French Socialist ‘Primary’ for Presidential Candidate: Debates Begin, Basic Income is One of the Stakes.
Gorz’s Ideas in Background to French Socialist Debate.
The debates, which will be held over the course of the next two weeks, are seen as crucial for a successful turnout in the country’s left-wing presidential primaries on January 22 and 29.
As the first round of voting approaches, there is dwindling support among French voters for the Socialist Party, which has been left fractured by ideological differences and the outgoing President François Hollande’s unpopular leadership.FRANCE 24 spoke with Thomas Guénolé, a political scientist and lecturer at the prestigious Sciences Po University in Paris, who emphasized the Socialist Party’s divisions ahead of Thursday’s debate.
FRANCE 24: Why are the left-wing primary debates important for the Socialist Party?
Thomas Guénolé: The Socialist Party is historically the main left-wing party in France. But it is strongly divided between its own right-leaning and left-leaning members. François Hollande, the current president of the French Republic, comes from this party, and has governed with a right-leaning agenda. He has decided not to run for a second term, because he feels he cannot unify the left.
There are two things at stake for the Socialist Party. First, they need a high level of participation. Theconservative primary [in November] drew more than four million voters. If, for example, only one million turn out for the left-wing primaries, it will be considered a failure. The second thing at stake is that the Socialist Party is also split among former economy minister Emmanuel Macron, who is pro-free trade and deregulation, and Jean-Luc Mélenchon, who’s a proponent of alter-globalisation [a movement that opposes the negative effects of neoliberal globalisation].
FRANCE 24: Who are the Socialist Party candidates, and what are their strengths and weaknesses?
Guénolé: There are [four Socialist Party] candidates in the upcoming left-wing primaries. There’sManuel Valls, who was prime minister under Hollande until he recently resigned to run for the presidency. Over the last 10 years, Manuel Valls has been the most right-leaning of the Socialist Party. There are even some who have accused him of being right wing, period. He has backed economic austerity, strict immigration policy… But for this campaign, he is trying to run on a different platform. During his tenure as prime minister, he repeatedly used the 49.3 [a clause in the French constitution that allows governments to force through legislation without a vote], now he says that it’s too brutal. He also says that he now wants reconciliation, whereas he was quite confrontational as prime minister. He’s basically trying to remake his image, even though it’s contradictory.
Next there’s Vincent Peillon, who is an esteemed university professor. He’s well known among academic circles, where he’s considered an authority on the issue of secularism. He’s also a former minister of education. He’s unbeatable when it comes to three subjects: secularism, education and defending the rights of France’s Muslim minority. But beyond that, he doesn’t have much to say.
Then there’s Arnaud Montebourg, the former economy minister. He’s got one strong position, which is that he wants to do the exact opposite of Hollande and Valls when it comes to the economy. He basically wants to copy [former US president Franklin D. Roosevelt] and the New Deal. He’s really selling it hard. His main challenge will be to address other issues than the economy.
Last but not least, there’s Benoît Hamon, who is running as the most left-leaning Socialist Party candidate. He has proposed such audacious measures as introducing a universal basic income, and the 32-hour workweek. His main weakness is that he can be easily attacked on how he plans to finance these proposals.
Each candidate has their own weakness to overcome. Valls has a credibility problem, Peillon lacks breadth, Montebourg is strong on economy but doesn’t have a diverse enough platform, and Hamon has a feasibility problem.
It is worth noting how Basic Income has become a major subject for debate in France.
As le Point notes: Le revenu universel (Basic Income) oppose les candidats à la primaire du PS
Basic Income has many supporters, from right-wing odd balls, to left wing Greens. I associate it with André Gorz, for the very simple reason that the first time I heard about it was from people from the Parti Socialiste Unifié (PSU) influenced by Gorz.
This is brought out in the recent beautiful written biography of Gorz, Willy Gianinazzi, André Gorz. Une vie, (La Découverte, 2016). Amongst many topics Gianinazzi describes how Gorz moved from support for autogestion (workers’ control) to wider ideas about changes in the world of work and the how to end “heteronomy” (the rule by technical and economic reason) over people’s lives.
As Peter Frase has written,
The French writer André Gorz was a longtime proponent of the basic income, and is also responsible for a well-known theorization of its utopian transformative potential. In one of his early works, Strategy for Labor, he attempted to do away with the tired Left debate over “reform or revolution” and replace it with a new distinction:
Is it possible from within—that is to say, without having previously destroyed capitalism—to impose anti-capitalist solutions which will not immediately be incorporated into and subordinated to the system? This is the old question of “reform or revolution.” This was (or is) a paramount question when the movement had (or has) the choice between a struggle for reforms and armed insurrection. Such is no longer the case in Western Europe; here there is no longer an alternative. The question here revolves around the possibility of “revolutionary reforms,” that is to say, of reforms which advance toward a radical transformation of society. Is this possible?
Gorz goes on to distinguish “reformist reforms,” which subordinate themselves to the need to preserve the functioning of the existing system, from the radical alternative:
A non-reformist reform is determined not in terms of what can be, but what should be. And finally, it bases the possibility of attaining its objective on the implementation of fundamental political and economic changes. These changes can be sudden, just as they can be gradual. But in any case they assume a modification of the relations of power; they assume that the workers will take over powers or assert a force (that is to say, a non-institutionalized force) strong enough to establish, maintain, and expand those tendencies within the system which serve to weaken capitalism and to shake its joints. They assume structural reforms.
Gorz is perhaps more famous for his Farewell to the Working Class (1980 – Galilée and Le Seuil, 1983, Adieux au Prolétariat). This argued that the traditional agency of left politics, the working class, was no longer capable of bearing the hopes that Marxists and other socialists had placed in them.
To put it simply, the idea, adopted by Serge Mallet and many in the PSU (see above) that there was a ‘new working class’ which, led by technicians and the skilled, would form the vanguard for workers’ control (autogestion) was out of date. The working class, had not just been dispersed but completely altered in new economic and social relations. Growing numbers of people never became ‘workers’ in stable traditional sense.
This meant a more serious crisis that has seen the decline in the weight of the traditional occupations, erosion of union membership, and capacity for militancy this involved. The Forward March of Labour was not halted by bare statistical change; it was a transformation in the nature of work itself which had sapped the foundation of this form of left politics.
As he wrote, “Just as the rise of capitalist production created the working class, so its crisis and decay are creating the ‘non-class of non-workers‘, encompassing ‘all those who have been expelled from production by the abolition of work. . . It includes all the supernumeraries of present-day social production, who are potentially or actually unemployed, whether permanently or temporarily, partially or completely.”
As Richard Hyman noted at the time (Socialist Register 1983), Gorz refined the goals of the left within this framework.
…he defines his objectives as ‘the liberation of time and the abolition of work’, insisting that within capitalism work is always an externally imposed obligation rather than self-determined activity.
Second, he relates the contrast between work and autonomous activity to that between exchange-value and use-value. Thus the progressive abolition of waged work implies the reciprocal liberation of productive activity from the domination of commodity relations.
Third, he argues that the abolition of work is already in process, as a result of mass unemployment. Current trends offer the alternatives of a society sharply divided between a mass of unemployed or those in casual and marginalised work, and an advantaged minority in relatively secure employment; or one in which socially necessary labour is spread thinly among all who are available to work, freeing the bulk of people’s time for self defined activities.
Fourth, Gorz stresses the inadequacy of the ‘right to work’ as a political slogan. Full-time employment for all is no longer possible, nor necessary or desirable. A guaranteed income for all, as commonly demanded by the Left, would merely represent ‘a wage system without work’: exploitation by capital would give way to dependence on the state, perpetuating the ‘impotence and subordination of individuals to centralised authority’ (p. 4). Instead, the aim should be ‘the right to autonomous production’: access to means of production (in the form defined by Illich as ‘tools for conviviality’)~ so that individuals and grassroots communities can produce directly for their own use. One consequence would be to break down the division between social production and domestic labour.
Hyman’s critical analysis still bears reading.
But in point of fact Gorz did come to advocate a form of basic income as can be seen not just from Gianinazzi’s book but in more detail here: Pour un revenu inconditionnel suffisant (Transversals 2002). He also mooted the idea of “autogestion du temps”, free organisation of free time.
But there remain real problems:
- How, for example, is the “non-class of non-workers” going to be mobilised for these objectives?
- Is there really such a deep seated change that all hope for trade union led movements has evaporated?
- Is, as Hyman indicated, there any sense of talking of a political constituency for change when the focus is on organising ‘
- autonomous production’, and (as eh alter called it) free time, both outside capitalist relations?
Having said this it is startling to observe how this idea has now come to the fore in French Socialist Party debates.
It is a key dividing issue as the very recent Le Point report indicates:
Primaire: le revenu universel oppose les candidats (Selection of Socialist candidates, Basic income divides the contenders):
Benoît Hamon voit dans le revenu universel une réponse à la “raréfaction probable du travail liée à la révolution numérique” mais aussi la possibilité de choisir son temps de travail pour “s’épanouir dans d’autres activités que l’emploi”.
He sees basic incomes as a response to the changes – the decrease – in available work linked to the revolution in information technology which also allows people to chose their working hours and to develop their interests beyond employment.
Apart from Benoît Hamon, the idea is defended by Jean-Luc Bennahmias.
By contrast Arnaud Montebourg, Vincent Peillon and Manuel Valls are opposed, both for budgetary reasons and on the fundamentals of the principle. Arnaud Montebourg has affirmed his faith in the value of labour, and, for his closest supporters, Basic Income is a way of accepting mass unemployment. Manuel Valls has warned of a something for nothing society, and proposes a 800 Euro minimum income for the lowest earners.
It goes without saying that the issue is a subject of debate across a much wider section of the French Left.