Tuesday, August 8, 2017

The New New Left and the New Old Center

La France Insoumise would like to replace the near-defunct PS as the party of the left. In keeping with its "insoumis" label, however, it is encountering difficulty in achieving the kind of party discipline necessary to such a role or even to resigning itself to the fate of becoming a party rather than a movement:

Cette soif démocratique sera nécessairement débattue à Marseille. Sur une note de blog publiée le 28 mai, Jean-Luc Mélenchon assure que des processus de « démocratie interne » sont à l’œuvre mais il veille à ne pas en faire un « sujet de conflictualité interne » : « Il n’y a donc pas de “majorité”, de “minorités”, pas de plates-formes concurrentes, pas d’orientation générale opposée aux autres. Autrement dit : le mouvement se soucie d’abord d’être inclusif et collectif davantage que formellement “démocratique”, sachant à quelles violences et dérives conduisent les soi-disant pratiques “démocratiques” organisées par les règlements intérieurs des partis traditionnels. Le mouvement n’a qu’une référence idéologique commune à tous ses membres : le programme. »
Rather than learn the lessons of Occupy Wall Street, La Nuit Debout, Les Indignés, Los Indignados, etc., LFI seems intent on repeating their mistakes. The energy of youth brings with it the illusions of youth--or the rhetoric of the rusé Jean-Luc, who knows the meaning of democratic centralism and evidently prefers the swooning obedience of un parti godillot to the "violences et dérives [auxquelles] conduisent les soi-disant pratiques “démocratiques” organisées par les règlements intérieurs des partis traditionnels..." One does have to love that soi-disant. But who am I to give advice to such an expression of le peuple authentique?

Of course, the difficulties of organizing a party among the legions of the (tolerably) like-minded are as nothing compared with the difficulties of organizing a government capable of dealing with the multiple conflicting interests that the polity comprises. Coping with the latter is the challenge facing La République En Marche, a challenge that it has met with the varying degrees of success to be expected after the dramatic changes that swept over French political life in May and June. I am therefore forbearing in my criticism, unlike any number of you readers, who have leapt to the conclusion that Macron has either already failed or, if you are of a somewhat different ideological bent, succumbed to the contradictions inherent in the ideology of "en même temps" supposedly embodied by the neoliberal weasel.

Heavens! There is still a long way to go, even if the first 100 days have elapsed, requiring the usual outpouring of overwrought assessments. Steady as she goes. Fluctuat nec mergitur. We shall see what happens when the general strike called for Sept. 12 takes place. On that day I am supposed to be in France taking a TGV from Paris to Bordeaux. If the scene at the station is sufficiently bordélique, I may join the chorus of doomsayers. Until then I say, Keep your shirts on. Nothing much has happened yet. France has commenced its fermeture annuelle and transhumance of the vacationing classes, the newspapers are devoid of actual news, all the political commentators are away on holiday, and even the president seems to be making himself scarce after his round of partying with the likes of Angela Merkel, Justin Trudeau, Vladimir Putin, Mr. and Mrs. Trump, and Rihanna.


Robinson said...

All very wise, as usual. It is unlikely that Macron, even if all goes wrong, will fail as badly as Hollande: the bar has been set high. And we cantankerous blog-readers really ought to support him: France really can't afford another wasted quinquennat. Plus, considering the state of the left, if after five years the French throw Macron out they are likely to pick some right-wing haircut from whatever the UMP has become.

Anonymous said...

Your points about JLM are well taken. Now that his is in charge of the "non-traditional," I suspect that JLM begins to envy the PC its discipline. To quibble with Art: factionalism, disharmony and internal "democracy" did *not* bring down the Indignados. They found a leader charismatic and organized enough to unite them into a major political movement. This is just what Mélenchon is trying to do north of the Pyrenees. I think that he has a good chance of succeeding, but of course Podemos is still vying with the center-left, and is certainly very far from a majority.

Even Nuit Debout can be seen as a sort of foreshock to the Mélenchon movement: it indicated the existence of a radicalized youth ready to be organized. (Based on my metaphor, I admit, France Insoumise has so far to be classed as a pretty minor earthquake.) I don't know enough about American politics to talk about Occupy Wall St. Still, wasn't that a sign that Americans were willing to listen, when a politician came about who was willing to express their general outrage at the financial sector? I see that Sanders has been leading opposition in the US to Trump's healthcare reforms, and I wish him well.

All this to say: Mélenchon has tapped into a real political force, one that can be organized. It is not simply a manifestation of youthful effervescence, and it is not simply destined to split into factions. However, it is also not a majority and isn't likely to become one unless France suffers a crisis on the scale of what happened in Spain or Greece.

brent said...

@ Anonymous
I have never understood why otherwise thoughtful observers in the US dismiss Occupy Wall Street as some sort of ineffectual transient hippie thing. It gave us the term "the one percent," which made it possible for the first time to talk about inequality as an issue of the greatest importance. (Piketty and Saez found a readership through OWS long before Art translated Piketty's magnum opus.) And yes, OWS led directly to Sanders's insurgent campaign, supplying a number of key staffers who were veterans of OWS and its many offshoots.

Will FI take hold as Sanders did? Way too soon to tell, but given that it grew from a barely funded grass roots movement to win almost 20% of the electorate a year later, I wouldn't discount its methods, even if they seem excessively inclusive. The arrogant ENA-insider niche is already taken , thank you.

Robinson said...

@brent & anonymous: I agree, both on OWS and on France Insoumise. Like REM, FI is experiencing some growing pains. This is because they are the the only two parties in France that are growing. All of the other political movements represented in the National Assembly are in even worse shape (although I'm sure that the artists formerly known as the UMP will find a way to come back after the labour law fight is over.) The really consequential showdown will be in September, as Art says. FI is certainly better positioned to lead opposition to the labour law than the moribund PS or the Verts. That will be their chance to impose themselves as the main opposition to Macron.