Tendance Coatesy

Left Socialist Blog

Archive for the ‘Front de Gauche’ Category

Is the French Presidential Election Going Back to the 1930s?

leave a comment »

https://i1.wp.com/md1.libe.com/photo/1001287-his.jpg

According to an opinion poll yesterday, one French person out of three supports the ideas of the Front National (Un Français sur trois en accord avec les idées du Front national). In survey after survey around 40% of workers who intend to vote back the FN. Amongst this “électorat populaire” 31% of those in council housing back the far-right, as do 30% of office employees. A majority of young people say they will vote for Marine le Pen (Here,there are many studies with roughly the same result).

With François Fillon clinging to his presidential ambitions, organising mass rallies of his remaining supporters, Le Monde has accused him of adopting a “populist” defence against all-comers, screaming about “political assassination” “lynching” and hinting at plots against him. He has talked of a “coup d’Etat des juges“.

Some are already drawing comparisons with the 1930s. The traditional political parties are discredited. As Laurent Joffrin writes in Libération, reviewing the book pictured above (“c’est le retour au terroir, aux traditions, à l’exaltation nationale qui l’emporte dans des opinions déboussolées.”) “with the loss of certainty,   it’s a return to the native soil, to tradition, to exalting the Nation…” that is carrying the day in public opinion.

It appears that there are parallels with the 1930s. Both are marked by nationalist propaganda, poverty and mass unemployment in the rich countries, doubts about values, intellectuals joining extreme parties, nostalgia for national grandeur, the simplistic slogans of populist agitators, and the phantom of a deathly spiral which is leading people to the abyss.

As Joffrin points out the comparison has its limits. France has experienced an unprecedented level of Jihadist violence. One only has to read Gilles Kepel’s La Fracture (2016) to see that  the brutal acts of Islamist terror   have reinforced  the far-right, from the Front National  to a host of linked “groupes identitaires.” But horrific as these atrocities are, from Charlie, the Hyper Cacher, Bataclan to Nice, passing by many other incidents, the degree of violence in Europe remains low. There is no Hitler, Mussolini or Stalin.

Think about it.

Nevertheless some are so swept up in the mood that they are calling for a vote for Emmanuel Macron to block the route to Marine Le Pen, from the first round of the Presidential election onwards. 

While the right of the Parti Socialiste may need little encouragement to back Marcon against their own party’s candidate  Benoît Hamon (Bertrand Delanoë l’annonce de son ralliement à Emmanuel Macronthis call from a prominent figure on the radical left and President of the important territorial coordinating structure next to  Paris, Plaine Commune is more surprising:

Patrick Braouezec : « Je voterai pour Emmanuel Macron »

Braouezec bases his decision on the need to unite against the right and the extreme right. He nevertheless asks people to cast their ballots for the Parti Communiste Français and the Front de gauche – and notably not Jean-Luc Mélenchon’s la France Insoumise – in the 1th and 18th legislative elections.

The language used recalls the first paragraphs of this post. This alliance of  all “progressives” is the only rampart against Barbarism. “le seul rempart à la barbarie »(/ Braouezec choisit Macron)

Patrick Braouezec is a former Communist (PCF) and Mayor of the famous Communist district (a city in its own right), just next to Paris, Saint Denis, from 1991 to 2004. He was often in conflict with his party’s leadership. As one of the dissident “”refondateurs he backed the Green candidacy of José Bové against his own party’s   Marie-George Buffet  in 2007. From 2010  he has been a supporter of the Front de Gauche (FG) initially as a member of the network,  Fédération pour une alternative sociale et écologique.

Described in the past, by the unimpressed on his own side, as “incontrôlable” Braouezec is still well-regarded enough to maintain, as noted, an important elected position.

This is one possible result of the Pro-Macron moves:

Harris Interactive poll shows Macron one percentage point ahead of National Front’s Marine Le Pen in the first round.

Update: Socialist Party activists call for elected members of the party who back Macron to give up their membership.

Another issue is the predicted record abstention:

Jean-Luc Mélenchon and La France Insoumise: From Universalist Nation to “Interplanetary Missions”.

leave a comment »

Image result for tintin on a marche sur la lune

Wits Suggest Tintin, Captain Haddock and Milou Go Mélenchon.

L’avenir en Commun. Le programme de la France insoumise et son candidat, Jean-Luc Mélenchon.  Seuil. December 2016.

A critical overview. 

This programme, for the 2017 French Presidential elections and for the legislative elections that follow them, addresses the state of France,  “note pays”; our country is call to action. Ecological issues, the land’s social disasters (unemployment, poverty and ethnic and religious divisions, ‘communautarismes’) are, writes Jean-Luc Mélenchon in the Introduction, are three aspects of the same reality, “We are suffocating under the rule of Finance.” Finance governs the world. Its greed, and the free-market, are destroying human beings and the planet.

For the candidate of La France insoumise the priority is to give power to the people (“donner le pouvoir, tout le Pouvoir, au peuple’). Mélenchon calls for an assembly, made up of those who have never before been elected to Parliament, to write a new constitution that will replace the “monarchie présidentielle”.  With “ecological planning” a new model will be created. France will become a “universalist nation” (nation universaliste), conquering its “independence”, outside of NATO, acting to create a new alter-globalisation” alliance of the world’s peoples.  France will bring a special contribution to green maritime development, to space exploration, and information technology.

Down with the Oligarchy!

The programme begins by observing that citizens’ power is thwarted in the present French “oligarchy”, “collusion between politics and finance”, run by a “caste of the privileged”. It proposes a series of measures to stem corruption, to end the connivance between politicians and business, and the influence of lobbyists. The Universalist republic will defend an open approach to French nationality, oppose racism and all forms of discrimination, and abolish “state and social patriarchy”, including the abolition of prostitution (“abolir la prostitution”, this claim is made on Page 29).

The platform calls for new citizens’ initiatives, referenda, rights to recall of MPs, guarantees of media pluralism, he constitutional embodiment of the rights of people at work, protecting common property, “air, water, food, health, energy, the means of life, the currency (..) Lowering the voting age to 16, la France insoumise, an obligatory “ service citoyen” for the under 25s, paid at the minimum wage, for nine months.

Particular attention is paid to France’s overseas territories, whose equality will be established. They will become  “pilots” of the ecological planning and the “économie de mer” and development.

L’avenir en Commun promises to out an end to the economic  “pillaging” of the Nation (capital letter in original, Page 45). Not only are privatisations and ‘public-private’ partnerships targeted, but the effects of social dumping. In “défense de notre souveraineté industrielle”, “protectionnisme solidaire” is proposed. Trade agreements have to be revised and other measures taken to project social rights and employment, against multinationals and international finance. Production must be re-localised. To fight against unemployment there will be investment in green infrastructure projects…

Fiscal Revolution. 

The programme has drawn particular attention for its “révolution fiscale” and other ideas in the industrial/economic field (a more detailed account here) A rise in the minimum wage (16%) parallels a maximum salary for company bosses, on a ratio of 1 to 20 of the lowest wage, restrictions of redundancies, and a return to the contract protection pre-Loi Khomri are amongst measures proposed. There are plans to restore retirement at 60, a continued reduction of the working week and increased holidays, and a wish to ‘eliminate poverty’.

Critics focus on the cost, the slight of hand by which spending is transformed into a way cost-free boosting the economy (without major tax rises on the ordinary person or indeed much directly on most businesses). Others ask how the economy is going to be radically transformed by government legislation. There is no mention of independent working class or social movement initiatives outside of thee political framework of the new 6th Republic…..

Dead Europe.

Mélenchon prefaces the section on Europe by asserting that the “Europe of our dreams is dead”. The present European Union has become reduced to a single market in which people are submitted to the rule of the banks and finance. Our “indépendance d’action et la souveraineté de nos décisions” must not be subjected to the ideological obsessions of the Commission which have led to this anti-democratic impasse.

La France insoumise intends to renegotiate existing European Treaties. In Plan A it is proposed, amongst other measures, to end the independence of the Central European Bank, devaluation of the Euro, a halt to extending market mechanisms to public services (railways, energy and telecommunications), and a European conference to settle member states’ debts. If this fails, Plan B, a halt to French contributions to the EU budget, and for the Banque de France to take back monetary control and prepare the way for an alternative monetary system to the Euro.

What will happen if they try all of this, draw back to the Franc and there is a financial crisis of staggering proportions,  and fail is not explained.

French Independence.

Keen to assert the “indépendence” of France in the world, the platform, as cited, envisages leaving NATO, but also the IMF and the World Bank. Asylum will be offered to freedom fighters (“combattants de la liberté”) such as Edward Snowden and Julian Assange (Page 89). In place of the existing military alliance, which drags European states behind the USA, France will be able to defend herself and act freely. In this sense a “coalition universelle”, under UN mandated, to eradicate Daesh in Syria, has a part to play in establishing peace in that land, with free elections and a negotiated end to the civil war. The programme wishes to continue to support the ‘two states’ solution to the Israel and Palestine conflict.

Needless to say the idea of France, a country a pillar of the international economic and military system, with a heavy colonial past, is an odd place to claim ‘independence’ for.

There are many other measures in L’avenir en commun, on international co-operation to resolve the underlying causes of the different migration crises, for durable development, employees’ rights, a re-affirmation of secularist principles  (laïcité), opening up education, and a ideas on health issues. The document includes a including a proposition to legalise within regulated structures, cannabis.

The People….

In contrast to traditional left wing programmes there are no proposals for large-scale nationalisations. Economic strategy, apart from its green and social inflection, is centred on affirming production in France. The ‘sovereignty’ of the People as translated into a Sixth Republic, with the “transition écologique, are at the core of L’avenir en commun, ideas which also stand out from past radical left platforms, which have affirmed the central importance of the labour movement, or the working class and oppressed.

In constructing the ‘figure of the People’, Mélenchon and his allies, appear to have much in common with the mid-19th century “internationalist republicans”. Their goal, of national independence and sovereignty, now stamped with green and social measures and mobilised to confront the rule of the “political caste” ‘finance’, EU Treaties, and the Commission (not capitalism as such), raises many questions. If La France insoumise ever swept the “oligarchy” from the Republic, how they could ever bridge the gap between their  ‘universal’ aspirations, those in France who oppose their plans for the People, and those of other Peoples.

Interplanetary Missions. 

In the final chapter, La France aux Frontières de l’Humanité a sketch of some of the features of a “nouvelle ère” of international co-operation is offered. It only increases the suspicion that this programme is marked by national messianism. Space-exploration, including a European-Russian Moon Base, support for a publicly owned Arianespace, and interplanetary missions, including to Mars, feature prominently. The development of France’s role as a “maritime power”, creating 300,000 jobs, in such areas a aquaculture and the French merchant navy, as well as the French role in robot and information technology, are some of the ideas for a people with a “special and passionate responsibility” (une responsabilité particulière et enthousiasmante!” (Page 119).

Tintin, Captain Haddock and Milou are raring to go….

The Posadist vote is guaranteed!

Mille sabords!

For France, for Mélenchon and Human Civilisation!

Image result for l'avenir en commun

English summary here.

Update: Polls (which are in a complete state of flux in France at the moment…..)>

Written by Andrew Coates

March 6, 2017 at 1:32 pm

France, “Populism” and the Evaporation of Parties.

with 5 comments

Image result for fillon rassemblement

Weather Reports Indicate Hail and Rain….

In le Monde a couple of days ago Pierre Rosanvallon, (Les propos de Fillon « marquent un tournant populiste dans la campagne) observed that the right’s candidate François Fillon’s ranting against Judges marked a “populist turn” in the campaign.

This “grand rassemblement” today at Trocadéro is billed as in support of Fillon, while in the wake of accusation of fictional employment and other scandals  scores and scores of his elected supporters have dropped their backing for the beleaguered Presidential candidate dizaines et des dizaines d’élus lâcher François Fillon, voire démissionner de son équipe de campagne).

Some have compared this demonstration to those of the 1930s ‘leagues’ who moblised against Constitutional Democracy and the Front Populaire.

Rosanvallon outlines a number of developments that underlie the present crisis in French democracy.

Despite to rally backing Fillon is increasingly distanced in the polls by Emmanuel Macron  who looks like the main opponent to Marine Le Pen, in the first as well as the second round of the elections. Neither of these candidates has  real, democratic, political party behind them. The first has created a ‘movement’, En Marche, which is an ephemeral, if enthusiastic rally , based on Marcon’s presidential campaign. The second has the Front National, which while structured electorally, with many local councillors, and MEPs, though only one MP, has no democratic or debated policy-making process. It remains a ‘family business’, set up by Jean-Marie Le Pen as a “front” to assemble the far-right, whose objectives remain to moblise support on a platform decided by Marine Le Pen and her close advisers.

Rosanvallon also points to the ‘left populist’ campaign of Jean-Luc MélenchoPierre Rosanvallon,. His movement, la France insoumise set up after he decided on a bid to be president, is equally not a party, with competing tendencies, or policy-making outside of the guidelines set down by Jean-Luc Mélenchon and his advisers to meet the demands of the Era of the People (as he calls it, L’Ère du peuple).

The historian, who has produced  studies on the gap between popular demands and the evolution of modern political systems (latest: Le Bon Gouvernement 2015), observed that all three candidatures, who dominate the present Presidential election, mark a significant turn in the country’s politics. Not only do not represent parties, but beyond appeals to the “People”, that is the French people, they neither appear to wish to represent a clear constituency, nor have of where this ‘interest’ is going to lead politics to.

This is naturally less of a problem for Macron and Le Pen than for the ‘left’ that supports Mélenchon. They have abandoned the idea that the working class represents the future of the left, they have weakened the broader ties of the left with the labour movement, and what remains?  The ‘construction of the People’ in a political alliance against the ‘Elite’ La Casta, led by the Man of Destiny (homme providentiel)…. Mélenchon.

 

 

France: No Agreement between Benoît Hamon and Jean-Luc Mélenchon as Communists Make Move Towards…Hamon.

with one comment

No Left Unity Between Mélenchon and Hamon.

French left remains divided as no agreement has been reached  between Mélenchon and Hamon for the French Presidential elections.

Or as Libération puts it,

Hamon-Mélenchon : «C’est mort»

While both sides have thrown the responsibility for a failure to reach any kind of accord on the other it is clear that Hamon, the Parti Socialist candidate, was never going to respond to  Mélenchon’s demand that he rejects everybody in his own party that the Leader of La France insoumise does not approve or agree with.

After a  narrow vote to back  Mélenchon last November (53,6%) over the last weeks there has been an intense debate inside the Parti Communiste Français (PCF). They have been clearly not pleased that  Mélenchon wishes them to abandon their own candidates for the Legislative elections (immediately after the Presidential contest) in favour of those chosen by the Leader of the La France Insoumise and his other demands, such as as finance for his Hologram studded electoral campaign.

Matters came to a head last week with this statement.

Un appel intitulé « PCF : sortons de l’immobilisme », qui a recueilli plus de 600 signatures en quarante-huit heures, plaide pour « une candidature commune pour la présidentielle . (le Monde)

This call for a common left candidate was clearly aimed at one target. As a supporter said, “a stratégie du tout ou rien de Jean-Luc Mélenchon » the strategy of all or nothing ” leads nowhere.

A rival appeal,  Les communistes qui soutiennent Mélenchon se mobilisent called for support to the ‘left populist’

Today’s Libé notes,

Et du côté du Parti communiste, pourtant soutien critique de Mélenchon dans cette présidentielle, les choses pourraient aussi bouger cette semaine. La direction du PCF promet ainsi d’«autres initiatives» pour œuvrer en faveur de l’union de la gauche.Ce lundi, à l’issue de sa réunion hebdomadaire, l’exécutif PCF prévoit de diffuser une déclaration visant les conditions d’une possible «majorité politique de gauche».«Jean-Luc Mélenchon a raison lorsqu’il fait un certain nombre d’observations et de propositions à Benoît Hamon, mais son discours général et son positionnement actuel l’éloignent des décisions et des objectifs politiques des communistes»

On the Communist side things could move this week, despite their critical support for Mélenchon in the Presidential election. The leadership of the PCF promise “other initiatives” to work in favour of a  union of the left. This Monday, at the end of their weekly meeting, the PCF Executive will launch a declaration that envisages the conditions for a potential “left political majority”. Jean-Luc Mélenchon  is right to make some points about Benoît Hamon and the positions he takes, but his wider statements and his political positions are distant from the present positions and aims of the Communists

In other words, they have made the first steps towards an agreement with Hamon.

If supporters of the Green Party voted last week for left unity it now looks more than possible that they will also align with Hamon (EELV. 90 % des militants favorables à une alliance Jadot-Hamon-Mélenchon).

Important article arguing that the French radical left should back Hamon: Benoît Hamon : un vote trompe-la-mort.

The journal, Contretemps, is part this ‘gauche de la gauche’.

After an extremely hard attack on Mélenchon’s version of “left wing populism” advanced by Laclau and Mouffe and the politics and personality of the Leader of la France insoumise, is described as a ” républicain conservateur et d’homme d’ordre.”

Thus: a list of things that have sorely rankled with the French left, such as Mélenchon’s “refus de condamner les violences policières en France, sa position sur les réfugiés et les travailleurs détachés, sa mitterrandolâtrie, son chauvinisme” refusal to condemn police violence in France, his position on refugees and posted (that is, migrant) workers, his idealisation of François Mitterrand, and his chauvinism.

And… his, “tropisme anti-étatsunien en matière internationale qui l’amène à traiter avec une certaine bienveillance le régime de Hafez el-Assad, ainsi que le rôle joué en Syrie par Vladimir Poutine, etc.” His anti-American tendencies, which has led him to look with a degree of warmth the Assad regime, and the role of Vladimir Putin in Syria.

On Hamon he says, “Si Hamon ne trahit pas ses engagements sociaux-démocrates de gauche il créera une dynamique positive, interne et externe, qui l’amènera à prendre le pouvoir dans le parti et à regrouper l’ensemble de la gauche.”

“If he does not betray his left social democratic commitments, he will create a positive momentum, both internally and externally (to the Socialists, note), which will help him take the party leadership, and to regroup the whole of the left.”

Marlière has spoken at the LRC AGM. He is at home in the French (he was part the Front de gauche after a background in the Parti Socialiste left) and British left. He teaches at King’s College London and has been published in the Guardian/Observer.

Written by Andrew Coates

February 20, 2017 at 12:43 pm

French Presidential Election: Jean Luc Mélenchon and ‘left populism’.

with one comment

Image result for melenchon et son hologram

Virtual Mélenchon.

Reuters reports (Sunday),

Far-left firebrand Jean-Luc Mélenchon embraced technology during the launch of his presidential campaign at a rally in Lyon on Sunday, with a 3D hologram of him making his speech appearing at the same time at another rally in Paris.

Mélenchon, wearing a Nehru-style jacket, tried to use the hologram technology give a modern look to his launch, which coincided with that of the far-right leader Marine Le Pen.

Jean-Luc Mélenchon opened his meeting, transmitted by hologram to Paris, with a rousing speech. But it was hard to hide that the selection of the radical green socialist, Benoît Hamon as Socialist Party candidate, has created profound difficulties for the leader of La France insoumise.

After Hamon’s victory the French left is divided. While many welcomed the Socialists’ change in direction, for the majority of Ensemble, an alliance of radical left currents and part of the (nearly defunct Front de gauche), Mélenchon remains central to the left’s prospects in France.

On the Ensemble site Roger Martelli writes of the left’s Presidential candidates, (Gauche : et maintenant ?)

Mélenchon:

Depuis une quinzaine d’années, il est de tous les combats majeurs visant à redonner au peuple sa souveraineté et à la gauche son dynamisme. Son programme, dans la continuité de celui de 2012, reprend la logique « antilibérale » et démocratique qui s’est déployée après le choc de la présidentielle de 2002.

For over 15 years he has been there in all the principal battles which have aimed to return to the people their soveriegnty and to the left its dynamism. His programme, consistent with the (Presidential election) of 2012 (when Mélenchon stood, backed by the Front de gauch left bloc), takes up again the « anti-liberal » and democratic logic used since the shock of the 2002 Presidential elections.

Of Hamon:

Au fond, Benoît Hamon incarne la continuité d’un Parti socialiste qui a accompagné les reculs successifs d’un socialisme devenu hégémonique au début des années 1980. Jean-Luc Mélenchon ouvre la voie d’une rupture dont toute la gauche pourrait bénéficier.

At root Benoît Hamon embodies continuity with a Parti Socialiste which has, since it became hegemonic since the start of the 1980s, has been marked by a succession of backward steps. Jean-Luc Mélenchon opens up the prospect of a radical break, from which all the left could benefit.

Martelli’s reference to “popular sovereignty” raises perhaps one of the most serious problems about Mélenchon’s campaign. The leader of La France Insoumise is not only concerned with “une majorité populaire à gauche”. Or a ” dose” of populism into the left, to re-occupy the field of social division, with a campaign that can express a radical protest vote.

Another Adieu au Prolétariat.

Mélenchon’s ambitions extend far and wide as he asserts the need to replace the traditional strategies of the left.

In a series of writings he has talked about L’Ère du peuple in (the grandly titled)  “époque de l’Anthropocène.” (the ‘new epoch’ in human political geography). In this perspective the old ‘hierarchy’ of struggles, centred on the primacy of the proletariat as a political subject, has been surpassed.

In a short history which takes him from the people as a ” multitude ” (without cohesion), the people/working class, as a demand-making category, we have come to the age of « networks » (réseaux). And, in France, more specifically, as he puts it himself, “réseau de soutien à ma candidature et à son programme”. (Réseaux et mouvements. 7th of January 2017)

The network launched as La France Insoumise is  at the core of the electoral and social strategy. Mélenchon is engaged in an explicit effort to capture (in his terms, form), the People, in opposition to the Oligarchy, financial and globalising. It is not shaped only by economic issues, but the with the wider effects of capitalism in society: marginalisation, social division, the long series of cultural contradictions and demands of the diverse oppressed groups. Above all it aims to “net” the concept of the People, and refound the left as a movement capable of structuring it politically as a force for progressive transformation (details of the programme on their site). Membership of what might be called a permanent “rally” does not require payment, only backing.

Supporters put this project in the same political sphere as Podemos, as a movement that aims to expand the field of democratic mobilisation against the political caste (la casta), more commonly called, in French and in English, the elites.

For this venture, which draws on the writings of Ernesto Laclau and Chantal Mouffe, populism is a political logic. The objective is to unify, to create a radical democratic People, not as (it is asserted) through the forms of exclusion and division, between “us”, on ethnicity or nationality and others.

Citizen-Movement and the Leader.

But, as Pierre Khalfa has observed, the “citizen-movement”, La France Insoumise, charged with this objective, organised in hundreds of “groupes d’appui” (support groups) is not democratic in the sense that political parties are – in principle.  (Le peuple et le mouvement, est-ce vraiment si simple?). There are no organised confrontations between different currents of opinion; disagreements only arise over applying the ‘line’ in local conditions. There is, in fact,the worst form of Occupy style ‘consensus politics”, ruling out by fait real dissensus,  wedded to the decisions of the Chief. It is “JLM who decides”. Or, as Laclau put it, the, “..the “symbolic unification of a group around an individuality” is inherent to the formation of a ‘people’ (Page 100. On Populist Reason 2005. ) (1)

Critics point to the lack of coherence in the definition of the would-be “people” a vast category with many internal conflicts between social groups. They also state that it is also highly unlikely that the ambition to remould populist resentment, expressed and solidly articulated in the Front National’s nationalist attacks on globalisation and a whole range of groups, from Muslims to migrant workers, has struck deep into French political reality. Detaching the  ‘floating signifier’ of the People and putting it to a new use is a hard task. It more probable, and Mélenchon’s comments on Europe, migrant labour and the importance of the French ‘nation’, that it will end up more influenced by nationalism than become an alternative to it. Over everything lingers Pierre Khalfa put it the figure of “l’homme providentiel”, the Man of Destiny(Le populisme de gauche, un oxymore dangereux).

In these conditions it is little wonder that many of the French  left are not just wary of Mélenchon, but actively hostile to his entire project.

It is equally not surprising that elsewhere would-be People’s Leaders, like George Galloway in Britain, have warmed to La France Insoumise.

****

(1)Le peuple et le « mouvement. Jean-Luc Mélenchon (2.11.16. Blog).

“Il n’y a pas de carte. Il ne peut y avoir des cotisations mais seulement des participations financières à l’action c’est-à-dire des dons ou des versements réguliers pendant la durée de celle-ci. Il n’y a pas d’autre discipline que celle de l’action, c’est-à-dire celle que chacun s’impose dans l’action individuelle ou collective.” In other words, la France Insoumise is devoted to the “action” of getting votes.

Momentum for Left Unity with Benoît Hamon grows on French left.

with one comment

Image result for benoit hamon affiche

Hearts Beating on French  Left as New Hope Rises.

A few weeks ago commentators were seriously contemplating that  the French Parti Socialiste would reduced to near electoral oblivion in the April May Presidential elections.

Now Opinion Polls give newly elected candidate Benoît Hamon between 16 to 17 %.

From a position as the leading candidate of the Left Jean-Luc Mélenchon has gone from 15% to below 10% and looks like slipping further. (Les Echos)

The Parti Socialiste contender is still 6 points behind the pro-business centre-left Emmanuel Macron.

But with the mainstream right candidate, François Fillon flaying around in all directions in response to one of the biggest fraud scandals to have hit French Presidential candidates, Hamon is a mere 3 points lower than the champion of Les Républicains.

These polls, and the open minded forward looking left-green programme offered by Hamon, have had their effect.

First there is this call today from the Green (Europe Écologie – Les Verts, EELV ) candidate: Yannick Jadot.

Jadot has called  for a dialogue to create a “common project”

Présidentielle 2017 : Jadot veut construire un “projet commun” avec Hamon. Le candidat à la présidentielle a adressé une lettre à ses militants où il explique qu’un dialogue doit être entamé.

Second, the leader of the French Communist Party, Pierre Laurent, has declared that a “grand alliance” of the whole left, is “not impossible”.

Le patron du PCF soutient toujours Mélenchon mais, après la victoire de Benoît Hamon, n’abandonne pas l’idée d’un nouveau contrat majoritaire à gauche.

Jean-Luc Mélenchon, leader of the Rally, La France Insoumise, has so far demanded that Hamon chooses between supporting those Socialist party representatives that Mélenchon disagrees with, and….Jean-Luc Mélenchon (Jean-Luc Mélenchon demande à Benoît Hamon de choisir « entre eux et nous »)

Benoît Hamon, his Victory, and the Renewal of the European Left.

with 6 comments

Image result for Hamon victoire

“Nothing is more powerful than an idea whose time has come. And our time has come.” (France 24)

Benoît Hamon and the Renewal of the European Left.

With 58,88% of the ballot Benoît Hamon’s triumph  in the French Parti Socialiste led ‘Belle Alliance’ primary was decisive (Libération).  The election, whose second round attracted over  2 million voters, was not only a defeat for Manuel Valls – François Hollande’s Prime Minister up till this year.

In his victory speech Hamon announced, “Ce soir, la gauche relève la tête, elle se tourne vers le futur et elle veut gagner.” This evening the left has lifted his head high, looked towards the future, and wants to win.” (Nouvel Observateur)

This victory is first of all a disavowal of the Socialist President’s record in government. Valls lost for many reasons, not least his own record as an authoritarian (a prolonged state of emergency) an inflexible supporter of market economics (labour law ‘reform’).  His harsh words against opposition from an “irreconcilable” left earned him rebukes from the moderate social democratic current, led by Martine Aubry, Mayor of Lille. She ended up backing Hamon. High levels of support for Hamon in the poll came from her region, many other working class areas, and in urban centres, both Paris and its banlieue. It was also strong amongst young people.

The balance-sheet of Valls’ years in power since 2014 is thin: some liberal social reforms (gay marriage, le marriage pour tous), budgetary ‘discipline’, an inability or unwillingness to reform the European Union, and to come to the aid of those, like Greece, who had to submit to austerity and privatisation imposed by the Troika.

Above all in 2016 Prime Minister Valls’ reform of labour laws, la Loi Khomri, which, under pressure from the employers’ federation, weakens employees’ rights (Code du Travail) and unions’ national bargaining power, marked a break with the left and the labour movement. It was opposed by strikes and mass demonstrations. Accompanying them the Nuit Debout movement, organised public occupations and debates on an alternative to “la souveraineté du capital” in the terms of the philosopher and economist Frédéric Lordon, briefly looked as if might parallel the 15 M protests that led to the formation of the Spanish Podemos.

The Loi Khomri was adopted. Active opposition drained away last summer. But one might note that Nuit Debout was not a replication of Occupy Wall Street protests against liberal globalisation. It raised wider issues about what the theorist and others have called the “tyrannie du salariat” – the tyranny of wage labour. Lordon advanced a politics of “affects” (attachment) to new collective sovereignty, “décider en commun” through a participative state. His attempt to illustrate how ‘belonging’ to such a community, that could ‘de-consitutionalise’ the EU and return issues of “political economy” to the national collectivity has been met with criticism from the left. It is equally hard to see what economic sense it makes. The growth of internationalised production and distribution networks, indicates the need for EU and transnational regulation, and, in the longer perspective, European, cross-country, social ownership and labour movements. It is hard to see what is new or, in view of the rise of the sovereigntist right, about promoting national sovereignty. This stand resembles the arguments of the British Brexit left, whose claims, in the age of Trump and new protectionism, are unravelling by the day.  (1)

Hamon views on the French state and the EU are much less abstract. They focus ion a new republic where Parliamentary power is asserted and on a Union in which an economic relaunch is undertaken. By contrast the questions the Nuit Debout radicals raised about the nature and the status of work, “repenser le travail”, have been at the centre of the contest between Hamon and Valls. (1)

Basic Income.

Hamon’s proposal for a Revenu Universal (Basic Income) – to which is added the 32-hour week has caught the most attention. Jean-Marc Ferry calls it “une utopie réaliste” in the sense that it a source of hope that is not beyond legislative possibility.  (Le Monde 25.1.17). But not only the financial realism of paying everybody 750 Euros a month (estimated to cost between 300 and 400 billion Euros), has been questioned. For some (including the union federation the CGT) it undermines the value of work. The satisfaction many feel they accomplish in their jobs and their achievements. Reducing the working week is, on the evidence of the 35-hour week, unlikely to share out employment. Hamon himself has compared the scheme to the French National Health Service, the principal part of La Sécurité Sociale. Everybody rich or poor is entitled to have his or her health protected, and to be treated when ill. A Basic income would protect people from poverty, without the bureaucracy (and local version of ‘sanctions’). It would enable people to explore new employment opportunities, to experiment on their own if they so wish, take risks, while offering a ‘safe home’ in case they don’t succeed.

This far from the liberal idea that Basic Income would replace all social allowances, in the shape of ‘negative income tax’. For social democrats it is, as above, a completion of social protection for some Marxists it would give works extra bargaining power, for supporters of “décroissance” (alternatives to growth), echoing the writings of André Gorz, it is a way of managing the “end of work” in its traditional form. (Anne Chemin. La Promesse d’une Révolution. Le Monde, Idées 28.1.17)

Hamon has offered, then, an innovative way of coming to terms with the spread of information technology and robotics, in which work in the traditional sense is changing and full employment (despite misleading UK figures) may well not be possible.  Philippe van Parijs talks of how Basic Income would help people cope with the increasing ‘fluidity’ of employment – in other words the rise in part-time, short-term, jobs. (Le Monde 25.1.17).  Valls’ alternative, a “decent income” (revenu décent), effectively some strengthening of the lower floor of social protection, struggled to win an audience. Basic Income may not perhaps answer those for whom work is a “form of citizenship”. Nor does it respond to the charge that it would create a form of ‘revenue-citizenships’ that would exclude migrants.

These proposals are only some of the best known of Hamon’s innovative and forward looking programme, which includes a raft of ideas from an  “ecological transition” to the legalisation of cannabis. Hamon’s views on reforming the European Union parallel those of Another Europe is Possible. He promotes an open Laïcité (Secularism) and is strongly anti-racist.  It hardly needs saying that he has promised to repeal the Loi Khomeri.

Socialism and Power.

Alain Bergounioux, the author with Gérard Greenberg of Les Socialistes français et le Pouvoir (2005), has complained that the French Socialists may emerge from the Primary incapable of becoming a “party of government” committed to the “exercise of power”. He warns of following either the path of Jean-Luc Mélenchon whose own rally, La France Insoumise, does not aspire to be in power, but to be a tribune of the people and the centrist Presidential candidate Philippe Macron, and his “parti-enterprise, that seeks power for, one might suggest, his own sake (Le Monde 27.1.17) What is at stake, Bergounioux point out, is the ability, of the Socialists, to form a viable electoral alternative, a role they have fulfilled since François Mitterrand’s victory in 1981. Faced with a tri-polarisation, between Right (François Fillon), far-right (Marine Le Pen), we have a left with its own tripolar divisions, Hamon and Mélenchon and former member of the Socialist Cabinet, Emmanuel Macron. That up to 50 Valls supporters in the National Assembly and Senate are reported to be switching to Macron is not a good sign.

 Yet Hamon comes from currents inside the French Socialist Party (Nouveau Parti Socialiste onwards), which have hotly contested the record of their party in government. Dubbed ‘frondeurs’ (trouble-makers) for their opposition to budget cuts in the first years of the Valls government (in which Hamon served as Education Minister, before being sacked in 2014 for his criticisms) they come from a side of the party which has not accepted the party leadership’s adaption to markets and liberal economics. To cite a distinction well-known to the author of Les Socialistes français et le Pouvoir they are concerned not just with what Léon Blum called the “exercice du Pouvoir” but with the “conquête du pouvoir”, that is the revolution in society’s make up, socialism. The conquest of power implies more than forming a cabinet after an electoral triumph, it requires a social movement and a strategy to change the world. (2)

Strategy.

Does Hamon offer such a strategy? The immediate dilemma of the French Socialists is how to make their voice heard in a coming Presidential election in which they figure as also-runs. Yet an opening and gathering of the left is taking place.   Inroads into the Green party, EELV, and their electorate, already divided about their candidate, Yannick Jadot, who struggles to appear in the opinion polls, can be expected.

Hamon’s victory has already had one result: at 15% of voting intentions he has at a stroke reduced Mélenchon to 10% (a loss of five points). Hamon was selected in a competition in which  2 million voters took part, the leader of La France Insoumise only responded to the Call of Destiny.

Hamon has proposed  that these wings of the left unite, offering  Mélenchon and Jadot places in a future cabinet.

Hamon faces a deeper underlying difficulty, another inheritance from Léon Blum. This is the belief that the French republic already contains the instruments for radical reform that a movement and a party can “capture” and use. In the process the distinction between occupying Ministerial posts and effecting genuine change is blurred. Hamon’s own background as a life-long professional politician, suggests that he will find this legacy harder to overcome. (3)

For the European left, not least the left in the Labour Party, Hamon’s candidacy is welcome news. An experienced politician, fiercely intelligent, whose team offers serious new thinking about socialism, ecology and social issues – often far more forward looking than any other mainstream European left, social democratic or labour, party – is now on the French political stage. He has a message of hope. It will help all us to listen to it.

 

****************

  • Pages 332 – 225. Frédéric Lordon. La Fabrique. 2015.
  • Page 133. Alain Bergounioux, Gérard Grunberg of Les Socialistes français et le Pouvoir. Fayard. 2005.
  • Page 125. Léon Blum. Un Portrait. Pierre Birnbaum. 2016.