Irreconcilable Lefts: An Interview with Kévin Boucaud-Victoire
In our final problem, Michael C. Behrent examined Jean-Claude Michéa’s “subterranean affect on a brand new era of anti-capitalist radicals in France.” Right here, he talks with Kévin Boucaud-Victoire, a younger member of the Michéa-influenced French left.
Michael C. Behrent ▪ June 7, 2019
Kévin Boucaud-Victoire (courtesy of Boucaud-Victoire)
In our Spring 2019 challenge, Michael C. Behrent examined author Jean-Claude Michéa’s physique of thought and his “subterranean affect on a brand new era of anti-capitalist radicals in France.” Right here, Behrent interviews a member of that era: Kévin Boucaud-Victoire, co-founder of the journal Le Comptoir and the writer of a current e-book on Michéa, Mystère Michéa: Portrait d’un anarchiste conservateur, revealed in France by L’Escargot. (Learn Behrent’s interview with Michéa right here.)
Michael C. Behrent: Kévin Boucaud-Victoire, you’re thirty years previous. You’re a reporter. You’ve gotten written for L’Humanité, the French Group Social gathering’s newspaper. You’ve been intently concerned with a number of leftist journals (notably Le Comptoir). You’ve revealed two books (La Guerre des gauches, or The Conflict of the Lefts, and a brief essay on Orwell). You’re an admirer of Jean-Claude Michéa. How would you clarify your background and political trajectory?
Kévin Boucaud-Victoire: It’s sort of an extended story, so I’ll attempt to summarize it. I had the great fortune to be born right into a Trotskyist household. Each of my mother and father have been activists in Lutte Ouvrière (Staff’ Wrestle, or LO). Disgust towards all types of injustice, inequality, and racism made me flip towards the Trostkyism of Olivier Besancenot’s Ligue Communiste Révolutionnaire (the Communist Revolutionary League, or LCR). Finally, France’s 2012 presidential election pushed me towards the Entrance de Gauche (the Left Entrance, or FdG), whose candidate, Jean-Luc Mélenchon, ran a great marketing campaign. I took my card with the PCF (the Communist Get together), for native causes: I reside in a city the place the communists are traditionally robust.
It was not till I used to be twenty-one that I began turning into really inquisitive about concepts. On the time, I used to be doing a grasp’s diploma in economics, after an undergraduate diploma in math. Studying political, sociological, or philosophical essays was by no means pure for me. I began with Marx and Engels, together with Lenin and Trotsky. I shortly devoured the books of numerous authors: Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Pierre Bourdieu, Aimé Césaire, Frantz Fanon, Angela Davis, Malcolm X, Edouard Glissant, Patrick Chamoiseau, and Jean-Paul Sartre.
In 2012, the studying of one other modern French writer, whom I found virtually accidentally, revolutionized my mind-set. It was Jean-Claude Michéa. I owe him, within the first place, an unlimited mental debt: in a single essay, L’Empire du moindre mal (The Reign of Lesser Evil), he launched me to George Orwell, Christopher Lasch, Man Debord, Cornelius Castoriadis, Michel Clouscard, Philippe Muray, and Marcel Mauss—thinkers that I might subsequently discover extra deeply. Subsequent, he made me acutely aware of the truth that capitalism is a “complete social reality,” based mostly as a lot on financial liberalism as on political and cultural liberalism—the concept everybody ought to stay “as they see match,” with the caveat that they “not hurt others”—and on the cult of progress. On this method, capitalism boils right down to a system that’s regulated solely by regulation and the market.
Lastly, to conclude, I might level out that nothing predestined me to turn out to be a journalist, as I studied math and quantitative economics. At first, I even labored as an economist at a financial institution. My ardour for writing started in 2012. With a pal, I created an internet music journal, of which I’m the editor. In late 2012, I joined Ragemag, an internet political and cultural journal that’s near Michéa’s concepts, the place everybody labored as a volunteer. I turned a journalist in 2014 once I joined L’Humanité. The identical yr, I created with some buddies, most of whom had been with Ragemag, which had ceased to exist, the web journal Le Comptoir (which now additionally has a print version), which sees itself as socialist and pro-degrowth. Lastly, I just lately turned editor of the location Le Média presse, the written department of Média, a web-based TV present based by Mélenchon’s supporters.
Behrent: In your ebook The Struggle of the Lefts (Editions du Cerf, 2017), you argue that the left in France and different western democracies is hopelessly divided, notably between a liberal left and a radical, anti-capitalist left. In your opinion, why is a union of the left not potential?
Boucaud-Victoire: In my e-book, I try to elucidate why one ought to not converse of “the left,” however of the lefts, since there exist three political households that for a century belonged to the identical camp however have now grow to be troublesome to unite. The left-right divide was born right here, in France, through the revolution, particularly on August 28, 1789. The “left” referred to those that opposed monarchical energy. That is when the primary two households constituting it have been born: the liberal left and the Jacobin left. The previous defended political liberalism. It was solely individualistic and based mostly on the separation of powers and a “value-neutral state”—that’s, a public authority that refused any conception of the great or morality. The second and really French household believes, quite, within the republic one and indivisible, embodied by the facility of the state, coupled with the thought of progress and people emancipated from all determinisms. A number of many years later, a 3rd household, socialism, the fruit of social circumstances engendered by nascent industrial society and working-class struggles, was born. This anti-capitalist doctrine was outlined by Pierre Leroux in 1834 as “the doctrine that may sacrifice not one of the phrases of the slogan liberty, fraternity, equality, unity, however will reconcile all of them.”
On the outset, these three households had little in widespread. All three got here out of the Enlightenment, believed in progress, and opposed the previous regime. That they had a standard enemy: the conservative and reactionary forces that needed to reestablish previous hierarchies. A really distinct context made an alliance between them potential (anticlericalism, anti-monarchism, and later anti-fascism).
Since then, the context has modified. The specter of a return of the previous regime has receded. Hardcore fascism is just embraced by small teams, even when a brand new, identitarian excessive proper is rising in France and all through the west. Neoliberalism, for its half, has utterly devastated society, reworking it every day and constantly into aggregates of people regulated by nothing greater than regulation and markets. On the similar time, the left, usually, has misplaced its rootedness within the working courses, as a consequence of its compromises with the system. That is why our former prime minister, Manuel Valls, spoke of “two irreconcilable lefts”: one liberal, one anti-liberal. I converse of three irreconcilable lefts, including the Jacobin left, which is presently very involved with secularism. At current, these households disagree about virtually every part, and the shortage of a standard enemy prevents them from forming a standard entrance.
Behrent: You could have spoken approvingly of what Michéa calls “Orwell’s theorem”: when the far proper wins amongst peculiar individuals, the left wants to look at itself. Does this perception assist us perceive what’s occurred in France and elsewhere in recent times?
Boucaud-Victoire: Over the previous twenty years, the Nationwide Entrance has turn out to be, after non-voters, the most important staff’ get together in France. In 2017, 41 % of staff went with Marine Le Pen, as did 31 % of white-collar staff [employés]. Mélenchon managed to restrict the injury (with 24 % of staff and 19 % of white-collar staff), however these voters ought to logically belong to the left. We should perceive how we obtained right here. I feel three elements, one structural and two contingent, clarify how we wound up on this state of affairs.
First, as I stated earlier than, the left is on the aspect of progress and thus of everlasting upheaval. This corresponds most to the values of the petty bourgeoisie and the bourgeoisie. Whereas technological progress has had useful results for liberal and high-income professions, it has, because the nineteenth century, proved alienating for extra economically modest teams—I refer you to David Nobles’s e-book, Progress With out Individuals. On this word, George Orwell, in The Street to Wigan Pier, noticed that “the unlucky factor is that at current the phrase ‘progress’ and the phrase ‘Socialism’ are linked inseparably in virtually everybody’s thoughts. . . . [T]he Socialist is all the time in favor of mechanization, rationalization, modernization—or no less than thinks that he should be in favor of them.” One should however notice that till the 1980s, the left managed to be working-class, notably the Communists, which have been the proletarian get together.
However the arrival to energy in 1981 of François Mitterrand, the primary “socialist” president, was a serious and damaging occasion. In 1983, the Socialist Celebration, whose management is usually bourgeois, broke with its preliminary program. This was the so-called “flip to austerity” (tournant de la rigueur). The socialists opened an (economically) liberal parenthesis that they by no means closed and deserted the working courses. For this left and its newspapers, the latter have been now seen as hicks, racists, and xenophobes. In search of a brand new “progressive” struggle, Mitterrand turned to the cooptation of antiracism, with the creation of the group SOS Racisme in 1984, and to antifascism, with the emergence of Jean-Marie Le Pen’s Nationwide Entrance in 1983. Capitalism ceased to be a problem.
The Socialist Celebration regularly turned the social gathering of the cultural city petty bourgeoise (the “bobos”), whereas additionally trying to depend on the help of “minorities” (ethnic minorities, ladies, homosexuals, and so on.). The last word achievement of this left was the report issued by the socialist think-tank Terra Nova entitled “The Left: What Majority for 2012?” The authors name for a give attention to “the France of tomorrow,” which is “youthful, extra numerous, extra feminized,” “a culturally progressive citizens.” The corollary is the necessity to abandon “the declining working class,” which in any case votes for the far proper! Sadly, the liberal left has drawn to it the “radical” left (although the latter doesn’t understand it), which has regularly deserted the category wrestle as its main working system.
Lastly, I see a 3rd purpose: the query of sovereignty. Because the essayist Aurélien Bernier has proven in La gauche et ses tabous (The Left and Its Taboos, 2014), the rise of the Nationwide Entrance caused “LePeni-zed considering” (la lepennisation des esprits), but in addition “anti-LePen-ized considering. Any concept defended by the Nationwide Entrance’s chief turned inherently fascistic and repellent. Amongst these concepts was the critique of free commerce, globalization, and the European Union. Not solely are the latter dangerous to the working courses, however solely by difficult them can the left’s social program be rendered credible, because it requires wiggle room.
Presently, La France Insoumise (Mélenchon’s social gathering) has made steps in the best course on these final factors, with a populist discourse influenced by Chantal Mouffe and Ernesto Laclau, and by bolstering its stance on the EU. However this isn’t sufficient. In the meantime, the left has, typically unconsciously, ceded the working courses to the far proper.
Behrent: Should the left develop into populist?
Boucaud-Victoire: If by “populism” we imply a coverage that seeks to attach the working courses to democracy, sure. As I see it, populism is a political technique that hyperlinks a way—the category wrestle, however conceived in a different way than its Marxist sense—to a really exact finish: real social democracy. In different phrases, it seeks to reinstate the individuals conceived politically (the demos) by way of the individuals conceived socially (the plebs, against the elites).
Keep in mind that earlier than turning into a time period of abuse synonymous with “xenophobe,” “nationalist,” and “Nazi,” “populist” had a constructive which means—in Russia, america, and France. Within the 1860s, beneath the tsars, it referred to revolutionaries who advocated an agrarian and in style socialism—the Narodniks (those that have been for “the individuals”). They even obtained Marx’s help. On the opposite aspect of the Atlantic, the Individuals’s Social gathering—also called the Populist Celebration—shaped in 1891, was, in accordance with Serge Halimi (the editor of Le Monde Diplomatique), “concurrently progressive, rooted in rural traditions, and structured round an formidable and exact program of financial transformation.” Much less revolutionary than its Russian cousin, this populism denounced the world of finance, the corruption of elites, and the betrayal of the American democratic preferrred and have become the advocate of farmers, staff, small-time producers, and “the oppressed, no matter their race may be.” Lastly, in France, the time period seems within the late 1920s and refers to a literary present that tried to painting working-class individuals in a sensible method. There’s even a populist literary award that has been round since 1931—gained in 1940, notably, by Jean-Paul Sartre for The Wall—to reward novels that “favor people belonging to the individuals as characters and working-class milieus as settings, so long as they elicit an genuine humanity.”
Briefly, as Orwell would say, the left should attempt to convey collectively “all those that cringe to the boss and all those that shudder once they consider the lease.”
Behrent: Are there any events or figures at present whom you contemplate as fashions for the path the left ought to take?
Boucaud-Victoire: I might first point out the Zapatista motion. I recognize their radical anti-capitalism, their strategy to social change, their closeness to the poor, their federalism, their anarchism, and their leaders’ refusal of energy and insistence on anonymity. I might add that as patriots and Catholics, in a rustic the place that issues, they’ve been capable of mobilize the working courses. I might additionally point out the Rojava’s municipalism, although it does have a big disadvantage: the Kurds’ relations with different regional ethnic teams. Let’s say that I respect the Kurds’ egalitarianism and democratism, however my worry is that they may obtain it by dominating different peoples.
No modern determine involves thoughts. For me, the final nice political mannequin was Thomas Sankara, the president of Burkina Faso from 1983 to 1987. He was a person who was really near the individuals (“we should want to take one step along with the individuals somewhat than ten steps with out the individuals”), who was a patriot, a democrat, an ecologist, and a feminist, along with being impressed by Marxism-Leninism: an ideal populist cocktail.
Behrent: How would you clarify the modern attraction of a thinker like Michéa and the best way he has revived curiosity in figures like Christopher Lasch and George Orwell?
Boucaud-Victoire: Neoliberalism has introduced us to an deadlock. We will not ignore this reality. It integrates fewer and fewer individuals into the social physique, it creates new types of alienation, monstrous inequalities, and proves incapable of giving which means to our lives. Furthermore, it has led us to a serious ecological disaster. But Marxism-Leninism and “actually present socialism” have confirmed that they weren’t an alternate. Michéa, Lasch, and Orwell have traced the contours of a brand new anti-capitalist, democratic radicalism that can also be important of recent society’s alienating tradition (“mass society”).
Michéa is an entry level to many different thinkers I’ve talked about. He’s additionally an entry level to unclassifiable thinkers comparable to Simone Weil, Jacques Ellul, Ivan Illich, Gustav Landauer, and Jaime Semprun.
Behrent: Your journal, Le Comptoir, publishes articles which might be important of multiculturalism and sure sorts of feminism. That is troublesome for People to equate with “being on the left.” How would you clarify this place to American progressives?
Boucaud-Victoire: Certainly it’s the results of our totally different histories. Our political tradition is republican, whereas yours is liberal. Cultural liberalism—from which multiculturalism arises—thus appears pure to you and is harder to name into query. That is, nevertheless, far much less true right here. Way back to 1985, Man Debord noticed: “We’ve got made ourselves into People. It’s no shock that we should always expertise all of the depressing issues of the united statesA., from medicine to the mafia, ‘quick meals’ and the proliferation of ethnicities.”
What we criticize are the brand new types of activism that arose from “French concept,” that’s, from the American extension of the deconstructionist concepts of French thinkers comparable to Foucault, Deleuze, and Derrida. In Le Désert de la critique (The Desert of Critique), the socialist and anarchist thinker Renaud Garcia exhibits how these theories discourage “any essential effort that might nonetheless search to orient political and social struggles round such ideas as human dignity, justice, and fact”—and thus the seek for complete options.
Behrent: How do you clarify the truth that intellectuals such as you and Michéa are turning, as leftists, to concepts that many see as conservative? Has it turn out to be needed for the left to take a conservative (versus liberal) flip?
Boucaud-Victoire: Because the discovery of the horrors of the Soviet bloc and its collapse, the left has wanted to reinvent itself. A brand new left has, as I defined earlier, tried to commerce within the working class, in decline because of globalization, for “minorities” and deconstruction. However it’s operating into the wall of actuality. What you see as a conservative flip is nothing aside from consciousness of the truth that “there exists, within the multi-millennial legacy of human society, a sure variety of achievements that have to be preserved” (Michéa) and with out which no emancipation is feasible. The ecological disaster has offered proof of this reality, since to unravel it, we should discover ways to protect. However different points require radical change. In “Toast to the Revolution” (1848), Pierre-Joseph Proudhon wrote: “Whoever talks about revolution essentially talks about progress, however simply as essentially about conservation.” Allow us to be trustworthy to the considering of the daddy of anarchism.
Behrent: What do you consider the yellow-vest motion?
Boucaud-Victoire: A motion that was at first troublesome to determine politically, the yellow vests caught everybody—notably the left—off guard. Admittedly, it started with a slogan that would appear ambiguous or “Poujadist” to whomever is just not conversant in the favored courses of “peripheral France”—that’s, city, peri-urban, and rural France insofar as it isn’t built-in into main metropolises, that are linked to globalization. Behind their hostility to extreme taxation lurks a robust feeling of injustice and social despair. Moreover, this motion mobilized individuals who don’t often go to demonstrations. Whereas from the outset the motion happy me, it did fear the left and the unions, which noticed issues escape from their management.
When one seems at a map of the roundabout mobilizations—the bastions of the yellow vest motion—one sees not solely that peripheral France is overrepresented, but in addition these elements of the nation that voted “no” on the 2005 referendum on the European Structure. One can thus conclude that they include the “losers” of globalization and European integration. In a short time, this non-politicized mass succeeded, by way of dialogue, in launching a number of fascinating political measures, notably the Residents’ Initiative Referendum (référendum d’initiative citoyenne). It’s as if the yellow vests, by rebuilding social bonds, introduced forth strange individuals’s widespread sense. Then, in the course of the Paris mobilizations, they didn’t hesitate to reveal within the western bourgeois neighborhoods, the place political and financial energy is concentrated. Since ’68, labor demonstrations had all the time confined themselves to the favored and gentrified neighborhoods of japanese Paris, to the purpose that doing one thing totally different turned unimaginable. From this perspective, the yellow vests have been extra subversive than the left.
What stays to be decided is whether or not this motion is on the left or the correct. Actually, it’s neither; it’s an virtually pure expression of the category wrestle. The latter, which till now has been waged primarily by the bourgeoisie—Macron went too far on this respect—isn’t actually left-wing or right-wing. Let’s hope that the yellow vests inaugurate a brand new period of social wrestle.
Kévin Boucaud-Victoire is co-founder of Le Comptoir and the writer of The Warfare of the Lefts and a current ebook on Jean-Claude Michéa
Michael C. Behrent teaches historical past at Appalachian State College.
Translation by Michael C. Behrent
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