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Posts Tagged ‘Marxism

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

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Image result for john rees with george galloway

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

Amongst many other things Brexit has divided the left.

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

The Marxist left has also been split.

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

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

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

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

Marxists, so-called Marxists, and parliamentary socialists

He begins by citing this,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It is hard not to see some modern parallels,

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

And,

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

The Engels text in full reads,

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

It continues,

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

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

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

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

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

As Abidor says,

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

He continues,

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

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

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

In other words, the salt of the earth.

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

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

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

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

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

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

What would Galloway have done…..?

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Written by Andrew Coates

April 9, 2019 at 12:51 pm

Alain Badiou criticises the “réactionnaire” Gilets Jaunes movement: “tout ce qui bouge n’est pas rouge”.

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Image result for badiou gilets jaunes extreme droite

Something has kept me away from the movement of the Gilets Jaunes: it is the overwhelming presence, the constant return of the  cheerless tricolore  flag,..” Alain Badiou.

A few months ago it was announced that Badiou was to have an op-ed article on the Gilets Jaunes published in Le Monde.

We were watching out for it like ‘awks.

But it appears that the French Daily would not publish it, something about Badiou being virulently rude against Alain Finkielkraut in another article («Le Monde» a-t-il «censuré» un texte d’Alain Badiou sur les gilets jaunes ?)

In the weeks that followed we lost interest, largely because something was happening in the UK that readers may have heard of.

But now Cde Google informs us that the text had found a publisher.

ALAIN BADIOU : LEÇONS DU MOUVEMENT DES « GILETS JAUNES »

Alain Badiou, March 10, 2019

“Un proverbe d’autrefois dit que « tout ce qui bouge n’est pas rouge ». Et pour le moment, du « rouge », dans le mouvement des gilets, qui certes « bouge », il n’est pas question : je ne vois, outre le jaune, que du tricolore, toujours un peu suspect à mes yeux.

An old proverb says that “everything that moves is not red” (that is, not every political groundswell is on the left…Note). And for the moment, “red”, amongst the Gilet Jaunes movement, certainly “moves”. That is certain. But I see, in addition to the yellow, only the tricolore, which is always a bit dubious in my eyes.

Badiou considers the Gilets Jaunes’ upswell as a protest against the difficult lives of those in rural or sub-urban areas, the result of the erosion of public services,  the way that real incomes have not kept up with the times,  tax systems which weigh upon these parts of the population, and the hard lives of women who also have to raise a family.

In France there is are deep rooted reasons for discontent in the working middle and lower middle class, particularly in the provinces. Deindustrialisation and real pauperisation have gone along with the present, Macron-led, ‘modernisation’

The Gilets Jaunes are thus a reaction of classes threatened by Macron’s policies and the constant wavew of austerity/modernisation. They can be viewed in Marxist terms as the cry of despair of those threatened with losing their relative status in a ‘globalised’ world. But they are not forward looking. “The individual members of this class…. constantly hurled down into the proletariat ” look to the past, to their lost security, and demand that a better past be restored.

As traditional political organisations, of the left and the right, have not been able to channel this discontent, the Gilets Jaunes’ “spontaneous” response has been hard to pin down.

This is Badiou’s sketch:

..on pourrait appeler la subjectivité de ce mouvement un individualisme populaire, rassemblant des colères personnelles liées aux formes neuves de la servitude aujourd’hui imposée à tous par la dictature du Capital.

one could call the subjectivity of this movement a popular individualism, gathering together the personal anger related by the new forms of servitude today imposed on all by the dictatorship of Capital.

This does not mean the Gilets Jaunes are’ fascists’ (though one can remark that this reaction involves supporters of the far-right, from Marine Le Pen’s party to the ‘ultras). Badiou dismisses this talk from what he calls (with all the moral authority of a former apologist of Pol Pot), “renegade” intellectuals. This is just “infiltration”. Oh, and “crypto-fascist style of “the people against the elite” and, hey, the wild rumours (notably about The Media) circulating on social networks…

Which – all reports confirm – is widely taken for “truth” against “fake news”.

Yet the legitimacy of reacting to Macron’s neo-liberal policies does not make the Gilets Jaunes left-wing.

There are two fundamental tendencies in politics, those in favour of capitalism, and those, under the names of socialism and communism, which have challenged it.

In what sense are the Gilets Jaunes, harking back to the security of the post-war settlement, aligned with socialism or communism?

Les gilets jaunes « combattent la Bourgeoisie », comme le dit Marx, c’est vrai. Mais ils le font pour restaurer un ordre ancien et périmé, et non pour inventer un nouvel ordre social et politique, dont les noms ont été, depuis le XIXe siècle, « socialisme », ou, surtout, « communisme ».

“The Gilets Jaunes fight the Bourgeoisie”, as Marx would  say. That is true. But they do it to restore an old and outdated order, and not to invent a new social and political order, whose names have been, since the nineteenth century, “socialism” or, especially, “communism”.

Some further salient extracts when Badiou gets more serious and tackles those who would see in the movement a revolutionary challenge to the system:

“Of course, the ultra gauches, the anti-fafs, those who’ve woken up after (the movement) Nuit-debout, those who are always on the lookout for a “movement” to get their teeth into, the loud-mouths of “the coming insurrection”  (l’insurrection qui vient, the name of an ultra left neo-situationist  manifesto) , celebrate the GIlets Jaunes’  democratic proclamations (in fact, individualistic and short-sighted), introduce the cult of decentralised assemblies, and imagine that they will soon redo the capture of the Bastille.

“But this attractive carnival fails to impress me: these movements have led everywhere, for ten years and more, to terrible defeats, paid very dearly by the peoples. Indeed, the “movements” of the last historical sequence, from Egypt and the “Arab Spring” to Occupy Wall Street, from the latter to Turkish Squares, from this  to the Greek riots, from  the Indignados…Nuit Debout…seem to ignore the implacable  historical laws that govern the world today….

Nothing is more important, in the present moment, than to have in mind the lessons of this sequence of “movements”, Gilets Jaunes included. They can be summed up in a single maxim: a movement whose unity is strictly negative, either will fail, often giving rise to a situation worse than the one that at its origin, or it will have to be divided in two, by the emergence of a creative surge, and within it, an affirmative political proposition which is really antagonistic to the dominant order, and supported by a disciplined organisation.

Sticking the knife in further Badiou talked of the Gilets Jaunes as a reaction of “old France” under threat in a recent book, Méfiez-vous des blancs, habitant du rivage  reviewed, here: Alain Badiou. Changer de peuple.

One can genuinely see that the State, in the service of Capital, has deserted the old provincial world, ageing, suburban and colonial. One can understand  the nation-wide, archaic, reaction of part of society whose small privileges are menaced.

His  hostility to the demonstrators brandishing of the Tricolore  is strong,

 Quelque chose m’a tenu écarté du mouvement des « gilets jaunes » : c’est la présence massive, le retour constant du triste drapeau tricolore, dont la vue, à chaque fois m’accable, et d’une marseillaise que trop de nationalismes fascisants ont entonnée pour qu’on se souvienne encore de son origine révolutionnaire.

Something has kept me away from the movement of the Gilets Jaunes: it is the massive presence, the constant return of the  cheerless tricolore  flag, whose sight, always overwhelms me, and of the Marseillaise which too many fascistic forms of nationalism have bellowed out for us to remember its revolutionary origins.

Back to the Op-ed (above) Badiou’s counter-strategy looks in the line of radical socialism.

…without massive incorporation of new proletarians, the Gilets Jaunes can not represent, as such, “the people”. This people, would be reduced to the nostalgia for its lost social status of the poorest sections of the middle class. Today, in politics, “the people”, the mobilised crowd must have a strong and central contingent amongst the nomadic proletariat of our suburbs, the proletariat from Africa, Asia, Europe of the East, Latin America; it must show clear signs of breaking with the dominant order.

Change is above needed,

First in its visible signs, like the red flag instead of the tricolore…..and in its demands,  the minimum requirements that must be claimed, for example, include  the total cessation of privatisations and the cancellation of all those sell-offs that have taken place since the mid-eighties. The main idea is to have collective control over all means of production, the entire banking system, and all public services (health, education, transport, communication)….

LEÇONS DU MOUVEMENT DES « GILETS JAUNES is beautifully free from Badiou’s ontological speculation. If you can get over the attacks on everybody – and I enjoyed those against the ‘ultra-left’ those out to fish for souls for their revolutionary projects – Badiou has retraced the path to some fairly robust ideas about reviving collectivist and universalist demands…..

There is nothing of this in the just published interview on the Verso site:  Allegiance to Macron is largely negative! Alain Badiou interviewed about the Gilets Jaunes, Macron and future of the French left.

The explanation is simple: the  original date of the article was Interview with Julien Le Gros, 17 December 2018 Translated by David Fernbach.

Less explainable is why Badiou’s numerous fans in the English speaking world have not reacted to the wise words of the ‘post-Maoist’ sage, which many will be tempted to call undeniably sane.

A clue, again, may lie in the way he lays into  Occupy! and other movements.

A pitiful reply from admirers of L’Insurrection qui vient on the site Lundi Matin, which mixed sub-Badiou ‘metapolitical’ ontology and Jacques Rancière’s devotion to the role of the “part of those of no part” in generating ‘dissensus” to accuse him of pointless irrelevance,  was published at the end of March: Jacques Fradin. QU’AURAIT PU DIRE ALAIN BADIOU DES « GILETS JAUNES » ?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Written by Andrew Coates

April 6, 2019 at 12:54 pm

John Rees (Counterfire/People’s Assembly/Stop the War Coalition) Compares anti-Brexit March to “mild (as yet)” “mass fascist or populist right wing” movement.

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Image may contain: 9 people, crowd and outdoor

Clive Lewis and Lloyd Russell-Moyle “Angry Middle Class moblised for its own purposes by sections of the elite”.

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John Rees is a leader of the groupuscule, Counterfire, a split from the Socialist Workers Party. He is a national officer for the Stop the War Coalition (STWC) and a key figure in the People’s Assembly Against Austerity.

Counterfire has worked with many groups and individuals, as part of what they pretentiously call “united fronts”, including George Galloway of the Respect Coalition and Andrew Murray, now an adviser to the Labour Leader on Brexit.

Recently they have engaged with the Full Brexit, an alliance of the Family Faith and Flag Blue Labour, the Communist Party of Britain, writers for Spiked, left “magic money” Sovereigntists, and bee-in-bonnet anti European Union loud-mouths. Two of the groups involved, Labour Leave, and Trade Unionists Against the EU, have received money from hard-right millionaire, Arron Banks.

Feyzi Ismail from Counterfire spoke at their hundred strong Rally in London this Monday.

Rees, and Lindsey German, have close links with Jeremy Corbyn, including a long history of joint work in the StWC.

Rees claims to be inspired by revolutionary Marxism.

A revolutionary organisation remains the indispensable tool for overcoming the unevenness in working-class consciousness, maximising the effectively of working-class struggler recalling the lessons of past victories and defeats, and educating and leading workers in struggle. Formed from the working class by working-class people to help generalise and organise the struggle of the whole class it is itself a dialectical organism. Without the struggle to build such an organisation, the danger remains that the dialectic of capitalist development will remain blind or destructive; but if the struggle to build such and organisation is successful, we have a change – more, not less power – to make the leap from the realm of necessity to the realm of freedom.”

Page 302 The Algebra of Revolution. The Dialectics and the Classical Marxist Tradition. John Rees. Routledge 1998.

With these arms in hand Rees has seen fit to advise Labour on strategy.

In February this year he wrote,

Corbynistas! Up your game, or lose the game

….Jeremy Corbyn, who has historically held an anti-EU position only altered under pressure from the right wing in the first days of his leadership, and now aware that Labour would lose the next general election if Labour deserts the very large number of Leave voters, is embattled at the head of his party.

One way of improving Labour’s prospects would be to face down the remainers and second referendumers. All the placatory talk of Labour being a broad church which can accommodate diametrically opposed views is doing nothing to quell the determination on the part of the remain right-wingers to see the end of Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership.

..

At a moment when the Parliamentary system is manifestly failing, when every dog in the street knows that the government is willing to sacrifice the interest of ordinary citizens on the altar of Tory party unity, why would any left-wing organisation simply play by the Parliamentary rules?

Mass activity can never be a ladder which activists climb and then kick away once leadership has been attained.

The Labour Party and the trade unions should have by now called a second demonstration to ram home to the political establishment the simple message that voters will not tolerate a government which flouts every day democratic norms to stay in power no matter how many votes it loses in the House of Commons.

Call the rallies now. Send left leaders of the movement out to address them. Call a mass national demonstration now. Call on every Labour movement organisation to build for it. Break the bounds of the Parliamentary deadlock and give ordinary people the chance to shift the political spectrum to the left, open up the path to a general election, and win a left Labour victory.

The People’s Assembly held such a march earlier this year on the 11th of January.

Barely noticed, a  few thousand strong, it ended in confusion and fisticuffs between far-right Yellow Jackets and the ‘real’ Yellow Jackets of the demonstration (Hundreds of protesters have joined a ‘yellow vest-inspired’ anti-austerity march through central London this afternoon. The demonstration is organised by The People’s Assembly Against Austerity, which is calling for a general election. Metro.)

Understandably Rees is pleased when the only mass activity in sight has been the campaign for the People’s Vote.

He could have followed Socialist Worker which today describes the call for a Second Referendum by last Saturday million strong march, an ” anti-democratic outrage”.

Rees goes further.

He begins with claims that the march was set up by the wealthy to further the aims of the “overwhelming majority of big capital”.

It is a “middle class movement” with a “vanishingly small” union presence (where it was before it began to vanish is not described).

It is a “variant” of a “mild (as yet)” mass fascist or populist right wing” groundswell.

In other words, confusionist words, the Counterfire leader claims that the gentle anti-Brexit protesters  are manipulated by big business, the “elite”, “grandees” the “high Establishment” into something, which the expert in Dialectical Algebra can see: the beginnings of a “mass fascist or populist movement”.

Rees lectures, in the stentorian tones of somebody who he has spent his entire life in universities, that one should have a “respectful and engaged tone” to some of the demonstrators.

Like calling them part of a proto-fascist movement….

Perhaps Labour MP Clive Lewis could answer the learned dialetician best.

This is a racist Brexit, not fit for the 21st century but for the 19th century. That’s what it represents – deregulation, low taxes, imperialism 2.0. Don’t quote me on that: quote the former Foreign Secretary, Boris Johnson.

..

One of the other things you might know as well is this. There aren’t that many black MPs supporting Brexit. Do you know why? We’ve got a bit of a spider sense when it comes to shit like this. We can see that Brexit wasn’t going to end well for us, for black people, when it has targeted EU migrants. EU visitors here – welcome, welcome comrades. You are comrades, not a bargaining chip.

..

I’m not talking about “Remain and reform”. I’m talking about “Rebel and transform”, to turn Europe into a global entity that can tackle climate change and rebuild this world.

Speech at the Left Bloc Rally at the start of the 23 March People’s Vote anti-Brexit demonstration. The Clarion.

 

A critique of Jacques Rancière’s Politics.

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Image result for jacques ranciere la haine de la démocratie

 

 A critique of Rancière’s Politics.

 

“Politics occurs because, or when, the natural order of the shepherd kings, the warlords, or property owners is interrupted by a freedom that crops up and makes real the ultimate equality on which any social order rests.”

Disagreement (La mésentente) Jacques Rancière. 1995.  (1)

Jacques Rancière is a critic of “post-democracy”, who is probably the first to have used the term. This political condition is one in which “elites exhibit paternal concern for their flock and protect it from its own rebellious spirits”. The essayist emerged at the threshold of the new millennium as a pioneering opponent of the – alleged – consensus ruling modern states. He staked out territory occupied by both serious efforts to grapple with the “neoliberal” policies and business influence on modern states, and potboilers claiming that there is no “real opposition” in societies dominated by the “extreme centre.” This is a political form “that has eliminated the appearance, miscount, and dispute of the People” and reduced politics to “the sole interplay of state mechanisms and combinations of social energies and interests”. The result is  “consensus democracy” a machine of power ruled by enlightened “experts” and the “absolute identification of politics with the management of capital.” (2)

The vocabulary of ‘oligarchies’, ‘elites’, ‘plutocrats’  and ‘post-democracy’, paralleled in French, and in English, is now part of the political talk of left and right populists. (2005) the target was The Republic, for which read la République française, “un régime d’homogénéité entre les institutions de l’État et les mœurs de société.” In this sense the ‘oligarchy’ loathed democracy, the unruly demos, any attempt by the unordered masses to shake up the regime. In other words, they dislike not the word, but the substance of democratic life. Rancière is equally referenced in France for L’introuvable populisme (2011). This criticised, pell-mell, “elite” contempt for the rough masses, secular French republicanism, and the racialism of the French state. There is a third string to this bow of ideas. In July last year, Rancière said that capitalism is so dominant today that it has taken over the left’s historical timepieces, resetting the political clock in line with market chronology. The elites run the world. (3)

How times change. If the words circulate, the claim that “democracy after the demos”, had eliminated dissensus, and had absorbed politics by top-down agreement, now looks threadbare. “Populist revolts’ have often gone beyond rebellion, to political influence and  – if we are to follow those who call Donald Trump a populist – to rule the most powerful state on the planet.

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Written by Andrew Coates

January 25, 2019 at 3:03 pm

Leftist Trainspotting Quiz of the Year.

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Image result for chart of British trotskyist groups

2018 Leftist Trainspotter Quiz.

1. What is the name of the split from Socialist Party in the  Public and Commercial Services Union (PCS) union?

  • Socialist Action.
  • Socialist Voice.
  • Socialist Future.

2. How often did the far-right millionaire Aaron Bank’s  funding of the Communist Party of Britain  and Socialist Party Backed Trade Unionists Against the EU get into the Morning Star and   the Socialist?

  • Never.
  • Absolutely never.
  • Why are you asking this question you Soros funded Neo-liberal Blairite?

3. Who replaced Comrade Harpel Brar as Chairman of the CPGB-ML this year?

4. What was the dispute and split in the International Bolshevik Tendency around?

  • Open answers, including the “real reasons”.

5. Where did Red London originate?

  • The  Donetsk People’s Republic.
  • Lambeth.
  • Eel Pie Island.

6. Which left-wing figures have attacked Momentum’s pickets of David Icke?

  • Jackie Walker
  • Tina Werkmann (Weekly Worker).
  • Alice Walker.

7. What was the “polemic against the Revolutionary Communist Group” about?

8. Why is there a  call to Unfollow the Movement for Justice?

9. Who  resigned this year from Tony Greenstein’s Labour Against the Witch-hunt?

  • Chris Willamson. M.P.
  • Michael Mansfield.QC.
  • Marc Wadsworth.

10. Who in 2018 Blamed Israel for the rise in anti-Semitism?

  •  Dieudonné.
  • David Irving.
  • Tariq Ali.

Written by Andrew Coates

December 21, 2018 at 2:08 pm

Norman Geras Falls Foul of Reading University’s ‘Prevent’ anti-Terrorism Strategy.

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Image result for Our Morals: The Ethics of Revolution'.

“Security-sensitive material,” Says Reading University.

Several days ago this story appeared on Twitter,

And then on Facebook.

As a result of PREVENT, an academic was required to send this to third year undergraduates taking an optional module […]. The required piece is Norman Geras’ ‘Our Morals: The Ethics of Revolution’.

Dear students,

As you will probably be aware, the last of the nine substantive topics considered in this module is the permissibility and appropriateness of revolutionary violence. As a result, the material covered in the module falls within the University’s understanding of its legal responsibilities under the UK Government’s PREVENT programme, which is designed to reduce the threat terrorism poses to the UK.

The University understands its responsibility to require it to control access to security-sensitive material, which includes but is not limited to material which might be thought to encourage the commission, preparation or instigation of acts of terrorism; material which would be useful in the commission of acts of terrorism; and material which glorifies acts of terrorism. Academic work defending the permissibility or appropriateness of revolutionary violence might well be thought to encourage the commission, preparation or instigation of acts of terrorism, and may glorify it, at least where terrorism is understood as the use of violence to encourage the government to do things – as it basically is in this context. As a result, you are now all apparently required to complete the form available through the link on ‘Learning Materials’ tab of the module’s Blackboard page and return it to Dr Firstname Lastname. If you are concerned about completing the form, please let me know. I also advise you to contact [the student union] if you find the University’s interpretation of the requirements of the policy in any way worrying, as I think you may well reasonably do so.

When completing the form, I suggest you fill the section ‘Material’ as follows:

The module includes a discussion of the conditions under which revolutionary violence may be acceptable. Students are required to read a journal article which defends the use of revolutionary violence, including against groups and individuals who are not members of the armed forces, in circumstances of obvious injustice, and several other academic pieces on the reading list cover similar topics and express similar views. These articles are widely available through electronic databases to which the University offers students access without any checks.

You should fill out the section ‘Relevance’ as follows:

It is not possible to discuss the possibility of permissible revolutionary violence without considering defences of the idea that some revolutionary violence is permissible and even justified.

I am very sorry that you have to do this. I was informed of this policy after I had put together the module for this year, and would have thought differently about what I included if I had known of its requirements. Please let me know if you have any questions.’

Martin Thomas, on the Alliance for Workers’ Liberty site flagged the story up.

Now the bizarre decision by reading University is on the Guardian website.

Prevent critics slam Reading for labelling ‘mainstream’ academic text as extremist

An essay by a prominent leftwing academic that examines the ethics of socialist revolution has been targeted by a leading university using the government’s counter-terrorism strategy.

Students at the University of Reading have been told to take care when reading an essay by the late Professor Norman Geras, in order to avoid falling foul of Prevent.

Third-year politics undergraduates have been warned not to access it on personal devices, to read it only in a secure setting, and not to leave it lying around where it might be spotted “inadvertently or otherwise, by those who are not prepared to view it”. The alert came after the text was flagged by the university as “sensitive” under the Prevent programme.

The essay, listed as “essential” reading for the university’s Justice and Injustice politics module last year, is titled Our Morals: The Ethics of Revolution. Geras was professor emeritus of government at the University of Manchester until his death in 2013. He rejected terrorism but argued that violence could be justified in the case of grave social injustices.

The University of Reading said: “Lecturers must inform students in writing if their course includes a text deemed security-sensitive, and then list which students they expect will have to access the material.

“As laid out in the Counter-Terrorism and Security Act 2015, the University of Reading has put policies in place to take steps to prevent students being drawn into terrorism.” One aspect of this is to safeguard staff and students who access security-sensitive materials legitimately and appropriately used for study or research.”

Norman Geras’s writings were and are important to many people on the left.

To give just one example, I re-read his critique of the ‘post-Marxism’ of Ernesto Laclau and Chantal Mouffe only a few months ago: Post_Marxism New Left Review. 1/163 1987 and Ex-Marxism Without Substance (a reply to these writers’ response). New Left Review. 1/169. 1988.

They were followed his criticisms of post-modernism and the retreat from Marxism in  Seven Types of Obloquy: Travesties of Marxism (Socialist Register 1990)

Books such The Legacy of Rosa Luxemburg  (1983) and 1983Marx and Human Nature: Refutation of a Legend remain significant essays in democratic Marxist theory.

Like many on the left I had the chance to meet Norman, one of the most approachable of academics.

I had, and have, an interest in ethical theory and asked his opinions on Marxism and morality (see story above). We had some correspondence on the issue, covering what many consider to be the ethical void of Leninism.

In the Essay handled with Kid Gloves he wrote, that sometimes the need for justice trumps the absolute respect for human rights but that,

If there are indeed circumstances to make some moral crimes unavoidable, it is still necessary to have the rules and restraints which define them as crimes and which serve as a barrier against the avoidable ones. Socialists surely have good reason to be on their guard against forms of argument that are used to throw off all ethical constraints from around the conduct of war; and that were used, specifically, to justify opening the latest and potentially the most lethal chapter in the history of human warfare. Where there are established  parliamentary democracies, with a set of basic civil and political rights and freedoms protected under law, there is no right of revolution on account of tyranny. There is a right of social revolution – on account of grave injustice – against the capitalist forms of power, wealth and privilege over which these democracies preside, but the thing is complicated by the claim the latter make to democratic legitimacy.

You can read Our Morals: The Ethics of Revolution (Socialist Register 1989, pictured) through this link.

 

When Norman Geras backed the Euston Manifesto(2006), an initiative which my part of the left, the democratic Marxists, roundly criticised them (including an article I wrote in a left-wing paper)  I could not help but feel that this burning concern with justice continued to inspire him.

 

The Euston Manifesto was much less qualified on human rights,

We hold the fundamental human rights codified in the Universal Declaration to be precisely universal, and binding on all states and political movements, indeed on everyone. Violations of these rights are equally to be condemned whoever is responsible for them and regardless of cultural context. We reject the double standards with which much self-proclaimed progressive opinion now operates, finding lesser (though all too real) violations of human rights which are closer to home, or are the responsibility of certain disfavoured governments, more deplorable than other violations that are flagrantly worse. We reject, also, the cultural relativist view according to which these basic human rights are not appropriate for certain nations or peoples.

The Euston Manifesto  Norman Geras.

Reading University has reminded me, and others, not just that we miss Norman, but that it would be good to hear his views today.

I would enjoy hearing or reading his opinions on the work about human rights which some of us have developed, beginning from a different starting point in Claude Lefort and the more Marxist views of Étienne Balibar  and present days debates about Giorgio Agamben. Not to mention the book I am reading at present (in relation to Jacques Rancière’s theories of Dissensus and ‘post democracy’)   Relire la Révolution (2016) by Jean-Claude Milner which turns again to the “ethics of revolution”.

Reading University has also reminded us that there is no fool like a learned fool.

 

 

Written by Andrew Coates

November 11, 2018 at 1:25 pm

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

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Résultat de recherche d'images pour "rancière la leçon d'althusser"

 

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.

Written by Andrew Coates

October 9, 2018 at 1:21 pm