Thursday, April 6, 2017

The Molten State of French Politics

There is a fluidity about today's political scene that is unlike any other political era in recent memory. This is exemplified by an article in today's Le Monde. The question is what the two parties formerly known as "mainstream" or "parties of government" will do if, as seems likely, their candidates do not make it to the second round of the presidential election. The legislatives loom large in their thinking. This is where they must defend their turf. But they also need to regroup and rebuild, and there careers are open to talent ... and ruthlessness and infidelity. Thus we learn that François Baroin, who had made a pact with Sarkozy to become his PM only to be left hanging when Sarkozy lost, who then flipped to Fillon, only to be left hanging when Fillon had the rug pulled out from under him, now sees himself as a potential prime minister under Macron, a position he will secure by leading the right in the legislatives, winning a majority, and thus confronting Macron as a rival who cannot be brushed aside.

Meanwhile, Laurent Wauquiez, another young man who has never been able to conceal the boundlessness of his ambition, plans to follow in Sarkozy's footsteps by seizing control of the party apparatus in preparation for a 2022 presidential run.

On the left, things are more dire, and Cambadélis has been reduced to measures that look rather desperate, like demanding loyalty oaths of his minions. But loyalty to what? Hamonism has not caught fire either within the ranks of the party or in the electorate at large. The candidate himself, while personally appealing, has not imposed his authority but rather become the figurehead of a cult, which yearns for change without being capable of proposing anything resembling a strategy to achieve it.

The Sandersistas and Occupiers and Indignados and Nuit Deboutistes and Hamonistes of the world, for all the youthful energy they have brought into politics, have not yet found the key to organizing and disciplining it, even in Spain, where they have come closest to institutionalizing the insurgent spirit. Unless I miss my guess, Hamon is not the man to make this happen in France. I don't really see anyone in France who is. Between the apparatchik Cambadélis, the renegade Mélenchon, the floundering Hamon, and the quisling Valls, the left has nowhere to turn. But as always there remains the faith that something will turn up.


Rédaction Contreligne said...

Two remarks µI didi not expect:

- "quisling Valls" ....????? Vidkun Quisling?

- and about Hamon, the "personally appealing" is pretty strange

Anonymous said...

A very interesting post. I don't think that the comparison between Hamon and various other left-wing movements quite works, however. In the first place, Hamon may represent the left of the socialist party, but (unlike Sanders, Corbyn or the Podemos people), he is definitely not the leftmost electoral force in his country. His program has half-digested some interesting ideas about the limits to growth, but it is as impracticable as Mélenchon's. Why shouldn't left-wing true believers go for the genuine article, and those who favor pragmatism vote Macron?

The current structure of the Eurozone makes left-wing politics all but impossible. If Hamon were president he would be unable to implement his program for the same reasons that made it impossible for Hollande to implement his 2012 program: German fiscal conservatism and the structure of the Eurozone. Mélenchon has the consistency to take a hard line on this subject, but this leads him to spout some ugly and anachronistic rhetoric about Germany. Hamon pretends the problem does not exist (although at least, unlike Hollande, he seems sincere about his program).

This difficulty exists for the left in general: either it is stuck with the mushy centrism exemplified by Macron and the SDP, or it finds itself advocating positions uncomfortably close to those of the nationalist right.

The American left does not have this problem (although we have problems enough of our own.) I think that Sanders is having a strong and positive institutional effect, showing Democrats that it is electorally safe to go further to the left than they had thought possible. Sanders campaigned for Clinton in the general election, after all: he and his movement are certainly more willing to settle for half a loaf than their counterparts in Europe.

christopher delogu said...

Interesting post -- the molten metaphor is apt -- and helpful comment. I'm struck by the divide between those, like Ph. Poutou, who still think that direct democracy without intermediate, representative instances is possible (have they never been to condo association meeting?); and those like Baroin who are experienced enough to know that it's all about ownership of one of those intermediate titles (elective or appointed) so as to be "in the room where happens." It was not lost on anyone disappointed with the vote of Senator Susan Collins in Maine (6 April) that it would have taken just her and one of her moderate GOP colleagues to block the cloture rule change (going from a bar of 60 to 51). As it was the GOP went "Nuclear" with a weak majority of 52-48. Similarly, in the French context, the Left needs to really concentrate on the grind-it-out task of fielding candidates who are going to first win their seat in the room and then vote through a more progressive agenda. For now there's still to much slacktivism with people thinking they're being political via TV "plateaux", tribunes, and, frankly, blog posts... not that they're unimportant. Hopefully the French Left can regroup without having to have MLP as catalyst. MLP is all about foregoing intermediate bodies, that's the main reason why even if she manages to become captain of the ship, the ship won't go anywhere because she will have no crew. And that "gridlock", a la francaise, will only get uglier... and more painful for the most vulnerable.