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France: Left Demonstrates Against ‘Socialist’ Austerity Today.

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The Front de gauche, the  nouveau parti anticapitaliste (NPA), the left of the Greens (EELV) – against their party’s official refusal to participate, many trade union bodies, and civil society organisations (over 200), are marching today against the Austerity policies of Prime Minister Manuel Valls and President François Hollande.

Alexis Tsipras, the leader of the radical left Greek party, Syriza, will be present

While the recent local elections were marked by divisions within the main French left alliance, the Front de gauche, these have not prevented this unified demonstration.

The March is  “contre l’austérité, pour l’égalité et le partage des richesses” – against austerity, for equality, and sharing wealth.

Specifically it is opposed to the government’s “pact” with employers and plans to cut spending.

Leading forces behind the event stand for an “alternative left majority”  as Jean-Luc Mélenchon, of the Front de gauche puts it. 

According to Pierre Laurent, (of the French Communist Party, PCF) the “living forces” of the left must unite and construct an alternative capable of winning a majority of the French people to its side. The demonstrations of the 12 April could be the starting point of a new assembly, one that will find expression in during the polls for the European elections on the 25th of  May.

L’Humanité.

Maintenant ça suffit ! 

For a European Movement Against Austerity!

Mitterrand. A Study in Ambiguity. Philip Short. Review.

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This was written over a month ago. A slightly shorter version was published in the March-April issue of Chartist magazine.

 

Mitterrand. A Study in Ambiguity. Philip Short. The Bodley Head. 2013.

François Hollande’s electoral campaign in 2012 presented him as “Mitterrand’s heir.” Perhaps British readers will come to Philip Short’s biography more interested in the parallels between the former French Head of State’s ‘second family’ with Anne Pingeot, and Hollande’s affair with Julie Gayet. But Mitterrand invites more significant comparisons with the legacy of France’s first, and longest serving, French President.

Mitterrand, marked by “ambiguities” was known as “the Sphinx”, marked by “inner solitude.” He worked in “shades of grey”. His life is littered with riddles. Catherine Nay counted seven ‘Mitterrands’, from a left-wing Léon Blum to the Father of the Nation, in his first term of office alone (Les Sept Mitterrand. 1988). Philip Short has the more daunting task of covering a life and career from 1916 to 1996.

As a student in the 1930s Mitterrand was involved with the far-right Croix de feu. As an escaped prisoner of war he served the Vichy regime and was awarded the francisque emblem for his work. Engaged in the Resistance from 1943, he ended the war in Parliament and served, as a centre-left republican, in a variety of posts under the Fourth Republic. Short, more generously than many, finds excuses for these early years. In the 1930s and the War, he was no anti-Semite. As a Minister of the one of numerous Coalitions during the Algerian War of Liberation he opposed independence, and was just as “blinkered as most of his colleagues.”

Mitterrand furiously opposed De Gaulle’s 1958 “coup d’état” and the 1962 referendum on the direct election of the President. But his failure to speak out against torture and his ambiguity over decolonisation isolated him from the burgeoning New Left that regrouped during those years in the Parti Socialiste Unifié (PSU). Yet, Short argues, his distance from the “squabbling over political theory” of these factions allowed Mitterrand to rise to lead France’s left. A stunning 37,78% of the vote for his Presidential candidacy (backed the entire left, including the Communist Party) in 1965 brought him back centre-stage.

A Study in Ambiguity recounts how Mitterrand, from creation of the Parti Socialiste in Épinay (1971) to his electoral triumph in 1981 made himself as the undisputed Chief of the French left. Short has a fine eye for the role of ‘clubs’ on the French left, and how French parties come into being around a “new Leader”. Mitterrand, he argues, was able “to forge unity not around a programme but around his own person.”(Page 275)

The Socialist General Secretary rapidly came into conflict with the one French party with a collective leadership, the Communists (PCF). Right up until his 1981 election Mitterrand clashed with the PCF. From unity, over the Programme Commun in 1972, to the break up in 1977, relations were stormy. Short repeats the allegation that the Communists (still hovering around 20% of the vote during the decade) were prepared to secretly support Conservative politicians in an attempt to stop him coming to power.

The victory of the “force tranquille” (a phrase of Victor Hugo) in 1981 put Mitterrand on the stage of history. The new President’s supporters swept through Paris. The Right was “panic stricken”. Elected on a programme promising a “rupture” with capitalism, the new government included 4 members of the (already declining, 12.4% for the Presidentials and 11,26% for the Parliamentary elections) Communist Party. There were nationalisations (36 banks, 5 large industrial groups, and many more), a 10% rise in the minimum wage, the lowering of the retirement age to 60, an increase in holidays to 5 weeks a year, and new rights for employees at work. The Death Penalty was abolished. The first moves towards decentralisation were taken.

For a while it looked as if something resembling the British Alternative Economic Strategy was being put into practice. Nevertheless the core policy, raising incomes to spark a consumer boom, failed. There was immense pressure on the Franc. The French economy did not prosper. Unemployment and inflation rose.

Short asserts that confronted with these economic realities retreat was inevitable. By summer 1982 there was devaluation, and a “four month price and wage freeze, a cap on the budget deficit at 3 per cent of GNP” as well as “a commitment to bring inflation below 8 per cent in 1984. Over the next years, “socialist France had joined the rest of the industrialised world in a forced deflationary spiral to get its economy back into balance.”(P 366) For A Study in Ambiguity “The French Socialists had to absorb in months knowledge which their neighbours had accumulated over decades.”(Page 365)

For some on the French left, such as Jean-Luc Mélenchon, the left government ran up against the ‘bankers ramp’ (le mur de l’argent). Was this realism? To Short, Mitterrand and his supporters became zealots for “modernisation” competitively and talked up entrepreneurial “winners” and market flexibility. They would certainly have agreed with Short that the 1981 Projet Socialiste was an “anachronism” and that nationalisation and state controls had proved to be “irrelevant”.

This was not just a “disavowal of everything Mitterrand had stood for” .It was, for many on the left at the time, the replacement of the radical, and ill-defined, socialism of the 1970s by the exploitative “free market norms” of France’s partners. Instead of changing, for example, to a new pan-European left strategy, the Government had taken over the European right’s policies. Thierry Pfister, a direct observer of the shift, ridiculed the vacuity of this “modernisation” without radical content (La vie quotidienne à Matignon au temps de ‘Union de la Gauche. 1983).

Mitterrand won a second 7-year term, in 1988, with the slogan, “neither nationalisations nor privatisations”. While he promised to restore the wealth tax – abolished during his ‘cohabitation’ with right-wing PM Jacques Chirac (1986 – 88) this was “non-campaign”, focused “almost entirely on winning over the political centre.” It was a success.

Was in fact Mitterrand ever interested in more than winning and keeping power? Short argues – deceptions and ambiguities aside – that there was. Mitterrand “began a slow and painful accommodation to the economic and political realities of the world outside.” His values endured, “The construction of Europe and the quest for social justice, the two great causes which had sprung from Mitterrand’s experience as a prisoner of war, and modernisation, which had imposed itself as a necessity during his time of office, are legacy enough.”(Page 582)

Yet Short also describes another legacy. Mitterrand, from the mid-1980s onwards brought the far-right Front National into the electoral arena. In contrast to those who consider this a manoeuvre to split the Right, he states it was designed to “neutralise its venom”. The FN’s entry into the “mainstream of French politics”, he asserts, has warded off the growth of French “diehard racist parties”, to be seen in the other European countries.

As the Front National occupies a leading place in the opinion polls, over the last weeks the streets of Paris have been full of tens of thousands of far-right demonstrators. The sight of religious hysteria against gays and “gender theory”, and the sound of anti-Semitic chants, is perhaps not the kind of achievements the, excellent, Mitterrand. A Study in Ambiguity would wish to celebrate.

 Note: the Front National has since done well in the local elections and promises to do better in the European ones.

Written by Andrew Coates

April 4, 2014 at 11:08 am

French Left Calls President Hollande’s policies “a Disaster”.

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Socialists Massively Rejected. 

France’s governing Socialists have suffered big losses in municipal elections, with the opposition UMP claiming victory and the far right celebrating further gains.

UMP leader Jean-Francois Cope hailed what he called a “blue wave” of support for his centre-right party.

The far-right National Front (FN) was heading for victory in up to 15 towns, partial results indicated. BBC

Jean-Luc Mélenchon has commented on the second round of municipal elections.

He sees in the result as a condemnation of government policy. The leader of the Front de gauche and the Parti de Gauche. Mélenchon has already denounced the sectarian attitude of the Parti Socialiste  PS in cities like Toulouse.

Jean-Luc Mélenchon has called for a “new left, capable of becoming a majority  in our country.”

He has stressed the excellent result of the PG-EELV list Grenoble (an alliance of his party and the Greens). In this he  saw “a great lesson” who brought “great hope” and breathed new life into politics.  Jean-Luc Mélenchon called for elected Socialist Party representatives to break ranks and join the leftist opposition to government policy.

In Le Monde today  Mélenchon has summed up the source of the problem. It is President Hollande, and his

turn rightwards, the government’s  preferred alliance with the MEDEF (employers’ organisation), and its submission to European austerity policies. These  have produced a disaster. “

Leading Green Senator, Jean-Vincent Placé, has demanded the government drops its “pacte de responsbilité”, an agreement with employers’ organisations to make France “more competitive”.

President Hollande has faced ciriticisms from within his own party, including from his former partner, Ségolène Royal, who called for a “change of tempo” in the government’s actions.

François Hollande: From One Social Democracy to Another.

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François Hollande: From One Social Democracy to Another.

The sight of President François Hollande as a pudgy Alain Delon, scootering to a gallant assignation with Julie Gayet, has captured the world’s attention. No doubt to be made into a film by the Comic Strip as a hommage to the Nouvelle Vague, this aspect of the Head of State’s life is less important than the other big event last week. At Tuesday’s New Year Presidential Press Conference Hollande announced a major political turn, to “resolutely social democratic policies”.

The former General Secretary of the Parti Socialiste wooed the French employers’, and their organisation, the MEDEF, with pro-“enterprise” proposals. This “pacte de responsabilité” is based on reducing (state) charges on companies. This would be part of an overall reform of taxation, and specifically the gradual abolition of the contribution employers have to make to finance family allowances. Employees will not, he claimed, have to take over responsibility for paying for them. Instead there will be a reduction in state spending and a reduction in the public deficit.

Political Strategy?

For Jean-Luc Mélenchon this declaration was the worst blow to the left since Guy Mollet (Socialist leader in the 1950s) backed the repression of the fighters for Algerian independence. Hollande, the former Presidential candidate of the Front de gauche, stated, was elected to wage war on finance capital. He has now abandoned the battle (Blog 14.1.14). Indeed he had dropped social democracy, the idea that a left government could help share out the wealth produced by growth. Now Hollande, and his Prime Minister, Ayraud, were in reality “social liberals”.

Indeed many people had the impression that Hollande’s objective was to reach out to the Centre. The “pact’s favourable reception by some on the centre-right, such as Jean-Louis Borloo (Union des démocrats et independents, UDI) , suggested an attempt to reach more formal agreement. But “triangulation” is much more probable, as commentators note that the President is reaching out not to right-wing parties but to their electorate (le Monde 17. 1.14)

Taxation and Cuts

What are the assumptions behind this “pact”?

Nasser Mansouri Guilani of the Parti Communiste Français (PCF) in l’Humanité (14.1.14) began by observing that projected growth in the French economy for 2014 satnds at a low 1%, unemployment continues to grow, and investment is also down, France is not prospering.

Holalnde, as Mélenchon notes, criticised the financial system and its responsibility for the 2009 crisis. His Projet Présidential began with a call to assert the sovereignty of the Republic against the market. European measures to protect public services and to regulate banking and finance, including an agency of « notation » were proposed. schemes to reduce youth unemployment, measures to protect the jobs in companies of more than 5,000 employees were taken, and an active industrial strategy – persued by his (left-wing) Minister Arnaud Montebourg, were initiated.

This has not, as we observed, resulted in growth. Guilani puts the responsibility for this on neo-liberal economics. Hollande by contrast has turned to the liberal idea that the « wealth creators » need encouragement. They are held back by too much state taxation. Polices that encourage the « offre », that is those producing for the market, must be put in place. The pact is a way to do this. Much is unclear. The “redefinition” of the principle “missions de l’État” is open to many interpretations. But reducing spending means one thing: cuts

Few have ignored that the basis of the new approach responds to long-standing criticisms from business and political leaders in ‘anglo-saxon’ countries that France is too bureaucratic and the economy is hampered by too much state control. As Jean-Paul Agon, CEO of l’Oréal, put it, these are steps in the right direction (Le Monde. 17.1.14). Next, he stated, is a need to change the taxation rates for high earners.

The protests of the « bonnets rouges » in Brittany and elsewhere against the « eco-taxes » have contributed to this focus on state finance and the « problem » of regulation by public authorities. The right, including the Front National, calls for ever more radical reductions in state spending. Members of the (previously governing) party, the UMP, want to 25 hour week abolished, and privatisations.

With union membership at a feeble 7,6% of employees there is little effective working class opposition. We might even ask that if Hollande’s has proposed a ‘pact’ and the employers have responded yes, whether he feels he needs them. The non Parti Socialiste left, largely the Front de gauche (FdG), has responded with  calls for fiscal justice, but, on the evidence, has been little heard. But then reports equally indicate that the Pacte has not been widely greeted by the public either.

A Failure of Equality.

The Socialist Party’s Déclaration des principes (2008) put equality, as the basis for a critique of capitalism, at the heart of its programme. In Les Gauches Françaises (2012) Jacques Julliard asserted that Hollande represented a « third generation » of social democracy. This had the objective of redistributing wealth, from finance capital to employees. Pierre Rosenvallon, from the social democratic « second Left » wrote, in the influential La société des égaux (2011) (partly inspired by Anthony Crosland) of a reformism that would create « common decency » in a more equal society. In this people’s individuality (« singularité ») would be founded in citizenship and community.

It is hard to see how this will come about under François Hollande’s Presidency. As Serge Halimi has commented neither he, nor his Prime Minster, Ayrault, have shown any « pugnacity » in challenging neo-liberalism (Le Monde Diplomatique. January 2014). This, Halmi asserts, reflects a long-term accommodation to market economics, going back to the time of François Mitterrand in the mid-1980s. After efforts to introduce a state-led socialist programme and nationalisation faltered, they changed direction. Under Mitterrrand’s Prime Minister Laurent Fabius (1984 – 1986) – now Foreign Minister – the Socialists encouraged “winners”. Entrepeneurs such as Bernard Tapie came into Mitterrand’s orbit. We will be watching with interest to see if anything similar happens now.

The French Socialists’ modest proposals to change the course of European Union policies have not been heard. Social democracy is weak in Europe and has become weaker still in recent years. That the German Chancellor and her SPD partners have welcomed Hollande’s latest moves indicates that it is the French Socialists and not the European right that have been persuaded to alter direction.

Equality in any form is no longer a priority. With all due sense of proportion, one could say of this latest turn to the market, as Ernest Bevin might have remarked, that once you’ve opened this Pandora’s Box you never know what Trojan ‘orses might jump out.

Mitterrand’s legacy.

President François Mitterrand was the personality who indelibly marked the French Socialist Party’s transition from a party of opposition to a regular participant in government. His socialism, such as it was, barely developed beyond Victor Hugo’s warm calls for social justice. The ‘Sphnix’ was also famously ambiguous. Apart from a hidden double marital life, Mitterrand harboured more grudges than an entire mountain Albanian clan. (Mitterrand. Philip Short. 2013)

François Hollande had a reputation for normality, good humour, and a more ideological socialism, or rather the social democracy represented in the Parti Socialiste’s humanist critique of finance capital. In the last week we have learnt that he too has a compartmentalised life, and that his political comrades know little of his private character (Kim Willsher. Observer. 19..12014). It is now being said that anybody that does not follow the new line will be excluded from power, though there have been  grumbles from inside his own party, and  partners such as the Greens, (EELV).

Hollande’s presidential campaign was an echo of Mitterrand’s 1981 success. He presented himself as a force tranquille. Is January’s move another copy, this time of the former President’s efforts to divide the right ? Will he act equally ruthlessly against his enemies ? Is this move to the market the sign of abandoning any reformist politics?

Of more importance: will the left, which was paralysed during the Mitterrand years, be able to respond with vigorous opposition?

We certainly hope so.

Valérie Trierweiler and Ségolène Royal: Things We Might Consider.

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A Bit of Recent History.

Some of the English-speaking media seem to think that the ‘affaire’ surrounding François Hollande’s relations with Julie Gayet   is a rare example of a French Politician’s private life being brought out in public.

Plenty of articles have shown that this is not true, though it may well have been true during the Mitterrand years.

But not for a long long time.

One has less sympathy for  Valérie Trierweiler when we look at some of her own past.

Entre deux Feu (2012) covered -in great detail – Hollande’s early relations with Trierweiler, and the (to say the least) thorny relations between her and Hollande’s former partner, Ségolène Royal (Parti Socialiste Presidential candidate in 2007) – the mother of his four children.

Then there was this last year:

Miss Trierweiler sparked a political storm last week with a Twitter message in which she wished “good luck” to the Socialist dissident rival of Miss Royal, 58, the mother of President François Hollande’s four children, in last Sunday’s parliamentary elections.

While Miss Trierweiler was initially defiant about the tweet, she admitted on Wednesday that she “made a mistake” after Miss Royal was comprehensively defeated. Mr Hollande was reportedly “furious”, letting her know “it can never happen again”.

Miss Royal had already said she was “wounded” by the “violent blow” from Miss Trierweiler.

But today she went much further, claiming that Miss Trierweiler had been angling behind the scenes to undermine her political career for years, ever since starting a relationship with her ex-partner.

She had previously reproached senior Socialists including Mr Hollande, party leader at the time, of being less than supportive during the 2007 presidential race, which she lost to Mr Sarkozy.Here.

In the legislative elections of 2012 the dissident socialist Olivier Falorni was indeed encouraged by  Valérie Trierweiler, to stand against Ségolène Royal.

He won with  62,97 % of the vote.

There’s plenty more to say.

This  perhaps explains why Trierweiler does not evoke universal sympathy – no more than Hollande for that matter.

Written by Andrew Coates

January 13, 2014 at 5:00 pm