Friday, November 23, 2007

Marchais-Sarko, Même Combat

Jean Véronis notes similarities in the speech patterns of the late Communist leader Georges Marchais and Nicolas Sarkozy. Both tried to parler popu', as Véronis puts it, but only one became president of the Republic.

Badiou on Sarko

Alain Badiou, who has become something of a guru to an intellectual generation younger than mine, has published a new and topical book, Sarkozy, de quoi est-il le nom? He talks about it here. Despite a few provocative statements--sarkozysme is the new form of giscardisme, or is it the new form of pétainisme (in a "logical, formal sense," mind you, not in the sense of a moral judgment)--Badiou's diagnosis seems quite conventional: change in global economic configuration compelling a rightward turn of social democracies everywhere, hardening of rhetoric on the extreme left with no means of moving from words to action, conflict-avoidance by all opposition leaders, etc.

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.