Tendance Coatesy

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Class Politics, Identity Politics and Gender Politics.

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A group of masked demonstrators at the University of Sussex staged a protest on campus demanding lecturer Kathleen Stock lose her job

‘New Social Movement’?

In 1985, as Margaret Thatcher was consolidating her rule. Ralph Miliband wrote an influential article, the New Revisionism in Britain (New Left Review 1/150). “One of Miliband’s main aims was to refute the argument that conflicts over gender, ethnicity, the environment and so on were as fundamental as those concerned with class” wrote his biographer, Michael Newman (Ralph Miliband and the Politics of the New Left. 2002).

In the NLR piece the author of Parliamentary Socialism stated, “‘Class politics’ has become the shorthand for much which the new revisionism most strongly repudiates: above all, it has come to stand for the insistence on the ‘primacy’ of organized labour in the challenge to capitalist power and the task of creating a radically different social order.” He noted, “Opposition to new revisionist writings has since then come from journals of the Labour Left such as Labour Herald and London Labour Briefing, from Labour Left figures such as Tony Benn and Eric Heffer, and from Trotskyist journals such as Socialist Worker and Socialist Action. But the main resistance has come from within the Communist Party, notably from a very traditionalist Morning Star, and also from individual party members.” This call to defend class struggle and the unions was a major factor in the eventual break up of the Communist Party of Great Britain.

This approach was developed in his study of class struggle, Divided Societies, written a few years later in 1989, Miliband argued that “without labour movements organised as political forces no fundamental challenge to the existing political order can ever be mounted.” In the chapter on New Social Movements he asserted that class-based motor was central, “whatever feminists, or black people, or gay and lesbians, or environmentalists or peace activists, or any other group may choose to do, even though their actions may well produce advances and reforms.” He added that “a great deal of oppression, discrimination, agression and violence exercised by white men, whether workers or bourgeois against women black people, ethnic minorities, gays and lesbians, cannot be traced back in any plausible way to direct or indirect economic pressures.”

On liberal and other types of non-socialist feminism Miliband commented that “This is not deny that women do have certain common interests – for instance, the right to reproductive choice, or the struggle against male violence. But lass, in relation to women, is nevertheless major dividing factor…(and) as a class, wage-earners have the potential for a degree of unity, at least, which women, as such, cannot hope to achieve.” This thought is not developed far but a moment’s reflection indicates that Roman and religious ‘laws’ alone ,sanctioning male supremacy in property and the family, are hard to untangle from history, ideology and custom to reveal a common economic basis across thousands of years. They do not rest on anything as clear as the ruling class appropriation of the social surplus.

The themes of the New Revisionism inspired many articles and books on the ‘retreat from class’ and defences of what became Marxism Today’s New Times project. Divided Societies had a tepid reception from those who were enthusiastic about ‘new social movements’ and is probably unread today. How it could help make sense of ‘intersectionality’, “the complex, cumulative way in which the effects of multiple forms of discrimination (such as racism, sexism, and classism) combine, overlap, or intersect especially in the experiences of marginalised individuals or groups”? The answer is that Miliband was not concerned with American political concepts/ strategies of legal and political voice but with the goals of socialist democracy based on a unifying social force, the labour movement. It could be argued that political disagreements within the left, which equally cannot be traced to “economic pressures”, from ideology to organisational differences, have played a bigger role in thwarting the forward march of labour than socially and culturally rooted divisons.

The present row over ‘critical feminism’, gender theory, and transgender rights could be seen in this light. Here is a summary of Kathleen Stock’s views that have, in effect, consolidated divides in the gay and feminist movements:

Kathleen Stock explained her views on trans issues in written evidence to Parliament in November 2020 here:

  • Womanhood and manhood reflect biological sex, not gender or gender identity;
  • The claim ‘transwomen are women’ is a fiction, not literally true
  • Sexual orientation (being gay, being lesbian) is determined by same-sex attraction, not attraction to gender identity
  • Spaces where women undress and sleep should remain genuinely single-sex, in order to protect them;
  • Children with gender identity disorders should not be given puberty blockers as minors.

Will this result in the same kind of decade long debate, rows, and sometimes bitter splits as the New Revisionist decade?

Mary Davis, who has announced her colours, is a veteran of that epoch.

This can be seen in yesterday’s post and here where Mary Davis writes for the Red-Brown Full Brexit site which brought together supporters of the Brexit Party, Spiked, sovereigntists and nationalists with members of the Communist Party of Britain, Blue Labour, sovereigntists, and self-identifying left-wingers. The fact that she feels that this is a sympathetic audience indicates that at least some Gender Critical people feel happy with the Family Faith and Flag brigade and the Brexit Party, Spiked/RCP national populist identity politics. Some might argue that the kind of class politics that appeal to them are pictures of idealised traditional working class identity.

Class Politics vs Identity Politics: The Choice for Labour 2020.

Mary Davis

The epithet “woke” is often incorrectly used to describe this phenomenon. However, such a term fails to do justice to the gravity of the political and cultural shift now infecting society. Class politics is based on an understanding that there is a conflict between labour and capital in which those who sell their labour power for a wage are exploited by those who buy it. This is central to the capitalist mode of production. But this is not the concern of identity politics. The version of identity politics which is most damaging steps beyond the collective identity of historically-marginalised sections of the population and which has, in the twentieth century, given rise to important liberation movements, chiefly of women, black people, gays and lesbians. But identity politics turns its back on such collective movements for social change. It renounces class and collectivism in favour of individual self-identity. It has traversed the boundaries of wacky theories to become a mainstream narrative which has permeated all aspects of civil society including the labour movement and especially the Labour Party.

She continues,

Labour has accepted this mantra is evidenced by the recent leadership campaign in which the candidates were urged to accept the twelve pledges produced by the newly formed Labour campaign for trans rights. These pledges include committing the Labour Party to accepting “Trans people as their self-declared gender”, and that “trans women are women, trans men are men, and non-binary people are non-binary”. Supporters of these pledges argue that the Labour Party must “Organise and fight against transphobic organisations such as Woman’s Place UK, LGB Alliance and other trans-exclusionist hate groups… [and] Support the expulsion from the Labour Party of those who express bigoted, transphobic views”. Most of the leadership candidates accepted the pledges or a variant of them – hardly surprising given that most of them, reflecting mainstream ideology, are Labour policy anyway.[1] However, the demand to expel those who campaign for women’s rights through their support of such organisations as Women’s Place UK or the LGB Alliance, breaks new ground. By effectively turning its back on women, half of the population, the Labour Party will be propelled into an uncharted and potentially disastrous course.

This should be a cause for concern. The fact that it is not is alarming for two reasons. Firstly, identity politics is the antithesis of class politics and its theory and practice should induce great anxiety in the labour movement, whose very foundation was rooted in working-class struggle. Secondly, the gender identity issue is of particular concern for women because it conflates biological sex and gender, and wilfully and errantly fails to understand women’s oppression. Trans people (and many other groups) experience intolerance and discrimination but this is not same as oppression. Discrimination itself is not a function of class society even though it is an almost inevitable by-product of the inherent inequalities within it. Women, however, are oppressed, and the basis of such oppression is class exploitation. Oppression, although it may take the form of discriminating against the oppressed, occupies a unique relationship within class society. It is the most important means of maintaining the class relations which support class exploitation and, as such, oppression is a function of class society as well as being a product of it. This is because oppression, unlike discrimination, is linked materially to the process of class exploitation as well as operating at a “superstructural” level through oppressive ideologies which serve to maintain class rule by dividing the exploited. This is why it is impossible to understand women’s oppression without understanding varying forms of exploitation in class society – capitalism in particular. In this way, Labour’s betrayal of women is linked to the betrayal of the working class. This is what Labour needs to understand before it’s too late.

Book review – ‘Women and Class’ by Mary Davis

Lynette Cawthra

Mary Davis’s Women and Class was first published in 1990 by the Communist Party of Britain (CPB) and has been republished in an updated and revised form in 2020 as part of the CPB’s centenary celebration. Its main aim is to argue for a Marxist feminist perspective of the way in which women are marginalised and exploited. What this perspective means in practice is that the major determinant of women’s marginalisation is the way in which capitalist economies are based on the exploitation of the working class by the ruling class. Women are doubly exploited both as workers and as those who create the conditions for the system to reproduce itself.

The pamphlet is especially critical of approaches to the marginalisation of women which regard class as just one of a number of subjective factors which make up individual identity. It argues that this denies the fact that the economic system creates objective class divisions and the marginalisation of women cannot be effectively opposed unless this is recognised. It regards as particularly dangerous the growth of a ‘self-identity politics’ which questions ‘the commonly understood categories of male and female…hence doubting the fact of biological sex itself.’ Mary Davis states that this has created a situation where ‘the ideological construct of gender has usurped the material reality of biological sex and has become a ruling ideology…[which] has stealthily penetrated all aspects of civil society, including the labour movement.’

Cawthra continues,

The pamphlet expresses concern about the proposal to amend the Gender Recognition Act to allow for gender self-declaration. The concern arises on the basis that it would lead to the possible removal of women-only spaces and effectively end the protected characteristic of being a biologically defined woman. Obviously, this proposal has now been dropped by the current Government in a statement issued in September 2020. The statement by the Minister for Women and Equalities can certainly be seen to implicitly vindicate the argument in Women and Class that identity politics conflates gender and biological sex: ‘Our philosophy is that a person’s character, your ideas, and your work ethic trumps the colour of your skin or your biological sex. We firmly believe that neither biology nor gender is destiny.’ Equally, the individualism within the statement can be seen as evidence for the argument that ‘identity politics is the antithesis of class politics’.

Note this clear alignment with recent critics of Stonewall:

The pamphlet also criticises the state-sanctioned encouragement of non-binary gender classification, e.g. official Government advice to avoid gendered pronouns like he or she. From a Marxist perspective, it regards state advocacy of this as an expression of the ruling ideology and is concerned that non-binary gender classification and the consequent downgrading of the categories of ‘male’ and ‘female’ has been accepted even within the labour movement.

Women and Class recognises that ‘there are vital areas of social reality which Marxists (including Marx) have simply not addressed.’ It may possible to examine the acceptance of a range of gender identities from a Marxist perspective while recognising the central oppression of biologically defined women. Current evidence seems to show a steady increase in the number of countries accepting as legitimate range of gender classifications including non-binary and transgender. That fact clearly doesn’t indicate that this is necessarily a progressive move from a Marxist perspective and the pamphlet regards it as ‘pseudo-egalitarianism’. From the point of view of the Marxist feminism set out in Women and Class, the question is whether it could be possible that this could contain transgressive challenges to the ruling ideology which sanctions the oppression and marginalisation of women.

She concludes,

As an alternative to the form of Marxist feminism advocated by Women and Class, I’ll end with a quote from Heidi Hartman: ‘Many Marxists typically argue that feminism is at best less important than class conflict and at worst divisive of the working class. This political stance produces an analysis that absorbs feminism into the class struggle. Moreover, the analytic power of Marxism with respect to capital has obscured its limitations with respect to sexism. We will argue here that while Marxist analysis provides essential insight into the laws of historical development, and those of capital in particular, the categories of Marxism are sex-blind. Only a specifically feminist analysis reveals the systemic character of relations between men and women. Yet feminist analysis by itself is inadequate because it has been blind to history and insufficiently materialist.’

Miliband, as can be seen, recognised these points, which puts his 1980s writing ahead of the Communist Party of Britain..

Update.

Kenan Malik writes in the Observer today (Whether freedom of speech or fairness to migrants, some principles are sacred) – a view this Blog endorses:

“It’s a complex debate, with important arguments on both sides. For many trans activists, however, it’s not a debate that should be taking place. Anyone who believes that sex is more important than gender in defining what it is to be a woman – or who would exclude trans women from women-only spaces – is, they argue, “transphobic” by definition and their arguments bigoted. Yet, condemning figures such as Selina Todd, one of Britain’s most distinguished historians of working-class and women’s lives, or the Nigerian novelist Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, as if they were feminist versions of Tommy Robinson, strains credulity. Trying to strangle a debate, or mislabelling one’s opponents, is no response to complexity. It also makes harassment and intimidation more acceptable. After all, many argue, if they are bigots, who want to “eliminate” trans people, why shouldn’t they be harassed? The result is to leave female academics such as Stock needing police protection from those who identify as women.”

Written by Andrew Coates

October 17, 2021 at 12:14 pm

Keir Starmer’s ‘Contribution Society’: a step backwards from Social Democracy.

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Family, Hard Work, Communities, and Patriotic Pride.

Since the years when Tony Blair’s Third Way flourished demands for equality of opportunity have dominated centre-left politics. Stronger demands for equality, the hallmark of many different kinds of socialism, were shelved.

The 1950s ‘revisionist’ current inside the Labour Party, which remained influential until the 1980s, had believed that a society of abundance had arrived, that issues of public ownership were echoes of the past, still held to the principle. Anthony Crosland wrote The Future of Socialism, (1956) He believed that a broad sweep of progressive legislation could be achieved because, “the absolute rule of private property, the subjection of all life to market influences” and other features of classical capitalism had been reformed by post-war governments. They had created a consensus around the mixed economy and the welfare state. With this backdrop, socialism was not a matter of doctrine about ownership of industry or class struggle, but concern for the “bottom dog” and a vision of a “just, co-operative, classless society.”

How, here and now, could the cause of the downtrodden be promoted? For the academic and Labour politician the case for equality rested on the objectives of a “better society”, ethical goals of social justice, and ending the tragedies of wasted lives. To further these goals, Egalitarian changes were needed in education, the “distribution of property, the distribution of resources, in periods of need, social manners and style of life, and the location of power within industry. and. but certainly a smaller changes in respect of incomes from work.” (Page 148). In Britain, equality of opportunity and social mobility […] are not enough. They need to be combined with measures […] to equalise the distribution of rewards and privileges so as to diminish the degree of class stratification, the injustices of large inequalities and the collective discontents.” (Page 169) The “revisionists” considered that reforms to achieve these aims could be achieved in a society in which ownership is “mixed up”, nationalised, private, co-operative, mutual, in a pluralist society promoting “liberty and gaiety”.

Crosland believed a whole-scale conservative “counter-revolution ” to restore full-bloodied capitalism unlikely.

That happened. Thatcherism came to set down a new consensus, based on free-market mechanisms privatising nationalised industries, and making the state serve the market.

Labour in the 1990s adapted and accepted much of the outline of what would come to be known as neo-liberalism (1)

The emergence of the Third Way: Giddens and Blair (David Morrison New Labour, citizenship and the discourse of the Third Way).

(Giddens) argues that ‘[a] democratic society that generates large-scale inequality is likely to produce widespread disaffection and conflict’.12Giddens argues that promoting equality means more than merely promoting equality of opportunity13 and that equality should be seen as inclusiveness.14 He explains: ‘Inclusion in its broadest sense refers to citizenship, to the civil and political rights and obligations that all members of a society should have not just formally but as a reality of their lives.’15 It is notable that Giddens does not mention the social rights that were once seen as integral to post-war social democracy. In contrast, Blair’s account of the Third Way barely mentions equality. Instead it offers ‘opportunity’, with but a single reference to ‘equal worth’.16 Gordon Brown, who argued that in the context of the 1990s equality meant equality of opportunity and not equality of outcome, made clear the meaning of equality for New Labour.17

How does this relate to Labour today?

The Road Ahead begins uncontroversially enough,

“The next Labour government will be focused on creating jobs people are proud of, reimagining our public services for those who use them, creating a new and better relationship with business and delivering world-class health and education. And we will build his on solid foundations, with security at home, in the workplace, on the streets and from those who would do us harm.”

But lets go straight to the many problems about the pamphlet:

Kier Starmer’s ‘Contribution Society’ does not make many, if any, steps forward from that period, Its emphasis is “on “hard-working families”, the need to be “rewarded fairly” if you “work hard and play by the rules”, government being a “partner to private enterprise”, a rejection of “waste” in public spending, and the importance of being “proudly patriotic” but not engaging in “the divisiveness of nationalism”.

The Guardian cites Starmer,

Highlighting the challenges facing children from low-income backgrounds, he says Labour would help provide the “soft skills” that allow private school pupils to emerge with “enviable self-confidence, self-worth and belief,”

That would mean ensuring that by the age of ten they have the opportunity to “play an instrument, join a competitive sports team, visit the seaside, the countryside, or the city, go to cultural institutions, ride a bike and learn how to debate their ideas.”

“From my days at university, through my legal career and as a politician, I’ve seen supremely talented, hard-working people from ordinary backgrounds held back, not just by material circumstances but by self-doubt or a sense they don’t quite ‘belong,’” he says.

In other words, this is a programme for equality of opportunity starting from the school. It is also dosed through and through with a kind of family-centred, patriotic Blue Labour lite. That is, the need to be “once again be Britain’s bricks and mortar – a symbol of solidity, reliability, shelter and the prospect of building something new and better”.

Ideological dressing up can be quickly tossed aside, less masonry than puffery. Nevertheless, this is praise beyond the needs of product placement. Starmer will get the “resources of the state and the innovative brilliance of the private sector to work together rather than against each other”. Dusting off the memories of the Blair years it implies continuing the Conservative pioneered, “partnership” with the private sector” which seems like an excuse not to rid the public sector of private parasitical companies ‘delivering services’ from ‘training’ on the dole, ‘outsourcing’, to provision that should be in-house in the NHS. Not to mention the removal from democratic control of public goods like transport, trains and buses, and the hiving out of local government work.

And yet….The real problem is the premises, the kind of fairness and equality, such as it is, advocated. That is “fair pay for fair work”.

Starmer offers no step forward on a central issue of socialism, equality.

This can be seen not only by comparing his words with Crossland’s call for a push for egalitarian reform, progressive taxation onwards. You can also see it by looking at critics of meritocracy.

Interviewed about his book The Tyranny of Merit: What’s Become of the Common Good? (2020) the ‘Communitarian’ US political philosopher Michael Sanders, observes,

“The solution to problems of globalisation and inequality – and we heard this on both sides of the Atlantic – was that those who work hard and play by the rules should be able to rise as far as their effort and talents will take them. This is what I call in the book the ‘rhetoric of rising’. It became an article of faith, a seemingly uncontroversial trope. We will make a truly level playing field, it was said by the centre-left, so that everyone has an equal chance. And if we do, and so far as we do, then those who rise by dint of effort, talent, hard work will deserve their place, will have earned it.”

The article, Michael Sandel: ‘The populist backlash has been a revolt against the tyranny of merit’ (Guardian. 2020) continues,

Sandel has two fundamental objections to this approach. First, and most obvious, the fabled “level playing field” remains a chimera. Although he says more and more of his own Harvard students are now convinced that their success is a result of their own effort, two-thirds of them come from the top fifth of the income scale. It is a pattern replicated across the Ivy League universities. The relationship between social class and SAT scores – which grade high school students ahead of college – is well attested. More generally, he notes, social mobility has been stalled for decades. “Americans born to poor parents tend to stay poor as adults.”

But the main point of The Tyranny of Merit is a different one: Sandel is determined to aim a broadside squarely at a left-liberal consensus that has reigned for 30 years. Even a perfect meritocracy, he says, would be a bad thing. “The book tries to show that there is a dark side, a demoralising side to that,” he says. “The implication is that those who do not rise will have no one to blame but themselves.” Centre-left elites abandoned old class loyalties and took on a new role as moralising life-coaches, dedicated to helping working-class individuals shape up to a world in which they were on their own. “On globalisation,” says Sandel, “these parties said the choice was no longer between left and right, but between ‘open’ and ‘closed’. Open meant free flow of capital, goods and people across borders.” Not only was this state of affairs seen as irreversible, it was also presented as laudable. “To object in any way to that was to be closed-minded, prejudiced and hostile to cosmopolitan identities.”

There have been books that have made this point from a more explicitly left wing standpoint. Pierre Rosenvallon’s  La société des égaux (2011). The influential French writer (like many I have read many many of his books and followed his public lectures on-line) traced out the British debate about revisionism, Crosland, equality and ‘meritocracy’. He underlined, as Starmer does not, he massive increase in inequality over the last decades. Rosanvallon offered acid criticisms of equality of opportunity (‘égalité des chances’) and proposed his own substantive egalitarianism as part of broader social relations, “relation sociale”. These themes, taking account of the complexity of equality and inequality, have been developed in his more recent books and articles.

Une brève histoire de l’égalité, Thomas Piketty (2021) has just been published.  The author of the internationally debated Capital in the Twenty-First Century (2014) and Capital and Ideology (2020) advocates restoring levels of progressive taxation on high incomes – as was the case between 1930 and 1970 -, a capital endowment paid to everyone at the age of 25 equal to “60% of the average wealth per adult (ie 120,000 euros) ”in the case of France, a carbon tax proportional to income, the “de-commodification” of sectors of common interest (education, health, culture, transport, energy) entrusted to “public, municipal, associative or non-profit structures” .

That is the kind of social democratic reformism, or ““democratic, Green socialism.” you could warm to. A lot more than putting ” contribution and community at the centre of our efforts” and the prospect of a “nation remade”.

Or indeed this,

“Self-managing socialism aims at reducing the role of the state to its coordinating functions whereby various self-managing initiatives can be brought together, just as they might be at local, regional, national and international level. What is important is that any state-level ‘coordination’ must, by very definition, come and be controlled from the ‘bottom up’.”

“..the emergence of new social movements mens that we mus rethink ‘socialism’ in such as way that their emancipatory demands blend into an alliance with the demands of the fighting sections of the working class.”

Keir Starmer. ‘Wapping: End of the Street?’, Socialist Alternatives, vol. 2 no. 1, April/May 1987

*****

(1) A convenient list:

Areas of political consensus after Thatcher

  • Britain was now in a globalised market and needed to improve the education and skills of the workforce and remove many labour regulations to help firms compete against those in other countries.
  • Wealth creation by business and particularly entrepreneurs was to be encouraged and would provide the resources to pay for public services. This would also raise incomes overall so that there was no need to redistribute wealth by taxation of the rich.
  • The trade union reforms of the 1980s would remain in place. Blair distanced himself from the trade unions that were affiliated to the Labour Party and did not involve them in developing policy.
  • There would be no reversal of the privatisations carried out by the Conservative Government.  The provision of public services could be contracted out to the private sector if they were cheaper and more efficient. Private finance could be used to build major public projects such as hospitals by means of the Private Finance Initiative.
  • Consumer choice was important in all areas.   People should be able to choose between schools and where to have a hospital operation.  Public service reform would be carried out through league tables and performance measures so that local authorities and hospital trusts worked efficiently.
  • People should be encouraged into work and off benefits by programmes to help them do this but with sanctions, if they did not participate.

Written by Andrew Coates

September 23, 2021 at 12:24 pm

French Left: Few Signs of Unity for the 2022 Presidential Elections.

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Fonctionnement d'un bureau de vote / Comment voter ? / Elections -  Ministère de l'Intérieur

All Potential Competing Left Candidates Combined: 20% of the Poll.

After the crushing defeat of the French left in the 2017 Presidential elections, the former First Secretary of the French Parti Socialiste (PS) Jean-Christophe Cambadélis, argued in his account of this disaster that it would never win power without a strategy of unity. (Chronique d’une débâcle, L’Archipel, 2017). The PS chief did no deny the responsibility of his Party, which had been the governing force from 2011 till that date for making electoral unions impossible. He cited, for example, a law enabling the state to take away people’s French nationality from those accused of terrorism, that repelled the moral left, and ‘flexible’ labour legislation (Loi El Khomri), that was opposed by the ‘social’ trade union left. The party came to pursue power as an end in itself, and not as a means to an end. This has been a long-standing criticism of the French socialists, one that could be said to have been verified by their most recent experience in government. Did this lead to a search amongst former voters for a left break? 45% of Socialist President François Hollande’s 2012 voters went to Emmanuel Macron (le Monde 28.8.21)

Famously, then, and now, French left is divided. This is not a recent phenomenon, Communists and the old socialist party, the SFIO were sometimes virulently on different sides in the 1950s and 1960s.. But the process which led a part of the left into the new PS at the congrès d’Épinay 1971 came to an end in 2017 when the Socialists’ own candidate Benoît Hamon, who has only won 6,35% of the vote, left, claiming the could no longer bring people of the left together and set up his own greenish party Génération.s. The shadow of Jean-Luc Mélenchon, the leader of a ‘party/movement/rally’ La France insoumise (LFI) and who scored 18%. in the 2017 elections has loomed large ever since.

This is not primarily a matter of personal quarrels. A take on this division, popular not only in France but internationally, amongst for example, the sovereigntists of New Left Review, is that the Socialists hitched themselves during the Mitterrand years to a modernising, globalising, liberalising, policy of the construction of the EU. This detached them from a pillar of their base, employees and working class. (see a matrix of this view, Bruno Amable et Stefano Palombarini, L’illusion du bloc bourgeois. Alliances sociales et avenir du modèle français. 2017) This view would reinforce the strategy of, notably, Jean-Luc Mélenchon, behind a “pôle  souverainiste” on the left, completely breaking with any alliance with the PS, and also, the Parti Communiste Français (PCF). Mélenchon’s left populist call for the “people to unite together (se fédérer) behind his project for a 6th Republic against the “oligarchy” – more below – did not work in 2017, has not worked since and shows no sign of working now.

But, for all that one can look at the fragmenting effects of the end of heavy industry and the traditional working class, the loosening of people’s attachment to political parties, and what Cambadélis, called the inability of “progressivism” to find a common way beyond a “defensive” rhetoric to offer an alternative approach to globalisation to that of (national) populism (Page 208).

The rise of ‘confusionnisme, that is a blurring of the lines between left and right, by the former adapting to the latter’s nationalism, and the latter taking up ‘populist’ themes – perhaps indicates how hard it is to create such plausible alternatives. This is far from a classic case of ‘extremes meeting’. There are deeper convergences than, say, a superficial nationalism. The independent minded La France insoumise deputy, François Ruffin founder of the journal Fakir, and a leading figure of the ‘alter-globalisation’ protest movement Nuit Debout in 2016 – ostensibly of the radical left. From Other forms of globalisation it slipped into a defence of national sovereignty and local interests. Like many Ruffin – is a supporter of ‘démondialisation (de-globalisation). From some back he has announced that one should not leave the slogan of “Manufacture in France!” to the Front National. He now calls for, “une protection, franchement : des taxes aux frontières, des barrières douanières (customs barriers), des quotas d’importation…” Protectionism (Libération 11th of June). A lot more in this vein in his books, such as Leur Folie, Nos Vies. 2020.

Ruffin is far from alone. Within the Socialist ranks fellow enthusiast for démondialisation Arnaud Montebourg began with European protectionism and then switched to “economic patriotism”. The former Economics Minister is at present engaged on his own Presidential bid, based on these ideas and measures to restrict immigration> He hope to build a new “bloc populaire”, the ordinary folks opposed to the  «bloc bourgeois»  the  «élites».

Cambadélis is engaged in a different strategy for bottom up unity, “un nouveau progressisme, basé sur la décentralisation.” His principal target is Emmanuel Macron, the President has accused of amassing unpreceded personal power (pouvoir personnel), shored up by a party (La République en Marche, LREM) which is less a real party than a Macron centred business machine. Even under de Gaulle there was a strong left, including a Communist Party (73 MPs in 1967!) and trade unions which could mobilise hundreds of thousands in their workplaces and in strikes. Facing Macron the only counter-power is street protest. (Jamais sous la Ve République un homme n’a, à ce point, monopolisé le pouvoir. 8th of August 2021). That this is true, in a sense, can be seen in the way that some of the best known radicals, like the above François Ruffin, concentrate their efforts on public protests and anything, anything, that shows the potential to challenge Macron.

What kind of counter-power is this? It does not and cannot govern. Are street protests a basis for renewed left politics? Problems began with the Gilets Jaunes. This movement, while it had a left wing, and popular dimension. also had a nationalist, conspiracist and sovereigntist current, more or less organised, and included many admirers of Maire Le Pen and other far right figures. Some at the time accused the radical left of ignoring this ‘red-brown’ dimension. During marches against Macron’s measures against Covid 19 this dimension cannot be ignored. There are violent polemics, extending to Facebook, about the fact that some of the extreme left have joined the same marches against the Pass Sanitaire as the extreme right. (D’étranges connivences dans les manifestations contre le passe sanitaire. and, Vaccins et manifestations : ouvrons les débats BATTISTI Lorenzo MAMET Jean-Claude)

The Presidential Elections.

As the 2022 Presidential elections come nearer (8 months), the campaign to get candidates nominated, 500 signatures from elected representatives has got underway.

All of the left-wing forces combined have peaked at 20%, or just above, in the opinion polls. They will be in no position to govern.

There is a long, a very long, list of declared and potential left and green candidates. Many have attractive ideas, a good record, and – through social media, including Facebook, – are probably better known to their potential supporters than even those of the 2017 election. These are serious people, with long political experience, including (even for the NPA) time as elected representatives at many levels. But the left remains very divided. All of their programmes resemble the various shades of the British left, defending right and increasing employment, “green transition” workers’ rights, from the Labour centre, the Labour left, to the NPA and others who resemble those on the left outside the party, though more Left Unity than the SWP, and LO who are a bit of stand alone, as is the micro-party around Kazib. The issue of climate change is important. Mélenchon of course has ideas on a new 6th Republic (some of the PS have has that as well in the past), and how to bring France to the frontiers of humanity (It reads just as oddly in French), and this” FACE À LA GUERRE, INSTAURER L’INDÉPENDANCE DE LA FRANCE AU SERVICE DE LA PAIX.”

This is just a brief list not an analysis of their platforms.

Jean-Christophe Cambadélis and many Socialists back the popular Mayor of Paris Anne Hidalgo. It looks as if she will stand but the Socialists have yet to decide. Présidentielle 2022 : la candidature d’Anne Hidalgo prend corps. Unlike before the 2017 election there will be no “primary” open to a wider public.

Fabien Roussel of the Parti Communiste Français is standing. He says his candidacy will not Weak (that is split) the left.

Jean-Luc Mélenchon is standing for La France insoumise (LFI). Third run for the Presidency. A great orateur the 70s year old is said by some to resemble in some respects his original mentor Pierre Lambert of the Trotskyist  Courant Communiste Internationaliste, although he has a “cholérique” (bilious) side all of his own.

Despite former alliances there are forces within the PCF who, it is said, even a herd of wild horses would not drag them to back Mélenchon (good reasons in many people’s view, such as he LFI Leader’s constant efforts to monopolise power).

Christiane Taubira the much liked former Socialist Minister of Justice, has yet to decide (it looks unlikely).

Arnaud Montebourg (above) has his own campaign.

Then there is the Greens, EELV, who are soon to decide on their own candidate through a ‘primary’ open to those who pay a nominal sum and agree to a minium declaration of values..

There is also Phillip Poutou of the Nouveau Parti anticapitaliste (NPA), another 3rd time candidate. They are banking on ‘struggles’, not the ballot box (that is if they even get on the ballot). That, in French terms, is like left groups in the UK who say the same thing, usually adding the working class. Pour la présidentielle, le Nouveau Parti Anticapitaliste mise sur les luttes plutôt que les urnes. That said the NPA still has a store of political capital to draw on, and might just, just, get enough ‘signatures’ to be able to stand.

Nathalie Arthaud for the ‘soldier monks’ of Lutte ouvrière. May well get enough signatures for the ballot.

Train Driver Anasse Kazib, for the ‘post-Morenoist’ breakaway from the NPA, Révolution Permanente/Courant Communiste Révolutionnaire, Pour un Parti Révolutionnaire des Travailleurs ! A group which is part of its own mini-‘international’ Trotskyist Fraction – Fourth International/Fraction Trotskiste Quatrième Internationale (etc). Ballot box? Sure….and what else can’t a group of a few hundred or less do….

11% of the votes for Mélenchon

Poll a few days ago:

On the left, the leader of the LFI Jean-Luc Mélenchon would gather 11% of the vote regardless of the scenario, while the socialist Anne Hidalgo would be placed just in front of the MEP EELV Yannick Jadot (7% for the mayor of Paris against 6 % for the MEP). If former minister Arnaud Montebourg ran in place of Anne Hidalgo, he would collect 5% of the vote, and Yannick Jadot would rise to 8%.

Some put Mélenchon on 13%.

The PCF’s Fabien Roussel  gets a couple of percentage points.

At one point it seemed as if the Greens EELV would reach an agreement with the Socialists, but there are few signs of that at present.

It looks from the outside, and no doubt from the inside, as if the French left’s engagement in the 2022 Presidential elections will become a matter of an internal popularity contest between the different left-wing and Green candidates.

Note: this post has been modified as additional material has been added. If you follow the French left closely, and French politics. you can be overwhelmed by the coverage The French media has a great deal of very detailed, I would say very rigorous, coverage, there are the parties themselves and those closely aligned to them, newsletters, and that’s even without counting what French leftists say on FB……

Written by Andrew Coates

August 29, 2021 at 4:06 pm