Sunday, June 7, 2015

The White Working Class: A More Nuanced View than Usual

The FT has a good story on the Etats-Unis section of Lyon, a mixed neighborhood of immigrant and white working class. Worth reading in full. The bottom line:
Nobody I met expressed support for the FN. In part, that’s because doing so is somewhat taboo in France: most FN voters are shy. But the Etats-Unis isn’t an FN hotbed. While some disaffected people here voted for Le Pen, more have simply abandoned politics. In last year’s municipal elections, the abstention rate in the Etats-Unis was 50-60 per cent, compared with 36.5 per cent nationally.
After Muller had lengthily castigated immigrants, he said something that surprised me: “My son is a half-caste.” It turned out the son’s mother was of Algerian origin. Later, Muller had married another Algerian woman but left her, he said, because her 80-a-day cigarette habit had worsened his health problems. “She used to light one cigarette with another,” he recalled.
But he was losing interest in racism, he said. He thought the word was losing meaning. What counted increasingly were money and tech, not skin colour. “My vision is that in 10 years my little son will come up and introduce me to a robot: ‘Hi, I’m going out with a robot, it’s better than a woman.’” By then the people of the Etats-Unis — poor whites and immigrants alike — may have a completely new set of problems.

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."