Thursday, October 23, 2014

The Perils of Victory

How much easier it was for the Socialists to be in opposition than to govern. The contradictions that have always riven the party were relatively muted--at least in the sense that un panier de crabes is mute. Now les éléphants, trumpeting loudly, are trampling one another to death. Or are they piranhas taking bites out of one another? Animal metaphors are endless, and poor J.-C. Cambadélis can no longer ignore the blood in the water: moments ago he issued a "solemn call" for "unity."

Yesterday, Hollande bestowed a medal on his prime minister, which gave him the opportunity to remark that the Republic always needs an homme de synthèse. He could not help snickering at his bon mot, since clearly he sees himself slipping once again into the comfortable middle-of-the-road, not too hot, not too cold, not too left, not too right role he played as party leader. It's his comfort zone.

Unfortunately he is now president of the Republic, and people expect him to lead rather than triangulate--or snicker at his own jokes. Aubry's weekend blast seems to have loosened other tongues. Benoît Hamon announced that the rightward turn of the party under Valls was a "threat to the Republic" that promised "an impending democratic catastrophe," a rather elaborate way of warning that the Front National is going to win more votes in 2017 than the PS. Everyone now takes this as a given. Who would have thought that victory in 2012 would lead to this Bérézina? Like Napoleon in Russia, the PS is discovering that apparent victory is sometimes a prelude to abject misery.


TexExile said...

Who needs animal metaphors, or even Napoleon? I keep thinking 'Donner Party'. Lost in the wilderness and unable to advance, they succumb to cannibalism...

Mitch Guthman said...


I think Cambadélis is inadvertently echoing your point about how much easier it is to be united in opposition and how difficult it is to smooth over differences in a Socialist government that spans such a broad political spectrum. This seems particularly true in a government lead by François Hollande, a man utterly without beliefs and who ran on no particular agenda apart from his not being Nicolas Sarkozy.

Cambadélis pleas for unity also begs the question. A plea for unity that does not also describe the people and principles around whom we should unite is hollow and meaningless. Should the party unite around the ideas of Aubry or the ideas of Hollande? Should the PS be a party of the center-right or the center-left? That is the question.

It may come as a surprise to him but the voters who elected Cambadélis probably have an ideological agenda that they presume will be advanced by voting for candidates of the PS. That is to say, most PS voters are partisans because of their beliefs and not simply to keep the perks of office like bodyguards, fine automobiles and entree to the New Versailles.

Ideology is the essence of the discord within the party. Hollande evidently wishes to reposition the PS as a party of the center right, with an heir-apparent in Valls who will try to move it ever more to the right. Is is really surprising that most voters of the PS—who are in a ideological spectrum that ranges from the center-left to the left—are unwilling to rally around Hollande and Valls?

What is missing from the plea for unity of Cambadélis is the notion that ideas matter. That the Parti socialiste stands for certain ideas and principles which together will animate their agenda when the party is in power. Since presumably most voters of the PS are within that center-left to left spectrum, isn’t it likely that they would need no urging to rally round a government that was seeking to implement a political philosophy in which they believe?

This seems to be the point which Cambadélis is missing. The voters and many of the party leaders can’t unite around Hollande because his beliefs and actions as president are anathema to them. To unify the party will require nothing less than new leadership who has the support of the membership and a promise to implement a new manifesto for a “socialism of the possible”.

By the way, Art, you never cease to amaze me. I am seriously impressed. I would never have heard of this plea for unity by Cambadélis without you. Even the Le Monde article would have passed unnoticed by me. This blog is a perfectly calibrated French new aggregator. Thank you.

FrédéricLN said...

I heard a quite interesting speech by Cambadélis at Etats généraux du PS in Argenteuil last week. (I recorded most of it, still have to transcript the sound record).

He was, from my point of view, very vague and off the point on policy issues (quite in line with Mitch's comment), but also very clear and frank on party-political issues. He looked like sharing the opinion that PS risks death, 43 years after SFIO at Epinay, and that its militants and representatives will only stay on the stage if they find, and fast, a new mobilizing political vehicle (a new message, primarily).

We at Democratic center (MoDem and its glass splinters) cannot look like surprised, as we think and say that ten years and more ( and ). We are nevertheless a bit surprised, as it did not happen so far and it looks like happening now. We are disappointed too, as we thought that Hollande's victory, on a very fuzzy agenda, gave him an perestroika opportunity — but he did not at all seize it, and, I guess, he did not even try. To go on with Eastern comparisons, "mariage pour tous" was the Potemkin village of socialist powerlessness.

I still believe a progressive alternative is possible, even with the present Assembly, even within the 30 remaining months — a "nuit du 4 août". But that would require that PS drops most of its control over "le système", and drops its supports to its own networks' conservatism. Very difficult to decide that from the top and move the bottom. To leave the mess to UMP, or PS, in 2017 may be more appealing to the socialist nomenklatura. And before 2022, most of them will just be retired — après nous le déluge. :-((((

FrédéricLN said...

"or FN" at the end of last comment… instead of "or PS"… a revealing slip of the pen.