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France: President François Hollande Selflessly Decides Not to Face Humiliation.

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Bye-Bye Hollande.

French President François Hollande said on Thursday he would not seek re-election next year, bowing to historically low approval ratings after a troubled term in power.

Reports France 24

The withdrawal means the 62-year-old Socialist leader is the first president of France‘s fifth republic, founded in 1958, to step aside after only one term.

“I have decided that I will not be a candidate,” a stony-faced Hollande said in a solemn televised statement from the Élysée Palace in Paris during which he defended his record.

He conceded that he was unable to unite his deeply divided Socialist Party behind his candidacy ahead of the presidential election in April and May next year.

“In the months to come, my only duty will be to continue to lead my country,” he said.

Hollande’s approval ratings have hit rock bottom after a term in office marked by U-turns on major policies, terror attacks, high unemployment and embarrassing revelations about his private life.

He is the most unpopular president in French polling history, a fact he tacitly acknowledged in his speech on Thursday.

“I am aware today of the risk that going down a route that would not gather sufficient support would entail, so I have decided not to be a candidate in the presidential election,” he said.

A new poll on Wednesday predicted he would win just seven percent of votes in the first round of next year’s election in April – strengthening Socialist critics who view him as a lame duck.

This decision leaves the forthcoming ‘Primary’ of the Parti Socialiste (PS) wide open.

This will take place on the 22nd and 29th of January 2017 (Primaire citoyenne de 2017).

There is speculation as to whether Manuel Valls, the present Prime Minister, described as a “social liberal” (in French terms, pro-market), marked by a dose of ‘Blue Labour’ conservative moral and authoritarianism, will stand. Others consider the Martine Aubry, the Mayor of Lille and a bearer of the European social democratic current, who has  been critical of Hollande, may present herself.

This morning on France-Inter on of the candidates from the left of the Socialist Party, Arnaud Montebourg gave his reactions.

Saluting Hollande’s decision he gave some no doubt well-meant advice to Valls: he cannot remain as Prime Minister while entering into the Party’s contest for a Presidential candidate.

Cela me paraît difficile que Manuel Valls puisse rester à Matignon (…) Je ne pense pas que cela laisse de la place à une campagne des primaires.

Faced with a parting shot by Hollande, warning of the dangers of “protectionism”, Montebourg offered an intresting – that is to say, contorted- defence of his project for ‘social protection’, which may, possibly, include economic…protectionism.

As in this:

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As Montenbourg was tailing, even overtaking Hollande, in the polls, it’s worth nothing that his programme principles also include suppoort for medium to small enterprises, anti-austerity, en end to “social dumping” , migrant workers under terms of conditions set in their countries rather than by France, activity by a ‘strong state’ such as  nationalisations (Banking sector), and … obligatory young people’s military or civic service for 6 months. (Quelles sont les propositions d’Arnaud Montebourg ?)

The other candidates, for the moment include (le Monde).

  • Marie-Noëlle Lienemann – Socialist senator left ‘frondeur’ (those who have criticised Hollande’s legislative projects and Presidency. Standing for ‘social justice, raising the minimum wage and a better deal for young people. Wishes to carry the message to the left as a whole, including the greens, and the left of the left.
  • Benoît Hamon – Former education Minister, critic of Hollande, stands for retaining the 35 hours week, and introducing a universal basic income. Nowhere in the polls.
  • Gérard Filoche  – former member of the Ligue communiste révolutionnaire . Important figure in the campaign against the recent labour ‘reforms’.  Good bloke. Outsider. (1)
  • Manuel Valls still not officially declared candidate. Hard man of the Parti Socialiste right. Likes Tony Blair – enough said.

Others:  Les candidats des partis associés.

  • Jean-Luc Bennahmias (Front démocrate) Who?
  • François de Rugy (Écologistes !) Who?
  • Pierre Larrouturou (Nouvelle Donne). Who? Very odd group Nouvelle Donne….

The wider issue of who will be the left’s candidate in next year’s Presidential election is considered here: Après le retrait de Hollande, qui est candidat à gauche ?  Laure Equy et Sylvain Mouillard.

Hopefuls include: Emmanuel Macron (centre), Sylvia Pinel (of the small Parti radical de gauche), Nathalie Arthaud (Lutte Ouvrière) Philippe Poutou (Nouveau parti anticaptialiste),  Yannick Jadot (Europe Ecologie-Les Verts (EE-LV).

There is also Jean-Luc Mélenchon under the banner of his rally,  La France Insoumise  whose politics  we have presented often enough here to make further comment unnecessary for the moment.

Mélenchon stands at  around 15 % in the polls which makes him a front-runner for winning the same score as the French Communist Georges Marchais in 1981.

Update.

(1) Filoche has just launched an appeal for the left to develop a common left socialist strategy amongst the Socialists, the 4 left candidates in the primary and for meetings with Jadot and Mélenchon (une stratégie commune de la gauche socialiste, un « pack des quatre » dès maintenant, ensuite nous rencontrerons Yannick Jadot et Jean luc Mélenchon).

Hollande obligé de renoncer – Unité de toute la gauche socialiste et non socialiste avec les écologistes pour battre Fillon-Le Pen.

Fillon, Le Pen: Right wing Plague or Right-wing Cholera.

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French Far-Right Hesitates between Marine le Pen and François Fillon.

France 24 reports,

By overwhelmingly backing former prime minister François Fillon, voters in the primary held by France’s centre-right on Sunday opted for an economically liberal, socially conservative candidate whose vision for France leaves little ambiguity.

Any hope rival primary candidate Alain Juppé had of springing a surprise in the Les Républicains party run-off vote failed to come to fruition, with Fillon taking some 66.5 percent of the vote. If Fillon’s strong performance in the first round of voting could be in part attributed to voters merely wanting to shut out Nicolas Sarkozy, his landslide victory over Juppé on Sunday left little room for doubt: Fillon’s firmly right-wing platform had won the firm backing of the conservative electorate.

The “fight between one project and another”, as the more moderate, centrist Juppé had called his showdown with Fillon, had been decided. Despite attacks by Juppé between the two rounds of voting that had depicted him as both “ultra conservative” and “ultra liberal” economically, Fillon had clearly prevailed.

The Guardian columnist    comments,

The Front National leader has reason to fear the Republican candidate, whose views overlap with some of her key ideas.

..

The Front National has reason to fear Fillon. His traditionalist and socially conservative line on family values and “the Christian roots of France”, his emphasis on French national identity, “sovereignty” and “patriotism”, his hard line on immigration and Islam as well as a pro-Putin foreign agenda against “American imperialism” all overlap with some of Le Pen’s key ideas.

This could potentially see Fillon steal some of Le Pen’s most socially conservative voters, particularly rightwing elderly people, who always have a big turnout to vote but remain sceptical about the Front National.

“Fillon presents us with a strategy problem, he’s the most dangerous [candidate] for the Front National,” Marion Maréchal Le Pen, the Catholic and socially conservative Front National MP and niece of Marine Le Pen, told journalists this week.

..

Despite Fillon’s hardline rightwing stances, he is not a populist. “He’s closer to [the former British prime minister] David Cameron than [the Ukip leader] Nigel Farage,” said Jean-Yves Camus, an expert on the French far right.

This leaves Le Pen a wide margin in which to go for Fillon’s jugular as she fights a campaign centred on “the people versus the elite”. The Front National has already begun attacking Fillon as a snobbish, political has-been. It argues thatFillon, as Nicolas Sarkozy’s prime minister, was responsible for the failures of the Sarkozy era and cares more about the rich, globalised elite than the working class who have faced decades of mass unemployment.

The battle will largely focus on economic policy. Fillon has promised a “radical shock” for France with free-market reform, major cuts to public sector jobs and reducing public spending. Le Pen claims to represent the “forgotten” French underclass and has an economic line that is essentially leftwing: she is anti-globalisation and favours protectionism and state intervention. Le Pen’s campaign director, David Rachline, has called Fillon’s programme “economically insane” for wanting to slash 500,000 public sector jobs.

Le Pen’s advisers believe Fillon will struggle to appeal to the lower middle class and working class voters who are afraid of losing their jobs. The Front National has slammed Fillon as a symbol of lawless, ultra-free market, globalised capitalism. Fillon, in return, says Le Pen’s economic project is simply “a cut and paste of the extreme left”.

Some on the French far-right are already moving towards backing Fillon (Le conservatisme affiché de François Fillon séduit à l’extrême droite).

Has the French left any chance?

The Socialists continue to hover between indecision and hesitancy.

This weekend the French Communist Party (PCF)  voted to back Jean-Luc Mélenchon’s Presidential bid (Finalement, les communistes soutiennent… Mélenchon. Libération). They supported his candidacy under the banner of la France insoumise  by a slim, at 53,6% for, majority. It is obvious that there was little chance of a the Communists being able to launch their own Presidential challenge. The Party announced its intention of launching their own campaign in support his proposals against austerity. They do not intend to give him ‘carte blanche’ (un blanc-seing).

This follows the decision of the other component of the (now effectively  defunct) Front de gauche, Ensemble, to back Mélenchon, Communiqué du Collectif National d’Ensemble des 19 et 20 novembre 2016)

 That Mélenchon  looks potentially capable of beating a Socialist candidate into fourth place no doubt counts in his favour – although no poll gives him a chance of getting to the run-off.

The reasons for the PCF’s reservations – shared no doubt by many in Ensemble, are not hard to find. Beginning with the personality of the Man of Destiny.

We nevertheless cite a major source of difference which, given the importance of the issue of immigration in the coming contest,  will no doubt grow in importance

 has noted (Guardian),

Despite a steady increase in Euroscepticism in France, the underlying principle of free movement of people across the EU remains broadly undisputed. Apart from in one telling area. There is growing evidence of opposition towards EU migrants and the notion of freedom in what has become known as “social dumping”. This relates to “posted workers”, employees sent by their employer to carry out a service in another EU member state on a temporary basis. Those EU workers do not integrate in the labour market in which they work.

 Hence, “social dumping”, where foreign service providers undercut local service providers because their labour standards are lower (in terms of pay and social protection). Interestingly, the most staggering attack against posted workers has come not from the far right, as one would expect, but from the radical left.

Jean-Luc Mélenchon, an MEP, a presidential candidate in 2012 and running again in 2017, has singled out posted workers in a speech at the European parliament last July. He declared that “posted workers took the bread out of French workers’ mouths”. Part of the French left was stunned by words that could have easily been uttered by Marine Le Pen.

Meanwhile Jean-Luc Mélenchon  has insulted yet another section of the left. He has attacked the journalist and Latin American specialist  Paulo Paranagua with a series of allegations about his political past in Argentina.  The journalist, the Presidential hopeful  raved, had been objectively Muse of the CIA – no doubt the reason he was captured and tortured for his association with armed resistance to  the 1970s military regimes of the time. Paranagua was only released from an Argentinian gaol and deported to France after an international campaign in his defence.

A protest at these slanders has been launched: “Nous n’acceptons pas de voir notre passé commun insulté par J.L. Mélenchon“. Signatures  include Alain Krivine..

Update, Post Primary Opinion Poll:

None of the left gets more than 13% in opinion polls, Fillon, 26% Marine Le Pen (24%) Emmanuel Macron – Centre (14%) et Jean-Luc Mélenchon (13%), t François Hollande9%, François Bayrou, Centre, à 6%. Ecologists Yannick Jadot and Nicolas Dupont-Aignan 3% Far-left Nathalie Arthaud et Philippe Poutou 1% – poll today l’Express.

Marine Le Pen ‘CAN win’ French presidency after Trumpquake, says British Far-Right ‘Daily Express’.

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2017 Nightmare: Presidents Le Pen, Trump and Putin (Financial Times).

The far-right British ‘newspaper’, the Daily Express, asserts,

Marine Le Pen ‘CAN win’ French presidency after Trumpquake

DONALD Trump’s election and Britain’s Brexit have paved the way for Marine Le Pen’s Front National to win the French election.

Immediately after Trump was declared the 45th president of the USA Le Pen said: “Nothing is immutable. What has happened this night is not the end of the world, it’s the end of a world.”

And Le Pen’s chief strategist, Florian Philippot, tweeted: “Their world is collapsing, ours is being built.”

Like Trump Ms Le Pen is a populist nationalist and a right wing political outsider. They have similar views on immigration.

French far-right leader Marine Le Pen on Wednesday said Donald Trump’s victory in the US presidential election was “good news” for France reports France 24.

“I repeat, the election of Donald Trump is good news for our country,” said Le Pen, who will be the anti-immigration National Front’s candidate in France’s 2017 presidential election.

Le Pen, 48, was one of the first French politicians to react to Trump’s stunning victory.

“Congratulations to the new president of the United States Donald Trump and to the free American people!” she said.

Marine Le Pen outlined the real parallels between her Party’s programme and Trump’s. They are not, centrally, a ‘tough’ stand on immigration, but concern the assertion of national political and economic ‘sovereignty’ against ‘globalisation’.

In her brief remarks, Le Pen said a Trump White House would assure that the sweeping Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) between the US and EU would be rejected.

She added that “more generally, wild globalisation” would be tamed, and she predicted that international relations would improve, “notably with Russia”.

Le Pen said Trump would rein in “the warlike interventions that are the source of the huge migratory waves that we are enduring”.

If Trump keeps to his pledges, they will be “beneficial for France,” she said.

Libération notes in that Marine Le Pen’s  hopes to imitate Trump may not work out. (Marine Le Pen espère imiter Trump en 2017)

In moving from a  position of saying “anybody but Hillary Clinton” (Tout sauf Hillary Clinton) to her present enthusiasm the Front National has to confront one fact:  in polls before the US election 86% of French people preferred Clinton to Trump.

The Trump triumph has weighed heavily on the minds and speeches of other contenders for next year’s French Presidential election.

Today’s Le Monde reports that, « Ce qui est possible aux Etats-Unis est possible en France » – what is possible in the US is possible in France, said, Jacques Chirac’ former Prime Minister, Dominique de Villepin. (Quand Trump pèse sur la présidentielle française)

President Hollande began by stating that this election has created a period of  great “uncertainty”.

Right-wing socialist Prime Minister Manuel Valls has judged that Trump’s victory shows the need for borders (le besoin de frontières) regulating immigration (réguler l’immigration) and the need, as well, to better distributed wealth and to protect the middle classes who are worried about their declining social position (Le besoin aussi de mieux distribuer les richesses, le besoin de protection pour les classes moyennes qui vivent ce sentiment de déclassement)  (Le Monde).

The National Secretary of the Socialist Party, and former Trotskyist Jean-Christophe Cambadélis,  states,

« Le national populisme plus ou moins xénophobe hante le monde occidental avec sa peur du déclassement, du remplacement et du métissage. Orban, Brexit, l’AfD en Allemagne, et maintenant Trump ! La gauche française est prévenue : elle continue ses enfantillages irresponsables et c’est Le Pen. »

National Populism, more less xenophobic, is haunting the Western world, with its fear of losing class and racial mixing. Orban, Brexit, the German Afd, and now Trump! The French left has been warned: if it continues its infantile disorder (Note: my translation, others put this as ‘irresponsible squabbling’), it will let Pen in.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy’s campaign is particularly noted for  trying to climb on the Trump bandwagon.

Sarkozy, Trump, même combat contre la «pensée unique» (Libération).

Sarkozy’s campaigners claim to be against the liberal multicultural ‘elite’, the ‘correct’ way of thinking, for a firm control of immigration, heightened security against terrorist threats, and to be the spokesperson for the ‘silent majority’ (majorité silencieuse ). The link with Trump does however suffer from the fact that as long ago as ….March this year he dismissed the would-be Presient as without interest marked by  “populisme” and  “vulgarité”.

Sarkozy is, despite his ‘defence’ of the Nation and hostility to immigration, not opposed to Globalisation, or in favour of protectionism, or wishes France to have its own ‘Frexit’. and leave the EU.

He is also trailing in the polls behind the more centrist Alain Juppé to become the French right’s presidential candidate in 2017.

To return to the FN: Marine Le Pen is not given to making the same relentless torrent of outrageous sexist, racist remarks,  mixed up with sheer stupidity as Trump.

As France 24 also observes,

Le Pen is continuing her drive to sanitise the FN’s image.

Gone is the overt anti-Semitism and race-baiting of the past — her rhetoric on Muslims and migrants is softer yet still resonates in a country and on a continent reeling from an unprecedented terror threat and the Syrian crisis.

But she cannot escape her father’s embarrassing comments that the Nazi gas chambers are a “detail of history” and her party’s pledge to pull France out of the euro has drawn scorn from economists.

The FN has blamed the EU for much of France’s ills and pushed for a “Frexit” referendum on France’s EU membership.

Last year, the party topped the poll in regional elections with 28 percent.

Although Marine Le Pen has certainly won a lot of attention after the Trump result (TRUMP : L’ONDE DE CHOC PROFITE À MARINE LE PEN) opinion polls have yet to register a change in her rating, between  26 to 30 %.

The prospect of a defeat in the Second Round of the  Presidential election next May remains, for the moment, probable.

Written by Andrew Coates

November 10, 2016 at 5:25 pm

French Communist Party ‘Cadres’ Say “Non” to Backing Jean-Luc Mélenchon’s Presidential Candidacy.

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The Era of the People: Without the PCF? 

Le Parti communiste dit non à Jean-Luc Mélenchon reports Libération.

The hard choice before the assembled ‘cadres’ of the French Communist Party, (PCF) at their National Conference, was between Jean- Luc Mélenchon or a Communist . Pierre Laurent, PCF National Secretary voted for the first option. André Chassaigne, MP and potential presidential candidate, backed the second. The 535 delegates, mandated by their PCF federations, cast their ballots 55, 7% for the ‘internal candidate”. The final decision will be put to the whole membership at the end of November.

The defeat of the PCF leadership’s recommendation is extremely unusual.

But hostility to the leader of the Parti de gauche and owner of his supporters’ ‘movement’, La France Insoumise, ran high. ” Some present declared, “je ne soutiendrai jamais Mélenchon»«je n’aime pas la France Insoumise».”, I will never support Mélenchon” or “I don’t like La France Insoumise”. Those who backed voting for him argued that it was “political choice” (that is, there being no other candidate to the left of the Socialists who is visible in opinion polls). To which one delegate replied, “Le refus de soutenir de Jean-Luc est dû à son glissement au niveau des idées, pas sur sa personne. Le cœur du parti n’est pas d’accord avec son positionnement politique.” Refusing to support Jean-Luc is due to his shift in his ideas, not about the individual. The heart of the Party is not in agreement with his political position.

Jean-Luc Mélenchon, who refuses to meet Pierre Laurent, has made a show of ignoring this decision.

The same story lead the morning news bulletin on France-Inter this morning (Le PCF ne soutiendra pas Jean-Luc Mélenchon).

From the outside one can observe that there are plenty of people around who certainly do not like the Man of Destiny, as an individual, a politician, as well as heartily disagreeing with his present politics.

A review by Raphaëlle Besse Desmoulières of Mélenchon’s newly published le Choix de l’insoumission in Le Monde (31. 10.16)  is a useful introduction to how many on the left feel about the self-proclaimed Presidential candidate.

Desmoulières describes Mélenchon’s background in the ‘Lambertist’ Trotskyist Organisation communiste internationaliste – a big black mark to start with. The leader of La France Insoumise expressed adulation of Francois Mitterrand, described as a “guide” and Le Vieux’ (a term normally used in these circles for….Trotsky) , and his uncritical enthusiasm for Venezuela’s leader Hugo Chávez and the Bolivarian Revolution. It mentions that Mélenchon remains a Freemason (the lambertist leader Pierre Boussel, generally known by his ‘party name’  Pierre Lambert was staunch Freemason)

These aspects of  Mélenchon are not universally admired.

This is La France Insoumise’s ‘Projet’ which gives further reasons not to admire him.

It begins with the words, ” l’ère du peuple” “doit commencer ” – the era of the people must begin. This “citizens’ revolution” must overthrow the ” l’oligarchie financière et de la caste” – the financial oligarchy and the elite (caste, directly borrowed from Podemos, has as little resonance in French as it does in English).

It  promises to share the wealth of the country, to  transform the taxation system, and “Protégeons de la finance les salariés et la production en France. ” Protect wage-earners and production in France (my emphasis)  from Finance”.

It proposes “ecological planning”.

The ‘project’ proposes to leave European Treaties that impose on us ( nous) austerity, and the affirmation of “la souveraineté” against the decisions of the EU Commission.

We (nous) must be freed from following “des folies impériales des États-Unis et de leur outil de tutelle militaire : l’OTAN” the imperialist follies of the USA and their tool of military subordination, NATO. Our (Notre) anchor must be with the Mediterranean peoples and the Francophone countries of Africa. 

There are words about “progrès humains” (human progress) and “autres modèles de vie ” (other models for living).

Anybody who has got this far is in for a treat: the conclusion,

Je connais aussi la force d’entrainement des grands enthousiasmes collectifs. La France est le deuxième territoire maritime du monde, et la deuxième nation pour la cotisation individuelle à la conquête de l’espace ! Voilà qui fait de nous un peuple qui a une responsabilité particulière, enthousiasmante, aux frontières de l’humanité ! Ici se trouvent deux immenses gisements d’emplois, d’inventions et de progrès écologiques pour la France et la civilisation humaine.

I also know the power that great collective enthusiasm can bring in its wake. France is the second largest maritime territory in the world, the second nation, per individual contribution, in the conquest of space! This has made of us a people with a special responsibility,  enthusiastic, at the  cutting edge of  humanity (1). Here one can find two massive sources of employment, inventions, and ecological progress, for France and for human civilisation.

(1) I justify this somewhat free, though equally lyrical,  translation by reference to the text linked to, “Comment porter la France aux avant-postes de l’Humanité ?

The programme of La France Insoumise is clearly ‘populist’. Whether it is ‘left’ is up for the ‘people’ to judge.

Le Projet focuses on an ‘elite’, a fusion between finance, politicians – in  short, ‘them’. It has no reference to class struggle arising in production and distribution. It rests on a picture of a world in which exploitation and bad social conditions are the result of malevolent decisions by this upper crust, and foreigners, beginning with the EU, and extending, O so extending, to the US. Once rid of that lot, and “we”, the “special” people of France, will no doubt colonise the Moon…

A more comprehensive demolition of this approach, which begins with the basis of a new movement to answer the crisis of the “party-form”, extends to the dropping of the working class as a reference and its replacement by the ‘people’ and ends with the personalisation of the France Insoumise project around the Leader (“la nécessité d’une incarnation personnelle du processus) si given by   Samy Johsua in « L’ère du peuple » et « l’adieu au prolétariat » ?

All I can say after that is, yuk!

In Le Monde today Election présidentielle : la Conférence nationale du PCF refuse de se rallier à Jean-Luc Mélenchon continues the saga.

After outlining the above vote, Desmoulières speculates that the PCF may support the Socialist candidacy of Arnaud Montebourg, a contender in the PS’s ‘primary’ selection process to designate their own candidate. Above all he notes that this decision marks a definitive divorce between the PCF and  Mélenchon.

Some might say, echoing the PCF delegates, from the outside, about time!

Written by Andrew Coates

November 6, 2016 at 12:42 pm

The PSU (1960 – 1989): Quand la Gauche se réinventait. Le PSU, Histoire d’un Parti Visionnaire. 1960 -1989. Bernard Ravenel.

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Review: Quand la Gauche se réinventait. Le PSU, Histoire d’un Parti Visionnaire. 1960 -1989. Bernard Ravenel. La Découverte. 2016.

Following the rise of Spain’s Podemos there has been great interest on the left in the creation of new parties or changed forms of organisation that try to resolve the difficulties, electoral and political, of social democracy. This is not without precedent. The Parti Socialiste Unifié, PSU, (See Wikipedia entry, in English and in French) was created in 1960 in the middle of one of French socialism’s greatest crises, its inability to stand for Algerian independence and failure to stand up to de Gaulle and the creation, his mould, of the 5th Republic in 1959. The PSU became one of the most significant new left parties of the 1960s and 1970s with an impact across the European left. Apart from its anti-colonialism, it promoted ecological politics, feminism, ideas of participative democracy, and, above all, autogestion, self-management, which have resonance today,

In Quand la gauche se réinventait (When the left reinvented itself) Bernard Ravenel offer the first comprehensive history of the PSU. This is a difficult task. The party was far from a leftist groupuscule whose life can be summed up in account of a few ideologues and their battles. Founded with 30,000 members, they won two Parliamentary deputies in 1962, and 4 in 1967. In 1968, after participating in the May events, the PSU candidate, Michel Rocard (1930 – 2016) received 3,61% in the June Presidential elections. Throughout its existence the party had many local councillors, often in the hundreds. At its height in 1970 it counted 350 workplace branches and had strong links with the – then – radical socialist Confédération Démocratique du Travail (CFDT). One of its central motifs, self-management (autogestion) became popular on the French left, and was formally adopted by the Parti Socialiste in the mid-70s, occupying a major place during that decade in debates and policy formation. This was part of a broad international move towards backing workers’ control.

Bernard Ravenel describes the PSU as a “chaudron”, cauldron, whose brew nourished several generations of the socialist left. But Quand la gauche se réinventait is more than an account of that inspiring party in which people found their bearings. He aims to transmit the memory of their struggles to future generations, to create a bridge between them, and to help enrich present-day critical left thinking (“pensée critique”).

The legacy of the PSU is extensive. After fierce internal disputes Rocard, and many others, left the party and joined the Parti Socialiste in 1974 to become a leader of what some call the “deuxième gauche (second left). In a celebrated speech at the Nantes PS congress, 1977, Rocard attempted to distinguish “two lefts”. The First was centralist, standing for the authority of the State. It was ‘Jacobin’ and even nationalist. The Second stood for decentralisation, dispersed authority, civil society and support for a plurality of oppressed minorities. In practice market friendly policies and modernisation became the hallmark of the Second left. As Ravenel observes, this meant that self-management was – as it did for the Socialist Party in office – mere “varnish”. (1)

Erudite Hamster.

An “erudite hamster”, as less than friendly observers called him, Rocard was to become a Socialist Prime Minister under Mitterrand’s second Presidency in 1988 until 1991. He created the Revenu Minimum d’Insertion (RMI), a universal social security payment in a system that had hitherto been contribution based, leaving people at the end of a certain time with no money at all. But apart from this important measure Rocard is probably more remembered for reconciliation with the market than for radicalism. (2)

After Rocard’s mid-70s departure, along with his supporters and many others, the PSU had continued with diminishing fortunes. Their membership crept below 10,000. The party’s presidential candidate in 1981, Huguette Bouchardeau (1,1%) in 1983 entered the Mauroy government under François Mitterrand with responsibilities for ecology. Her participation in a cabinet committed to fiscal cut backs effectively marked the end of the PSU. It formally split in 1989. Some members joined the French Greens (les Verts), others the group (Alliance Rouge et Verte, AREV) which became Les Alternatifs, who now form part of part of the Front de Gauche, Ensemble. Former PSU activists have participated in range of movements, continuing to take up green issues, the defence of immigrants, and feminism.

Foundation 1960.

These are the bare bones of the history of the PSU. If the party is known at all on the English speaking left it is for its role in defending the cause of Algerian independence. Bernard Ravenel begins Quand La Gauche se réinventait by marking out the wider background to the groups that formed the party. It may come as a surprise to many outside France to learn that during the 1950s a variety of substantial groups – and not the tiny Trotskyist movement or the even smaller Socialisme ou Barbarie, – had opposed both Stalinism and the rightward moving French socialists of Guy Mollet’s SFIO (with the historically interesting name, Section française de l’international ouvrière).

These groups, which numbered around 20, 000 supporters, owed much to the attempts to create a ‘Third Force’ on the post-war French left, neither Stalinist nor social democratic. Others came along with the left-leaning reformist, and anti-colonial Prime Minister (7 months in 1954) Pierre Mendès France. Others, such as the sociologist Pierre Naville, the activist Yvan Craipeau, and the novelist Colette Audry, had been figures in the French Trotskyist movement wearied by its incessant quarrels and ineffectiveness.

Engaged in the fight for Algerian national liberation the PSU participated in the often-violent battle against the putschists who tried to maintain French Algeria. It is a measure of the honesty of Ravenel’s book that he does not fail to mention that many Communist students stood should to shoulder with them in demonstrations against the racist attempt to retain colonial rule (Pages 52 – 53).

Algerian independence in 1962 appeared to leave the PSU without a defining mission. But the party soon found a new role. This was not simply opposing De Gaulle’s Presidential referendum in 1962 but in laying down a new approach on the left.

The Counter-Plan.

In broad terms one might say that this had been dominated by two stands. The first, symbolised in the figure of Léon Blum considered that the French republic was basically healthy, the carrier of a long emancipatory history. If the left might pursue a long-term strategy of conquering power by mass activity, it could exercise power within this given framework. In the 1960s this stand meant, however, concentrating on the effects of De Gaulle’s ‘coup d’état’, to return to full republican democracy. The other strategy, at the heart of the line of the Parti Communiste français (PCF) was to consider that “monopoly capitalism” had fused with state power. An essentially healthy proletariat was both held down by capitalism, and formed for an historical leading role within production. Without the restraints of capitalism, freed under conditions of what the Communists would later call “advanced democracy”, and nationalisation, the working class, organised in unity within its allied union structures the CGT, and its party would create socialism. The political agency of socialism was therefore ‘given’, it was up to its political expression, the PCF, to conquer to the state and set it free. (4)

The PSU, critical Marxists, open a wide range of left thinking, inspired partly by writers such as Serge Mallet, looked to new forces within the working class who had begun to raise demands relating to the more immediate control of production. Around the ‘Front Socialiste’ the party supported workers’ struggles (such as the 1963 miners’ strike). But they developed wider ambitions, elaborating a “counter-plan” in 1964. At a time when indicative planning was still practised they offered an alternative to the French planning system based on democratic participation. As Ravel observes, this as the first time in the country that a socialist group proposed to develop planning, of investment and consumption, under democratic control as a form of transition to socialism. He writes, “le contre-plan veut ouvrir une voie démocratique at donc pacifique au socialisme..” The counter-plan wished to open the way to a democratic and thus peaceful transition to socialism. (Page 82)

This perspective, elaborated by PSU strategist Gilles Martinet (a former Resistance member and ex-Communist), offered an alternative to the “republican” reliance on a politically reformed state, and the PCF view that the workers needed to channel their demands through the CGT, and the Party. As the Party developed, particularly after 1968, the idea emerged of passing from such worker and popular “control” to the full-blown self-management (autogestion) of production and distribution. There was also a sketch supporting political decentralisation. For many of us, this thread of ideas, which Ravenel outlines with great clarity amidst the often-complex debates – not to mention critiques – that followed, remains one of the PSU’s enduring contributions to the left.

Badiou and the Armed Struggle.

Quand la gauche se réinventait is no less acute in its description of May 68 and the effects this had on the PSU. The leftist Trainspotter will rejoice in the accounts of the factional battles that ensued after the évévenements. One aspect has drawn the attention of reviewers: Alain Badiou’s support for preparing for armed struggle, with mass participation in the conquest of power (Page 202) More fundamentally in the early 1970s the PSU endured a prolonged confrontation between those who supported changing the organisation into a Leninist vanguard party (‘avant-garde” in French) and those continued to believe in a broad democratic socialist structure. Ravenel describes the latter in terms of a Gramscian vision of the party as a “collective intellectual” (Page 214).

These disputes ended with some ‘Leninists’ resigning and joining the group to be known as Ligue Communiste Révolutionnaire. Another group, which included the future Green theorist, Alain Lipietz went on to found the grandly titled Organisation communiste gauche ouvrière et paysanne, GOP. Other ‘Marxist-Leninists’ were excluded. Rocard, and the more openly ‘reformist’ currents, made their excuses and left. Martinet had already quit for the Socialists in 1972.

Activists from the PSU were involved in all the central struggles of the 1970s. These included Lip (1973, the celebrated occupation of a Watch factory which was then run as a co-operative), Lazarc (protests against the military’s expropriation of peasant land) feminist campaigns (abortion), and the early battles against Nuclear Power. In 1975 they supported the Portuguese Revolution, and the (similar to PSU) ‘centrist’ Movimento de Esquerda Socialista (MES) efforts to establish workers’ power and popular control. Ravenel personally participated in on-the-spot links. Relations with the CFDT, cited above, continued, helped by the common Christian radical origins of many of their members, although they did not become close. The federation’s leader, Edmond Maire early expressed the view that he had no wish to become for the PSU what the CGT was the PCF. (5)

Critical of the Common Programme of the parliamentary left (PCF,  PS, and then the Radicaux de gauche (1972), from its signing to its break up (1977), the continuity PSU remained apart from the mainstream. The Party also had important differences with one group of backers of autogestion inside the Parti Socialiste. The faction, CERES, best known for its leader Jean-Pierre Chevènement, preferred a legislative and nationalised to a grass-roots framework. It was only a commentator on the processes which dominated this alliance up till Mitterrand’s victory in 1981. Yet it could be said that through such activists, and the presence of former members inside the Socialist Party, its influence continued to be felt within both movements and the institutional French left.

Quand la gauche se réinventait is not a history that deals with the alleged turn of intellectuals against the left during the 1970s. According to what one might call the New Left Review version of history, which treats of academics, ideologues, and the media, rather than activists, leads many to believe that the country underwent a profound ‘anti-totalitarian’ moment during the decade. Ravenel describes the more humble task of achieving political power for the democratic socialist left. He cites extensive documentation, including the PSU paper, Tribune Socialiste, and interviews with those involved. That the transformation of that left was never achieved by the PSU – Ravenel describes his book as a history of the vanquished (vancus) – should not detract from their achievements. He is not afraid to reveal one of the less savoury sides of their work. Following a degree of reconciliation with the Algerian one-party state, in 1970 they received a ‘loan’ (never to be repaid) for finance of the (modest but comfortable) Headquarters. These good graces of Houari Boumediene were not publicly trumpeted (Page 189)

Revolutionary Reformism.

Ravenel is thus transparently a trustworthy and welcome guide to some of the most important experiences on the 20th century French left. For him the dream of “reformisme révolutionnaire” was never achieved. Was this because of a change in the social landscape, the basis of the political environment? Ravenel concludes that the PSU was unable to realise its ambitions and programmes which were tailored to the transformation of “industrial society”. This world had gone, replaced by an increasingly “post-industrial” world. Referring to theorists of the ‘new working class’ amongst others in 1981 André Gorz announced the fatal decline of a motivated skilled working class that wanted control of production and had the means to do. (Adieux au prolétariat. 1981) This claim certainly had an impact on the way PSU activists thought. But, citing from own experience of these warm and open people, as the defeats of the 1980s accumulated against them, and their initial ‘critical support’ for Mitterrand evaporated, their legacy remains a vibrant source of hope.

********
(1) Page 135. Les Gauches Françaises. Jacques Julliard. Flammarion. 2012. Alain Bergounioux Gérard Grundberg as well as Ravenel remind us that a whole series of future leading Socialist party politicians, from Alain Savary, Jean Poperen to another future PM (1992 – 1993), Pierre Béregovoy passed from the PSU to the Socialists (in their case beginning with the re-alignments in the FGDS (1967). Pages 141 – 145. Les Socialistes français et le Pouvoir. Fayard. 2007.
(2) Michel Rocard, le président empêché. Jonathan Bouchet-Peterson. Libération. 27.16. 2016
(3) Pages 35 – 42. The Parti socialist autonome (PSA) a split from the Socialists, counted 8,500 members, the Union de la gauche socialiste (UFS), a Christian leftist organisation had 8,000, and a dissident Communist faction, the Tribune du communisme, had several hundred. These groups had a long and complex history, including relations with another force which would join with the PSU, the supporters of the reformist Prime Minister (7 months in 1954) Pierre Mendès France. Socialisme ou Barbarie was virulently hostile to the alliance with the latter. See. Maille. R.(Alberto Véga) : Mendès-France et le nouveau réformisme. Socialisme ou Barbarie. No 29. December 1959/February 1960. This followed a long history of hostility to this non-communist radical left, principally the result of their attachment to taking part in elections.
(4) See Page 125. Léon Blum. Pierre Birnbaum Seuil. 2016. On the PCF’s concepts see Le Communisme une passion française. Marc Lazar. Perrin. 2005.
(5) The CFDT vision of socialism as self-management and its relations the PSU is dealt with in La Deuxième gauche H.Hamon. P.Rotman. Editions Ramsay 1984. They describe the specific effects of the key events, such as the 1973 Assises du socialisme, and the intimate links between PSU members and the union federation. The CFDT identified itself increasingly as “reformist” formally abandoned all reference to socialism the Congrès de Strasbourg 1988, but retained a reference to autogestion.

Image result for Quand la Gauche se réinventait. Le PSU, Histoire d’un Parti Visionnaire.

For more on the PSU see: INSTITUT TRIBUNE SOCIALISTE

and,  Le Parti socialiste unifié (PSU), un parti germe pour l’autogestion. Patrick Silberstein.

Le PSU, une comète dans le ciel de la gauche : quelques leçons pour aujourd’hui, À propos de Bernard Ravenel, Quand la gauche se réinventait. Le PSU, Histoire d’un parti visionnaire. Gustave Massiah

Written by Andrew Coates

October 26, 2016 at 2:18 pm

War Crimes in Syria? Just ‘chatter’ (bavardages) says French Left leader Jean-Luc Mélenchon.

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Image result for melenchon bavardages

Jean-Luc Mélenchon is the leader of La France Insoumise.

He is  running for French President on a left-wing ‘populist’ programme partly inspired by Podemos and the ideas of Ernesto Laclau and Chantal Mouffe (Populisme et hégémonies culturelles : débat Laclau-Mouffe-Mélenchon 2012).

His organisation, social media based, with local supporters’ groups and run from above, is designed to support his candidacy.

It might properly be called a vast Rally.

Mélenchon announced earlier this year that following his call to destiny and the Presidency he had replaced need for an alliance of the left, the Front de gauche, an alliance of democratically organsied parties. (Mélenchon achève le Front de gauche. Le candidat à la présidentielle estime dans Mediapart que « le cartel n’existe plus ».)

At present he  stands at around 14 to 15% in the opinion polls (Les Echos)

This story broke a few days ago and has not gone way:

Des crimes de guerre en Syrie ? Mélenchon parle de «bavardages» Libération.

His main objection to French Policy was that it was following American leadership.

The leader of La France Insoumise disputes the notion of “Russian war crimes.” “All that is gossip,” he replied.

Now he has since ‘rectified’ this report claiming that the word bavardage referred to the words of Presidents Hollande and Putin’s words  but…..

This part of the statement got a lot of people’s attention,

“We’ll start by saying that we do not like shelling you and I (…) War is always dirty, it is horrible, it is horrible. The bombings in the Saudi Yemen are abominable, the bombing of civilians whatsoever are abominable, “he continued” admitting that while the military offensive launched by the Syrian regime in Aleppo has killed many civilian victims.

..

“We talk about the eastern part of Aleppo. Which is held by whom(…) Moderate, moderate Al-Qaeda who murdered the editors of Charlie Hebdo. You wish  all cost to choose between victims? “Said Mr. Mélenchon, who also criticiced the silence of the West over the” massacre “of the Kurds.

Now being charitable on might say that Mélenchon’s poor choice of words (bavardage) when talking of war crimes is one thing.

But to identify the inhabitants with the East of Aleppo with those controlling it (even if one accepted his definition of who is, which we do not), is another.

More information  here:

Mélenchon, la Syrie et les “bavardages” – Arrêt sur images

Written by Andrew Coates

October 16, 2016 at 3:18 pm

Jean-Luc Mélen­chon Goes Vegetarian Lean Cuisine.

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Jean-Luc Mélen­chon : Son régime, Sa famille, Macron…il dit tout

Mélen­chon: Secrets of a Quinoa Slimming Regime. 

Jean-Luc Mélen­chon needs no introduction to readers of this Blog.

The ebullient leader of the Parti de gauche, presidential candidate – neck and neck in the polls with existing President François Hollande – is the uncontested leader of  la France insoumise a veritable sovereign for the people in revolt.

Following Jeremy Corbyn’s advice on people’s after work drinking life-styles  Mélen­chon offers advice to Gala magazine on how to keep trim with his special recipes.

We learn in this exclusive interview, RENCONTRE DANS LA CUISINE DU CANDI­DAT DE LA FRANCE INSOU­MISEJean-Luc Mélen­chon : Son régime, Sa famille, …il dit tout….

  • How he read 6 to 7 ‘polars’ (mystery novels) while resting in hammock – without his Smartphone!
  • He loves his family.
  • He’s just crazy about tabbouleh.
  •  Mélen­chon has lost 5 Kilos and plans to lose a few more soon!
  • He only eats vegetable protein, no fat and no meat – on must think of the martyrdom of animals (“Il faut penser aux martyrs des animaux !)
  •  Mélen­chon can’t stop talking about the benefits of quinoa (“est inta­ris­sa­ble… sur les bien­faits du quinoa !”)

Asked about the elections within political parties of the left and right to become a candidate, Mélen­chon smiled,

A simple call from Destiny was all he needed.

The dapper gent declares, “I won’t do any primary election. I’m a candidate through and through. ” (“Je ne parti­ci­pe­rai à aucune primaire. Je suis candi­dat jusqu’au bout.”)

 

Written by Andrew Coates

September 3, 2016 at 3:58 pm