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Posts Tagged ‘Parti Socialiste

France: Mélenchon’s new hope: alliance with the Greens (EELV).

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Mélenchon for Citizen Revolution with French Greens.

The Front de Gauche (FdG) held a national general meeting (Assemblée générale) last weekend on the 7th of December.

The splits between the Parti Communiste Français (PCF) and (largely) Jean-Luc Mélenchon remain unresolved.

The latter judged – after the local and European elections this spring – that the Front de Gauche was in a “pitiful state” ( en piteux état). That is the score of 6,33% and three seats for the European poll looked poor compared to, above all, the Front National’s 25% and 20 MEPs.

Mélenchon has not ceased reproaching the PCF for making electoral agreements with the ruling Parti Socialiste (PS) in order to keep hold of council seats and control of municipalities. As a counter-strategy the leader of the small Parti de Gauche, has not stopped vaunting the merits of an electoral alliance between his group, the French Green party ( EELV, Europe Écologie – Les Verts ) autonomous citizens groups  and ecologists and the radical left which took control of the small town of Grenoble (population 156,659 , about the size of Ipswich).

The point is that this list, the Rassemblement Citoyen de la gauche et des Ecologists, stood and won against an alliance of the PS and the PCF.

L’Humanité has reported on the weekend meeting.

After these disagreements over the municipal elections of 2014 a common declaration on the next electoral challenge is still being studied. There is a consensus for a broad alliance that goes beyond that of the Front de gauche (FdG), which breaks with the liberal economic policies of the government, and on the need for “citizen participation” and citizen assemblies at the grass-roots. There is a need to have a coherent selection of candidates at a national level. Other issues remains in dispute, notably on the position taken on the ‘second round’ of elections. That is the policy of, notably the Communist Party, of supporting Parti Socialiste candidates as part of the unity of the left. To the supporters of Jean-Luc Mélenchon any policy of supporting the governing Socialists – above all any agreement on common slates before the second round for local elections – is treason.

Reports (Libération) indicate that the Parti Communiste Français considers that the left of the Parti Socialiste, PS (the ‘frondeurs’)  is moving towards the FdG politics. This is, their strategy of drawing them leftwards has had an effect. The PS is certainly severely divided and its left has come to the fore with some important counter-proposals to the present right-wing course of Prime Minister Manuel Valls.

Mélenchon  has offered an alternative approach (it is too broad to label a ‘strategy’). Based on his own idea of mobilising the ‘people’ against the ‘oligarchy’ he has called for a new 6th Republic. ( l’Ère 
du peuple 2014) The left is ‘dead’ he has announced – echoing similar declarations made by the Spanish Podemos. Launching the Mouvement pour la 6ème République (MSR) he evoked the French Revolution and the its struggles for popular sovereignty. The leader of the Parti de gauche declared, ” c’est le peuple qui prend la place qu’occupait hier la classe ouvrière révolutionnaire dans le projet de la gauche ” – “The people now take the place of the revolutionary working class in the project of the left” notes a very critical assesment  L’ère du peuple, selon Jean-Luc Mélenchon

Not much has been heard of the MSR.

Now Mélenchon has popped up again.

Calling for a mass campaign against the ‘Macron’ reforms, which will weaken labour legislation, expand Sunday working and allow large shops to open, he has suggested that there are grounds for an alliance with the French Green Party – the EELV. (le Monde)

Talking of his future projects he states,

Nous avons un modèle : la victoire lors des municipales à Grenoble. La preuve est faite qu’il est possible de gagner avec un accord entre Europe Ecologie et le Parti de gauche – qui ne demande qu’à s’élargir au reste du Front de Gauche – contrôlé par un rassemblement citoyen à la base. La situation bouge chez les Verts. Cécile Duflot met des choses en mouvement, elle leur montre une issue possible. Je fais tout ce que je peux pour favoriser ce mouvement. La gauche est en train de se reformater. Mais la clé reste dans l’implication des citoyens.

We have a model: the victory in the local elections in Grenoble. The proof is that we can win with an agreement between the Greens and the Parti de Gauche. -which asks for this to be broadened to include the rest of the Front de Gauche – controlled by citizen participation at the grass-roots. Things are changing amongst the Greens. Cécile Duflot (former leader of this party) is pushing for change and shows a way out. I am doing everything I can to back these development. The left is reforming itself But the key remains the participation of citizens.

Le Monde

EELV is not, in most people’s view, a radical left-wing party.

Meanwhile we see (amongst many many examples) Mélo’s way of arguing.

Maul zu, Frau ! Frankreich ist frei. Occupez-vous de vos pauvres et de vos équipements en ruines !

France, “A Social Democratic Compromise of a Third Kind” ? Henri Weber.

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Henri Weber (far-left) in Happier Days.

Henri Weber is a former member of the Trotskyist Fourth International.

He played an important role in the Ligue Communiste Révolutionnaire (LCR) in May 1968 and the decade that followed. This included a stint at the “special operations” section of the LCR (Commission Très Spéciale, CTS) and editorship of their weekly Rouge.

An intellectual, whose writings were known in the UK through New Left Review and International Marxist Group publications, he was a sympathetic critic of Eurocommunism and a defender of radical democratic socialism.

After leaving the Ligue he became an academic, conducting further research into Eurocommunism, and German Social Democracy. His book  Le Parti des Patrons : le CNPF (1946-1986),  1991 is a sociological and political account, some might say a rather plodding one, of the French bosses’ organisation (their CBI).

Weber has been a member of the French Parti Socialiste since the mid-1980s,  was a  Senator (1995 – 2004) and is now a European Deputy, MEP, (first elected 2004).

He has moved considerably to the right, even within the moderate terms of European social democracy.

The former revolutionary Marxist is best known these days for defending the idea that  one can broadly (extremely broadly) outline three modern types of “compromise” that define post-War social democracy (Nouveau compromis social -démocrate.18.3.2014)

The first was the ‘post-war’ compromise between the labour movement, the left, and the states and societies of the West . Full employment, growth, expanding social and workers’ rights and the welfare state marked this period.

The second, that followed the late 1970s crisis of the Welfare state and Keynesianism, was defensive. It accepted that redundancies and wage restraint had to take place, but offered increased social spending and more social rights.

A third type of social compromise took shape at the turn of the century: the compromises to adapt to globalisation, and more broadly , the changes in capitalism. That is, the digital revolution, the emergence of new industrialising  countries, the internationalization of production have required  a restructuring of of Western economies. These are axed towards  high-tech industries and services with high added value.

The new social democratic compromise is based on mobilising the social partners for to specialise and adapt to this role. Unions and socialist parties agree on the deregulation of the labour market (flexi-security), the stagnation of real wages, a reduction in  the level of social protection. They demand in return the defence of employment and preservation of national economic power.

In Germany, for example, the SPD and the unions accepted the Hartz accord: unemployment compensation is reduced from 32 to 12 months (24 for over 50 years); the age of retirement is pushed back to 67 years (in 2029 …) the unemployed are forced to take a job……..public health care provision is being reduced……

The German Hartz agreements loosened strong social protection and created so-called “mini-jobs” (at extremely low pay), subjected welfare claimants to stringent “contracts”, lowered benefits, and undermined many of the fundamental aspects of the welfare state.

Weber’s assertion (echoed on the European Right and Business) that their focus on industrial competitivity and growth, are the basis for the country’s economic success, is by no means universally accepted. It is pretty obvious that it’s unlikely that many on the French, or the German non “social democratic” left (except for the Die Grünen, who are often to the right of social democracy) would agree.

But the fact remains that in Germany there has been an economic upturn, unemployment has gone down, and if there is a very heavy downside to these reforms, they are now backed by the population, and represent for the present the basis of Angela Merkel’s popularity.

One can see what the French Socialists would look with envy at the German Chancellor’s ratings in the opinion polls (even if a hard-right anti-European Party, Alternative für Deutschland (AfD), did well with 9.9.% in a regional election in Saxony,  this Sunday –  Taz).

The assertion that a progressive slant to this new compromise, depends on growth, and the weight of employees (that is, workers), within a European structure remains to be tested. At present the Socialists have simply gone for what they believe is a strategy for growth.

Last weekend Weber addressed the Parti Socialiste’s Summer School at La Rochelle.

These are some extracts from what he said, 7 moyens de refonder la social-démocratie.

Weber outlines the reasons for the change towards a new compromise.

The principal backdrop is that the globalisation of the economy is changing the balance of power in favor of the owners of private economic power – entrepreneurs and financial operators – at the expense of employees and governments. Markets, companies, production have become global; States, parties, trade unions remain, essentially national actors. The result is a growing disjunction between the political and the economic spheres

The ‘third industrial revolution’, the rise of digital and biotechnologies, the fragmentation of  social classes based on production and the working environment, the rise of individualism, social insecurity, and mass migration, have eroded the basis of traditional socialism and communism. Global warming and other ecological challenges pose further questions to the left.

Weber offers seven principal axes for a renewed social democracy which I present in a slightly adapted form.

1 European social democracy must reconnect with its original internationalism.

2. Social democracy must break with the focus on producing more and more and discover an eco-socialist alternative .

3. European social democracy must find ways of using people and companies’  savings to finance future industries and services with high added value.

4 European social democracy must assert, more than it has done so far, a’ project of civilisation’ (a vision of society).

5 European social democracy must be resolutely feminist .

6 European social democracy has to invent a renewed twenty-first century form and structure of democracy

7 Social democracy should promote an ‘alternative’ globalisation (that is, not be simply ‘anti’ globalisation, but find a different way of globalising). 

The substance of Weber’s contribution seems to be this:

European social democracy should become a continent wide political actor through the mechanisms of the European Socialist Party and the European Confederation of Trade Unions. It should endorse environmentally friendly policies. It should promote investment. It should advance a communitarian project that would promote social values, including feminist ones. It should back democratic reforms. And, finally, it should attempt what regulation of globalisation it can.

A pretty stodgy set of idées reçues  that would appeal to those in the UK, from Will Hutton to Jon Cruddas, who have not the slightest intention of mounting any radical challenge to austerity – and that’s just to start with.

Meanwhile…..in the real political world…..

Prime Minister Valls was received coldly by many delegates at the same La Rochelle Summer School.

Communist and Green speakers, critical of the government’s turn rightward, were well received at fringe meetings (Libération).

In the main hall when the Prime Minister appeared some shouted Vive la Gauche! – the name of the new left ‘frondeur’ alliance (you can see more about them here).

Why?

Well, there’s the talk about ending the 35 hour week and a whole raft of measures designed to weaken workers’ rights. His Minister of the Economy, Emmanuel Macron,has gone out of his way to appeal to business, not the left. More and more austerity remains on the cards. A few words about he also loves the Parti Socialiste won’t change this.

It is unlikely that French unions, even the ‘social liberal’ CFDT,  are overjoyed at the prospect of having to defend what little remains of ‘social democracy’.

The idea that anything approaching the Hartz measures will go down well in France.

One might question the assertion that this “third type” of compromise is anything other than a series of concessions, made in different European countries in different ways, to neo-liberal anti-left policies. One wonders where Brown and Blair fitted into the Second Compromise, or were they part of the Third?

Far from being a social democrat it appears that Manuel Valls and his team are economic liberals.

 It would be interesting to see if he tries something resembling the Hartz reforms.

Hah!

A second’s thinking shows that this is extremely unlikely to happen.

Note: Weber’s own site is here.

On it we learn this fascinating information:

Etat civil: Marié
Enfants: 3
Icône: Woody Allen, Groucho Marx, Pierre Desproges
Hobbies: La marche à pied
Livre préféré: “La Promesse de l’Aube” de Romain Gary
Film favori: “Les Enfants du Paradis” de Marcel Carné (1945)
Groupe de musique favori: Les Beatles
Emission TV préférée: Thalassa
Plat local favori: La potée auvergnate

Some might comment that this shows a profound mediocrity.

Written by Andrew Coates

September 1, 2014 at 11:13 am

France: New Government in Love with Bosses, Bosses in Love with New Government.

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Manuel Valls accueilli sur scène par le patron des patrons, Pierre Gattaz.

Bosses Applaud the ‘Valls Show’.

Yesterday the Parti Socialist Prime Minister, Manuel Valls, wowed the French employers’ federation (the MEDEF) summer get-together.

«Moi j’aime l’entreprise !»  he said – I love Business.

Libération reports that in response to his speech bosses applauded wildly.

They said “there’s no question, he’s better than the Right” .

L’Humanité notes that Valls told the audience,

France needs you. The return to growth will come above all by supporting businesses, “said the Prime Minister to the cheers of hundreds of entrepreneurs. He wanted to reassure them about their future profits, repeating, as he had done the day after the announcement of the composition of the new government, that he was confident of getting the support of the majority to vote  for his “pact of responsibility.”(1)

The is intervention comes just after France’s President, François Hollande, and PM Valls, formed a new Cabinet – just a few months after they launched one after disastrous local (losing control of 150 towns) and European election results in which the Front National topped the polls at 24.86%.

Valls own present popularity stands at 36% in opinion polls, with his own chief, Hollande, gets around 17% of favourable responses.

The New Cabinet is dominated by those aligned to the ‘social-liberal’ wing of the Socialists.

A principal reason for the  switch-over was that left-wingers, notably former Economy Minister, Arnaud Montebourg, and one of the education Ministers,  Benoît Hamon refused  to back austerity measures.

A group of Socialist “frondeurs” (rebels) had emerged earlier this year when the Pacte de reponsabilité (which essentially makes concessions to employers’ demands for ‘flexibility’ in the labour market) was first put forward by President François Hollande. Battles inside the government led nowhere.

“I will follow the example of Cincinnatus,” Mr. Montebourg said, in reference to the modest Roman statesman, “who preferred to quit power to return to his fields and plows.”

It will not have escaped many people’s attention that Montebourg received 17,19 % of the Vote in the  2011 ‘primaries’ to decide who should represent the party as a presidential candidate. (2)

The present Prime Minister, Manuel Valls got 5,63 % in the same contest.

Montebourg’s ideas include proposals for a more democratic “sixth republic”, and a critique of globalisation (more, in English, here).

In response to the star-reception of the PM by the MEDEF Thierry Lepaon the leader of the left-wing union federation, the CGT, denounced the way the new government was “mixing” the role of the State and that of the bosses’ federation.

Criticising the MEDEF’s claims that its own plans would create a million new jobs he noted that the state already gave extensive grants to companies without proper control, and that many firms had given big dividends to shareholders at a time when they were pleading fir more public help. By contrast there seems little attention paid to the needs of young people, the retired, the unemployed and workers in the government’s plans.

This morning news emerged  from new Minister of the Economy,  Emmanuel Macron, that the government intends to consolidate its rightward shift  by loosening the laws regulating the length of the working week (based on a 35 hour standard). The regulations on Sunday working will also be liberalised.

France 24 paints the economic backdrop to the crisis of the French Socialist-led government.

The labour ministry said there were now 3.424 million people out of work, an increase of around 26,000. It was the ninth consecutive rise in the monthly unemployment figures.

“This rise reflects zero growth in the eurozone and in France,” Labour Minister François Rebsamen said in a statement.

France, Europe’s second biggest economy, is battling a political and economic crisis seen as the worst since Hollande took power more than two years ago.

Growth has ground to a halt in the first six months of the year and Hollande has been unable to live up to his promise to bring down unemployment.

His strategy for pulling France out of the mire is his much-vaunted Responsibility Pact, which will cut social charges for businesses by 40 billion euros ($53 billion) in exchange for them creating 500,000 jobs by 2017.

(1) Le pacte de responsabilité , an agreement to reduce social charges in companies (that is, to cut employer contributions to social insurance), ‘modernise’ taxation, and ‘simplify’ labour laws. It’s reported today that the employers’ federation,m the MEDEF, is already working on a plan, France 2020, with the agreement of the  ‘social-liberal’ union, the CFDT, to weaken labour legislation on companies with more than 50 employees.

(2) He was in third position, behind  François Hollande  and Martine Aubry.

 

Summary of the 8–9 and 15–16 October 2011 French Socialist Party presidential primary
Candidates Parties 1st round 2nd round
Votes  % Votes  %
  François Hollande Socialist Party (Parti socialiste) PS 1,038,207 39.17% 1,607,268 56.57%
  Martine Aubry Socialist Party (Parti socialiste) PS 806,189 30.42% 1,233,899 43.43%
  Arnaud Montebourg Socialist Party (Parti socialiste) PS 455,609 17.19%  
  Ségolène Royal Socialist Party (Parti socialiste) PS 184,096 6.95%
  Manuel Valls Socialist Party (Parti socialiste) PS 149,103 5.63%
  Jean-Michel Baylet Radical Party of the Left (Parti Radical de Gauche) PRG 17,055 0.64%
 
Total 2,650,259 100.00% 2,860,157 100.00%
 
Valid votes 2,650,259 99.59% 2,860,157 99.34%
Spoilt and null votes 11,025 0.41% 18,990 0.66%
Total 2,661,284 100.00% 2,879,147 100.00%
 
Table of results ordered by number of votes received in first round, complete results on resultats.lesprimairescitoyennes.fr.

Written by Andrew Coates

August 28, 2014 at 10:52 am

Mélenchon to take a Back-Seat on French Left?

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Now to Take a Back Seat? 

The co-President of the Parti de Gauche, Jean-Luc Mélenchon, has expressed his weariness, and his wish to take some distance. He estimates that the Front de Gauche has suffered a setback.

(Interview à Hexagones,Exclusive Interview with Jean-Luc Mélenchon. The leader of the Left Party announces his willingness to take a step back,  recharge his batteries, and says that it is time for him to pass the baton of leadership to others. He also noted the failure of the Left Front, and denounced the role of the media in the electoral breakthrough of the National Front.)

Mélenchon cited the need to escape from the pressures that his intense political activism, over the last five years, have brought.

He expressed the view that as a “big tree” he risked stunting the growth of the others in the left political “forest”  from growing.

It is time, the former Presidential candidate for the Front de gauche said, for new faces inside the Parti de gauche (his own group inside the bloc) to take a more prominent roles.

Mélenchon offered a critical balance-sheet of the Front de gauche, notably against the Parti Communiste Français (PCF) and their electoral arrangements with the Parti Socialiste (PS).

He did not hesitate to criticise the “functionaries” who had attempted to isolate the great man. (1)

concluded that his time would be spent in giving a detailed content to the general ideas of the left. Above all, “La question pour nous n’est pas de faire un parti révolutionnaire, c’est d’aider à la naissance d’un peuple révolutionnaire». The issue for us is not to build a revolutionary party, but to help a revolutionary people be born.

Adpated from Libération.

This follows troubles inside the Parti de Gauche earlier this month.

A small number of leading figures resigned their posts, protesting at the “centralisation” of the small party.

Tensions et démissions au sein du parti de Jean-Luc Mélenchon 3.7.2014.

The set-back of the European elections has produced a number of responses.

The Parti Communiste Français has talked of building a “people’s front”, (Passer du Front de gauche au front du peuple.)

It is known that dissatisfied members of the ruling Parti Socialiste (‘frondeurs’) are upset above all with plans to cut spending and toe the line of budgetary ‘rigour’.

Ensemble, the third force in the Front de gauche (grouping a number of left currents), has proposed expanding to a broader  “anti-austerity” front.

Is something like a French People’s Assembly on the cards?

(1) Les Echoes fills in the dots,

“Sans les nommer, il met en cause Pierre Laurent, le secrétaire national du Parti communiste ainsi que Ian Brossat, adjoint communiste d’Anne Hidalgo, responsables d’une stratégie d’alliance qui a « complètement décrédibilisé ce qu’était le Front de Gauche, explosé entre ceux qui ne voulaient pas d’alliance avec le PS et ceux qui se sont vautrés dans cette alliance.»

Se montrant très critique sur la ligne adoptée par le Parti communiste « plus institutionnelle, plus traditionnelle, où on continue à penser que la gauche est une réalité partiaire, organisée et qu’on peut rectifier le tir du Parti socialiste »,

 

French Socialists Divide on Austerity Plan Vote as Front de Gauche Faces its own New Rows.

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Manuel Valls  Faces Socialist Opposition. 

France’s lawmakers Tuesday voted narrowly in favour of a plan to slash €50 billion from the country’s budget deficit by 2017, but a high abstention rate underscored discord within the Socialist majority.

The plan, designed to allow the eurozone’s second-largest economy to meet deficit-reduction commitments, passed with 265 votes in the National Assembly, France’s lower house of parliament, with 232 voting against and 67 abstaining.

The programme can now be submitted for approval to the European Commission, which has already granted France two extra years to bring its deficit below EU-mandated limits.

It is the brainchild of recently appointed Prime Minister Manuel Valls and targets the country’s generous welfare system in an aggressive drive to cut state spending.

More than 40 percent of the savings will come from cuts in social benefits and healthcare, another 18 billion is to be trimmed from the budgets of government ministries and the remaining 11 billion will come from restructuring local government.

“It’s a decisive vote that deeply emphasizes the advancement of our country,” Valls told parliament before the vote.

The plan has divided the ruling Socialist Party, however, and 41 of the party’s members abstained from the vote – a high rate pointing to resistance ahead as Valls tries to push through reform to revive the economy and spur growth while also meeting deficit-cutting goals.

While the Greens party and the left-wing Front de Gauche voted in the majority against the plan, the centrist UDI party mostly abstained.

A few members of the opposition UMP party, which overwhelmingly voted against the plan, also abstained.

The party’s leader Jean-François Copé denounced the plan as an “optical illusion”.

Economists are also sceptical as to whether the plan will allow the Socialist government to meet its goal of lowering its public deficit to three percent of output by the end of 2015.

(FRANCE 24 with AP and REUTERS)

Today Valls has defended his cuts plan,

«J’assume ce réformisme, j’assume cette social-démocratie ou, au fond, cette gauche profondément moderne, qui regarde la réalité en face et qui, en même temps, veut répondre à l’attente de justice sociale»

This reformism, that I have taken on, this social democracy, is a deeply  modern left,  one that faces up to reality and at the same time, wants to meet the expectations of social justice.”

Libération.

Christian Paul (close to the moderate social democratic Martin Aubry) , amongst the Socialists who abstained, said that it was the result of “politically mature, considered policy by a group wounded by the results of the local election, and the feeling that the first 2 years of the (Socialist_) Presidency have not held to their promises.”,  This was “Un vote d’alerte, pas un vote de défiance » a wake-up call, not an open challenge, he added.

Humanité

Meanwhile news reaches us (thanks EY) that leading figures in the French Communist Party are concerned by the difficulties of  working with Jean-Luc Mélenchon in the Front de Gauche and are re-thinking their whole approach to the bloc.

More :

PCF : avec ou sans le Front de gauche ?
Par Roger Martelli
 
And (l’Humanité)
 
Des communistes pour une refondation ambitieuse du Front de gauche 
 
 

French Prime Minister Valls Booed at Vatican Canonisation.

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Ils étaient une vingtaine a dénoncer l'attitude du Premier ministre, à Laval.

The attendance of French Prime Minister, Manuel Valls, at the Vatican, during the canonisation of two previous Popes, has created controversy.

“Twice, some of the thousands of French Catholics present at the Vatican ….booed the Prime Minister when his image appeared on the giant screens. The cries rang out once while Manuel Valls approached the podium Piazza Farnese, before the start of the ceremony.”

 Manuel Valls was present at the ceremony, he claimed, “«pour représenter la France et son gouvernement (…) un État laïc mais respectueux de l’Église». “”to represent France and its government (…) a secular state but respectful of the Church.”

Not only the Catholic hard-right – still angry over Gay marriage and hysterical about an alleged plot to teach  “gender studies” and homosexuality  in schools – were annoyed.

L’Association des Libres Penseurs de France (ADLPF), and other secularist organisations, have protested at this official recognition and support of Christianity. 

The Fédération Nationale de la Libre Pensée states, “C’est la soumission pure et simple de la Républiqueà l’Eglise catholique, apostolique et romaine !”

This Tuesday the rightward leaning  Socialist Prime Minister faces a crucial  Parliamentary vote on his plans for cuts and a “pact of responsibility” with employers, reducing charges and encouraging “enterprise”. Members of his own party are known to have raised objections, and the outcome could be close. Valls has denied that he will seek the support of right-wing deputies to push his proposals through (le Monde).

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

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https://d3hgnfpzeohxco.cloudfront.net/images/ar/97818479/9781847920065/0/0/plain/mitterrand-a-study-in-ambiguity.jpg

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