Friday, November 23, 2007

Consummate Oxymoron

Olivier Besancenot, the Trotskyite leader who won 4.9 percent of the vote in the presidential election and who has been enjoying a certain unaccustomed publicity during the strikes, has lost all sense of the meaning of words. Seeking to link himself to the great revolutionary tradition, he cast about for a phrase that would be reminiscent of Trotsky's "permanent revolution" yet applicable to the French situation. What he came up with was, "la rentrée sociale permanente." This raises the art of the oxymoron to new heights. Permanent revolution meant extending revolutionary influence outward in ever-widening circles, not marching around in circles in the streets of Paris or tying up the périphérique. La rentrée, before the metaphor became lexicalized, implied a return from vacation, which will hardly be possible if a fraction of the work force were to persist in keeping the majority from their jobs. If anything encapsulates the radicals' absence of an alternative, not only to the reforms but to the world as it is, it has to be this particularly inapt phrase.

But the owl of Minerva seems to have flown at night, as Hegel predicted. Besancenot uttered his oxymoron in the waning hours of the strike--a happy Thanksgiving gift for Sarko l'Américain.* In the end, he will have made the trains run on time. And yes, GB, I am aware that this gauge of good government has come to be associated with Mussolini. The lesson that should be drawn from this is not that trains running on time are a sign of fascist rule but rather that trains not running on time create the preconditions for a fascist takeover. With a little luck, the chaos in the stations will not become the hallmark of la rentrée sociale permanente that would indeed be remembered as the precursor of la répression vraiment permanente.

* For French readers: in the US yesterday we celebrated the annual Thanksgiving holiday.


Anonymous said...

The point was not whether or not trains were running but whether or not rule of law was observed. In just the way that the trains not running on time strikes you as a precursor to fascism (in that case, what does the current state of the US commercial airlines system suggest?) but that there is no need to choose between prosecution of high officials when evidence warrants and an effective, responsible government.

That said, I'm slightly more concerned with the trope that "a minority of workers" are preventing the majority from going on vacation. As I've said of the Sarkozy "reform" program from the beginning, I can understand why Sarkozy and the UMP want to focus on what amounts to a minor budgetary issue ahead of larger problems of a growing inequality in the distribution of income, but I can't understand why fair-minded, non-political and highly intelligent folks are so eager to argue so strongly for a position that amounts to advocating some workers work longer for less of a pension.

Would it not be more fair (if politically inexpedient) to propose that everyone's requirements be extended if in fact there is a problem with meeting current pension obligations?

Anonymous said...

Sorry, the above was me, but I'm away from home.

Unknown said...

Ultimately the intention is that everyone's requirements should be extended. But a first step was to establish equity, which does not imply absolutely identical requirements for all. Nevertheless, for many people, the disparity between the special regimes and the general regimes seemed too great.

I don't see myself as "arguing strongly" for Sarkozy's reform. What I am arguing is that if the unions or the left feels that the "minor budgetary problem" can be solved in a different way, then they should propose an alternative. They have not done so. Indeed, the PS has indicated through various spokesmen that it believes Sarkozy's solution, moving to 40 years of cotisations for all, is the best compromise. In that case, without an alternative, the strike simply amounts to a claim of continued special treatment by a favored category of workers, no more deserving in my eyes than other categories. I agree that growing inequality is a more urgent problem, but I don't see how maintaining the existing system deals with that.

Anonymous said...

^^ nice blog!! ^@^

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