Wednesday, 12 April 2017

Melenchon Is Not An Alternative to Le Pen

Jean Luc Melenchon, the Stalinoid candidate for the French Presidency, is not an alternative to Marine Le Pen. The national-socialist programme of both candidates is barely distinguishable one from the other. The only real difference is that the racism and xenophobia of the latter is explicit, whereas for the former it is implicit.

Le Pen, in recent years, has tried to soften the Nazi image of the FN, from the days of her father, but not only are her regular comments about Muslims an indication of the party's true nature, but her comments, in the last week, that France's Vichy government was not responsible for the round-up of French Jews, shows that the anti-Semitic FN leopard has not changed its spots. Such arguments, justifying collaboration with the Nazis, are simply the same excuses used by Nazi death camp guards, that they were only doing their job, and had no alternative.

All of this is unfortunate for workers, given that Melenchon, has gone from being level with the socialist candidate, Benoit Hamon, to being at 18%, whilst Hamon has dropped back to just 9%.  Melenchon is now level pegging with the disgraced conservative candidate, Fillon, If support for Hamon drops further, Melenchon could overtake the Blairite, Macron, to go into the final round of voting against Le Pen. That would mean that French workers would have no real alternative. Its quite possible that in such a contest, Le Pen would win, because conservative voters, might well decide to go for the real nationalist, Le Pen, rather than the Stalinist Melenchon, whilst centrist voters may well stay at home.

That the collapse of the political centre ground has thrown up this situation is not that surprising. The Presidency of Hollande, over the last four years, offered an opportunity for social-democracy to move forward, and live up to its own ideals. Hollande could have provided support for the social-democratic agenda of Syriza in Greece, and Podemos in Spain, alongside the Left Bloc in Portugal, and other left-social-democratic forces across the EU, to overturn the conservative agenda of austerity that has wrecked the EU economy, and in particular the economies of Greece, Ireland, Spain, Portugal and Italy, since 2010. But, like Pasok, like the Blair-Brown governments, Hollande failed the test, and simply continued with the same conservative policies of the last thirty years. Is it any wonder that workers have lost faith in such parties?

In the same way that Blair-Brown-Miliband, with similar policies, queered the pitch for Labour, now under the leadership of Corbyn, so Hollande queered the pitch for the French socialist party now under the progressive social-democratic leadership of Hamon. But, it is Hamon that is offering workers a more progressive, and viable option than Melenchon. Instead of the national-socialist agenda of Melenchon, Hamon is putting forward a more internationalist perspective of building workers unity across Europe, within the EU, on the basis of a progressive social-democracy.

Its not hard to see, however, why it is more difficult to win support for such a perspective, especially after thirty years, when conservative social-democrats version of internationalism has been to subordinate workers to the needs of fictitious capital, whose owners now form a global class of money lenders. But, the main reason that it is hard to win support for an international rather than national socialist programme, is that history and material conditions work against it. A programme of international socialism requires a long period of discipline and clear ideas, by a revolutionary party conveyed into the midst of the workers, and a preparedness to be in a minority, and to swim against the stream of public opinion. For electoralist parties that is a big ask.

The leaders of the parties of the Second International, have been criticised by Leninists for having lined up the workers of their own countries behind their respective bourgeoisies before WWI. In fact, that criticism is rather harsh. A problem of the Second International was indeed that it was a confederation of national parties that worked on the basis of diplomatic relations between each other, rather than being a unitary international organisation, in which disagreements were openly discussed and settled.

But, the leaders of these parties, generally were internationalist and pacifistic in nature. They did argue against war, in the period running up to WWI. The reality was not of a leadership duping an otherwise revolutionary and internationalist working-class into war, but of a working class already imbued with nationalistic and patriotic sentiments, and moving in the direction of war, and a leadership that failed to resist it, for fear of losing its support within the working-class. And once war started, there was a further logic that took hold, as far as these parties were concerned. As Engels himself had written, earlier, in a letter to Bebel of October 1891,

“If, however, the French bourgeoisie begin such a war nevertheless, and for this purpose place themselves in the service of the Russian tsar, who is also the enemy of the bourgeoisie of the whole of Western Europe, this will be the renunciation of France's revolutionary mission. We German Socialists, on the other hand, who if peace is preserved will come to power in ten years, have the duty of maintaining the position won by us in the van of the workers' movement, not only against the internal but against the external foe. If Russia is victorious we shall be crushed. Therefore if Russia begins war – Go for her! go for the Russians and their allies, whoever they may be. Then we have to see to it that the war is conducted by every revolutionary method and that things are made impossible for any government which refuses to adopt such methods; also at a given moment to take the lead ourselves. We have not yet forgotten the glorious example of the French in 1793 and, if we are driven to it, it may come about that we celebrate the centenary of 1793 by showing that the German workers of 1893 are not unworthy of the Sans culottes of those days and that if French soldiers cross our frontiers then they will be greeted with the cry:

Quoi ces cohortes étrangères
Feraient le loi dans nos foyers? [Marseillaise]"

This was essentially the position that the German and French socialists adopted on the outbreak of WWI. The German socialists believed that they were the representatives of the future, of the most advanced section of the global working-class, whose advances had to be defended against the French bourgeoisie, whilst the French socialists adopted a mirror image position.

The problem for socialists is that the collective we seek to build, as a class collective, is not immediately apparent to workers. As Marx describes, workers can, for a long-time, be a class in themselves, in other words, they objectively form a collective, with its own set of shared interests based upon a new form of socialised property, and yet still do not form a class for themselves, that is recognising that these shared interests set them apart from other classes, and the need to fight against those other classes to implement that interest, and replace existing property relations with new ones.

The working class has only existed for around 200 years, whereas other collectives, based on kinship, have existed, for hominoids, for hundreds of thousands of years. It is easy to see, prima facie, a connection between members of a family etc., in a way that it is not immediately apparent that the links between workers set them apart from the members of other classes, including those of their own nation.

Moreover, the very working of capitalism exacerbates this problem. Even when there is a period of full employment, there is what orthodox economics calls frictional unemployment. In other words, workers move out of one job, and do not immediately move into another. Even when periods of full employment causes wages to rise up to, and even beyond, the value of labour-power, workers still have to compete, at an individual level, for these higher paid jobs, and when unemployment is at higher levels, they have to compete for all jobs.

We tend to have a picture of unemployment, from the statistics, as being the same people who are unemployed, because we often see unemployment depicted as areas of long-term, structural unemployment, and because the media also portray unemployment as being the result of lazy people, not wanting work. But, in fact, even during periods of high unemployment, the number of long-term unemployed is only a small fraction of the total. As Hobsbawm says in “Industry and Empire” (p 209), although during the 1930's, in Britain, there was a high chance of being unemployed, at some point, the large majority of people were only unemployed for short periods. Yet, the fear this engenders, ensures that each worker is led to compete at an individual level with every other worker.

This response can also be seen at other levels. Workers, in one trade, compete with those in another, workers, in one factory, compete with those in another, especially where the question is over which factory to close, workers, in one area, compete with those in another, over where new firms are to be located, or, as in the 1980's, in Britain, over which area should get government grants, for regeneration, and so on.

All of these distributional struggles, over who gets what share of the pie, act to divide workers, even where, at one level, they are united, on some kind of sectional basis. These kinds of collectives operate on an immediate and emotional basis, that seems thereby natural, whereas, building a collective on a class basis, is far more an intellectual venture, that requires workers to understand what unites them, even where that is not prima facie apparent. As Marx says, about the workings of capitalism, if it was obvious what the real relations are, then everyone would immediately understand it, and there would be no need for science to uncover those real relations.

But, there are other reasons for workers being drawn to the national-socialist agenda of someone like Melenchon, rather than the internationalist position of Hamon. Trotskyists have often claimed that Stalin was based upon the soviet bureaucracy, whereas Trotsky represented the interests of workers. In fact, that is not true. As David Law wrote, many years ago, one of the reasons that it was Stalin, and not Trotsky, who was able to win the support of workers, within the Bolshevik Party, was precisely because, during all the earlier period, Trotsky had shown little concern for pushing the interests of the workers against the bureaucrats. It is for the same reason, as Trotsky himself admits, that it was to him, rather than Stalin, that the bureaucrats first turned, in search of their own champion within the party. Critique 2, published in 1973 on the 50th Anniversary of the Declaration of the 46, carried an article, by David Law, entitled “The Left Opposition in 1923”. In it, he writes,

“Besides considerable strength in Moscow, perhaps even an actual majority, the Opposition had managed to capture Party organisations in Ryazan, Penza, Kaluga, Simbirsk and Chelyabinsk. The Opposition’s strength in these provincial towns was plausibly attributed to there being, in those centres, a predominance of Party officials transferred as a reprisal for their dissident opinions. In Moscow the strength of the Opposition lay in the State administration (particularly in economic bodies), and student cells. The opposition was comparatively weak amongst the working class. No doubt this was partly a result of the past record of various members of the Opposition on questions of industrial management, and also partly because questions of immediate working class interest, such as wages, were not given any prominence. Whatever the reasons, in Moscow, at a time when it was gaining majorities among the students, the Opposition could only win 67 out of 346 cells of industrial workers.” (p47)

And, the fact was, also, that the Russian working-class was tired and battered. The programme of Stalin, for building “Socialism in One Country”, appealed to such a tired and battered Russian working-class, that now sought a quiet life, and did not, and could not, see the intellectual argument of the Opposition, for the need to press on, to build an international revolution.

Once entrenched, the Stalinists shaped the Communist International in their image, and everything was organised so as to achieve that basic aim of defending the Soviet Union, so as to allow the process of building Socialism in One Country, i.e. the programme of national socialism, to proceed. And, when the Third Period madness ended, and the era of Popular Frontism was introduced, that easily translated into the transformation of the programme, of each national communist party, into being a social-democratic programme, based upon a nationalistic agenda of co-operation with the national bourgeoisie, so as not to antagonise them into launching further attacks on the USSR.

That programme of national-socialism of national roads to socialism is still what is behind the national-socialist agenda of Melenchon today. Even though the USSR is dead and buried, the Stalinists and their hangers on, still act in much the same way as in the past, only now gearing their policies and actions to a defence of the reactionary Russian regime of Putin. A vote in the upcoming elections for Melenchon is not an alternative to Le Pen, they are twins. Stalinism is a cancer within the workers' movement that must be cut out. Marxists should oppose nationalism in all its forms whenever it appears. A vote for Melenchon today, because it offers no solution for French workers, is tantamount to a vote for Le Pen tomorrow, when those workers realise that no solution was provided for them. A vote for the national-socialism of both Le Pen, and of Melenchon is a diversionary dead-end.

Workers in France should support Hamon, but begin to build and rebuild their organisations, with workers across the EU, for a struggle for an internationalist perspective, for international socialism, and for a Workers Europe.

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