Thursday, August 30, 2007

The Schemer, The Jackals and Hyenas, and the Active Sage


Claude Allègre, who is all over the press and airwaves today, has scarcely a kind word for anyone. François Hollande is a "schemer." He believed that "the more crocodiles in the creek, the better his chances of surviving." He was like Guy Mollet (the supreme curse among Socialists). Ségolène Royal behaved in an "unspeakable" manner. She had "no interest in the issues, only in promoting herself." The forty-year-old would-be renovators of the party, the Montebourgs and the Valls, are "young jackals and young hyenas."

Meanwhile, Laurent Fabius says that the "spectacle on the left is hardly appetizing." "Division, confusion, personal attacks--I don't like any of that." But he does see a role for himself in the renovation of the party: that of "active sage." He intends "to join in the debate on the issues ... but not to get involved in the internal preparations, because the aroma coming from the kitchen right now isn't very pleasant." He doesn't rule out a candidacy "in 2012, 2017, 2022, but it would be ridiculous to approach that subject today."

How does a political party get itself into such a deplorable condition? Sarkozy reportedly credits himself with having plunged the PS into turmoil with his policy of ouverture, but he's no doubt too cocky. Bertrand Delanoë was probably closer to the mark when he said the other day that it was time to echo François Furet and admit that "the French Revolution is over." Despite repeated experiences with power after 1981, and despite repeated protestations of adaptation to the realities of a market economy and the modern world, too many Socialists continued to believe that everything could change overnight, and would, if only they could once again gain the presidency. Hence they continually postponed the needed aggiornamento. Now it may be too late. There are too many ambitions and too few ideas. Manuel Valls and others have proposed changing the party's name. A change of name won't be enough to effect a change of identity. I think this crisis may well prove fatal.

For background on the damage wrought by the survival of the revolutionary ideal, see my contribution to a colloquium on Perry Anderson's critique of contemporary French politics.

6 comments:

gregory brown said...

Art, thanks for posting the link to Delanoe and to your own contribution. I wonder if you would be willing to clarify your invocation of Furet's invocation of Napoleon about the end of the Revolution.

Do I read you correctly here when you speak of the need to recognize that the revolution is over, you are referring to the Socialist Party in terms of its strategy rather than policy -- that when you write "too many Socialists continued to believe that everything could change overnight if only they could once again gain the presidency," you are talking about their political position?

Do you mean that they believe "everything would change" for the Socialists because their opposition would lose its ability to control the levers of power and media?

Or do you mean that "everything could change overnight" in the sense of the "changer la vie" of the springtime of 81 -- that the change would be in the nature of French society? Which is what Delanoe appears to be suggesting?


I tend to agree with your point if its the first -- that the party ahs been structured primarily around winning a presidential election, even though paradoxically their success has come in the past 20 years at every other level. This is why I think the PS should have, and still should, embrace Montebourg's VIe republique reforms, not only because it would be good policy but because it would be a step towards a reform of politics that would make it possible for the PS to win again. And that would have to begin by putting an end to the "soap opera" of logistical disfunction.

But if its the latter "revolution" that you are asking them to renounce, and I am not sure I see what Delanoe means.

As you point out, there has been an acceptance across all the courants of the party of a mixed-free market economy, a renunciation of nationalisations and an aggressive pursuit of privatisations when in office, great reform of the financial sector to encourage private investment (though admittedly not as great as Sarkozy proposes) and a great willingness to compromise with business, such as in the implementation of the 35 heures back in 98-99. Indeed, Jospin openly declared his program "not socialist" in 2002 and Royal as a program of "21st century socialism" this time out.

When you speak of "too many socialists," are you referring to Melenchon, Mauroy, Emaneulli? Is there anyone among the principal leaders of the party, at any level, that is engaged in "revolutionary" politics?

Sorry that went on too long, but my point is that I continue to believe the major problem of the PS is its lack of a coherent internal structure that can generate a clear message and its lack of a communications machinery to communicate that message in a way that competes with the UMP/Sarkozy.

Unknown said...

Gregory,
I'm not sure I'm grasping your distinctions, but my critique of "revolutionary mentality" is in the sense of "changer la vie." Revolutions can certainly change elites; their effect on life is less predictable, and unintended consequences abound. Incremental change also has unintended consequences, but they are more controllable.

Unknown said...

As for my reference to "too many Socialists," I am thinking of the base, not the leadership, even those most to the left. No PS leader has believed for a long time in revolution, but the revolutionary psychology persists in the rank and file, and "too many Socialists" have been afraid to attack it directly, as Delanoë did. For that I admire him. There is educational work to be done, as he seems to recognize. It is the double-talk of the elite that I criticize and not the persistence of sentiments at the base that need to be dispelled through patient explication, not denounced or wished away by magical incantation sof the "we now believe in the market economy" variety.

Anonymous said...

ah, le "kitsch de la grande marche" de Kundera est encore bien vivant!

Anonymous said...

"Patient explication" as antidote to the "revolutionary psychology" of the PS militants? That strikes me as rather patronizing. After all, a desire to change the status quo is surely what grounds any progressive kind of politics. You can debate the rights and wrongs of different directions and options, but a will to effect change I would have thought was something worth keeping, not expunging.

Unknown said...

cjb, Thanks for your comment. A will to effect change is indeed worth keeping, but that's not the way the revolutionary psychology works, in my view. Its chief effect is to disparage incremental change on the grounds that only a wholesale change of system, de fond en comble, is worth having. So the revolutionary psychology becomes antipolitical, eschatological rather than practical.