Saturday, April 20, 2013

Cohn-Bendit Sees Demoralized Left

For Daniel Cohn-Bendit, the Left in France is demoralized. He blames several things. First, there is the familiar refrain that social democracy across Europe is out of fresh ideas. Second, François Hollande has alienated the working class by failing to keep promises to protect failing firms, reform the tax system, etc. And finally, the Right, he believes, has renewed itself with the agitation over the gay marriage issue and the defense of "family values."

Is this the beginning of yet another cycle in which France follows the US with roughly a ten-year delay? I think not. The dynamics in France are quite different. Despite the large demonstrations, I do not believe that the anti-gay marriage forces represent a broad political base. It has been sobering to see the large numbers of young people from the posher quarters who say that they have discovered the joys of political demonstration for the first time. As Cohn-Bendit notes, however, we have seen such mobilizations before, most notably in 1984, around educational reform issues. Although some new members of the political class were recruited via this channel, the demonstrations of that year did not fundamentally reshape the political landscape. I don't expect this time to be different. And I find it hard to believe that large numbers of Frenchmen can envision either Frigide Barjot or Tugdual Derville as national leaders.


Anonymous said...

On the overall situation, I couldn't agree more. Nothing new under the sun. Sometimes a socialist governement hits a raw nerve in the catholic conservative psyche. Chaos ensues. And it's no big secret that the practicing catholic (often belonging to rather privileged social classes)view the post-68 with a profound contempt.

Still, you have to admit there's something a bit surreal about the situation. Never in my life, had I ever expected "Le monde" to ask question about the legitimacy of a demonstration, to actually ask who are the organizers, where does all the money come from, to draw attention to and denounce the violent incidents surrounding the demonstrations. "Le monde" declaring a demonstration opposed to the will of an elected governement undemocratic is the icing on the cake.

I was a student during the whole Villepin debacle with the CPE (a while I know). The contrast in "Le monde" headlines couldn't be starker.

FrédéricLN said...

I agree with ZI's comment about the very surprising (and despising) way the major media dealt with the anti-gay-marriage movement. Even a major institution of the Republic, the CESE, decided to dismiss their request based on 700,000 signatures (according to the new Constitutional right of petition) — I'm sure the justice will cancel the CESE's dismissal, but within 1 or 2 years… And I agree that this anti-democratic way to handle this opposition, will push some thousands of people into militancy, and some millions into a long-lasting position of "never vote for the left".

This can be an opportunity for any non-Left movement (including FN, or a M5S-style protest) — as no regular party of the Right did seriously support the "anti" position. The UMP makes no more that tactical moves.

I also agree that this movement didn't meet the expectations of any broad social basis. It's a strong difference to 1984, when 80% of the population supported the move, and millions of people demonstrated (I think it's the only such example in our history).

The 49% the FN raised in Oise, in a second turn against a rightist UMP incumbent (Jean-François Mancel), means much more to me.

I don't think the French really expected any government to "save" our most obsolete factories. In Picardie for example (including Oise), the inhabitants can experience since 25/30 years that most factories were bought by foreign interests which didn't invested a cent in modernizing them: it's no surprise when, after firing some workers and sending some machines to Central Europa, the plant actually closes its doors.

So, if people are furious (and they can be), it's not against Hollande as a person (methinks), it's against the two parties and their "premiers cercles", that took all "benefits of globalization" and left the economy and the public service starving. Starving with decent wages in most cases, starving with social allowances, starving with great opportunities of low-cost holidays in southern countries, starving with a nice family home to paint and improve, starving with 6, 20, 100 TV channels: starving with an ever-growing national debt.

I think most people, even those who never listen about politics, understand that failure of ''large systems'' because they see it in their own town, and experience that entrenchment in their home base.

The Left can be demoralized, for sure. The Right can also be, because it won't get any credit for having done better (but Sarkozy's personal energy remains appreciated by most people). The Center could be demoralized, for all our efforts to make that situation public, and push forward solutions, remained in vain so far. And not many people won't give us credit for having tries in vain!

Anonymous said...

I think there's a problem when a protest's organizers have to ask the government they're protesting against to protect them against fringe groups they've stirred up and now cannot control. Never did I think that in an advanced democracy I'd see mobs rampaging, looking for blood (one of the organizers actually called for it and some people got hurt.) I understand that some of the posh people who protest think this will destroy France, but realistically, gay mariage hasn't destroyed any of the States or countries (often more religious than France) that have adopted it. In any case it will not destroy their way of life, it'll not take away anything from them. In the past few days Uruguay and New Zeland both adopted the same law as France and the contrast couldn't be bigger. In France, an inebriated "député" tried to punch another and then his friends tried to justify this by saying "s/he looked at me wrong". It sounded like teenage thugs had taken over.
As for Le Monde: when you've got protesters protesting not just a law or May '68 (something that for most of us is a part of history), but also the French revolution and democracy, saying France should be a Christian state like "before", I think the paper was right to investigate. Because, seriously, outside Vendée and some pockets of Versailles, these people sound like complete madmen, whereas they've taken over the "right" movement. TO me it's akin to a segregationist, KKK-type group took over the GOP, and made the Tea Party run after them.

Anonymous said...

*as if a ... took over/ akin to a ... taking over -sorry, early morning, brain wave crash.

FrédéricLN said...

Some interesting "micro-trottoirs" of people demonstrating against the Taubira proposed law, here:

They were taken the 18 April, so in one of the recent "flash-mob like" demonstrations (which gathered just some thousands people) so these six interviewees are part of the core of the "anti" movement.

Anonymous said...

Seen from the Right

Seen from the Left

Frédéric LN, these protesters seem very middle of the road, not extreme, but very dedicated. Most of them are traditional Catholic so I understand how the law would disturb them. However the law doesn't involve Catholic mariage, just the civil ceremony. And traditional Catholics really are a minority in France nowadays. It's surprising compared to the US, where a feeling that God exists permeates society. French people seem to be part of traditions (they like chocolate for Easter, some still don't eat meat on Fridays year round, they like the "ponts", but ask random people why there's a holiday they probably couldn't tell you.)
It's kind of weird to hear "I could marry my brother" though. Weak point.

Mitch Guthman said...

I generally agree with Cohn-Bendit’s diagnosis although I really wish people would stop talking about the need for new ideas. If the existing ideas of the left (the social safety net, universal health care, good retirement benefits, decent workplaces, good schools, etc) are good, then they are good ideas that don’t need to be replaced with newer, more fashionable ideas. People who want “fresh ideas” usually want to dismantle the welfare state but have the left lead the charge to destroy its own historic achievements.

(À propos, the very next post wherein M. le président Flanby insults his ostensible allies in the service of his ostensible enemies).

FrédéricLN said...

Still about the militants against gay marriage: a quite good review of posts by Le Monde . As one commentator puts it, none of these testimonies (or just one of them) explains *why* he/she should fight this proposed law. It looks like self-obvious.

I guess (just a guess) that the underlying idea would be: "with the proposed law, less children would live with / be educated by their father and mother". But it is never expressed this statistical way — maybe such a translation would burst some mental bubble.