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pré-rapport (en anglais) de l’exposé de J.Guespin au colloque "re-forme of revolution" (Rome 8*10 novembre).

Can science help re-forming politics ?

lundi 29 octobre 2007, par Janine Guespin, Natacha Theodorakopoulou

Science and politics

As a biologist talking of science in an environment such as this meeting, I may be expected to say that (and how), politics can help science escaping from the claws of liberal merchandisation. But my topics will be the reverse, I will try to convince you that (and how) modern science can help politics.

New concepts have been devised these last 30 years or so, arising from several scientific fields (mainly physics), and often referred to as ‘sciences of complexity’.
Can these concepts be of use to politics ?
I will argue that they can enrich the political field on two levels. On one hand, they can provide a view of the world as complex, which represents something akin to an extension of materialist dialectics, and on the other hand new tools can be devised from them, to help analyse what’s happening, and hopefully even help taking decisions.

Materialist dialectics prompts to see the world in it’s transformations, as a results of relations, among which contradictions are most important. It also attracts attention on the fact that a very small change may lead to a great transformation (qualitative jump).
Complexity widens theses view points. More relations than contradictions may be the motors of transformations (in networks), and a complex world is non linear, that is that there is no proportionality between cause and effect. Thresholds are very frequent, and the qualitative jump is more diverse that formerly expected. But, most important, something quite new arises as a consequence of these properties. The word ‘emergence’ is often used to refer to this. The issues of a transformation are very often unexpected, and even richer that could be anticipated. Even in the physical world, they may be deterministic but not predictable which means that one can say what are the possible behaviours of a system, but one cannot predict which of these possible will happen. And in many cases, such as in a chaotic behaviour, no prediction can be made at all. Therefore, if uncertainty is true also in physics, and not only in human history, it must be quite a fundamental property, and il it necessary to cope with it.

Viewed as dialectic and complex, the world is in constant transformations, driven by the interactions (contradictions and other interactions) between it’s elements, and these transformations are such that the effects are not proportional to the cause, and the issues may be either predictable, either determined but not predictable, either even not determined. But does it mean that the world is not amenable to knowledge anymore, and that all we can do is wait and see ?

In physics there are laws that allow knowing the different possible behaviours of a system, (or the lack of predictability). Are these laws useful in politics ? Can they help understand a complex situation ? Can they even help decision making ?

Of course one may argue that such concepts cannot be pertinent in human society, since human free will exists, and change the behaviours. On the other hand, it is evident that the output of a plural behaviour is often quite different from that expected by each member, meaning that it results from interactions between the actors. So instead of arguing, I decided to ‘go and see’. In other words I tried to probe these concepts by devising tools to study a concrete situation, and I chose a quite important political failure that took place last year in France.

Last year, an antiliberal coalition took place in France, with the aim of proposing a candidature for the presidential election. Everybody knows it failed. Most political writings on this topics aim to find the (supposedly unique or at least predominant) cause of this failure. My errand is quite different. I studied one part of the process (the national committee, CIUN), from the point of view of its dynamics, that is of the interactions between the actors, and the mechanisms that drove the evolution of the process.
My aim was, as I said before, to test the possibility to use concepts from sciences of complexity to study this event, and, doing so, to contribute to the understanding of the ways that led to failure. Since I studied a limited part of the process the answers I can give are also limited, but I believe I have meanwhile demonstrated some of the usefulness for politics of these concepts from science of complexity

The CIUN, and the failure of the process of proposing an antiliberal unique candidate for the presidential elections in France.

This coalition was composed of political parties (mainly the communist party and two much smaller ones), of minorities of some other parties (trostkyst LCR, greens, and some leftist socialists), and of so called ‘personnalités’ more or less related to the social movement. It comprised a national committee (CIUN) of around 40 persons, and close to a thousand local comities. As compared to the movement started during the campaign against the European constitution, some quite important strengths were lacking, such as most of the antiliberal socialists, ATTAC, and trade unions.

The process was launched by a call, on may the 11th 2006, signed both by persons and by some political parties. Thus some of the CIUN members were representing political parties or organisations and others were there by themselves. The number of persons representing each party or minority was the same (around 4) regardless of the importance of the organisation they represented. There was no rule for the presence of the others. They met once a week, and the work was performed via different commissions and a ‘secrétariat’. Neither their task, nor the global goals of the movement were quite well determined or let say were seen in a similar way by all members. Some said they only have to help the work of the local committees, to find and promote a candidate, while others thought they had a directory role, and that the movement was due to start a real change in the leftist organisations.
The local committees were around 8-900, with 10 to 60 members at the end of the period, which is very little. They were formed on a local basis (cities), and were not supposed to be organised between them, but only to meet during national meetings that took place on September 10th, October 14-15th, and December 9-10th 2006. During the fist meeting, they adopted a strategic text (prepared by the CIUN), and launched a call for more persons to be candidate than the already proposed two (Marie Georges Buffet, the secretary of the communist party, and José Bové, a well known altermondialiste and peasant leader). On the 14 th of October they worked on and adopted a programme for the future candidate (‘the 125 proposals). An on December the 10th, they broke because they could not agree on a candidate. (The CIUN died soon after). 4 major candidates were competing. The PCF ‘proposed’ Marie Georges Buffet, José Bové has retired from the race, but his supporters were still attached to his candidature, and two other candidates were willing to represent a possible compromise between these two extremes, the less known C. Autain, and Yves Salesse. There was no agreement among the CIUN, where all members except the representants of the communist party were opposed to MGB being the antiliberal candidate, so the decision was left to the local committees. But there could be no agreement on the method to decide, and the fact that a small majority of the local committees had chosen MGB was refused by the other participants as being simply due to the great number of communist activists in the local committees. The rupture was extremely violent, and provoked wounds and hates among the left activists in France.

What is striking is that many political analyses of the period are focusing on the responsibility of some parties (the PCF, the LCR), or of some persons (José Bové, or the ‘anticommunists’). Some point to the narrowing of the unity with the loss, as compared to the struggle against the European constitution of the majority of LCR, and of the antiliberal socialists. And very many, state that since this attempt failed it means that it should not be tried again. Thus, most of them look for unilateral, deterministic explanations, while the very difficulty for them to find the same explanation points to the existence of a multiplicity of causes, which are the signature of a complex system.

My purpose was to decipher the dynamic trends, inside the CIUN, that led to the final clash. So I asked How and not Why. This is different from the political analysis, although it may complement it. I call it dynamical analysis.

This involved two steps. First I had to determine most interactions between actors. (Actors may be persons or groups). This was not at all straightforward, for each person sees differently what happened, since the rule in the CIUN was not open discussions, but rather ‘rapports de forces’, ambiguities and ‘non said’.

My trick was to interview (17) members of the CIUN (or rather of the ex CIUN since I performed those interviews between April and May 2007), dispatched between the different trends to the best of my knowledge and of everybody’s agendas. My questions were about the division of the period between May and December 2006, the interactions between the actors, and between CIUN and local committees, and the methods used to cope with difficult questions such as the great number of communists that may possibly participate to the local committees, the choice of the method for the candidate designation, the choice of the candidates, and the nature of the local committees. Interviews lasted from more than an hour, therefore people were able to give their full view of the situation. (Notice that all interviews were telling a somewhat different story).

This allowed me to write a description of what happened, where I tried to unravel the contradictions, and the other interactions that could be deciphered through these interviews. This showed that there was not one single cause to the failure, and that the process was indeed complex. I think that this first step is already very important to understand what happened, and to perform a political analysis much more informed. It is what I might venture to call a dialectical analysis. I am not sure that everybody would agree with it, but I am certain that even the participants of the CIUN might learn from it.

The second step was to check this dialectical analysis with some of the concepts from the complexity sciences, and to study a few examples where I had the feeling that this kind of analysis might help go further.
For instance, I used the concepts of bifurcations from Non Linear Dynamic Systems, as a metaphor. I used it to search events that may not have attracted attention because they had no major political significance, but which had a dynamical significance in launching a change in the global dynamics of the process. (This was the case for instance of the signature of the Call not only by persons, but by parties as such). I also used the metaphor of bifurcation and multistationnarity to provide a new insight into the notion of consensus seen as a dynamic bifurcation between the usual vote, and the emergence of a consensual candidate, and to highlight an aspect of the dynamics of the failure.

Considering the CIUN as a dynamic network allowed to define groups of actors involved in a given phase of the process, (for instance the supporters of the different candidates) and to draw the interactions between them. This should have led to a graph with 4 different groups (nodes of the graph) having each a negative interaction with all the others. But to my surprise I discovered that progressively there emerged quite another configuration, only two opposing groups, the PCF on one hand and all the other actors (a very heterogeneous group indeed) on the other hand. This led to a very important pattern, well known in network dynamics, a positive feedback circuit, resulting from two negative interactions that could have only 3 outputs : the victory of one of the camps, or the rupture of the network. This gave yet another insight into the dynamics of the failure, and the cause of the violence of the rupture.

Several other positive feedback circuits were also involved in the brutality of the breakage of the process, and allow understanding why some actions led to the contrary of what the actors expected.

Finally the study of the structure of the network formed by CIUN and the local committees was also informative on the weakness of the global process.

Many other questions could surely be addressed to this corpus, but I consider my major aim as already attained. I think I showed that concepts from complexity sciences can enrich the dialectic method to study a concrete political process. They allowed understanding how and why some actions performed toward a certain goal lead to the contrary, and how the possible issues of a dynamical process can be understood from the very interactions between the actors. In conclusion I can say that the failure of the unity process was mainly due to (several) political reasons, but its violence and the way it happened, could be interpreted thanks to an analysis of the situations based on the knowledge of dynamical laws.

Does it mean that a prospective (help to decision making) dynamical analysis is possible ? I am not so sure but it may be worth trying. It requires that ambiguities, or lies be absent from the debates, which is very difficult in political issues, it supposes that people reckon the complexity of the world and start being acquainted with it’s rules, it requires a political will to do it, (which may be too contradictory with subjective political choices). In short it requires a new culture.

Whether or not dynamical analysis can help decision making, I argue that an a posteriori dialectical/dynamical analysis could and should be undertaken to understand the near past, for instance before one decides whether a strategy is to be abandoned or pursued. I argue that the political world is complex, and that being able to cope with that complexity is necessary to revolution the world.

Thus science may help re- forming politics, and that requires a new culture.

Janine Guespin-Michel

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