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The Censorship of Jacques Sapir, French Dissident

Jacques Sapir is a French economist. He has an impeccable academic background. Since September 2012 he has written a blog labelled russeurope, which has become a much-visited site.

The self-description of his blog reads:

This blog aims at the dissemination of some of my research works, including working papers, position papers or brief notes focusing either on the Russian economy (from macroeconomy to regional economics and finance) or on the European one, with a special attention to the Eurozone crisis.

It happens that Sapir’s blog has been mounted on the Hypothèses platform (blogs, all 2466 of them) of OpenEdition, a vast web-based portal for academic work and events, generally in French.

The censorship of opinion

On 26 September, readers of russeurope confronted a notice from Marin Dacos (‘founder and director of OpenEdition’) notifying Sapir fans that the platform was henceforth closed to Sapir’s contributions.

M. Macos claimed that on numerous occasions Sapir had published text which has a politically partisan stamp, not of an academic and scientific character appropriate to Hypothèses. Past columns will remain available on the site, but no new content will be henceforth published.

In an open letter to Macos, Sapir claims that this act again him, seemingly anodyne, is extraordinary. It is representative of the intolerance towards anti-establishment opinion and of the repression that grows inexorably whether in France (the anti-terrorist law very worrying in this regard)(1) or in other countries, like Spain.

Macos has pointed particularly to some Sapir postings found unacceptable, all with a political slant. Macos is implicitly claiming that economic science is apolitical, value-free. Sapir finds that presumption laughable, noting that Macos has not taken Epistemology 100. By criticizing President Macron, Sapir infers that the crime of lèse-majesté has been re-established through the back door.

Sapir asks, is it the success of russeurope that has drawn the consternation of Macos and his superiors? If it had a small readership, who would bother? The site has been receiving more than 200,000 hits per month, with a peak of more than 350,000 hits during the Presidential election period. More, his columns are regularly reproduced on other sites, not merely in France but in Belgium, Italy and other countries.

This is not a one-off event. Journalist Aude Lancelin was sacked from her deputy director’s role at Nouvel-Observateur (L’Obs) in May 2016. The brutal sacking occurred on the eve of a Board meeting presided over by the paper’s very wealthy proprietors.(2) Her co-deputy Pascal Riché was moved sideways. Mme Lancelin has the misfortune to have a questioning intelligence, and being close to critical thinkers, not least the anti-establishment philosopher-economist Frédéric Lordon (her partner).

Sapir’s offending articles

Macos cited 4 articles, in particular, that the platform’s guardians found on the nose. What’s in them?

1. ‘Candidates of the past, candidates of the future’ (8 April 2017)

This is the French text of an interview given to Russia Today. Sapir gave a rundown of all the Presidential candidates. Sapir gave most attention to his estimate of the front-runners – François Fillon (Les Républicains), Emmanuel Macron (En marche!), Marine le Pen (Front national) and Jean-Luc Mélenchon (La France insoumise). Apart from giving a more accurate appraisal than the MSM of le Pen and Mélenchon (in itself a no-no), Sapir had no kind words for Macron.

On Macron:

“The electorate seems to have cottoned on to the void in his personality, an emptiness that combines with an extremely reactionary social agenda. Constructing himself as the candidate of the uberization of society, Emmanuel Macron, behind a language pretend modern, is in fact only the champion of a return to the beginning of the 19th Century – a return to the ‘domestic system’ that prevailed before the industrial revolution. It is striking to note that the candidate who claims to embody ‘modernity’, who boasts the virtues of ‘the digital economy’, is in reality a creature of the past.

But Emmanuel Macron is a man of the past in a second sense. If he presents himself as a ‘new man’, indeed (pay attention!) as a candidate ‘anti-system’, it is necessary to remember that he was integrally involved, whether as economic adviser to President Hollande or of Economy Minister under Prime Minister Manuel Valls, with the disastrous policies implanted during Hollande’s 5-year Presidency. This politics has added, from February 2013 to the beginning of this year, more than 400,000 additional unemployed to the considerable number that were a legacy of the Sarkozy-Fillon duo.”

2. ‘Times of Change for French Politics’ (24 April 2017)

This is essentially an English-language version of the 8 April article (imperfect – a mechanical translation?). It is prefaced with the results of the first round, which confirmed Sapir’s predictions of the primacy of Macron (23.9 %) and Fillon (19.9 %), le Pen (21.4 %) and Mélenchon (19.6 %).

More on Macron:

“Another important point to note has been the fast rise of Emmanuel Macron who, with the support of a large part of the media,(2) of the banking establishment and of a large fraction of the Socialist party came from nothing on to the first place of the first round.

Sapir adds a new concluding judgment:

“Even if Mr Macron is described in the French media as a man of his time the actual reality is that he is a man of the past, one of the responsibles of President François Hollande’s terrible economic policy. His program doesn’t contain any hints about how he will really fight the economic slump France suffered for the last 10 years. His ability to skilfully negotiate with Mrs Merkel’s Germany doesn’t look obvious. He will most probably lock France again in the same doldrums where it has been locked during Hollande’s mandate. The social and economic consequences are to be truly catastrophic.”

3. ‘Macron, Ferrand and ‘propaganda’’ (30 may 2017)

A key plank of Macron’s campaign agenda was the cleaning up of corruption, petty and otherwise, in the French political process. ‘Probity’ was to be the new watchword.

Along comes Richard Ferrand. Ferrand was carried into the National Assembly on the Parti Socialiste wave in 2012. Ferrand, close to President Hollande, was made parliamentary manager (rapporteur général)) of Economy Minister Macron’s 2014 omnibus neoliberal ‘Economic growth and activity’ bill (the ‘Macron Law’). In October 2016, while still a Parti Socialiste deputy, Ferrand became General Secretary of Macron’s new movement, En marche! (much to the contempt of his local colleagues). Macron, elected President in May 2017, made Ferrand Minister for Regional Cohesion.

Ferrand is discovered to be involved in a small peccadillo (disclosed by Le Canard Enchaîné, 24 May). Prior to entering Parliament, Ferrand was Director General of the Mutuelles de Bretagne. In early 2011, Ferrand arranged that the Mutual will rent its offices in a space to be bought by a new company created and owned by his partner (and his young son as obligatory co-signatory), following which the site will be renovated at the Mutual’s expense, to the additional benefit of the owners. Crédit Agricole lends the purchaser the entire sum, a practice followed only when the rent of the mortgaged property is guaranteed. The anonymous beneficiary of this deal, for which not a penny of personal funds was outlaid, is one Richard Ferrand.

Ferrand is forced to resign as Minister but Macron as compensation makes him President of his Le République en Marche Assembly members, where he remains, unrepentant.

At the same time, three other ministers of Macron’s new government – François Bayrou (Justice), Marielle de Sarnez (European Affairs) and Sylvie Goulard (Army) – were forced to resign. All members of the minor MoDem Party, strapped for funds, all were caught up in the use of European Parliament personnel resources appropriated for general use by the Party on French soil (Le Canard Enchaîné, 14 & 21 June).

Probity indeed. This article by Sapir draws out the hypocrisy of the Macron ensemble, but also the inconsistency of the French MSM. In late 2016, François Fillon, the winner of the Primary of the dominant right-wing Party Les Républicains, was generally considered a shoe-in for the forthcoming April-May Presidential elections. After the disclosure of his long-term employment of family members in phantom positions, initially by Le Canard Enchaîné and then furiously by the MSM, Fillon’s candidature was henceforth a lost cause. Ferrand himself claimed that Fillon had tarnished the reputation of elected office in general. Macron, the candidate of the MSM in its entirety, was the direct beneficiary of Fillon’s fall from grace and his own ascendancy as the front runner.

Sapir notes that Macron took umbrage at Russian media’s coverage of Macron’s character as ‘propaganda’, but was silent on the transparent biases and propaganda of the French MSM.

Sapir turns the knife:

“All this impels one to question the nature of Emmanuel Macron’s program, and to go beyond appearances in which some journalists are happy to wallow. One could well find then, behind the glitz of a claimed modernity, a program deeply reactionary that conceives of French citizens only as isolated individuals, outside of any structured hierarchy of power. This program takes the atomistic vision of society, that of neoclassical economics, contrary to all the work, which, over a period of 70 years, has demonstrated its falsity. Until the Ferrand-Bayou-de Sarnez business, this façade was wearing well. Today, it has cracked open.”

In October, the local Breton prosecutor at Brest (installed only in September) closed down the case against Ferrand. Ferrand had no case to answer, said the prosecutor, because the rent charged to the Mutuelles de Bretagne by Ferrand and his partner was within normal market rates. The prosecutor’s claim regarding the timing of sale and rental contract is contradicted by the facts of the paper trail (Le Canard Enchaîné, 18 October). Detractors remain disgusted at the absence of morality (if not the illegality) of Ferrand’s manoeuvre (with another peccadillo regarding real estate) but also at the evident partiality of the French prosecutorial process.

4. ‘The President Potemkin?’ (2 June 2017)

Sapir likens Macron to Prince Potemkin (1739 – 91), colonizer and ruler of Russia’s southern provinces under Catherine’s favour. Potemkin aroused curiosity as the man who erected facades that mimicked villages full of happy people.

For Sapir, Macron is the President who juxtaposes pretend poses (for example – ecological commitment, public probity) with a venal real agenda.

For Sapir:

“Is Emmanuel Macron the President of make-believe? In fact, all the dances of the seven veils have only one end – to induce one to ignore what Macron and his counsellors have in store for us. …

Emmanuel Macron, as has been elaborated already, has a project. That of leading France back to the early years of the Industrial Revolution in unmaking the Labor Code embodying the collective will. He has a project directed to expanding destitution so as to diffuse its explosive potential, whereas any healthy political leadership should have as key objective the combatting of this misery. …

Each would-be deputy of LRM who will be beaten [at the forthcoming legislative elections], or each candidate close to allying him/herself with LRM who will be beaten, implies a little more space for a more social vision of French society.”

Sapir’s crime and authorized opinion

The articles cited by M. Macos as troublesome all occurred during the 2017 Presidential campaign. Sapir notes that in 2017 M. Marin Dacos became scientific counsellor for ‘digital science’ to M. Alain Beretz, Director General of research and innovation in the Ministry of Higher Education and Research – an official position.

There is a conflict of interest for Macos with his position as director of Open Editions, in so far as this is a platform formally open to all opinions. It appears that Sapir is being shut out, not for the un-academic character of his writings but because of his opinions running foul of the large-scale hoopla underpinning the Macron ascendancy.

Sapir has a long history of deep engagement as a well-informed and critically-minded economist. His comprehensive critique of mainstream economics(3) is a consequence of his close exposure to the devastating impact that ‘apolitical’ ‘scientific’ economic theories had in their slavish imposition on the Russian economy and society in the 1990s.

He is also philosophically well-informed, not least regarding the hugely lauded genre of ‘economic constitutionalism’ (Hayek, Buchanan) that provides ersatz legitimacy for the European Union under which counter-democratic yoke Europeans are currently imprisoned.(4)

He is an expert on the Russian economy, and he is an expert on the European economy. By conventional criteria he is eminently respectable. He is well equipped with the orthodox economist’s analytical toolkit – albeit he uses that toolkit for atypical purposes. It is unfortunate that he does not have a greater exposure to English-language readers.

It is possible that the French establishment is not appreciative of Sapir’s exposition of things happening in Russia – especially when Sapir notes, by conventional macroeconomic criteria, that things are looking up, in spite of Western sanctions.(5) France is currently a Neo-Con haven, with some of the non-mainstream media (Mediapart, Le Canard Enchaîné) as russophobic as is the MSM.

It is definite that the French establishment loathes Sapir’s analysis of Europe. Sapir has been a long term critic of the euro(6)  – not least from the point of view of France’s disappearing sovereignty and of the euro’s advantage to Germany in enhancing its trade surplus and leverage over the rest of Europe. For this stance Sapir has been labelled absurdly as allied with the ‘extreme right’. The French establishment’s religious addiction to Europe over which it exercises no influence thus has rational-minded detractors seen as chauvinist racists or crackpots.

This ‘mis-orientation’ rooted in respectability imparts to Sapir a genetic undesirability but for which the establishment could have only ripostes that rebound to its discredit. But one infers that what really irked the guardians of Hypothèses and OpenEdition (and, in turn, their political masters) is Sapir’s unqualified disdain for Macron, the nature of his ascendancy and his agenda.

Sapir, and like-minded critics, is right. Emmanuel Macron, the self-styled Jupiter, has as his agenda the comprehensive dismantling of the vision for which the building blocks were established by the Conseil national de la Résistance in 1944-45. In a program already well underway, Macron (his moniker ‘President of the rich’) intends to dramatically enhance inequality, in class and social terms and regionally.

In doing so, he is also undermining not merely the already tenuous integrity of French society but of the French economy as well. The inevitable destructive impact of his campaign indicates that Macron is not merely a spiv, but dangerously inept.

And for pointing out the obvious, Sapir the Cassandra is deprived of the platform that has comforted his significant supportive readers that their own rational interpretation of France’s malaise is credible rather than crazy.

In a letter to Alain Beretz (cc to Marin Macos) from French Senator Pierre-Yves Collambat (19 October), the Senator notes (my translation):

“Long time regular reader of Jacques Sapir, I find in his analyses of the economics and politics of countries such as Russia, Spain and Italy and his analyses of European problems insights that I can’t find elsewhere. This independence of spirit and originality amply justify their publication, at least as much as work by those of whom, happily, no-one ever cites. …

Must I then consider, for you, that all reflection on economic, historical and political matters outside the ideological mainstream, when expressed in the preferred vernacular, has no place on Hypothèses? For OpenEdition, this is a curious conception of openness.”

Jacques Sapir has yet to receive a response from Messrs Macos and Beretz during the ensuing month and a half of the closure of russeurope.

Notes

(1) A law passed by the National Assembly on 30 October entrenches in essence permanently the ‘state of emergency’ (formally until the end of 2020), cementing a succession of temporary measures in place since November 2015. The temporary measures have done little to enhance security against domestic terrorism. On the contrary, under a succession of venal Ministers of the Interior, the measures have been mainly directed to protestors against government policy.

(2) A select roll call on the ownership of the French mainstream media:

* billionaire Serge Dassault: Le Figaro

* billionaire Bernard Arnault: Les Echos, Le Parisien, L’Opinion

* billionaire Patrick Drahi: Libération, L’Express, BTM-TV & RMC

* billionaire Xavier Niel & multi-millionaires Matthieu Pigasse and Pierre Bergé (the latter deceased in September): Le Monde, L’Obs

* billionaire François Pinault: Le Point

* billionaire Vincent Bolloré: Canal Plus, Direct Matin, Direct Soir

* billionaires Martin and Olivier Bouygues: the privatized TF1

* multi-millionaire Claude Perdriel: Challenges, L’Obs (minority), Rue89

The MSM went en bloc for their man Emmanuel Macron in the 2017 Presidential election campaign. In office, Macron is returning the favour in spades.

(3) Sapir, Les Trous Noirs de la Science Économique, Albin Michel, 2000.

(4) Sapir, ‘Souveraineté et ordre démocratique’, russeurope, 31 May 2014.

(5) Sapir, ‘Russie: le retour de la croissance se confirme’, Les econoclastes, 26 October 2017.

(6) For example, in the context of the Greek crisis, Sapir, Counterpunch, 24 June 2015.

More articles by:

Evan Jones is a retired political economist from the University of Sydney. He can be reached at:evan.jones@sydney.edu.au

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