Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Bye-bye Solférino

It looks likely that the PS will sell its headquarters on rue Solférino in order to keep the wolf from the door. The decimation of the party in the presidential will cut deeply into its revenues, and there's just not enough money to keep the lights on at Solférino.

Some Socialists are trying to put the best possible face on this debacle. It will help the party reconnect with its "popular base," says Olivier Faure, and this is supposedly hard to from a "power neighborhood" like the 7th Arrdt. A mauvaise langue might point out that having its HQ in the 19th hasn't done much for the PCF, but let's not be churlish. The Socialists are hurting, and if they want to pretend that the impending eviction from Solférino is a matter of choice rather than necessity, who would want to stop them?


Robinson said...

This news does make me a bit sad, although it has been a long time since I found anything to admire about the PS. Since the late 1970s the same vocation as center-left parties all over the continent: to persuade the left-leaning electorate to accept neo-liberalism. Their rhetoric has been more left-wing than that of any of their sister parties in western Europe; large parts of the party in its post Épinay incarnation have rejected the labels "liberal" or even "social democratic." This rhetoric was always a concession to the deep hostility that their part of the electorate felt towards liberal reforms; it never reflected any real underlying radicalism on the part of the PS chiefs. The PS has been among the most insincere and hypocritical political parties in Europe, peddling half-marxist rhetoric to its voters and privatising vast swaths of French industry while in power. It is true that the French economy was not subjected to the sort of drastic liberal reforms that took place in the UK and Germany during the 80s and 90s. Resistance to reform, however, came from the PS's electorate in the streets, not from the PS.

Macron and Mélenchon are each in their way emblematic products of the old PS. It is much better for France that they now lead separate parties that oppose one another on questions of principle. The Solférino method (devised by Mitterrand and perfected by Hollande) would have been to make them work together in order to put the PS in power, then figure out what to do afterwards. If, away from Solférino, Faure and company manage to turn the PS into a coherent minor party, I will wish them well. I fear that the PS instead will have a sort of zombie existence for the next twenty years, like the Dutch PvdA. That is: it will not longer stand for anything, but it will linger for a long while because of the nostalgia of electors of a certain age, and because it remains the home of enough jobbing politicians.

Anonymous said...

@Robinson: I agree with most of this comment. However, I long for a party that could occupy the ground where the PS stood. One that accepted the reality of the modern market economy without tilting at socialist windmills (like Corbyn, JLM, Iglesias, Die Linke), while at the same time promoting full employment and protecting the welfare state. I think that this is what the PS of Rocard, Delors and Jospin represented, or tried to represent. (Mitterrand, we have to grant, had no fixed opinions on political economy.) I don't expect any more true solidarity from En Marche! than I would expect from Sarkozy.

The PS of DSK, Royal, Valls and Hollande deserved to die. It is not really dead, however: it lives as En Marche! But Art has said, Macron deserves credit for honesty. He does not pretend to be a socialist.

brent said...

@Robinson and Anonymous
Interesting discussion but I notice nobody mentions Hamon, or the radically ecological brand of socialism he was trying to invent--along with the vast social transformation represented by guaranteed basic income. JLM, often dismissed as a throwback or relic, has been trying to develop this very neo- brand of socialism too. Looking backwards at Mitterrand, Rocard, Jospin et al. makes it hard to see how a radically new kind of left is trying to form, however awkwardly, in the space between Hamon, JLM, perhaps Duflot or Autain. Maybe if people treated this movement seriously and critiqued it constructively, it could grow ...

Robinson said...

@brent: the trouble with Hamon's radical eco-socialism is that it was every bit as pie-in-the-sky as Mélenchon's somewhat more traditional leftist program. I will admit that Hamon's ideas were interesting, in an academic sort of way. However, in order to implement any radically left-wing program (or any moderately left-wing program, or for that matter Nicolas Sarkozy's 2012 program), France needs to change the structure of the Eurozone. This is the nettle that Hamon was unwilling to to grasp. While on paper Hamon's program was as radical as Mélenchon's, Hamon's stated unwillingness to stand up to Germany showed it to be so much hot air, something that a more moderate socialist could vote for without taking it too seriously. Mélenchon was the only person on the left who spoke clearly about Europe.

In my opinion, the Eurozone won't reform unless France stands up to Germany in a serious manner, threatening to withdraw from the Euro if necessary. Until that happens, France will have to implement the economic policy prescribed by Germany, which is Macronism.

brent said...

I take your point that Hamon's was more a concept than a program for governing. Mélenchon was also tagged as a 'utopian', and it is hard to see how his fiscal policies could have been implemented.

But on the Europe question, what does 'reform' even mean? If it's just a tepid loosening of financial controls so that various Social Liberals can fight a rear guard action for social supports, we might as well go the way of Macronism and be done. But the Other Europe needs to be much more: a boldly eco-socialist program that recognizes the permanent restructuring of labor markets, and a more cooperative global posture. Hamon and JLM were heading in that direction, and though much more needs to be done to shape a program, the former left won't gain traction with temporizing and half-measures.

Robinson said...

@Brent, I agree with entirely. The only point that I was trying to make is that the Eurozone as it stands is a force for austerity, a permanent obstacle to left-wing politics. A genuine restructuring of the Eurozone will only happen if France adopts a much more confrontational attitude towards Germany. JLM spoke clearly on this issue, and Hamon did not. This, I think, is the reason why Hamon was treated so much more politely by the mainstream commentariat.

However: there is no majority in France for threatening Germany with the destruction of the Euro. If the quirks of the French electoral system had made JLM president by opposing him to Le Pen in the second round, he would have been in no position to deliver on his program. You are certainly right that the French left should not allow the lines drawn in the recent election to keep it divided. To the extent that Mélenchon's personality contributes to this division, he is part of the problem.

If the left-wing critics of Macron are able to unite around a program that is radical but politically feasible (and enormous *if,* certainly), I think that they have every chance of taking power in five years time. The anti-Macron rump of the PS and the Greens will certainly have a role to play in making such a realignment possible. All this may sound utopian, but look at in Britain: the UK left was thought to be deader than a doornail, and now it controls the Labour party and is inches away from power. The French left has long been a more substantial force than its British counterpart. Why not here?

Well, as Art will remind us, there is the small matter of President Macron. Opposing Macron must be the left's priority #1 for the next few years. The initiative lies with the president, however. If his reforms work as well as Art hopes, that will be good for France but bad for the left. So I hope against expectation that Macron proves a success.

mpz13 said...

Reading the dialogue above I measure the importance and the persistence - but I'd rather say the afterglow - of the dying "idéologie de gauche".
I think that after many disappointments and delusions with Macron, France entered the stage of "ideologies-and-politics-are-just-show-business" and governing is a profession to be handled by professionals. Let's call a guy who has no "états d'âme" and let him fix this whole mess.
I have very strong doubts that in 5 years time we shall go back to the old battle between a facelifted, rejuvenated social-democrats clan and its symmetrical christian-republicans congregation. These days are over. Pragmatism won and will remain "on" for a long while. Time for a new generation of utopists and poets to imagine a better society and communicate the dream. The difference between France and Germany are almost irrelevent, the vision is the same, they weight a lot in the balance, Europe is moving slowly but it is crawling in the same practical direction. I can't imagine radical changes ahead.
There remains plenty of other subjects to worry about and get involved in, if one wishes to get involved into something..