With the rise of “anti-establishment”/”anti-politics” movements across Europe* (including UKIP in the UK and Grillo’s Five Star Movement in Italy), it’s probably a good idea to have a look at an earlier manifestation of this kind of populism: Pierre Poujade’s movement in 1950′s France. Note that as in the present case of Grillo, sections of the left were foolish enough to regard Poujardism as somehow progressive. These movements are, by their very nature, heterodox, incoherent and ideologically eclectic. But they are invariably economically protectionist, politically isolationist and racist to at least some degree. And whilst some workers may get involved, their core support is bourgeois and petty bourgeois. In Britain, the most prominent mainstream commentator to have come out in support of these movements is the Tory isolationist (often quoted with approval by the Stop The War Coalition) Simon Jenkins.
* The US Tea Party movement has many similarities, but is of course part of a mainstream bourgeois party.
The case-history of Poujadism
By Colin Foster
Among the most vigorous of populist movements in advanced capitalist countries since 1945 was the Poujadist movement, which flourished in France between 1954 and 1958. In January 1956, it won 53 seats, and 12% of the vote, in France’s parliamentary elections.
Pierre Poujade, the movement’s leader, is still alive and alert [he died on 27 August 2003 - JD] and hailed the hauliers’ fuel-tax movement this year as a vindication of his ideas. But Poujadism in its later years was fascist-coloured. Its best-known relict, Jean-Marie Le Pen, is today the leader of France’s fascist National Front. Since the hauliers’ and farmers’ fuel-tax movement was not fascist, that seems to rule out any relevance of Poujadist history to the fuel-tax movement, or to anything contemporary except fascism or near-fascism.
The story, however, is more complex. In its first years, until late 1955, the Poujadist movement ‘avoided any openly anti-worker or anti-communist attacks. It limited itself essentially to anti-capitalist demagogy’1. It was energetically supported by the Communist Party, and might never have succeeded in becoming a national movement without that CP support.
France has long had an exceptionally large class of small shopkeepers, self-employed craft workers, and small farmers. By 1956 it had nearly a million small shops – over twice the number in 1936 – and 61% of them had no hired labour. From 1954 the small shops went into decline. The end of rapid inflation and black markets, the rise of supermarkets, the beginnings of mass car ownership, and a tighter tax system all hit them.
Pierre Poujade ran a small stationery shop in the village of St-Cere, in Lot, south-west France. His father had been an architect and a member of the old fascist movement Action Franaise, but died when Pierre Poujade was eight, leaving the family to be brought up in poverty. Pierre Poujade became an apprentice typesetter, a vineyard worker, a tar-sprayer and a docker before finally buying his little shop. In the 1930s he had joined the youth group of the Doriot movement – set up by a Communist Party leader who defected to form a breakaway group, at first leftist and then fascist – but he fought in the Resistance. One of his themes, later, would be that the Resistance had liberated France in 1945; now his movement would liberate the French people.
In 1952 Poujade was elected to the St-Cere town council on the ticket of the RPF, the movement set up in 1947 by General De Gaulle as a vehicle to return him to power. But in May 1953 De Gaulle, deciding that the time had not yet come, effectively dissolved the RPF. That created a political gap which the Poujadists would fill. De Gaulle’s return to power, in the coup of May 1958, would finish them off as an effective movement.
In July 1953, another member of the St-Cere town council, Fregeac, a Communist, warned Poujade that tax inspectors were arriving in the village the next day. Poujade and Fregeac called an emergency meeting of shopkeepers at the town hall, and organised enough resistance to drive the tax-inspectors out of town.
Poujade decided to build a movement. This was long before the Internet or mobile phones. Poujade had contacts outside St-Cere from a previous job as a travelling salesman, and set out in his van to visit them. As the movement developed, he came to rely heavily on ‘an admirably well-chosen category of tradespeople: hauliers and truck-drivers’, to act as travelling missionaries for his movement2.
Poujade deliberately limited himself to demands for lighter taxes and claimed to speak for all ordinary people – irrespective of class or political identity – against a tiny handful of swindlers in big business and big government. even in posters for the 1956 election, by which time the Poujadist movement had become much more clearly right-wing, that was the main message.
‘If you are against being strangled by taxes, against the exploitation of man by man – arise! Against the monopolies, owing allegiance to no nation, who ruin you and reduce you to subjection. Against the electoral monopolies, who cheat with your votes. Against the gang of exploiters who live from your labour and your savings… Rebel! Like you, we want justice. Fiscal justice for the taxpayers; social justice for the workers’.
Small shopkeepers and small business owners responded. The movement was boosted by a series of acts of resistance to tax inspectors and bailiffs like St-Cere’s.
In this period ‘Poujade not only received but also accepted the support of the Communists’ because in many areas they were ‘the only people able to offer him cadres’3 and the best people to offer him press publicity. Often Communist Party members took leading local positions in Poujade’s movement, the UDCA (Union for the Defence of Traders and Craft Workers; it would later be renamed UFF, French Unity and Fraternity). In his speeches Poujade celebrated his first alliance with Fregeac as the model for how his movement could represent tradespeople across all political lines. The Communist Party saw a success for their strategy of ‘popular front’ or ‘anti-monopoly alliance’. On the occasion of Poujade’s first mass meeting in Paris, in July 1954, the Communist paper L’Humanite praised the town councillors of St-Cere for uniting across political lines to raise ‘the banner of the struggle against fiscal injustice’. ‘Today there are tens and tens of thousands, who do not question each others’ opinions but who unite regardless of other issues to act as those of St-Cere did. Quite naturally, the ‘movement of St-Cere’ has snowballed everywhere…’
The CP found its alliance with the UDCA useful in factional battle against the Socialist Party, which opposed the Poujadists; and hoped that by adroit ‘entry work’ it could make the Poujadist movement an annexe to its own. However, the CP soon found that the Poujadist nest was one where no working-class cuckoo could prosper. Its petty bourgeois class base was too strong a shaping factor.
The Communist Party finally came out against Poujade in October 1955. Soon they were denouncing him as ‘Poujadolf’.
Meanwhile Poujade built his movement with a hectic series of public meetings and a campaign of harassment of members of Parliament. When Pierre Mendes-France, prime minister from June 1954 to January 1956, tried to contribute to the fight against alcoholism by making a public point of choosing milk as a drink, Poujade went wild against him for insulting France’s wine and champagne. Poujade’s campaign against Mendes-France, who was Jewish, had anti-semitic overtones. Algeria’s war for independence from France started in November 1954, and as it escalated, keeping Algeria and the French empire in general became a bigger and bigger theme for the Poujadists. They squared it with their ‘non-political’ stance by claiming ‘a sort of equivalence between the humiliation of shopkeepers threatened with proletarianisation, and that of the nation, reduced to the rank of a fourth or fifth rate power’4.
In June 1955 Poujade sought higher ground by adding to his movement’s limited programme of tax reform the call for an estates-General, explicitly modelled on the representative body convened by the King in 1789 which started the French Revolution. Meetings in each district should compile the people’s demands and mandate their delegates to the estates-General, which would replace the rotten parliamentarians and ensure a ‘return to the basic principles of the Republic, to the people’. Nothing much came of the meetings, but the agitation was enough to gain the Poujadists their 53 seats in the January 1956 election.
It also helped Poujade keep his politics vague and catch-all. The programme was to be defined by the future estates-General, not by him. In this period, however, Poujadism became more fascistic in its attitude to the trade unions.
Up to late 1955, Poujade had claimed to be friendly to the trade unions. Now he proposed to replace them by a Workers’ Union tied to his movement. ‘For us it is a question of breaking down the political compartmentalisations of trade-unionism by means of the Union [his Union] and thus realising the unity of the workers on the national level… Our Unions are not a trade-union, their aim is to absorb all the trade unions into themselves… If the union headquarters can not fuse with us, well, we will bypass them… We will leave those who have not accepted our course to perish, because they will no longer represent anything’.5
The Poujadists made a point, in the same period, of actively supporting some workers’ strikes – organising shopkeepers’ strikes in solidarity, or giving material aid – but with the aim of tying workers in to a movement led by the petty bourgeoisie. For them, the petty bourgeoisie were the authentic leaders of the people. Positioned centrally at the ‘crossroads’ of all classes, they were also ‘the last possessors of a particle of liberty, and they will take advantage of it to extend it to all’. ‘Worker of France!’, they appealed, ‘now that this magnificent struggle is joined, of the small people against the predators, do not forget that our interest is yours’. Because, ‘what is your ideal? To have your own little business, your very own. The workshop, the small industry: that is how workers can get on’.6
The evolution of Poujadism, despite all the efforts of the Communist Party to annex it to the labour movement, shows that it is a snare for workers to think that supporting the sectional movements of small capital can bring us socialist advance by a short-cut. As the French Trotskyists commented, looking back in 1961: ‘One of the greatest faults of… the Communist Party’s policy towards the small tradespeople and peasants was to conduct themselves as… pseudo-defenders of the small business and the little landholding. It was necessary, in the best Marxist tradition, to explain to those social layers that under the capitalist regime they are odiously expropriated by big capital, the banks and the monopolies, that social progress does not permit the conservation of these outdated forms, and that workers’ power would assure them a transition without coercion towards socialism’7.
1. Les Bandes Armees du Pouvoir 1 (Ligue Communiste pamphlet), p.22
2. Stanley Hoffman, Le Mouvement Poujade, p.31
3. Hoffman, p.28.
4. Hoffman, p.99
5. Hoffman, p.101
6. Hoffman, p.231, p.256
7. Jean-Marie Brohm and others, Le gaullisme, et apres, p.197
Above : Grillo chats to CasaPound. See comment #5 below for a translation
Letter in the Graun:
• I challenge the assertion that Beppe Grillo’s Five Star Movement poses an alternative to the dogma of austerity. Following the ex-comedian’s friendly televised meeting with the fascist CasaPound group, his calls for trade unions to be “wiped out”, and his complaints about migrant communities settling in Italy, it should be obvious that the large M5S vote is small-minded and defeatist, rather than some new voice of hope for the working class and poor. Italy may be driving in the wrong direction, but this “fuck everything” demagogue trying to grasp at the steering wheel does no favours to those on the receiving end of austerity.
Astonishingly, the SWP think Grillo’s success is a victory for the left…
…while Counterfart can scarcely contain their enthusiasm and object to the use of the ”condescending” word “populist” in descriptions of Grillo and his movement.
Comedian Beppe Grillo’s Five Star Movement seems likely to do well in the Italian general election today and tomorrow. They may well win over 100 seats – sufficient to cause gridlock in the Italian lower house and senate, or a weak coalition likely to collapse within months. The Five Star Movement (Movemento Cinque Stelle or M5S) has not received much coverage in the British media, which is much more interested in the antics of Silvio Berlusconi. Today’s Observer carries an uncritical article that portrays Grillo and his followers as ”anti-politics” populists of a democratic, even somewhat leftist, bent. But Toby Abse, writing in the present issue of the AWL’s Solidarity, paints a very different picture:
Italy’s new right
The general election of 24-25 February will see the arrival in Italy’s parliament of a large contingent from a new political movement, the Five Star Movement (Movimento Cinque Stelle or M5S) of the 64-year-old comedian Beppe Grillo.
This new entry will closely parallel the arrival of the Lega Nord in the Italian parliament of 1992. M5S represents an attack on the major political parties and the traditional political class (what the Italians call la casta) and M5S is an attack from the right, not from the left.
Many have perceived Grillo as a figure of the left because of his involvement with earlier anti-Berlusconi movements and demonstrations (such as V Day, V2 Day and No Cav Day), his use of new social media, and his espousal of a horizontalist rhetoric.
Grillo appeared to be aligned with such movements as Popolo Viola (the Purple People) and Se Non Ora Quando? (If not now, when? — a feminist movement that campaigned against Berlusconi’s sexism), which have also used social media to bypass Berlusconi’s near-stranglehold over the mainstream television channels.
Grillo has a good stance on environmental issues and has close links with the No Tav movement against the projected high speed rail link between Lyons and Turin, a movement more usually associated with the radical left.
The rise of Grillo and of such “horizontalist” movements as the Popolo Viola in 2010-11 was a consequence of the ineffectual opposition to Berlusconi by the “post-communist” Partito Democratico della Sinistra/Democratici di Sinistra/Partito Democratico (PDS/DS/PD) and the implosion of Rifondazione Comunista in 2008 in the wake of its disastrous decision to participate at cabinet level in the 2006-8 Prodi government.
However, beneath the superficially attractive surface, is a rightwing demagogue whose movement’s structures are as top-down and as authoritarian as the Lega Nord in the heyday of Umberto Bossi.
Grillo has publicly opposed the granting of Italian citizenship to the children of immigrants and proclaimed his willingness to work with CasaPound, an extremely violent neo-Nazi movement whose rules require all its members to read Mein Kampf but never to deny the Holocaust on Facebook.
CasaPound has a record of murderous attacks on black people — although it tried to distance itself from a member or ex-member who went on a killing spree against Senegalese in Florence — and recently mounted a premeditated physical attack on an election candidate of the radical left Rivoluzione Civile in the Lazio region.
In the course of the general election campaign, Grillo has expressed the view that there is no need for trade unions, provided workers are represented on company boards.
It is misguided to see Grillo’s call for Italy’s exit from the eurozone and return to the lira as progressive. It is all part of a xenophobic package in which “the Germans” rather than Angela Merkel are the object of attack. It presupposes a return to protectionism and competitive devaluations which may be in the interest of certain sections of Italian capital — especially small businesses of the kind that sympathised with the Lega Nord — but are contrary to the interests of the Italian working class, whose real wages would fall even further than they already have over the last decade.
For all its faults, Rivoluzione Civile, an electoral cartel that includes Rifondazione Comunista and the Italian Green Party, represents the only serious electoral opposition to the austerity imposed by the 13 months of Monti’s technocratic government, a government which enjoyed the support of both the PD and Berlusconi for all its anti-working class measures.
Voting for M5S to attack La Casta in 2013 is like voting for the Lega Nord in 1992-94 in response to Tangentopoli: a rightist, xenophobic, racist response to a real crisis of the system.
(NB: More excellent coverage of the Italian election over at Tendance Coatsey)
We’re not noted for our sports coverage here at Shiraz (though we did, briefly, have a football correspondent), but the following report from The Times of Israel, was just too good to ignore:
The improbable Jewish ‘heritage’ of Italy’s Ghana-born goal-scoring eccentric
Mario Balotelli, the black Italian soccer star whose goals have fired Italy into the final of the Euro 2012 soccer championships on Sunday, was raised by a Jewish Italian foster mother from the age of three.
The eccentric, talented, headline-making forward, who was born Mario Barwuah to immigrants from Ghana in Palermo, rushed over to embrace his foster mother, Silvia Balotelli, after Thursday’s win over Germany, which was secured by two Balotelli goals, had given Italy a place in Sunday’s final against Spain.
Along with other members of the Italian team, Balotelli had visited Auschwitz earlier this month before the start of the tournament, which is being co-hosted by Poland, and he was reportedly the player most affected by the visit.
According to a Radio Netherlands report earlier this week, Balotelli sat down alone on the train tracks at the death camp, staring silently ahead. “A while later, he tells his team-mates about a box of letters that his Jewish adoptive mother kept underneath her bed. He had never told anyone.”
Some neo-Nazi groups, in Italy and beyond, who had already been abusing the player because he is black, are now also targeting him for his Jewish “ancestry.” One racist on an extremist web-site, Stormfront, wrote recently: “Balotelli’s black and he’s Jewish. He should play for Israel, not Italy.”
Balotelli, 21, was one of four children born to Christian parents Thomas and Rose Barwuah, immigrants from Ghana. He suffered with life-threatening health issues, requiring frequent intestinal surgery, and his poor health put a heavy strain on his already impoverished family. After they sought state assistance following a move to Milan, the authorities suggested he be placed into foster care, according to the Radio Netherlands report, which is partly based on his biological parents’ account:
“That’s how Mario Barwuah came into contact with the Balotellis” — Francesco and Silvia – ”a white family who lived in a villa in a small nearby village. At first, he stayed at the Balotellis during the week and returned to his family on weekends. But after a while things changed. Mario started to treat his (biological) parents with indifference. Ultimately, he took his weekday family’s surname.”
When he became successful as a soccer player, his biological parents sought to re-enter his life, but Balotelli rejected them as “glory hunters.”
Despite his unpromising health and complex family background, Balotelli proved to be a soccer prodigy, becoming the youngest player ever to play in Italy’s third division, at age 15, and ultimately impressing as a player for top Italian side Inter Milan. He then moved to England’s Manchester City, with whom he won the Premier League title this past season.
At the same time, he has been a figure of controversy, ridicule and affection over the years — sporting eccentric hair-styles, once having his UK home set on fire by errant fireworks, and being sent off intermittently for undisciplined behavior on the field.
At the Euro championships, however, he has been one of the players of the tournament. As regards racist abuse, his coach Cesare Prandelli said this week: “This is a social problem. If Mario gets any problem, I’ll hug him on the pitch.”
Prandelli has had his difficulties with Balotelli too, dropping him from one of the tournament’s earlier games, but his performance against Germany seems certain to ensure he’ll play in the final.
The player described the victory against Germany as “the most wonderful night of my life so far,” adding, “but I hope Sunday is even better.”
Dedicating his goals to “my mother,” who had come from Italy to watch him play, Balotelli said: ”At the end of the game when I went to my mother, that was the best moment. I told her these goals were for her. I waited a long time for this moment, especially as my mother is not young anymore and can’t travel far, so I had to make her happy when she came all the way here. My father will be in Kiev for the final too.”
P.S: Damn! I’ve just noticed that ‘That Place’ has beaten me to the story by a whisker…