[Marxism] 3 years later
d.koechlin at wanadoo.fr
Fri Jan 26 20:14:04 MST 2018
I am a French/Irish Council Communist, and I last sent a message to this
list three years ago, in January 2015, after the Charlie Hebdo Massacre.
I was angry then.
Americans had never heard of Charlie Hebdo. French people had known
about this satirical paper for 40 years. It had always been very, very
left of centre, since the 1970s in fact, but for the purposes of
post-modern minority politics has been falsely described as "racist".
Cabu, the cartoonist, had drawn countless cartoons against the French
war in Algeria in the 1960s, Bernard had presented Marxist theory in an
implacable and yet accessible way to the public, Charb had been an
unfailing help in the unions' struggle against the anti-unionist
policies of the 1990s and 2000s. They were shot dead at their office in
January 2015. And yet, they had criticized Mohamad and been shot dead
for this, and to add insult to injury, the American left had spat on
their graves and labelled them, without any knowledge of who they were,
"racists" and "islamophobic bigots". I had been a regular reader of
Charlie HEbdo from the 1990s onwards, despite my pious parents'
disapproval (Charlie Hebdo was very anti-religious and especially
anti-Catholic: I remember specifically the Charlie Hebdo issue showing a
female Pope in the 1990s). To put it in a nutshell, I was so disgusted
that I resolved not to talk to American leftists until three full years
had passed, so sure was I, that religious intolerance would soon prove
to be such a big issue that simply pandering to it would be seen as silly.
Well, three years have passed. ISIS appeared and disappeared. The
American working class, and the French working class, have continued to
be hit. The wolves are at the door. In both countries, union membership
has decreased to less than 10% and the result has been that the ruling
class has been able to rule the roost.
As for what American leftists have contributed, all I can see is the
global spread of minority politics.
In Notre-Dame-Des-Landes, young activists assure me that they are
"vegan" ("nous sommes vegan"). This new word "vegan" comes directly from
the American, ignoring the older French term for someone who eschews
ALL animal products "végétalien" as opposed to "vég;etarien"
(vegetarian). In PAris, there are meetings of "black men" in one room,
"black women" in another room, "racialized men" ("hommes racilialisés"
an incredible-sounding new word) in a third room, "racialized women" in
a fourth room,"white women" in a fourth, etc.. All things American are
exported as commodities, and American leftist fads, from hippies to
post-modernism are such commodities. Don't get me wrong, I approve of US
anti-authoritarianism, but it tends to become grossly distorted when
tediously reproduced abroad. (“le capitalisme est l”oeuvre de l’homme
blanc hétérosexuel orthopsy chque qui cherche à dominer la nature qui
lui est étrangère par la régulation, etc., etc.”)
Whereas the working class is simply comprised of all those who make the
world go round and add surplus value to the pockets of the entrepreneurs
( a growing, and growing and growing share) , all Americans leftists
have been able to contribute is a muddled critique of "europeo-centric
enlightenment and gender roles". Not a dent in the money flow of the
ruling class, contrary to what unions were able to win in the
1940s-1970s period in France and the US.
This post-modernism is, paradoxically, the result of the American
absorption in the 1970s-1990s of French philosophy (Foucault, Deleuze,
Derrida, Lyotard). And why is it paradoxical? Because the French
theoreticians were deeply influenced by Marx, going back to
Hegelian/Young MArx (critique of work and alienation) dialectics to
undermine the ossified hold of the CP on French leftist politics. But
Americans, as usual, got the idea that "all meta-narratives are
suspect", which brought in the good ol’ American idea of "e pluribus unum"
Specifically what was DELIBERATELY lost was the idea of CLASS. Which was
to be expected, given that in the 1960s and 1970s, when said French
theorists were active, it seemed as though the working class had been
wholly integrated into “the system”. Only by refusing to conform was
there any hope of “seeing difference become irreducible” (Derrida).
That was in the 1970s. I stand by Marx and the dialectical method.
Which means I am a revolutionary unionist. And my standpoint has been
vindicated by events. If unions represent a small minority of the
workforce, capital will run the show. That’s all there is to it. Small
unions = big capital. Simple.
Political posturing and appealing to voters for "reform, women's
rights(today read: gay rights) and prison reform" (the old USTP
platform) will get the kind of government that does these things... and
cannot stop corporate bosses from ruling the roost. Greece's Syrizia
tried. In the UK, Corbyn will never be able to "re-nationalize" the
Post Office, etc. Political parties CAN NOT, on their own, be they
nationalist, communist,populist or fascist, change the rules of the game
and really let the working class take matters into their own hands. Only
a concerted movement of the working class can do that, and that means a
grassroots, "one big union" approach. Why? Because in a union, union
bosses are still accountable to the rank and file. There is so-called
"direct democracy/ mandate", which is not the case in "representative
I don't expect Leninists to understand, they think of the party as the
vanguard, not the union. That is a tragic mistake. And yet, it must be
acknowledged that in the 20th century, the fear of the CP and the USSR
was instrumental in giving the working class leverage over governments.
In the late 1940s, four million Americans went on a one-month strike
that earned them the 40 hour-week and the same thing happened in the UK
The brave editors of Charlie Hebdo braved years of widespread
disapproval. In the 70s they dared criticize General De gaulle ("Bal
Tragique à Colombay" edition censored). I the 2010s they sensed the
danger from fundamentalist Islam and of course that raised hackles among
the enemies of freedom.
All I can hope for in my defense is that the events of the last three
years (rise and demises of ISIS) have shown that I was not completely
crazy when I railed and ranted against political Islam. Or maybe not.
Maybe another three years?
I am reminded that the division between what Americans call secularism
and what the French call secularism is an old one. It goes back to
Thomas Paine. Once an American revolutionary, he was soon dismissed as
a "positivist", a "deist", an "enlightenment fanatic". Why? Because he
supported the French revolution which sent shudders of fear down the
spine of the American middle-class when they heard of the radicalism of
the poor "sans-culottes" who wanted "the rich to cough up their wealth".
American revolutionaries started off as religious secularists
(JEfferson) but very, very quickly saw that, once you had got rid of the
British monarchy and had an upper-class government, "religion is the
glue that holds American society together"(Pierce). From the early 1800s
onwards, Thomas Paine rapidly became anathema and French secularism has
ALWAYS been singled out, for the last 200 years,by Americans as "too
anti-religious". You known, "In the US, all religions coexist
freely,etc.", the free community of brothers and sisters that go to
church in the same community became the "glue" of American society, so
much so, that all Americans who pledge "One nation under God", whatever
that God(Jewish,Catholic, Islamic) may be is a good American. As long as
he believes in God, he is part of the national community. American
revolutionaries embraced Thomas Paine in the 1770s, but then rejected
him rafter independence because he was "too French" (Jefferson), and
have continued this middle-class tradition that "religion is a social
glue" up to the present. So that, contrary to what is common in Europe,
working class concerns often have to be couched in religious language.
It is not surprising that Martin Luther King was a protestant minister.
French leftists do not understand why American working class community
leaders hold organizing meetings in churches, and American leftists do
not understand why French leftists (until the 2010s) refused to let
someone wearing a cross or a hijab speak at a meeting. Well, of course,
now American conceptions have won out globally, which is normal given
that Americans control the global pulse of capitalism and that the
American leftist agenda agrees with the capitalist one.
Religion has almost become a sign of anti-capitalist rebelliousness, as
though we were in the 19th century, when romantics were lamenting the
spiritual toll of the industrial age. And what American right-wing
thinkers in the 1970-1980s had long been hoping for has at long last
come to pass. Thanks to a vigorous American example (America being the
undisputed cultural model), believing in a "higher power" is NO LONGER a
sign of superstitious servility (that is "regressive positivist
thinking") but a sign of "community empowerment". In the 1970s, American
sociologists sighed when they saw that “88% of Americans believe in God”
and the discussion was on “why America is less secular than Europe”.
Now, using misunderstood postmodernism (“meta-narratives are suspect”) ,
American sociologists can affirm”Euro-secularism has to be explained,
not American religiosity. The link between economic development,
progress and secularism is FALSE. Look at America, look at Turkey, look
at India: a modern, highly developed society can exist together with
religion. “”The European model is too deterministic.” A perfect way to
ignore Marx’s clear-sighted discussion of historical materialism.
I am of the opinion that this is really of little consequence as capital
is faced with a crisis that it can not climb out of, that capitalism is
failing worldwide, and that it can only postpone the inevitable
reckoning by keeping wages as low as possible and forcing increasing
costs on the working class. Its best allies, as in the 17th, 18th, 19th
and 20th centuries will be religion, but religion has, as we all know,
been compromised by scientific scrutiny. See everything that has been
written since the 18th century, from Hegel to Freud, from Marx to
Unless of course, we are resolved to think that man cannot change
anything in the world that surrounds him.
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