Monday, March 24, 2008

Le Parti Socialiste bis

The Socialist Party now controls 20 of 22 conseils régionaux, 55 of 101 conseils généraux, and three-quarters of France's large cities. This has led some local elected officials to envision a national coordinating council of some sort, a structure that would bring these local powers together and give them a voice on the national stage. Several, including Lyon mayor Gérard Collomb and Toulouse mayor Pierre Cohen, mention their alienation from the PS's national bureau.

National coordination might indeed be a good thing, but not if it were simply a forum for powerful local officials to create still more courants around themselves. The Socialist Party suffers from a surfeit of ambitions and a dearth of ideas. This might be a good time to practice the participatory democracy that Ségolène Royal preached in her campaign. What the party needs is to avail itself of its strength at the grass roots to cultivate new ideas, to attend to what is really stirring at the base, and to develop a generation of young militants, particularly from underrepresented groups, who can begin to shape a new message for the 2012 elections. Local socialism may yet serve as a midwife to a new Socialist Party, but it is not yet ready to become one. Arnaud Montebourg, who knows a thing or two about the difficulty of conceiving a Nouveau Parti Socialiste, acknowledges the danger: the party, he says, needs "to open itself up to society rather than fall back on its bastions."


Durando said...

I can't really speak other than anecdotally about the so-called participatory democracy advocated by the PS. On the local level, this often results in obliging various administrators to meet with the citizenry (who of course have the right to meet with administrators anyway) during which private citizens bitch and moan a lot. I don't mean to sound undemocratic, but these meetings do little but create the impression of access. I'm extremely suspicious of the notion that "more democracy" would actually be appreciated by French people, all of whom I know work quite a bit more than thirty-five hours.

Again, I don't know much more about "participative democracy" other than how it applies to the mairie of the city where I live. In the States, I was never one of those who much attended city council meetings either.

Unknown said...

Your comment is very shrewd. Participatory democracy is doomed to fail if it is simply seen as another version of government public relations or as a safety valve in which the disgruntled can let off steam in the presence of indifferent officials. As you observe, this is too often the case in both France and the US. But participation takes on a different complexion when it gives people the tools to change their own lives. I saw this happen in my own town in years past, though it is true that some of the participatory mechanisms have since degenerated into routinized grievance procedures of the sort you describe. But a political party that knows how to foster and tap a social movement is a much more potent machine than a party that is merely a vehicle of personal ambition.

Durando said...

Well, let's hope so Arthur. My significant other is the urbanist for a commune just outside of Nantes--I'm mostly channeling her complaints. As far as building codes go, for example, it is hard to imagine change being implemented from that level because the laws are so rigid and universal. I really don't like to sound so negative--I'll keep reading your blog to learn more. Even after seven years living here I find myself routinely reading English language sources in an effort to puzzle out how this country works.

Leo said...

As a a resident and citizen, I would venture that we certainly do NOT need participative democracy (whatever it means) but more representative democracy.
Not at the local level where, by and large it works, barring our sometimes stange for an outsider national idiosyncracies, but at the national level, where the Legislature has very little power.

As you mention Gérard Collomb, it is strange to realize that everybody misses what he said in this context, which is pretty hot stuff:
On the 16th during his television acceptance speech he told his party that they should listen to the base and he had been elected for his ability to rally the Lyonnais beyond his party's natural constituency and that "Si nous devons parler de redistribution, il nous faut aussi nous occuper de l'économie et des entreprises". Sorry, this is not verbatim and I can't find a link.
But I heard him say it a second time after the 23rd.
I would doubt all socialist mayors agree with him, but taking a cue from people who are on the ground might help the PS shed its paleolithic marxist skin.