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France: the Left, the Future of a Disillusion – Eric Fassin

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Un manifestant, le 1er mai 2014.

Hollande: ‘Sarkozy with a Human Face’? 

Eric Fassin sociology professor at  the ’Ecole normale supérieure (ENS) has written a new book, Gauche : l’avenir d’une désillusion (The Left: the future of a disillusion).  It offers a highly critical balance-sheet of Hollande’s presidency.

Interview with CÉCILE DAUMAS

Two years ago François Hollande was elected President of the Republic. Have these been two years of economic realism or of a long disillusionment?

Hollande is “Sarkozy with a human face”, you say in your book: the issue  is no longer whether it is still socialist or has passed over  to the Social Democracy … you think he is the gravedigger of social democracy . Is this not exaggerated?

The President “admitted” to being a  ” social democrat”. The press applauded, starting with Libération . But the “pact responsibility” (Hollande’s key measure this year AC)  has been arranged with  the employers, not the unions. Social democracy implies a trade-off between capital and labour. Holland has reason to reject those who use the term “social-liberal” (about his policies. AC): his government is hardly “social.” It may well be  true that in policies, “the State will take the initiative”; but it is at the service of companies, banks and markets. This is not a liberal but neoliberal state. “Holland has got rid of socialism,” Alain Minc has announced with joy, just  as “Mitterrand  got rid of communism” .

But Holland hasn’t he proved that the left  can be realistic about the economy, something the left is often accused of being incapable of?

It’s an odd kind of economic realism that turns its back on the analyses of economists. We are told that “too much tax kills tax”. It would be better to remember that austerity kills prosperity, except for a few. It reduces purchasing power, boosts precarious employment and promotes … the incomes of rentiers. Who can believe that the money given to companies benefits employment, and not  shareholders? What  the socialist leaders call realism is a renunciation of the values ​​and intelligence of the left, as if reality was necessarily fixed on the Right.

At Le Bourget, the candidate Hollande called his enemy (“finance”) and declared: “There has never, I mean never, been only one possible policy, regardless of the seriousness of the situation” . Today he says the opposite – as François Mitterrand did in 1983  (when he turned to the Right, AC).

This is the posthumous triumph of Margaret Thatcher and her assertion that “There is no alternative” In other words, there is no policy: the illusion of ‘realism’  ” kills democracy.

Because if there is no alternative, voters choose either abstention or the Front National which has  denounced the “UMPS” (the Right-Left’ consensus in power, AC).

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You imagine in your book a scenario in which the  second round of the Presidential elections (2017)  is a duel between  UMP  (Right) and the FN  (far-Right). .. This strategy (by the Socialist Party) of refocusing its goals,, or (as critics allege) its drift to the right,  is it doomed to failure?

There are certainly reasons to be frightened ! Since 2002, the direction of endless Socialist Party changes has been always  rightward … However, if the government imitates the right in the same way that  the right imitates the extreme right, the result is that voters often prefer the original to the copy. We are on this slippery slope towards this.  Hollande, for once realistic, has already mentioned that he may well not stand as a Presidential candidate in the 2017  election.

 Adapted extracts from Libération.

More on Fassin’s book, and his, call to rebuild links between the Left and the People,   Éric Fassin : « Il faut peser plus que notre poids, devenir des minorités agissantes »

More anti-Gay Demos in France Sunday.

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Demo Against LGBT, Sexual Equality and against ‘Familyphobia.”

The ‘Manif Pour Tous’ movement is calling for a massive demonstration in the centre of Paris on Sunday, February 2, to protest against same-sex marriage laws that were passed by Francois Hollande’s Socialist government in 2013.

The mobilisation is Contre la familiphobie, les familles se mobilisent !”

This new “phobia” – against families – is apparently threatening France.

A central theme is opposition against “diffusion de l’idéologie du genre à l’école” which we have already blogged on.

The organisers aim to put an end to “ à tous ces projets LGBT et anti-famille que prépare le gouvernement” – all the LGBT and anti-family projects being prepared by the government.

Après avoir mené le combat contre le mariage homosexuel, la Manif pour Tous a appelé à manifester à Lyon et Paris contre la procréation médicalement assistée (PMA) aux couples de femmes, contre la gestation pour autrui (GPA) et contre l’«ABCD de l’égalité», un dispositif expérimental en primaire pour lutter contre les stéréotypes filles-garçons.

Libération.

After having fought against gay marriage, la Manif pour Tous, has called for demonstration against Medically Assisted Procreation (MAP) for all-women couples, against surrogate motherhood, and against the “ABC of Equality” (taught in schools) *, and a measure put in place in primary schools to combat stereotyping ‘girls and boys’.

In fact present legislation does not envisage giving PM treatment to lesbian couples, nor to authorise surrogate motherhood.

The Police, the paper further reports, are concerned that a delegation of Hussiers – court officials  – will take part in this march – presumably to act as “official” monitors.

*Les ABCD de l’égalité : un outil pour lutter dès l’école contre les inégalités filles-garçons.

The ABCD of Equality: a means of fighting straight from school age against inequalities between girls and boys.

The objective: “Transmettre des valeurs d’égalité et de respect entre les filles et les garçons, les femmes et les hommes, est une des missions essentielles de l’école, au fondement de la réussite de tous les élèves, les filles comme les garçons.”

Communicate the values of equality and respect between girls and boys, women and men – one of the essential objectives of Schooling, and the basis for achievement by all pupils, girls and boys.

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

Humour, François Hollande, and Politics.

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Francois Hollande delivering a speech during a meeting in Aulnay-sous-Bois, Paris

Likes a Larf.

French President François Hollande is known for his jokes.

David Cameron,  said that he would roll out the red carpet for French companies who did not wish to pay the 75% tax rates (for the highest earners)  the Socialist-led government had introduced.

Holland replied, “J’apprécie l’humour, et surtout l’humour britannique. Donc j’étais très heureux que l’on puisse m’offrir un tapis pour les prochains mois et les prochaines années.”

I like a joke, particularly British humour. So, I am happy that they will be able to offer me a red carpet, in the coming months, and indeed for the coming years.

There is an article, in English, on the BBC web-site, giving more details on this, appealing side, of the French President.

This time his fondness for a laugh has got Hollande in hot water.

On Monday, December 16, the 70th anniversary celebration of main French Jewish umbrella group CRIF (Representative Council of French Jewish Institutions), Hollande joked that Interior Minister Manuel Valls had returned from a trip to Algeria “safe and sound…which is saying something”.

Algerian officials were not amused.

On Saturday in Algiers, Algerian Foreign Minister Ramtane Lamamra told journalists that the French President’s wisecrack about France’s former colony was “a regrettable incident”.

The Algerian press was was particularly unamused by the joke. On Saturday, five days after Hollande made the comment, the front pages of Arabic-language newspapers El-Khabar, Echorouk and Ennahar featured the news. One headline read: “Hollande mocks Algeria in front of the Jews”. France 24.

Hollande should have read Claude Cockburn.

In  I Claud  (1967) Cockburn observed that humour often falls flat in diplomatic exchanges.

Beginning with De Gaulle (who liked to make, often cutting, witticisms), Cockburn then brings up the case of high European diplomacy and (if memory serves me rightly) a Renaissance example where an attempt at wit caused more serious difficulties than Hollande has, so far, encountered.

Left-wing political humour is a genre in its own right (Hollande is reported to be a master there was well).

Here too we find a regrettable tendency not to get the jest.

The SWP leadership,  despite its fame as a laughing-stock, shows an unhappy inclination to resent the honest efforts of wags, on the Internet and off it.

Words such as “slander” spring to their lips.

Even the Weekly Worker, we hear, shows a humourless school-teacher side when that august publication is subjected to mild ribaldry.

Tendance Coatesy likes funny.

And that’s that.