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Communist Party of Britain-Marxist Leninist (CPGB -ML) and Stop the War Coalition on the Trump/Kim Jong Un Meeting.

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Image result for CPGB-ML Harpal Brar discusses DPRK on BBC’s primetime The One Show
 

On BBC’s One Show. Really…

On Monday 11 June, CPGB-ML chairman Harpal Brar joined guests on the BBC’s primetime One Show to discuss the historic meeting between US President Trump and Marshall Kim Jong Un, chairman of the Workers Party of Korea, in Singapore this week.On this video, you can see both the package that was broadcast by BBC One and the rest of the comments made by Comrade Brar during the course of the hour-long recording session.As the only person in the room supporting the people of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK),

Comrade Brar put a strong and persuasive case in favour of the Korean people, their government and their hopes for peace and reconciliation on the Korean peninsula. Contrary to years of hysterical hyperbole demonising the north, its socialist system and its leaders, journalists in the capitalist press are now having to concede that the DPRK’s decision to arm itself with a nuclear deterrent was a wise one, and that the leadership of Comrade Kim Jong Un and the Workers Party of Korea (WPK) has been anything but ‘crazy’.For our part, we have always fully upheld the Korean people’s right to work for peace and reunification without outside interference. It is US imperialism that stands in the way of this strong desire of the masses of both the north and the south of Korea, not the DPRK government, which has long pursued a policy of striving towards reunification.

That is why one of the most popular slogans of the WPK and the DPRK masses for decades has been and remains:
Korea is One!

This is closest we’ll get in Britain to the DPRK’s response.

It is laughable but Harpel Brar is seen strutting around – unchallenged – on most London left demonstrations.

Some on the left are more concerned with what they claim are “regime change” plans for North Korea than about the reality of this tyranny.

Just before the summit (11th of June) the Morning Star was issuing warnings on this theme:

Nagging doubt hang over Trump’s talks with North Korean leader

But, until reality dictates otherwise, a nagging doubt remains that Washington — especially the plethora of neoconservative cold warriors surrounding the president — has something more sinister in mind.

The likes of John Bolton and Mike Pompeo find it difficult to talk in anything but ultimatums, demanding “the Libya model” as the basis for Pyongyang’s agreement to renounce its nuclear weapons programme.

After the summit this was their response:

Trump and Kim agree to work towards the denuclearisation of Korea

While the global response to the meeting has been largely positive, Iran warned North Korea against trusting the US after Mr Trump recently pulled out of the 2015 international nuclear deal and reimposed sanctions on Tehran last month.

John Rees of the Stop the War Coalition takes the regime change angle equally seriously while dismissing depth of the concluding agreement,

Sound and Fury, Signifying Nothing.

What does the Trump-Kim summit mean? Not much, says John Rees.

We may all welcome the retreat from earlier war-mongering rhetoric but this deal will not preclude it’s sudden return because there’s nothing of substance in it.

Kim Jong Un must be laughing all the way to the DMZ. In a single bound he’s escaped from the dunce’s corner of international relations and now bestrides the world as, well, if not quite a colossus, then at least the admired ally of the most powerful head of state in the world.

…..

What Trump has actually done is to tear up a functioning nuclear deal with Iran and replace it with a meaningless multilateralist statement of intent with North Korea.

We may all welcome the retreat from earlier war-mongering rhetoric but this deal will not preclude it’s sudden return because there’s nothing of substance in it.

Kim Jong Un must be laughing all the way to the DMZ. In a single bound he’s escaped from the dunce’s corner of international relations and now bestrides the world as, well, if not quite a colossus, then at least the admired ally of the most powerful head of state in the world.

China too will be relieved that any likely further pressure to contain their ally has just sharply decreased.

The real lessons of the circus in Singapore are two-fold.

One, this is another episode in the decline of US power. The initiative was taken out of US hands when North and South Korea began another round of détente at the Olympic games and it has never regained it. Trump has merely managed to grandstand on a stage that he neither created nor on which does he control the action.

Two, the age of populist leaders is an age in which foreign policy goals are determined as much by domestic campaigning priorities as by traditional international relations strategy. US Presidents are supposed to at least make a show of pursuing goals agreed on by the entire foreign policy elite, otherwise known as the ‘national interest’. Trump isn’t interested in that, although he sometimes has that approach forced on him by the wider US power structure.

…..

If there is one thing more dangerous than a US President following the dictates of the foreign policy elite, as Bush did with the Project for the New American Century, it’s a President following his own mercurial interpretation of what viewers of Fox news think is a good idea. But that is where US economic decline wedded to overwhelming military power, plus the aftermath of defeat in Iraq, has brought us.

In other words Trump is still a danger.

There remain three principal points to make:

  • North Korea, the DPRK, is a totalitarian tyranny. Yet, “Trump seemed to play down the severity of human rights violations in North Korea. “It’s rough,” Trump allowed after being asked about North Korea’s human rights record. He then said: “It’s rough in a lot of places, by the way. Not just there.” (Kim Tong-Hyung). We did not expect the CPGB (M-L) to mention this either, but Rees, acting as a chess strategist on the world stage, fails to tackle the issues which the New York Times has just summed up as “Atrocities Under Kim Jong-un: Indoctrination, Prison Gulags, Executions”. Perhaps these are more important than the “decline of US power.
  • On the DPRK some parts of the left have a serious analysis. Shiraz reposts a piece from the US Socialist Worker by David Whitehouse. It says, “During a period of famine in the 1990s, Kim’s father looked the other way while Northern citizens developed private markets for farm produce and other goods. If Kim Jong-un really shifts resources away from military investment, North Koreans can look forward to making even more money from their private efforts.Meanwhile, soon after coming to power in 2012, Kim embarked on structural economic reforms that provide freedom to managers at the enterprise level — freedom to hire and fire at will, set wages at variance with national guidelines, and cultivate their own suppliers and buyers without going through the national planning process.

    These reforms, which mirror the early measures of Chinese economic liberalization in the 1980s, have promoted the development of a new middle class, at least somewhat independent of the ruling party hierarchy. This group definitely has an interest in Kim following through with diplomatic engagement that can open the economy even further.

    North Korea’s working class is overwhelmingly poor. Anecdotal reports, including from asylum-seekers who make it into South Korea, suggest that workers harbor intense hatred toward the rich upper layers of the party hierarchy and toward residents of the city of Pyongyang, where wealth is concentrated.

    To some extent, Kim seems to be able to use the popular cult of the Kim family to deflect popular anger away from himself — and toward those just a few layers below him. Right now, says North Korea specialist Andrei Lankov, “Kim Jong-un is popular. Everyone supports him.”

    Kim wants to keep it that way. The burden of domestic expectations has helped drive him toward the Singapore summit, where he hopes that de-escalation of hostility with the U.S. will bring relief from sanctions — and open up export possibilities, access to international finance, and investment from countries such as China and South Korea.

  • If Rees suggests that ‘populism’ is now the engine of US foreign policy, does this mean that Trump tore  up the Nuclear deal with Iran to please Fox News watchers? What exactly does the term American imperialism mean if instead of “military industrial” interests we have crowd pleasing as the motor of decision-making? Does it mean that ‘anti-imperialism’ now signifies fighting the mob and its leader’s “sound and fury”?

It may well be that there will be less than a massive response in London to a Stop Trump protest against the US President who’s a”walking shadow, a poor player,that struts and frets his hour upon the stage.”

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

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Image result for socialist register 2018

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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Macron, Un Président Philosophe. Brice Couturier. The Anti-Populist Progressive? Review.

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Image result for Macron, un président philosophe

 

Macron, Un Président Philosophe. Aucun des ses mots n’est le fruit de hasard. Brice Couturier. Editions l’Observatoire. 

An interview which broke with the deferential traditions of the 5th Republic made the French headlines all week. On Sunday the 15th of April the journalists Jean-Jacques Bourdin and Edwy Plenel questioned the head of state for two hours on the balance-sheet of his administration. Elected with a sweeping majority for the party La République en marche, he defended a policy of immediate reforms, from the rail service, to higher education. Macron “listened” to the anger of opponents – the railway workers, students, aeroplane pilots, functionaries, and the squatters occupying the ZAD at Notre-Dame-des-Landes. But republican norms had to be respected. Universities were victims of “professionnels du désordre” (le Monde 17.4.18).

As the exchange got underway Plenal, the anti-Macron founder of the independent Mediapart, and a former member of the Ligue Communiste Révolutionnaire, interrupted. “You are not our Teacher, and we are not your pupils”. An Editorial in Le Monde the previous day talked of Macron as a pedagogue ready to lecture, regardless of the wishes of his audience, until he had completed his lesson. (Macron au cours préparatoire. 14.4.18) Excluding the possibility that the President was unaware of his interlocutor’s troublemaking potential one assumes that a snappy put down far from a chance part of the course.

The Anti-Populist Progressive? 

But what syllabus is France’s President instructing us from? This is far from an issue limited to the Hexagone. There are policies on the European Union. Macron’s “camp progressiste” has stimulated interest amongst homeless supporters of the Third Way, Die Neue Mitte, and the liberal centre. For many of these people Macron represents a successful ‘anti-populist’ unifying force.  Much of the French left, which saw many transfers from the right of the Parti Socialiste (PS) and allied figures, to the new President’s camp, by contrast, announced immediately after his victory that this was a Presidency for the wealthy, for the ‘elite’. For former Socialist Minister Anicet Le Pors, he is “mandated” by international finance, the ruling circles of the EU, the bosses, the administrative technocracy, show business, and nearly all the media. (April 2018. Le Monde Diplomatique)

With the present unrest attracting attention the English-speaking left has been quick to label Macron a neo-liberal, a spin of Tony Blair and Thatcher, out to attack the labour movement and impose markets on the public sphere. The ‘bromance’ with Donald Trump over Syria adds force to the comparison with the former British Prime Minister.

Perry Anderson, in a peremptory post-election account, went deeper. Adorned in best periodic style, he suggested that the “neoliberal reformation of France”, attempted for over three decades, had been impeded on different sides by the constituencies of right and left. Macron, in effect, cut through the various knots tiring up the centre left and right, and formed a real “bloc bourgeois” ready to carry out a liberalisation of the economy, and free up entrepreneurial energy. (1)

But some clarity is needed about the beast in power. There are already plenty of books about the President, and the electoral campaign that swept him to the Élysée. But what is his ideology, beyond carrying out his neoliberal “mandate”? ‘Macronism’ appears a less promising candidate than Thatcherism or even the rebarbative Blairism. A suggestion by Régis Debray that – the reader will have guessed this – that the Head of State represents Americanisation, with a ‘Protestant’ twist (see below), this does not take us far. It might be better said that his ideology is something picked up and stuck together as the result of an academic, administrative, business and political career.

In Macron, un président philosophe, Courtier who has a solid academic, and media background, and a less firm commitment to a form of left wing liberalism, offers us a series of insights into this broad picture. As he indicates, the former assistant to the philosopher Paul Ricœur, graduate of French elite Political and Administrative colleges, Finance Inspector, Rothschild Banker, and Minister under François Hollande, offers rich intellectual pickings. Blair, the erudite few may recall, had the lecturer Peter Thompson at Oxford, and the lessons of reciprocity from John Macmurray, behind his Christian socialism. Macron has somebody, Ricœur, a thinker with a Protestant backdrop, whom people have often heard of, if not read.

The President, we learn, has many many more figures in his hinterland. French books have a vexing lack of indexes. It would be hard work to list every sage cited in un Président philosophe, they range from Hegel, Marx, Carl Schmitt, Nietzsche, Peter Sloterdijk, Joseph Schumpeter, Michael Young (meritocracy), to Jürgen Habermas. This only follows the reference-laden writings and speeches of the book’s subject.

From Ricoeur to Saint Simon. 

It would be useful to boil this down to the essential. To begin with here is the debt to Paul Ricœur. For Courtier he offered the germs of an “identitié narrative” from the individual to the nation, to history. The use for a President of certain ideas about France, recently indicated in recognition to the importance of the legacy of Catholicism, is obvious. Macron has, in other words, considers cultural legacies, the presence of memory, to hold the country together – a view whose originality or interest is not immediately apparent.

Next Macron can be compared to Saint-Simon, the prophet of a society run by “industrials” and “intellectuals”. In this vein he is said to consider globalisation as a system of fluxes to be organised and regulated (Page 253). Finance, the mark of neo-liberalism, is to be channelled to the long-term greater good.

If Macron is a believer in capitalism he acknowledges it is not a system that works smoothly, if with great effort, like some building a planetary network of Saint-Simonian canals. There are moments of creative destruction (Schumpeter), clearing out the old inefficient enterprises, bureaucratic burdens and the “corporatism” of organised labour. ‘Progressive’ states, and the transnational European project, are needed to both facilitate and harness this process. .

Finally, there is building European Sovereignty, and the problems that globalisation creates. Courtier refers to David Goodhart in outlining the problems France faces. (3). Can Macron bring together the France of the “zones péripheriques”, the old working class far from the elite, and the metropolitan “gagnants de la mondialisation” (winners of globalisation), regarded as Macron’s core backing, if not electorate, together? (Pages 291 -2)

The difficulty of reconciling the “somewhere’ salt-of-the-earth folk and the – scorned – “nowhere” cosmopolitans would appear hard for somebody identified with the (however misleadingly) with the latter “bobos”. The task of bringing integration against the ‘identitarians’ of the far-right and those who assert the absolute right to multicultural difference, by the “modèle republican français” appears equally arduous. The often reverential, if not hagiographical tone of Un président philosophe, does not help resolve the difficulties. The use of Goodhart to bolster his opinions indicates a rightward slant with no countervailing force. 

The philosophical commentator Alain famously declared that when somebody says that they are neither right nor left, he is sure of one thing – that they are not of the left. Macron is always careful to declare that he is of the right and the left. But there is a little indication of the latter. Pierre-André Taguieff has represented him as the herald of “successful globalisation”, a Europe in which France would be a “nation-start up” and the “État-enterprise”. To decipher the business-talk Anglicisms that pepper Macron’s speech is to confirm this view.

Managerialism, Saint-Simon, Schumpeter, both far from any conception of “bottom up” democracy, political or economic, and a homeopathic communitarian philosophy suggested by Courtier’s reading of Goodhart, do not make an attractive picture of France’s President. If this is what “progressivism” has become in Europe, than it is doubtful if it will attract many enthusiasts beyond France, and certainly not from left-wingers (3)

The European Project and the left.

In the article cited above Anderson pins the ultimate root of this strategy on the European Project. In the trickle down from his approach, others seize on every obstacle to the EU – Brexit included – as an advance against neo-liberalism. Today’s French strikes and protests – regardless of their specific causes or aims – are considered part of this movement.

But the real issue for the French left, in the aftermath of their defeat, may be said to have been whether Macron could be opposed by the “left populist” strategy of Jean-Luc Mélenchon’s La France insoumise (LFI), to ‘federate the people” against the “elite” or by a new “left bloc” based on alliances between the parties (now stretching from the remains of the PS, Benoît Hamon’s group, the PCF, LFI and its allies, what is left of Les Verts, Nouveau Parti anticapitaliste, NPA) with the social forces presently fighting the wave of Macron reforms. This, as Stefano Palombarini suggested last June, would require an internationalist strategy towards changing the EU that breaks from the populist drift to ‘sovereigntism’. (4)

It is said that with his steam-roller reforms Macron has now been abandoned by whatever support he had from the ‘reformist’ liberal left. That after a year’s presidency he has veered towards authoritarianism  to “jacobinisme vertical”. Whether this is true or not the left is not united. There is no indication that the largest group in the French National Assembly, LFI, at the moment engaged in a “war of movement” to capture hegemony over the left, intends to explore this possibility. It might still be said, that to wrestle the European issue out of the hands of the Macrons and the existing EU system of governance, while fighting the sovereigntists, remains the key issue for our continent’s left, in all its diversity, strengths and weaknesses.

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(1) The Centre Can Hold. Perry Anderson. New Left Review. No 105. May/June 2017. See: L’Illusion du Bloc Bourgeois. Bruno Amable. Stefano Palombarini. Raisons d’agir. 2017. Speculation that François Hollande and his immediate circle played a part in Macron’s Presidential ascension has waned with the publication of memories reproaching his one-time protégé for his actions.

(2) The Road to Somewhere. The Populist Revolt and the Future of Politics. David Goodhart. Hurst & Company. 2017.

(3) Page 283. Macron: miracle ou mirage? Pierre-André Taguieff. Editions l’Observatoire. August 2017

(4) Face à Macron, la gauche ou le populisme? Stefano Palombarini

Jean-Luc Mélenchon and Le Parti communiste français (PCF), Skirmishes Continue.

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https://pbs.twimg.com/media/DJ_Jfk7XkAIo4QE.jpg:large

The traditional  Fête de L’Humam a vast popular event, 550, 000 strong,  organised around the left daily lHumanité, was by all accounts a great success.

But politics did not stop for the music and gastronomy.

Amongst the debates that took place the disputes between the  Parti communiste français (PCF) and La France insoumise (LFI), which claims to be leading opposition to the government of Emmanuel Macron.

A la Fête de « L’Humanité », le PCF et La France insoumise règlent leurs comptes

Pierre Laurent, the national secretary of the  PCF, made a number of critical comments in the direction of Jean-Luc Mélenchon, the leader of La France insoumise. He referred to the simplistic slogans of “« les sirènes dégagistes” , the sirens of “get out”!, away with the old guard,  launched by Emmanuel Macron, Marine Le Pen  and Jean-Luc Mélenchon during the Presidential elections.

Laurent defended his party’s decision to vote against Le Pen in the second round of the contest, in contrast to Mélenchon who refused to back the ‘republican front’ against the far-right.

Mélenchon was not present, he is on tour offering his opinions to the French colonial citizens of Martinique.

But some of his supporters, including the Deputy Eduard Coquerel, were displeased at any criticism of their Leader. Coquerel called Laurent’s speech “violent and contemptuous” and that he and his friends had not come to the Fete with this spirit in their hearts.

Laurent however intends to participate, with a PCF ”delegation’ at the ” Marche contre le coup d’Etat social ” organised by La France insoumise (LFI)   on the  23rd of  September. Despite this the Communist leader, while attacking the new President and his policies,   continues to question Mélenchon’s self-assigned role as the “Leading Opponent” (premier opposant) of Macron. (le Monde)

A further report on Laurent’s criticisms of  Mélenchon’s ‘solitary strategy’ here:  La guerre des étoiles à la fête de l’Huma  (Libération).

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One of the most recent critiques of La France insoumise and its’ populism’ come the libertarian left here:

Populisme ? « La recette de la France insoumise est usée » CORCUFF Philippe, GRAULE Pauline

In this interview Corcuff states that  Mélenchon’s rally uses the theorists of radical ‘left populism’, Ernesto Laclau and Chantal Mouffe  as a source of  “légitimité intellectuelle” to back up his claim to be the “leader” in the construction of the “People”.

 Classical Marxism rested on the basis of challenging people’s frustrations into a project of ending exploitation  through positive measures. LFI he notes, faces two  major pitfalls,   moblising resentment against the “oligarchy” around the dead end of conspiracy politics “conspirationnisme”  or devoting themselves to an electoral ‘reformist’ strategy which  is not designed, or capable,   of transforming society in depth.

Amongst the 500,000 people who have clicked on the Internet and joined LFI (for free, I am, incidentally, a ‘member’), there are many different kinds of people, although, Corcuff  notes, there is little sign of any significant “popular”, that is working class and poor, voice in their campaigns.

There remains some hope, Corcuff concludes, amongst the capacity of local groups, independent of the leadership, who may through their own initiatives create something.  But over the last 20 years, starting with the experience of the Nouveau Parti anticapitaliste (NPA), new movements on the French left have not lasted. and we will see what happens with LFI.

 

 

French Legislative Elections: A Victory for Social Liberalism against Populism?

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Seats in the Assemblée Nationale.

Nuances de candidats Nombre de sièges
Extrême gauche 0
Parti communiste français 10
La France insoumise 17
Parti socialiste 29
Parti radical de gauche 3
Divers gauche 12
Ecologiste 1
Divers 3
Régionaliste 5
La République en marche 308
Modem 42
Union des Démocrates et Indépendants 18
Les Républicains 113
Divers droite 6
Debout la France 1
Front National 8
Extrême droite 1

 

Percentages of the vote and abstention (57,36%)

Nuances de candidats Voix % inscrits % exprimés Nombre de sièges
Parti communiste français 217 833 0,46 1,20 10
La France insoumise 883 786 1,87 4,86 17
Parti socialiste 1 032 985 2,18 5,68 29
Parti radical de gauche 64 860 0,14 0,36 3
Divers gauche 263 619 0,56 1,45 11
Ecologiste 23 197 0,05 0,13 1
Divers 100 574 0,21 0,55 3
Régionaliste 137 453 0,29 0,76 5
La République en marche 7 826 432 16,55 43,06 306
Modem 1 100 790 2,33 6,06 42
Union des Démocrates et Indépendants 551 760 1,17 3,04 17
Les Républicains 4 040 016 8,54 22,23 113
Divers droite 306 240 0,65 1,68 6
Debout la France 17 344 0,04 0,10 1
Front National 1 590 858 3,36 8,75 8
Extrême droite 19 030 0,04 0,10
Nombre % inscrits % votants
Inscrits 47 292 967
Abstentions 27 125 535 57,36
Votants 20 167 432 42,64
Blancs 1 397 496 2,95 6,93
Nuls 593 159 1,25 2,94
Exprimés 19 176 177 38,43 90,13
Ministère de l'Interieur

interieur.gouv.fr  MINISTÈRE DE L’INTÉRIEUR Second Round.

This morning on the French radio the expected news of the triumph Emmanuel Macron’s La République en Marche was immediately followed by an announcement that  Prime Minister Edouard Philippe would tolerate no pot-shots at his government from his own quarter. The fresh-faced majority would not see its own deputies becoming “frondeurs” – critics that the right-wing of the Parti Socialiste  now blame for their own crushing defeat, from the Presidential elections to the legislatives.

To one admirer of the new President,  Will Hutton, “Macronism is the emergence of a fresh grounded economic and political philosophy – a landmark moment.” (Macron has led a brilliant coup – could the British now do the same? Observer). In the grip of enthusiasm he continues, “An ancien regime of tired and corrupt conservative and socialist politicians, indissolubly linked to the immobilisme that has plagued France, has been swept away.”

As in Macron Minister Richard Ferrand (accusation of dodgy property deals) Justice Minister and leader of Macron’s allied party, the Modems, François Bayrou (alleged misuse of European funding)…..

Hutton’s 1995, The State We’re In, proposed a ” radical social democratic ” programme for Tony Blair’s Labour Party, with a strong dose of constitutional reform – apparently the key condition for  transforming the UK’s dominance by financial interests – as the answer to British economic difficulties. It drew support from a constituency that emerged at the end-tail of the ‘New Times’ politics of the disintegrating Democratic Left, the largest Eurocommunist tendency of the former  Communist Party of Great Britain (CPGB), some within the Trade Union Congress, and the liberal left. He has since sifted  through a variety of ever more diluted versions of these themes, ending up with a plea for “fairness” in Them and Us: Changing Britain – Why We Need a Fair Society (2010), and others whose contents I defy anybody to remember anything about.

In the latest of the columnist’s band-wagon efforts his embrace of the glimmer of a new ‘progressive’ movement – it seems that Macron is keen on “social investment” is on very wobbly ground indeed.

Hutton rushes overboard to back the very measure which will raise the hackles of the French trade union majority – apart from the ‘negotiating reformists of the CFDT – ‘reform of the labour market’. This “loosening” of the Code du travail met with mass protests and strikes in 2016.

Will Macron’s priority for legislation in this area, apparently based on a (vaguely sketched) ‘Nordic Model’ though perhaps the ability to sack at will does not figure there, run into a similar storm?

The subject is not mentioned.

A Defeat for Populism?

Macron has been described as populist, in the sense that his idea of ‘progressive’ is ‘beyond left and right’ and is, well, popular. But there is little else to tie him to the debate about populism. He does not support the incarnation of the People in France, or pit the Nation’s sovereignty against Europe and Globalisation. He is not anti-pluralist, En Marche! does not promote  an exclusive form of identity, aim at actual or potential ‘occupancy’ of the state, the suppression of civil society and pluralism, or use any form of demagogy.

Macron’s policies on the European Union (pro, with the promotion of reform) and globalisation (pro- but moderated)  are anti-populist.

So how do we begin to come to grips with his politics?

Since the Referendum Campaign and the victory of Brexit, and Trump’s election, many commentators have talked up the ‘populist wave’.  David Goodhart (The Road to Somewhere: The Populist Revolt and the Future of Politics. 2017) talked of “values tribes”. The somewhere people – those rooted in a specific place or community –  were contrasted with the anywhere people, urban, socially liberal and university educated.

Macron’s party, with its strong support (up to 90% in Paris) in cities and amongst those with degrees, open minded on social issues, liberal on equal rights and  equality of opportunity is  anywhere placed and given a location. These French anywheres  have been beaten off the somewheres, the ‘periurban. the inhabitants of France’s ‘rust belt’ who voted for the Front National.

The constituency of En Marche!, one suspects, is less ‘socially liberal’ on policies  that cost money and taxes, real equality, or is social in the sense of engaging with the social struggles waged by trade unions.

The ‘freedom’ of the market come first.

But this is only the beginning of efforts to come to terms with Macron, and his party-movement.

The Basis For French Political Realignment. 

Thibault Muzergues (Le réalignement politique n’est pas vraiment idéologique, il est d’abord sociologique) fleshed out the sociology behind the changing French political scene.  First of all Muzergues  talks of “millennials“, white I find this claim goes against the observable pattern) , educated, frustrated at not finding a job, and one could add, at the cost of higher education, above all at the continued fallout from the 2008 economic crisis, austerity. They tend to back the radical left, Corbyn in the UK, Podemos in Spain, and La France Insoumise in the Hexagogne.

Then there is a “white minority”, the left behind, the inhabitants of the ‘rust belts’ in Europe (and the USA). They are the ‘losers’ of globalisation. They tend to back the Front National, supported Brexit, and, obviously, Trump.

Next is the  the “creative class”, the winners of globalization, cosmopolitan Bobos (bohemian bourgeois), from high-flyers to right-wing smug Hipsters (I add this latter bit off my own back) who are Macron’s constituency.

Finally, Muzergues sketches as those attached to their ‘somewheres’, “terroir’ et tradition’, They are the polar opposite of the Bobos, the bourgeois bohemians who like Macron. The “boubours” (bourgeois-bourrin, which comrade Google translates, as “philistine nag” and I would say something approaching Essex Man) are as much a part of this cohort as the French equivalent of Home Counties pious Tories. Unlike their British counterparts  included in their conservative values are the existing system of social protection (in France, and no doubt the UK – the Welfare state, notably for the elderly). These lean towards the classical right, Les Républicains onwards.

The game of identifying the constituencies in the new French political landscape will no doubt continue, with the addition of exploration of the largest body in this second round: the abstentionists, who included 4,2% who voted, blank or spoiled ballot papers.

For one person at least, Mélenchon  not voting was a form of “civic strike” “forme de grève civique) , a protest whsope negry can be deployed in futrue against Macron (France Culture)

But if Muzergues tends to work backwards, from the choices on the ballot, voting patterns, to constituencies, it is a better framework than the somewhere/anywhere couple. It  has the merit of outlining one group which appears distinct from the sterile distinction between populist salt of the earth anti-EU, anti-immigrant, anti-globalisation somewheres and the urbane creatives. The constituency of the millennials is an interesting one and has can be seen to have parallels elsewhere, in the United Kingdom and the basis of much support for Labour and Jeremy Corbyn to start with. A lot more needs to be added on the Front National, which I will postpone until the slew of  post-election books arrives.

End of Left and Right?

There has  clearly a game-changing series of changes in this election. Some argue that these new voting blocs are overshadowed by a profound transformations in French political topography.   This year’s elections have undermined the traditional blocs of left and right, as organised and  institutionalised parties, bodies with histories dating to the early years of the 20th century – Socialists, to the foundation of the  Section Française de l’Internationale Ouvrière, SFIO, in 1905 – with origins still further back to the tumult and aftermath of the French Revolution.

An emerging political system which centres on personalities and their ‘movements‘ , as it is emerging in France, sidelining decades of a (complex) left-right party system, is without direct counterparts elsewhere. Even Italy, after the break up of the Communist Party, continues to cling to a  stem of organised parties, and the 5 Star movement looks well  past its peak.  (Pierre Rosanvallon : « L’élection de Macron redéfinit le clivage droite-gauche ». 17.6.17)

That the Parti Socialiste has managed to get 29 seats with a pitiful 5,68% of the vote, masks its own split between those who consider that they are “Macron compatible” and those hostile to him. One of them  Myriam El Khomri, in whose name the previous labour ‘reform’ was carried out, lost to the traditional right in the second round on Sunday. The Socialist Presidential candidate, Benoît Hamon, was also eliminated in the first round. As a sign of their divisions, Hamon then called for a vote for La France insoumise  in the constituency where his  PS rival, Manuel Valls, was standing.

Re-founding the Left.

Jean-Luc Mélenchon’s  La France insoumise (LFI) now has a parliamentary group. Apart from those primarily devoted to his own person it includes, François Ruffin, the author of the film Merci patron!, credited with inspiring the Nuit Debout movement, and Clémentine Autain, the independent minded spokesperson for the left alliance Ensemble (Législatives 2017 : La France insoumise de Mélenchon aura un groupe à l’Assemblée nationale.

How far they will fit in with the Left Populist leader’s plans to lead the People against the Oligarchy, and whether agreements can be reached with the 10 Communist deputies, pleased not to have erased from the electoral map, as once seemed possible (Législatives : le PCF retrouve quelques sièges historiquesremains to be seen.

Their priority will obviously be to defeat Macron’s plans to liberalise the labour market by weakening employees’ rights.

In the longer term many have called for a profound re-thinking of the basis on which the left has stood, and the future of all forms of socialism. (1)

Their debates will be of great interest to the whole European and international left.

As the ‘incarnation of the programme’ Mélenchon may not have to face people who might disagree with him inside his rally, La France Insoumise that Pablo Iglesias has found in  Podemos, or opponents of the statue of Íñigo Errejón.  But it may well be that he’ll find that he meets his equals in the new National Assembly, people who are more interested in this re-foundation of the left than in an individual’s plans for the French People.

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(1) The Parti Socialiste General Secretary, Jean-Christophe Cambadélis in his resignation speech called for thoroughgoing change “La gauche doit tout changer, la forme comme le fond, ses idées comme ses organisations. La gauche doit ouvrir un nouveau cycle. Il s’agit de repenser les racines du progressisme, car ses deux piliers – l’État providence et l’extension continue des libertés – sont remis en cause. Il s’agit donc de repenser l’action publique, en mêlant principe d’efficacité et demande citoyenne. C’est le socle indispensable d’une nouvelle offre politique à gauche pour contrer à la fois le néolibéralisme et le nationalisme.”

More Information: France 24.

Record abstention

While Macron’s triumph paves the way for the sweeping reforms he has promised, it also comes with a number of important caveats, starting with the massive level of abstention that made it possible. For the first time in history, turnout in a legislative election has slumped to below 50%, in both rounds. On Sunday, a mere 43% of voters bothered to cast their ballots. This means the 42% of votes won by LREM candidates account for less than 20% of registered voters.

The record level of abstention underscored the widespread election fatigue accumulated over more than 12 months of non-stop campaigning, successive primaries, and a two-round presidential election. It also highlighted the imbalance inherent to France’s electoral system, in which legislative polls tend to be seen as a sideshow to the all-important presidential bout. With his hyper-personalisation of politics, Macron has dramatically increased this discrepancy.

Above all, the measly turnout reflected voters’ widespread disgust with the mainstream parties of right and left that have dominated French politics for decades. A few weeks ago, the conservative Les Républicains were still hoping to win a majority of seats. As results trickled in on Sunday, they were projected to win just 126, their lowest-ever tally. Reflecting on the debacle, their campaign leader François Baroin had little to offer, besides wishing Macron “good luck”.

Socialist wipe-out

As for the former ruling Socialists, they slumped to an all-time low of 29 seats. Last week saw the first-round exits of party boss Jean-Christophe Cambadélis and presidential candidate Benoît Hamon. More heavyweights fell on Sunday, including former education Minister Najat Vallaud-Belkacem, who was seen as one of the party’s rising stars. As the scale of the defeat became obvious, Cambadélis announced his resignation, adding that “Macron’s triumph is uncontestable”.

Among the survivors from left and right, several have already pledged to support the “presidential majority”. They include former Socialist prime minister Manuel Valls, who saved his seat in the Essonne, south of Paris, by a mere 139 votes – and only because LREM chose not to field a candidate against him. His far-left opponent has challenged the result alleging voter fraud, and a recount is on the cards.

Indicative of the extraordinary realignment of French politics was a flashpoint contest in northern Paris, in which centrist Socialist candidate Myriam El Khomri enjoyed Macron’s support, while her conservative challenger Pierre-Yves Bournazel was backed by Macron’s prime minister. Victory went to the latter, marking a huge upset in a constituency that was once solidly left-wing.

Le Pen enters parliament

While LREM capitalised on the anti-establishment sentiment, other parties that had been hoping to ride the same wave fell way short of their objectives. It was notably the case of the far-right National Front of Marine Le Pen, the runner-up in last month’s presidential contest, which failed to translate its strong showing in presidential polls into a large parliamentary contingent.

Anti-Fascism Betrayed? The Left and the French Presidential Elections.

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Image result for front uni contre le fascisme

The End of the United Front Against Fascism?

The French Presidential Elections: Anti-Fascism Betrayed?

“qui’il n’y pas de hiérarchie dans l’inacceptable entre le Pen at Macron. Entre la xénophobie et la soumission aux banques.”

There is no difference of degree between the unacceptability of le Pen and Macron, between xenophobia and surrender to the banks.

Emmanuel Todd.

“Last year I wrote in the struggle against fascism the Communists were duty-bound to come to a practical agreement not only with the devil and his grandmother, but even with Grzesinski.”

Leon Trotsky. 1932. The Struggle Against Fascism in Germany.

The 2/3rds majority of Jean-Luc Mélenchon’s La France insoumise who support abstention, or a blank vote, in the second round of the French Presidential elections is echoing across the hexagon’s already divided left. In Wednesday’s Le Monde Jean Birnbaum wrote of the burial of the “united front” spirit of anti-fascism (le 4 août de Mélenchon, ou l’antifascisme trahi). There are those who argue that not only is Macron beyond the pale, a banker, a globaliser with a sorry Ministerial record as a hard-liner pushing liberal labour reform, but that his election would prepare the way for a future Front National triumph. Hence ballot spoiling, blank votes, for abstention are the only possible choice in an election where there is no choice. Birnbaum argues that this, amid smaller (indeed, very small) leftist groups and some public intellectuals refusing to “takes sides”, shows that the  unity of the left against fascism, which has been a cornerstone of its politics since the mid-1930s, is breaking up.

This is not, then,  a debate about abstention as such. This position, a very old one on the French left, going back to Pierre-Joseph Proudhon (1809 – 1865),  which argues for self-organising outside of Parliamentary institutions, is not at the centre of the debate. Alain Badiou early intervened in favour of a re-establishing a “communist vision” outside the “depoliticising” ceremony of the ballot box. Badiou’s recommendation not to vote because it only encourages them has not caught many people’s attention. (Alain Badiou. Voter renforce le conservatisme).

The Le Pen versus Macron duel has raised more serious issues. For Birnbaum, who has written on the blindness, if not indulgence, of a section of the left faced with Islamism (Un Silence Religieux. 2016 Review), some on the French left, many formed, like Mélenchon, from the Trotskyist tradition, have forgotten the need, which Trotsky (for all his acerbic attacks, and his loathing of the German Social Democrats, summed up in the figure of the Prussian Interior Minister, Grzesinski, demanded, faced with the prospect of Hitler’s rise, to defend democratic institutions.

No New Hitler.

It would be indecent to have to say that France today is far from the Weimar Republic. A new Hitler in power is not in prospect. There are no street battles between the Front National and the left. The FN does not offer a genocidal programme. Birnbaum’s argument that those who propose the view that Macron and Le Pen are politically twin-evils does not flag up the posthumous victory of the worst years of Stalinism, the Third Period. But, as many convincingly demonstrate the French far right is the vehicle for illiberal democracy. From leaving the Euro, Frexit, clamping down on immigration, including the expulsion of ‘suspect’ individuals, “national preference” (jobs first of all for French citizens), and tightening the borders, economically and socially, requires authority beyond normal Parliamentary democracy. The not-so-secret ambition of the extra-parliamentary wing of the far right, which would be emboldened by a FN victory, remains to fight the left violently, from the city pavements, civil society, education, and the workplace. (on this see the excellent: The Front National and fascism. Martin Thomas).

Yet Marine Le Pen’s party is, apparently, ‘normalised’. It is a refuge, Pierre-André Taguieff describes it, for those excluded by globalisation, a “pathological form of self-defence”, confronted with the erosion of nation states and the rule of elites. National-populism, he argues, reflects a “need” for identity and belonging. (La revanche du nationalisme. 2015)

There are doctors who claim to be treating this disorder. On the same page of le Monde, Henri Pena-Ruiz, Jean-Paul Scot and Bruno Streiff defend La France insoumise and refuse to be blackmailed into supporting Macron (Insoumis, osons penser librement!). They claim that their movement is at the forefront of the battle against the FN. On the one hand they have waged the “battle of ideas”, defending the role of immigrants n producing French national wealth, and the duty of “universal hospitality” to strangers advanced by Kant, a refusal to divide the world into “us” and “them”. On the other hand their “révolution citoyenne”, a 6th social, ecological and economic Republic, offers a message beyond short-term election battles. Federating the people, it can equally capture the best traditions of the left and those marginalised by globalisation.

Henri Pena-Ruiz has himself helped avoid faults that Birnbaum’s Un silence religieux attacked. That is the incapacity, mixed with an opportunistic eye to new recruits against ‘globalisation’ and ‘imperialism’, of some of the left confronted with Islamism. His Qu’est-ce que la laïcité? (2003) stands as a significant defence of secularism, and a rebuke to groups like the British Respect, and the Socialist Workers Party, who allied with the Islamic far-right.

Yet it does not help Mélenchon’s supporters that they choose to deny the accusation that they mirror 1930s sectarianism to cite the role of the German SPD in preparing the way for Hitler by, between 1924 and 1929, accepting a policy of austerity through their alliance with the centre (Catholic) party. This transparent attack on the Parti Socialiste, by Macron interposed, and its (mild) fiscal austerity indicates that in some way it holds  responsibility for the le Pen, and the far right. This is can easily be interpreted as indicating that the Macron ‘finance’ class are not only an enemy, but the real foe, beside which the Front National is a ‘diversion’.

Some readers may also consider that one could have done without the text’s references to their movement’s remarkable “intelligence collective”. Their is a feel of the courtier when they talk of the “honneur” of “non-guru” Mélenchon for organising a “consultation” of his supporters to know their views on voting in the second round. Others might wonder why there is no reference to the 15-16% of voters for this candidate in the first ballot that, polls indicate, who are ready to vote Le Pen on Sunday.

Populism and Sovereignty.

One problem remains. If those who refuse to ‘choose’ between Macron and Le Pen reflect a French debate, the underlying issues affect the left across the world. In Europe particularly ‘populism’ is not the preserve of the far right. Mélenchon’s intellectually ambitious advisers may look to Ernesto Laclau and Chantal Mouffe’s efforts to theorise contradictions between the “power bloc” and the “people”, and as the a handbook for constructing a force, filling the “empty signifier” of the People with a voice that articulates the needs and feelings of a broad constituency, against the ‘oligarchs’. In doing so their own demands for ‘national independence” to “produce French”, not to mention lyrical rhetoric about the French revolutionary tradition, or references to Kant’s universal principles of right, have been criticised as nationalist. Their ‘movement’, La France insoumise, which lacks any serious democratic structure, has claimed to be “beyond” traditional political divisions, while falling back into one of the most traditional oppositions of all: the Nation against the other Nations. If Macron represents economic liberal policies, for them he embodies something more: the Cosmopolitan European project. They have, in short, entered the orbit of Sovereigntism.

La France insoumise at an impasse.

After pursuing this path, Mélenchon and la France insoumise won a strong vote but a position as Number Four in the poll. They look less like a force that has abandoned the anti-fascist front, than a movement unable to offer anything more than continued protest. Instead of attempting, as Birnbaum and many others argue, to mobilise against Le Pen, for the unity of democrats against illiberalism, with the prospect of future social conflicts against Macron in mind, they are marching in disorder, a third abstaining a third voting blank and a third for the representative of ‘globalisation’, and their own “excluded” voters still set to back le Pen. It remains to be seen whether they will be able to gather together enough strength to gather together with those they now pour scorn upon to reach agreements on the left for the June legislative elections.

Against ‘Left Populism’ and Sovereigntism.

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Image result for populism and parliament

Parliament now “Taking Back” the Country. 

A decade or so ago it was smart to hold Abigail’s parties, complete with prawn and grapefruit cocktails, diced cheese, salted biscuits, and bottles of Blue Nun and Mateus Rosé.

There is no post-modern irony in the present enthusiasm for restoring ancient Sovereignty. It is not just UKIP, the Patriotic Alliance, and the diehards of the Conservative and Unionist Party who look back to the days of British Constitution  ‘O’ and ‘A’ levels. In the wake of the reverse evolution of the former ‘revolutionary communists’ of Spiked-on-line into the best activists for the national Parliament, a section of the left has persuaded itself that there is much to be said for critics of ‘liberal elites’.

With Brexit, now is the time to ‘take back control’ from the European Union. Concern with their electoral backing has led them to offer a ‘left wing’ defence of national sovereignty. Their retro-party, the People’s Brexit, does not seem to have attracted many guests as yet. But it is causing deep divisions on the left, turning people’s attention backwards and fuelling the growth of national populism.

Populism

Populism…An article in the latest New Left Review, a critique of the Jan-Werner Müller’s recent What is Populism? (2016). The book is described in the ‘Programme Notes’ as a “German contribution to a burgeoning genre on opponents of the liberal order.

The author, Marco D’Eramo, whom one assumes is not German, although the notes on the contributors fail to mention his nationality, marks its main point by assaulting the claim that populism has an essence. That it marked by charismatic Leaders is exclusive, and the People into the ‘real’ people, which they alone stand for. That it is, as a result, anti-pluralist, promoting an exclusive form of identity, actual or potential ‘occupancy’ of the state, suppression of civil society and pluralism. It is, above all, a “moralistic imagination of politics. With the aid of the latest discoveries of nominalist philosophy and Port Royal epistemology, They the People (New Left Review 103. 2017) shows that  Müller, like so much political science’s ‘ideal-type’ of populism, is wrong footed. It is not just ideal (as its inspirer, Max Weber, would, we cautiously suggest, accept), but an abstract universal taken for reality. (1)

There are well-aimed shafts at a theory, and hints that the book verges towards a view of fascism as a “populism plus”, and which tries to encompass Latin America and shunts to a footnote the inclusive ‘populism’ of Evo Morales’ Bolivia (a government not without its faults, from child labour to its recent development plans).

But he fails to extend his view from a defence of would-be left populists of Podemos to an examination of those who have taken Ernesto Laclau and Chantal Mouffe’s writings on the subject as textbooks for building another movement in France, la France insoumise of Jean-Luc Mélenchon. This is no longer an issue of political science, but of political strategy. Could Mélenchon’s Constituent Assembly, having swept away “la caste”, politicians and oligarchs, instituted “protectionnisme solidaire”, and taken the country out of existing European Treaties, establish “l’indépendance de la France”?

Marco D’Eramo’s argument is essentially that ‘populism’ – insofar as it has any fixed meaning amongst its nominalised splinters – results from neo-liberalism. And where might be the hottest point in their confrontation? We come back to Europe, where the technocrats of said economic policies have been implemented by a “political and financial oligarchy”.

Müller, he suggests, all to clearly reflects the modern German consensus against the “decisionist’ sovereignty of ultimate power in the Nation (crudely, Carl Schmitt), and a “distrust” of “not only any idea of popular sovereignty but parliamentary sovereignty too”. Haunted by the totalitarian past he has been led to calls to “constrain democracy”, adding, in his Constraining Democracy (2011) “supranational constraints to national ones”, that is, the rule of the oligarchs fronted by a German style Grand Coalition. Hostility to the European Union that incarnates this prospect is surely shared by Mélenchon, who does not hide his dislike of Teutons, or… ‘Anglo-Saxons’.

Cosmopolitan Democracy.

We have been there before. From Jürgen Habermas to David Held’s “cosmopolitan democracy”, there have been a number of idealistic ‘post-sovereignty” theories. In 1994 Held advocated “cosmopolitan democracy” which could perhaps serve as a paradigm. This would be a world based on a kind of empirical version of Kant’s picture of human autonomy, in which “sovereignty can be stripped away from the idea of fixed borders and territories and thought of as, in principle, malleable time-space clusters. Sovereignty is an attribute of the basic democratic law, but it would be entrenched and drawn upon in diverse self-regulating associations from state to cities and corporations. Cosmopolitan law demands the subordination for regional, national and local sovereignties to an overarching legal framework, but within this framework associations may be self-governing at diverse levels” (2)

Supporters of ‘strong democracy’, that is systems with more definable locations than, “malleable time-space clusters” would not warm to Held.  But from the late 1980s to the turn of the new millennium for much of the centre and ‘post-Marxist’ left, and not just academics ‘self-organised’ civil society, the basis for “associative democracy”, was a popular idea.

There is a whole earnest literature on these topics, by writers such as John Keane, out there, waiting, neglected, to be rediscovered. One hesitates to nod at D’Ernamo’s sneers at constraints, or put better, institutional frameworks that guarantee pluralism. Much of this writing, sometimes possibly self-serving from those competing to win positions within post-Communist societies, was concerned with the very real oppressions and problems of ‘totalitarian’ societies. Its lasting legacy is not empty droits-de-l’hommisme but the defence of the democratic rights of those who are not, and will never be, sucked up in the single Sovereign Power of the People. (3)

Attention turned elsewhere. It might be argued that it was the growing perception that ‘globalisation’ was not extending the capacities of “self-governing associations”, but the national economic management that underpins states’ legitimacy, led to the erosion of those limited circles who followed Held’s cosmopolitan hopes to the full. That ‘governance’ of the economy remained poised between the national states, and, in Europe, the EU, while appearing battered by global financial, distribution and production flows, forced democratic thinking back to the nation. There they would rediscover Parliaments and Sovereignty.

Supporters of ‘strong democracy’, that is systems with more definable locations than, “malleable time-space clusters” would not have warmed to Held. Elections over a range of decision-making institutions, not just councils and Parliaments, or associations, but a wider range of public service bodies, have however taken place, as Police Commissioners have been open to the popular vote, with the extension of democratic participation that has not been universally greeted.  Few today advocate workers’ self-management, the extension of democratic principles into private companies.

Sovereigntism and the Left Today.

Sovereigntism has in fact little to say about the extension of democracy. It is a programme for national concentration and depriving everybody but the backers of populist parties of an effective voice, illiberalism against the ‘liberal order’.  But cultural and political issues (ones which have led to a great deal of often abstract debate about the nature of the ‘people’, and  the ‘imagined community’ of the nation) are only one part of the problem. For the right and for the left populists economic governance is the prize.

The body administering these processes, the State, is ‘capitalist’, that is, is institutionally wrapped around the existing power structure. It is organised to promote the interests of business. WE do not need an elaborate theoretical framework to see this. Every day shows that in the UK the administration is a ‘privatising state’ with several decades of institutional aid to companies who live off prebends for delivering ‘services’. That alone would make it a poor instrument for a radical left sovereign power. If it remains united, or is divided into the separate ‘nations’ of the British Isles, no People’s Brexit will penetrate its existing Conservative dominated legislative agenda.

The sovereigntists of the left are obstacles to wider democratic change. Many have concentrated on the nationalist populist drift of many of their supporters. For all the claims to “federate the people” these echo all too clearly the faults of populism outlined by Müller. The General Will of the People, cannot be found. Their ideal constituency, turn out to ‘the workers’ as the real’ people and the rest, as the ‘elite’, a moveable object with no clear class basis at all. The link of the Organiser of Trades Unionists Against the EU with the far-right Westmonster indicates that at least some of them feel comfortable with xenophobic dislike for migrants. If they lack charismatic leaders, they make up for it with their own blustering rhetoric.

But the difficulties lay deeper. Politics in the West does not work day-to-day through Peoples and Movements, it works through, imperfect, representative democracy which articulates, give voice to, a variety of interests strongly inflected by class.  If, through the mechanisms of election and public pressure, from protest onwards, a left government may transform it, it is less than probable that any form of democratic socialism will govern without sharing sovereignty. Making legal and economic agreements with other powers. It would need some kind of transnational union, for commerce, for migration, for finance, complete with agreed regulations. Beginning with perhaps, Europe…

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(1) Page 106. “technically speaking, I am trying to construct an ideal type in the sense suggested by Max Weber.” What is Populism? Jan-Werner Müller. University of Pennsylvania Press. 2016.

(2) Page 234. Democracy and the Global Order David Held Polity Press. 1995.

(3) Democracy and Civil SocietyJohn Keane Verso 1988.  John Keane (ed.), Civil Society and the State (Verso, 1988);

 

Written by Andrew Coates

April 2, 2017 at 12:39 pm