Posts Tagged ‘French Left’
After the Dutch election, national populism is said to have another chance to make an impact in Europe in the French Presidential contest at the end of April (first round). Wilders may have been seen off in Holland but Marine Le Pen, who claims to promote the French “people” (in jobs, ‘priorité nationale’) against uncontrolled “mondialisation” (globalisation) the “elites” of the European Union. She leads the polls, with majority backing in the manual and administrative working class. The Front National’s chances may have been increased by the scandals that have all but wiped out the hopes of victory of Les Republicans’ candidate, François Fillon. It is claimed that many of the once favoured right-wing party’s supporters, feeling that their man has been the victim of a judges’ plot, filled with spite, and underlying affinity, could vote for the Front National in the decisive second round.
For some on the left of centre the candidacy of Emmanuel Macron, a liberal, economically and socially, centrist, “progressive” even a ““centrist populist” now represents the most effective riposte to the far right. A sizable chunk of the Parti Socialiste (PS) right and socially liberal personalities in the wider left orbit, have smiled on his candidacy. Polls suggest he may come close to Le Pen in the April ballot, and, with transfers from all sides of the political spectrum, though notably from left supporters, could win the two-horse play off in May.
A Bulwark against National Populism?
For some commentators Macron could be at the crest of a wave of modernising politics that may be able not just to defeat Marine le Pen but set an example to others on how to overwhelm nationalist populism. For others it could pave the way for an international renewal of the centre, or the ‘centre left’, including the one time dominant modernisers inside social democratic parties This has resonance in Britain, where Liberal Democrats gush admiration, former Social Democratic Party stalwart, Polly Toynbee has fully endorsed him as a bulwark against Marine Le Pen, disappointed Labour leadership candidate, Liz Kendall is said to admire Macron, as has former Europe Minister Denis MacShane, who sees him as standing up to Euroscepticism, and would no doubt enlist him in the battle to rehabilitate Tony Blair’s record in government.
It is tempting to think of, or to dismiss, Macron as a political entrepreneur, a “personality”, the creator of a “start up”, a political firm (Candidate Macron Jeremy Harding. London Review of Books. 15.3.17). Others have concentrated on attacking his “empty words” (discours creux), and efforts to appeal to all, strongly criticising French colonialism, while offering a dialogue with the ultra-conservatives of ‘Sens commun’, if not further right.
These, together with an elitist education and high-powered insider employment (from the heights of the State to Banking) are important facets of Macron’s character, and his present politics revolved around that personality. But this is to ignore the reasons why this candidacy is unsettling the Parti Socialiste. The former Minister of the Economy (2014 – 2016) under PS Premier Manuel Valls, with, from time to time, most clearly from 2006 – 2009, membership of the Socialists, he was marked out for the economic side of his “social liberalism”. Macron promoted the maximum loosening of labour protection in the El Khomri labour law, and advanced his own proposals for wider economic reform.
A Tool Against Hamon.
The left outside of France was more interested in Socialist Party critics of the El Khomri law, the “frondeurs” for whom this summed up their dissatisfaction with Manuel Valls and François Hollande’s market reform and fiscal policies. But Macron could be said to be embody the breakaway of the opposite side of the “synthesis” that held the government together between the Prime Minister’s authoritarian modernisation and those with socialist and social democratic values. In this sense En marche! is a handy tool against the present candidate of the Parti Socialiste, Benoît Hamon, the left-wing ‘frondeur’ now representing the Party, with the support of the Greens, EELV and the small, but traditional ally of the Socialists, the Parti Radical de gauche.
The development of Marcon’s campaign bears looking at through this angle. Briefly, in 2016, Macron wished the outgoing President, François Hollande, to stand again. Perhaps heeding Valls’ own judgement that the divisions within the Left, including those inside his own party, were “irreconcilable” he founded his movement En marche! in April that year, as his personal ambition – were it possible – became more assertive, he was obliged to leave the government in the summer.
It is at this point that a programme publicly emerged. Relying on the authority of an economist he has now revived the deregulating, “working with grain of globalisation” “skills and competitiveness” economics of the 1990s centre left. In this vein the central elements of the electoral platform of En marche!, his “contract with France” (Retrouver notre esprit de conquête pour bâtir une france nouvelle) calls to “Libérer le travail et l’esprit d’entreprise” by lowering social charges and doing away with obsolete regulation. His priorities, if in power, are, he has announced to Der Spiegel, (March 17th)
Three major reforms: The labor market must be opened, we need improved vocational training programs and the school system needs to support equal opportunity again.
France must restore its credibility by reforming the labour market and getting serious about its budget.
(and, this precondition fulfilled…)
Much deeper integration within the eurozone.
Just beneath the surface language, which evokes a meld of promoting a “core” Europe (negotiated after a ‘hard Brexit“….) and French patriotic feelings it’s not hard to discover the economic liberalism that Marcel Gauchet has described as fixing the limits of what is politically possible (Comprendre le malheur français 2016). Macron’s core proposals could be said to be an internalisation of the reduction of state action to the needs of economic actors.
This is more than the traditional call to cut red tape. It is for a shake up of labour laws that El Khomri only began. The dream of much of French business, right-wing politicians, and pundits, but some on the PS right is apparently now possible because, Macron believes, we are in “extraordinary times” The wish that France could follow other European countries and make a clean sweep of all the laws and protections that ‘burden’ the land’s labour market, and revive the dream of ‘flexibility’ to meet the global challenge, had found its voice again. Perhaps it is no coincidence that a large section of the programme entitled “a State that Protects” is not devoted to welfare but to giving people a sense of security through the protection of the Police and Security services.
Beyond this constituency is Macron a newly minted saviour for the centre? He declares his movement, “transpartisan”. As Thomas Guénolé, author of the witty, Petit Guide du Mensonge en Politique (A Brief Guide to Political Lies. 2014) points out in Le Monde, his “révolution par le centre” bears comparison with former President Valéry Giscard d’Estaing’s “advanced liberalism” in the 1970s (Le macronisme est un nouveau giscardisme. 16.3.17). They have a shared admiration for the Swedish social model, hard, then as now, to translate in French terms, an identical privileged background, and support for social and economic liberalisation against socialism or, today, ‘collectivism’.
It is difficult to see how this brand of “reformism” will marry welfare, and liberal economics. How “progressive” politics will deal with mass unemployment and the problems of the banlieue that successive modernising French governments of the right and left over last four decades have not resolved remains to be seen. Holding hands across the French social and political divide is unlikely to be the answer.
All Have Won, All Must Have Prizes!
The telegenic Macron would no doubt wish to begin the Presidency, transcending “party lines”, by announcing, “The Race is over! Everybody has won and all must have prizes! But who will award the trophies? What other forces will there be to do the job in the National Assembly, whose election takes place immediately afterwards and which forms the basis of a President’s Cabinet?
The scramble to secure government posts and positions on Macron’s hypothetical list of candidates for the Legislative elections, is accompanied by the refusal of former Socialist Prime Minister Manuel Valls (despite his own record of less than easy relations with the leader of En marche!) to back his own party’s candidate Benoît Hamon.
Longer-standing political facts intervene at this point. While this hastily formed ‘trans-party’ may well get some candidates elected it is unlikely to win a majority in Parliament. As Guénolé points out, in order to establish his power properly Giscard had made a choice to ally with the right, the Gaullist party. Macron, while enjoying the backing of well-known individuals and small groups like the present incarnation of Giscardianism headed by François Bayrou and his MoDems, has yet to choose between an alliance with the real players: Les Républicans (LR) or the Parti Socialiste.
Either choice carries risks. The former agreement could end like that of the British Liberal Democrats and the Conservatives, alienating liberal opinion. The latter would run up against the left, including not just the Hamon wing of the Socialists but those further to his left.
We might ask if, and it remains an if, Macron becomes President, if the results of his programme, which subordinate politics to the economy, would really mean in the words of his programme, that everybody would be have more control over their own destiny and that people would be able to live better together (‘chacun maîtrise davantage son destin et que nous vivions tous mieux ensemble‘) Standing against this possible future two left candidates, Hamon and Jean-Luc Mélenchon, both in their different ways, offer to put economics in the service of politics. But that needs a further analysis…..
Latest Opinion Polls.
Wits Suggest Tintin, Captain Haddock and Milou Go Mélenchon.
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…
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…..
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.
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.
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.
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!
For France, for Mélenchon and Human Civilisation!
English summary here.
Update: Polls (which are in a complete state of flux in France at the moment…..)>
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.