratic’ blocs.
  •  Advances at the level of national and international legal systems, harmonizing respect for national sovereignty (including moves from state to popular sovereignty) with respect for all individual and collective, political and social rights.

Amin opposed the Muslim Brotherhood root and branch, “We should not just look at the Muslim Brotherhood as a political Islamist power but as a backward movement that rejects workers movements and social justice, preferring to talk about charity as a form to ensure their control over the people,” he once said, according to al-Ahram.” The New Arab.

Dearden puts Amin’s contribution best in these paragraphs,

Perhaps Amin’s central thesis is somewhat obvious, but it’s often forgotten – that a true revolution must be based on those who are being dispossessed and impoverished. But he goes further in undermining the assumption that any thinking emerging from the South will lack enlightenment, or that a lack of enlightenment should be excused.

He believes the Enlightenment was humanity’s first step towards democracy, liberating us from the idea that God created our activity. He has caused controversy in his utter rejection of political Islam. This ideology, embedded for example in Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood, obscures the real nature of society, including by playing into the idea that the world consists of different cultural groups which conflict with each other, an idea which helps the centre control the peripheries.

 

 

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(1) Again, opinion is perfectly manipulated on the subject. Jihadism is only the inevitable product of the triad’s continued support of reactionary political Islam inspired and financed by Gulf wahabism. The exercise of this so-called Islamic power is the best guarantee of the total destruction of the ability of societies in the region to resist the dictates of liberal globalization. At the same time, it offers the best pretext for giving the appearance of legitimacy to NATO’s interventions. In this regard the press in the United States acknowledged that Donald Trump’s accusation – that Hillary had actively supported the establishment of Daesh – was well founded.” Samir Amin Blog.

The Anti-68 (La Pensée anti-68 amongst others)…

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Quarante ans de contre-révolution triomphante en Occident nous ont affligés de deux tares jumelles, également néfastes, mais qui forment ensemble un dispositif impitoyable: le pacifisme et le radicalisme.”

“Forty years of triumphant counterrevolution in the West has left us with twin defects, equally deadly, but which together form an implacable apparatus: non-violence and radicalism.”

À Nos amis. Le Comité Invisible. 2014.

Daniel Cohn-Bendit, is now “well liked” in Germany and “loved” in France – part of the national DNA (1968: Power to the Imagination. NYRB). Our happiness at this recognition – perhaps one day to be extended to our national treasure, Tariq Ali – inspires us to reflections on the uprisings that made the Green leader’s fame.  The 50th anniversary of the événements has been, and will be, greeted in France with a flood of articles, books, radio, television programmes and, what one might call “teach-ins”. There is a lesser, but audible, interest in the English-speaking world and elsewhere. In homage, the tête de cortège on this year’s Paris May Day promised in a communiqué, in tribute to the enragés of the Mouvement du 22 Mars  a re-enactment of the May riots in the Quartier Latin. Those promoted by the friends of Le Comité Invisible ended up with a little smashing up of the nearest MacDonald’s and some bus shelters.

For some commentators on the legacy of 68, from the left, Cohn-Bendit stands out not just as a sign of middle-aged mellowing into the political mainstream, and a warning about the transience of elfin cuteness. The Franco-German politician represents the capture of its radical forces by Capital. Others, from more centrists position, state that what remains of the far-left has been “absorbed” by the French political system, the latest stage being Jean-Luc Mélenchon’s La France insoumise which pitches its objectives not at creating communism, or socialism, but a left populism aiming at a Sixth Republic.

A more thorough-going stand is to claim, in common with parts of the right, that 68 was a wrong turning in the first place. That it was the rise of the Me (too?) Generation in alliance with cosmopolitan capital which has sapped the sovereign rights of the People…or the Nation.

The “liberal-libertarianism” of the cherished contestataire and his ecological current already dominant in Die Grünen is in close communication with the “right and left” modernisers now assembled behind President Macron. Is this just their choice? For some Cohen-Bendit’s career is concomitant with post-Fordist culture, supple politics in the mould of the diversity of flexible production. In promoting, in his fashion, the politics of the right to be different and the cultural needs of identity, with liberal  economics, Danny le Rouge has assumed his role in “turning the entire social field into commodities. “

The many readers of Régis Debray’s repetitions of forty years will recognise this theme. Danny le rouge was one of the litter born in the “cradle of a new bourgeois society”. “Capital’s development strategy required the cultural revolution of May”. May 68, dubbed a “demand for identity” was a “marketable object”. He “communion of egos on the barricades becoming generalised egocentrism, the gift of self, the cult of me, the exaltation of liberties, the enshrinement of inequalities…” (1)

Debray has never abandoned this refrain, edging ever closer to nationalism as he ribs against the process of “Americanisation”, the global marketplace, and the vogue for “sans-frontiérisme” (Éloge de frontiers 2010). Perhaps he is haunted by the melancholy mercantile state, Orsenna, pictured by his favourite author, Julien Gracq in Le Rivage des Syrtes (1951). The encirclement never ends…..

Guy Debord, from the Situationists, celebrated post-facto in the 68 events, to whom the Tête de Cortege owe some debt, wrote of the victory of the “integrated spectacle”, and also of the “Americanisation of the world”. It is dominated by secret societies manipulated by nameless ‘elites” (Comments on the Society of the Spectacle. 1988)

More modestly, and accurately Luc Boltanski and Eve Chiapello in the New Spirit of Capitalism (1999), described how everything from managerial ‘science’ to cultural production has used themes of autonomy and choice in capturing a new post-68 public for companies and the market. There is equally,  no doubt something more still to say about ‘post-modernism’ and the post-68 development of capitalism.

La Pensée anti-68.

The theme that ‘68’ has been absorbed by capitalism, energised into forms of ‘liberalism’, is as well known, as it is coterminous with the events themselves. It is tackled in Audier’s indispensable La Pensée anti-68. (2009) Audier has little trouble pointing out that it was the most conservative section of the Parti Communiste français (PCF) which declared that the student revolutionaries were playing the bosses’ game.

The critique of individualism, Audier points out, appeared in France in a variety of forms. Many, from both right and left, were influenced by Christopher Lasch’s 1979 Culture of Narcissism (from a certain US left), and a host of overtly right-wing writers out to defend the Nation and a cohesive society against the egotism of marketisation. An ‘anti-68’ cast of thought has developed. This extends from the obvious targets on the right, pessimistic cultural commentators such as Alain Finkielkraut (the list of others in this vein is long, very long), to the ‘anti-liberal’ admirer of George Orwell’s ‘common decency” another critic of the ‘doublethink’ of the “society of the spectacle”, Jean-Claude Michéa (La double pensée. 2008).

He is less convincing when attacking the theorist of ‘menaces’ against collective identity, Pierre-André Taguieff, also a former Situationist. Subsequently Taguieff has attempted to explain populism and the appeal of the far-right, not to support it (La revanche du nationalisme. 2015). The treatment of other writers, such as Luc Ferry and Alain Renault, who constructed a ‘geology’ of 68 ideas, including well-known names such as Foucault, Bourdieu and Althusser, only retrospectively connected with the events is better framed. But Audier ignores some of their well-targeted shafts against the ‘research’ that went into Madness and Civilisation’s account of the incarceration of the insane, the banality and circulatory of Bourdieu’s concepts of ‘cultural capital’ in social reproduction, and Althusser’s ‘anti-humanism’ taken to ethical conclusions – above all his failure to begin to tackle the issue of Stalinism.

La Pensée 68 is, above all, remarkable for its account of the complexities of liberal thought. This does not just include ‘neo-liberalism’ but a sceptical and democratic strain represented by Raymond Aron (he indicates – far from opposed to ‘68’ en bloc) to the various forms of American progressivism, such as John Dewey with which I suspect many of us in Europe are less than familiar with. He puts his finger on the real issues behind ‘neo-conservatism’ and neoliberalism. This is far from a far from a 68 ‘permissive;’ ideology. Stuart Hall, called Thatcherism ‘authoritarian populism’ and the first word has real weight. Cultural liberalism, against Michéa, and a host of others, is not reducible to the ‘market’. We should not lightly reject the liberal value of tolerance, as opposed to such authoritarianism as the libertarian left.

The principal argument of La Pensée anti-68, then, which has worn well since the publication of La Pensée a decade ago, is that the hatred of the symbolic moment of 68 should be understood as more than a reaction. It is denial of what he calls, citing Claude Lefort celebrated 1980 essay on human rights, the opening up of new terrains of social affirmation. (2) In this sense it was not the grass roots May comités d’action, documented in an accessible form in Loyer’s book, which were harbingers of the political future. Particular forms of struggle may change, but the expansion of the political terrain for humanist self-assertion which is the enduring legacy of May 68.

Gauchisme Culturel. 

The counter-culture, or, more broadly, the wish to live ‘differently’ without repression, affirming autonomy and creativity, might be seen as a the ground for longer-lasting changes To Jean-Pierre Le Goff in his Postscript to Mai 68, l’héritage impossible (2002), the counter-cultural “liberation of désir”, the critique of authority, a wish for self-development and sexual freedom, cultural leftism “gauchisme culturel”, is the most important legacy of the time. While political leftism, attempts to make a real revolution, failed, the diverse ‘social movements’, as they used to be known, for women’s rights, gay rights, green politics, and what is today called “intersectionality” did not only have a cultural impact.

Perhaps, regrettably, Le Goff has joined the ‘anti-68ers’. From the 1980s, onwards Le Goff argues in the essays collected in La gauche à l’agonie? they have served as a mask, or a radical substitute, for the governing French left’s adoption of neo-liberal economics. The final articles are denunciations of a further 68 inheritance, multi-culturalism, a Third Worldism that’s become, “islamogauchisme” and efforts to “understand” Jihadism by the French equivalents of Giles Fraser.

One would listen to Le Goff’s catchphrases if he managed to reaffirm internationalist universalism. Does he stand like a rock with the leftists, democrats and liberals fighting Islamism in Muslim countries? He does not. In place of such commitment Le Goff ruminates over the managerial use of the youthful creativity, in a pseudo-68 liberation, the debris of French republican nationalism, and the narcissism ( a word one wishes vaporisation in the next edition of Newspeak) of those who declare themselves citizens of the world.

In the absence of history’s ability to repeat its experiments it is hard to disprove the view that May 68 played a part in regenerating capitalism. More pressing, as Serge Audier states in Le Monde this March, is the persistence and radicalisation of the anti-68 reaction ( Le discours anti-68 s’est radicalisé ).

The importance that its alternative, whether disguised as the Republic or not, the Nation, or National Sovereignty, the ultimate Identity, has taken hold of political debate in France and most of the West cannot be underestimated.

In Britain as the editors of New Left Review giggled at the result, a number of leftists have joined in the ‘anti-68’ Carnival or Reaction that has followed Brexit, and found merit in les anglais de souche who supported the anti-European break (55 Arguments for Lexit). La France insoumise drapes itself in the Tricolor, and chants the Marseillaise. Give me the cosmopolitan sans-frontières with their universal human rights any day.

 

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(1) A Modest Contribution to the Rites and Ceremonies of the Tenth Anniversary. Régis Debray. New Left Review (First series). No 115. 1979.

(2) The Politics of Human Rights in. The Political Forms of Modern Society Bureaucracy, Democracy, Totalitarianism Claude Lefort. Edited and Introduced by John B. Thompson. The Politics of Human Rights. MIT Press. See also Les droits de l’homme et l’Etat providence. Reprinted in Claude Lefort essays sur le politique. Seuil. 1986.

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L’événement 68. Emmanuelle Loyer. Champs histoire. 2008/2018.

La Pensée anti-68. Serge Audier. La Découverte/Poche. 2009.

La gauche à l’agonie? 1968 – 2017. Jean-Pierre Le Goff. Perrin 2017.

Written by Andrew Coates

May 10, 2018 at 12:45 pm

Rethinking Democracy, Edited by Leo Panitch and Greg Albo. Socialist Register. 2018. Review.

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Review “Populism and Socialist Democracy” 

Rethinking Democracy, Edited by Leo Panitch and Greg Albo. Socialist Register. 2018. Merlin Press. 

(This appears in the latest issue of Chartist May/June 2018 no 292).

For Leo Panitch and Greg Albo “the social revolution of building capacities for self government” is more important than gaining state power. “Actually existing liberal democracy” is entangled with anti-democratic institutions. The 2018 edition of the Socialist Register explores the potential of “socialist democracy” against reactionary “populist appeals in the name of defending ‘our’ democracy’”. In doing so some contributors see merit in forms of ‘left-populism’. 

The electoral appeal of democratic socialist ideas – they cite Jeremy Corbyn and Bernie Sanders – inner-party democracy and social struggles have come to the fore. Ramon Ribera Fumaz and Greig Charnock offer a valuable account of the ‘citizens’ revolution’ attempted by Barcelona en comú (BeC). But, away from its ideology and programme, what of the political history of BeC’s ally, Spain’s national Podemos, from personalities to strategic difficulties? The electoral bloc that has enabled the Portuguese left to win power and govern successful, involves not just ‘new’ forces but some old ones, including the Socialists and the very old Portuguese Communist Party (PCP)

Do neoliberal elites ‘fear’ democracy? A number of contributors work with Jacques Rancière’s ‘anti-institutional’ picture of radical democracy. The French theorist claimed that Western elites, are believers in technocratic competence, and have a veritable hatred of the demos. James Foley and Pete Ramand detect this in a fear of referendums. Rancière claimed that the No vote in the 2005 French Referendum on a European Constitution was a major set back to those who wished their “science” to be acclaimed by the masses (La Haine de la démocratie. 2005).

That popular consultation witnessed a division on the French left, inside both radical and reformist camps. It was between those supporting national sovereignty and those who favoured European unity, however imperfect. (1) The rejection of the European Constitution only happened with the help of the votes of the far-right Front National, and conservative ‘Sovereigntists’. The result, many say, strengthened not democracy but appeals to France, the Nation, not just by the right but also by left-wing French politicians. After eventual French endorsement, the EU went ahead with its plans anyway.

Denis Pilon’s ‘Struggle over Actually Existing Democracy’ offers critique of ‘proceduralist’ democracy. Alex Demiorović considers Radical democracy, from Miguel Abensour (1939 – 2017) who was indebted to  council communism, Rancière, to the familiar figures of Ernesto Laclau and Chantal Mouffe. Adepts of abstract theory will find much to mull over.

Do these theorists offer “innovative democratic strategies”? Should we consider one of the few concrete ideas offered by Rancière, who looked to Periclean Athens and found public office open to selection by lot? The French La France insoumise (LFI) led by Jean-Luc Mélenchon,  uses this procedure widely, including for selecting a majority of delegates to its Conferences. It means that there are no formal currents, organised differences of opinion, inside his movement. This is even less attractive than the “consensual” decision-making imposed in the Occupy! movement.

The ‘fear’ of populists of the left and the right fails to look into why socialists may oppose populism. It is not disdain of the great unwashed, but differences over the claim that there is left-wing potential in the present ways the “people” can be mobilised against the ‘elite’.

Donald Trump once declared, “The only important thing is the unification of the people – because the other people don’t mean anything.” Can the People become Sovereign on conditions that they are hurled against the ‘not-People’?

Foley and Ramand take on board Perry Anderson’s critique of the ‘vagueness’ of the term elite, and the idea that this is the Enemy. Three contributions on the media also register another side of his doubts, the way it neglects the way hegemonic ideas gain acceptance. They offer useful insights into the role of the media in constructing ruling class hegemony. The revelations about Cambridge Analytica indicate that grand ideas, from Laclau and Mouffe, about the Enemy, and the need for democratic dissensus, may be less attractive in the face of manipulated hatred. The benefits for the equally elusive People in this form of politics are less than evident.

This fear of Others perhaps sums up right-wing populism, and mass conservative ideas, too neatly. If liberals, or the very different European left, turn to Othering the rightwing Populists – and why not? – it is because their policies place them as Corporate ventriloquists. Martijn Konings brings us back to the importance of economic rationality. He indicates how a “commitment to the speculative logic of risk” continues to be attractive to some voters. It can, paradoxically, be worked into appeal to the People. While many during the Brexit Referendum claimed to defend our Home against the outside, the neo-liberal wing of the Brexit campaign offered to make Britain a free entrepreneur on the world stage. Trump embodies both at the same time: he is a free-marketer and determined opponent of open markets.

Rethinking Democracy is thought provoking rather than answer-offering. The accelerating crisis of most of European social democracy is now provoking reflection and soul-searching. Recent elections have left Italian socialists of all stripes voiceless, the Dutch Labour Party has been overtaken by the Greens, and, after the long-signalled melt down of the Parliamentary left, the anti-populist President Macron and his La République en marche (LRM) holding all the reins of power. There is much to think about.

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See (1) Pages 135 – 4. 68 et Après. Les heritages égarés. Benjamin Stora, Stock,. 2018.

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