We need a global progressive alliance against the far-right

NB: I wrote this two days ago and now that I am no longer overcome with/by fury can see it has big holes in it. I am starting to accept that the argument for abstention had some political justification and that my own partial and privileged position has, along with my ignorance, prevented me from understanding the importance of certain dynamics. Thanks to those who have corrected me and I apologise for calling anyone who even knew anyone who was thinking of abstaining a connard. I’m posting it without fanfare as I think it has some merit and also because I want to use it to mark my resignation from my self-appointed role as a commentator on French politics.

The fascists lost. That’s by far the most important thing about the French Presidential election. They tried to cheat, hack and smear their way to victory and failed. There is no doubt whatsoever what they would have done with power: installed a regime based on violent repression. I think their defeat is absolutely worth celebrating at a time when so little else is.

Nonetheless, 33% voted for a Nazi and twelve million abstained. That’s twice the number murdered in the Holocaust denied by the family and friends of the candidate they couldn’t be bothered to vote against. I understand there were reasons to abstain or spoil one’s ballot but I think they were invalid. Had circumstances been slightly different Le Pen would have won and been in a position to continue the work of her father, who has a direct connection to Vichy and the Third Reich.

The Front National is now the main opposition and parliamentary elections could consolidate their position and cripple Macron’s administration. Nonetheless the global far-right wanted another figurehead and they didn’t get one. This is a massive setback for their project. Her victory was in the script. Even my political science masters students saw it as inevitable: Le Pen’s victory would be followed by that of Grillo/Salvini here in Italy, then Germany… Supporters of the far-right on social media are right now hurt and demoralised. Such armchair fascists thought it would be easy. Putin’s photo with Le Pen looked threatening a few weeks ago, a ready-made meme lacking only the cartoon toad; now it just looks like an awkward photo of two arrogant people who probably barely even spoke to each other.

As for the Left which actively encouraged people to abstain, I’m left feeling a little like those left-wingers who in previous generations lost faith with Stalinism upon seeing the brutal repression in Hungary in 1956 and Prague in 1968. Just as the initial burst of support for Mélenchon was encouraging, his subsequent abdication of moral responsibility was shocking. Le Pen could actually have won. Macron had no automatic base of support. The establishment right could have swung over (I don’t think by the way they would have supported Mélenchon). An opportune terrorist attack could have created a bloodthirsty atmosphere which Le Pen would have luxuriated in. The desperate attempts at hacking (seemingly started by the US far-right with Russian assistance and then actively promoted by Wikileaks) could have been better coordinated and might have worked. Perhaps a fascist government wouldn’t have damaged the immediate life chances of the teenage edgelords running round Paris last week, but overnight the plight of refugees would have worsened immeasurably and the whole infrastructure of human rights, climate action and international cooperation per se would have collapsed. I find the lack of solidarity with fascism’s potential victims contemptible. Credit to those Mélenchon voters who voted for the centrist to stop the fascist at a time when the arrogance and delusion of a generation of failed left leaders was on unproud display.

On the other hand, Macron (as everyone in the world knows) is a ‘Neoliberal’. This week I got my students to study his English in the form of a BBC interview about what he stands for. He produces neoliberal buzzwords like a windup toy: Innovation, Competition, Markets, Reform, Liberalisation… Nevertheless, he is a highly contradictory figure: he’s also instinctively and consistently socially progressive. His comments on French colonialism in Algeria were principled and brave. To dismiss him as a mere apparatchik of a soviet-style regime is misleading and unfair. Neoliberalism is not a monolith and in any case an appreciation of the role of markets doesn’t make you a neoliberal zealot. If the French Left were to ease off on using that deeply problematic term they could choose to view him as a social democrat and put pressure on him to behave as such.

Such an idea won’t go down well with those who insist that there is no difference between capitalism and fascism, between a ‘banker’ and a Nazi. The notion that voters are being ‘blackmailed’ between the two plays into the hands of the far-right. Žižek argues that we are all being held to willfully held to ransom by an elite and that we should refuse their terms, an argument that quickly gained currency. In reality it’s a deadlock, one in which progressives are objectively forced to join forces with all those opposed to fascism, even those who we judge to be responsible for its resurgence . Evidence of the folly of the blackmail thesis is is all over social media in the form of increasing crosspollination in the discourses of the far-right and the far-left. From pro-Brexit Labour supporters to Jill Stein fans and supporters of Mélenchon I’ve detected a confluence with the far-right, particularly in the escalation in attempts to be seen as something other than ‘liberal’. This is a zero sum game in which only the only winner is the far-right. The frequency with which the antisemitic canard of Rothschilds has been pointedly evoked reveals undertones of anti-semitism. I’ve always rejected the notion that the two ends of the political spectrum meet up, but thanks partly to the inanity of online political ‘debate’ that dismissal is becoming more and more valid.

Some times over the last few weeks I’ve found myself thinking: if this is the left, maybe I no longer want to be part of it. But then as a friend sagely retorted when I put the thought to her, where else are we? As a result I’ve finally come round to thinking of it as no longer a helpful category. We need to know who’s really on our side, who we can trust in a context where political feelings are subject to massive manipulation. This has to be the last time that anyone pays any attention whatsoever to Wikileaks. Žižek’s ulraleftist posuring demonstrates yet again that, just as he argues in relation to poets, philosophers don’t make good political leaders. People like him are far too given to iconoclasm and provocative thought experiments. Nor are his political prescriptions plausible: for all his edgy neomaoist statements about divine revolutionary violence, his actual political interventions have tended to be reformist in nature (for example DIEM 25).

We progressives also need to accept that Facebook is not our friend. To quote a former executive for the company, by flicking a switch they can change the results of elections. We are just beginning to understand (too late) how insidious microtargetting is. Monstrously powerful far-right interests are able to tap with eerie precision into secret wells of resentment beneath the surface, to direct psychopathological undercurrents in directions which serve their requirements. Anyone who has not done so needs to read Carol Cadwalladr’s terrifying and riveting piece on just how connected, powerful and pernicious the digital far-right is. Companies like Cambridge Analytica may well be the most dangerous forces on the planet. As repression and manipulation heat up degree by degree in step with the warming climate, we will need to stay out of the hothouse of social media, where our worst innermost fears and recriminations are being cultivated in a way that makes Soylent Green look like a children’s TV cartoon.

I think the global priority for progressives must be to crush the far-right, to humiliate them as Macron did so well in the debate. We have to insist that our media ostracise them rather than allowing them to present themselves as normal. Just as Daesh and their followers are not given access to the airwaves or granted debating rights, our homegrown extremist terrorist organisations should not be either. Europe’s equivalents of Isis are also agents of Putin, who the results of the last few elections (Austria, The Netherlands, France) is far less omnipotent than he and his acolytes pretend. In some ways Putin’s Machiavellianism is a busted flush. Macron’s team’s way of dealing with the hacking was a masterpiece of defusing a powerful weapon and will make it far harder for Putin and his acolytes to manipulate public sympathies via spectacular leaks.

The world is facing a confluence of massive crises and life cannot go on as it is. Nevertheless, as Paul Mason argues, Macron’s victory is evidence that racism need not be a inevitable defining element of the future. To fight back against the forces of the far-right I think we have to (regardless of its complicated history), make full use of the term ‘progressive’. What exactly that term means is not a question that cannot detain us. On certain shibbloths of the left we we will have to accept differences of opinion. There are specific things we could all agree on, unambiguously progressive causes: Climate change, an alternative to a growth-led economic model, an end to the power of fossil fuel companies, internet privacy and much more. I find much to recommend in Yanis Varoufakis’ thesis that it is the job of progressives to save liberal capitalism from the extreme neoliberals. Markets do have a part to play in the economy but the idea that they are always the answer has no credibility. Neither do protectionism and nationalism: some form of social democracy is probably the best we can hope for, and in order to achieve or hang onto it we have to insist on human rights, the primacy of the environment, democracy, and freedom of the press. Protecting the media from political and commercial corruption means subscribing to publications which we consider important.

How does a progressive movement relate to those who are righteously angry about the role and rule of the banks? I don’t know. But as Sunny Hundal points out, contemporary political affiliations are not just about the economy. We can partly undermine the appeal of the far-right, to challenge its self-portayal as voice of the economically disenfranchised, by constantly exposing its contradictions and compromises, emphasising that the Le Pens and Trumps and Farages just represent a deeply corrupt and illiberal elite. While it’s not a question of mounting a naive defence of the EU as perfect, we can also recognise the efforts of politicians like Merkel in trying to stand up for immigrants. Although this is a defensive battle we must also make clear that we have aspirations to a world which is better than this one, as distant as such a prospect may appear.

In doing so we can’t adopt populist language: no sneering at ‘liberals’ and ‘cosmopolitans’. Liberalism is not our enemy. Our foes are Trump, Putin, Le Pen, Erdoğan, Farage, May and all others like them. There is now a broad global movement based on hostility to democracy and liberal values, on racism and climate denial. The opposition to it needs to involve everyone who understand that those things matter, that we live in the space between democracy and fascism. If we allow ourselves to think, as I have seen some argue in nominally progressive fora over the last few weeks, that we already live in a fascist society, then all is lost. Such attitudes are a form of slow suicide. Democracy may in some ways be a facade, but it’s a facade which protects us from the elements in stormy times.

In order for this movement to exist, I believe that those who are not already members should join a progressive political party. Individually we are powerless, prone to snapping up every product that briefly assuages our feelings of fear, powerlessness and guilt. I have rejoined the UK Green Party and will be encouraging friends and family to do the same. I agree with Caroline Lucas, Compass and others that progressive people should campaign for the person best placed to beat the candidate of the increasingly far-right Tory Party. Knocking on doors and handing out leaflets on windy shopping precints may be demoralising but it is one of the few chances we have. Facebook is useful for organising activities but it is emphatically not itself a form of political activity. We will not be able to defend refugees and protect the climate online. In whichever country we live, we have to join together in person with people we disagree with about some of the things we care most about. That will be tough but is is absolutely necessary. After a few years in which the notion of political parties has lost some appeal partly due to a widespread sense that our individual feelings and identities are more important, I think it’s that model we have to return to. That does not mean subordinating everything to election cycles. As Aditya Chakrabortty says of what the British Labour Party needs to do to survive:

It needs to turn itself into a social institution. It should be providing welfare rights advice to those whose benefits are being cut, legal support to tenants battling greedy landlords and arguing with the utilities to provide cheaper and better deals. 

We can’t afford any more ideological purity: no more refusing to vote against candidates who can defeat fascists. And we can no longer pretend that political parties are dead. Macron built one and won, and Mélenchon created a vehicle for radical political change which still has a huge role to play. The far-right organise through them. We need them to exist and the best way to make sure they do is to play an active part, pushing for our progressive agenda where possible. Doing all of this doesn’t mean that we will win; in the words of one of Thomas Pynchon’s characters:

“Maybe it’s unbeatable, maybe there are ways to fight back. What it may require is a dedicated cadre of warriors willing to sacrifice time, income, personal safety, a brother/sisterhood consecrated to an uncertain struggle that may extend over generations and, despite all, end in total defeat.”

Sounds daunting, but we don’t have a choice. 

Mélenchon and Žižek; Accelerationism and Edgelordism

There’s a particular set of attitudes or postures which I’ve always known as Ultraleftism. A central element of this is the notion that the masses need to hit rock bottom in order to gain consciousness of their plight, that things will only start to get better when they get as bad as they possibly can.

This idea seems to be undergoing a revival, particularly online. I recently learnt a new word: edgelord. It designates someone who, in the words of urbandictionary.com, “uses shocking and nihilistic speech and opinions that they themselves may or may not actually believe to gain attention and come across as a more dangerous and unique person”.

The term seems to have derived from the forum 4chan, the breeding swamp of the ‘alt-right’. It’s inevitable that in the face of the various crises assailing humanity disaffected teenagers feel inclined to sound like they can tough out armageddon, and hence it’s routine to see expressed on Facebook pseudo-nihilistic sentiments like ‘the human race is a blight on the planet’ or sub-Nietzschian statements like ‘morality is for assholes’.

However, there’s also an ideological rationale for such outbursts: Accelerationism. Derived partly from Deleuze and Guattari, this is a dense and complex theory with a number of variants but in simple terms it proposes that the self-destructive processes inherent to capitalism should be accelerated in order to provoke radical social change, that (as Steven Shaviro puts it here) that “the best way to shorten capitalism’s lifespan is to push it to the extreme”.

Someone else who has written on the subject and who you can see here addressing it in a excerpt from a speech which actually accelerates in speed and incoherence towards the end, is Slavoj Žižek. Although he seems to dismiss the notion of accelerationism in that clip, an exemplary instance of it in a contemporary poltical context is his endorsement of Trump. It’s easy to dismiss this as yet another semi-serious pantomime attempt to provoke his audience. However, if we link it to his purposefully obnoxious statements about those who help refugees, we can see accelerationism (or, as I would call it, ultraleftism, and possibly more than a little edgelordism) at work. It is of course essential to remember that Žižek is cleverer than his audience, and that he wants to stay ahead of it at every turn. When he attacks ‘liberals’ and bemoans the failures of ‘the Left’ it is those who read his books, attend his lectures and share his videos that he is targetting (and blaming). For all his crypto-Maoist invocations of a divine revolutionary ‘event’, he knows that there can be no ‘True Left’ and we are no more about to try to build one than he is to command it. He is leading his (mostly young and in many cases very impressionable) audience on. He is, after all, whether he accepts the responsibility or not (and I believe that his trolling his followers in this way is a characteristically perverse way of rejecting the role), a political leader and the people he leads are, whether he or they accept the label or not, pretty much all left-liberals*.

Recently in France there has been a surge of support for a more conventional left-wing political leader: Jean-Luc Mélenchon. He has a proud history of fighting fascism, but in the wake of his failure to make the second round of the presidential election he has refused to back the centrist candidate, leaving wide open the possibility of a fascist victory on Sunday. One common argument from his followers is that there is no point voting against the far-right now as they will only grow in strength over the next five years of ‘neoliberalism’. His failure to pronounce in favour of the only candidate who can beat Le Pen has inspired a movement for absention, with only one third of his first-round voters saying they will vote against her. If the Front National wins on Sunday it will be largely thanks to the ‘Left’.

In Paris nowadays it’s common to see armed soldiers on the streets. The same is true of Rome, where I live. They’ve never bothered me, although more than once I have seen them stop random black people walking into metro stations. They’re there to prevent terrorist attacks, which are by no means a remote possibility. But if there was a sudden change in political power the mechanisms of armed repression would already be in place, and the same is true in France.

Is the French ‘Left’ in a position to resist a militarised fascist dictatorship starting in two days’ time? In the coming years, as the rising tide of racism meets the coming climate crisis, we will all need to engage in acts of bravery and sacrifice. Are we ready, powerful and united enough to do so now? Once they see a hard-right government in power, will the masses be magically compelled to rebel and bring about socialism? No, no and non. As things stand, the Left hasn’t even managed to sand off the hard edge of market fundamentalism. It has failed to cohere and communicate a specific programme, and whether in the US, the UK or France it refuses to accept any responsibility for the consequent rise of the far-right. Letting Le Pen get elected – just like allowing Trump to take power in the States – would be a hysterical response to that failure, a gesture of impotence and despair, not all that different in essence from the empty and petty words of politically frustrated teenagers on internet forums.

In the midst of this petulant quasi-adolescent posturing, it’s refreshing to see that there are still some adults on the Left. This week Yanis Varoufakis laid out clearly why failing to vote for Macron to stop Le Pen would be a catastrophe and a betrayal. He rightly finds the notion that ‘neoliberals’ and fascists are equatable is particularly egregious. The epithet ‘neoliberal’ has become synonymous with the name Macron, as a handy political insult. Up until now I’ve continued to use the term despite the widespread lack of clarity with regard to its meaning. Having read lengthy books on the subject by writers such as Philip Mirowski and David Harvey, I don’t think that its existence is by any means a myth. However, seeing the cataclysmically inane way it is being thrown around in this election (as Mirowski says, it is often used nowadays as “a brainless synonym for modern capitalism”) I’m now inclined to agree with Geoffrey Hodgson that its use should be abandoned**.


We live inside the Temple. If it collapses, we all die. That doesn’t mean we can’t dismantle it, or prepare for our eventual escape. But if we think it’s just a matter of blowing it up we may as well join Isis. Such self-destructive impulses have nothing to do with enlightened or egalitarian values. Such thinking is more a form of Nihilism than anything remotely progressive.

If you have a vote in the French election, use it. Don’t be an ultraleftist connard.

* Some are currently finding that rejecting the label ‘liberal’ and using it as a term of abuse puts them into pretty unsavoury company. Incidentally it’s now been pointed out to me that Žižek is indeed abusing his position to argue the same irresponsible nonsense as he did with Trump. Because Donald’s really been wobbling on his throne of late, hasn’t he. I’d give American cryptofascistneoliberalcapitalism a week more at the very most. In the meantime, fascist victory Sunday, communist revolution Monday, ça marche pous vous?! Don’t forget the book signing! Exit through the death camp!

** Anyone even vaguely interested in these issues should read that article. There’s also a far more articulate and evenly-tempered reponse to this whole depressingly predictable/predictably depressing Zizek-doesn’t-mind-Le Pen furore here.

*** This article didn’t go down too well on one particular Zizek fanboy forum. Oh well, if you can’t beat em, join em:

Anti-fascist lesson plan

This is an anti-fascist lesson for the week leading up to the potential election of a fascist leader of a major European country. Although in some teaching contexts political content is discouraged, engaging with questions of power and society is one way of allowing your students to develop their rhetorical skills, and also a means of encouraging a sense of group unity and shared purpose at a time of increasing division and social atomization.

It’s possible that you have a fascist or two in your class. Let’s hope not. This lesson isn’t designed for them, but who cares. Maybe they can leave the classroom and go and troll Twitter instead. It aims to enable your normal students to engage politically on an international level through the medium of English. If you don’t feel comfortable with that, don’t do the lesson, but it’s worth bearing in mind that a) English is not just a language for conducting trade, presenting innovative product ideas, etc and also b) if fascists such as Le Pen triumph your livelihood as teacher of a globalising language will be under threat and a lot of your students (and your friends, your family and you) will end up exiled, in jail, dead, or guarding concentration camps for a living.

The lesson as designed is 75 minutes long and should work well for high Upper Int/B2.2 upwards. I did it on Tuesday with a B2-ish class of Political Science students and it worked wonderfully.

Lesson procedure

1. Write on the board ‘fascism’. Ask what it is. Elicit names of famous fascists but also ideas about how to define it. Offer no definitions of your own. (5 mins)

2. In pairs students write their own definition of fascism. (5 mins)

3. Now look at the one on Wikipedia. Do your students agree? How would they change it? (5 mins)

4. On their phones or together as a class, edit the definition on Wikipedia (NB. your/their definition(s) will be rejected almost immediately, but you don’t need to tell them that.) (10 mins)

5. In small groups students address the following

Questions for discussion:

Do you know any fascists personally?

What would you do if a friend of yours started talking about:

  • Voting for a fascist candidate?
  • Joining a fascist organisation?

Have friends on or off social media been talking about the French election?

What would you say to a French friend who was talking about voting Le Pen?

(10 mins including brief report back from each brief pair on what was briefly said – don’t let this bit drag on. Make it brief.)

6. Half the students read Article A, half Article B. They take notes on the MAIN points (stress this and jog them along if they get stuck on details – with less strong groups tell them to just read the first seven or eight paragraphs), check difficult vocab and compare with a partner who’s read the same article. (15 mins)

7. Students swap partners and share what they learnt, taking notes on other person’s article. (10 mins)

8. Share and clarify the meaning of vocab they learnt on the board. (5 mins)

9. Students imagine they have a French friend who has been posting pro-Le Pen stuff online. They write an email to their friend telling them what they think. Depending on their level you could instruct them to use a certain number of conditional sentences (‘if Le Pen wins’, etc). Be on hand to offer vocab and grammar suggestions, etc. They then share what they wrote with a partner, asking for constructive suggestions, etc (20 mins)

10. For homework students write a second draft and then email it to you for corrections, etc.

C’est tout. Nique les fachos!

Here’s why I’m so angry about the French election

A relatively apolitical visitor to this website over the past week or so might be puzzled as to why on earth someone who doesn’t even live in France is getting so worked up about something so petty as the potential election of an undisguised fascist as leader of a major European country, not to mention so angry about the role of people supposedly on the left of the spectrum in helping to bring about such an eventuality by campaigning for people to abstain*.

I suppose from an early age I’ve tended to take politics too seriously and too personally. In the place and time I grew up everyone had a private store of venom reserved for the pronunciation of words like ‘Thatcher’ and ‘Tories’. Nevertheless, over the last few years I’ve made a concerted and conscious effort to uproot my political sentiments from the fertile manure of rage and resentment in which they originally flourished and replant them in soils of empathy and compassion. Some might say that given that over the last few days I’ve written lots of sentences like ‘I’m starting to despise the so-called ‘Left”, ‘FN voters are welcome to their shitty lives’ and ‘I fucking hope that President fucking Macron fucking puts anyone who fucking abstains in a fucking death camp’** I’m not trying hard enough.

Such sentiments do tend to stand out on my timeline of mostly liberal/lefty Facebook friends, where people generally avoid giving offence and potentially upsetting valued friends, family and acquaintances. In right-wing jerk circles, by contrast – and especially on Twitter – it’s fine to give vent to one’s most violent impulses and bond around the bonfire of all accepted values (except values oddly similar to those of one’s most conservative great-great-grandparents, but still). The libidinal charge of such outbursts helps explain why social media have contributed so very much to the recent success of a politics based on fear and hatred. It’s a version of Orwell’s two-minute hate and as such it can be exhilarating. 

I know this because I used to absolutely waste my time/try to escape my self-reaffirming bubble by arguing with racists and climate liars on Twitter. In the process I repeatedly saw confirmed the wisdom of the famous advice about never wrestling pigs: you both get dirty but the pig enjoys it. Nevertheless, in these fraught times and particularly among friends, those of us who worry about rather than welcome the rise to power of forces dedicated to scapegoating and violent repression should still open our mouths and express our fear and anger rather than hiding our feelings so as not to risk unpopularity. After all, members of our great-grandparents’ generation sacrificed their and others’ lives in the fight against Nazism. Surely the occasional Facebook post or tweet is not too much of a risk. Perhaps pretending we don’t know about climate change has taught us all some very bad habits with regard to (not) talking about unpopular topics.

Regardless of the comfortably numbing effects of social media, no one with a vote in the French election (remembering both that France has a comprehensive education system and that you have to officially be an adult to vote) can claim to be unaware that Le Pen proudly represents a lineage of racial supremacism as a justification for torture and mass death. As for those elements of the puerile and petulant left actively campaigning against Le Pen’s sole remaining opponent, let’s recall that France’s proud history of righteous political violence is by no means limited to guillotines and lobster thermidors. France in 1945 established a proud tradition of dealing with collaborators, which mostly involved shaving their heads and parading them through the streets so that normal people could spit in their faces. Presuming that the forces of reason rather than hatred do win out next Sunday, it would be hard to argue against the same treatment of those supposed progressives who, knowing the dangers of fascism, did everything they could to try to descredit the only candidate who could defeat it.

Now, I’m aware that the latter part of the preceding paragraph may be legitimately used as evidence by those who’ve argued that in my diatribes about the French election I’ve exhibited a lack of empathy for the plight of those left out of globalisation, people drawn towards Le Pen because they’ve had their life chances and those of their children damaged beyond repair, and who look to the future with fear mixed with a large dollop of resentment towards a political class that throughout their whole lives has lied to their faces while robbing them sourd, muet and aveugle***. I don’t want to come across like one of those Remainers who sneered at people whose plight was ignored by society and the economy to the point where they were desperate enough to fall for cheap demagoguery and tabloid manipulation, or smug Clinton supporters looking down on the millions who fail to qualify for the Democrats’ not-so-inclusive vision of ‘middle class’ Americans and who voted for a reality show tycoon in preference to a professional politician from one of the same old establishment dynasties. In the case of France I would have some understanding of those calling for abstention if it were the truly atrocious Fillon against Le Pen. But for all that I try, I cannot help but put voting for an actual fascist in an entirely different moral and political category. This is not about being duped by cheap promises of jobs or ‘sovereignty’. Successive generations of Europeans have grown up understanding Hitler and the Nazis to be an emblem of absolute evil. There is no one in France who does not know of Le Pen’s associations with those who deny the Holocaust and the monstrous crimes of the Nazi’s French allies (not because they think they didn’t happen, but because they approve and want to achieve something similar). In a French setting the FN openly celebrate the colonial wars, which brutalised entire societies – Le Pen’s father was a proud torturer of fighters for Algerian independence. There is no excuse for voting for such repugnant characters, and I also have nothing but seething contempt for those who ‘argue’ that an aspiring centrist Presidential contender is on the same moral scale. The trade unions and political parties who are calling the choice between a liberal democrat and a fascist**** ‘the plague or the cholera’ deserve to catch both, and as for the schoolkids running around organising anti-Macron demonstrations, they are, whether they know and are amused by it or not, tools of the far-right. As such I don’t find them a particularly compelling case for empathy. Let’s use whatever meagre means we might have – let’s, at the very least, use social media to share our anger and fear of a fascist victory – to help ensure that next Sunday the spirit of anti-fascist resistance fighters prevails over the fetid ghouls of Nazi collaborators.

* They might also be inclined to think, jesus, are all the sentences going to be this long?

** To be fair I didn’t actually write that one, although I might well have thought it momentarily.

*** The French term for ‘dollop’ is apparently ‘bonne cuillerée’.

**** Le clue devrait être dans le mots, n’est-ce pas?!

You can do something to stop Le Pen: Change your profile photo

Probably the smallest gesture you can make in the attempt to change the world for the better (or stop it getting worse) is to change your profile picture on social media to reflect your concern about an issue. In the last couple of years people have most commonly altered their photos using a twibbon to commemorate or express solidarity with the victims of terrorist attacks such as the ones in Paris and Brussels.

Right now, all of the values that enlightened users of Facebook, Twitter and Instagram are under grave threat. This time it’s not a single unpredictable act of political violence which threatens to turn our continent into a more dangerous, repressive and mistrustful place to live, but the victory of a national socialist candidate in the second round of the French elections.

For most of my own life the notion that fascism could make a comeback in Europe was unthinkable. A charismatic leader manipulating the masses into hating their neighbours so that they could gain political power and eradicate democracy? Surely people would recognise the danger and unite to ostracise such a figure. But now Marine Le Pen, the proud daughter of a man who repeatedly insisted that the Nazi Holocaust a ‘mere footnote of history’, stands a very real chance of winning the Presidency. The response of a lot of those who should be in the forefront of the fight against her has been to shrug their shoulders and talk sulkily about abstaining. Some have complained bitterly that there was no point voting against Jean-Marie Le Pen in 2002 only to see his daughter become even more popular, as though fifteen years of no death camps had not been worth getting out of bed and voting for.

This is not about telling French people how to vote. Or maybe it is. It doesn’t matter. Fascism is too grave a threat to pretend that borders matter. People like Le Pen have an international vision of how they want the world to be. She welcomed Brexit and the election of Trump and openly associates with (and is funded by) Vladimir Putin. 

It is not about persuading hardcore FN supporters not to vote for her. Such people are, for the moment, lost to humanity. This is about expressing publicly the very simple and ideally universally-shared belief that fascism is evil and must be opposed by any means necessary, even if that means putting a cross next to the name of a person who would not be your ideal first choice to lead your country. Over the next ten days, whenever French people who are at all inclined to abstain on May 7th go onto social media, they need to see that their foreign friends want them to go and vote against Le Pen. 

You would make this simple, tiny gesture for victims of terrorism; do it now to help prevent all of us falling victim to fascism. If you need any more persuading that it is a worthwhile thing to do, google ‘Marine Le Pen twibbon’. There are lots and lots, and they are being used and seen, including in groups that are supposedly left-wing and anti-fascist, where, as I presume elsewhere, her attacks on Macron from the left are going down very well. Unless we help to oppose Le Pen, in whatever ways we can, she will win.

The link is here.

I’m starting to despair of ‘the Left’

I have a very bad habit: signing up to and spending time in Facebook groups. Around Brexit it was the various Remain groups, during the US election the anti-Trump ones and over the last couple of weeks I’ve been hanging out with the French Left.

When I say ‘Left’, it’s an odd melange, in that there aren’t at present many contributors who define themselves in opposition to the right. In such groups supporters of the growing movement for abstention increasingly rubs shoulders with open supporters of the Nazi candidate Le Pen.

I saw something similar late last year with so-called ‘Bernie’ supporters who were far too busy propagandising against Hillary to even mention Trump. It has recently turned out that some of the groups are actually orchestrated by the far-right, which partly explains why they are happy to host posts in favour of far-right causes, including Le Pen. Although I’ve always found the cliché that the two ends of the political spectrum meet up contemptible, on social media it is often very difficult to tell who is what.

As someone whose knowledge of French politics is limited (I’ve never lived in France), I respect the opinions of friends who insist that some of the anti-Macron stuff being shared is a healthy letting-off of steam and that most of those disappointed with Méchelon’s failure to get through to the second round will do the sensible thing in ten days’ time. It’s also possible that the Facebook groups of France Insoumise Ici, the inappropriately-named 100% Anti-Facho and others are not representative of the debate in society at large. Espérons-le. It’s worth acknowledging are also sections of the Left (notably Ensemble) who have actually taken an anti-fascist position on the election – shamefully, that doesn’t include the once-prominent Nouveau Parti Anticapitaliste  (NPA).

However, what I’m seeing repeated exponentially more often is the argument ‘there’s no difference between Macron’s neoliberalism and Le Pen’s fascism’. The hashtag #sansmoi is being used by those who will proudly refuse to exercise their democratic responsibilities on May 7th and will presumably wash their hands of the consequences of the result.

That’s what a lot of ‘Bernie supporters’ did. They campaigned against Clinton to the point where millions who clearly should have voted for her were unmotivated to do so, and now they happily blame others for the outcome. The far-right is now tearing up the rights and protections of ordinary citizens at a ferocious rate, held back only by the courts. Trump is trying to bomb his way to popularity but the consciences of those who helped him into power are clear. It’s apparently all the fault of the Democrats who treated Bernie unfairly, the diddums.

It’s distinctly possible that the memes and tropes being shared against Macron right now on the ‘Left’ will help to elect Le Pen. They will depress Macron’s vote, increase abstention, put his campaign on the back foot and let a Holocaust revisionist and open racist into power in one of the world’s most emblematic democratic and powerful countries. In the process they will jeopardise the future of Europe and encourage the exponential growth of the far-right across the world. There may well be death camps; no one can pretend they don’t know what Le Pen stands for.

But what will the consequences be for those who let it happen? As so often on the ‘Left’, the ultimate prize is a pure, unsullied pair of hands and a smug sense that although there may be massive injustice in the world, I have played no part in its perpetuation. In the justifications of anti-Clinton leftists, pro-‘Lexit’ voters and French abstentionists, the key words are me and my: my beliefs, ma conscience… I know this because for years I was involved in leftwing organisations (although presently unaffiliated, I still hold basically socialist values and principles) and with some honourable exceptions those who were or aspired to be at the top of such groupuscules were far more concerned with promoting their egos and the name of their parties than with actually achieving meaningful change, except in some never-to-be-achieved wonderland.

I don’t know if Jean-Luc Mélenchon falls into that category. I’m reliably assured that he has in the past shown himself to be an admirable and consistent anti-fascist. It may be that his ego was damaged by his failure to get into the second round; he may just be sulking. He may, like Jeremy Corbyn, be tragically incompetent when it comes to strategy and leadership. Of course I would rather have seen him in the second round against Macron or Fillon. The support he built up in a few short weeks before the election is an encouraging sign that there is a huge appetite for a radical egalitarian alternative to neoliberalism. But there is no way that he is unaware that Le Pen is harvesting similar sentiments, that a key part of her strategy is to position herself right where he stood. For his supporters to be repeating this arrant nonsense that there is no difference between a banker and a Nazi AND NOT BE CONTRADICTED indicates an absolute abdication of moral and political leadership at the most critical point in the history of post-war Europe.

This is what I feel like screaming in the street right now (instead, I’m writing it on my website, which is sort of similar): IF LE PEN WINS, IT WILL BE THANKS TO THE CONNIVANCE OF THE ‘LEFT’. Any and all anti-fascists worthy of the name need to learn a very important lesson from the US and and STOP telling the world that Macron and Le Pen are indistiguishable. Doing so may involve a self-sacrifice of one’s impeccable anti-neoliberal credentials and necessitates a measure of humility. For me it’s another test of whether or not today’s ‘Left’ is anything other than a long-running vanity project, a puerile or senile delusion, a shiny accoutrement which looks nice but refers to nothing but itself. The dominance of the notion that the market and finance should control every aspect of our lives is a catastrophe for the human species, but if you think it’s as bad as what Le Pen stands for, you’re a cretin and a connard. Grow up, vote Macron. C’est tout.

PS: Bonus quiz question: does the follow clip depict fascism or neoliberalism?

Do you still think Putin is on the left?

So, you’re a progressive. You wanted Bernie Sanders to win the Presidential election and were disgusted to see how he was cheated out of the nomination. You were delighted to see that the underhand and frankly treacherous machinations of the Democrats backfired. Not that you wanted Trump to win, of course, but what the hell did they expect, and who’s to blame? Instead of promoting a program for change, they pushed the same corrupt, neoliberal, pro-corporate warmongering agenda that stained the Obama years.

In the case of Russia, you’re sick of all the misinformation and scaremongering. It’s not so long ago that the US was persecuting supposed Russian agents and ruining the lives of anyone considered a ‘red’. What’s changed? Pro-Clinton newspapers and TV networks are trying to make up for the terrible mistake they made in choosing a corrupt candidate by undermining a democratically elected Government – not one to your liking, obviously, but the only way to get rid of it is to choose a genuinely popular candidate with a proper radical agenda the next time round.

In any case, who believes what the mainstream media says any more? People can see through their fake news bullshit. There are alternative news sources, ones that let you know what’s really going on behind the scenes of this farce.

Personally you like Russia Today. It has some genuinely brave alternative voices, people like Max Keiser, Abby Martin, Glenn Greeenwald and Ed Schultz. You’ve come across people online – mostly shills for Clinton – who claim that it’s just a mouthpiece for the Kremlin. More russophobic propaganda, you think. Putin is demonised in the MSM but he’s a geopolitical pragmatist, and he also dares to challenge some of the most powerful interests on earth – NATO, the EU and the entire corrupt financial establishment in the form of families like the Rothschilds. That’s why he’s become the latest embodiment of evil. The disinformation in the so-called liberal Western media about Russia’s involvement in Ukraine has been particularly disgraceful.

It’s partly thanks to RT that you’ve been broadening your outlook, following political developments in other countries. The US is not the centre of the world! You thought it was a shame that Geert Wilders didn’t win the Dutch election. His call for the Netherlands to leave the EU and NATO was too dangerous for the political establishment and so he was painted as a racist and the sitting candidate (a right-wing neoliberal) was shoehorned back into power.

With Le Pen, you’re not so sure. You agree that there’s a problem with Islamic terrorism, and it’s one that the EU doesn’t seem to have a response to. But you also remember that she comes from a tradition (in her party and in her family) of fascist ideology, including holocaust denial. Now, you’re no fascist and you’re no antisemite. You oppose what Israel is doing with the settlements and the occupation – you’ve sometimes thought about going there to volunteer in some capacity – but you’ve certainly got nothing against Jewish people. Bernie Sanders himself is Jewish!

You open Facebook and there’s a post from Infowars (you enjoy hearing about what Alex Jones says about Clinton, but you avoid watching the vidoes where he goes on his syphilitic rants about Trump). The post has a photo which shows Vladimir Putin on the right, holding hands with an actual full-on holocaust-denying antisemite aspiring fascist demagogue to the left. Putin is (for him) smiling broadly.

And you? Where are you in this picture? Are you, as you have always assumed, on the left, or have you somehow ended up supporting the far-right?

It’s probably about time you stopped watching RT.