The following article will be published in the New York Review of Books on March 20th:
Above: The opposition leader Vitali Klitschko at a rally in Maidan Square, December 2013
By Timothy Snyder
The students were the first to protest against the regime of President Viktor Yanukovych on the Maidan, the central square in Kiev, last November. These were the Ukrainians with the most to lose, the young people who unreflectively thought of themselves as Europeans and who wished for themselves a life, and a Ukrainian homeland, that were European. Many of them were politically on the left, some of them radically so. After years of negotiation and months of promises, their government, under President Yanukovych, had at the last moment failed to sign a major trade agreement with the European Union.
When the riot police came and beat the students in late November, a new group, the Afghan veterans, came to the Maidan. These men of middle age, former soldiers and officers of the Red Army, many of them bearing the scars of battlefield wounds, came to protect “their children,” as they put it. They didn’t mean their own sons and daughters: they meant the best of the youth, the pride and future of the country. After the Afghan veterans came many others, tens of thousands, then hundreds of thousands, now not so much in favor of Europe but in defense of decency.
What does it mean to come to the Maidan? The square is located close to some of the major buildings of government, and is now a traditional site of protest. Interestingly, the word maidan exists in Ukrainian but not in Russian, but even people speaking Russian use it because of its special implications. In origin it is just the Arabic word for “square,” a public place. But a maidan now means in Ukrainian what the Greek word agora means in English: not just a marketplace where people happen to meet, but a place where they deliberately meet, precisely in order to deliberate, to speak, and to create a political society. During the protests the word maidan has come to mean the act of public politics itself, so that for example people who use their cars to organize public actions and protect other protestors are called the automaidan.
The protesters represent every group of Ukrainian citizens: Russian speakers and Ukrainian speakers (although most Ukrainians are bilingual), people from the cities and the countryside, people from all regions of the country, members of all political parties, the young and the old, Christians, Muslims, and Jews. Every major Christian denomination is represented by believers and most of them by clergy. The Crimean Tatars march in impressive numbers, and Jewish leaders have made a point of supporting the movement. The diversity of the Maidan is impressive: the group that monitors hospitals so that the regime cannot kidnap the wounded is run by young feminists. An important hotline that protesters call when they need help is staffed by LGBT activists.
On January 16, the Ukrainian government, headed by President Yanukovych, tried to put an end to Ukrainian civil society. A series of laws passed hastily and without following normal procedure did away with freedom of speech and assembly, and removed the few remaining checks on executive authority. This was intended to turn Ukraine into a dictatorship and to make all participants in the Maidan, by then probably numbering in the low millions, into criminals. The result was that the protests, until then entirely peaceful, became violent. Yanukovych lost support, even in his political base in the southeast, near the Russian border.
After weeks of responding peacefully to arrests and beatings by the riot police, many Ukrainians had had enough. A fraction of the protesters, some but by no means all representatives of the political right and far right, decided to take the fight to the police. Among them were members of the far-right party Svoboda and a new conglomeration of nationalists who call themselves the Right Sector (Pravyi Sektor). Young men, some of them from right-wing groups and others not, tried to take by force the public spaces claimed by the riot police. Young Jewish men formed their own combat group, or sotnia, to take the fight to the authorities.
Although Yanukovych rescinded most of the dictatorship laws, lawless violence by the regime, which started in November, continued into February. Members of the opposition were shot and killed, or hosed down in freezing temperatures to die of hypothermia. Others were tortured and left in the woods to die.
During the first two weeks of February, the Yanukovych regime sought to restore some of the dictatorship laws through decrees, bureaucratic shortcuts, and new legislation. On February 18, an announced parliamentary debate on constitutional reform was abruptly canceled. Instead, the government sent thousands of riot police against the protesters of Kiev. Hundreds of people were wounded by rubber bullets, tear gas, and truncheons. Dozens were killed.
The future of this protest movement will be decided by Ukrainians. And yet it began with the hope that Ukraine could one day join the European Union, an aspiration that for many Ukrainians means something like the rule of law, the absence of fear, the end of corruption, the social welfare state, and free markets without intimidation from syndicates controlled by the president.
The course of the protest has very much been influenced by the presence of a rival project, based in Moscow, called the Eurasian Union. This is an international commercial and political union that does not yet exist but that is to come into being in January 2015. The Eurasian Union, unlike the European Union, is not based on the principles of the equality and democracy of member states, the rule of law, or human rights.
On the contrary, it is a hierarchical organization, which by its nature seems unlikely to admit any members that are democracies with the rule of law and human rights. Any democracy within the Eurasian Union would pose a threat to Putin’s rule in Russia. Putin wants Ukraine in his Eurasian Union, which means that Ukraine must be authoritarian, which means that the Maidan must be crushed.
The dictatorship laws of January 16 were obviously based on Russian models, and were proposed by Ukrainian legislators with close ties to Moscow. They seem to have been Russia’s condition for financial support of the Yanukovych regime. Before they were announced, Putin offered Ukraine a large loan and promised reductions in the price of Russian natural gas. But in January the result was not a capitulation to Russia. The people of the Maidan defended themselves, and the protests continue. Where this will lead is anyone’s guess; only the Kremlin expresses certainty about what it all means.
The protests in the Maidan, we are told again and again by Russian propaganda and by the Kremlin’s friends in Ukraine, mean the return of National Socialism to Europe. The Russian foreign minister, in Munich, lectured the Germans about their support of people who salute Hitler. The Russian media continually make the claim that the Ukrainians who protest are Nazis. Naturally, it is important to be attentive to the far right in Ukrainian politics and history. It is still a serious presence today, although less important than the far right in France, Austria, or the Netherlands. Yet it is the Ukrainian regime rather than its opponents that resorts to anti-Semitism, instructing its riot police that the opposition is led by Jews. In other words, the Ukrainian government is telling itself that its opponents are Jews and us that its opponents are Nazis.
The strange thing about the claim from Moscow is the political ideology of those who make it. The Eurasian Union is the enemy of the European Union, not just in strategy but in ideology. The European Union is based on a historical lesson: that the wars of the twentieth century were based on false and dangerous ideas, National Socialism and Stalinism, which must be rejected and indeed overcome in a system guaranteeing free markets, free movement of people, and the welfare state. Eurasianism, by contrast, is presented by its advocates as the opposite of liberal democracy. Read the rest of this entry »
Above: “Posh Boy” Milne
This is becoming worrying; I’m agreeing more and more with the Pabloite revisionist Coates (who’s just posted this about the public school Stalinist and friend of clerical fascism, Milne ):
In 2004 Seamus Milne, an editor at the Guardian wrote,
It is the insurgent spirit of political Islam, however, that has brought the issue of how progressive movements should relate to religion to a head. Modern Islamism has flourished on the back of the failures of the left and secular nationalists in the Muslim world and has increasingly drawn its support from the poor and marginalised.
In 2008 he developed this theme,
Just as the French republican tradition of liberation came to be used as a stick to beat Muslims in a completely different social context from which it emerged, so the militant secularists who fetishise metaphysics and cosmology as a reason to declare the religious beyond the liberal pale are now ending up as apologists for western supremacism and violence. Like nationalism, religion can play a reactionary or a progressive role, and the struggle is now within it, not against it. For the future, it can be an ally of radical change.
In this spirit Milne, who has a problem with French republicanism and secularism, wrote in 2011,
“The once savagely repressed progressive Islamist party An-Nahda (which) won the Tunisian elections this week on a platform of pluralist democracy, social justice and national independence.”
Few would now describe the conservative, anti-secular, pro-free market Islamists of Ennahda as progressive”.
But Milne has not given up.
Woolwich attack: If the whole world’s a battlefield, that holds in Woolwich as well as Waziristan
Denying a link between western wars in the Muslim world and the backlash on our streets only fuels Islamophobia and bloodshed
“Leave our lands and you can live in peace,” the London-born Muslim convert told bystanders. The message couldn’t be clearer. It was the same delivered by the 2005 London bomber, Mohammed Siddique Khan, and the Iraqi 2007 Glasgow attacker, Bilal Abdullah, who declared: “I wanted the public to have a taste” of what its government of “murderers did to my people”.
To say these attacks are about “foreign policy” prettifies the reality. They are the predicted consequence of an avalanche of violence unleashed by the US, Britain and others in eight direct military interventions in Arab and Muslim countries that have left hundreds of thousands of dead. Only the wilfully blind or ignorant can be shocked when there is blowback from that onslaught at home. The surprise should be that there haven’t been more such atrocities.
Mainstream Islamic teaching supports the right to resist foreign occupation, while rejecting violence against non-combatants or outside the battlefield. But it is the US and its closest allies in the war on terror who have declared the whole world to be a battlefield, in which they claim the right to kill whoever they deem to be a threat.
Nobody on the left would make excuses for the actions of the US and its allies in attempting to impose their ideas and power on the rest of the world, least of all their violent methods.
But is this what is at stake here?
Milne complains about the reaction to what he admits was a brutal murder.
What on earth would he have expected in any country in the world?
And is it just foreign policy that motivated these killers?
This is a report of Michael Adebolajo’s speech at Harrow Central Mosque in 2009.
Wearing a white skull cap and a traditional black Islamic robe, he says: ‘You are here only to please Allah. You aren’t here for any other reason.’
The demonstration was organised in response to a nearby protest by the English Defence League and a group called Stop the Islamisation of Europe.
During the 80-second clip, Adebolajo says that the Prophet Muhammad fought against ‘way worse’ opposition.
‘They are pigs,’ he shouts. ‘Allah says they are worse than cattle. Do not be scared of them. And do not turn your back to them. Don’t be scared of them, or police, or the cameras.’
A witness at the rally said of Adebolajo’s address: ‘After the speech some of them started running around. An imam even came out at one stage and told the hotheads to calm down and get inside the mosque, saying that they should be praying.
So the “filthy non-believers” are also a problem.
But Milne disregards evidence of pure religious hate, and tries to give a political lesson on foreign policy without considering that this loathing has its own ideological causes.
He focuses on Western actions,
They are the predicted consequence of an avalanche of violence unleashed by the US, Britain and others in eight direct military interventions in Arab and Muslim countries that have left hundreds of thousands of dead. Only the wilfully blind or ignorant can be shocked when there is blowback from that onslaught at home. The surprise should be that there haven’t been more such atrocities.
It goes without saying that this is a feeble explanation for the violent atrocities taking place every day in Syria, the sectarian violence in “Muslim countries”, and the murders of Africans, Christians and Muslims, by Islamists.
When will Milne ever admit that Islamism is a problem in itself?
It is clear in fights over these (“Muslim”) countries the poor and marginalised are the victims of Islamists
That, in conclusion, it is the duty of progressives, that is, the Left, to fight Islamism.
The whole world is indeed a battlefield, and Milne is not on the right side.
Above: Prof Ramadan
Comrade Coatesy draws our attention to the unspeakably depressing fact that Tariq Ramadan (Professor of Contemporary Islamic Studies at St Antony’s College, Oxford and poster-boy for supposedly “moderate” Islamism) has been chosen deliver this year’s Orwell Lecture.
Now, Orwell was no saint, and certainly had his prejudices and blind-spots. He can reasonably be accused of a degree of sexism and homophobia. There are passages in his writings that have been considered anti-Semitic. He was a child of his time, and did not always rise above the prevalent backwardness of that time. But he was aware of his weaknesses and seems to have made genuine efforts to fight his inner demons. He was nothing if not scrupulously honest, self-critical (to a degree that sometimes played into the hands of his enemies), and humanist. He was also hostile to all forms of totalitarianism, religion and spirituality, despite a sentimental soft spot for the rituals of the C of E. All of which makes the choice of Professor Ramadan to deliver the lecture named after him, especially unfortunate.
The French revolutionary socialist and Marxist Yves Coleman wrote a trenchant critique of Ramadan back in 2007, published by Workers Liberty. We republish it below, preceded by Workers Liberty‘s introduction. Given Ramadan’s evident popularity not just on sections of the “left”, but also with Guardianista-liberals, and his selection as the Orwell lecturer, this is a timely reminder of just how unpleasant his underlying politics are:
“40 reasons why Tariq Ramadan is a reactionary bigot” was written by the French Marxist, Yves Coleman and has been reproduced by the Alliance for Workers’ Liberty (AWL). The text presents factual information about the politics of Tariq Ramadan.
There are many issues the Left must address.
First is the question of honest polemic.
Useful political debate requires clearly presented political positions and an attempt to honestly engage with opponents.
And yet Yves Coleman believes that it almost impossible to either ‘catch’ or ‘corner’ Tariq Ramadan. He is difficult to pin down. The reason is simple: Tariq Ramadan often says one thing to one group, and something different, or contradictory, elsewhere.
This slipperiness connects with the second issue for the left.
No doubt, given the support Ramadan has on the “left”, there will be further “left” attempts to refute the damning contents of this document. However, it will not be good enough to answer Yves Coleman by producing further quotes from Ramadan.
It just won’t do to reply to the reactionary statements Ramadan has made on the issue of women’s rights, for example, by presenting other quotes suggesting he is a liberal on the question (and so implying Ramadan can’t have made the statements cited by Yves Coleman without having to address the quotes directly). Ramadan might well have made both the reactionary and the liberal statements. As Yves Coleman shows, on many issues Ramadan has done exactly that.
It will not do to protest that Ramadan is more liberal-minded, less rigidly reactionary than extreme Islamist groups like Hizb-ut Tahrir. He is. Mainstream Catholic ideologues are less rigidly reactionary than the Tridentines. They are still not allies for the left.
Nor will it do to try to change the question by saying that the left has also had Christian preachers sometimes share platforms with it to denounce apartheid or war. The left will work with campaigners who may be Muslims on the same basis. But Tariq Ramadan’s left-wing friends promote him not because he has campaigned on some progressive political issue (and despite his Islamic ideas), but because he is a (sometimes left-sounding) Islamic ideologue, regardless of him doing nothing for progressive politics other than making bland statements against poverty and so on.
The only possible “left” responses to this document are: to attempt to prove Coleman has mis-quoted Ramadan; or to attempt to explain away Ramadan’s statements (by claiming some sort of special privilege for Muslim bigots); or to accept Ramadan is a reactionary.
Third is the peculiar fact – one which Yves Coleman notes in his text – that the left finds no problem in condemning Catholic reactionaries, but often praises and promotes Islamic reactionaries such as Ramadan who have similar views. Criticisms of Tariq Ramadan are often called “Islamophobic”. But we do not say that Ramadan is worse than a Catholic reactionary because he is Muslim rather than Catholic. We only say that a Muslim reactionary is no more defensible than a Catholic reactionary.
The problem is that large sections of the left have degenerated and decayed to such an extent that they become unable to differentiate between critics of existing society who offer a positive alternative to capitalism (the working-class, class-struggle left), and those critics who are backward-looking reactionaries.
The kitsch-left has – seemingly – forgotten what it positively stands for, and can only remember what it is against (Blair, Israel and, most of all, America). Since Islamists are against Israel and the USA, and Catholic reactionaries generally are not, the kitsch-left thinks the Islamists are progressive. Or that Ramadan, a Swiss university professor, is the best person to invite to be a “Voice of the Global South” at the European Social Forum, precisely because he is an Islamic ideologue.
It is organisations such as the SWP – which found itself unable to condemn 9/11, and which supports the so-called resistance in Iraq – that promote Ramadan.
Forth is to understand Ramadan’s project.
Yves Coleman writes: “The basic thing is that Ramadan wants is to enlarge the power of control or religion on society. Ramadan always invokes French racism (which exists and can not be denied) and colonial history to explain the hostility he provokes in France. In this he is partly right, but what is at stake is the meaning of secularism. For him (as well as for the SWP and its French followers) secularism means that all religions are treated equally by the State and are respected. For the French Republican tradition, it means something different: it means (in theory) that people should not express religious views in the public sphere (in their job, in the schools, in Parliament, etc.) and should keep their religious views to the private sphere. That’s where the difference lies.
“Ramadan may not be a fundamentalist of the worst sort but he is clearly training a whole generation of religious cadres who are trying to change the content of secularism in France in a more pro-religious direction.”
Fifth is to understand the role Ramadan is playing in NUS.
Behind Ramadan – urbane, reasonable sounding – stand the Islamists of the MAB/Muslim Brothers.
Ramadan is the reasonable face of Islamic politics, and he is the thin end of the wedge.
Finally, we need to understand that attempts to shout down Marxist critics of Ramadan with demagogic accusations of “Islamophobia” and even “racism” are absurd.
Discrimination and even violence against Muslims are real. We oppose such bigotry.
However we also demand women’s liberation, gay liberation. The AWL is an atheist organisation, and fights for secular values. Therefore we will not ignore Ramadan’s bigotry or backwardness.
40 reasons why Tariq Ramadan is a reactionary bigot
By Yves Coleman
Tariq Ramadan often complains that the media accuse him of being two-faced. He considers that this critique is a plain racist slander in the line of the eternal cliché about so-called Arab “deceitfulness”. If we read Mr Ramadan’s writings we reach a much simpler conclusion: Tariq Ramadan is a sincere Muslim who defends reactionary positions on a number of issues, but that does not prevent him from holding critical views on many injustices, while being fundamentally a moderate in politics.
Just as Pope John Paul II condemned the “excesses of capitalism”, unemployment, greed, poverty, the war in Iraq and the way Israel treats the Palestinians.
Only somebody who has never thought about about the function of religions (of all religions) can be surprised by this coexistence of different interpretations of the world: a faith in myths (as in the Bible, Torah, Quran, Upanishads, etc.) and absurd superstitions; a use of reason in many daily (manual and intellectual) activities ; a sincere revolt against all injustices; a misogynist and homophobic moralism; a need for dreams and utopias, etc.
Revolutionaries do not question Tariq Ramadan’s right to defend his religious beliefs, or to proselytise. After all, as he rightly notes, nobody in France is scandalized by the constant propaganda waged by missionaries like Mother Teresa or Sister Emmanuelle in Asia. Nobody protests against the repeated presence of Sister Emmanuelle, Cardinal Lustinger (former cardinal in charge of Paris) and other priests, nuns and monks in all sorts of French TV shows and programs.
Nor is this a matter of a theological dispute with somebody who is always going to know Islam better than any “Western” atheist.
What we insist on is that there are other interpretations of Islam, from Muslims who are much more democratic and secular than Ramadan.
And we reject the dishonest gambit used by this Swiss philosophy lecturer to deflect criticism: each time a Muslim intellectual defends an opinion which is different from his, it is because she or he is “westernized”, has adopted a “West-centred vision”, or worse, has sold out to imperialist, colonialist and racist Western powers.
Revolutionaries do not claim that Tariq Ramadan holds reactionary positions on all issue. We simply ask his “left-wing” friends not to knowingly dissimulate his obscurantist positions and not to dismiss in advance the positions of other Muslims who are much less conservative than him as regards morals, secularism and all the issues of daily life.
This dissimulation comes sometimes from a unworthy paternalism (“he will shift as he comes into contact with us”), sometimes from a manipulative approach (“we are not interested in him, but in the immigrants he influences”), and sometimes from a political vision which blurs all class divisions (“the confluence of all anti-capitalist movements”, the “revolt of the multitudes”, and other such rubbish), sometimes from the cynical relativism of disillusioned former adherents of dialectical materialism (“after all, no-one knows whether scientific truths exist”), and sometimes from a “Third Worldism” which has still not given up on the Stalinist illusion of “socialism in one country”.
In all these cases, such hypocritical attitudes to Ramadan’s bigotry do a disservice to workers who still believe in Islam but who also want to fight against capitalism. And after all, as revolutionaries, it is those “Muslims” who interest us.
Tariq Ramadan does not approve of flirting, sex before (or outside) marriage, homosexuality, women’s contraception or divorce. He thinks that Muslim women should submit to their husbands if they are “good” Muslims. He believes that men must be financially responsible for the well-being of their family, and not women. In other words, Tariq Ramadan is opposed to or equivocal about feminism, women’s rights, gay rights and sexual liberation. One should also have strong doubts about his respect of the freedom of speech and thought: in Switzerland he contributed to a campaign against a Voltaire play, and he wants Muslim parents to control the content of State school programs according to “Islamic values”, to give only two examples. But that does not prevent him from constantly using the key words of today’s public relations industry: “respect”, “tolerance”, “communication” and “dialogue” in the manner of a cynical politician.
What a strange friend for the Left! Read the rest of this entry »
Highgate Sage Ali Speaks on Syria.
By Andrew Coates (reblogged with some very minor changes and a new title from Tendance Coatsey)
In his latest foray (LRB 28th of August) Tariq summed up [his view of] the Syrian situation:
The aim of the ‘limited war’ as set out by the United States and its European vassals is simple. The Syrian regime was slowly re-establishing its control over the country against the opposition armed by the West and its tributary states in the region (Saudi Arabia and Qatar). This situation required correction. The opposition in this depressing civil war needed to be strengthened militarily and psychologically.
Ie: the present war is essentially driven by anti-Iranian forces,
Ever since the war and occupation of Iraq, the Arab world has been divided between Sunni and Shia components. Backing the targeting of Syria are two old friends: Saudi Arabia and Israel. Both want the regime in Iran destroyed. The Saudis for factional reasons, the Israelis because they’re desperate to exterminate Hizbullah. That’s the endgame they have in sight and Washington, after resisting for a bit, is playing ball again. Bombing Syria is the first step.
In lines that may well have been an attempt to rival Dean Swift he outlined the position of the United Kingdom:
It’s foolish to get too worked up about Britain. It’s a vassal state, de facto governed by a National Government that includes Parliamentary Labour. Its political parties have accepted permanently situating themselves in the ‘posterior of the White House’. Cameron was gung-ho for a war some months ago. When the US went cold on the idea, Downing Street shut up. Now they’re back in action with little Ed saying that he backs the war ‘reluctantly’, the most pathetic of positions. Conservative backbenchers are putting up a stiffer resistance. Will more Tories vote against than Labour? We shall see.
Ali [had earlier] described how his position evolved until September 2012 as follows (in Counterpunch),
From the very beginning, I have openly and publicly supported the popular uprising against the family-run Baathist outfit that rules Damascus.
But, as in Egypt, once the euphoria of the uprising and its success in getting rid of a hated despot evaporates, politics emerge. What is the strongest political force in Syrian politics today? Who would be the largest party in parliament when free elections take place? Probably the Muslim Brothers and in that case the experience will be educative since neo-liberalism and the US alliance are the corner-stone of the Turkish model that Morsi and other colleagues in the region seek to emulate. For half of the last century, Arab nationalists, socialists, communists and others were locked in a battle with the Muslim Brothers for hegemony in the Arab world. We may not like it (and I certainly don’t), but that battle has been won by the Brotherhood. Their future will depend on their ability to deliver social change. The Egyptian and Syrian working class have played a huge part in both uprisings. Will they tolerate neo-liberal secularism or Islamism for too long?
A NATO intervention would install a semi-puppet government. As I argued in the case of Libya once NATO entered the fray: whoever wins the people will lose. It would be the same in Syria. On this I am in total accord with the statement of the Syrian Local Coordinating Committees published on 29 August 2011.
What will happen if the present situation continues? An ugly stalemate. The model that comes to mind is Algeria after the military, backed strongly by France and its Western allies, intervened to stop the second round of an election in which the FIS were going to win. This resulted in an attritional civil war with mass atrocities carried out by both sides while the masses retreated to an embittered passivity.
This is why I continue to insist that even at this late stage a negotiated solution is the best possible way to get rid of Assad and his henchmen. Pressure from Teheran, Moscow and Beijing might help achieve this sooner than the military posturing of Sultan Erdogan, his Saudi allies and their surrogates in Syria.
ln criticising this position. the Syrian Leftist site, Syrian Freedom for Ever, claimed that:
“TARIQ ALI says we are witnessing in Syria a new form of re-colonisation by the West, like we have already seen in Iraq and in Libya.
Many of the people who first rose against the Assad regime in Syria have been sidelined, leaving the Syrian people with limited choices, neither of which they want: either a Western imposed regime, “composed of sundry Syrians who work for the western intelligence agencies”, or the Assad regime.
The only way forward, in the interests of all Syrians, says Ali, is negotiation and discussion. But it is now obvious that the West is not going to let that happen because they are backing the opposition groups who are against any negotiation.”
What remains of this at present?
With greater confidence Ali now observes that:
Every single Western intervention in the Arab world and its surrounds has made the conditions worse. The raids being planned by the Pentagon and its subsidiaries in Nato are likely to follow the same pattern.
Having, in the past, praised Boris Yeltsin as a democratic socialist (1) , and voting Liberal Democrat in the 2005 General Election (2), Tariq Ali is famed on the left for his canny nose for the Zeitgeist: that is, his capacity for getting things completely wrong.
The Morsi outcome could be classed in the thick file of Ali’s efforts in this direction.
Now that said many of us will find that Ali’s geopolitical analysis fairly convincing (Robert Fisk says as much).
That he was wrong about the British Parliament and Labour’s willingness to defy Washington puts him the company of thousands, to no disgrace.
Vassals, little Ed, posteriors, and pathetic as they all may be, they didn’t act in the predicted way.
They may continue to show some independence, though this is less certain.
But there is not a word in Ali’s analysis about the fate of the Syrian democrats opposed to Assad.
Or how any democratic forces can be supported.
Not a dicky bird.
That really sticks in the craw.
(1) Ali’s Revolution From Above: Where Is the Soviet Union Going? (1988) is also dedicated to Yeltsin, whose “political courage has made him an important symbol throughout the country.”
(2) “In the tightly fought battle for the Hornsey and Wood Green constituency, the Liberal Democrats have received the support of prominent writer and film maker Tariq Ali, who says he will be backing the party in the forthcoming General Election. Mr Ali, who lives in the constituency, is a long-time critic of the Government over the war in Iraq” (here). The Liberal Lynne Featherstone, won the constituency
Coatesy from Tendance Coatesy, who is a friend of this site, reports the following:-
I have just had an unpleasant visit from the Police.
Apparently it follows a “complaint” from Ipswich-based Islamists, Jimas.
The details of the complaint were not given.
But they apparently centre on this Blog, posts on this organisation (notably a dossier sent to me by somebody close to Harry’s Place) and, it is claimed “E-Mails.”
What they are specifically I do not know.
It all took place, believe or not, well over a year ago, when and what, they did not see fit to elaborate much upon.
But is was claimed that I had a met a leading member of Jimas – completely untrue – to discuss matters.
It was also said that E-Mails from somebody calling themselves The Usual Suspects, were at issue.
I am not the “Usual Suspects” and it is a slander to suggest that I am.
Equally I repeat: I have never met anybody from Jimas.
As for the political attacks on Jimas (and other Islamists) on the Blog Tendance Coatesy, I wonder if it is the business of Suffolk police to act on these matters.
One could say that this is a case of political intervention way beyond their remit.
As for Jimas, well, rest assured that your attempts to ‘get’ me are not appreciated.
Particularly the claim – wholly made-up – that I ‘met’ with them.
As this Blog has an international readership I wonder what people in other countries think of this.
Reblogged from Tendance Coatsey:
Chokri Belaid: Tunisian Patriot, Marxist and Secularist Killed by Islamists.
At the of January Chokri Belaïd wrote, “Official violence and that of the militias is present, with the political assassination in Tataouine, and warnings and calls for the liquidation of political competitors without the authorities responding. The situation that gave birth to December 17, 2010 is still current.” (Hat-tip Paul F)
His party the Mouvement des patriotes démocrates (حركة الوطنيون الديمقراطيون) is Marxist, pan-Arab and Secularist.
It is part of the Front Populaire, (الجبهة الشعبية) ou Front populaire pour la réalisation des objectifs de la révolution (الجبهة الشعبية لتحقيق أهداف الثورة) * which unites left parties in opposition to the Ennahdha, Islamist-led Tunisian government.
Belaid has been described as the “bête noire” of the Islamists, particularly after the lawyer defended freedom of expression, and the film Persepolis.
On Wednesday morning he was shot outside his front door.
Tunisia Live reports,
Leftist politician and leader of the Popular Front coalition Chokri Belaid was shot to death this morning outside of his home.
Shortly after news of his assassination consumed the airwaves and social media, protesters took to the streets to express their indignation over Belaid’s assassination.
Over the course of the day, demonstrators made their way to the Interior Ministry in Tunis’ main thoroughfare, Habib Bourguiba avenue, where they showed solidarity with Belaid and chanted slogans against the ruling Ennahdha party.
The situation turned violent at around 2:30 p.m. with police resorting to tear gas and batons to empty out and lockdown Habib Bourguiba avenue.
Protests have spread across the country, and some of Ennahdha’s regional headquarters have been attacked.
As today’s General Strike is underway this is what people are saying,
They are also crying anti-Ennahdha slogans, such as “Ghannouchi (Ennahdha founder), you are a predator,” “dégage (get out, in
French),” “This will be the last day for this government,” and “Bring down the oppressor of the people, bring down the Brotherhood party.”
Belaïd’s family openly accuse that government of responsibility.
Le Monde reports,
L’assassinat de Chokri Belaïd n’a pas été revendiqué. Mais partisans et sympathisants de l’opposition dénoncent déjà à l’unisson le “premier assassinat politique“ en Tunisie depuis la chute de l’ancien dirigeant Zine El-AbidineBen Ali en janvier 2011 et affirment : “On a assassiné un démocrate”. Tous les regards se portent en particulier contre Ennahda, ouvertement accusé par la famille d’être responsable du meurtre de l’opposant.
Nobody has claimed responsibility for the assassination of Chokri Belaïd. But opposition supporters and sympathisers have already denounced, in chorus, the “first political assignation in Tunisia since the fall of the former leader, Zine El-Abidine Ben Ali in January 2011. “They have killed a democrat”, they have declared. All eyes have turned towards Ennahda, openly accused by the deceased’s family of being responsible for the murder.
Le frère du défunt, Abdelmajid Belaïd, a ainsi lancé: “J’accuse (le chef d’Ennhada) ached Ghannouchi d’avoir fait assassiner mon frère”, sans plus d’explication pour étayer cette accusation.
The brother of the deceased, Abdelmajid Belaïd, has launched this charge, ‘I accuse Rached Ghannouchi of the assassination of my bother”, he said, without giving details to back up this accusation.
The Islamist Government has denied that this is the case, deeply regretting the murder.
But as, Nadia Chaaban, (left Tunisian deputy) says,
Tout le monde savait que Chokri Belaïd était menacé. Aucune mesure de protection n’a été prise. En laissant se propager des discours violents dans des espaces tels que les mosquées, ce gouvernement laisse faire et cautionne.
Everybody knew that Chokri Belaïd was under threat. There were no measures taken to protect him. In letting violent speeches (Note, by the Salafists) flourish in such places as mosques, the government has let this happen and endorsed it
Others point to Ennahdha’s ”ambiguous” relations with violent Salafists (Here)
Nor is Ennahdha completely above suspicion.
Their persecution under the Ben Ali regime should not make us forget that even this ‘moderate’ Islamist party has a past acquaintance with violence, for example, in the bombing of tourist hotels in the 1980s.
Last year opposition trade unionist protester, Lotfi Naguedh, was killed fighting with Ennahdha thugs.
The most that one say with certainty, on the present evidence, is that this murder did not happen in a political vacuum and that the ruling Islamists did not protect its opponent.
In 2011 George Galloway said of this party and of Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood,
I welcome the imminent victory of the Islamic movements in Egypt and Tunisia, which I think will provide very good governments on the Turkish model.
The once savagely repressed progressive Islamist party An-Nahda (Ennahdha) won the Tunisian elections this week on a platform of pluralist democracy, social justice and national independence.
His paper has frequently offered space to Ennahdha supporters.
The governing coalition of secularist and Islamist parties is now in its second year. Despite their differences, these parties have clearly demonstrated the possibility of reconciliation, co-operation and partnership between moderate Islamists and moderate secularists, an important model for the Arab world.
Others who claim to be on (Western) the left, have, with varying degrees of hostility, judged the Tunisian secular opposition, and left, harshly.
The latest news is that a “technocratic” government of national unity it being formed around Ennahdha.
Many Tunisians seem not to share Milne or Galloway’s assessment of the party.
The coming days will see them out r protesting against Ennahdha in force.
With one death already this promises to be a very serious challenge.
* Front Populaire.
- Parti des travailleurs tunisiens de Hamma Hammami
- Parti du travail patriotique et démocratique, aile menée par Mohamed Jmour
- Mouvement des patriotes démocrates de Chokri Belaïd
- Patriotes démocrates (Watad) de Jamel Lazhar
- Parti de la lutte progressiste de Mohamed Lassoued
- Ligue de la gauche ouvrière de Jalel Ben Brik Zoghlami, trotskiste
- Parti populaire pour la liberté et le progrès de Jelloul Azzouna, socialiste
- Front populaire unioniste d’Amor Mejri, panarabe marxiste
- Mouvement du peuple de Mohamed Brahmi, nationaliste arabe nassérien
- Mouvement Baath d’Othmen Bel Haj Amor, nationaliste arabe baasiste
- Parti d’avant-garde arabe démocratique de Kheireddine Souabni, nationaliste arabe baasiste
- Tunisie verte d’Abdelkader Zitouni, écologiste
Written by Andrew Coates
By Andrew Coates (reblogged from Tendance Coatesey)
The Algerian hostage killings are shocking.
El Watan reports up to 50 hostages dead, though there are serious doubts about the accuracy of this figure.
This has to be looked up with deep ethical and political seriousness.
These are some reflections:
The Algerian army’s operation was entirely their own. On France-Inter and Europe I this morning it was repeated that the Algerians were determined to put an end to the crisis without negotiating – a long-standing principle. They were determined to “deal with internal problems by themselves (more here). The experience of confronting armed and murderous Islamists in Algeria, from the 1990s civil war to the present, is that the state’s army is prepared to use maximum force with minimum respect for human rights.
The Algerian Mokhtar Belmokhtar, has been a leading figure in ’Al-Qaeda au Maghreb islamique (Aqmi), is now clearly identified as the leader of the attack. He is dead. Belmokhtar has operated in the north of Mali. The ’emir’ is held responsible for kidnapping several French nationals in the recent past. In December Belmokhtar announced in une vidéo publiée par Libération.fr,that he had broken with Aqmi and created a new group, Al-Moulathamin (those who sign with blood)»), close to the Mouvement unicité et jihad en Afrique de l’Ouest (le Mujao, which controls the region of Gao in Mali). The reasons for this are likely to be connected to Belmokhtar’s personal smuggling rackets. However his men remain in alliance with Aqmi.
There are therefore clear links between the hostage taking and Mali. Belmokhtar is said to have demanded that the French intervention should end. Anybody going further into the shifting alliances and disputes in Mali should pause and look at this seriously before offering an analyses of, for example, the relations between the Tuaregs, their group, the l’Azawad (MNLA) (more here), and the Islamists. I would be very very cautious in this areas.
Belmokhtar is a man with an armed band with blood on their hands. It is no surprise that an Irishman who escaped from the Algerian hostage crisis had explosives tied around his neck.
“Primary responsibility for tragic events in Algeria rest with terrorists who murdered some and held others hostage”: For the first time it’s hard to disagree with Foreign Secretary William Hague.
How Not to Respond:
Lindsey German of the Stop the War Coalition directly links the taking of hostages to the French intervention in Mali. She states that, “This new scramble for Africa, where the old colonial powers of France and Britain try to reassert their control in the resource rich region, looks likely to end in tears very quickly. ” No doubt she can barely contain the floods of teardrops this morning.
She goes on to say, “When France began its air strikes and invasion in Mali last week the rebels there warned its government that there would be retaliation. Blowback has come more rapidly than anyone expected.”
German then says, portentously, “The spread of the wars and instability to Africa is a very dangerous development.”
The Stop the War Coalition have shown scant regard to what the people in Mali think themselves, or much awareness of what has happened in the country.
German now shows an astounding ignorance when she says, “The long running civil war in Algeria is being escalated as a result of instability elsewhere. “
Somebody should buy her a good Chronology and teach her how not to confuse the 1990s with, say, the year 2013.
Let us make the point that the primary concern should be the wishes and interests of the people of North Africa and Mali.
It is clear that the Islamists, in their various shapes and alliances, are opposed to the most basic human rights. They torture and murder. They rape women who do not wear full Islamic covering. They destroy Muslim religious shrines that they consider ‘pagan’. They ban the wonderful music of the country. They fuel existing ethnic hatreds.
Opposition to them in Mali is not motivated by a ‘scramble for Africa’, which few outside the StWC and their ’anti-imperialist’ arm-chair generals have noticed at play in this crisis.
Still less, as some, like her partner John Rees suggests, is it a matter of the ‘West’ against ‘Islam’.
The fight against the Mali Islamists is motivated by common human decency.
And it comes from the people of Mali.
There are many issues around the French intervention, and the forces that govern the country. There is the background of the neo-liberal policies that have weakened the state and let the way open for this crisis. There is the responsibility of the country’s political class and army.
Does France intend to stay? Will its intervention, as the Nouveau parti anticaptialiste argues, make things worse?
But until we get that point, of combating the Islamists – in solidarity with Mali and North African peoples – across we will be as morally and politically bankrupt at Lindsey German.
Tendance Coatsey opines on “The Cairo Conferences – or how some on the left have got the Muslim Botherhood so wrong”:
Above: John Rees speaking at a Cairo Conference
One major factor that explains the inability of some on the British left to support, clearly, Egyptian democrats is their [the British "leftists"] long-standing links with the Muslim Brotherhood.
This is not just a matter of domestic alliances with the (then) Muslim Association of Britain in the Stop the War Coalition (StWC).
On the principle of being ‘with’ the MB – indeed anybody – when ‘fighting’ ‘imperialism’ and its allied states: this reached its highest point in the Cairo Conferences, from 2002 to 2009.
Wikipedia is the most convenient source of the history of this alliance,
The first conference was held on the 17–19 December 2002, at the Conrad Hotel on the banks of the Nile . Four hundred attended. Speakers included former United Nations (UN) humanitarian coordinator for Iraq Dr Hans von Sponeck. Former Algerian president Ahmed Ben Bella (TC Note- who had become an Islamist) chaired the conference. One outcome of the conference was the production of the ‘Cairo Declaration’, which took a stance against the then looming Iraq war; it also noted the negative effects of capitalist globalisation and U.S. hegemony on the peoples of the world (including European and American citizens). In addition, it noted that “In the absence of democracy , and with widespread corruption and oppression constituting significant obstacles along the path of the Arab peoples’ movement towards economic, social, and intellectual progress, adverse consequences are further aggravated within the framework of the existing world order of neoliberal globalisation”, while firmly rejecting the ‘advance of democracy’ justification for attacking Iraq.
The UK Stop the War Coalition, in particular John Rees then of the SWP, initiated the signing of the declaration by European leftists, including: Jeremy Corbyn MP, George Galloway MP, Tony Benn, Susan George (scholar/activist based in France), Bob Crow, Mick Rix (general secretary, UK train drivers’ Aslef union), Julie Christie, George Monbiot, Harold Pinter, Ghayasuddin Siddiqui (Muslim Parliament), Tommy Sheridan (Scottish socialist), Dr Ghada Karmi (research fellow, Institute of Arab and Islamic Studies, University of Exeter), Tariq Ali. attended.
I shall miss out the specific references to Iraq and concentrate on what the Alliance for Workers’ Liberty highlighted of the original ‘Cairo Declaration’.
Selective and misleading extracts from the ‘Cairo Declaration’ have been published in “Socialist Worker” (18th January 2003). The carefully edited extracts refer to the internationalist struggle against neo-liberal globalisation, the growth of poverty and unemployment as a result of capitalist globalisation and US hegemony, and the need for total opposition to war on Iraq. Such worthy sentiments, however, are not representative of the politics encapsulated in the ‘Cairo Declaration’. The ‘Cairo Declaration’ criticises the US for ‘maintaining the existing uni-polar world order’ and blocking a shift in the balance of power ‘towards multi-polarity.’ This is not an obscure and coded call for working-class struggle against capitalist inequality. It is a complaint that the domination of international markets by large-scale US capital (uni-polarity) is squeezing out the local capitalist classes and elites (multi-polarity).
It would be tedious to go through all these ‘conferences’ declarations but this one indicates the truth of this analysis (from the 3rd Conference 2003),
• The U.S. monopolizes political, economic and military power within the framework of capitalist globalization, to the detriment of the lives of the majority of the world’s people.
• The U.S. imposes control through naked aggression and militarized globalization in pursuit of its rulers’ interests, all while reinstating the characteristic direct occupation of classical colonialism.
• The U.S. global strategy, which was formulated prior to September 11 2001, aims to maintain the existing unipolar world order, and to prevent the emergence of forces that would shift the balance of power towards multi-polarity. The U.S. administration has exploited the tragic events of September 11, under the pretext of fighting terrorism, to implement the pre-existing strategy. Attention to this global context helps explain current world developments:
• Prioritize the interest of monopolistic capitalist circles above those of the people, including Europeans and U.S. citizens.
• Integrate the economies of different countries into a single global capitalist economic system under conditions which undermine social development and adversely affect the situation of women, child health, education, and social services for the elderly. In addition, unemployment and poverty increase.
The last conference in 2009 was under the banner of ”The International Campaign Against Universal Imperialism and Zionism”. Its main slogan was “Pro-Resistance and Anti-Occupation with its crimes”, will be discussing a number of issues such as supporting the resistance, developing the struggle against the occupation of Iraq, confronting the racist policies of imperialist governments and issues against dictatorship and globalization in Egypt and the Arab world.
Workers’ Liberty’s comments on the 2003 Cairo Declaration, are relevant,
The Cairo Conference was convened by an organisation committed to the defence of the national security of Egypt. At best, the conference was financed by local businessmen. (At worst, the Iraqi government had a hand in funding it.) Those attending the conference including representatives of the Iraqi Baath regime, members of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood, a delegation from the Cuban Castroite regime, and various veteran Stalinists lamenting the collapse of the Soviet Union.
I will not go into the issue of Israel, or Stalinism.
The most important point is that they [the "left" supporters of the Cairo Conference/Declaration] aligned themselves with a section of the pious Egyptian bourgeoisie – with all its own financial and capitalist links with Gulf States.
The MB’s anti-globalisation and ‘anti-imperialism’ now stand as a cover for their promotion of their own religious-political national interests.
These interests are increasingly anti-democratic and anti-working class.
But will those in Britain who have worked with them draw a balance sheet?
It seems highly unlikely.
On the eve of the election this appeared on the Respect Site.
We are on the edge of a political earthquake in British politics. In polling conducted at the weekend, the Respect candidate in the Rotherham by-election, Yvonne Ridley, has the lead over Labour. Labour has panicked and launched a vicious and negative campaign of dirty tricks against Respect but this has been sidelined by our magnificent positive campaign with the Respect battle bus, advertizing truck and campaign groups in every ward.
Polling conducted in the Croydon North by-election suggests that Lee Jasper, the Respect candidate, is now neck and neck with the Labour Party to win the constituency.
This is what happened (including the Middlesbrough by-election),
“Labour has won three by-elections, holding Croydon North, Middlesbrough and Rotherham parliamentary seats.
It increased its share of the vote in all three seats, but its majority was down in Rotherham, where the previous MP had quit over expenses claims.
The UK Independence Party came second in Middlesbrough and Rotherham, and finished third in Croydon North.”
How did Respect fare?
|Rotherham by-election, 29 November 2012|
|English Democrats||David Wildgoose||703||3.30|
|Liberal Democrat||Michael Beckett||451||2.11||-13.87|
|Trade Unionist & Socialist||Ralph Dyson||261||1.22|
|no description||Clint Bristow||29||0.14|
|Croydon North by-election, 2012|
|Liberal Democrat||Marisha Ray||860||3.5||-10.5|
|Christian Peoples||Stephen Hammond||192||0.8||N/A|
|National Front||Richard Edmonds||161||0.7||N/A|
|Monster Raving Loony||John Cartwright||110||0.4||N/A|
|Nine Eleven Was An Inside Job||Simon Lane||66||0.3||N/A|
|Young People’s Party||Robin Smith||63||0.3||N/A|
This is a good thing.
That is despite (as Toby says) the fact that the Labour winners in Rotherham and Croydon are part of the hidebound right-wing of the party.
It is still an anti-Coalition result.
The sensation of these elections is of course the UKIP vote.
These ‘fascists in blazers’ are the weevils of the British politics.
What for the left?
TUSC (261, 1,22 % in Rotherham and 277, 1,6% in Middlesbrough) and the Communist Party (119 votes) did not do well at all.
Ridley’s votes (1,778, 8, 3,4%) are far too many for any socialist to rejoice about.
Somebody who says this, ““[Respect] is a Zionist-free party… if there was any Zionism in the Respect Party they would be hunted down and kicked out. We have no time for Zionists.” She explained that government support “goes towards that disgusting little watchdog of America that is festering in the Middle East”. She went on to attack the Tories and Lib Dems, saying that all the mainstream parties are “riddled with Zionists”” represents forces that have no part in the labour movement.
Still one cannot but smile as ‘Rapper Jasper’s’ result: a lost deposit.
And at the pitiful attempts to draw comfort from their result by Respect supporters (wonder how long this link will last before these ‘democrats’ take it down).
The obvious fact is that Respect have drawn from the old (and now unused) Liberal Democrats’ by-election strategy: publish boosting made-up door-step reports and ‘polls’ just before an election.
And the truly magnificent score of the Rotherham Liberal Democrats (2,11% below an Independent, 2,73%) brings a spring to the step.
As promised, Coatsey is on the ball with his analysis of the French Presidential election:
François Hollande: a socialist analysis:
“The only part of the so-called national wealth that actually enters into the collective possession of a modern nation is the national debt.”
Karl Marx. Capital. Vol. 1. Page 919.
“Enfin les difficultés commencent.”
Alexandre Bracke-Desrousseaux (SFIO) – Socialist Parliamentary Deputy. 1936.
I jumped, literally, for joy listening to the Exit Polls for the French Presidential election. That François Hollande won was more than a relief after so much tension during the campaign: it was elating. That Greece showed such a strong showing for anti-austerity parties, with the left bloc Syriza coming second, was a further boost. The sight of the celebrating crowds across France, the country at its forward-looking and generous best, will remain in the mind for a long time. It gave a fillip to the left in all Europe. Good on you!
The French Stock-Exchange, the Bourse, did not share this happiness. This morning we hear reports of plunges in share values. Is Hollande such a threat to Capital? Who is he, what are his politics, what policies will he pursue, and what are the implications for the left, French and European?
According to large parts of the British media François Hollande is ‘centre-left’. This is not a term much used in France. Others, more accurately, call him a ‘social democrat’. Does this mean, as Terra Nova’s spokesperson said, that the former Parti Socialiste’s General Secretary is a ‘moderniser’ of the stamp of Tony Blair, or Gordon Brown? That is somebody ready to wipe out the French version of Old Labour?
Nothing could be less sure. Talking with the philosopher-sociologist Edgar Morin in Saturday’s Le Monde (5.5.11) Hollande referred not to the ‘centre-gauche’ but to the Gauche. They discussed the “famille socialiste” (which for both includes a – 19th century – communist and libertarian component). Who were the thinkers and political actors who have inspired Hollande? He cites the influence of Marx’s analysis of capitalism (“utile pour comprendre ce qu’est le capitalisme”) even if the system has changed, Jean Jaurès for his synthesis of socialism and republicanism, the communist black poet, Aimé Césaire, Victor Hugo and Albert Camus. It would he hard to find a leader of the Labour Party, or any European third-way ‘moderniser’, with a parallel list of influences.
Second and First Lefts
Hollande’s social democracy has led some to say that he is the “spiritual son of Jacques Delors” and what is known in France as the “Second left”. This is the current of thought associated with one-time Prime Minister Michel Rocard (PM, 1988 – 1991), and the ex-Christian Trade Union, the CFDT (Confédération Démocratique du Travail). It was strongly opposed to the ‘Jacobin’ left tradition of reform from above. Embodied in, say, the French Socialist (and now ultra-republican), Jean-Pierre Chévènement this took the ‘battering ram’ approach to socialism, a parliamentary majority could thrust through a programme of radical reform (as the 1981 Projet Socialiste offered). The First left in reality was less of a trend of thought than a series of policies for socialism through Parliament that collapsed at the first sign of serious economic difficulty – as happened under Mitterrand in 1984.
The Second Left combined an ethical socialism indebted to the ‘personalism’, Catholic humanism, of Emmanuel Mounier and his journal Esprit (founded in the 1930s), and a belief in the central value of democracy. It was associated with support for decentralisation, and a degree of ‘self-management’ (worker participation, influenced by the Guild Socialism of G.D.H.Cole rather than Marxism or anarchism) in industry. Delors’s concern about budgetary probity and economic realism was combined with left-liberal values. It wanted to change people from below, (civil society) not by Parliamentary Acts. It petered out by the end of the 1980s (as Rocard became Prime Minister) as it too failed to change much in French society, and was unable to change a market society by moral example.
This stream of thought, influential in the 1980s, and present in the ‘anti-totalitarian’ left up till the 1990s, is dispersed today. It faded away as its moderation ebbed away into a diffuse enthusiasm for ‘modernisation’ and by-ways, such as the pro-enterprise Fondation Saint-Simon (whose closest present day offspring is Terra Nova). The present CFDT leader, François Chérèque is not associated with any strong ideology and Rocard is barely audible. Martine Aubry, the actual daughter of Delors, and identified with some of his ideas, lost out to Hollande in the Socialist ‘primaries’. Only in the vaguest sense is the President an inheritor, in his moderate ‘possibilism’ and scorn for sweeping, uncosted and not thought-out, reform. The sociologist Alain Tourraine, one of the last theorists connected to the Second Left, has nevertheless praised the President as the only person capable of combining support for “European construction” with social policies. (Le Monde. 26. 4.12). If this may be true it is also the case that almost the whole of the French left, including those hostile to the EU’s existing make-up and leadership (like Jean-Luc Mélenchon) equally share such an ambition.
Others say that Hollande combines the ‘First’ with the ‘Second left’. By this they refer to his praise for the last Socialist President, François Mitterrand (1991 – 1995), who was said to incarnate the former. Mitterrand however had a background in the ‘Parliamentarism’ of French ‘radical socialism’ (a name potentially misleading to English readers, it signified opposition to ‘revolution’ and owed the first term to 19thcentury British ‘radicals’ like Cobden and Bright). His Socialism, as for his radical allies, drew on the ideas of equality and social solidarity expounded by French novelists like George Sand and the later Victor Hugo, and ‘social republicanism, with some influence of Lois Blanc’s schemes for welfare and gradual socialisation. His reliance on state-led change was ‘reformism’ boiled down to agreements with parliamentary groupings, or, as the Socialists became the dominant force in the National Assembly, to deals between the party’s different leaders and tendencies.
Hollande’s debt to this approach to one aspect of the First Left is still important, though. It lies in his republicanism. In le Monde he argued strongly against Edgar Morin’s proposal that the word “multicultural” be put into the Constitution. “The word ‘multiculturalism’ creates ambiguities, it could indicate that we’re a society without common terms of reference. This doesn’t mean we should be indifferent to people’s origins, but that we have to make a Republic in which all citizens feel they are recognised. I prefer to reinforce Secularism (laïcité) in the Constitution because it’s a one of the important principles of freedom – every citizen, all religions – are treated in the same way – in fraternity. Secularism enables us to live together, with the same rights and responsibilities.” (5.5.12). This republican equality (the value that for Hollande is the ‘soul of France’) stands in sharp contrast to both Sarkozy’s efforts to attack immigrants, especially those of a Muslim background, and the British multicultural left’s attempts to play on religious difference. Its success was notable in the ‘mixed’ crowds, of every ethnic background, that celebrated Hollande’s victory.
Socialism, Hollande, has written, means putting capitalism in the service of social objectives. The Parti Socialiste dropped references to class struggle and a ‘break’ (rupture) with the market in the 1990s. But it did not become, as some on the left alleges, ‘social liberal’ on the model of New Labour. Nor do the categories of First and Second Left fit a world transformed, it is said, by ‘globalisation’. Neither state-run nor grass-roots initiatives alone could confront the altered world. It is this context which led the Socialists (influenced by the intellectual revival of the left in the late 1990s) to attack ‘finance’ and uncontrolled globalisation (Declaration of Principles. 2008). How the proposed to tackle it was through the European Union – an idea increasingly problematic as the EU itself began, critics asserted, to operate as a funnel for the interests of finance and global capital.
Speaking at Bourget in January this year Hollande identified finance capital as his principal foe, “Il n’a pas de nom, pas de visage, pas de parti, il ne prèsentera jamais sa candidature, il ne sera donc jamais élu. Cet adversaire, c’est le monde de la finance.” (It has no name, no face, no party, it will never stand for election, and hence it will never be elected. My main adversary is the world of financial world). In this vein the Presidential Candidate attacked the “excesses” of bankers’ pay, bonuses, and the profits that financial markets make. The framework which encourages profiteering, instability, restrains the wages of the ordinary people while putting pressure on states to cuts public spending, is a “construction politique” (le Monde. 5.5.12). The task is to change this structure. The problem is that financial markets do indeed have a face, including prominent former Labour party politicians, like Tony Blair and Peter Mandelson (now both well-paid rewarded of this world), whose actions have helped create the problems the French socialists face. **
Hollande offers only moderate measures to begin to fulfill the mission. Taxation of the wealthy, proposals to employ more, not fewer, teachers and front-line civil servants, appear modest enough. It is the challenge to European Union-led austerity is far more significant. Today we hear signs that this may be watered down, that a compromise may be reached with Germany, that the time is not ripe for confrontation. Yet it is what Marx called the debt’s position as a “collective possession” that is going to cause the main problems. A strategy for growth will not make this go away.
Jean-Luc Mélenchon left the Parti Socialiste and founded the Parti de gauche (PG) because of a previous failure to stand up against plans for Europe-wide fiscal controls in the referendum of 2008. His electoral score as the candidate for the Front de gauche in the first Presidential round two weeks ago, was, at 11%, less than hoped for, but a major advance on original projections (well below 5%). The European issue remains a live one, and will be raised again as we now move towards the Legislative Elections. A strong FdG vote could keep Hollande on course.
For the moment we simply send Hollande all our best wishes, with all our heart.
*La Deuxième gauche. H. Hamon, P.Rotman. Seuil. 1984. Esprit. Michel Winock. Seuil. 1996.
** Les marchés financiers ont un visage.Geoffery Geuens. Le Monde Diplomatique. Mai 2012.( Here.)
Note: Caroline Fourest is important in grasping the role of religion, ethnicity, race and secularism in the campaign. See her latest column D’une digue républicaine à l’autre. here.