The French Left Strikes Back



On Sunday, an estimated 150,000 people marched in Paris and gathered in the Place de la Bastille to listen to jean-Luc Mélenchon, the leader of the Left Front. Afterwards, the Socialist Party officials were prompt to call the event highly divisive for the left. Accusations of populism and gauchisme (radical and maximalist rhetoric) also rapidly surfaced from Solférino, the Socialist headquarters. To paraphrase Bertolt Brecht: would it not be easier for the government to dissolve the people and elect another?

It would seem rather unwise to admonish those who marched against finance and austerity because they were responsible for sending François Hollande to the Elysée Palace in the first place. Although the event was organised by the Left Front, an electoral coalition of nine parties, large segments of the left were represented, including Eva July, the Green Party presidential candidate, trade-unionists, the New Anticapitalist Party and socialist sympathisers. Most had one thing in common: they voted for Hollande in May 2012 to defeat Nicolas Sarkozy.

A year ago, expectations were rather low on the left. Yet people were hoping for a break with Sarkozy’s “hyper-presidency” as well as with his economic reforms, which had largely benefited the rich. As Mélenchon put it in his speech: “Mr Hollande’s trial period is over and the results are not there.”

Indeed, what happened to the man who singled out finance as his main enemy during the presidential campaign? What happened to Mr Normal who promoted an “Exemplary Republic”? Hollande ended up defending until to the bitter end Jérôme Cahuzac, a finance minister responsible for fighting tax evasion who turned out to have used a secret Swiss bank account to avoid paying taxes in France. What happened to the droll and down-to-earth candidate who, without a qualm, is now embracing the Bonapartist style of Charles de Gaulle’s presidency? What happened to the moderate Socialist who promised French voters to reform an unfair tax system, protect workers’ rights or stand up to Angela Merkel’s austerity policies and promote growth-oriented reforms in Europe?

It would be wrong to argue that Hollande’s abysmal unpopularity has to do with his rather unpresidential style, his alleged weakness and indecision, or France’s record unemployment. Those factors may play a part, but only a marginal one. In truth, by not honouring his electoral promises and by not departing from Sarkozy’s pro-financial markets agenda, Hollande has let his electorate down. By the same token, he has let himself down.

To argue that Hollande pandered to the left during his campaign and that he now has to confess that he follows a progressive social democratic strategy is also wide of the mark. If only this were true. If Hollande has an economic strategy, it is one in line with his predecessor. Mélenchon accused Hollande of contributing to Europe’s economic crisis by focusing on “the interests of shareholders, of big business and of European austerity policies, to the detriment of the workers”. This cannot be easily dismissed as leftwing nonsense, as it is now received wisdom among most of the people who elected Hollande a year ago. Just look at a few of the banners carried on Sunday: “We don’t want the world of finance in power”; “Sarko-Hollande: presidents change, but the system remains the same”; “The 5th Republic is no democracy: it generates a cast of corrupt people who avoid paying taxes while we struggle to save money”; “We can’t take those austerity policies any more”.

The government has resorted to discrediting the Left Front by branding it as populist. The accusation won’t wash. French voters have had enough with those tired and authoritarian institutions of the 5th Republic, the corruption at the heart of government (Cahuzac and more to come) and the cynical and one-dimensional management of the country by the dominant Socialist and UMP parties. Politicians who claim to have the people’s best interests at heart while refusing to hear what they say are the real populists: so far, this is what Hollande has done. Should he persist, things can only get worse for him.

Philippe Marlière is professor of French politics at University College London (UK). He tweets @PhMarliere


Philippe Marlière is a Professor of French and European Politics at University College London (UK). Twitter: @PhMarliere

Weekend Edition
November 28-30, 2015
Majd Isreb
America’s Spirit, Syrian Connection
Weekend Edition
November 27-29, 2015
Andrew Levine
The Real Trouble With Bernie
Gary Leupp
Ben Carson, Joseph in Egypt, and the Attack on Rational Thought
John Whitbeck
Who’s Afraid of ISIS?
Michael Brenner
Europe’s Crisis: Terror, Refugees and Impotence
Pepe Escobar
Will Chess, Not Battleship, Be the Game of the Future in Eurasia?
Vijay Prashad
Showdown on the Syrian Border
Colin Todhunter
Class, War and David Cameron
Jean Bricmont
The Ideology of Humanitarian Imperialism
Dan Glazebrook
Deadliest Terror in the World: the West’s Latest Gift to Africa
Mats Svensson
Madness in Hebron: Hashem Had No Enemies, Yet Hashem Was Hated
Walter Brasch
Terrorism on American Soil
Louisa Willcox
Grizzly Bears, Dreaming and the Frontier of Wonder
Dave Lindorff
Gen. John Campbell, Commander in Afghanistan and Serial Liar
Michael Welton
Yahweh is Not Exactly Politically Correct
Joseph Natoli
A Politics of Stupid and How to Leave It Behind
Karl Grossman
Our Solar Bonanza!
John Cox
You Should Fear Racism and Xenophobia, Not Syrian Refugees or Muslims
Barrie Gilbert
Sacrificing the Grizzlies of Katmai: the Plan to Turn Brooks Camp Into a Theme
Rev. William Alberts
The Church of “Something Else” in “an Ecclesiastical Desert”
Mark Hand
Escape From New York: the Emancipation of Activist Cecily McMillan
Ramzy Baroud
Forget ISIS: Humanity is at Stake
Andrew Gavin Marshall
Bank Crimes Pay
Elliot Murphy
Cameron’s Syrian Strategy
Gareth Porter
How Terror in Paris Calls for Revising US Syria Policy
Thomas S. Harrington
Jeff Jacoby of the Boston Globe and the Death of Ezra Schwartz
Michael Perino
The Arc of Instability
Yves Engler
Justin Trudeau and Canada’s Mining Industry
Tom H. Hastings
ISIS and Changing the Game
Lars Jørgensen
Vive la Résistance
John Halle
A Yale Education as a Tool of Power and Privilege
Norman Pollack
Syrian “Civil War”?: No, A Proxy War of Global Confrontation
Sheldon Richman
Let the Refugees In
James Anderson
Reframing Black Friday: an Imperative for Déclassé Intellectuals
Simon Bowring
UN Climate Talks 2009: a Merger of Interest and Indifference
Ron Jacobs
Rosa Luxembourg–From Street Organizer to Street Name
Aidan O'Brien
Same-Sex Sellout in Ireland
David Stocker
Report from the Frontline of Resistance in America
Patrick Bond
China Sucked Deeper Into World Financial Vortex and Vice Versa, as BRICS Sink Fast
James A Haught
The Values of Jesus
Binoy Kampmark
British Austerity: Cutting One’s Own Backyard
Ed Rampell
45 Years: A Rumination on Aging
Charles R. Larson
Chronicle of Sex Reassignment Surgery: Juliet Jacques’s “Trans: a Memoir”
Jeffrey St. Clair - Alexander Cockburn
CounterPunch’s Favorite Films
November 26, 2015
Ashley Nicole McCray – Lawrence Ware
Decolonizing the History of Thanksgiving