Guest post by Pink Prosecco
Peter Tatchell is an admirable man who has campaigned bravely on LGBT rights and many other issues. However I cannot agree with the thrust of this post, recently published in Gay London. To summarise, he regrets the way in which the LGBT community has retreated from ‘radical idealism to cautious conformism’. He wishes instead that LGBT campaigners questioned the institution of the family and were generally less bourgeois, and complains that more timid types only jumped on the LGBT bandwagon when it was safe to do so.
But this can be turned round I think. One might conjecture that the handful of LBGT men and women who were prepared to campaign and be visible forty years ago were unusually independent and tough minded. They were perhaps thus also more inclined to be non-conformist and politically radical in ways that went beyond sexual orientation.
I should note at this point that the ‘pink’ in ‘pink prosecco’ only references my slightly sub-shirazian shade of politics. However personally I don’t see why LGBT people should be expected to be any more or less radical than anyone else. It’s a sign of progress not regression that people who are dull, or disagreeably right wing, are as happy to identify as LGBT as creative, radical, edgy types. Peter concludes:
“The unwritten social contract at the heart of the recent campaigns for LGBT law reform is that gay people should behave respectably. No more cruising, orgies or bondage. In return, the ‘good gays’ will be rewarded with equal treatment. The ‘bad gays’, who fail to conform to conventional morality will, of course, remain sexual outlaws. Is that what we want? A prescriptive moralism that penalises non-conformists within our own community?”
But why should bondage and a rejection of conventional morality be seen as LGBT specific issues?
In view of the recent denunciations of both Richard Seymour and Laurie Penny for (alleged) offences against so-called so-called “intersectionality” (excellent description and analysis here), and the rise within sections of the left of this kind of vindictive ultra identity politics, this recent article by Michelle Goldberg at The Nation gives some timely background. As always, when we re-blog an article from elsewhere, it should not be assumed that Shiraz agrees with every last dot and comma:
Above: if only it were that simple…
Feminism’s Toxic Twitter Wars
In the summer of 2012, twenty-one feminist bloggers and online activists gathered at Barnard College for a meeting that would soon become infamous. Convened by activists Courtney Martin and Vanessa Valenti, the women came together to talk about ways to leverage institutional and philanthropic support for online feminism. Afterward, Martin and Valenti used the discussion as the basis for a report, “#Femfuture : Online Revolution,” which called on funders to support the largely unpaid work that feminists do on the Internet. “An unfunded online feminist movement isn’t merely a threat to the livelihood of these hard-working activists, but a threat to the larger feminist movement itself,” they wrote.
#Femfuture was earnest and studiously politically correct. An important reason to put resources into online feminism, Martin and Valenti wrote, was to bolster the voices of writers from marginalized communities. “Women of color and other groups are already overlooked for adequate media attention and already struggle disproportionately in this culture of scarcity,” they noted. The pair discussed the way online activism has highlighted the particular injustices suffered by transgender women of color and celebrated the ability of the Internet to hold white feminists accountable for their unwitting displays of racial privilege. “A lot of feminist dialogue online has focused on recognizing the complex ways that privilege shapes our approach to work and community,” they wrote.
The women involved with #Femfuture knew that many would contest at least some of their conclusions. They weren’t prepared, though, for the wave of coruscating anger and contempt that greeted their work. Online, the Barnard group—nine of whom were women of color—was savaged as a cabal of white opportunists. People were upset that the meeting had excluded those who don’t live in New York (Martin and Valenti had no travel budget). There was fury expressed on behalf of everyone—indigenous women, feminist mothers, veterans—whose concerns were not explicitly addressed. Some were outraged that tweets were quoted without the explicit permission of the tweeters. Others were incensed that a report about online feminism left out women who aren’t online. “Where is the space in all of these #femfuture movements for people who don’t have internet access?” tweeted  Mikki Kendall, a feminist writer who, months later, would come up with the influential hashtag #solidarityisforwhitewomen .
Martin was floored. She’s long believed that it’s incumbent on feminists to be open to critique—but the response was so vitriolic, so full of bad faith and stubborn misinformation, that it felt like some sort of Maoist hazing. Kendall, for example, compared #Femfuture to Rebecca Latimer Felton, a viciously racist Southern suffragist who supported lynching because she said it protected white women from rape. “It was really hard to engage in processing real critique because so much of it was couched in an absolute disavowal of my intentions and my person,” Martin says.
Beyond bruised feelings, the reaction made it harder to use the paper to garner support for online feminist efforts. The controversy was all most people knew of the project, and it left a lasting taint. “Almost anyone who asks us about it wants to know what happened, including editors that I’ve worked with,” says Samhita Mukhopadhyay, an activist and freelance writer who was then the editor of Feministing.com. “It’s like you’ve been backed into a corner.”
Though Mukhopadhyay continues to believe in the empowering potential of online feminism, she sees that much of it is becoming dysfunctional, even unhealthy. “Everyone is so scared to speak right now,” she says. Read the rest of this entry »
I was going to put a question-mark at the end of that headline, but on reflection decided not to. I think we can be unequivocal about this.
When I was a callow young Trotskyist and James P. Cannon fan, older, more experienced comrades told me that Cannon’s organisation, the American SWP (no relation to the Brit group of the same name) had gone off the rails very badly in the 1950′s, when Cannon began to take a back seat and handed the reins over to lesser figures like Joseph Hansen. Evidence of this petty bourgeois degeneration, I was told, was a ludicrous faction fight over the question of women’s cosmetics that threatened to tear the SWP apart. In the end, good ol’ James P. came out of semi-retirement to bang heads together and tell Hansen and the comrades to get a grip and stop arguing about such irrelevant nonsense. Anyway, that’s how I remember being told about it.
As you can imagine, I never (until now) took the trouble to investigate the matter in any detail, but if you’re interested, quite a good account is given here, and you can even read some of the contemporaneous internal documents here, if you scroll down to No. A-23, October 1954. On the other hand, like myself when I was first told about the Great Cosmetics Faction Fight (GCFF), you may feel that life’s too short…
The point being, that I’ve always carried round in the back of my mind a vague recollection of the GCFF as a prime example of petty bourgeois leftist irrelevance, and probably the most ridiculous and laughable left-group factional dispute of all time.
The recent row within the International Socialist Network, resulting in the resignations of some of its most prominent members, makes the SWP’s GCFF look quite down to earth and sensible. If you ever wanted an example of why serious, socialist-inclined working class people all too often regard the far left as a bunch of irrelevant, posturing tossers, this is it. Don’t ask me what it’s all about, or what “race play” is. Comrade Coatesy gives some helpful background here and here. More detail for the serious connoisseur (aka “more discerning customer” wink, wink, reaching under the counter) here and here.
I’ll simply add, for now, that this preposterous business does appear to be genuine (rather than, as some might reasonably suspect, an exercise in sitautionist performance art and/or anti-left political satire) and is also one of those rather pleasing situations in which no-one in their right mind cares who wins: both sides are unspeakably awful self-righteous jerks. Actually, the ISN majority strike me as, if anything, even worse than Seymour, Miéville and their friend “Magpie” – if that’s possible. Still, it’s hard not to endulge in just a little schadenfreude at the discomfiture of Richard “Partially Contingent” Seymour, a character who’s made a minor career out of sub-Althussarian pretentiousness and “anathematising” others on the left for their real or imagined transgressions against “intersectionality“, and now falls victim to it himself.
Those who live by intersectionality, die by intersectionality.
Or, as Seymour himself put it in his seminal postgraduate thesis Patriarchy and the capitalist state:
“My suggestion is that as an analytic, patriarchy must be treated as one type of the more general phenomena of gender projects which in certain conjunctures form gender formations. What is a gender formation? I am drawing a direct analogy with Omi and Winant’s conception of racial formations, which comprises “the sociohistorical process by which racial categories are created, inhabited, transformed, and destroyed … historically situated projects in which human bodies and social structures are represented and organized.” This is connected “to the evolution of hegemony, the way in which society is organized and ruled,” in the sense that racial projects are linked up with wider repertoires of hegemonic practices, either enabling or disrupting the formation of broad ruling or resistant alliances. A gender formation would thus be a ’sociohistorical process’ in which gender categories are ‘created, inhabited, transformed, and destroyed’ through the interplay and struggle of rival gender projects. From my perspective, this has the advantage of grasping the relational, partially contingent and partially representational nature of gendered forms of power, and providing a means by which patriarchy can indeed be grasped in relation to historical materialism.”
As a keen follower of structuralism, post-structuralism and other post-modern banality and pretentiousness, I’ve noted the increasing use of the word “intersectionality” (often accompanied by the exhortation “check your privilege”) throughout 2013. ‘Sarka’, a BTL commenter at That Place, wrote the following (which I found very useful, and reproduce below without permission). As usual, when we reblog a piece, it should go without saying that we don’t necessarily agree with all of it:
“Intersectionism” is one of those tiresome constructs that are either just cumbersome names for the obvious (even if we confine ourselves to viewing the social order just in terms of positive/negative relative privilege, it is clear that in any complex society more than one criteria is at work, and these “ïntersect” or at least interact…see my old hands of cards dealt to individuals simile) or else if explicitly or implicitly assigned more explanatory content, they are very dubious….
E.g. in the Graun article on “intersectionalism” much was made of the “huge explanatory power”of the thing….WTF? Surely only to people so mentally challenged that it has never struck them before that being e.g. female and gay, or disabled and black and poor, may multiply relative disadvantage Duh – as you Americans so irritatingly say, Go figure! No shit Sherlock! And wouldn’t that be characterisation rather than…er…explanatory power?
But obviously when apparently reasonably intelligent people make totems out of truisms something more is going on than the belated growth of two brain cells to rub together.
Here – to be very crude – the elevation of the truism is cover for a) the activity (well described by you, elsewhere) of establishing and adjusting competition in victimhood hierarchies, or indeed the apparently zero-sum victimhood market, and b) despite the apparently differentiating dynamic of intersectionality (it seems to admit the existence of different forms of oppression), it enables some supposed – usually very very thin – unity of all the variously oppressed against their oppressing oppressors, conceived (by their aggregate privilege!) to be responsible for the whole bang caboodle of oppression..Or alternatively – blacks used to blame whites, feminists used to blame men, the poor used to blame the rich, gays the straights etc etc… but rather than pulling these strands of oppression apart, “ïntersectionality” tangles them all together again….Suggesting that the fault is in the aggregate: it is white, western, straight, male, rich people who are ultimately responsible for every form of oppression, and every form of oppression is – though separate – ultimately traceable to the same source.
Hence it is a faux pas, e.g. to criticise brown people, especially poor ones, for oppressive behaviour to women or gays, for they are not the real source of the trouble…which can only lie with any with a greater aggregate of trump cards in their hands.
This is what [Laurie] Penny laughably thinks of as “structural explanation” – which in another guise presents itself as the (essentially wilfiully paralysed) position that no kind of injustice or oppression can be addressed unless ALL injustice or oppression is addressed…
Today’s Graun carries an editorial about a man who wrote some fine music but who was (to be charitable) an idiot when it came to politics. Maybe because his execrable political opinions quite resemble those of many Graun journalists and (no doubt) readers, it’s an almost laughable piece of hagiography:
Benjamin Britten at 100: voice of the century
Above all, he was the writer of music that still thrills because of its toughness, beauty, originality and quality
Imagine an English classical music composer who is so famous in his own lifetime that his name is known throughout the country, who is the first British composer to end his life as a peer of the realm, a composer from whom the BBC uniquely commissions a prime-time new opera for television, and whose every important new premiere is a national event, a recording of one of which – though it is 90 minutes long – sells 200,000 copies almost as soon as it is released, and a musician whose death leads the news bulletins and the front pages.
Next, imagine an English classical composer who is a gay man when homosexuality is still illegal, who lives and writes at an angle to the world, who can compose strikingly subversive music, who is passionately anti-war, so much so that he escapes to America as the second world war threatens, who is in many ways a man of the left, certainly an anti-fascist, certainly a believer in the dignity of labour, as well as a visitor to the Soviet Union and a lifelong supporter of civil liberties causes.
Now, imagine an English composer who in many estimations is simply the most prodigiously talented musician ever born in this country, who wrote some of the deepest and most rewarding scores of the 20th century, who set the English language to music more beautifully than anyone before or since, who almost single-handedly created an English operatic tradition and who, all his life, saw it as his responsibility to write music, not just for the academic priesthood or for the music professionals but for the common people, young and old, of his country.
Benjamin Britten, who was born in Lowestoft 100 years ago, was not just some of those multifarious things. He was all of them. And he was much more besides – including a wonderful pianist, the founder of the Aldeburgh Festival, and arguably the 20th century composer who is best served by his own extensive legacy in the recording studio. He was also, as many have written, a difficult and troubled man – even at times a troubling one.
Above all, he was the writer of music that still thrills because of its toughness, beauty, originality and quality. In his 1964 Aspen lecture, Britten said: “I do not write for posterity.” In fact, he did. In his lecture he said he wanted his music to be useful – a noble aim for an artist. He said he did not write for pressure groups, snobs or critics. He wrote, he said, as a member of society. His job was to write music that would inspire, comfort, touch, entertain and “even educate” his fellows. Britten spoke – and composed – as a serious man of his serious time. Impressively, much of that endures. If we seem today to have let some of Britten’s ideals slip, that may say more about our shortcomings as a culture than about Britten’s greatness and achievement, then and now.
Bearing in mind that “visitor to the Soviet Union” is Grauniad-speak for “willfully blind apologist for mass-murder”, just how many non-sequiturs can you spot in the following:
“…passionately anti-war, so much so that he escapes to America as the second world war threatens, who is in many ways a man of the left, certainly an anti-fascist, certainly a believer in the dignity of labour, as well as a visitor to the Soviet Union and a lifelong supporter of civil liberties causes” ..?
Having watched, pondered and re-watched Paxman’s interview with comedian Russell Brand on last night’s Newsnight, I’m still not sure what to make of it. My initial response was that Brand is a pretentious, incoherent idiot, spouting a lot of pseudo-revolutionary hot air and half-digested anarchistic platitudes. But several people I’ve spoken to today told me they were impressed by him. So I’ve watched it again and have to admit that, after a facetious start, he becomes more sympathetic as he gets angrier. But I still think he’s a prat – and a banal prat at that – and wonder what the hell the New Statesman is playing at, hiring him as a guest editor this week.
Judge for yourself…
…and feel free to let us know what you think.
Above: Victoria shares a ‘Counterfire’ platform with fellow apologist and Guardianista, Shameless
The pro-Islamist Grauniad has carried some shameful and idiotic articles over the years, from the like of ‘Mad’ Maddie Bunting, Shameless Milne and Jonathan Stalinist. At one point the Graun even employed a member of Hizb ut- Tahrir as a trainee journalist, and published his filthy opinions without noticing anything wrong, until his politics were exposed.
But today’s article by Victoria Brittain, defending the racist homophobe and misogynist Abu Qatada (aka Omar Othman), must take the biscuit. Oh, but Mr Othman is an intellectual who wrote books in prison (Hitler did the same as I recall):
Our security services and politicians turned this man into an Islamic counter-terrorism myth. If instead they had chosen to talk to him, as I have many times, they would have found that the man behind the myth is a scholar with wide intellectual and cultural interests. He wrote books while he was in prison. His home is filled with books. His children have excelled at school, with help and encouragement from his daily phone calls from prison.
Victoria Brittain is certainly an idiot. Whether she’s a useful one is very much a matter of opinion.
Just so we know what we’re up against…
Below is what the Blairite scum are thinking, including their plan to help the Tories’ campaign to make Labour unelectable unless the union link is broken:
Above: Blair and acolyte Tessa Jowell
By Philip Collins (The Times, July 5):
Who is the next person in the following sequence and why does it matter? Thomas Johnston, Alfred Balfour, William Baxter, Dennis Canavan, Eric Joyce. It matters because the identity of the nest Labour MP for what is now the constituency of Falkirk has become a grave test of Ed Miliband’s leadership.
Labour’s lead has drifted down in recent weeks. The public is resilient on the reality of austerity. The economy is slumbering back to growth and George Osborne, the Michael Fish of economic forecasting, remains ahead of Ed Balls as a credible chancellor. Then, at PMQ’s [last] week, David Cameron battered Mr Miliband about the Unite union’s attempt to fix the selection [for] the new MP for Falkirk.
There are two huge obstacles in the way of Mr Miliband becoming Prime Minister and they are dramatized together in the obscure shenanigans in Falkirk. The first is that he has not persuaded the electorate that he cuts it as a leader. The second is that he is not trusted with the public finances or thought to understand the need for fiscal discipline. If the evil ghosts of Tory central office were themselves drafting the script to show Labour at its worst they could do no better than to portray Mr Miliband [as] losing control of his party to a public sector union that demands there be no more cuts.
It is all very well for Mr Miliband to say, as he often has, that he is not the sort of leader who wishes to pick a fight with his party. He seems, though, not to have realised that his party, or at least that section of it that gave him his victory over his brother, is picking a fight with him. This is not an arcane internal dispute. It is a toxic story for Labour and Mr Miliband has to stamp on it at once. Focus groups now talk about the Labour Party as if new Labour were a mirage. The image they offer is the pre-Blair default setting of an assembly of losers.
The resignation … of Tom Watson MP, from the Shadow Cabinet was a small gift to the good people.. It was dispiriting that, according to Mr Watson, Mr Miliband at first refused to accept his resignation. Mr Watson should never have been close to the Shadow Cabinet in the first place. he is too divisive a figure, too closely associated with Len McCluskey, the general secretary of Unite, with whom he once shared a flat. Whenever a dog barked in the night of Labour politics, one thought always occurred: Mr Watson, I presume.
The fake jocularity of Mr Watson’s resignation letter (the written equivalent of a Mickey Mouse tie) was an attempt to pretend he wants to spend more time at music festivals but the reference to Falkirk suggests that Mr Watson finally sensed that the walls were coming in on activities known about but [that] few have been prepared to voice. However, the control that Unite exercises over parliamentary selections will not cease just because Mr Watson no longer has to spend his Tuesday morning in Shadow Cabinet listening to Stephen Twigg not quite being in favour of free schools.
The leak of the Unite stategy document from January 2012 has given the game away. Unite’s plan is to counter-attack its own party, to make it more class-bound, more expressly left-wing. It is a strategy of the most monumental electoral stupidity, as if the only thing that forced 37 per cent of the nation to vote Tory in 2010 was the absence of a wildly left-wing alternative. The plan will proceed, as in Falkirk, by fixing the selections for Unite candidates.
The specious Unite defence of its conduct is that it wishes to see more working-class people in Parliament. In truth, Unite operates an ideological test as well as a class identity test. I doubt today’s equivalent of Ernest Bevin would pass the ideological examination. There would be no place for Alun Milburn or Alan Johnson, working class men who don’tthink in the straight line required.
The truth is that those who would wield power without intelligence do not want free-thinking original working-class people, of whom I am sure there are plenty who do need to be brought through the system. They want people who will understand that trade union sponsorship comes at the price of complete loyalty. Above even the desire to defend every perk and privilege of the public sector or to install an aimless form of class politics, what they most want is to be in charge. Like most control freaks, what they do with the power is by no means the whole point. It’s not enough for them to tell labour what to do. They want to be there, in control.
Mr Miliband will not stop this just by his belated action in ordering an investigation into Falkirk and preventing unions from paying in bulk for members. he needs to escalate the row and he needs to win. Ever since the Osborne Judgement of 1909, there has been an argument about the political levy that trade unions charge their members to fund the Labour Party. It is safe to say that Unite does not exactly rush to advertise the political levy. Labour has always wanted the political levy to be paid until people make a conscious choice to opt out. Successive Tory governments have said that members really ought to be forced to opt in.
A Labour leader confident of ruling his own party — and a Labour leader who does not have that confidence will never command the country — should make trade unionists who tick the box full individual members of the party, each with a vote in [the] leadership elections. That would break the power of the big barons, because affiliation fees would then come from individual Labour party members, not the union. The threat to withdraw the fees would no longer be meaningful.
The consequence of not acting is dismal. Labour cannot win an election projecting this sense of itself. And the Unite control of candidates is filling up the green benches with clones of Alfred Balfour, Labour MP in what is now Falkirk from 1945 to 1959. During his first eight years as an MP, Balfour did not utter a word. When he finally broke his silence he said simply: “People get up here from time to time and keep us here for hours on end, and I have said what’s the use of inflicting another torture upon the House? In the further six years he served, he never spoke again. A similar period of silence on Unite’s part would be appreciated. It’s time for Ed Miliband to speak.
Another media Blairite boasts of “My part in [Tom Watson's] downfall
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 following article is from 2000, when British self-employed hauliers and farmers were staging militant direct action against price rises for petrol and diesel.
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
Richard Briers (who died today) was a wonderful farceur, light-comedy actor and occasional Shakespearian. He was also a definitive Bertie Wooster on the radio.
It’s almost a pity that he will forever be remembered for one particular role:
No question, of course, of which party the well-meaning, but deluded and self-righteous middle class prat Tom Good would have been founder-member.
Next page »