No borders, no fatherland! France – What’s New for the Left? (book review)

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Book review: No borders, no fatherland!
France – What’s New for the Left?

(Ni patrie ni frontières, Paris 2017, 454p., no ISBN)

I first came across the journal Ni patrie ni frontières (subtitled: Ni États, ni Eglises – Ni “races”, ni ethnies – Traductions et débats) around 2003/2004 when they published a collection of texts in English by the Dutch group De Fabel van de illegaal, titled Nationalism, Anti-Semitism and the Anti-globalisation Movement (1998-2003). At a time when things were going seriously wrong in the radical Left and especially the wider “anti-globalisation” movement, the brochure was a welcome signal that there were critical voices that were sensitive to the growing overlap of far right and far left anti-imperialist positions, often manifesting themselves as “anti-Zionist”.

I started picking up copies of Ni patrie ni frontières whenever I could find them. The French journal was started in 2002 by Yves Coleman and a fair number of issues appeared in quick succession. Initially published in the form of photocopied and staple-bound A4 editions, they switched to printed softcovers in 2007 with issue 21/22.

The journal presents a wide range of historical texts and contemporary analysis of the pressing questions of the “revolutionary” Left, with views from a spectrum of radical writers and groups ranging from Left Communism to anarchism and Third Camp Trotskyism. Among the writers are Loren Goldner (Insurgent Notes), and the groups the Alliance for Worker’s Liberty, (the German) Wildcat publication, Temps critiques, Movement Communiste, the Worker-Communist Parties of Iran and Iraq, as well as anarchist and left communist classics.

They also publish a series of compilations/anthologies dedicated to particular issues (six volumes so far), as well as books, amongst them the selected works of G.Munis as well as historical works on Trotskyism and Left Communism by Karim Landais and Michel Roger.

A recent issue of the journal, titled Du prolétariat afro-américain et ces luttes (Nº 58/59, Paris April 2017 – On the African American Proletariat and its Struggles), combines the focus on the main theme (as elucidated in the title) with débats et polémiques on anti-Muslim racism, the absence of a critical spirit in the Left and the topic of left anti-Semitism, as well as a text by Angry Workers of the World titled ‘Insurrection et production’.

The fact that Ni patrie ni frontières is tackling the issue of left and radical left anti-Semitism and identity politics is at least for France rather unusual and especially pertinent today.

More generally it is painfully evident that the debates and polemics within the rather small circles of the revolutionary Left suffer from remaining untranslated and hence stay within the confines of areas where a particular language is spoken. Even within those regions the absence of productive debate is often staggering. Ni patrie ni frontières has done some important work in fostering such debates and providing translations, bringing some mainly English (and to a lesser degree Dutch, German and Portuguese) texts to a French readership.

Recently they have reversed the perspective and published a book of interventions, written mainly by editor Yves Coleman, in English, titled France – What’s New for the Left?

This 454-page tome collects texts from the beginning of NPNF in 2002 and spanning to 2017. Some of the texts have been previously published in publications such as Solidarity, The Commune, Mute (UK), Insurgent Notes, Against the Current (USA), Prol-Position (Germany), Collegamenti Wobbly (Italy), De Fabel van de illegaal and Doorbraak (Netherlands).

This compilation of articles should serve as a primer for the anglophone Left to learn more about the situation in France. The main topics, most of which NPNF repeatedly investigates, are the history and failures of the Left (in the form of the Socialist and Communist/Stalinist parties), of the radical Left (in the different shapes of Trotskyism, as well as anarchism, situationism and left communism), the failures to adequately defend secularism from a proletarian point of view, as well as the failure to adequately understand and fight anti-Semitism. There is a critique of various types of identity politics and the concept of “islamophobia” applied to forms of racism against migrants from predominantly Muslim countries. The aim is also to present a more sober assessment of the strikes and riots that took place in the last decade and a half in France, as well as occurrences in mainstream politics such as the presidential elections or background information concerning the history, decline and persisting territorial strongholds of the classic French Stalinism of the PCF (Communist Party) and its return to prominence with Jean-Luc Mélenchon.

Another topic is the rise of the far right (both of the National Front and the fascist groupuscules to its right) and the effect of the “fascist creep” on the Left as well as the appeasement towards islamism in some of the ‘anti-racist’ milieus.

France – What’s new for the Left? is a big step in the right direction which will hopefully be followed up with more translations into English – and other languages – from Ni patrie ni frontières.

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