The French Insurgency: What is the significance of the Gilets Jaunes?

The ‘Yellow Vests’ or ‘Gilets Jaunes’ are a movement of protest in France that since it started in November 2018 has operated outside the framework of political parties and trade-union organisation and has shaken the political establishment. It has brought together waged workers, the self-employed and other popular strata in a protest against the state and has highlighted the injustices and exploitation of French society. Surprisingly it has maintained high levels of popular support throughout months of confrontation with the state, in spite of escalating levels of police repression and it has succeeded in extracting concessions from the government. However, this movement appears as inherently contradictory. Some of its demands and its discourses  seem to have elements of the programme of the far-right (nationalism, belief in conspiracy theories and anti-migrant feelings) as well as an emphasis on justice and redistribution of wealth associated with the left.

Dr Stathis Kouvelakis is a Reader in Political theory in the Department of French at Kings College, London. In his research interests he specialises in Marx’s political thought, contemporary French politics and the history of social protest in France. His recent publications include an article in the New Left Review: The French insurgency: Political Economy of The Gilets Jaunes.(110/ May 2019).  He will look at the background to the ‘Gilets Jaunes’ protest,  the key elements of their programme and  their impact on the French political system and the Macron government.

18th November 2019


Iran & the West: A conflict without resolution?

The relationship between Iran and the West appears to have reached a new low point. The nuclear agreement with Iran is on the point of collapse following US reimposition of  sanctions and the naval build up and the standoff over oil supplies in the Strait of Hormuz is dangerous. The potential for  armed conflict is very real and there are powerful interests in the US and elsewhere, keen to promote such a conflict. But  the history of the fraught relationship between Iran and the West is complex and goes back a long way. The present situation must be seen against this background.

Yassamine Mather is the Acting Editor of the Academic Journal ‘Critique’ and is a regular contributor to  TV and radio  programmes on BBC Persian. She is a member of the Senior Common Room of St. Anthony”s College, Oxford and undertakes research within the Middle East Centre at Oxford. Her research interests encompass the Middle East with particular emphasis on Iranian politics. She will look at the background to the current crisis both from the perspective inside Iran and the geopolitical forces at play in western policy towards Iran. She will also discuss how the present crisis could be resolved and prospects for developing a  future more positive relationship between Iran and the West.

28th October 2019


Venezuela in Crisis

Nicolás Maduro was elected President of Venezuela in 2013, winning a second term in May 2018 with 67.7% of the vote. From the start, the US has mounted a relentless campaign against him, calling openly for regime change and threatening military intervention. Trump’s government recognized Juan Guaidó, of the conservative opposition, as ‘interim president’ in January, and backed his spectacularly ill-conceived coup attempt at the end of April. Venezuela is heavily dependent on its oil revenues and relies on these to import food and medicines. The collapse of global oil prices in 2014 accelerated the country’s profound economic crisis. From 2017 Trump’s policy has been to impose severe economic sanctions on the country, hitting the petroleum industry as hard as possible, including preventing the state’s energy company—PDVSA — from receiving payments for its export of petroleum products. By one estimate, the US sanctions have contributed to the deaths of 40,000 Venezuelan civilians between 2017 and 2018

Alongside anti-imperial opposition to violations of Venezuelan sovereignty, socialists must also offer a full analysis of the class character and nature of the Maduro regime and an assessment of its role in the crisis. It is not at all self-evident that the Maduro administration represents the interests of Venezuela’s lower orders, with the economic and political power of the military, a self-enriching state bureaucracy, and sections of private capital growing considerably under his watch. In some ways, the present conflict between the right-wing opposition and the Maduro government is a political confrontation between different fractions of Venezuelan capital, the former backed by the imperial power of the United States and international financial markets, and the latter backed by the Venezuelan state (and to some extent, Chinese and Russian imperialism), which has retained its rentier-capitalist character throughout the Chávez and Maduro eras. The difficult but necessary task facing independent socialists has been to navigate an independent struggle against imperial intervention, total separation from the Venezuelan right, and simultaneous independence from the Maduro government. 

Jeffery Webber will discuss this situation with us. He is a Senior Lecturer in International Political Economy at Goldsmiths, and has written and spoken internationally on Latin American Politics, international relations and social theory.  He sits on the editorial board of Historical Materialism  and writes regularly for non-academic  publications, including JacobinViewpoint, and NACLA Report on the Americas. The most recent of his five books The Last Day of Oppression, and the First Day of the Same: The Politics and Economics of the New Latin American Left was published in 2017.

 

7th October 2019