French Left in Deep Crisis.
Caesar of the French Left?
France’s Socialist President François Hollande, and his Prime Minister Manuel Valls continue to try to grapple the results of last December’s regional Elections.
In the first round the Front National (FN) came first, with 27.73% of the vote, the right, Union de la droite, 26,65%, and the Parti Socialiste (PS) led Union de la gauche, 23,12%. The Greens, Europe Écologie-Les Verts (ELEV) and the Front de gauche (FdG), totaled 9,57%, a figure which hides deep divisions between ecologists who stood on joint lists the FdG, and those who stood on their own, often with the clear intention of aligning with the Socialists come what may.
Opinion polls indicate that the far-right’s Presidential candidate, Marine Le Pen, for the 2017 elections, remains popular enough for a possible second round contest between her party and the right. That conservative wing, Les Républicains (LR), has yet to decide its own candidate. A contest in a “primary” between former President Nicolas Sarkozy (today again embroiled in the legal process over the finances for his 2012 bid for re-election), Alain Juppé, and François Copé, has brought out divisions over Sarkozy’s efforts to appeal to the FN’s electorate by calling for a clamp down on immigration and respect for France’s “Christian roots”. Many simply do not want another term of Sarkozy in office. At present Juppé appears favoured by LR supporters (Le Monde. 16.2.15).
Last week’s Cabinet reshuffle – in the hands of the President – can also be seen as a response to the FN’s popularity. Socialist Prime Minister, Manuel Valls has faced opposition to the State of Emergency and plans to deprive those convicted of terrorist offences of French nationality. 92 deputies in the National Assembly voted against the latter measure, including many from the PS. Inside the governing party, the ‘frondeurs’, those opposed to their own party’s direction, from the liberalisation of labour laws, to the post November Paris massacre clamp-down, are not present in the new government. Nor is the moderate left, with the doubtful exception of former PM Jan-Marc Ayrault, now Foreign Minister.
Greens on verge of Disintegration.
The most striking aspect of the new Cabinet is the entry of three ecologists, including the EELV’s national secretary, Emmanuelle Cosse. The Green Party had left the government with the appointment of Valls – one of the few French politicians to admire Tony Blair and the ‘Third Way’ – in 2014. Without consulting their colleagues the new Ministers negotiated their individual return. They obtained as a reward the promise of a local referendum on the controversial project to build an airport at Notre-Dame –des-Landes. A Poll indicated that three quarters of French electors are unhappy with the make up of the new government, including 50% of the Greens. 59% considered the entry of the ecologists in the Cabinet was a bad thing. 80% were not convinced by François Hollande’s intervention announcing the changes. (le Point).
The Greens, already suffering from disputes over local alliances with the FdG in the regional contest, the halving of their vote in those elections, are now split again. Inside the EELV opponents of this move have not hesitated to talk of the new Ministers’ “treason”. (Le Monde 13.2.15) The June national party Congress promises to be stormy, with the organisation fragmenting.
The viability of sustaining an independent Green Party in France is now in doubt. Their electorate, described as BoBo – bourgeois-bohemian – with much of its base in Fair Trade buying, ecological sensitive, socially liberal, sections of the urban middle classes, crosses over with the PS’s. It is suggested that the Socialists will attempt to capture what they can of the EELV and, in line with long-standing practice with small groups in its periphery, reduce it to a satellite of the party. The evolution of the overtly ‘social liberal’ German Die Grünen appears probable for the section of the ELEV that is now prepared to co-operate with the market friendly Valls. Without, it must be said, much of the liberalism – as indicated by the resignation of the human rights defender, Justice Minister Christiane Taubira. Those who worked with the FdG in the Regional elecitons may well feel that they want a more clearly independent left-wing party.
To the left of the Socialists the Front de gauche (FdG) is also in trouble. Less than brilliant results in November have not prevented Jean-Luc Mélenchon from announcing, off his own back, his Presidential candidacy. He hopes to repeat, if not better, his score as candidate in 2012 when he obtained 11% of the vote. But with time pressing he had no time for the difficult negotiations for the wider left backing that marked that campaign. Like the EELV Ministers he did not consult his partners in that left Bloc. Mélenchon states that now he does not need the permission of any party to stand.
The Parti Communiste Français (PCF) was swift to point out this lack of consultation. (Jean-Luc Mélenchon prend un raccourci vers l’élection présidentielle. L’Humanité.12.2.15). It bypassed their attempts to organise a « primary » of all the left to select a Presidential challenger. Support for this idea, opposed equally by Fançois Hollande, has drawn fierce criticism from PM Valls. He dismisses critics of his government’s multiple failures – unable to reduce unemployment – the refusal to accept more than 30,000 Syrian refugees, and legitimate concerns about civil liberties that do not come from those who could be accused of complacency towards Islamist Reaction – as the views of the « irreconcilable » left unable to represent the « general interest » (Manuel Valls trace une frontière à l’intérieur d’une gauche «irréconciliable» Libération. 16.2.15)
The other relatively significant section of the FdG, Ensemble, (an alliance of the radical left, including Trotskyists and self-management red/green tendencies) does not wish to burn the bridges with Mélenchon and calls for a new political vehicle for the left. Its spokesperson, Clémentine Autain, observes that this act has « buried » the Front de gauche. This view is shared by the former comrades of many Ensemble members, the Nouveau Parti anti-capitaliste (NPA), who, no doubt in great sadness, saw it as the end for this left alliance. (Front de Gauche : Fin de l’histoire en 2017. Sandra Demarq. 10.2.15.)
This decision to act “outside of the structure of parties” was reached on the basis of what can only be called unbridled ambition. Mélenchon is the leader of a small party, the Parti de gauche (PG) of a few thousand members, little more than a political ‘club’ of ‘friends’ of a faction chief, of a type well known inside his former home, the PS. French comrades do not describe their self-importance with warmth. The PCF has over 120,000 card-carriers, a real union base, and, perhaps more significantly, the votes of those elected officials needed for a Presidential nomination. It might not please our British or other European left friends, but the PCF is a serious force on the French left with a decent left-wing programme, which in contrast to its UK counterpart, stands for a social Europe and, in recent years, has taken action, for democratic and social rights.
Jean-Luc Mélenchon as Saviour?
Philippe Marlière, a former Mélenchon supporter, describes his political evolution as “La chevènementisation de Jean-Luc Mélenchon » (Medipart. 15.2.15.) Marlière refers to the 1970s leader of the PS left, Jean-Pierre Chevènement, who has made the journey from Marxist inflected plans for workers’ control and a nationalised economy, to his present ” republican” defence of French national sovereignty. His article, which has received wide coverage, talks of the PdG chief’s windy generalisations, his ‘self-parody’ in the role of a lone fighter. Mélenchon has become a “souverainiste autoritaire ” out to defend the citizens of France from their domestic and foreign foes.
Instead of a left of ” social transformation”, or of class struggle, the leader of the PG, as Caesar, has taken to addressing the French People. Mélenchon’s denounces the political ‘caste’ (echoing Podemos). He claims that the source of national problems lies in European Treaties. The campaign calls for a “citizen revolution” to create a New Republic. On this basis he built up a fan base amongst Internauts (40,000 supporters on his site) and the campaign (here) claims over 200 local groups of supporters. Polls give him over 10% favourable opinions. But…we shall see. The Inrocks (16.2.15.) comments that the Mélenchon launch on Monday, filled with histrionic rhetoric, bore comparison with the 2012 campaign. It illustrated Marx’s comments on the repetition of history, first as Tragedy, Second time as Farce.
From the Socialists to the FdG, to this Populist splash, the French Left looks as if it will be unable to win in 2017.
In the next article the Tendance will turn to the roots of the failures of the French radical left, from the FdG to the Nouveau parti anticapitaliste, passing by the great bust up in the ‘Lambertist’ current.