Saturday, May 12, 2012

"La gauche populaire"

Marianne2 has published the manifesto of a group that calls itself La Gauche Populaire. A more extensive statement can be found in a work entitled Plaidoyer pour une gauche populaire, signed by Philippe
Guibert, Laurent Bouvet, and Alain Mergier. Bouvet is also the author of a study entitled Le Sens du peuple, which presents an historical overview of the evolution of the left and of the recent cleavage, as Bouvet sees it, between the left-wing political elite and les classes populaires.

What does la GP (those of a certain age will have to be careful to distinguish between this group and la Gauche Prolétarienne of old) want? To understand this, one has to look at the fundamental premise of the manifesto: "L’élément structurant de cette élection était et reste l’inquiétude très forte des classes populaires sur la situation économique et la mondialisation." The authors argue, correctly, that the "Establishment" center-left has had a hard time responding to this "deep anxiety." What do they propose to do about this? Their response, like that of Jean-Luc Mélenchon, is long on symptoms and short on remedies:
La financiarisation et la planétarisation de l’économie ont depuis quarante ans liquidé les structures unitaires de la société française. La guerre de tous contre tous entretenue par le chômage de masse, la liquidation des grands récits et de l’encadrement des masses par des idéologies structurées, l’annihilation de l’ascenseur social, la déconstruction de l’histoire nationale au bénéfice de mémoires communautarisées, la réduction de la souveraineté populaire à l’opinion publique, puis de celle-ci à des segments communautaires : ce qui faisait République a été tellement mis en cause que nombre de nos concitoyens en sont venus à estimer que l’extrême droite pouvait en représenter la sauvegarde.
They then hark back to Jaurès in search of a politics adequate to this diagnosis, and what they prescribe is "more 'social' and less 'societal.'" This detour into the jargon of sociology may be clearer in French than it is in English, but I doubt it. Here is the authors' elaboration of the point:
Une ligne politique claire s’est imposée à nous : le commun plutôt que les identités, le social avant le sociétal, l’émancipation collective plus que l’extension infinie des droits individuels, seule cette ligne politique permettant de bâtir une majorité sociologique et électorale.
Is this actually a political program or the incantatory invocation of a state of society that no longer exists, when "working class" and "bourgeoisie" were indeed collective social and cultural identities? In any case, the theorists of la Gauche pop' are convinced that the "identity" issues raised by the right are not simply masks for underlying economic issues but constitutive of a social reality of which the economy is just one aspect:
Il importe de saisir que si cette insécurité culturelle est inséparable dans son appréhension, notamment dans les catégories populaires, de la dimension économique et sociale, elle s’en distingue tout de même. C’est à cette préoccupation-là que la stratégie « Buisson » (du nom du conseiller de Sarkozy issu de la droite dure) devait s’adresser autour du ciblage des musulmans et de leur « mode de vie » comme menace pour l’identité nationale (viande halal, prières de rue, burqa, etc.).
It's here that I have some difficulty following where their political line leads. On one level they are offering the sound advice that the feelings and instincts of the popular classes cannot be ignored or wished away, even if they express themselves in racist or xenophobic terms. But what exactly is to be done about this? Is the left-wing alternative to a Buisson strategy simply to validate the spontaneous judgments of the "authentic" underclass but without the anti-Islamic overtones? And how is that to be done? By substituting "financiarisation" for "islamisation" and "social" for "societal"? I confess that I am somewhat at a loss to see where this leads. The manifesto concludes on a high rhetorical note, a kind of Mélenchoniste lyricism with its allusion to Sieyès, its apotheosis of the Republic, and its invocation of the universal:
Cependant, être de « gauche », c’est croire à l’égalité sans ramener celle-ci exclusivement à la question sociale mais à ce qui tient ensemble en amont de cette dernière : l’égalité des conditions. La gauche est un moyen pour redresser le pays, et non une fin. Qu’est-ce que le peuple aujourd’hui ? Rien. Qu’aspire-t-il à devenir ? Tout. Au fond, ce qui relie « gauche » et « populaire » c’est la République dans sa dimension sociale et la nation dans sa seule version universaliste.
Do I reveal myself to be a hopelessly jaded intellectual or worse, a social traitor, if I say that I no longer thrill to this martial music? It seems to me to avoid all the hard questions in the name of an empty egalitarianism. What exactly does "equality of conditions" mean? As a Tocquevillean, I know that the phrase can be parsed in many ways. And its power to mobilize is no longer what it was when it stood in opposition to the ascription of status by birth and corporate membership (see my Collège de France lecture). I would like to see la Gauche pop' as something new on the political horizon, but in the end I find that it stirs me as little as the rhetoric of Mélenchon.

1 comment:

FrédéricLN said...

Of course, I agree in full. This "populaire" song is all but a "chanson populaire" (according to Claude François : c'est fait de tout petit riens, ça se chante ça se danse ça se retient…).

The diagnosis is absolutely right.

The basket of solutions is fully empty (it requires to be French to write such absurd things in English).

BUT — it's the way it works since the seventies. The same diagnosis was, in block letters, in Harris-de Sedouy's "Voyage à l'intérieur du parti communiste", 1974: the Parti communiste advocated for "egalité" and change, its electorate was conservative, "petit-bourgeois".

Also but — the ideological basis of the right is, for sure, as poor and as far from a "chanson populaire" as the former one. That's why Nicolas Sarkozy borrowed all of his arguments from the stock of the Nationalists — he just had nothing powerful at home.

And it works, nevertheless, for both. The political currents that elaborate answers to globalization / the national crisis, having in mind general interest of the perspective of the bulk of voters, couldn't make it.

Looks like many voters share Tocqueville's point of view on France : politics is too precious to be entrusted to the people. Elections are intended to let the people choose the least bad of the Great.