Sunday, June 7, 2015

Adrift: From Epinay to Poitiers

The Socialists met this weekend in Poitiers to set a course for the next two years, but how do you set a course when your ship has been adrift for lo these many months? Manuel Valls delivered another rousing speech in which he said that François Hollande was a great president, if only France would recognize that incontrovertible fact. Esse ist percipi. Je le pense, donc il l'est. No one seemed convinced, although everyone remained on best behavior. Martine Aubry said nice things. Les Frondeurs were subdued. This is of course because everyone recognizes the disaster looming dead ahead, acknowledges that overt disunity will only add to the carnage, but can't think of anyway to prevent a ship dead in the water from being dashed against the rocks by the prevailing winds. And so we wait for the unemployment curve to turn up, remembering that François Hollande has said that he will be a candidate only if it does. The dilemma is patent: if it does, he will run, and all will be lost, and if it doesn't, he won't run, another, potentially stronger candidate will take his place, but that candidate will be sandbagged by the abject failure of the policies pursued by the Socialists for the previous 5 years. If it doesn't, moreover, all hell will break loose, or, rather, all the ambitious will emerge from their crypts where they remain for now, vampire-like, avoiding the cruel limelight that has revealed the absolute incapacity of the modernized, de-revolutionized, de-Marxized, market-harmonized Socialist Party to imagine a future for either France or itself.

I feel implicated in this failure. This zombie party is, insofar as its liberation from the delusion of le grand soir is concerned, the Socialist Party I wished for during the years of illusory belief in la rupture avec le capitalisme, etc. Only I didn't expect it to become a party of the walking dead. I thought it would become a party dedicated to reimagining the French economy, to overcoming the reluctance of capitalists to shift their investments to industries with a future and to persuading workers not to resist the inevitability of change. I failed to see how much the party's intellectual vitality depended on its revolutionary id, on the mistaken belief that du passé on pourrait faire table rase. I failed to see how the careerist technocrats whom the cunning Mitterrand enlisted in service of his will to power would become fixated on incrementalism and statistics as the antidote to passion and imagination. And now I think we've come to the end of a road that began with the Congrès d'Epinay in 1971. Laurent Bouvet is right: "Le PS est moribond, le parti d'Épinay est mort."

7 comments:

FrédéricLN said...

Hello Art, may I express my sympathy… moreover, I feel kind of implicated too. Granted, I never felt myself "de gauche" (nor "de droite") and did not carry a PS card, but I've been a "compagnon de route" during the first Jospin years, and felt some hope that PS would actually mute. Jospin's way of handling his team was already refreshing and hopeful. He believed in what he said. His administration and himself took meaningful decisions. And his roots ware at the far left, where it seems that a PS militant should be rooted (they still sing some revolutionary song after the Marseillaises at their congress).

The sad thing is, his way was abandoned as his "bilan" remains weighted by the "35 hours week" he tried (imho) to delay as much as possible, but finally enforced in 2000 ( http://fr.wikipedia.org/wiki/Loi_des_35_heures ). And by some "réformes sociales" which were relevant and successful, such as the health insurance for all (CMU + AME), but not sustainable the way they were designed and run.

It looks like PS in the late 90's was still truly relevant as far as "social" matters were concerned, but had already lost contact with other issues (in March 2001: http://demsf.free.fr/C1749692591/E20060131230228/index.html ) — and the September 11th, 2001, attacks, caught PS and Jospin out (besides much more important consequences).

All of this said, PS remains there. Maybe dead, but walking. While my own "political family", the democratic center, was almost wiped out. And UMP/Les Républicains did not show the smallest sign of anything but "incrementalism and statistics as the antidote to passion and imagination"(whatever the windmill strokes of its former and again President).

As time-worn as the assertion may be, political change might emerge now from outside the parties, as happens in the business, where change comes form start-up companies rather than from the Big XXX.

MoDem tried to be a political start-up; failed in that respect. Podemos looks like succeeding. Maybe that will inspire other militant entrepreneurs…

FrédéricLN said...

Hope comes from your side of the Atlantic Ocean. A very, very relevant open letter in my opinion. http://openletteronthedigitaleconomy.org

brent said...

"... persuading workers not to resist the inevitability of change."

Much as I appreciate your analysis, and Bouvet's, I feel you have inadvertently touched on the crux of the problem in this quoted phrase. Hollande's PS has been doing its best to persuade its former laboring constituency that (downward) change is inevitable. That's the neo-liberal project with respect to what it calls "labor reform," because it's the project of globalized capitalism. Workers don't like it. They prefer the illusory hope they get from the FN. The only place where viable resistance to the perverse neo-liberal vision and its neo-fascist underbelly might arise is within that 'id' of the Left, the anti-capitalist remnant whose affiliations with Eco-socialism and left environmentalism are trying to form into a party with a transformative platform. They don't get much help from the 'Left is Dead' crowd ...

Art Goldhammer said...

There is change and there is change, Brent. France's future is not in manufacturing steel or automobiles or mining coal. French workers are more resistant to technological change and reorganization of work flow than workers elsewhere. This is a competitive disadvantage. It can be remedied without dismantling necessary worker protections. The refusal to recognize that some of what passes for worker protection is in fact corporatist protection of insiders against outsiders is one of the hallmarks of "the Left is what it always was and doesn't need to change" crowd, if I may put the provocation as bluntly as you do.

bernard said...

Art, I think that you are to some extent confusing the political left and the main unions, especially Force Ouvriere and the CGT when you assert: "The refusal to recognize that some of what passes for worker protection is in fact corporatist protection of insiders against outsiders is one of the hallmarks of "the Left is what it always was and doesn't need to change" crowd".

As a matter of fact, a research colleague of mine 3 decades ago, who was to become a close adviser of Martine Aubry when she was Minister of social affairs (and implemented the 35 hours workweek), was already talking to me about insiders and outsiders at that time. WE, the political left are well aware of change and the need to adapt to change...but the clientèle is perhaps less aware.

In other news, me think news of the death of the Parti Socialiste are somewhat exaggerated.

Art Goldhammer said...

Bernard, sure, some of the political class is aware of the problem but is hesitant to speak about it for fear of riling up the folks who share Brent's view of the matter.

Alex said...

France's future is not in manufacturing steel or automobiles or mining coal.

It hasn't been in mining coal for 30 years at this point, and a damn good thing too. As to automobiles, I wonder why Art is so sure. The UK car industry is likely to pass its historic peak production from 1972 some time this year, and the import-export gap has closed:

http://www.smmt.co.uk/2015/05/strong-uk-market-drives-car-production-past-500k-in-2015/

http://www.statista.com/statistics/299359/passenger-car-imports-and-exports-in-the-united-kingdom/