Hobsbawm on the Vicissitudes of Left-liberalism

Hobsbawm, Eric. 2012. “After the Cold War: Eric Hobsbawm Remembers Tony Judt.” London Review of Books, April.

Beautifully-written rebuttal of the 20th century liberal rejection and condemnation of communism, as well as homage to civic courage. Crafting a story of intellectual and political maturation and redemption, Hobsbawm dissects how Tony Judt traversed from the Cold Warrior troops and conservative tooldom (as Judt started out trivially focused on critiquing dying French Left intellectualism) to trenchant critic of imperial Israeli apartheid politics.

Both Hobsbawm & Judt understood the twentieth century’s “basic passion: namely the belief that politics was the key to our truths as well as our myths.”

 …Judt “launched one of the most implacable attacks on (Hobsbawm) in a passage which has become widely quoted, especially by the ultras of the right-wing American press. It amounted to: ‘make a public confession that your god has failed, beat your breast and you may win the right to be taken seriously. No man who doesn’t think socialism equals Gulag should be listened to.’

 …after 1968 (Judt) became much more of a militant oppositionist liberal over Eastern Europe, an admirer of the mixed but more usually right-wing academic tourists who provided much of our commentary on the end of the East European Communist regimes. This also led him and others who should have known better into creating the fairy tale of the Velvet and multicoloured revolutions of 1989 and after. There were no such revolutions, only different reactions to the Soviet decision to pull out.

 …Four things shaped French history in the 19th and 20th centuries: the Republic born of the incomplete Great Revolution; the centralised Napoleonic state; the crucial political role assigned to a working class too small and disorganised to play it; and the long decline of France from its position before 1789 as the Middle Kingdom of Europe, as confident as China of its cultural and linguistic superiority. Denied a Lenin and deprived of Napoleon, France retreated into the last and, we must hope, indestructible redoubt, the world of Astérix. The postwar vogue for Parisian thinkers barely concealed their collective retreat into Hexagonal introversion and into the ultimate fortress of French intellectuality, Cartesian theory and puns. There were now other models in higher education and the sciences, in economic development, even – as the late penetration of Marx’s ideas implies – in the ideology of the Revolution. The problem for left-wing intellectuals was how to come to terms with an essentially non-revolutionary France. The problem for right-wing ones, many of them former communists, was how to bury the founding event and formative tradition of the Republic, the French Revolution, a task equivalent to writing the American Constitution out of US history. It could not be done…

 …Tony had so far made his name as an academic bruiser. His default position was forensic: not the judge’s but the barrister’s, whose objective is neither truth nor truthfulness, but winning the case. Faced with governments and ideologues who read victory and world domination into the fall of communism, he was honest enough with himself to recognise that the old verities and slogans needed to be junked after 1989. Probably only in the ever nervous US could such a reputation have been built so quickly on the basis of a few articles in journals of modest circulation addressed exclusively to academic intellectuals.

 …(Judt) was well aware of the risks, personal and professional, he ran in attacking the combined forces of US global conquest, the neocons and Israel, but he had plenty of what Bismarck called ‘civilian bravery’ (Zivilcourage) – a quality notably lacking in Isaiah Berlin, as Tony himself noted, perhaps not without malice. Unlike the ex-Marxist scholiasts and intellocrates on the Left Bank who, as Auden said of poets, made ‘nothing happen’, Tony understood that a struggle with these new forces could make a difference. He launched himself against them with evident pleasure and zest. This was the figure who came into his own after the end of the Cold War, widening his courtroom technique to flay the likes of Bush and Netanyahu rather than some political absurdity in the Fifth Arrondissement or a distinguished professor in New Jersey. It was a magnificent performance, a class act; he was hailed by his readers not only for what he said, but what many of them would not have had the courage to say themselves. It was all the more effective because Tony was both an insider and an outsider: English, Jewish, French, eventually American, but plurinational rather than cosmopolitan” (Eric Hobsbawm 2012).

A ton age je travaillais deja / travaillerais encore

This woman is arguing for the working class to be able to use the increases in economic productivity to reduce the ratio of work hours to wages.

En Anglais, this protestor’s sign reads,

(Elder:) “At your age I was already working.”
(Girl:) “At your age I’ll still be laboring.”

Go, French! Stop the neoliberal madness!

This photo comes courtesy of Prose Before Hos, who correctly point out that what this grande dame is objecting to is capitalism.

The post-revolutionary bankers’ regime in France

From Wikipedia’s “History of France” wiki. In the discussion of post-Revolutionary, post-Napoleon France:


Louis-Philippe’s “July Monarchy” (1830–1848) is generally seen as a period during which the haute bourgeoisie (high bourgeoisie) was dominant. This term is a recognition that the July Monarchy was controlled by one faction of the bourgeoisie class—finance capitalists.[36] This faction consisted of the bankers (particularly the Rothchilds, the stock exchange magnates, owners of railroad, iron and coal mines that that part of the landed proprietors associated with finance capital. Indeed, government during the July Monarchy has been called a “finance aristocracy.”[36] Indeed, LaFayette’s good friend, Jacques Laffitte a liberal banker and supporter of the July Revolution celebrated after the crowning of Louis-Philippe by stating that “From now on bankers will rule.”[36] Noticeably absent from this finance aristocracy were the industrial capitalists, who became part or the official opposition to the July Monarchy.[36]

Somewhat like the US’s current governing system, except the industrial capitalists were more strategically incorporated into the financial capitalist class in the contemporary era.

From the mouths of neoliberal ghouls

Mark my words: The French will sorely regret Nicolas Sarkozy, who is the youngest French Prime Minister to date.

(Yes, the social democratic neoliberals are hopelessly hollow, facile, and disjointed, now that capital has been given unlimited powers to strike including via subsidized oil-based transportation; but at least the social democrats can be less thorough neoliberalizers. That’s absolutely better than the wreckless clarity and zeal of the neolib/neoconservative tanks. Especially when we recall what the actual project of neoliberalism is. It’s kind of important not to forget that the goal is ALL DESPOTIC POWER TO THE CAPITALISTS, with a little juice scattered around to the police thugs and dictators that help them out. While it’s no substitute for actually giving them hell and fighting for our children’s right to grow up free, I’d rather live in a semi-crappy Social Democratic Party-run Sweden than a crappy and monstrous Bushie-run USA. Look around here. Where it’s not lame, it’s cruel, wretched, and corrupt and getting worse and worse, to be honest about it.)

Sarkozy’s been on the neoliberal-neoconservative fast track, harvesting xenophobia/islamophobia to brew up a French taste for law and order, and with that handy populist tool, pushing through the capitalist class power-consolidation project that is neoliberalism. Oh, and he charms the pants off of effete, shallow, French libertarians.

He’s got an interesting quote, that is disingenuous in his case, but is designed for populist appeal. I thought the idea of ‘not having to wait’ evinces the attractive privilege of neoliberals in a neoliberal world:

“All my life, people have told me to wait, not to be in a hurry. As a child, I had to wait for permission to go; as a teenager, I had to wait to become an adult; the adult had to wait until the previous generations gave up their power. Then, one day, the same ones who told me it’s too early told me in the same peremptory tone, ‘It’s too late.’ I tell my children, ‘Never wait!'”
–Nicolas Sarkozy

Wouldn’t it be nice to be so perfectly in tune with the power movement of your time, that you were barely disciplined, and got to move through your life fairly unimpeded? Such allures of neoliberalism enthrall socialists. How heady it must be for an authoritarian politician.

French workers hold on to their lives

The right-wing French government attempted to reduce French workers’ holidays, and the French resisted.

Until now, the French have enjoyed 11 national holidays. Right-wing Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin suggested that the government abolish the Monday holiday after Pentecost. The right-wing government claims that the free work hours French workers involuntarily donated that day will be dedicated toward paying 35% of the $7.5 billion needed to improve health care for the elderly annually. However, it is always the goal of capital to remove workers’ control over working hours. Disengenuously appropriating a term from the left, the right-wing government called the holiday abolition a “day of solidarity.”

Many sectors of society objected to this regressive form of improving health care. Half the country stayed home Monday, May 16, 2005. France’s main unions urged workers to strike. 35% of postal workers went on strike that day. Many of the country’s town halls were closed. In Bordeaux, thousands of people marched behind banners declaring, “No to Free Work.” Dozens of cities and towns including Lille, Strasbour, and Bordeaux went without most public transportation. Principals and teachers decided whether schools remained open. The main federation of parents urged keeping children home from school. 90% of students stayed home. France’s communist-backed labor federation the CGT called on the government to work on a more equitable way to care for the country’s elderly. The French Confederation of Christian Workers called Monday a day of “forced labor.”

Reported unsympathetically in the New York Times 5/17/05: A4.