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The End of the French Socialists?

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The End of the Socialist Party? Not so sure….

The French Socialist Party (PS) is still in the throes of its historic rout in this year’s Presidential and Legislative elections.

While some of its representatives have switched sides and now support centrist President Macron, others are calling for a ‘refoundation’ of the party.

The PS will not support a vote of confidence in the government of Eduouard Phillipe, although sufficient ambiguity has been left open for those who will abstain instead of actively voting against.

For former First Secretary of the PS,  Jean-Christophe Cambadélis, interviewed in Libération today,  the party must remain socialist, green and pro-European. Its future lies in resisting both the “bonapartisme social-libéral” of  d’Emmanuel Macron  and the (leftist) “gauchisme autoritaire de Jean-Luc Mélenchon”. He floats the idea of “Launching a movement that will lead to a new party.” (Il faut déclencher un mouvement pour déboucher sur un nouveau parti.)

Former Presidential candidate Benoît Hamon – 6,36 % in those elections, he lost his seat in the Parliamentary contest – has created a new movement. This “transpartisan” body, which aims to draw in support and debate from the whole left, will hold its first meeting on the 1st of July. Also on the PS left, Arnaud Montebourg, has called for the party to adopt radical policies, an internal shake-up rather than an approach outside its organisation. His proposals, centring around ‘Inventing a new left”, have so far  attracted 700 PS supporters (PS: des proches d’Arnaud Montebourg veulent inventer “la gauche nouvelle”.

The Parti Socialiste’s National Council meets today (Saturday).

Some commentators suggest that, given its long existence, structural roots in civil society,  and  no obvious signs of internal collapse, that the Parti Socialiste, despite its reduction to 34 MPs and  7,44% of the vote in the Legislatives, is not going to disappear. Re-branding, negotiating a new ‘synthesis’ of ideas, or reaching out to other parts of the left, or a further haemorrhageing  to Macron, will take time. To begin with. Where they will end up is very far from clear.

Written by Andrew Coates

June 24, 2017 at 1:30 pm

French Legislative Elections: A Victory for Social Liberalism against Populism?

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Seats in the Assemblée Nationale.

Nuances de candidats Nombre de sièges
Extrême gauche 0
Parti communiste français 10
La France insoumise 17
Parti socialiste 29
Parti radical de gauche 3
Divers gauche 12
Ecologiste 1
Divers 3
Régionaliste 5
La République en marche 308
Modem 42
Union des Démocrates et Indépendants 18
Les Républicains 113
Divers droite 6
Debout la France 1
Front National 8
Extrême droite 1

 

Percentages of the vote and abstention (57,36%)

Nuances de candidats Voix % inscrits % exprimés Nombre de sièges
Parti communiste français 217 833 0,46 1,20 10
La France insoumise 883 786 1,87 4,86 17
Parti socialiste 1 032 985 2,18 5,68 29
Parti radical de gauche 64 860 0,14 0,36 3
Divers gauche 263 619 0,56 1,45 11
Ecologiste 23 197 0,05 0,13 1
Divers 100 574 0,21 0,55 3
Régionaliste 137 453 0,29 0,76 5
La République en marche 7 826 432 16,55 43,06 306
Modem 1 100 790 2,33 6,06 42
Union des Démocrates et Indépendants 551 760 1,17 3,04 17
Les Républicains 4 040 016 8,54 22,23 113
Divers droite 306 240 0,65 1,68 6
Debout la France 17 344 0,04 0,10 1
Front National 1 590 858 3,36 8,75 8
Extrême droite 19 030 0,04 0,10
Nombre % inscrits % votants
Inscrits 47 292 967
Abstentions 27 125 535 57,36
Votants 20 167 432 42,64
Blancs 1 397 496 2,95 6,93
Nuls 593 159 1,25 2,94
Exprimés 19 176 177 38,43 90,13
Ministère de l'Interieur

interieur.gouv.fr  MINISTÈRE DE L’INTÉRIEUR Second Round.

This morning on the French radio the expected news of the triumph Emmanuel Macron’s La République en Marche was immediately followed by an announcement that  Prime Minister Edouard Philippe would tolerate no pot-shots at his government from his own quarter. The fresh-faced majority would not see its own deputies becoming “frondeurs” – critics that the right-wing of the Parti Socialiste  now blame for their own crushing defeat, from the Presidential elections to the legislatives.

To one admirer of the new President,  Will Hutton, “Macronism is the emergence of a fresh grounded economic and political philosophy – a landmark moment.” (Macron has led a brilliant coup – could the British now do the same? Observer). In the grip of enthusiasm he continues, “An ancien regime of tired and corrupt conservative and socialist politicians, indissolubly linked to the immobilisme that has plagued France, has been swept away.”

As in Macron Minister Richard Ferrand (accusation of dodgy property deals) Justice Minister and leader of Macron’s allied party, the Modems, François Bayrou (alleged misuse of European funding)…..

Hutton’s 1995, The State We’re In, proposed a ” radical social democratic ” programme for Tony Blair’s Labour Party, with a strong dose of constitutional reform – apparently the key condition for  transforming the UK’s dominance by financial interests – as the answer to British economic difficulties. It drew support from a constituency that emerged at the end-tail of the ‘New Times’ politics of the disintegrating Democratic Left, the largest Eurocommunist tendency of the former  Communist Party of Great Britain (CPGB), some within the Trade Union Congress, and the liberal left. He has since sifted  through a variety of ever more diluted versions of these themes, ending up with a plea for “fairness” in Them and Us: Changing Britain – Why We Need a Fair Society (2010), and others whose contents I defy anybody to remember anything about.

In the latest of the columnist’s band-wagon efforts his embrace of the glimmer of a new ‘progressive’ movement – it seems that Macron is keen on “social investment” is on very wobbly ground indeed.

Hutton rushes overboard to back the very measure which will raise the hackles of the French trade union majority – apart from the ‘negotiating reformists of the CFDT – ‘reform of the labour market’. This “loosening” of the Code du travail met with mass protests and strikes in 2016.

Will Macron’s priority for legislation in this area, apparently based on a (vaguely sketched) ‘Nordic Model’ though perhaps the ability to sack at will does not figure there, run into a similar storm?

The subject is not mentioned.

A Defeat for Populism?

Macron has been described as populist, in the sense that his idea of ‘progressive’ is ‘beyond left and right’ and is, well, popular. But there is little else to tie him to the debate about populism. He does not support the incarnation of the People in France, or pit the Nation’s sovereignty against Europe and Globalisation. He is not anti-pluralist, En Marche! does not promote  an exclusive form of identity, aim at actual or potential ‘occupancy’ of the state, the suppression of civil society and pluralism, or use any form of demagogy.

Macron’s policies on the European Union (pro, with the promotion of reform) and globalisation (pro- but moderated)  are anti-populist.

So how do we begin to come to grips with his politics?

Since the Referendum Campaign and the victory of Brexit, and Trump’s election, many commentators have talked up the ‘populist wave’.  David Goodhart (The Road to Somewhere: The Populist Revolt and the Future of Politics. 2017) talked of “values tribes”. The somewhere people – those rooted in a specific place or community –  were contrasted with the anywhere people, urban, socially liberal and university educated.

Macron’s party, with its strong support (up to 90% in Paris) in cities and amongst those with degrees, open minded on social issues, liberal on equal rights and  equality of opportunity is  anywhere placed and given a location. These French anywheres  have been beaten off the somewheres, the ‘periurban. the inhabitants of France’s ‘rust belt’ who voted for the Front National.

The constituency of En Marche!, one suspects, is less ‘socially liberal’ on policies  that cost money and taxes, real equality, or is social in the sense of engaging with the social struggles waged by trade unions.

The ‘freedom’ of the market come first.

But this is only the beginning of efforts to come to terms with Macron, and his party-movement.

The Basis For French Political Realignment. 

Thibault Muzergues (Le réalignement politique n’est pas vraiment idéologique, il est d’abord sociologique) fleshed out the sociology behind the changing French political scene.  First of all Muzergues  talks of “millennials“, white I find this claim goes against the observable pattern) , educated, frustrated at not finding a job, and one could add, at the cost of higher education, above all at the continued fallout from the 2008 economic crisis, austerity. They tend to back the radical left, Corbyn in the UK, Podemos in Spain, and La France Insoumise in the Hexagogne.

Then there is a “white minority”, the left behind, the inhabitants of the ‘rust belts’ in Europe (and the USA). They are the ‘losers’ of globalisation. They tend to back the Front National, supported Brexit, and, obviously, Trump.

Next is the  the “creative class”, the winners of globalization, cosmopolitan Bobos (bohemian bourgeois), from high-flyers to right-wing smug Hipsters (I add this latter bit off my own back) who are Macron’s constituency.

Finally, Muzergues sketches as those attached to their ‘somewheres’, “terroir’ et tradition’, They are the polar opposite of the Bobos, the bourgeois bohemians who like Macron. The “boubours” (bourgeois-bourrin, which comrade Google translates, as “philistine nag” and I would say something approaching Essex Man) are as much a part of this cohort as the French equivalent of Home Counties pious Tories. Unlike their British counterparts  included in their conservative values are the existing system of social protection (in France, and no doubt the UK – the Welfare state, notably for the elderly). These lean towards the classical right, Les Républicains onwards.

The game of identifying the constituencies in the new French political landscape will no doubt continue, with the addition of exploration of the largest body in this second round: the abstentionists, who included 4,2% who voted, blank or spoiled ballot papers.

For one person at least, Mélenchon  not voting was a form of “civic strike” “forme de grève civique) , a protest whsope negry can be deployed in futrue against Macron (France Culture)

But if Muzergues tends to work backwards, from the choices on the ballot, voting patterns, to constituencies, it is a better framework than the somewhere/anywhere couple. It  has the merit of outlining one group which appears distinct from the sterile distinction between populist salt of the earth anti-EU, anti-immigrant, anti-globalisation somewheres and the urbane creatives. The constituency of the millennials is an interesting one and has can be seen to have parallels elsewhere, in the United Kingdom and the basis of much support for Labour and Jeremy Corbyn to start with. A lot more needs to be added on the Front National, which I will postpone until the slew of  post-election books arrives.

End of Left and Right?

There has  clearly a game-changing series of changes in this election. Some argue that these new voting blocs are overshadowed by a profound transformations in French political topography.   This year’s elections have undermined the traditional blocs of left and right, as organised and  institutionalised parties, bodies with histories dating to the early years of the 20th century – Socialists, to the foundation of the  Section Française de l’Internationale Ouvrière, SFIO, in 1905 – with origins still further back to the tumult and aftermath of the French Revolution.

An emerging political system which centres on personalities and their ‘movements‘ , as it is emerging in France, sidelining decades of a (complex) left-right party system, is without direct counterparts elsewhere. Even Italy, after the break up of the Communist Party, continues to cling to a  stem of organised parties, and the 5 Star movement looks well  past its peak.  (Pierre Rosanvallon : « L’élection de Macron redéfinit le clivage droite-gauche ». 17.6.17)

That the Parti Socialiste has managed to get 29 seats with a pitiful 5,68% of the vote, masks its own split between those who consider that they are “Macron compatible” and those hostile to him. One of them  Myriam El Khomri, in whose name the previous labour ‘reform’ was carried out, lost to the traditional right in the second round on Sunday. The Socialist Presidential candidate, Benoît Hamon, was also eliminated in the first round. As a sign of their divisions, Hamon then called for a vote for La France insoumise  in the constituency where his  PS rival, Manuel Valls, was standing.

Re-founding the Left.

Jean-Luc Mélenchon’s  La France insoumise (LFI) now has a parliamentary group. Apart from those primarily devoted to his own person it includes, François Ruffin, the author of the film Merci patron!, credited with inspiring the Nuit Debout movement, and Clémentine Autain, the independent minded spokesperson for the left alliance Ensemble (Législatives 2017 : La France insoumise de Mélenchon aura un groupe à l’Assemblée nationale.

How far they will fit in with the Left Populist leader’s plans to lead the People against the Oligarchy, and whether agreements can be reached with the 10 Communist deputies, pleased not to have erased from the electoral map, as once seemed possible (Législatives : le PCF retrouve quelques sièges historiquesremains to be seen.

Their priority will obviously be to defeat Macron’s plans to liberalise the labour market by weakening employees’ rights.

In the longer term many have called for a profound re-thinking of the basis on which the left has stood, and the future of all forms of socialism. (1)

Their debates will be of great interest to the whole European and international left.

As the ‘incarnation of the programme’ Mélenchon may not have to face people who might disagree with him inside his rally, La France Insoumise that Pablo Iglesias has found in  Podemos, or opponents of the statue of Íñigo Errejón.  But it may well be that he’ll find that he meets his equals in the new National Assembly, people who are more interested in this re-foundation of the left than in an individual’s plans for the French People.

*********

(1) The Parti Socialiste General Secretary, Jean-Christophe Cambadélis in his resignation speech called for thoroughgoing change “La gauche doit tout changer, la forme comme le fond, ses idées comme ses organisations. La gauche doit ouvrir un nouveau cycle. Il s’agit de repenser les racines du progressisme, car ses deux piliers – l’État providence et l’extension continue des libertés – sont remis en cause. Il s’agit donc de repenser l’action publique, en mêlant principe d’efficacité et demande citoyenne. C’est le socle indispensable d’une nouvelle offre politique à gauche pour contrer à la fois le néolibéralisme et le nationalisme.”

More Information: France 24.

Record abstention

While Macron’s triumph paves the way for the sweeping reforms he has promised, it also comes with a number of important caveats, starting with the massive level of abstention that made it possible. For the first time in history, turnout in a legislative election has slumped to below 50%, in both rounds. On Sunday, a mere 43% of voters bothered to cast their ballots. This means the 42% of votes won by LREM candidates account for less than 20% of registered voters.

The record level of abstention underscored the widespread election fatigue accumulated over more than 12 months of non-stop campaigning, successive primaries, and a two-round presidential election. It also highlighted the imbalance inherent to France’s electoral system, in which legislative polls tend to be seen as a sideshow to the all-important presidential bout. With his hyper-personalisation of politics, Macron has dramatically increased this discrepancy.

Above all, the measly turnout reflected voters’ widespread disgust with the mainstream parties of right and left that have dominated French politics for decades. A few weeks ago, the conservative Les Républicains were still hoping to win a majority of seats. As results trickled in on Sunday, they were projected to win just 126, their lowest-ever tally. Reflecting on the debacle, their campaign leader François Baroin had little to offer, besides wishing Macron “good luck”.

Socialist wipe-out

As for the former ruling Socialists, they slumped to an all-time low of 29 seats. Last week saw the first-round exits of party boss Jean-Christophe Cambadélis and presidential candidate Benoît Hamon. More heavyweights fell on Sunday, including former education Minister Najat Vallaud-Belkacem, who was seen as one of the party’s rising stars. As the scale of the defeat became obvious, Cambadélis announced his resignation, adding that “Macron’s triumph is uncontestable”.

Among the survivors from left and right, several have already pledged to support the “presidential majority”. They include former Socialist prime minister Manuel Valls, who saved his seat in the Essonne, south of Paris, by a mere 139 votes – and only because LREM chose not to field a candidate against him. His far-left opponent has challenged the result alleging voter fraud, and a recount is on the cards.

Indicative of the extraordinary realignment of French politics was a flashpoint contest in northern Paris, in which centrist Socialist candidate Myriam El Khomri enjoyed Macron’s support, while her conservative challenger Pierre-Yves Bournazel was backed by Macron’s prime minister. Victory went to the latter, marking a huge upset in a constituency that was once solidly left-wing.

Le Pen enters parliament

While LREM capitalised on the anti-establishment sentiment, other parties that had been hoping to ride the same wave fell way short of their objectives. It was notably the case of the far-right National Front of Marine Le Pen, the runner-up in last month’s presidential contest, which failed to translate its strong showing in presidential polls into a large parliamentary contingent.

France’s ex-PM Valls will neither endorse Macron nor his own party’s Hamon in Presidential Vote.

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Image result for valls caricature sur hamon

Bad Loser Valls Won’t Back Hamon.

Speculation is growing in France that the most reactionary section of the  of the French ‘republican’ right, frustrated by the scandals engulfing their candidate, François Fillon, are preparing to vote Marine Le Pen in the second round of the Presidential elections. Those involved in movements such as “Sens commun“, involved in the anti-gay marriage La Manif pour tous, are said to be preparing to break the “cordon sanitaire” that separates the extreme right Front National from the rest of the right.

The FN’s appeal to rally ” « patriotes » against « mondialistes », globalisers, has been like British support of Brexit, a call that, Le Monde observes today, aims to beak with the old division between ‘right’ and ‘left’ (Jean-Baptiste de Montvalon).

The possible breakthrough in backing for the racist right is just one of the reasons why there is pressure on centrists and social liberals to back Emmanuel Macron.

His own call, aimed at going ‘beyond’ left and right, to unite, “ progressistes » to face « conservateurs » has begun to eat into the right-wing of the Parti Socialiste.

This comes despite the warning that any Socialist who officially supports Macron will be expelled from the Party.


France 24  now reports,

Former French prime minister Manuel Valls is not ready to endorse a candidate in the country’s presidential race, after denying reports he intended to back centrist Emmanuel Macron and ruling out support for his rival, Socialist Benoît Hamon.

French daily Le Parisien published an article on Monday citing sources close to Valls as saying he would throw his weight behind Macron in the first round of voting on April 23.

“Manuel Valls will soon call on voters to support his former rival Emmanuel Macron, and this, from as early as the first round of the election,” the newspaper wrote.

But a number of those close to Valls dismissed the report as inaccurate, including his former parliamentary substitute, Carlos Da Silva. “This is false,” Da Silva wrote in a Twitter post linking to Le Parisien’s article.

Valls later confirmed to the AFP that he had “denied this information” through his entourage.

The former prime minister also ruled out the possibility of endorsing Hamon in an interview published by French magazine Paris Match on Tuesday morning. Valls dropped out of the race for the presidency in January after losing to Hamon in the left-wing primaries.

“I cannot lend my support to Benoît Hamon,” he told Paris Match. “Hamon doesn’t inspire interest.”

Valls expressed concern, however, that lack of support for both Macron and Hamon could pave the way to victory for National Front (FN) leader Marine Le Pen.

“If the FN [scores] high on the night of the first round, things can really finish badly,” he said.

Recent opinion polls show Macron as the front-runner in the election and that he will go on to defeat Le Pen in the second round of voting on May 7, while Hamon will be eliminated in the first round.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP, REUTERS)

Cambadélis‘ warning notwithstanding this is a weasly way in which former French PM Manuel Valls, the loser in the French Socialists’ ‘Primary’ has announced his own public non-voting intentions.

It is now said that the initial claim was  ‘false news’. If it is not clear how ‘false’ the claim that he would back Marcon (Vrai-faux soutien de Valls à Macron: “Le Parisien” dément avoir été victime d’un canular) one party clearly is not helped by his statement: his own.

Here is the assertion that the news was a joke..

Followed by this, which is clearly not false.

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

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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

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

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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.

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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.

Left Candidate Benoît Hamon Tops French Socialist ‘Primary’.

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Image result for benoit hamon faire battre le coeur de la france

Benoît Hamon: Tops Socialist ‘Primary’. 

On Saturday a a joint member of the Labour Party and the French Parti Socialiste, who had been a supporter of President François Hollande, told me that she’d voted for the left candidate Benoît Hamon.

I was surprised, but, in retrospect, this support helped prepare my mind for the news that on the Sunday ‘Primary‘ Hamon beat the recent Prime Minister Manuel Valls, a dedicated ‘social liberal’ and admirer of Tony Blair’s ‘Third Way.

This is the result of the election to decide who will be their Presidential candidate this April in which 1,6 million people took part.

Principal candidates: Benoît Hamon (36,35 %) Manuel Valls (31,11 %). Arnaud Montebourg, 17,52 %.

The others scored much smaller: 6,85 % Vincent Peillon, 3,88 % pour François de Rugy, 1,97 % pour Sylvia Pinel (the only woman, a member of the Parti Radical de gauche) et 1,01 % pour Jean-Luc Bennahmias (the small Green party, the Front démocrate) (le Monde)

This ‘primary’ of the “Belle Alliance populaire”, was originally intended to be open to the whole French left. But as can be seen apart from the Socialists, only two tiny parties of the centre left took part.

Montebourg who is strongly  on the left, has now called for support for Hamon in the Second Round, on the 29th of January.

49 years old Benoît Hamon served under Prime Minister Ayrault government as ministre délégué chargé de l’économie sociale et solidaire. His best known post was as Education Minister under Manuel Valls in 2014, where his efforts to change the organisation of the school year led to opositon from teachers.

Opposed to many of the policies of Prime Minister Valls and calling for a change in his economic strategies (le changement de politique économique) he, and Montebourg, were ejected from the Cabinet in 2014 (Quand Valls raconte comment il a viré Montebourg et Hamon du gouvernement). He then became one of the prominent “frondeurs” who opposed Valls, from his budget plans to the reform of labour laws, in the National Assembly.

Hamon’s key policy is a ‘revenu universal’, Basic Income, paid to all (see: Pro Basic Income candidate set to win Socialist Primary election).

Other proposals include institutional reforms (bring back Parliamentary control over laws, and limiting the power of the executive  to override this), an ecological ‘tax’, a reduction in the use of nuclear power,  a ‘police’ to fight against discrimination, and the legalisation of cannabis.

Above all Hamon has promised to annul the labour reforms introduced by Manuel Valls (abroger la loi travail, dernière grande réforme du mandat).

Hamon, in short has some ideas, clearly on the left, which inspire hope for a better future amongst Socialist supporters.

It is hard not to suspect that Manuel Valls lost ground not only because he promised “more of the same”, that is to continue the policies of his highly unpopular government, but because he has shown himself intensely hostile to the left of his own party. By announcing that there was no room for compromise he went against the grain of PS member accustomed a spirit of compromise, or “synthesis” between different currents in the party. In the run up to the Primary his own backers were prominent in throwing the blame for their disastrous showing in opinion polls on ‘frondeurs’ like Hamon and Montebourg.

Valls meanwhile has declared war on those with illusions in Hamon’s unrealistic programme (Libération Valls le «combattant» part en campagne contre «l’illusion et l’irréalisme»)

If Hamon wins he faces an uphill battle.

Polls give any Socialist candidate less than 10% of the vote in the Presidential contest.

To the left Jean-Luc Mélenchon is polling at between 14 and 15 %

The centre-left , Emmanuel Macron with 24% stands at the threshold of winning enough votes to be able to get to the second round.

Already some ‘social liberal’ socialists are moving towards open support for Macron.

For many on the European left Hamon’s potential candidature is, by contrast, a  welcome sign of ideological renewal.

Official Campaign site.

Le projet

Written by Andrew Coates

January 23, 2017 at 12:29 pm